“Our children leave us with such high levels of self-esteem and ability that they don’t experience the stress that many students feel at high school,” says Tamra Adams, founder and Head of the Adams International School (AIS) in Goochland County, Virginia. “They are confident and sure of their step. That’s because we offer an education for life, not just for maths and English.”

Adams is a passionate advocate of the Montessori teaching system. As a mother of 12 with a master’s degree in education, she was disappointed by the mainstream schools that her two eldest children attended. “They were reading as infants, yet at school they seemed very disengaged,” she says. “I was very disappointed with that. It’s why I home-schooled the rest of my children. That experience influenced my own style of school, for education that was more concrete and hands-on.”

When she opened AIS in 2009, Adams was determined to offer an education that valued self-motivation, confidence and respect, as well as instilling a life-long desire to learn. The Montessori system chimed with Adams’s ideals and a 256-acre site provided the idyllic setting on which to establish her school. “Environment is critical to a child’s learning,” she says. “The more comfortable and stimulating the environment, the more open children are to each activity and task.”

Pupils are divided into Primary, Elementary and Adolescent classes, with a three-year age span per class. “It allows the younger children to model their behaviour on that of the older students,” says Adams. “It also reinforces the older children’s learning and self-esteem.” The pupils can learn at their own pace, working alone or in small groups, with teachers and materials that invite research and exploration. Many pupils go on to attend one of Virginia’s Governor’s Schools for gifted children.



At AIS, classroom teaching is just part of the story. The school views a broader preparation for life is a core mission. “The children have to set the table for meals, empty the bins, do the laundry, feed the animals,” says Adams. “They also learn a real respect for nature by fishing, hiking and camping out.”

The classrooms, furnished as if part of a large family home, all contribute to a welcoming, inspiring environment, along with a library, dance studio and school house. “Parents tell me that starting here is like flipping a switch – their children become happier and more respectful,” says Adams. “Our pupils naturally gravitate towards learning, which is the real lesson for life.”