In St. Francis’s Lower School, grades JK – 8, our goal is to inspire a true love of learning in our students. Our open classroom environment, coupled with our pastoral, rural setting, creates a positive, joyful educational experience for children. We believe in helping all students build on their strengths while encouraging them to explore and develop new skills and interests. Our small class sizes and low student to teacher ratio allow our dedicated teachers to challenge each student individually and offer student choice in the curriculum and demonstrations of knowledge whenever possible.
Deliberately cultivating a sense of community is an important part of the Goshen Campus experience, so aspects of this are woven throughout each school day. Morning Meetings provide opportunities for students and teachers to gather together and discuss the day’s events, share important happenings, and celebrate achievements. It is a time for students to feel connected to and valued as friends, not only by their classmates, but also by those in other grades, as well as the adults in the community. The open classroom setting enhances collaborative learning and helps students to develop critical listening and focusing skills. In addition to traditional academic subjects, we emphasize the importance of the arts, physical and outdoor education, ethical development, and service learning. Our 60+ acre campus allows children to play and breathe the fresh air, enhancing their natural sense of curiosity and appreciation for the environment and nature. The outdoors, including our gardens and chicken coop/rabbit hutch area, are used as an extension of the classroom regularly. Student life on the Goshen Campus is rich with intellectual and creative possibility.
Lower School curriculum includes intensive Language Arts work, focused on developing strong reading and writing skills. Children are exposed to high-quality literature, and are taught to read deeply into texts, coaxing out their deeper meanings. An average school day includes work in foreign language, science, social studies and physical education, as well as time in the math lab and in our finely developed visual art and music studios. St. Francis has a successful history of meeting the needs of learners all along the continuum, always striving to provide the best possible instruction for each and every student.
See below of specific overviews by department.
Lower School Art strives to help students explore their artistic identities through a program that encourages creative expression and artistic perception, as well as an awareness of the importance of art in culture and community. Building the capacity for our students to listen and learn, look and see, and observe and respond is a priority of the program. In doing so, our students feel the energy of the creative process, the dynamics of discovery, and the exhilaration of making something their own.
Beginning in Junior Kindergarten, students regularly participate in group critiques, where they enjoy sharing their work with their classmates and grow more comfortable articulating the ideas behind their artwork. These discussions cultivate an encouraging and supportive classroom community as students hone their listening skills, practice their art vocabulary, and give peers specific and encouraging feedback about their artwork.
The Orff-Shulwerk approach serves as a model for the music and movement education at St. Francis School. Music in the Lower School involves integrating music, movement, speech and drama. The youngest students experience much of this through play and discovery. Active music-making is at the core of the philosophy of this approach. Students improvise and create their own compositions and dances. Students are occasionally asked to perform at morning meetings; for larger productions such as Grandparents’ Day, Fine Arts Evening, The Elegant Party, and class plays; and at outside venues like nursing homes or other schools.
Literacy for Thought! (LiFT!) is a custom-built Lower School curriculum developed in partnership between St. Francis School and Langsford Learning Acceleration Centers that marries the best practices of Progressive Education methodology and science-based reading research. This innovative program empowers students to become independent, joyful readers and thinkers who realize their full potential.
Students in the Lower School focus on developing phonemic awareness, phonics knowledge, vocabulary development, and reading fluency in an effort to sharpen their reading and comprehension skills. Teachers use grade-level curriculum to plan full class instruction and guide differentiation. Furthermore, teachers work to provide daily opportunities for students to broaden and learn vocabulary across the curriculum.
Additionally, Lower School students read daily using a broad range of age-appropriate texts. Our students’ reading practice takes a number of forms, including teacher read-alouds, peer-to-peer partner reading, sustained independent reading, small group reading, and whole class reading. Reading strategies and skills increase students’ abilities to read and understand a variety of fiction and nonfiction texts.
Writing instruction in the Lower School focuses on teaching grammar, sentence structure, and paragraph skills. Our composition instruction centers on a “writer’s workshop” approach that makes use of mentoring and modeling to help young writers learn to draft, revise, and edit. Students learn to address audience, purpose, and form by using their authentic experiences as writing material. Students are also encouraged to share drafts of their writing with peers and publish their work.
Print handwriting is taught in Kindergarten through 2nd grade, while cursive handwriting instruction begins in 2nd grade and continues through 4th grade. The St. Francis approach to teaching handwriting is research-based and in agreement with the idea that cursive writing practice fosters cognitive development.
All of the Lower School classes have regularly scheduled library visits, once a week. There are three main goals for students when they visit the library. The first is for students to develop a love for reading, part of which is figuring out what types of materials they prefer when reading for pleasure and learning how to pick a right-fit book. Second, students learn how to build their reading stamina, finding books and choosing spaces where they can have quiet reading time with fewer distractions. Finally, students learn to evaluate information and research independently.
Classes range from traditional storytimes, to author studies, to exploration of nonfiction using the Dewey Decimal System. The library also serves as a resource for students in other areas of the curriculum; in 2016-17, for instance, the 1st graders visited the library to research an animal for their first research papers and the 2nd graders worked in the library on creating a Spanish-English dictionary.
Digital Literacy is a weekly course that seeks to prepare 3rd and 4th grade students with the digital tools necessary to be prepared for middle school. Digital Literacy includes lessons on keyboarding skills, word processing formatting skills, introduction to Google Slides and Docs, peer editing and revising using Google Docs, appropriate communication when using technology, and web-based research skills. The course uses Common Sense Media’s “Digital Citizenship” curriculum to teach students how to be good digital citizens.
Lower School students learn Spanish. It is our mission to give students the tools to communicate effectively both orally and in writing with people of diverse linguistic, ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.
Children follow a developmentally appropriate and dynamic sequence of study which promotes proficiency in listening, speaking, writing, reading, and culture. In 2016-17 academic school year, we were proud to be one of the few schools in the world to pilot the AIM elementary Spanish curriculum. AIM is a “Gesture Approach” method which features theater, storytelling, dance and music.
Classes are also taught using various methods of comprehensible input, including TPRS® (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling). By the end of 4th grade, students will be able to participate actively in class, in Spanish only; learn and perform a play; work cooperatively within a small group while practicing the play; learn the gestures covered in class; answer questions both orally and in written form; use Spanish spontaneously within and outside of the classroom; a nd participate in songs, dances, and games with enthusiasm. Students will also be able to make meaningful cultural connections between the diverse Spanish-speaking communities in the world .
In Lower School, students in Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten are taught math by their classroom teachers. Beginning in 1st grade, students begin receiving daily math instruction from a math specialist. As math teachers, we believe that children are concrete learners before they are abstract learners. Students must interact with mathematical concepts – they must see and touch math – in order to fully understand the abstract concepts.
Mathematical instruction in Lower School is manipulative-based, and new concepts are introduced with concrete materials. This allows students to acquire skills through manipulating objects, which enables students to articulate their understanding of mathematical ideas using pencil and paper. Students learn vocabulary, establish connections between vocabulary and concepts, and acquire facility with arithmetic computations using hands-on activities.
Achieving differentiation with multi-ability students in a classroom can often be challenging, but teachers work diligently to meet the needs of each individual student. One of the main goals we strive to achieve with our students is their understanding of why mathematical procedures are solved certain ways, rather than simply memorizing how they are solved. While students do master basic facts through various activities, they also receive exposure to and practice with number sense, place value, measurement, fractions, geometry, and problem-solving.
Lower School science teachers utilize inquiry-based teaching strategies as well as the animals, gardens, and labs of the campus to emphasize good scientific learning. In Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten, science topics are woven into the general curriculum and taught by the students’ primary teachers. Students participate in a variety of hands-on investigations, comprehensive activities, and science “centers” where they may explore at their own pace.
Lower School science instruction fosters skills in observation, evidence-based explanation, scientific procedures, and scientific writing. The curriculum is divided into two-year loops: one loop for 1st and 2nd grades, and one loop for 3rd and 4th grades. This allows two grades to learn the same content at the same time with differentiation for classes as needed. Assessments in Lower School science are informal but frequent; individual formative assessments occur on an almost daily basis to ensure students are meeting learning goals.
Physical Education provides each student the opportunity to acquire knowledge about the relationship between quality exercise and a healthy body. The primary goal is to develop students’ fundamental movement skills within a variety of developmentally appropriate games, locomotor and manipulative skills, and other activities. Personal and social responsibility, self-directed learning, and problem-solving skills are also reinforced throughout the curriculum.
Our focus is also on the development of positive character traits, an appreciation of one’s self, and taking pride in one’s personal fitness levels. Students are provided the opportunity to develop essential skills in physical activities suitable for life-long participation in fitness or sports endeavors.
By the end of 4th grade, students will be able to perform basic and advanced movements, understand the responsibilities of team participation, engage in activities which develop strength and cardiovascular fitness, and play games of increasing complexity.