St. James Art Teacher Catherine Russell joins us this week on the blog for a report on our fifth graders’ recent study of Digital Art! Mrs. Russell earned her degree in Elementary Education from LSU and was named Teacher of the Year at Bains Elementary in 2012. This is her 6th year teaching art at St. James.
In the art studio, I try to expose all young artists to as many artists and techniques through exploration of the elements and principles of art. I strive to provide each student with the opportunity to create using a variety mediums so that when they leave St. James, they are well versed in the basics of art education.
Every year, I try to save something special for our older students. In addition to our typical traditional art projects, I love to introduce our fifth graders to graphic arts and digital media. We begin by exploring photography. Students take photographs highlighting our school campus, as well as portraits of their peers with the iPad. Later in the year one of their favorite projects is called “Morphing the School,” where they are provided a theme and asked to transform the school through photography. For example - a student may be assigned “Under the Sea,” so he or she would use a picture of the school and digitally transform it into a watery wonderland full of extravagant sea life. Fifth grader Stella Silva reflected, “I liked how we were able to make something from our imaginations look real, by using technology.” Her classmate John Rodgers Lambert added, “It was fun learning how to use tools to layer pictures on top of one another.” Check out our slideshow for a few highlights.
Another fun project is from the angle of graphic design and advertising. We talk about graphic design and that profession’s duties - exploring how it often helps people promote a product or a business. We then discuss products and slogans. Students are then tasked with taking a well known product and pair it with a famous work of art and digitally transform into an advertisement! Their imaginations and creativity never fail to impress me!
It is my hope that after spending their early years here at St. James, students are able to enter middle school with a well rounded understanding of a variety of artistic genres, forms of art, and artists - old and new - who proved inspiration to us all.
- Catherine Russell
On Thursday, February 25th, parents of our PreKindergarten and Kindergarten students attended an Early Literacy coffee led by Assistant Head of School Donna Lamonte. With appropriate COVID protocols in place, parents gathered in the Coleman Hall to learn about the school’s guided reading program for beginning readers and how to support their children learning to read at home. Mrs. Lamonte is a reading specialist certified in Reading Recovery. She is also a National Board Certified Educator and holds a Master of Education degree in Elementary Reading.
Ms. Lamonte’s informative presentation included guidance on book selection, how to help your child approach new words, and how to foster early reading behaviors with your youngest readers. Mrs. Lamonte used pictures of the pages of children’s books to explain concepts such as how texts become increasingly more difficult and prompting readers to use all of the cues. After the meeting, parents enjoyed talking with each other and Mrs. Lamonte informally over coffee. Robyn Bentley, mom of PreK-4 student Riley Bentley, shared her reflections on the event: “It was great! I learned techniques to implement with my young reader. I especially liked the ways to encourage her to engage her techniques that she’s been taught.”
The group who attended completed a short feedback survey where they were able to express interest in future workshop topics for St. James parents, which include fostering independence in young learners and developing number sense. For current parents who missed the workshop and would like to view a recording, please email Mrs. Lamonte for a copy at email@example.com. We look forward to sharing the next parent coffee topic with our community soon!
In the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras break, you might have seen our PreK-4 students outside Atkinson Hall in pig masks, throwing straw and sticks around, laughing and playing. While this might seem more like a scene from Lord of the Flies, we will assure you that these young students were engaged in purposeful learning. In recent weeks, the PreK-4 classes had read different versions of The Three Little Pigs as part of a study of homes and houses. After reading, they ventured out to the lawn to build replicas of each house in the story and to reenact the scenes together.
Back inside their classrooms, students explored home construction by building log cabins, apartments, parking garages, and other structures out of blocks. Children also put on hard hats to practice hammering and sawing (with toys), and they created peg board designs with (pretend) nails and screws. All of these activities helped students gain self-awareness and a strong sense of place in addition to early literacy and numeracy skills.
As the study continued, the focus shifted to spreading love within their homes and communities. The children learned to write their addresses and added drawings of their homes to an illustrated class book. Next, they wrote letters to their parents, sealed them inside hand-addressed envelopes, and took a walking field trip to mail them at the downtown US Post Office. On Valentine’s Day, they passed out valentines to each other and created Love Grows art and writing to hang in the classroom.
“Powerful connections are made and great fun is had when children engage in a curriculum that is creative, meaningful, and integrated,” PreK-4 teacher Rachel Daigre explained. “At St. James, we combine our knowledge of developmental standards with the specific interests and abilities of students in our classes to create learning opportunities that are enriching and challenging.”
With caring teachers, an expertly designed curriculum, and nurturing class communities, at St. James we aspire to give our students the strongest of foundations for learning - not fragile ones made of straw or sticks. We want our students to create long lasting, joyful memories of school that will make them want to return day after day and year after year. We also want them to know that they are loved -- by God and by the St. James community -- and that even as young children, they are capable of sharing that love and joy with others.
At the close of the semester, third grade teacher Kathleen Shahla reminds our community of who we are: "If you were to peek in an SJEDS classroom, you would first notice the modern design and furniture, children working on iPads or reporting from the Broadcast studio. While cutting-edge technology, best practices and innovative learning have been stressed, and teacher Apple-certified badges hang outside doors, at its heart, the school is steeped in beloved traditions." The first semester of the 2020-2021 school year was one full of challenge and patience but also creativity and joy. Our yearbook theme for 2020-2021 is “Traditions Take Flight,” referencing the Day School’s commitment to traditions even during a most unusual school year.
Traditions remind us each year of what’s important, contribute to a sense of anticipation, and strengthen the community by bringing people together. Mrs. Shahla explains, "It’s through these traditions life-long friendships are cemented and memories made." Although we missed the face-to-face connection involved with classroom parties, field trips, and whole-school Chapel services, the students at St. James still came away from the holiday season with reminders of the importance of generosity, faith, and friendship. Masks, social distancing, extra hand washing, and cohorts couldn’t stop the building sense of wonder and hope before the birth of Christ.
Even though visitors have been kept to a minimum this fall, the school has never looked better this December. Teachers, students, and administrators continued to take pride in our surroundings and enjoyed traditions of placing Christmas trees in each classroom, decking the front office tree with family Christmas cards, and adorning each hallway, bulletin board, and the cafeteria with student art and seasonal writing. The St. James second grade even helped decorate our nearby EBR Public Library on North Boulevard by donating angel artworks to display for the month of December.
In their classes and at weekly Chapel services, students continued to learn about the nativity and traditions surrounding Christmas. The season began with the Advent Feast of St. Nicholas on the first Friday in December, with classes participating in Chapel either virtually or in person. Later in the month, PreK-4 students created a large nativity scene bulletin board and performed a reading of the Christmas story in front of it that was shared with parents over Seesaw. The Christmas program--a beautiful concert of Christmas carols held by third through fifth graders--unfortunately had to be cancelled, but we look forward to holding it again next year.
In Christian Education classes, students participated in an annual Advent Outreach Project. Christian Education teacher DeSha Carter led the school in an “Helping Hands and Faithful Feet” collection of new socks and gently used blankets this year to donate to St. Vincent de Paul. Our students participated by bringing donations during December, and the fourth and fifth graders pulled the effort together by gathering donations from each hallway and transporting them to trucks outside the school. Fourth and fifth graders also continued monthly service projects by preparing We Care Bags for the church and organizing donations for the Food Bank.
Our annual Gingerbread Day still took place thanks to the hard work of Development Director Jennifer Whittington, administrators, teachers, and parent volunteers behind the scenes. Students stayed in their grade level cohorts throughout the day to enjoy gingerbread balloon decorations and a snow machine in the front entry, festive music, gingerbread house decorating, outdoor Reindeer Games, and a hot chocolate break with their classmates. Students in our Early Childhood Development Center formed a new tradition with a Drive-in Movie. Children in our toddler and PreK-3 classes brought cars crafted from cardboard boxes to use for a class showing of a holiday cartoon outside on the Killgore Hall playground.
This year, Head of School Bridget Henderson tweaked the schedule slightly to have Gingerbread Day on Tuesday, December 15th instead of Friday. This change allowed students who wished to stay home from school to quarantine before seeing grandparents on Christmas to do so without missing the annual celebration day. “Although we had to make some adjustments this year, we look forward to bringing back Gingerbread Day on Friday next year with parents there to share in the festivities,” said Mrs. Henderson.
In another favorite tradition, students reminded each other about the joy that comes from giving by participating in a class book or gift exchanges. In 1st grade, students brought a wrapped book and came home with a different one gifted by a classmate. Kindergarten students brought homemade ornaments to exchange. Fifth graders focused their attention on giving to the community by doing an annual visit to La Belle Aire Elementary’s first grade to read the story Santa Mouse by Michael Brown. Although they were not able to make the field trip this year, the tradition still happened through small groups creating video read-alouds for the La Belle Aire first graders. 5th grade teachers Erin Adkins and Kellye Carville sent the videos and also delivered the gifts and materials to make a Santa Mouse craft on behalf of their students.
A final longstanding St. James tradition that continued this year was the creation of Christmas plates. Each year all St. James students, including our early learners, decorate plates at school, create their own wrapping paper, and bring the plates home as gifts for their parents. A number of St. James parents have collected a stack of plates over the years to use throughout the season. Some, such as current parents Caroline Graham and Sarah Harvey, have created colorful plate displays in their homes. Caroline described how putting up their plate collection "commemorates our holiday highlights year after year," creating a diary of sorts.
As we close our doors for the holiday break, we’re grateful that so much of what we love about Christmas at St. James continued during this unprecedented time. The patience and flexibility of our teachers, parents, administrators, and students allowed us to still come together to experience love, kindness, and joy this season. Reflecting on the fall semester, Mrs. Henderson said, “Our team is working on plans for Spring 2021, and we are excited to share with you about how other beloved St. James traditions will take flight in the coming months.” In the meantime, our students helped with this special message, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Over the past few weeks, members of the St. James 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classes have been preparing for an election for the St. James Student Council, a group of student leaders elected by peers to represent their school. Student Council sponsors Kellye Carville, Shelby Miller, and Julia Spaht gathered all 3rd through 5th grade students on October 15th to discuss the Student Council and election process. Students were encouraged to consider qualities such as kindness, honesty, confidence, integrity, and commitment to service in electing their student leaders. The students also learned about the differences between certain offices, such as the Secretary, Chaplain, and President.
The Student Council meets monthly and organizes service projects, fundraisers, and community events for the student body. Student Council leaders are also called on to serve as ambassadors at school events such as Grandparents’ Day. This year, interest in serving was high. 23 students ran for officer positions, which includes the Student Council President, Vice President, Secretary, and Chaplain. An additional 17 students ran for class representative positions at each grade level.
Candidates for president wrote and filmed 30-second speeches, which were shown to the student body on Friday, October 30th. Then, on Monday, November 2nd, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades participated in a campaign event on the large playground. Each grade level had a chance to visit tables set up by the candidates, who created posters and bookmarks to hand out to the electorate. After the campaign, students voted on paper ballots.
The election winners will be announced on Bayou St. James, our school’s daily news broadcast, at 2:40pm on Tuesday, November 3rd. Students will hear their election results on the same day their parents are participating in national, state, and local elections!