February 2019 Lower School Principal Column

Barbara Shea, Lower School Principal

The Lower School has had a tremendous fall! Our students participated in many of the events to honor the School's 150th Anniversary from the RCDS Opening Block party to the School's Opening Day festivities to Wildcat Weekend, and this set a tone of community and joyful celebration as we began the year. In the last few months, there have been a number of Lower School highlights, and below is a short description of each:

  • In September, the Lower School welcomed a number of new faculty members who have seamlessly acclimated to RCDS, and we are a stronger school for all the experience they bring with them. At every grade level, there have been changes, and with those changes come opportunities to review the curriculum and bring new ideas to our program; for example: Lauren Behar, art teacher, has introduced a curriculum of artists around the world while still holding fast to the Choice Art Program that has been fundamental in instilling critical thinking skills in the developing Lower School artists.
  • We started the year with a cross divisional event: third and fourth graders joined the Middle School students to hear Dennis Parker share stories of RCDS. After this assembly, these Lower School students were asked to share their own stories with the Middle/Upper Classmen in small groups across the campus. The Lower School students were well prepared for the program, took a lead role in many of the conversations, and participated in the activities with enthusiasm! This was such a successful community event, that the same format was repeated in our celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King after an assembly from alumna, Eliza McCurdy. It built community across the divisions and confidence in our students.
  • Every year first graders learn about the community of RCDS, Susan Life's founding of RCDS, and the School's changes over the years. This year, the school's history resonated a little more deeply with them. Everyone seemed to be steeped in learning more details about our School's history!
  • The Pre-K students have changed their venue for lunch! Instead of eating in their classrooms, with the help of pre-k families in the lunchroom, our youngest students are using the LS Dining Hall. It was a very smooth transition and a welcome opportunity in preparation for the expanded day/program that will take place next year. They seem to love being in this new space and seated at the LS tables!
  • This year the first grade teachers have been piloting the Teachers College Phonics Program, and there has been a lot of student excitement as their "word study" has become a key focus of the day. At the end of the year, teachers will be looking to see the strengths of the program and our students' skills. The students' enthusiasm for learning their phonics skills will play an important role as we evaluate this new approach to phonics.
  • Fourth graders have helped to welcome prospective students to the School in their role as the Lower School Ambassadors. The small gesture of introducing themselves, talking about their school experiences or answering questions has proven to have a positive impact on the touring families, but also on the fourth grade students. They see that they can play a role in the Admissions process just as our Upper School touring guides do.
  • This fall, our Lower School Librarian, Kimberly Love instituted a Digital Citizenship workshop for students in grades three and four. The classes are dynamic and entertaining with a valuable lesson embedded in every lesson. The topics include: Copyright, Digital Footprint, Cyberbullying and Website Ads.
  • This winter Dr. Pager expanded the Lower School health program in using the Great Body Workshop as a resource. Following a discussion in the classes on a particular topic, students in grades 1-4 receive a pamphlet highlighting the topic to reinforce the lessons that were covered in class and to share with their families.
  • In January, the Lower School was fortunate to have Andrea Rackow join us as a Lower School math specialist to work in the same manner as our Learning Specialists. Ms. Rackow works two days a week with students who need the extra support. Last week, she began working with small groups of students, and she is as excited to work with them, as we are to have her!
  • The third grade and fourth grade science, art, and computer teachers continue their work together to create STEAM projects in which student teams create and program robots while also creating an artistic environment for each. This year, the fourth graders were able to use the Makerspace in the Cohen Center for Creative Arts to spread out in working on their creations.
  • Students in Grades 1-4 had a very special assembly of their own to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and invited fourth grader Max Lazarowitz to come share his creative fund raising activities with us. Max had a very powerful impact on all our students and reinforced how children of all ages can do great things!
  • This year we have been putting the final touches of a full day pre-k program for next year that will continue the excellent work Mrs. Festo does with the four year olds while also including new programs that will excite our students.