Leading the Way
With a challenging curriculum, collaborative learning environment and global focus, Stuart Country Day School empowers girls to become leaders, not followers
by Theodora Malison

The U.S. economy serves as the backbone of America and, in some ways, the world as a whole—yet students typically don’t learn how the economy works until high school, or even college. The girls at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart are a notable exception.

An independent day school for girls in junior kindergarten through grade 12, Stuart Country Day School teaches economics and finance to students as young as five years old. On the school’s 55-acre wooded campus in Princeton, N.J., finance and economics represent just one aspect of a diverse curriculum designed to prepare girls for lives of exceptional leadership and service.

“Empowering our girls to lead, not follow, is essential to Stuart’s mission,” says Michelle Dowling, head of the lower school at Stuart. “In a rapidly changing world, it’s crucial that young women have a sense of both themselves and those beyond their local communities. We want our girls to be at the forefront—defining the conversation, not just taking part.”

Teaching “money concepts” to the student body at such a young age reinforces experiences students have in the real world, according to Susan Beshel, a mathematics specialist who works with students and fellow teachers to integrate math and finance concepts into the curriculum.

“When children go out with their parents to buy a toy, they learn what things cost and how to make a purchase,” Beshel notes. “We use real-life examples to integrate economics and finance into our curriculum, so it’s purposeful—not just random lessons. Our math curriculum is designed to give students a real-world understanding of money.”

Through hands-on learning, girls in the lower school study both ends of the spectrum, from the consumer standpoint to the business and service side. From kindergarten to fourth grade, the school focuses on specific lessons appropriate for each level of learning. Beshel cites one project in particular: a café designed by the kindergarten class, where students “work” as cooks, servers and cashiers.

“They learn a cookie costs five cents, or 10 cents for tea,” she says. “They are required to think about money in a very realistic way.”

Another project—a K-through-4 grocery store—empowers students to purchase, stock and sell grocery items to parents and older student shoppers. As an extension of the project, and in keeping with the school’s Sacred Heart values, finally, the girls donate the grocery items to a local food pantry.

“Each year, lessons on finance become more advanced to prepare the girls for middle school,” Beshel continues. “In third grade, we focus on the differences between charity and empowerment. Girls learn the impact of making a small donation versus taking action that leads to long-term benefits. Fourth grade transitions into spending and saving.”

Likewise, “Women We Admire Day,” which takes place during Women’s History Month, ties directly into Stuart’s mission. On this day, students each portray an iconic woman who has made a significant impact on society, based on their own in-depth research. A highlight of the event is the “Talking Museum,” where each girl shares a brief presentation with visitors, and even the youngest students get the opportunity to practice their public-speaking skills.

Engaged, Connected, Committed
Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart’s innovative curriculum has been well received. “The youngest of learners truly love the integrated units—they repeatedly ask for them,” Beshel says. “There’s a strong sense of empowerment, and the girls’ math skills improve because they love what they’re doing.”

Dowling believes the enjoyment from these integrated units is at least partly responsible for the rise in students’ standardized test scores in mathematics since the program’s inception two years ago.

“We are constantly amazed by all that our girls accomplish,” she says. “They’re not afraid to tackle academic challenges because they’re prepared and supported by our wonderful faculty.”

The lower school space, with individual classrooms surrounding a new, large central learning hub, is designed to encourage hands-on exploration, creation and collaboration. This indoor, garden-like setting provides a joyful and light-filled environment that supports the innovative learning within.

Stuart is part of an international community of 150 Sacred Heart schools who educate students to five specific, core goals: faith, knowledge, social justice, community and personal growth.

“We’re often asked about the benefits of an all-girls school,” Dowling notes. “You’d be amazed what happens when boys are not in the classroom. Girls at Stuart uncover their capabilities and potential. They take academic risks and they hold all leadership roles." Dowling explains that, "There’s a freedom in not having to worry about what the boys will think. And our faculty [members] really understand girls and how girls learn. Through hands-on activities and real-world problem solving, our girls are active participants in their education, and learning makes sense to Stuart girls.”

“At Stuart, there’s a real sense of sisterhood,” Beshel adds. “The girls are kind and compassionate and really look out for each other. With all grade levels in one building, our youngest students are surrounded by mentors and role models. Our park-like setting serves as both an outdoor classroom and a playground, recognizing the importance of play in each girl’s development. At Stuart, girls learn that their possibilities are limitless.”

Stuart Country Day School
1200 Stuart Road
Princeton, NJ 08540

Photograph by Allure West Studios