Tammie Lett-Chalmers, a parent of four, says she was surprised when the director of St. Andrew’s School asked to visit with her family in their Richmond home.
But as the head of school at the tuition-free private school in Oregon Hill, Cyndy Weldon-Lassiter, Ed.D., recognizes the crucial role the family plays in every child’s education.
“As the child’s first teacher, parents are the experts,” says Weldon-Lassiter when discussing the home visits initiated by St. Andrew’s School. “I was interested in learning firsthand about each child’s interests outside of school, their home routines, parent expectations, and the different communities from which our children come. It allowed me to begin an open line of communication with families that would enable us to work together to support the child’s learning.”
The tradition of learning is rich at St. Andrew’s, a fully accredited school for economically challenged students, founded by visionary social reformer Grace Arents in 1894. At first glance, the turn-of-the-century Gothic building that sits on the corner of Cherry and Idlewood might be mistaken for a church. But enter its red double doors, and you will discover 90 students, from kindergarten through fifth grade, whose families face extreme economic hardships. With an average class size of 16, the students of St. Andrew’s benefit from small classes, strong academics, and an emphasis on character education, self-respect, and respect of others. Admissions are based on application information, financial records, academic testing, previous school records, personal interviews, and availability.
Weldon-Lassiter, whose education background includes positions with Chesterfield County schools and Collegiate School, says more than half of the children enrolled at St. Andrew’s come from single-parent homes. A smaller percentage of students live with grandparents or are supported through foster care.
Weldon-Lassiter, a mother of three, says St. Andrew’s strives to be a model school for educating children. To that end, the students’ families are viewed as partners in education. Families are encouraged to volunteer a minimum of two hours per nine-week grading period. Mothers, fathers, grandparents and other relatives can be found throughout the three-story building putting up bulletin boards displaying the children’s work, reading in classrooms, and assisting with lunch duty shifts.
Volunteers from the community are an important part of St. Andrew’s success as well. “One volunteer is currently hand-sewing six banners, which will be hung in the main hall, an area that serves as the lunch room and general meeting area,” says Weldon-Lassiter. “The school hosted nearly 300 volunteers last year, who performed tasks ranging from working in classrooms with students, to assisting with administrative duties, to helping with the care and maintenance of the century year old building.”