Inclusive and accepting. Kind and compassionate. Enjoyable. These are some of the words that Cody Xu, a student from China, uses to describe Sandy Spring Friends School (SSFS).
Xu is part of its optional boarding programme for Upper School students. It feels like home and it’s been nothing short of inclusive: 27% of its Upper School student body (nine to 12 years) are from abroad, representing as many as 17 countries across the world, including China, Italy, South Korea, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Russia, Thailand, and more.
“When I arrived in Sandy Spring, I found that I was joining an established community. Teachers patiently answer any question asked by students. It doesn’t matter where you come or what you like – all that matter is who you are,” enthuses Xu.
At SSFS, students get uninterrupted academic, social, and emotional support. This Quaker school practises a 325-year-approach to learning that emphasises inquiry, reflection, collaboration, service, respect and partnership with teachers. In this, the school has designed a unique academic curriculum that trains students to question the “why” and “how.”
Experience-based opportunities show students how to use their knowledge in valuable and meaningful ways. The Upper School Intersession – consisting of service and international trips – and Outdoor Education Programme expand learning beyond the traditional four walls of a classroom.
In the classroom, teachers are more than just educators – they are family. They act as mentors, guiding students to discover their inner passions and talents. In keeping with Quaker practices, open communication is encouraged and students often refer to teachers by their first names – a rare quality in schools which helps students reach their full potential.
In the dorm, boarders have easy access to academic support. Dorm parents and dorm affiliates meet with boarders in family or mentor groups to help them achieve their academic goals. They help these young learners keep track of their progress with homework and assignments, supporting them if they need help to accomplish these tasks.
The support does not just end there. Students can connect with the faculty after regular school hours and attend student-proctored study halls from Sunday through Thursday evenings. They can also reach out to Upper School Counsellors and Learning Specialists – who are available during school hours and visit the boarders weekly.
In this multicultural community, boarders not only bond over their identity as international students, but also guide one another as they deal with distinctive challenges like getting around campus or managing their finances.
It’s a culture that allows Xu to connect with his peers more deeply. “You’re not just saying ‘Hi’ or asking, ‘How are you doing?’ – you’re getting deeper than a basic relationship and discovering their interest, hobbies, and what they like to do,” he says.
Building independent, confident, and grounded leaders
Staying on campus lets students become active, contributing members of a diverse and inclusive community.
It starts with chore responsibilities that rotate every week. Boarders are in charge of making their own meals and cleaning the kitchen and dining space, among other duties.
Living with roommates come with its set of perks and downsides — all of which SSFS will experience as only two students are allowed to live in one room. What sets this boarding experience apart from other boarding schools, however, is the option to create a roommate contract, which helps dictate the terms of living with another boarder.
Boarding here can have the effect of bringing people together — as well as the world. As SSFS embraces the tradition and culture of its student community, you’ll find students painting the Chinese character for “Happiness” during Lunar New Year. International students like Xu also had the chance to make mooncakes during the Mid Autumn Festival.
Over the weekends, boarders spend time with their friends, volunteer in the community, or engage in school-sponsored activities and trips. Those on the five-day boarding programme will return home to spend time with their families. Those who want to share a passion with their peers can request the activities coordinator to lead or select an enrichment activity.
With Baltimore and Washington, D.C. a short drive away, its museums, exhibits, universities and colleges, and even more opportunities for civic engagement beckon. SSFS students have the chance to visit many of them.