State of the Lower School
Barbara Shea, Lower School Principal

The Lower School is a very busy hub of learning. Our students quickly acclimated to their year and delved right into the curriculum. Now that the students are comfortable with the routines of their day, their momentum for learning has increased. I see this happening at all levels as the students put their ever- growing skills to use with various projects and activities across the curriculum. At the upcoming Lower School Conference Day, families will hear from the classroom teachers about their child's progress. In looking at the State of the Lower School, I would like to take a broader focus on three specific areas: our students, teachers, and program.

There have been a number of cross-divisional events so far this year. The Lower School teachers know how memorable it is for our students to participate with the larger community. Last fall it started with a special Upper School performance of Akeelah & the Bee for the Lower School and the discussion that followed the production. The third and fourth graders enjoyed hearing from the actors and then asking them questions. In October, Matt de la Peña, shared his book, Last Stop on Market Street, with all three divisions and gave insights into the writing of the book. A few weeks later, a group of fourth graders participated in the Gr.5-12 Winter Chorus Concert, and the excitement of working with Upper School students and a world composer, Jim Papoulis, was extraordinarily special. What a wonderful opportunity this was for them! In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., our students interacted with members from across the School in a discussion and art activity on the meaning of love. Children love to collaborate with one another, and they particularly enjoy interacting with the Middle and Upper School students, who make them feel very special.

The Lower School teachers want their students to develop leadership skills in age-appropriate increments. This year, the fourth graders have begun to play a burgeoning role in being liaisons between the Lower School students and the principal. This worked really well when the Kindergartners wanted a "jersey day" and wrote up a strong proposal that they presented to the fourth graders. The fourth graders, in turn, polled the other grades and presented the request to me. The day was changed because of ERB's on Friday, but the Lower School did get their jersey day in a way that was reflective of a process that was well planned and beautifully executed!

Debra Pager, the School's psychologist, has had some valuable conversations up and down the grade levels. In the younger grades, it was about friendship, and in grades three and four, the discussion centered on digital citizenship. Through these discussions, we are more and more aware of the time and access that our students have to one another on some form of social media and the constant need to reinforce safe protocols on the internet. Following these meetings on computer safety, Dr. Pager sent out letters to families regarding the discussion topics, so that as families, you can define your rules for appropriate internet use.

During the day, in nearly any Lower School classroom, you can see students engaged in a mindfulness activity either revving their bodies for the learning that is about to happen, or calming their bodies and their minds so they can absorb the learning... and knowing the difference between the two! With the guidance of Sandra Castagna and Monique Caterina, all classrooms have their own "mindfulness kits" that include tools to help students focus on their breathing and learn the importance of relaxation. Each classroom also has a place where students can opt to go for a few moments to regain that composure and focus.

Our Morning Meetings in the Athletic Center have provided both challenges and opportunities for our students. The acoustics may not be ideal, but the fourth-grade presenters have honed their skills in front of an audience and become more and more comfortable with a microphone in hand. As an audience, we have learned to listen more carefully and respond more quietly in the gym. But most important, grade-level students have used the opportunity to continue to share their wonderful performances and presentations with the rest of the Lower School.

In September, we welcomed four new assistant teachers. This year, each second-grade classroom has an assistant teacher who adds to the individual attention that can be given to the students.

Teachers continue attending professional development workshops to hone their skills or learn about new programs. These opportunities benefit all the teachers, as new ideas percolate within the classrooms and spread quickly. But professional development also takes place on campus through lesson studies. This year, as part of the Innovative Teachers Institute, Stacy Kaufman organized two lesson studies in which a class is taught and observed by a small group of teachers who then meet to discuss the lesson. Having listened to the feedback from colleagues, the lesson is then repeated with another class. So often teachers develop their lessons individually, and this form of collaboration is an invaluable way to see a lesson through more than one perspective. Those who participated in these lesson studies found them to be a very rewarding experience!

The Singapore Math Workshops with Sara Ingrassia have been held throughout the fall, and families continue to attend these informal grade-level gatherings in strong numbers. In response to some parent questions about the first grade reading program, Katy Carroll and Amy Haff also put together their own presentation, which they shared with their families back in November, and this seems to have been very well received by all those who attended.

In the Pre-K, the teachers introduced "Learning Without Tears," a handwriting program to instill in our youngest students proper pencil grips in forming their letters and numbers. This proactive approach helps to develop those key fine motor skills that are critical in so many of their activities. This year, we also added physical education to their curriculum. Once a rotation, Pre-K students meet with Ms. Joyce and Mr. Lawrence to focus on specific collaborative skills. In addition, Ms. Festo welcomes guests from all divisions to share their areas of expertise with the Pre-K students: Miguel Manrique and Jaime Cordero from Flik helped the students grow lettuce in their classroom, and Kerry Linderoth, our sustainability coordinator, taught the children how to compost. The children love to get involved in the larger community of the School.

In third grade, 18 laptops were added to the classroom program this year. These laptops are shared between both classrooms, and the teachers and students are excited to have these tools readily accessible. Students practice their keyboarding skills first thing in the morning. While cursive writing continues to be taught and reinforced, some of their finished drafts are now being typed in the classroom, which they love to do!

During the fall, Jamie Radwan, learning specialist, and Sara Ingrassia, math coordinator, researched online math programs to enhance and support our Singapore Math program. After looking at a few programs, we recently chose two online math programs for students in grades two, three, and four to build math fact fluency and enrich problem solving. These programs have just recently been rolled out, and students seem to enjoy the new format for learning their math.

Over the summer, Kimberly Love, the Lower School librarian, attended a workshop on the Question Formulation Technique, QFT, and has shared this with the Lower School teachers. In turn, many of the teachers have used this strategy for introducing specific units of study. Based on limited amounts of information, questions are elicited from the students on a given topic. Based on these questions, students then research to find their answers. Nearly all grade levels have tried this format, and we have seen students who are particularly engaged in the follow up research eager to find the answers to the questions they posed.

This year, we also added options for Tuesday after-school clubs by finding outside vendors to teach chess, computer skills, and sewing. This is in response to families who have asked us for Tuesday clubs when our teachers are attending their faculty meetings.

Last summer, the fourth-grade teachers created a new unit to their social studies curriculum, The Lewis and Clark Expedition. This comprehensive unit fits well with their study of Native Americans in the fall and lends itself to a smooth transition to their unit on Inspirational Figures in the spring. The fourth graders have just begun this study, but already there is a great deal of enthusiasm for all that they are learning as the students travel west with these historical figures.

Last February we added a significant number of titles to our Lower School library to augment the teachers' collection. These books are reserved for instructional use, and allow teachers to introduce strategies in reading fiction and nonfiction texts with books that are new to the students. These new books provide the interest and enthusiasm for the skill building lessons, and we are reaping the benefits of this investment with the varied lessons.