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Friends Academy Lower School and New Forest Program

Friends Academy Lower School and New Forest Program

Friends Academy is a PreK-12 private school in Long Island that is based on the Quaker values of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equity, stewardship and service.


Friends Academy is a PreK-12 private school in Long Island that is based on the Quaker values of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equity, stewardship and service. Founded in 1876, Friends Academy is a nationally renowned coeducational, independent, college-preparatory school for students in preschool, elementary school, middle school and high school. 

Located on a beautiful 65-acre campus in Locust Valley, facilities include the Dolan Center, which houses a state-of-the-art 400-seat theater, art studios and dining hall. Separate buildings house Upper, Middle, Lower schools and the Little Friends Infant & Toddler Center. They offer a campus-wide wireless network, computer labs, a renovated gym and a field house.

As a private school built on Quaker education and values, all faiths are welcome. Many of their families appreciate that their values aren’t religious. In fact, only two percent of their faculty and staff are Quakers. “We provide a values-based education,” says Lower School Principal Dot Woo, who is also a parent of a preschooler and first grader at Friends Academy. “Our families belong to a variety of faiths and have diverse beliefs and philosophies; however, we are all united with this incredible values system that bonds our community and supports our children. Our values are not just part of our children’s vernacular but are a way of life. This elevates our academically rigorous education. We celebrate, honor and nurture each child at every age and stage of development.” She says she’s happy she has chosen to bring her children to this school. “I want this community to help raise my children,” she says. “Children are not raised in isolation. Friends Academy is an extension of my family. We want families to feel that the school community is part of their family unit. It’s really a way of being.”

The Forest Program

The Forest Program is a brand-new program that’s currently devoted to their youngest learners. (Future plans include spaces for all divisions.) Forest programs are popular around the world and have gained popularity in the United States in recent years. Friends Academy’s program is unique and is just one of a handful of programs in the region and the only one of its kind in Nassau County. Students hike a trail that leads to the outdoor classroom. The space features logs for sitting, mounds of grass, a sensory garden, a pollinator garden and a rain garden. Kids get to be kids here, where they can be creative and activate their critical thinking. In colder weather, they can explore in coats. In rainy weather, they can jump in the puddles in their boots. It’s meant to be used year-round and in almost any weather. Here, nature is the classroom. 

Kids don’t need toys or devices here for an educational experience. Spirituality is also front and center at the program. Aligning with their Quaker mission, students have a moment of silence when they arrive at the Forest School. “It’s about connecting to and tapping into their spiritual selves,” says Andrea Kelly, Head of School at Friends Academy. “That feeling you get when you have a spiritual connection to the natural world is something that’s developed outdoors that can’t be replicated inside.” Nature inspires curiosity and critical thinking. The outdoor school experience offers a unique learning environment to cultivate creative problem-solving and collaboration. Children learn about the environment, conservation and the importance of taking care of our earth. “Children learn outside differently and build competencies differently than they would in the four walls of the classroom,” says Kelly. 

During COVID lockdown in 2019, Kelly frequently walked with her dog past a wooded area. She knew it would be perfect for a forest program. The school worked with an architect firm to create the two miles of forested trails and a loosely planned environment uniquely designed for outdoor student learning. “I’m excited about the program’s potential,” she says. “We have the best of both worlds. We have an outstanding preschool and Lower School indoor setting. And now we have a natural outdoor environment that is equally as beautiful.”

The program can help promote gross and fine motor skills, says Kelly. And that process happens differently outdoors. For example, balancing on a log outdoors differs from balancing on a beam in gym class, says Kelly. “Connecting with the natural world is essential for kids,” she says. “To a layperson, it looks like kids running around outdoors. But underneath it all are very specific competencies that kids are developing outside.”

Of course, this unique space also brings students closer to nature. “You can’t replicate a living lab in a slideshow,” says Kelly. “My hope is that it will set the foundation for the beginning of a relationship with nature that will last their lifetime and inspire them to be leaders who will conserve and preserve the planet. It’s a lofty goal, but I think they can do it.” Woo hears about the program when her kids come home from school, so she understands its value as an educator and a parent. Her preschool-aged son talks about his adventures of making music from items found in nature, exploring bark textures, sorting and classifying the “treasure” he finds “in the forest.” “It’s an incredible extension of children’s academic and social and emotional learning. It’s real world experience that fuels his education” she says. “It’s very powerful.”

The Lower School

At Friends Academy, the Lower School builds the foundation for academic excellence. Combined with real-world problem-solving and Quaker values, children are empowered to learn and live with purpose. “We build on the foundation of a Friends education that calls us to see the light in every child and we know that our role is to elevate each child to their full potential,” says Kelly. “No two journeys are the same and yet, fundamental standards for excellence are the underpinnings of all we do at Friends Academy. 

Quakers or Friends education has a long and storied history, over 350 years. However, it’s both modern and timeless. These fundamentals ensure that children develop a solid sense of self, a passion for learning and a mindset that prepares them to approach new opportunities and challenges. “Our children learn an incredibly rigorous curriculum in an environment geared for every child to reach their limitless potential,” says Kelly. “The Lower School program integrates the Responsive Classroom program, which is an evidence-based approach to teaching and learning. This approach recognizes that the deepest learning happens when both social/emotional and academic learning are prioritized. The Responsive Classroom dovetails with Quaker education as they empower students to be critical and analytical thinkers. Children cultivate self-advocacy and self-reflection both in and out of the classroom so that they can become creative and collaborative problem solvers. “We believe in children’s ability to be global citizens and what it looks like at every stage and age of their education,” says Woo.

Math: At Friends Academy, math is viewed as a language. Students work individually and collaboratively on solving real world problems, construct strategies, and design solutions. The CPA Approach (Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract) teaches students that a problem can be solved multiple ways. As a result, children develop the skills of mathematicians as opposed to learning rote steps and formulas. 

Language Arts: Pre-K through Grade 3 uses Wilson Fundations, a multisensory approach to phonics, that helps students develop the tools to be active readers, writers and meaning-makers. Readers and Writers Workshop fosters children’s love of language and supports their growth as they become critical and analytical thinkers. Students develop reading and writing skills through one-on-one teacher conferences, small group instruction, and peer-to-peer partnering. Children also foster their writer’s voice by studying the crafts and techniques of authors while also internalizing the writer’s process. The workshop approach nurtures a classroom community of readers and writers as opposed to only teaching the basics of reading and writing.

Science: Students are encouraged to ask questions, investigate real-life problems and develop connections to the natural world. Science and engineering practices are used to explain phenomena and devise solutions. At each grade level, students explore a range of topics in earth, physical and biological sciences.

Social Studies: The program focuses on a central, essential question. Students explore, investigate, and research complex material related to their course of study. The curriculum builds upon each previous year as children develop a healthy sense of self and belonging. They’re encouraged to examine the perspectives of others in both present-day and historical contexts.

For more information about Friends Academy, visit fa.org or call 516-676-0393.

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