Carrie Sparks and Christopher Palmer, Class of 2029 Parents

Carrie Sparks and Christopher Palmer were not familiar with all-girls education until they started looking at schools for their daughter. After seeing the differences in how their son and daughter learned, they decided to look at The Ellis School and ultimately enrolled Edie, Class of 2029. Firm believers that Ellis cultivates girls to be lifelong, confident learners, Christopher and Carrie share how Ellis has fostered Edie’s individuality and encouraged her growth.
Daughter:Edie, Class of 2029
Years at Ellis:3
Occupations:Carrie, Stay-at-home mother | Christopher, Computer Scientist

Why did your family choose Ellis?
Christopher: Originally, Ellis was not on our radar—I was unsure about choosing an all-girls school. But when our son, James, and daughter, Edie, each got a bit older, we began to really see the differences in how boys and girls learn in the classroom. Once we toured Ellis, we saw how great of a school it was and pictured Edie as a student here.

Carrie: I was never against an all-girls school, but I was not strongly for it. It wasn’t until I read the recommended reading on the Ellis website that sending Edie to an all-girls school really rang true to me. At home, I could see how Edie’s brain worked and how James’ brain worked and the difference between the two. That combined with the reading made me realize how important it was for her to be in an all-girls environment. Edie is such a quirky, smart, and interesting person, and I knew that those qualities would be nurtured and respected at Ellis.

Christopher: We believe that Ellis not only is open to girls' input but that Ellis regularly and systematically solicits their input on so many aspects of their educational experience. Girls are active participants in their education and are able to witness first-hand how their choices and decisions impact them and the people around them. Ellis gives girls, at a very young age, a platform where they are active decision-makers in their own lives and they are able to witness how their choices play out in an environment that is supportive yet provides reflection and feedback on the impact of their choices.

What did the decision-making process look like for your family? What stood out about Ellis?
Carrie: After we toured the School, but before we applied, I had a phone conversation with the Head of Lower School. When I got off the phone with her, I knew Ellis was the right place for Edie. She talked about Edie in a way that no other school administrator did, she really made an effort to get to know her—she even recommended a book series for her that was spot on. From that phone conversation on, I knew Ellis really cared about knowing and investing in my daughter. It really felt like we were being treated like family.

Why do you stay at Ellis?
Carrie: We chose to stay because Ellis sees girls as individuals. When we come in for a parent-teacher conference, Edie’s teachers talk about her using language that resonates with who she truly is. From her specials teachers to the school nurse, all of the faculty and staff make an effort to see, know, and celebrate the girls for who they are. There’s some magic ingredient at Ellis that makes all of the girls bond together in a cohesive unit. It’s really amazing to see and be part of the community Ellis creates.

Christopher: Edie is made for Ellis, and Ellis is made for Edie. She loves it and we know she’s in good hands here.

What does your daughter love about Ellis? What do you love about Ellis?
Carrie: When I asked Edie, she said I love my friends, I love my teachers, and I love the people who work there—everybody is nice! To her, that means Ellis is a safe, happy place. Every day at Ellis has been a good day for her. She’s always wanted to be here. As a parent, I love how Ellis teaches soft skills. It’s the soft skills that really need years and years of practice and replicating. At the end of the day, we want her to be a good person first and foremost.   

What do you value in education for your daughter?
Christopher: An education that doesn’t solely value good grades and getting into a good college—rather an education that values and teaches the whole person. For Edie, we want her to be a lifelong learner who has interests and passions. We want her to be engaged and active in her education and confident enough to try new things. When we were making our decision, it felt like Ellis was really good at giving girls the confidence to be their own person. You really get the feeling that at Ellis, girls are learning to be good people.

Why has your family prioritized and invested in an all-girls school?
Carrie: Our children come first, and we want to give them things that we didn’t have. And after our home, there’s nowhere more important than school. I can’t imagine not prioritizing where Edie spends eight hours a day; her happiness is absolutely paramount. I want my daughter to know herself, love herself, and know when she heads out into the world how much strength lies inside her. I couldn’t imagine not giving her this gift of an Ellis education because we can, and we should.

What do you hope your daughter will get out of an Ellis education?
Carrie: Self-assurance, self-reliance, the ability to cope, and the courage to take risks. I want her to be able to rely on herself and have the confidence to put herself out there. She doesn’t need to accomplish grand goals, but I want her to have the wherewithal to achieve whatever she wants to do.

Christopher: I hope Edie will find a true love of learning at Ellis. All we could hope for her is that she remains a good person.

Carrie: The relationship Ellis has with its girls is totally reciprocal. It is a dynamic entity that is continually being shaped and reshaped by the amazing inventive minds of its girls. Edie doesn't just go to Ellis, she is Ellis. What an amazing thing, right? The initial impact of the Ellis experience has turned a shy and timid girl into someone who genuinely believes she has and deserves a seat at the table and that her opinions and beliefs are just as valuable and worthy as anyone else —adult or child, male or female. That will certainly prepare her well for life outside of Ellis.

What in particular do you think she learns because she goes to an all-girls school?
Christopher: I would say it’s more of the things she doesn’t learn because she goes to an all-girls school. She doesn’t know what it’s like to be in a bad classroom environment or what it’s like to be quiet and not speak up. She doesn’t learn that “boys are better at sports” because, at Ellis, all of the girls are the best at sports.

Carrie: She really has no concept of that kind of negativity. At Ellis, she’s constantly raising her hand and sharing her thoughts. I could have seen her being intimidated to do that in other schools. In an all-girls environment, the classrooms are quieter which gives Edie the ability to focus more.

What’s the biggest difference or change you’ve seen in your daughter since she started at Ellis?
Carrie: Edie is a timid girl by nature, but you wouldn’t know that now that she’s at Ellis. These girls are taught to be brave and self-assured starting in the Lower School when they’re just coming into themselves. From being the shy girl to now being the girl who can’t wait to order by herself at a restaurant, Edie has become so much more confident in herself since she started.

How would you describe an “Ellis girl”?
Carrie: Ellis girls are kind, confident leaders. They’re community-based, giving, and charitable. They are free to be their individual selves and they know that.

Christopher: From very early on in the Lower School, there’s a huge focus on helping others, especially your classmates and peers. A first grader will walk a pre-kindergarten student back to her classroom for lunch, or a first grader will be empowered to help a teacher with a small task. At Ellis, the girls are encouraged, empowered, and supported by the whole community. They don’t look to adults to model adult behavior, they look to each other.

What is your favorite Ellis memory as a parent/guardian?
Christopher: It’s the little things that happen every day that add up. It’s when we go to Mellon Park after school and see her friends on the playground. She sees all the plaid and she feels good being with them and identifying as an Ellis girl. One time, I had the pleasure of spending my day at the Carnegie Science Center with her class and it was so much fun seeing the whole group of them together. They’re really interesting and really funny and all seem to genuinely enjoy being together.

Carrie: The Lower School musical is definitely a highlight. Our son was invited to the show this year with his class, and he mentioned that his friends still talk about the play and Edie on stage because they had so much fun. The way Ellis invites other schools to the production really reinforces what a great community it is here. For me, it’s being a part of this community and seeing how all of the individuals come together as a group. The girls, their families, and everyone who works here supports each other and has their back. What a place to be where you all of a sudden have 400 people that have your back. From the teachers to the older girls, everyone wants to see everyone else succeed. Ellis is a place that roots you on and encourages you.

Envision Her at Ellis

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