Frequently Asked Questions

What differentiates VCS from other independent schools?

At VCS, we are committed to developing children’s intellectual vitality and ethical character.

As forward-thinking educators, VCS incorporates the latest discoveries in cognitive science into our teaching methods and curricula.

VCS’s structure and program spur young minds to seek patterns and connections between subject matter, deepening understanding while fueling the curiosity that creates self-motivated critical thinkers. Exciting epiphanies happen every day at VCS.

Our mixed grade Lower School classrooms and integrated social studies-based curriculum prepare students for a complex, interconnected world. Our Upper School program offers a challenging blend of required and elective courses that broaden students’ knowledge while honing their abilities for abstract thinking.

We employ innovative and traditional teaching methods to encourage engaged, active learning. Our language-rich classrooms stimulate students’ interests in other cultures – past and present – and heighten their appreciation of diversity in all forms.

VCS students develop a strong sense of self and of community that they carry with them throughout
their lives.

What are the benefits of choosing a K-8 school like VCS?

The K-8 years are critically important to a child’s academic and social development. At VCS, we devote all our resources to helping students establish an unabashed love of learning and the resilient self-confidence that will serve them well for a lifetime.

Students thrive when they feel safe to be daring and creative with their learning, never worrying about the opinions of high schoolers. In our K-8 setting, students expect to be supported and supportive of their peers. They value respect, kindness, inclusivity, empathy and mutual responsibility. VCS students are free to be their age-appropriate selves, retaining their spontaneity and unselfconscious excitement about learning.

At VCS, we take our students seriously, especially as they reach adolescence. Some K-12 schools do not prioritize Grades 6-8 as strongholds of intellectual inquiry and growth. We do. We know how sophisticated young minds can be when offered opportunities to tackle the big questions and stretch beyond typical expectations.

Observers of VCS Upper School classrooms often note how the level of discourse is similar to that of a university seminar – rich in debating different points of view, collaborating to solve problems and pursuing new ideas sparked by our students’ well-honed intellectual curiosity.

Our K-8 structure also provides many opportunities for students to be leaders. Students in Grades 4 and 5 are the Lower School’s leaders and serve as mentors to younger children. These responsibilities grow as students advance through Upper School. Our 7th and 8th Graders are empowered, enthusiastic role models for the entire student body. They best demonstrate what it means to value and encourage each other, developing rewarding relationships across age groups based on trust and mutual reliance.

The advantage of K-8 becomes doubly clear as our students depart for high school. VCS graduates have ownership of their intellectual growth. They know how they learn best and love to challenge themselves – their own accomplishments being the focus of their competitive fire.

VCS students graduate feeling self-assured and ready for high school. They look forward to this new chapter in their education, having carefully chosen it in alignment with their talents and ambitions as young people, not according to who they were as kindergarteners. Prepared, optimistic and poised, VCS graduates go on to excel in highly competitive high schools, universities and professions.

For the latest research in the advantages of a K-8 education, please click here.

What kind of child does well at VCS?

Successful VCS students are diverse in personalities, strengths and interests. What unites them is their vibrant intellectual curiosity. They are enthusiastic learners who enjoy our stimulating, hands-on teaching methods. They embrace new experiences and delve deeply into subject matter. They welcome opportunities to play different roles, whether classroom leader or collaborative team member.

What are the advantages of VCS’s integrated curriculum?

Our cross-disciplinary approach aligns with what modern neuroscience tells us about effective learning. Children’s brains look for patterns and connections. When the brain encounters familiar subject matter in a novel or unfamiliar context, it makes a new connection – an insightful moment of deeper understanding.

VCS teaches subject matter in depth – immersing children in their studies – and fosters the making of those cognitive connections through our social studies-based, integrated curriculum. Lower School students encounter meaningful, social studies theme-based activities in all their classes.

For example, students focusing on migration via the 19th century expansion into the American west will research the period and its culture, write about it, read pioneer novels, build covered wagons in woodshop, map and calculate routes in math, sing period songs, head to the tech lab to invent and 3D print a useful device for migrants, and so forth.

Such resonant, integrated experiences help children synthesize and take ownership of their learning. By Upper School, VCS students are adept at making connections – essential for rigorous, critical thinking – and find great pleasure in doing so.

Who are the teachers at VCS?

Our teachers are smart, thoughtful role models who exemplify intellectual curiosity and a lifelong passion for learning. Though they come from a variety of backgrounds, they share a deep commitment to our curriculum and a caring, enthusiastic approach to education.

VCS teachers continuously pursue professional development and regularly win grants from funders like the Fulbright Foundation, the Freeman Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts to further their studies.

How are VCS Lower School classrooms configured?

Generally speaking, each Lower School classroom clusters children with an age span of 12 to 24 months and serves two grade levels: K/1st, 1st/2nd, 2nd/3rd and 3rd/4th. Grade 5 classrooms are typically composed of same-age students.

Each Kindergarten class reaches Upper School together. But each VCS student travels an individual path through Lower School.

Whatever a child’s grade grouping is from year to year, the student always encounters new coursework appropriate to his/her grade level.

For example, a second grader may be placed in a 1st/2nd Grade classroom or a 2nd/3rd Grade classroom. In either case, the Grade 2 coursework is the same and the milestones that the second grader is expected to meet are the same.

Every year, the VCS team spends many hours carefully composing each mixed grade classroom grouping. We work toward the ideal mix of student learning styles, emotional and social needs, personalities and leadership readiness.

This deliberate, thoughtful process ensures that all of our students are doing their best work, making new friendships and achieving intellectual and social milestones.

How do mixed grade groups benefit students?

Our model of mixed grade groupings in the Lower School suits students’ manifold developmental needs.

Any group of children will develop at different rates – physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively. VCS teachers are able to challenge small groups of similar students with an age range of 24 months, rather than push one agenda at a single-grade class.

This thoughtful, small-group approach ensures VCS students remain fully engaged with their education. They always learn at the sweet spot of understanding, what educators call the “zone of proximal development” – edging into unknown territory while mastering known material. They never get lost in the shuffle, becoming frustrated or bored.

Mixed grade groupings also promote cognitive and social flexibility by giving students the experience of being both the oldest and the youngest in a classroom. Children can’t change their place in their family’s birth order; but their roles change at VCS. This prevents rigidity in self-perception and encourages confidence. Friendship circles expand (and cliques recede) as students bond with new peers.

Creativity and experimentation thrive in mixed grade classrooms. Having younger students around encourages older students to remain unselfconscious with their learning. Having more advanced students around gives younger students the courage to try something out, guided by these older role models.

Such leadership opportunities are integral to mixed grade classrooms. Early on, VCS students learn how to take responsibility for oneself and others, to be empathic and respectful and to confidently act on their ambitions.

How does VCS measure a child’s progress?

VCS evaluates students in the same way we educate them: comprehensively.

Our teachers evaluate each child across a checklist of developmental goals and academic skills appropriate to his/her age and grade level. Twice a year, parents receive detailed progress reports highlighting a student’s strengths, achievements and opportunities for growth.

In Grade 3 students are introduced to the experience of taking formal standardized tests; testing continues through Grade 8.

What is the VCS approach to homework? How much is typically assigned?

VCS uses homework to extend a child’s intellectual life outside of the school day through experiences that help synthesize knowledge and build strong organizational and time-management skills.

All students are encouraged to read at home every evening. At 3rd Grade, children begin receiving subject-matter homework typically requiring 30 minutes per night. Upper School students tackle long-term assignments and complete 20-30 minutes of daily homework for each subject.

What after school activities does VCS offer?

Lower School students may participate in our supervised, drop-in PlayGroup from dismissal until 6:00 p.m. (billed at a reasonable hourly rate). The VCS AfterSchool Program offers various classes each semester in art, music, sports, etc. for an additional fee. Study Center is a supervised environment for students in Grades 3-5 to complete homework, available at no additional cost.

After-school elective coursework is included in the Upper School program; offerings vary across art, music, journalism, computer programming and other topics. Please see the VCS Curriculum Guide for more information. Upper School students may also use the Library from dismissal until 6:00 p.m.

How do VCS graduates perform in highly competitive environments?

Very well. As VCS students, they learned to actively seek out challenges, confidently advocate for themselves and others, build strong teams and discover innovative solutions. Our graduates are self-disciplined, interesting, skilled individuals who are sought after by highly selective high schools and universities.

Where do VCS graduates go to high school and college?

VCS graduates typically seek very competitive settings where they can excel. They attend a wide variety of high schools: independent day and boarding schools, religiously affiliated schools and public schools. To view our recent high school placements, click here. VCS graduates’ college choices similarly reflect their self-confidence and self-knowledge; click here to see a list of colleges and universities attended by VCS alumni.

How do VCS parents participate in the life of the school?

Parents offer their time and talents in several areas. Two parents from each homeroom volunteer as Class Parents who liaise with VCS administrators and assist with a variety of school activities. Parent members of the Community Service Committee help organize volunteers and projects for our annual Service Day and other outreach initiatives. VCS parents also play key roles in the success of our fundraising initiatives and social events.