Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought private schools would be something I would consider for my kids, let alone feel like it’s a necessity. I grew up pretty poor in the public school system, with my Mom working her butt off to make ends meet and provide. When I moved to St John’s county, I heard nothing but amazing things about the school system. So when we have not had good experiences in the three years we’ve been here, I knew something had to change for my kids.
With the ever-changing society, I do not feel like the minds of my children are safe…let alone their physical safety. So in December 2022, I started the journey of learning about the private schools in the area. I knew nothing when I started, and I still have lots to learn. But in this article I’m sharing what I have learned about schools in the area in an effort to help other parents in a similar position. It takes a village, and I feel like the sharing this knowledge is necessary.
I was originally going to write this and try and keep my opinion of the schools I toured out of it. But with the amount of people reaching out to me asking about what I have found, I am including my personal opinion about each school I visited. That being said, please know it’s my personal opinion based on what I know my kids need. If you’re reading this, you probably are looking for private schools in the Jacksonville area and your kids probably have very different personalities and needs. So I do recommend visiting as many schools as you can so you can get a feel for whether or not each school feels right for your family.
In no particular order, here is what I have experienced in the tours here in the Jacksonville/ St Augustine area.
Providence is a school that is highly recommended. It seems like a lot of people who do not really know much about private schools know that Providence is very competitive athletically. Providence was one school that many people brought up to me when I mentioned I was looking.
When I booked the tour the administration wasn’t necessarily mean or rude, but they weren’t very nice. This may not be an issue for some, but it didn’t sit very well with me. Still, I wanted to complete the tour with an open mind.
When I checked in, I got more of the same feeling. It wasn’t a welcome feeling, more of a “let’s do this tour and check the box.” With the amount of money you spend on private school, I feel like kindness should be part of the package. The school itself felt like a public school. The way it is built is larger than a lot of the private schools. The sports program is pretty strong and their athletic fields and areas are top notch.
The thing that really stuck out to me the most is the fact that we were in the doorway of the art room when a teenager looked at my 6yo and said “get outta my way, little kid”. I don’t know if my tour guide or art teacher heard him or not, but the art teacher was excited to tell me that was her son. My thought process was that if that is the teacher’s kid being mean to a small child, this was not the environment I wanted for my kids. One of the reasons I am looking at private schools is so my kids are not just a number, and it definitely felt like they would fall into being a number at Providence.
Christ’s Church Academy (CCA) https://www.ccajax.org
This school was a completely different feeling from the very beginning. The administration was very sweet and so helpful. From the first phone call to when I showed up for the tour, I felt very welcome and like my family mattered to them. They recently opened at their new campus, but it is still super small with no intention to grow. Classes have about 11 kids each, with two classes per grade.
After the tour, I was asking some questions and got invited into the administrator’s office and she encouraged me to ask as many questions as I needed. She asked my kids if they had questions. It definitely felt like the people at this school truly care about the kids and want them to succeed not only in school but in life.
The biggest issue with this school is their size and it is the closest to St John’s county, so the wait list grows so fast that applications need to be put in way before the end of January before the following year. Even with that, obviously returning families get first dibs on spaces and there aren’t many spaces available after that.
If you tour this school and find it a fit, I would still put your kids on the list. There are families who received the call right before the beginning of the school year as other families will continue looking and choose another school and then opt out when their name comes up.
This school was recommended to me from a neighbor whose kids went to CCA but gave this as alternative with the wait list at CCA. The location unfortunately made it impossible for us even before we visited, but I did want to see what it was about just in case.
It is an extremely tiny school in the middle of downtown St. Augustine. They have two locations about 15 minutes apart, so if you have a in k-2 and then a kid in 3-12th there will be a pretty big commute unless you live downtown. We visited an open house which started in the upper school. The school itself reminded me a bit of a house with how small it is. But it was a very pretty building. The outside looked a bit like a prison, there’s a basketball goal with a little cement and the rest of the outdoor space for the kids is just dirt. It is a christian school surrounded by BLM and pride flags, so whether that is your jam or not is something to note.
What stuck out to me is they don’t have a designated cafeteria. They use a supply closet where they will give out hot meals. I don’t know if it was just because it was an open house and not a private tour, but the students were on a show for us when we visited each room. The students stood up and recited something or answered questions in every class we visited. It was very strict and structured, so it seems to be geared more towards kids who thrive in a very structured environment where they are to just do as they are told and prepare for passing college.
Trinity was also kind, but it was a bit different from the beginning. I scheduled my tour online, and I did receive text and email reminders about the tour. The reminders were nice, but the way they came to me was a reminder to book my appointment with a specific name at the school. I thought I was getting lots of spam and didn’t ‘realize it was from Trinity. I did bring this up and was told they will fix that, because it was a new process they were trying and didn’t realize how it was going out.
Even though I had no issues booking the tour, the first thing I was told when we got started on the tour was that applications were closed. So I immediately wondered why in the world I was there. There were some classes of younger kids in a building across the parking lot, which felt unsafe for me. I was told they have 24/7 security and they could be anywhere on campus within a few minutes. When I asked if it was armed security, I was told no because only so many schools in the area can have armed guards. I know this is not true, because even our public schools all have armed guards. I’m not sure why she lied to me, but the fact that the school is so big and they don’t have armed guards made me very uncomfortable.
The younger kids (up to 5th grade) stick with one teacher all day and even eat lunch in their classroom. That felt like a very long time with one teacher and group of kids to me, with no real break for them.
In the upper school area, there are bricks with some open cut-outs next to the doors. So even though every classroom door was locked, someone with a gun could come in and either just put it through the brick or even shoot through that weakened brick.
The classes were also pretty large, with at least 20 kids per class. To me, this doesn’t alleviate the issues of the kids potentially being overlooked. Unfortunately, teachers just cannot give the attention needed to every child when there are so many kids in the classroom.
Another school that is beautiful and the staff is very kind. I spoke on the phone for more than 30 minutes each with someone from the upper school and with someone from one of the lower school campuses. They have a very streamlined process of applying online. This school is very highly recommended in my neighborhood as well, and I can see why.
Their beaches campus was completely full for the grades I needed, so I was speaking with the St. Mark’s campus for my littles. I scheduled a tour and they had me start the online process to get ahead. I was told the St. Mark’s campus may not have space either, but to apply because they had been receiving so many applications they may be able to open up another classroom. The fact that they would rather open another classroom than turn people away said a lot for me.
The St. Mark’s campus is beautiful. Well, the part I saw at least. It was a bit odd when I got there and was invited in to be interviewed. So there was no tour on my tour unfortunately. She was very kind, but I was not prepared to be interviewed and not have a tour. I did want to ask about their vaccination stance, because in bright red bold lettering on the application process online they say they do not accept religious exemptions for vaccinations.
When I asked about this, I was told they want to keep the kids safe. So I did ask if kids are vaccinated, they should be safe from unvaccinated kids and she didn’t have an answer. I then asked her about it being a religious school and typically faith-based places are against abortion but they are required aborted fetal cells be injected in their kids. She definitely didn’t know anything about that, and said she would look into it.
She did tell me they offer medical exemptions, but they are very hard to get. With how hard I am trying to find a school for my kids, that was a battle I wasn’t willing to fight. For bigger reasons, if they are a faith-based school but pushing vaccines and do not accept a religious exemption, I was just wondering how else they may be a bit hypocritical.
**Side Note**It was a very respectful conversation both ways, as I had no intention of causing issues. I know this topic is very controversial right now, and I am not trying to start a big back-and-forth on that. It is just something I have discovered in the last few years and it is important to me. That being said, I respect anyone’s decisions about vaccination as I believe we are all trying to do what’s best for our families. I just don’t believe it should be pushed on people one way or another.
St Johns Country Day https://www.sjcds.net
I made this appointment to tour this school online, and received a phone call to verify the appointment which was very nice. They were very kind to me from the beginning and through the entire process. When I arrived for the tour, they had a sign up with our family name on it to welcome us to the school.
I loved that this campus focuses a lot on outdoor time. They eat lunch outside (weather permitting), have breaks and recess outside, and have snacks outside. Parents are not allowed to eat lunch with the kids here, as they want the kids to have time without adults and be able to decompress or even work out issues on their own without adults shadowing over them.
Their facilities are nice and kept up well. What stood out to me about this school was how they spoke about actually caring about the kids. So if a kid acts out in some way, they don’t just punish. They speak to the child about what happened and try to get to the root of the problem. They also have 4th and 5th grades in a separate area where they focus on helping them transition from little kid to middle schooler. In middle school, their field trips are usually overnight.
The rooms were set up to be a very pretty and calm space, with fun lighting to comfy chairs in most rooms in the lower schools. They have small class sizes, and really seem to care about teaching children to be good people as well as focusing on their education.
I didn’t ask a lot about it, but it seems like their athletic program isn’t super strong. Although they did have a decent number of kids still getting sports scholarships (mostly baseball and soccer), but their football program was put down because the students usually play football as a place holder and prefer different sports. They do have an IT program that includes several options for kids not interested in athletics and had a student in 2022 receive a full scholarship for video gaming.
These are the schools I visited as of the time of writing this article. I didn’t visit any of the catholic schools, as I know that is not the right environment for my kids. But I have heard great things about San Juan Del Rio. One parent I know from cheer said her kids all have gone to St. Joseph’s but they changed some administration and do not like boys these days. Her recommendation was to check out Hope Christian Academy.
When I started looking, I personally wasn’t really interested in Bolles even though it’s definitely the highest rated private school around here. But any time I had spoken to them, they were very rude to me as if I would need to gravel to them. I did, however, get a little panicked and gave them a call late in the game. The woman I spoke to that time was nice to me, but said they were full and not accepting anymore applications.
Each school has their tuition on their website, and they vary pretty greatly. But with the new bill in place by Gov Desantis, financial help should hopefully come easier if you need it. I personally went from being a SAHM and entrepreneur to a full-time job just to pay for school for my kids because it’s so important to me.
The process to get in is quite lengthy from start to finish, so it is best to start as early as you can. The kids will need to test, there is an application fee per student, the tour, a shadow day for your kids to make sure it’s a fit both ways, and they will require to see grades from previous schools and have a teacher recommendation from previous schools.
Once again, I highly recommend checking out these schools and more for your own family. You may have completely different experiences and get a different vibe. The most important thing is to do what’s best for your family. I do hope this is helpful for you and that you find the perfect fit for your family. Feel free to connect with me here or on social. https://msha.ke/leahbeday
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