For students in our Elementary Center, the pace of learning quickens and their world truly begins to expand. Reading, writing, and mathematical skills are emphasized as the foundation of all future learning. Science plays a prominent role as well, while rich courses in technology, music, art, foreign language, and physical education round out the integrated curriculum.
As with every part of our school, the Elementary Center reflects much about what learning means at this stage. Classrooms drenched in natural light feature cozy lofts and nooks for reading and independent study, while the plaza just outside each classroom door provides ample space for collaboration and hums pleasantly with the sound of children engrossed in their work.
In addition to focusing on our core curriculum, Elementary Center students begin exploring community and citizenship more deeply. They work together to encourage one another, solve problems, and engage in dialogue on school issues. Individually, students learn to communicate effectively and advocate for themselves. They begin to develop an inner moral landscape, to experiment with the boundary between the individual and the group, and to understand their rights and responsibilities as members of a community.
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At St. Thomas School, our students are not merely just writing, they are seeing themselves as writers! Students are immersed in a language-rich environment, which provides models for writing. Our students often demonstrate advanced writing skills for their age. They write in all curricular areas for a variety of real purposes and audiences. They communicate ideas, ask and answer questions, listen for information, make judgments, solve problems, and make predictions. Students use writing opportunities to respond to both teacher-directed and free choice projects. One-on-one and peer revising sessions offer practice in reshaping ideas to consider the audience, using descriptive wording and adding details. Journaling gives students a place to brainstorm, free write, or record ideas about poetry or world events. Cursive handwriting is introduced in the second half of 2nd Grade. Development of excellent writing skills and knowledge of the writing process are of critical importance.
Some key outcomes for students at the end of this stage include the following:
- Students should be able to produce a range of different types of writing such as poetry, stories, letters, journal entries, newspaper articles, and research projects for different audiences.
- Students should be familiar with all stages of the drafting process from brainstorming/webbing, producing initial drafts, to reviewing and editing selected pieces for final polishing.
- Students should demonstrate the traits of the good writer such as the ability to express ideas forcefully and clearly, organize texts efficiently, craft individual voice that enlivens written expression, choose words for their beauty and power, and use the conventions of mechanics (grammar, spelling, punctuation) with increasing accuracy.
- Students should identify, explore, and experiment with figurative language and poetic writing devices.
We encourage our students to publish their work in various formats, and a fine example of this is the outstanding 4th Grade Poetry and Prose Anthology. This is a superb culminating project that captures a year’s work reflecting an intensity of thought and feeling as well as a sophisticated use of many authorial writing devices.
In the Elementary Center, students make the critical transition from learning how to read to reading for real purposes. This frequently occurs at an early stage at St. Thomas School. Building upon solid phonetic skills and comprehension strategies, students begin to read across content areas and independently pursue their own interests. Students learn to discuss a piece of literature in depth, which helps them think critically and reflect on what they have read. There is an important emphasis on higher level thinking skills so that students become keenly involved in the analysis, interpretation, and evaluation of texts, characters, and ideas.
There is also an emphasis laid upon speaking and presentational skills, and students are afforded many opportunities to share and present their ideas and work.
At St. Thomas School, our children are inspired, empowered, and challenged to become creative, critical, and reflective mathematicians. We are dedicated to offering a rich and rigorous math program. This means offering a depth of content, a depth of understanding, and the setting of a pace that ensures that our children are constantly challenged by extending existing knowledge and meeting new concepts and skills. The foundational approach for mathematics at St. Thomas School is built upon factual knowledge, procedural proficiency, and conceptual understanding. The commitment to math is underscored by having a dedicated math specialist teacher support Elementary Center classrooms. Students develop understanding, see relationships, and critical thinking skills establishing a strong mathematical foundation. By using problem solving, manipulatives, and applications to real life situations, the students will understand the value of mathematics and apply it to their own lives. The students experience a variety of resources to support their learning; Singapore Math is one important resource throughout the Elementary Center, and all our teachers have received extensive training with this program.
The Elementary science program features physical and life sciences. A hands-on approach allows the children to explore scientific phenomena and develop an understanding of important scientific concepts. The integrated curriculum encourages discovery, multi-sensory exploration, and student-to-student interaction. Our campus offers students the opportunity to experience science in the Science Lab where the students ARE scientists – asking the question, developing their hypotheses, and designing their own experiments that will then test the hypothesis. A dedicated special science teacher supports the classroom teachers with their explorations. As flowering scientists, our elementary students are encouraged to develop their independence. They begin to set up experiments, collect data, learn how to present data, and then do research to support their hypothesis. The presentation of their findings is also important as the use of oral skills is developed so that students can describe the whole process of their project. Having a designated lab offers an unprecedented opportunity for the more involved exploration of projects and ideas in addition to providing opportunities for more sophisticated types of experimentation.
The net cast by the subject Social Studies is wide: it incorporates the worlds of history, geography, civics, economics, current affairs, and world religions. A key goal of the social studies curriculum is to develop students’ understanding of and appreciation for the diversity of human society. They recognize the importance of cooperation between societies and cultures. The curriculum promotes the development of responsible citizenship and an understanding of democratic processes. Students explore their heritage, their state, and their role in the community. This is achieved through the use of literature, charts, maps, and timelines. Social Studies frequently connects students with opportunities for Service Learning projects.
1st Grade sees the students focus on civics as they take active roles with our Firstgradeville project simulating a town council. Students also study farming, the Arctic, mapping, and experience a special focus on innovators and inventors. 2nd Grade explores the Oregon Trail and pioneers, and the biographies of many key figures of US history are discussed. History is seen through biography, and this is reflected in the Hero Projects 2nd Graders study. 3rd Grade sees some important geographical elements explored through a study of landforms and maps. A continent study such as South America allows students to compare and contrast cultures with their own. Focus is on how elements including geography, history, and economics, affects choices of people and culture. A study of Native Americans, focusing on the era before European contact in particular, is a foundational course of the year, accompanied by a study of Native American beliefs. This prepares the way for 4th Grade’s first part of a two year study of the history of the US. After an exploration of maps and map making, particularly in light of key explorers, 4th Graders then focus in on the establishment of the Thirteen Colonies. A trimester is also spent on a regional study of the Pacific West, providing opportunities for Field Trips as part of the 4th Graders’ Northwest Days series. As the cultural impact of East Asia is considered on the growth of the Seattle region, Taoism and Confucianism are introduced to the students.