EXPRESSIONS OF QUAKERISM
A core belief of Quakerism is that “there is that of God in everyone.” Teachers value the individuality and voice of each child and create classroom environments where six testimonies are explored (in ways appropriate to the age of the students): Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship. Each grade level takes responsibility for preparing a hallway testimony display for the whole school community. Grade levels are matched with a testimony appropriate for their curricular content and the children’s developmental level.
All lower school students gather in Meeting for Worship, the center of Quaker expression. For preschool classes, Meeting is often less structured in its schedule (e.g. it might be five minutes three times a week, instead of 30 minutes once a week, as it is for the older students). This time of quiet reflection is largely defined by each individual and informed by each person’s own religious tradition and identity. Sometimes a student or teacher may feel inspired to stand and speak, sharing a thought that is formed during worship. An example of a young child’s message might be, “I love my school because you get to have so many friends,” or, “I’m really sad that my dog is sick.”
Teachers also carry the tenets of Quakerism into our conflict resolution program as children are supported in finding the language and in working toward independence in solving problems with peers.
PRESCHOOL LOGISTICAL OVERVIEW
The Preschool Day
School begins at 8:00am, with dismissal options at noon and at 3:00pm. Early morning care is available at no extra charge, beginning at 7:30am. Families may enroll in the After-School Program, with a choice of 4:45 or 6:00pm pick-up, either by contract (for the same days each week) or as needed on a drop-in basis. Childcare is available during designated school vacations and on designated noon dismissal days. Lower School Summer Camp operates for 10 weeks each summer, serving children age three through fifth grade.
Two Teachers in Each Classroom
In each preschool classroom, there are two full-time teachers - a lead teacher and an assistant teacher.
Progress Reports and Conferences
Preschool parent-teacher conferences are scheduled three times a year: in September, November, and February/early March. Written reports are provided to parents in November, February, and June. Communication between teachers and parents is always encouraged through personal conversation at drop off or pick up, by email, or by phone.
PRE-KINDERGARTEN THROUGH FIFTH GRADE LOGISTICAL OVERVIEW
The School Day
Lower school begins at 8:00 each morning, with time for children to unpack and settle in before classes begin at 8:15. While no “specials” classes begin in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten before 9:00am, “specials” classes (see below) may start at 8:15 in grades one through five. Dismissal begins at 3:00pm (with some noon dismissals in PK). Early morning care is available, at no extra charge, beginning at 7:15am. Families may enroll in the After-School Program, with a choice of 4:45 or 6:00pm pick-up, either by contract (for the same days each week) or as needed on a drop-in basis. Childcare is also available during designated school vacations and on designated noon dismissal days. Lower School Summer Camp operates for 10 weeks each summer, serving children age three through fifth grade.
Teacher/Student Ratio in Classrooms
From pre-Kindergarten through fourth grade, homebase classrooms usually have two teachers (a lead and an associate who works either a full or half day depending on the grade level and number of students), allowing for greater flexibility in small group work as well as for simultaneous individual and group instruction. Occasionally, a fourth grade homebase class is small enough for a single teacher. This approach gives Friends an exceptionally low student-teacher ratio, ensuring attention to each child.
Much of the lower school curriculum is integrated around themes, and teachers work in teams to coordinate projects across disciplines. For example, a first grader studying ants as part of an insect unit in the homebase classroom might also make a papier maché ant in art class and do Internet research on ants, learning to paste a photo from a web page, in the computer lab.
Reading Blocks, grades 1-2
In first and second grades, daily reading blocks align with a “specials” class so that students have reading instruction time in smaller groups. (Half of the class attends the special, and half stays in the homebase classroom for reading.) This approach provides additional individual attention and multiple grouping options during reading instruction at these grade levels.
Class Structure, grades 1-4
In first through fourth grade, sections for each grade are combined for math and for a segment of language arts work (word study in first and second grades, writing in third and fourth grades). One lead teacher at each grade level teaches both sections of math, and the other teaches both sections of writing or word study. This approach allows teachers to have greater expertise including specialized training in a particular area, and also allows mixing of the children together at the grade level, dividing them up in different ways throughout the year. Common playground time for both sections of each grade is also scheduled.
Fifth graders continue to have a homebase and integrated curriculum, but in this last year of lower school, they have additional responsibilities and privileges. They are responsible for using and caring for their individual, school-issued laptops. They lead the whole lower school in weekly Gathering, and they help with early morning care and with greeting children as they arrive. All three of the fifth grade teachers teach math and writing in their homebase group. Students rotate through classes in reading, social studies, and science; each of these subjects is taught by a particular fifth grade teacher and the students are in mixed groupings for these rotations. Other distinctive features of fifth grade include the introduction of letter grades to assess student work and an overnight trip that combines their studies with community building, integrates classroom learning with experiential learning, and provides an experience away from home and campus.
Classes beyond the core subjects are known at lower school as “specials.” Beginning in pre-k, every student has classes each week in physical education, Spanish, art, and music; students are also introduced to STEM Lab activities starting in pre-kindergarten. Library Media Center/Information Literacy classes meet in coordination with homebase classroom activities. Beginning in kindergarten, students also have science lab classes and computer lab classes.
Throughout lower school, reading is expected on a regular basis at home. For pre-readers and emerging readers, that might be in the form of listening to stories read to them by a parent or older sibling. The expectation for independent reading grows as the students mature. For our oldest students, the expectation is for independent reading of at least 120 minutes each week; students are allowed to complete that reading in a way that works best for them. They might get engrossed in their book and read 120 minutes straight over the weekend or they might want to pace their reading throughout the week. That flexibility allows them to maximize their enjoyment of the reading. Until they reach fifth grade, assigned homework is in the area of math and/or language arts, and occasionally in social studies. Just as the expectations for reading progress over time, so do the expectations for other homework. In first and second grade, for example, children have a variety of math and language arts hands-on activities to choose from at home that are extensions of their learning at school. In third and fourth grade, more specific work is assigned on a regular basis. By the time they reach fifth grade, their homework assignments are longer and often not due for several days in order to support the adoption of good time management skills.
Fourth and fifth graders may choose to participate (no audition required) in Kids Choir and/or band. Kids Choir is a once a week after-school activity; band meets once a week during school, and also in sectionals before the school day once each week. Other after-school activities are also available, through the After-School Program or independently.
Progress Reports and Conferences
For preschool through fifth grade, progress reports are received four times during the year – once each term from homebase teachers and once a semester from each specialist teacher. Parent-teacher conferences are also held three times during the year – once for parents and teachers to get to know one another and to provide parents with an opportunity to share their insights about their children right before school begins, once in late November after the first set of homebase progress reports, and again in March after the second set of homebase progress reports. Reports from specialist teachers are issued in late January and again at the end of the year.
Parent-teacher communication is always encouraged via phone or email.
Only fifth graders receive letter grades.
LANGUAGE ARTS: OVERVIEW
Lower school students progress from learning to read to reading to learn, with building skills in receptive and expressive language. Our focus is on the conceptual understanding that allows for inference, prediction, and abstraction. Throughout the program, students are immersed in a literature- and language-rich environment, exploring different genres, and learning to appreciate a variety of cultures and traditions through reading and research. Challenging students to meet high standards, while developing an enthusiasm for learning and a lifelong love of reading, is a key objective of the program.
Related to that objective is the development of “student voice,” a unifying theme of the lower school curriculum. We seek to provide students with a variety of skills and opportunities for self-expression that will allow for their fullest possible participation in the learning process and in the school and broader communities. In the language arts program, students are supported in expressing their ideas, feelings, and observations openly, effectively, and appropriately in both written and verbal form. Again, expectations rise steadily throughout the program, with high standards in the development and organization of ideas, the use of strong word choice and clear sentence structure, and the application of proper grammar and mechanics. Encouraging students to feel confident in expressing themselves and in presenting their work is also of great importance.
We acquire core materials that support the philosophy and objectives of our program, but the curriculum and classroom tools are not limited to such materials. In language arts, materials include the Reading and Writing Workshop Models, Words Their Way, Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System, Wilson Language Program, and the Wordly Wise Vocabulary Program.
In grades K-5, we use a “Singapore Math” based curriculum called Math in Focus. The Singapore Math approach is grounded in problem solving. It emphasizes the development of strong number sense, excellent mental math skills, and a deep understanding of place value. The curriculum is based on a progression from the use of concrete manipulatives to pictorial representations to the abstract algorithm. This teaching sequence gives students a solid understanding of basic mathematical concepts and relationships before they start working at the abstract level. Of equal importance to the concepts and skills presented is the manner in which teachers engage students and provide opportunities for students to monitor their own thinking and develop attitudes of perseverance and confidence. You will often hear teachers asking students, “Are you sure; how do you know?” Whether an answer is correct or incorrect, students are encouraged to explain and articulate their thinking.
Math in Focus has a strong emphasis on model drawing, a visual approach to solving word problems that helps students organize information and solve problems in a step-by-step manner. The bar modeling approach to problem solving offers a clear logic in solving word problems, a competency that can be difficult for children to master. Finally, math concepts are taught to mastery in Math in Focus. While many U.S. math curricula have traditionally covered many subjects, this curriculum teaches fewer concepts in far greater depth. Teaching to mastery also creates an environment where students are able to develop a sense of ownership and perseverance when approaching their learning.
The lower school math program is grounded in the standards and principles of the Common Core Standards and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), draws from national and international research, and applies the proven best practices of mathematics teachings, with a purposeful connection of mathematical studies to “real-world” situations and to other disciplines. Our goal is to help students achieve 21st century math literacy, with the full range of qualities necessary for them to succeed as mathematical thinkers.
Math is experienced and applied beyond “math class,” often in computer science and in STEM and science activities. Teachers in these disciplines work with homebase teachers to use the same language of the program.
Lower School Science is an inquiry-based program that fosters all aspects of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and 21st century learning. Using the Next Generation Science Standards as a guide to student learning. Our program focuses on the three dimensions of science education: scientific and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts.Through hands-on, collaborative learning, all students engage in the science and engineering design processes. The science process utilizes children’s natural curiosity. They are encouraged to ask questions, explore, and investigate to find the answers to their questions. Each year, students are exposed to a variety of topics across all science disciplines including life, earth, and physical sciences. The engineering design process focuses on the application of science concepts, critical thinking, and problem solving. Students look to identify a problem, ask questions, imagine, plan, and create solutions to the problem. Our science program uses a “spiral” approach in which concepts and skills are continually refined, strengthened, and expanded upon in successive grades.
These explorations benefit from facilities including a “traditional” science lab and the STEM Lab. The traditional science lab is equipped with materials, lab tables, and stools that provide students a more formal setting to study biology and chemistry topics. The STEM Lab provides students with materials and space to study more physical science and engineering topics. For example, first grade students use the loft in the STEM lab as a platform to drop parachutes they design and build. Students in grades PK-4 utilize both science labs depending on the needs and topic being studied. Both labs have SMART Boards, and the STEM Lab also has a SMART Table that allows students to interact and collaborate with each other.
Many science topics are part of cross-curricular units. In the past, some of these units have been “Beans” in pre-kindergarten, “Structures” in kindergarten, and “Monarch Butterflies” in first grade. These units were taught in collaboration with science, Spanish, art, and the homebase teacher.
SOCIAL STUDIES: OVERVIEW
In pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, the social studies curriculum is centered in the homebase classroom, coordinated with work in the “specials.” Students study physical geography, culture, biographies, and history. The curriculum expands from the students’ own experiences (self, family) to larger communities of which they are members and in which they have responsibilities (school, city, state, country), with global connections throughout the progression. Skills in research and presentation are emphasized with increasing expectations at each level, with both teacher-directed and student-selected topics.
The Spanish program is designed to introduce students to the Spanish language and to Hispanic cultures, both for the inherent value and to lay the foundation for future language learning and a lasting appreciation for diversity. Given demographic trends in our country, familiarity with this language and culture is especially valuable to students. The program is spiral, which ensures that skills are reinforced annually while being studied in more depth as students progress through the program. Students engage in activities that generate enthusiasm for the study of language and culture while learning basic communication skills in the target language. The program focuses on developing strong oral-aural skills while introducing reading and writing in Spanish. The program utilizes materials such as books, pictures, photographs, flash cards, DVD’s, CD’s, puppets, computer resources, and the technique Total Physical Response (TPR).
COMPUTER SCIENCE: OVERVIEW
The computer science curriculum is a critical thinking and problem-solving course designed to encourage active learning, creativity, and exploration. It is presented through the following five strands: computational thinking; collaboration; computing practice and programming; computers and communication devices; and community, global, and ethical impacts. Our curriculum is based on the National Standards set by the Computer Science Teachers Association. Beginning in fifth grade (and through 12th grade), students have school-issued laptops, as part of the “one-to-one” technology program at Friends.
Computational thinking is an approach to defining and then solving problems in ways that can be implemented with a computer. Our students experience collaboration most often in pair programming activities and in the collection and analysis of data. Computing practice and programming involve exploring the use of programming to solve problems. Topics under computers and communication devices include teaching about computing devices in everyday life and how to troubleshoot commonly encountered software and hardware issues. Whenever a new technology is introduced to students, we engage them in discussion around the impacts of that technology.
All students in kindergarten through fifth grade meet for formal instruction at least once each week in the computer lab. For half of the year, they work with the Math and Computing Specialist; and for the other half of the year, they work with the Library Media Specialist. (Note: See the Library Media Information Literacy Curriculum for corresponding curriculum.) Classes have additional access to technology for both curricula by scheduling additional lab sessions and by using classroom computers and iPad and laptop carts. Fifth graders, additionally, have their own school supplied laptops.
PERFORMING ARTS: OVERVIEW
Children’s play is the foundation of a performing arts education. Speech, song, movement, and dramatic play combine to activly engage learners with the elements of music, movement, and drama. As students creat music by speaking, singing, playing instruments and moving, they learn 21st century skills such as creative expression, collaboration, critical thiking, and communication.
Through a sequential program encouraging active participation and self-expression, students develop musical understanding and appreciation. The music curriculum is coordinated with other classroom lessons⏤social science and geography studies, for example⏤so that students might learn music from cultural traditions they are studying, or so that composer biographies are timed to fit with other biographical studies. Skills in music are also related to other disciplines, such as the science of sound production and the math of musical notation.
Opportunities to participate in dramatic performance and dramatic play are woven throughout the curriculum, further developing creativity and self-expression. Through drama education, students cultivate a sense of themselves as creative and expressive individuals with responsibilities to a larger community, grow increasingly comfortable with risk taking, learn movement and drama skills, and develop critical and creative thinking skills.
All students perform in winter and spring concerts, and individual classes have the opportunity for smaller musical and dramatic group performances throughout the year. Every fifth grade student performs in a spring musical theater production. Students in fourth and fifth grade may choose to participate (no audition required) in band and/or Kids Choir.
PHYSICAL EDUCATION: OVERVIEW
The mission of the Physical Education Department at WFS is to promote lifelong learning through physical activity, exercise, and sport while supporting students in making health conscious decisions, meeting challenges, and participating in mentally positive behaviors.
The lower school physical education curriculum offers children the opportunity to develop their physical and social emotional skills. The program is spiraling and sequential, offering age-appropriate games, activities, and fitness opportunities. Effort, empathy, cooperation, communication, and healthy risk-taking are emphasized and are considered essential components of a student’s growth as an athlete and community member.
VISUAL ARTS: OVERVIEW
All lower school students receive formal visual art instruction. Three art teachers lead the program at the lower school, teaching the core visual arts curriculum and also coordinating projects across academic areas. The visual arts program is designed to be a vehicle for creative and personal discovery, in which students learn about themselves, their environment, world cultures, and art history. The program provides an ongoing exploration of concepts, techniques, and materials that develop each student’s ability to create visual solutions by implementing design principles and elements of art. Students are encouraged to express themselves with joy, imagination, clarity, responsibility, and skill, and at all grade levels are encouraged to explore individual solutions to assignments. Diverse learning styles and choices are respected.
LIBRARY MEDIA CENTER/INFORMATION LITERACY: OVERVIEW
The Library Media Center (LMC) is an integral part of the lower school education program, fostering lifelong enthusiasm for the process of learning and for reading, developing an appreciation for different cultures through literature and non-fiction research, teaching specific learning skills, and developing students’ sense of responsibility in using a shared resource. We recognize that students retain skills best when our lessons are taught in the context of the classroom curriculum, so information-seeking strategies and other library-related skills are taught in various subject areas. Our program is based on the National Standards set by the American Association of School Librarians entitled Standards for the 21st Century Learner.
Teaching units are planned closely with classroom teachers and integrate lessons based on a unique combination of the Big Six Information Problem Solving Model as well as the I-Search model of inquiry. We have meshed the idea of the Big Six, which is a more linear approach to research, with I-Search to emphasize our interest in having students follow their interests. The Big Six addresses essential steps of research including task definition, locating and evaluating information, and presenting information. I-Search, originally developed by Macrorie for the collegiate level, has been successfully adapted to the elementary level and is an excellent construct for multi-disciplinary learning. I-Search is designed recognizing inquiry as a non-linear process. It spirals as learners adapt new perceptions and new queries. Students become immersed in the topic by constructing good questions. Students develop ownership of the topic because they choose it. They feel empowered and motivated to discover the answers. Journal writing is built into this model; students become more reflective and deepen their awareness of their topic and the process.
WFS offers a distinctive model in which information literacy is interwoven with technology so that students are practicing their skills in the most meaningful possible way. Students are introduced to many ways of organizing and presenting their ideas, from programs like Inspiration and Microsoft Office to Web 2.0 tools like Voicethread, Glogster, and Google Docs. At age-appropriate levels, students are introduced to Internet safety and their role in becoming good digital citizens. We embrace opportunities to collaborate with other students as well as other communities and cultures with a firm belief that sharing increases opportunities for global learning.
Additionally, the Library hosts author/illustrator visits to further appreciation of literature. We have hosted Newbery authors Grace Lin and Rita Garcia-Williams, as well as Nick Bruel, Nancy Carol Willis, Kevin O’Malley, Peter Catalanotto, and Kate Klise; we have Skyped with other classrooms as well as with poet/author Debbie Levy. The library contracts for speakers from the Delaware Humanities Council to enhance the classroom curriculum. The Library also coordinates interactive webcasts to connect students with authors and global issues.
HUMAN DYNAMICS AND DEVELOPMENT
Human Dynamics and Development is a cross-divisional (lower, middle, and upper school) program at Wilmington Friends, encompassing social and emotional awareness, interpersonal relationships, and healthy living habits, including strategies and processes for making informed decisions. In middle and upper school, there are specific courses, required for all students, in the program (sixth grade-Connections; seventh grade-Conflict Resolution; eighth grade-Decision Making; upper school-Wellness I & II). In lower school, the program is centered in the homebase classroom and is closely aligned with division objectives regarding the development of a child’s self-concept and relationships with others. Themes in lower school Human Dynamics and Development include treating others with respect, building community, peaceful resolution of conflict, appropriate expression of emotions, taking healthy risks, increasing independence and self-reliance, and making informed and healthy choices.