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October/November 2008

Cliff Valley School
Learn, Grow, Imagine
by Carrie Whitney

Cliff Valley School  
Hands-on Spanish classes prepare students for a fifth-grade trip to Mexico.
Cliff Valley School in Northeast Atlanta has received almost as much recognition for its state-of-the-art facility as for its excellent academics. After 40 years in rented classrooms, the school moved into its new innovative brick, granite and wood building, which features elements of “green” construction. Two different colors of brick create a striking checkered pattern on the exterior. Boasting a life-size chess set outside, the space was indeed inspired by creativity—appropriate for a school that focuses on inspiring the imaginations of its students. While the building is certainly fascinating, the learning that goes on inside—and outside—the building is even more so. The school is committed to developing the natural learning in every child by supporting each child’s creativity, imagination and individual needs.

In 1966, Cliff Valley was founded as a preschool and kindergarten, and today, the school has 258 students from age two through grade five. Student-teacher ratios remain low, at about 8-to-1. With the high level of teacher and student interaction, the school is able to achieve its goal of meeting students’ individual needs. Since each classroom has multiple teachers, work can often be done in small groups, which give students more opportunities to participate and provide teachers more opportunities to assess students’ learning progress and tailor future instruction to meet students’ needs.

Although the school meets, or even exceeds, the needs of young students in traditional subjects like reading and math, Cliff Valley School’s inventive curriculum includes plenty of not-so-traditional subjects that make the school stand out among Atlanta elementary programs. Its unique Outdoor Classroom program has become one of the school’s hallmarks and one of the main ways the school inspires creativity and imagination in its students. Each class has its own outdoor learning space for planting and exploring. On the school’s second floor is a custom-designed, openair Environmental Education Classroom, where a full-time environmental education specialist incorporates conservation issues into learning. For a Rainwater Harvesting Project, students installed a gutter, downspout and rain barrels on one side of the roof. In three weeks, 90 gallons of water was collected from just two inches of rainfall, which was then used to water the school’s plants and trees.

Cliff Valley
Each class at Cliff Valley has its own outdoor learning space for planting and exploring.
In addition to the Outdoor Classroom, Cliff Valley offers World Music Ensemble, a percussion-based performing group, for upper-elementary students and has extracurricular clubs and activities like sports, chess club, art, drama, music, dance and yoga. Cliff Valley students begin Spanish in pre-kindergarten, and with several years of instruction under their belts, are able to put their Spanish know-how to good use as fifth-graders when they take a trip to Guadalajara, Mexico. “It’s really about giving kids a world perspective before they transition to middle school,” says head of school Michael Edwards. The school also hosts summer camps that offer activities such as photography, basketball, math and language arts, Spanish, natural disasters, art, gardening, performing arts, science and much more.

For 40 years, Cliff Valley indeed has been inspiring its students, and considering its inventive curriculum and innovative space, will continue to inspire for years to come.

Cliff Valley School

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