Sandy Spring Friends School



Demystifying Quaker Education: Answers to the Top 5 Questions About Friends Schools

“A ‘Quaker’ school… What does THAT mean?? Do you all have electricity? Does the ‘Friends’ part of your school’s name just mean that everyone there is super-friendly? Is it religious? Do you go to chapel? How is a Friends school different from any other school?” 

These are some of the questions that students here at Sandy Spring Friends School are sometimes asked when they share that they attend a Quaker school. While about 8-10% of our students do identify as Quaker, many of our current students may have had similar questions when they first applied to SSFS, too. Below are brief answers to five of these frequently-asked questions, along with links to find out more about Quakerism and Friends education.

  1. “What does the ‘Friends’ stand for in Sandy Spring Friends School?” 
    While Quaker schools are known for being very welcoming and friendly places, the term “Friends'' is actually short for “The Religious Society of Friends,” which is what this religious movement called itself when it first originated in mid-17th century England. The term “Quakers'' was a nickname given to the newly-formed religious group by others. While it may have started out as a derisive name (meant to ridicule those who trembled with emotion during Meetings for Worship), members of the group began using it informally among themselves. Now, the term “Quakers'' and “Friends” are used interchangeably.
  2. "When I think of Quakers, I think of the guy on the Quaker Oats box, or people who dress in all black and don’t use electricity. Do you have some kind of dress code, and do you all have electricity and computers?"
    Some people confuse Quakers with the Amish. Both faiths do value peace and simplicity, but they are in fact different religions, with separate roots and belief systems. Sandy Spring Friends School students enjoy all the same modern-day electric conveniences, use the same kinds of computers/devices, and receive the same kind of technology instruction in their classes as their peers in non-Quaker schools in the Washington, DC, region. SSFS students do not wear uniforms (although there is a dress code that prohibits students from wearing clothes that advocate violence or drugs). As for Quaker Oats: that’s just a brand name; there’s no association with the religion. 
  3. "What do Quakers believe?"
    Although there is not one specific creed (and different varieties of Quakerism are practiced throughout the world), one of the fundamental Quaker beliefs is that there is “that of God in everyone,” and that all people have access to a relationship with God, or a divine power, sometimes also referred to as “the Light within.” 

    Quakers believe that they should strive to nurture and attend to this divine relationship, putting principles into practice by “letting their lives speak.” While Quakerism has Christian roots, many Quakers also draw from other religious traditions as part of their quest for spiritual connection. 
    SPICES sign on tree
    Quaker “testimonies” provide some guidance around how we might best live our lives and respect our interconnectedness. Some common Quaker testimonies include
    • Simplicity
    • Peace
    • Integrity
    • Community
    • Equality/Equity
    • Stewardship

    These are sometimes abbreviated as an acronym, known as the Quaker “SPICES.”
  4. "How do Quaker beliefs affect the way the school operates, and what makes a Friends school different from any other kind of school? What makes SSFS stand out from other Friends schools?"
    Friends schools are, generally-speaking, “under the care” of a local Friends Meeting. Friends schools operate on the assumption that there is “that of God in everyone,” seeking out and nurturing the unique gifts of all in the shared quest to support each student to reach their full potential, both as individuals, and as part of the community. 

    While each Friends school is different, there are often some common characteristics of a Friends education, including:
    • Learning through inquiry
    • Learning through reflection
    • Learning through collaboration
    • Learning through service
    • A culture of respect
    • Teachers as partners in the learning process
    Here at SSFS, this translates to a community of curious, passionate students and committed, thoughtful faculty, who teach and learn alongside their students. In keeping with the Quaker testimony of equality/equity, students at SSFS call their teachers by their first names. Teachers recognize the “Light within” each individual, striving to identify and cultivate each child’s intellectual, extracurricular, and social passions. All of this helps to contribute to a culture of trust and respect that fosters a love of learning. 

    SSFS is also very fortunate to be located on a beautiful 140-acre campus with a pond, community farm, old growth forest, streams, and a natural playground, all of which allow for hands-on and experiential learning opportunities in our own backyard. Proximity to Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD, also allow for myriad off-campus opportunities for learning, cultural exploration, social activism, and service. An inquiry-based approach to learning, as well as time set aside for questioning and reflection, provides our students with the tools they need to apply their knowledge in meaningful, practical ways to help make the world a better place.

    Perhaps most importantly, we believe in a diverse, collaborative community in which all members feel seen and heard, and experience a true sense of belonging. 
  5. "What do Quakers do for worship, and are students at Friends schools expected to participate?"
    Students, faculty, and staff at Quaker schools often participate in Meeting for Worship, during which attendees gather together in community and in the spirit of truth-seeking for a period of silence (about 30 minutes once or twice a week for our Upper School students, shorter for our younger students). During this time, participants are invited to listen to the “still small voice within,” in silent expectation of reflection, and divine connection. During these unprogrammed meetings, anyone who wishes may stand up and “speak out of the silence” to share a message or thought that has come to them during the silence. Once the message has been shared, they sit down again, and silence resumes. Sometimes several messages may be shared during a meeting, and sometimes none. The meeting traditionally ends with a handshake by someone who has been designated to end the meeting. 

    Although the silence may feel strange or awkward at first for some, many students have shared that this designated time for quiet reflection and mediation has provided a welcome respite from their busy lives.

Schools like Sandy Spring Friends School are part of a 350-year tradition of Quaker education, which, as Friends Council on Education says, “represents a unique combination of academic excellence and spiritual depth.” Families from all over the globe are attracted to the values and opportunities for individual growth and community-building that Friends schools offer. We hope you will explore more using the links below, or contact us to find out more about our program here at Sandy Spring Friends School.

Want to find out more? 
Find out more about Quakerism and Friends School Education from these sources:

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