Right before the start of the holiday travel season, our second grade finished up a study on Westward Expansion and Pioneers. They began their journey by packing bags for a mystery trip in wagons. They soon realized the year was 1849 and most of the possessions they packed had not even been invented yet (fancy neck pillow, iPad, phone, Easy Mac). Most pioneers only packed one set of clothes, tools, weapons, and pots and pans, so they made revisions on what they would want to take given the choices available at the time.
Day to day activities for pioneers were exciting for our students to learn about as well. They were shocked to hear that kids worked and did chores most all of the day! Students spent their weeks in class cooking Johnny cakes and sampling snacks like dried fruit, beef jerky, and cider. They also shared stories of the “Little House in the Big Woods” and were even assigned real pioneer names during this unit. They wrote journal entries from the pioneers’ perspectives, refining their writing skills while also learning about pioneer life. The study concluded at Magnolia Mound where the students toured the antebellum home and outdoor kitchen, learned how to weave on a loom, played with wooden toys from the olden days, and performed a square dance and song! Overall, it was an enriching educational experience that will remain a highlight of the year.
Third Grade has had an amazing quarter! It all began with a comment on Conference Day that parents would enjoy sharing their knowledge and expertise with the class. We created an online signup dedicated solely to this, in essence a partnership between teachers and parents to work together to build a learning community for our students. Friends and family volunteer for various presentations and visit the classroom when their area of expertise is taught. We call these visits Master Chats.
Patrick Banks, Haleigh’s father and a marine biologist, brought the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to the classroom. Students learned about Louisiana marshlands and that Louisiana is the number one producer of shrimp, oysters, and boiled crab. What they found most fascinating was learning to count the rings that circle the ear bones of a fish, just like counting the rings on a tree, to determine its age. They also learned about the dangers of the marshes sinking and endangered animals native to Louisiana.
Caroline Graham, Conor’s mom, brought the Supreme Court of the United States to the classroom, immediately engaging all of Third Grade in a court battle involving the definition of court shoes that traveled from District Court to the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, with a side trip to the Second Circuit, and finally all the way to SCOTUS. The children participated as jurors, defendant, plaintiff, clerks, judges, and justices. Students loved hearing about Mrs. Graham’s experience at the Supreme Court and a special highlight, her visit to the basketball court on the top floor of the building, aptly named The Highest Court in the Land. The day ended in a 5 to 4 vote from the Third Grade justices.
Andrés Harris, Mariela’s father, taught the students the basics of recycling on National Recycling Day. Students learned what materials can be recycled, the four major categories of recyclables and the importance recycling plays to preserve natural resources. The class was treated to a Virtual Field Trip to a Recycling Center where they watched material being sorted and packed. Students then sorted the class recycling bin to demonstrate what they learned. The class learned the importance of everyone working together to protect our planet.
The Master Chats our parents have shared with us have been invaluable as they bring first-hand experiences to students who are engaged and challenged. Upcoming visits include Daniel Simonson to talk about Veterans’ Day and Tara Madison to share her experience with the judicial branch. These chats have strengthened and enriched our learning community.
- Kathlee Shahla and Jennifer Lim, Third Grade Teachers
Each Friday, the school gathers in the church for a weekly eucharist, also referred to as Holy Communion, Mass, or the Lord’s Supper in many other Christian denominations. The term “eucharist” comes to us from the Greek word “eucharistia” which simply means “giving thanks”. This service is a time for the people of God to give thanks for the great gift of Christ to this world. As fourth grader Julia Troegel put it during her day as acting Head of School, “We use this word [eucharist] because when we go to the front of the church to receive the bread and the wine, we are giving thanks to the Lord and thanking Jesus for giving up himself to our service.”
Thanksgiving is a fitting word for this time of the year. Traditionally, harvests were gathered in and people gave thanks to God for food to sustain their lives. We often reserve this word for one day in which the people of our nation give thanks for this land, the people we hold dear, and the blessings of our lives. And we usually speak of these blessings in the context of a meal together, overindulging on tryptophan and football games, a walk outside, and good conversations.
As we reflect on the Thanksgiving holiday, perhaps we might consider stretching this holiday out over several times during the year. Just as the Church recognizes the call to weekly giving of thanks at the eucharist, each of us might celebrate times during the year to offer thanks for people we love, lives that are meaningful and joyful, the warmth of homes and good meals with friends, and a God who loves us and desires the best for us. For myself, I give thanks for the opportunity to be a part of the St. James community this year. I have met some amazing teachers, strong and able administrators, loving and learning students, and a number of committed and supportive parents in a relatively short time. Thanksgiving is not just reserved for that one day each year; giving thanks is a way of responding to all that is shared with us by a loving God. Safe travels, great food, and loving hearts be with you and those you love this Thanksgiving holiday.
- Father Michael Kuhn, Interim Head of School
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