Elementary Center (Grades 1-4)
Welcome to the STS Elementary Center. This is a powerful time of transition and change for our students. Most enter here still learning to read and write. They will leave the elementary years as dynamic readers, researchers, and lovers of reading and literature, and they will leave as versatile, prolific authors with an acute sense of the beauty and structure of language.
This is also an exciting time for our students as they begin to make great strides in social and academic arenas. Each child’s individual needs are carefully nourished and cared for. Students flourish when exposed to proven best teaching practices and high quality materials. The overall goal of the Elementary Center is to provide students with a solid language and mathematical foundation, as well as creative and critical thinking skills as they learn to think like authors, mathematicians, scientists, historians, and geographers.
The carefully designed building space greatly enhances educational experiences at STS. The elementary plaza outside the 1st – 3rd classrooms provides additional space for cooperative learning opportunities for these grades. The 1st – 3rd Grade classrooms feature cozy reading lofts and large windows and skylights to allow natural light to flow into the rooms. 4th Grade classes have their own distinct area reflecting the special moment of student life this grade represents. The science lab, math lab, and outdoor environmental study area expand the boundaries of our science and math programs by taking investigations outside the classroom. Student work surrounds the community on the walls of the classroom as well as throughout the plazas and school hallways. Nothing is more precious than our student’s work!
There is a key emphasis on building classroom community at this stage as well as developing confident citizens within the classroom and school. Each classroom offers special moments where all gather to reflect upon core experiences, share compliments, solve social problems, share their concerns and discuss character issues. This serves to deepen class community, develops self-advocacy skills and encourages positive, constructive communication. Such classroom meetings represent carefully crafted processes that provide effective modeling for the students on how to reflect upon and address social concerns. It is a special moment of community that the students look forward to, allowing students to find their voices within the group setting.
The commitment to technology is served by having regular technology classes in the Technology Lab each week. There are also classroom computers as well as a “mobile lab,” a cart with a bank of laptops that can travel from classroom to classroom for special projects.
Fourth Grade represents an exciting and important moment of transition on the St. Thomas journey. This is the last year of the Elementary Center, and these students receive specially designed experiences to prepare for the Middle School years. As a result, 4th Graders gain experience increasing independence as well as community responsibilities reflecting this unique stage of life.
Students begin to receive greater in-depth experience of subject specialists. The Homeroom teacher continues to play a vital role as advocate, coach, and mentor, and each day begins and ends in Homeroom where a sense of community is built.
Developing solid organizational skills is a critical goal of the Fourth Grade, as well as the overall Middle School, experience. This is the first year students experience special organizational systems preparing them for Middle School. This is also the first year of our laptop program, where all 4th – 8th grade students receive individual laptops.
Reflecting our students’ growing awareness of and curiosity in the wider world, as well as their developing intellectual capacities, this is the first year where a key theme drives the social and academic journey of the year. This year’s theme is Exploration, which interweaves many aspects of this year’s curriculum and program. This theme is reflected in Social Studies as students meet incredible world adventurers who risked everything to expand the boundaries of human knowledge, as well as those who traveled and created what was to become the United States. Exploration crosses into other subject area realms such as Art and Language Arts, as students grapple with a sense of themselves as explorers of one’s own inner landscape. A series of field trips known as Northwest Days offer important experiential learning opportunities as students explore the local region as part of their Northwest regional study.
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 working and adding details. Journaling gives students a place to brainstorm, free write, or record ideas about poetry or world events. Cursive 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 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 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, and our children are able to extend their hands-on exploration in the dedicated Math Lab space. Students develop understanding, see relationships, and critical thinking skills are encouraged while 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 actually 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. The continents of Africa and South America are also studied. 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.