From the January 2016 issue

What Makes Cranbrook Schools So Special?

This nationally-revered private school, which just happens to be located in Michigan, offers a unique approach to learning amid a campus rich with resources.

Nestled among the hills of Bloomfield sits the 319-acre campus of the Cranbrook Educational Community, home of the Cranbrook Lower, Middle and Upper Schools. It is here, on the campus of one of only three independent schools in the nation designated as a National Historic Landmark, that approximately 1,650 students attend school.

“There are so many things that make Cranbrook a special place to learn,” says Clay Matthews, Cranbrook Schools Director of Communications. “It’s a school you come to and, in a sense, never leave.”

Matthews refers to the school’s strong alumni network and graduates’ continued connection to the school long after they have left its student ranks. That connection is the result of a unique approach to learning that nurtures experiences and relationships that students would be hard pressed to find at any other school locally or even around the country, he maintains.

Part of that unique approach is Cranbrook’s commitment to co-educational and same-sex education.

“Cranbrook has it right,” Matthews says of the school’s single and mixed gender model that first offers co-educational learning for students in Cranbrook’s Lower School, which is comprised of students in pre-K through fifth grade. When students move to middle school, the boys and girls are separated to different schools on opposite sides of campus. In high school, male and female students are re-integrated gradually to the point that by eleventh and twelfth grade, their schooling is completely co-educational once again.

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Throughout this continuum of learning, all students at each school are able to avail themselves of Cranbrook’s vast learning resources. The campus includes the Cranbrook Institute of Science, the Cranbrook Art Museum, the Cranbrook House & Gardens and the Cranbrook Center for Collections & Research.

“Our students have access to all of these resources,” Matthews says. “If they’re studying astronomy, they have access to the observatory and the planetarium. If they’re studying botany, they have access to manicured gardens and preserved wetlands.”

The Cranbrook Art Museum boasts collections documenting examples of art, architecture and design from the 20th and 21st centuries and includes sculpture, paintings, models and drawings, ceramics, glass, furniture, textiles and metalwork.

It’s the Cranbrook faculty who ensure that the abundant resources just steps away from the classroom are weaved into their curriculums, and when it comes to faculty access, the Cranbrook experience once again offers something most other schools cannot. Seventy percent of Cranbrook Upper School faculty members, live on campus meaning student accessibility to teachers is uniquely available well beyond traditional classroom learning time.

Another unique characteristic of Cranbrook Upper School is its boarding component. Students are offered the option to board on campus, and approximately 30 percent of students do so.

“We have students from 19 different states and 23 countries,” Matthews says. “This means that our students represent very diverse backgrounds.”

Regardless from where they hail, students attending Cranbrook understand the importance of, among other things, technology and its applications in the 21st century. The school responds in kind.

“We maintain a strong focus on technology,” Matthews notes. “It is always integrated in service of the curriculum.”

To that end, Cranbrook is a SMART board school, and Cranbrook’s libraries have undergone recent renovations to suit a digital learning environment.

“When we introduce technology, it’s always to forward the curriculum,” Matthews says. “Faculty is free to develop a curriculum that works best, and as a result, more and more we’re seeing one-on-one technology being integrated into classroom learning.”

To many, the prospect of attending a school that rivals the look and feel of a New England prep school may seem out of the realm of possibility from a financial perspective, but Matthews is quick to note that a third of Cranbrook students receive some form of financial aid.

“We awarded approximately $8 million in financial aid last year,” he says.

Despite the vast educational resources in abundance at Cranbrook’s unique campus, Matthews maintains the most compelling reason that students come back year after year is the people.

“Our students and their families are so invested in the school and the art of teaching,” he says. “The relationships here between students and faculty are quite special. Our retention rates of between 94 and 96 percent over the past decade are proof of that.”

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