Starting Strong
For nearly a century, the Meadowbrook School has been helping students, from preschool to sixth grade, gain the confidence, curiosity and leadership needed to excel for the rest of their lives
by Theodora Malison

Since its founding in 1919, the Meadowbrook School has been helping students master empathy, leadership and problem solving—in other words, essential life skills that will serve them well in college and beyond—all by the time they have finished the sixth grade.

The Meadowbrook School, which is tucked away on 16 acres of quiet campus in the Abington Township community of Meadowbrook, focuses solely on teaching elementary-aged children. The independent, nonsectarian school maintains an “unwavering commitment to academic excellence,” all while enabling students to experience childhood unabridged, according to Head of School Michael Reardon.

“Larger schools, K through 12, tend to spotlight high school student successes,” Reardon says. “Instead, we’re focusing the spotlight on celebrating the achievements of children in a young community up to sixth grade.”

Meadowbrook ensures preparedness for the future through a curriculum students find challenging, exploratory and enjoyable.

“We are a school that enrolls children as young as the age of 3, and we offer a rich and vibrant learning environment,” says Reardon. “Our children learn to transition to numerous classes. They’ll attend a science class in the lab, an art class in the studio, and French and Spanish in the language room. In some sense, we go beyond what a self-contained classroom looks like, each day being different from the previous day.”

Janice Mockaitis, the Meadowbrook science teacher, says her students experience a hands-on curriculum that includes reading, writing and participating in science experiments for observation over an extended period of time. In addition, the school’s Engineering is Elementary (EIE) program supports the STEM initiative. Plus, it had the fortunate opportunity to partner with a research lab scientist from Fox Chase Cancer Center to develop its new biology lab. 

“The children do hands-on activities with content built around it,” Mockaitis notes. “They have a desire to see what is happening with their experiments. For example, during our lesson on solvents and evaporation, each first-grade child made their own saltwater solution, which we sat out on the counter and revisited during each class. The students get to visualize their experiments, not just read about them out of a textbook with questions to answer at the end of a chapter. They also develop their own conclusions based on their experiments, which is very important for them to learn. There’s problem solving involved, which is an important process to learn.” 

Fellow Meadowbrook teacher Joe Gaines believes the school’s unique vision allows for students to grasp the meaning of both responsibility and organization. The lessons begin at the start of each day.

“The kids arrive in the morning and right away they are responsible for getting ready for the day,” Gaines adds. “Because each day has a different schedule, they have to be organized and make sure they have whatever they need for that specific day. I tell sixth-grade students’ parents during Back to School Night that we place an emphasis on preparing students for now and for the next phase of their lives.  From having sharpened pencils to having the proper books packed, they need to have great organizational skills to prepare them for what’s down the road.”

In addition to a learning environment that fosters critical thinking, all Meadowbrook students, regardless of age or grade, benefit from a strong sense of community. Here, students are immersed in a culture that underscores the importance of diversity and the value of collaboration.

“The mission is simply to educate students on the value of hard work and humanity to make a positive difference in the community, we do that by ensuring that our students are exposed to academic and social challenges, among many others,” Reardon says. “Our students go through the D.A.R.E. program in addition to doing several community service projects. When we have a dress-down day, we’ll do things like raise money for an SPCA or take a trip to the Abington Hospital and visit senior citizens.

“What I appreciate the most is that our students are empathetic and they become proud when they have the opportunity to help others around them,” he continues. “At a young age, they become appreciative of everything they have.”

Cultivating leadership is an essential part of the Meadowbrook experience, particularly for sixth-grade students.

“Since our sixth-grade students are the oldest, this puts them at a chance to be a leader and teach the younger students,” Gaines says. “All students, however, get to present themselves to an audience of 40 or 50 people at some point, and we stress the idea of presenting confidently and well. One of the things I notice is that our students will make mistakes, but they don’t break character or lose control; rather, they recompose themselves and move on.”

Also, in Meadowbrook’s family-style Dining Commons, fifth- and sixth-grade students display leadership and service by dishing out meals to the younger students during lunchtime. It’s a small but powerful example of the unique leadership opportunities provided by the school, according to Reardon.

“The students are assigned to different tables each month, so everyone in the school community is getting to know one another,” he says. “There’s also the buddy program, which pairs a fourth-, fifth- or sixth-grade student with younger children to be a buddy and a mentor throughout the year. They do regular activities such as arts and crafts with these younger students, and greet them in the morning at the front door.”

Throughout the school, Meadowbrook emphasizes mentorship and “role-model time.” This could be something as simple as an older student helping a younger student find his or her voice.

“The older students, in a sense, help encourage the younger students to speak up, which is typically difficult for students at a young age.” Gaines says. “These opportunities allow the oldest and the youngest kids to work together and see the older students as role models. The parents of these students get to see that there’s a connection among the student body and no one is isolated. It’s an incredible experience.”

Meadowbrook also values play, which can be beneficial for establishing interpersonal skills, fostering collaboration and honing creativity. Reardon believes play also enables children to “be children.”

“Our society has become so hyper-competitive that it has created undue pressure on children and families,” he says. “Parents often feel that their child has to be the first to read or participate in every extracurricular activity possible. Fortunately, we have a balance, and families appreciate it. We want our students exposed to multiple opportunities without forcing them to do everything. A child at a young age needs to learn the importance of balance.

“Our students are participating in concerts, musicals, sports and other activities, and still finding time to make a positive impact on society,” Reardon continues. “When you say ‘being a person for others,’ that is truly done through Meadowbrook.”

This balance is just one of the reasons why, after nearly 100 years of existence, Meadowbrook has consistently produced smart, confident and well-rounded students—students who tend to thrive at top-tier high schools and, ultimately, institutions of higher learning.

“By the time a student is finished at Meadowbrook, they understand what it takes to be confident in and well prepared with their work,” Gaines says. “Our students have more opportunities to be front and center, which is something that really differentiates us from other schools. People tell me they know a Meadowbrook student by the confident way they carry themselves.”

The Meadowbrook School
1641 Hampton Road
Meadowbrook, PA 19046

Photograph by Allure West Studios