Schools are typically asked to speak to the reasoning behind the scope of grade levels included in their school. Parents and educators alike talk about Prek-8 or K-12 schools; sometimes they wish that we spanned more grade levels. Yet St. James Episcopal Day School is clearly an elementary school. We end our program in fifth grade, just as students approach Middle School age.
The scope of the grade levels in a school is not simply one that involves figuring out how many classrooms one has available. Determining the grade levels in a particular school can affect the way we teach and the way we learn; this decision shapes the tone of the school community, the use of its resources, and the involvement of parents as well.
I will admit to having a bias in this matter. I have spent most of my 32 years in schools at PreK-8 schools. I have worked several years in PreK-12 , and three of the four schools in which I’ve worked had early childhood programs as well. I am currently working in St. James Episcopal Day School, a PreK-5 school, which also has an early childhood program.
One observation I have made holds true for each of these schools: each school typically derives its identity through focusing on its highest grade level - the graduating class. Now, I do not mean that the Fifth Grade, Eighth Grade or Twelfth Grade get all the attention and/or resources. But I would suggest that schools often describe the “portrait of a graduate” in order to best determine how to design their program looking back from this point. In other words, the exit point in a school helps to shape each prior grade level in that school.
That St. James has a young and happy feel is not coincidental. This speaks to our program, certainly. But this campus “feel” also comes from the fact that our oldest students are about 11 years old. Our youngest students are looking up to these fifth graders; they are not observing the wonderful AND trying attitudes of 7th graders. Nor are they caught up in the 17-18 year old experimental lives of high schoolers. These Middle and High School students are not “bad” or “wrong”, but the broad span may push younger student to aspire to and mimic the lives of older students far too quickly than they are developmentally prepared to experience.
When our kindergarteners look up, they are seeing fifth graders who still wave to them and play with them. Our first grade students see fourth graders speaking with respect to their teachers and being kind to one another in and out of class (for the most part). The tone of St. James Episcopal Day School is young, but not immature - students' minds are being challenged at levels appropriate for their development. But playfulness, joy, curiosity, and academic confidence are borne out of the youthful quality here.
Sometimes, there is a tug on families to jump into a bigger school, to get their fourth grade child into a middle school before the “rush” of sixth grade, or to move their second grader when an older sibling moves to a middle school from St. James; the temptation is to get everything settled smoothly and quickly. But those families who can step back and see the bigger picture are often able to pause and recall the power of this school that culminates in fifth grade. St. James offers a program tailored to developing young minds, young bodies, and young souls. We may not be a child’s final educational experience, but we are committed to being a child’s finest educational, social, and spiritual foundation. What they learn here at St. James Episcopal Day School will carry them far in life.
If you were lost in the woods, what would you need to survive? A fifth grade student would tell you to call upon an early Native American tribe, whose members were experts in using natural resources to meet their needs.
What better way to start the season of Thanksgiving than with a unit on Native Americans. Fifth grade students dug deep to learn just how important the land and environment were to these First Americans. First students chose a tribe to research and through multiple sources learned how physical geography influenced the Indians’ way of life. Students took notes on tribes’ food, clothing, shelter, and major beliefs. Through their research students were required to make their own connections and inferences that eventually culminated into a five paragraph essay. Students not only enhanced their knowledge of our American history, but gained respect for these early people as connections can sometimes only be made by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
With reading integration in mind, students also perfected their ability to organize an informational text, create an introduction that “hooks” the reader, and use appropriate transition words and domain-specific vocabulary throughout their writing. Not sure what pemmican or a chickee stilt house is? Ask our fifth graders—they can tell you!
To end the unit students then participated in a “twitter” project.” Working in small groups, they were yet again required to make inferences. They were given a group of images and had to decide what Cultural Region was represented. Then, they had to discuss how that particular group was able to meet their basic needs with the natural resources around them. They used accountable talking methods, practiced active listening, and then got to write their own “tweets” on the board. As groups moved to each board they were also asked to respond to other classmates “tweets.”
This activity not only served as an engaging way to review, but also provided a true demonstrations of the students’ learning. Most importantly, the students were given the opportunity to perfect the art of hash-tagging.
#lifeofafifthgrader #teacherwasproud #NativeAmericans #criticalthinking
- Terri Struthers, Fifth Grade Teacher
The beginning of the 2019-20 school year has been an exciting and engaging time for students in the STEM Lab, in the St. James’ garden, and at the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum. Students have studied chemistry through hands-on investigations while learning about matter and its properties and physical and chemical changes. “Bubbles,” “Mystery Substances and Solids,” and “Liquids and Gases” have been a few of the lessons studied to further students’ basic understanding of chemistry. Students also have followed best safety practices in their STEM chemistry classes while wearing their new splash proof safety goggles!
Thanks to the St. James Cub Scouts Pack 5, we will be studying pollinators soon! Cub Master Mike Rabalais, Cub Scouts and their parents planted multiple pollinating plants in the garden that have inspired students to create art and poetry in celebration of this beautiful addition to the St. James campus. Curriculum developed by the Boston Museum of Science Engineering is Elementary Program (EiE) will be used to teach students about pollination using the garden as our living lab!
All K-5th graders recently visited the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum (LASM) to view two special exhibitions including “Astral Visions: Photographs by Conner Matherne,” which exposed students to the world of astrophotography, and “Frameworks of Absence: Brandon Ballengee,” which gave students the opportunity to view the work of an artist and biologist advocating for the stewardship of our environment. Students used their newly created Science See and Sketch notebooks to record their observations of endangered and extinct animals while touring the exhibit.
Numerous parents have volunteered to assist in the STEM lab, and this volunteer program is proving to be invaluable! A 4th and 5th grade STEM Club will be established for those students interested in assisting in multiple projects throughout the year. More information will be forthcoming.
Robotic Units are also being planned for the spring for all K-5th grade students using the Photon Robot and a Family Science Night will take place during the second semester. Our St. James STEM Lab’s goals for the year are to foster students’ curiosity, promote critical and creative thinking, instill a love for learning, and to inspire students to become lifelong learners through rich and dynamic experiences! Please view the photos included to see the evidence of wonder and awe that takes place each day through the St. James STEM LAB!
- Tammy Wood, STEM Enrichment Teacher
During the first quarter, our second and third graders learned about emotions and feelings in Spanish class, and they used their new vocabulary to recite poems or tell jokes in Spanish.
To learn the different sentimientos, the students first used iPads to take photos of their classmates making faces with their assigned emotions, which they uploaded into Keynote presentations with identifying labels such as “yo estoy nervioso” and “yo estoy feliz.” Students also drew facial features on a chart showing a variety of feelings. After learning the vocabulary, Ms. Benton role-played talking with a student who was experiencing a certain sentimiento and then had the rest of the class identify the correct one. During these lessons, students also had to practice using different pronouns in Spanish.
Not only did students learn new vocabulary, but they engaged in discussions about having empathy for others by understanding a wide range of feelings. When watching the award-winning short film El Regalo, or The Present, students were prompted to identify different emotions the characters were experiencing and then explain why each character was having them. El Regalo tells a surprising story about of puppy with three legs, who is given as a gift to a young boy.
When she asked students to take pictures with posters showing different feelings, Ms. Benton was pleasantly surprised at their comprehension: “What I really liked is that I didn’t tell them how to make the expressions in these, but they did them anyways!” Enjoy seeing a wide range of faces in the photos below.
Originally from Guatemala, Claudia Escobar Benton is enjoying her new role as a Spanish teacher at St. James after teaching as an assistant in our preschool. She has previously taught in a bilingual preschool and as a college-level design instructor, and she also has career experience in Graphic Design as well as post-graduate studies in Strategic Design and Innovation.
When I was young, I loved “dress-up” time. In my childhood, students in my classes loved to dress up as astronauts, cowboys, ballerinas, bakers, and heroes. The possibilities seemed endless, but what this playtime did was to help us to imagine ourselves as someone else, to see ourselves as capable of doing things other than we may have thought possible. I get a great deal of joy walking into some of our younger grades here at St. James and seeing students don the outfits of doctors or grocers, taking turns running a clinic or a store, letting their imaginations open up and explore some possibilities that might otherwise have been overlooked. These outfits can help us to live into the best that these costumes represent.
This is even why schools like St. James have uniforms. Aesthetics aside, a uniform helps to set a particular tone - we are here to be St. James students. We dress up to play and we dress up to work, as expressions not only of who we are, but what we aspire to be. I often hear students ask,”Why do you wear that black shirt and white collar?” Several students even believe I wear the same shirt every day (I assure you I do not.) The clerical shirt and collar not only helps people to identify me as a priest; it also helps me to remember the immense responsibility of this vocation - this costume helps me to aspire to being better at my work, and to remember that God walks with me.
The Soirée is an opportunity for folks in our school community to dress up a bit and imagine what we, as “Great Gatsbys” and “Daisies,” might do for this school - all in a spirit of fun and good company. When serious fun happens, dress-up is often a part of it! What a great topic to think about as we approach the big dress-up holiday of Halloween. While some in our world fear the evil themes and satanic imagery of the holiday, most of us recognize Halloween as a time to practice our resistance to forces of evil. We manage to be good people even when we dress as monsters!
On Friday, October 18th, the fifth grade dressed up in uniforms with their blazers. They were pinned with the shield of the school to remind them of their changing relationship with St. James Episcopal Day School. This dressing up reminds the fifth grade class of our expectations of them and our hopes for them. They now prepare to take all that they have learned in this place and carry it forward into new experiences. These clothes (the uniforms) help to indicate something about who they are and how they are called to live. They can be the best of what St. James has given them. Dressing up is serious play for all of us.
Fr. Michael Kuhn, Head of School