Garrison Forest’s academic program balances high standards within a welcoming, spirited atmosphere that enables each student to flourish intellectually and individually. With a student to faculty ratio of 8:1, the classroom environment focuses on personal achievement and collaborative learning. The school requires all students to follow a college preparatory track, and all students matriculate to a four-year college. Advanced Placement (A.P.) courses are offered in every discipline.
Garrison Forest’s program has been innovative throughout its history. In 1950, the school closed its coed primary department to focus on the education of girls, creating a separate program to focus on the unique intellectual, social, and emotional needs of middle-school-aged girls, fifth through eighth grades. At the time, and for the next few decades, such a program for middle grade students was nearly unheard of in private, parochial, or public education. By the early 1970s, several of Baltimore’s independent schools had middle school programs, and in 1974, Baltimore City Public Schools introduced its first middle school. In 1975, a nearby preschool and elementary school, the Valley School, merged with GFS, thus returning the school to its founding roots of offering a preschool program. With Valley School came its pre-first curriculum, which was among the first in the country.
Experiential learning, an early 21st century educational buzzword, has been part of the Garrison Forest program since 1969 through the Independent Senior Project (ISP), among the first of its kind in the Baltimore region. Expanding the hands-on learning opportunities for students in the early 2000s includes the introduction of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) in 2005. A partnership between Garrison Forest School and Johns Hopkins University created as a response to the United States’ lack of female scientists and engineers, WISE offers GFS juniors and seniors the opportunity to enjoy a mentored internship in a Hopkins lab. WISE students are culled from a national and international pool of applicants, and students live at Garrison Forest for their WISE semester. They work weekly with professors and graduate students in the Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering and Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts & Sciences. In 2008, WISE expanded to include Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.
In 2008, Garrison Forest also received one of five innovative leadership grants from the Edward E. Ford Foundation to establish the James Center: Programs and Partnerships with a Public Purpose. Named for trustee Amie Boyce James ’70, who matched the Ford Foundation’s challenge grant, the James Center is a “center without walls.” The James Center encompasses the school’s programs in community service, WISE, leadership training, and newer programs in financial literacy. Directed by Whitney Ransome, one of the founding co-executive directors of the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, the James Center also coordinates the Elsie Foster Jenkins ’53 Fellows, competitive summer fellowships funded by Garrison Forest to enable students to participate in community service projects at home and abroad. Each year, five Jenkins Fellows spend the summer in countries such as China, Honduras, India, Israel, Malawi, Peru, and Senegal
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