Our Lower School curriculum is rich and varied. Teachers take care in shaping instructional approaches to recognize each child's strengths and needs, offering added enrichment, challenge, or support as appropriate.
Independent and group projects stand out among the primary elements of the Lower School curriculum, as students apply the skills and ideas they acquire and become practiced investigators.
Once a week for three- to four-week sessions, students explore special topics such as drama, carpentry, basketry, cooking, video production, sewing, screen printing, computers, animal care, rockets, creek life, and the universe. Groups are led by staff, parents, or other volunteers.
Each year, the Lower School also focuses on a particular theme for study. Past themes have included walls and bridges, flight, Latin America, Africa, the human body, ecology, North Carolina, fantasy realms, and wildlife. Each theme is integrated into the curriculum. Having the whole Lower School focus on a common theme provides many opportunities for sharing resources and experiences and for strengthening the community.
The approximately 124 students of the Lower school are divided into four ungraded classes which provide a sense of group identity and a center for day to day activities. Classes are divided into smaller groups to work on academic skills as well as artistic and athletic endeavors. Children enter either the River or Sky class at age six, and usually after two years are placed in either Forest or Mountain class until they are ready to go to Middle School.
Each day begins with a few minutes of silence, as children Settle-In with their classmates. Following a time of sharing and announcements, students proceed to small groups. At 10:00 am classes break for a half-hour snack and recess. Students then return for more small group classes, which may include teacher-directed groups, independent work, and projects. Older students are encouraged to assume responsibility for planning the use of some of their own time. They establish goals and evaluate their progress with a teacher frequently. Cooperative learning groups are another distinctive feature of the Lower School program. The children have an hour for lunch and recess. Recess is supervised by teachers and allows children time for impromptu games and for socializing with friends. Afternoon classes vary in length and end at 2:45 pm. Clean-up chores at the end of every day reinforce a sense of community as well as an awareness of responsibility for the environment in which students live and learn. The day concludes as it begins, with a brief, silent Settling-Out in each classroom.
We know, from research and from experience, that knowledge is not simply dropped into children's heads — it's created in relationship. For this reason, building relationships is at the core of our work. By knowing each of our students well, we can teach responsively, addressing individual strengths and needs. Lisa Wilson Carboni, Head of Lower School
Think, Make, Improve
The basic tenets of project design invigorate the way we encourage our students to approach problems, inspired by our maker approach to design challenges. Thinking activates imagination, while making provides experiments with materials and means of approach. The third stage allows them to identify how to adjust the solution and learn from their experimentation, leading right back to thinking again.