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An Affordable and Accessible Severn Experience

At Severn, our mission is to create a diverse and inclusive community where every individual feels a sense of belonging.
This commitment to diversity is demonstrated at the outset as we actively engage students who bring a myriad of interests, talents, and cultural perspectives to the community during the admission process. By welcoming a broader mix of students—including those from varied socio-economic backgrounds—the educational experience at Severn is more innovative, thought-provoking, and creative; the student life experience becomes richer, more robust, and more rewarding. For all these reasons, we remain committed to widening the doors of learning and making a Severn education accessible to a broader audience.

In support of that goal, Severn School awards nearly $4 million in need-based financial aid annually, much of which is funded through generous donations from Severn alums, foundations, and other major donors.
"Financial aid is a critical tool for ensuring that Severn remains a vibrant community, and we are committed to providing support to those who demonstrate financial need," said Kim Slade, Director of Enrollment Management and Outreach. "We want any student or family who feels that Severn is the right place for them to know that financial resources are available to assist in making it possible."

On average, 25% of students benefit from some level of financial assistance each year. However, there is a larger story behind that figure because support for each qualifying family is personalized to ensure they feel supported during their Severn years. This is accomplished by working with families to acknowledge and address specific circumstances that might prevent a student from fully participating in the Severn experience.
This type of supplemental support can range from early access to Severn’s free gently used uniforms prior to the start of school to fee waivers for AP exam fees for those who qualify. "The goal isn't just to make it possible for these great students to be here – it's to make sure that once they're here, they aren't missing out on the experiences that define student life and integrate families into the community," said Slade. "We do everything we can to ensure students find their place here and are set up for success."

Underscoring that point, Cynthia Miller P’18’20 shared that one of the things she valued most about the experience was how it was possible to be side by side with students and families from very different socio-economic backgrounds, yet still feel a part of the same community. "I think it's notable that Severn can go about this in a way that allows all students to feel equal," she said. "And I can't speak highly enough about Severn being willing to open its doors wider and make this experience accessible." The Miller family applied for and received financial aid for their two daughters.
 
Preparation for College and Beyond

Bill Zimmerman ’67 has contributed to Severn School for the past two decades for one consistent purpose: to make it possible for motivated students from all backgrounds to come to Severn. “I think that the experience students get at Severn is something they won’t get at 99% of other schools,” said Zimmerman. “It prepares them for college and beyond.”

"In today's world, education is the difference," he added. "But it's more than just what you're learning; it's the environment you're learning in. That's the key."

Zimmerman wants to ensure that funds are available to help a family send their child to Severn and have this experience. “It’s important to me that Severn be accessible to a student who would thrive here, even if a family can’t afford it on their own. Maybe they have two or three kids, or perhaps it's just too much of a reach.

“Giving towards financial aid means that we can talk to all the students who want the Severn experience and who would contribute to the community in positive ways,” he said. “That coming here is a possibility for them regardless of income, and it is a win for the family and Severn."

As a family who benefited from that philanthropic mindset, Cynthia Miller couldn’t agree more. “As a parent, it’s a huge thing to feel like you can get this amazing experience without having the resources to back it up,” she said.

Zimmerman’s Severn experience in the 60’s was very different from what students enjoy today. He attended Severn when it was an all-boy prep school for the Naval Academy. There were only 300 students -- 150 "day hops" and 150 boarders. Tuition then was around $1,000, and many of the students were what he categorized as "military brats from families that didn't make a lot of money."

Zimmerman has contributed to various areas within Severn but consistently directs at least a portion of his annual gift toward financial aid.

For Zimmerman, there is great pride in seeing students benefiting from this resource thrive. But he also points to the bigger picture in articulating why he continues to give. “When you give to Severn, you’re putting your money into the betterment of society,” he said. “I think supporting Severn is a small fee with a big reward. The students who have the opportunity to learn and grow here have a leg up on their peers. They will become leaders in the medical field, our government, business, and beyond. Therefore, it's a foundation that you support in the hope that it's building something positive."

An Investment in Their Future

Susan Handy P'27'28'31is fully agrees with Zimmerman that academics are the best way to secure your future. It's what attracted Susan and her husband, Jeff, to Severn School in the first place. But as a family with three boys, making the experience a reality came down to financial aid.

Their oldest son, Jake ‘27, started Severn in eighth grade and is finishing his freshman year. He will be joined at Severn for the 2024-25 school year by younger brothers Nick ’28 and Josh ’31. Handy has been blown away by the incredible academics and how Severn challenged Jake and supported him, helping him pursue excellence and build the skills necessary to overcome difficult situations.

“Jake’s confidence has grown among his peers and in the classroom,” she said. “He doesn’t shy away from pressure, and he accepts challenges. He has developed many great study habits and learned time management.” Jake received the Laura Kang Principal’s Award at the eighth-grade promotion ceremony in June 2023 as a testament to his development. During the award presentation, it was noted that despite experiencing some setbacks in his first year, Jake always managed to turn things around, both in the classroom and on the field.

Having witnessed Jake’s growth and development at Severn, the Handys naturally wanted the same for their other two sons. "I know that Severn will set them up for success," said Handy. "We're confident that Severn will challenge them in ways that will put them on a path to a good college, a good career, and a successful future."

"Severn is a real blessing to us, and the financial assistance we receive makes it possible for us to be a part of this community," said Handy. “Severn is an investment in their future.”

Seven Years at Severn

Emma Miller ’20 is a recent graduate from the University of Richmond, having earned a dual degree in art history and political science and a minor in Spanish. She credits her Severn experience with getting her this far and with the bright future ahead—a Severn experience made possible thanks to financial aid.

Make no mistake, Miller has put in the work, challenged herself, and sought out opportunities through internships, jobs, and travel experiences. But the things she learned during her seven years at Severn empowered her and built the foundation upon which she stands. “I don’t think I would be where I am, with the opportunities in front of me, if I hadn't attended Severn," said Miller.

Among the many lessons she took from Severn, Miller cites how her experience as a student impacted the way she approached relationships with adults. "I actually expect that the adults are there to provide mentorship, so I don't hesitate to seek help and guidance," she said. She noticed that many of her peers in college hesitated, whereas it never occurred to her not to approach a teacher and build rapport. "It was such a point of emphasis at Severn; it's just what I know—and I've found to be really valuable."

Severn’s emphasis on language study has also been beneficial. Miller is fluent in Spanish, and even though she tested out of taking language classes at Richmond, she continued her language study anyway. These are skills she used during a semester abroad in Spain and a research trip to an archaeological site in the historic district of Mexico City.

Miller also credits Severn with teaching her how to write. She is a published author already, having written a piece for Yale’s undergraduate art history journal. “This is another point of emphasis at Severn—what good writing skills can do for you in life,” she said. “And I’ve found writing to be an extremely valuable skill in college, professionally, and onward.”

"Severn is a place where you can learn what your skills are and then be challenged to improve them," she added. “The teachers care about you and recognize your talents. They will critique you, but it’s done in a caring way, and it makes you better.”

Miller notes that while the academics are clearly strong, Severn also focuses on building well-rounded students. "Severn wants students to be whole, equipped with social and practical skills, able to work collaboratively as part of a team, and tap into their leadership potential," she said.

“There are so many ways that Severn prepares students to go out into the world – even something small like learning to tie a tie can’t be taken for granted,” said Miller. “I had amazing teachers whose guidance and advice have taken me far. I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Severn community."

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of The Bridge. To see the full digital issue click here.
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