Lower School

Welcome to Lower School!

The AC Lower School Program structure is made up of many interlocking parts, all of which provide strong skill sets in basic core areas, offer opportunities for collaborative teaching and learning, and take into account individual student strengths, interests, and needs.

This structure includes:
    • Foundations
    • Project-Based Learning Units
    • Special Subjects
            

Curriculum Overview

List of 6 items.

  • Foundations Curriculum

    The Lower School "Foundations" program provides a strong basis of:
    • reading
    • math
    • communication (writing and speaking) skills

    Students spend a part of every day with their grade level teachers working toward basic mastery and beyond, depending on their readiness levels in these three areas. A continuum of learning is in place that serves as a guide for where students should be as they move on in their learning journey. 

    At the elementary level, we recognize that students at any age can be at a variety of different levels in the developmental process, so it is our goal to facilitate at least a year’s worth of growth in the foundation areas during the school year. 

    We believe that foundation skills are necessary for students to master in order to become strong and independent learners. This curriculum also offers students the opportunity to discover their strengths as learners, which fosters an appreciation for how they learn.
  • Project-Based Learning

    Project-Based Learning (PBL) is inquiry-based learning. When students ask the questions to which they want solutions, they are automatically connected to the learning process. 

    Project-based learning begins with an Essential Question. With the help of teachers, students break down the driving question into paths of learning, or the skills and knowledge they need to acquire in order to respond thoughtfully and intelligently to the driving question.

    Project-Based Learning is a way of life in the Allendale Columbia Lower School. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade question, research, interview, survey, hypothesize, experiment, create, build, debate, and perform to gain knowledge. As this knowledge is shared with other members of the class, students move closer to an answer, a solution, a recommendation, a decision, or a product that responds to the driving question.

    Because the scope of learning is so wide in project-based learning, the lead teacher or students often call upon the expertise of other teachers, staff members, and outside experts, making this type of learning a truly collaborative process.
  • Responsive Classroom

    The AC Lower School follows the "Responsive Classroom" approach to learning which emphasizes academic, social, and emotional growth in a strong classroom community.

    Morning Meeting allows students to have success in both social and academic areas. This approach also encourages students to take responsibility for their actions and to develop an understanding of being a thoughtful and engaged global citizen.

    We have also built in a dedicated time at the end of the day for reflection. Reflection is an integral part of the learning process. It allows us to learn more about ourselves and how we learn, but it also aids us in improving academic skills.
  • Specials

    In addition to their grade level teachers, all Lower School students work with several specialist teachers over the course of a five-day cycle. Specialists have their own curriculum but leave room to collaborate with and support grade level teachers, as well, on project-based learning experiences.

    While grade level teachers work with a child for one year, specialists work with the child for the entire time the child is in the Lower School. The result is that specialists get to know their students very well and can offer great insights about each child to the grade level teachers. Parents are encouraged to get to know our specialists because of the significant role they play in the lives of our students.

    Special subjects include:
    • Music
    • Chorus
    • Band
    • Art
    • Spanish
    • Physical Education
    • STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)
  • Student Progress Evaluations

    In AC's Lower School, the academic year is divided into two semester marking periods. At the end of each semester, students receive report cards with extensive narrative assessments and a standards based continuum. Our mastery indicators are aligned with our continuums in literacy and mathematics so that we can report on individual student's growth.

    We do not offer grades because we do not compare students to one another, nor do we assess a student against grade level expectations. Instead, we evaluate individual progress in a variety of ways and report this progress through the narrative format and standards based indicators for each strand within our foundations courses.

    Halfway through each semester, parents are invited to a conference with the homeroom teacher to discuss the student’s progress and to establish a plan of action to meet the current needs of the student. Either the parent or the teacher via email or telephone may initiate additional conferences. 
  • Importance of Play

    Play is an essential component of the Lower School experience. Play gives children the opportunity to develop strong social skills, problem solve, and strengthen sensory and gross motor skills. All Lower School students have a morning recess built into their daily schedule. A teacher may elect to schedule an additional recess during the day.

Grade Levels at a Glance

List of 6 items.

  • Kindergarten

    As the first year of the Lower School Division, Kindergarten assimilates our youngest students into the culture of the Lower School in a way that is socially and cognitively age-appropriate for five- and six-year-old children.

    Students are exposed to the foundations of reading, writing, and math that will continue throughout their Lower School years.
    • Reading instruction occurs in flexible learning groups through Reading Workshop and Guided Reading.
    • Writers’ Workshop encourages children to write phonetically and creatively.
    • We also use the Heggerty Program for phonemic awareness and use components of Fundations for our phonics program.
    • Our math instruction includes a variety of manipulatives and hands-on experiences to give children concrete experiences with math concepts.
    Because the developmental process plays such a strong role in the readiness level of children at this age, teachers assess the readiness of each child and adjust the program to address the needs of the individual student.
    • Activities in Kindergarten help build problem-solving skills through project-based learning and authentic experiences.
    • Our projects are flexible, allowing for student interest to help drive the direction of the learning focus.
    • The large classrooms provide centers for enrichment, art activities, block building, and other forms of purposeful play.
    • Children are encouraged to explore their interests and develop productive relationships with peers during these times of experiential learning.
    • Rich social studies and science topics offer interesting experiences to enrich the learning process, and the utilization of iPads and the SMART Board support these projects.
  • First Grade

    The first-grade experience is authentic and project-based.

    In this program, students begin to examine how they fit into a larger community. They look at their role in responding to the needs of others and their responsibilities as individuals in the world. These authentic experiences help to promote independence and critical thinking skills that are essential for the 21st-century.

    Projects and assignments in all areas are driven by students’ interests. Early on in the school year we evaluate the interests of the class and decide a common theme as a class that is used to create lessons, questions, and deeper research. 

    Another cornerstone of first grade is our emphasis on personal projects. Each student is given the opportunity to be a teacher to their peers and share four presentations based on their passions and interests throughout the year. These projects not only build on the student’s blossoming independence but also foster confidence and public speaking skills

    First graders develop a solid foundation in literature and word recognition through this process. As they learn new reading skills and strategies, they have the opportunity to implement them at their independent reading level with others across grade levels. This type of student interest lends itself to a program in which learning is connected to each student’s ability level. Students want to know the sciencemathreading, and writing skills that feed their interests. They are able to grow and develop as children, as well as members of a larger community.
  • Second Grade

    Modern teaching and learning are vastly different from past practices in education. Therefore, second grade is a year filled with authentic 21st-century learner-centered experiences, along with instruction of foundational skills: readingwritingspellingmathspeakinglistening, and thinking.

    Throughout second grade, students develop the ability to ask deeper questionssearch for answers, and, perhaps most importantly, seek help when needed. Pursuit of interests and innovative solutions to challenging problems is a critical skill that students explore in second grade. 

    Second graders are encouraged to learn from mistakes, and not to be afraid to stretch their thinking and test their ideas.

    Effective communication and the ability to work well with others are essential to student success. Students continue to learn to respect differences, effectively collaborate with diverse personalities, and strengthen one’s character. These skills are essential for the full realization of innovation as students work together to solve problems.

    Technology affords many avenues of communication and collaboration, so our teachers guide and assist students in the appropriate use of technology tools to enhance these skills. The integration of technology allows the students to engage in a personalized, yet socially collaborative, educational experience that ultimately encourages a lifetime of learning. 
  • Third Grade

    Third grade is a transitional year where students are encouraged and taught self-management skills and independence as learns and thinkers. It is a turning point for language arts as students move from learning to read to reading to learn.

    Within the context of the third-grade balanced literacy approach, students practice many language arts skills.
    • They engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions and build text-based arguments.
    • Students write routinely for both short and extended time frames, determine the meaning of unfamiliar words using a variety of strategies and compare and contrast multiple texts on the same topic.
    • Students also explore different genres and practice reading independently and collaboratively.
    • Students record information and engage in writing and reflecting on different experiences.
    • Proper spellinggrammar, and sentence structure become essential for effective communication.
    • Students have opportunities to share their ideas and thoughts, both orally and written, in a variety of ways. Some examples include personal reflections, essays, blog posts, emails, and presentations. 
    The third grade math program continues to strengthen a necessary foundation of skills and concepts, but also introduces students to deductive and inductive thinking in problem-solving exercises. Students are encouraged to apply their prior knowledge to problem-solving using the way they “think about math,” rather than simply employing formulaic procedures.

    Classroom and computer-generated games enhance student learning. Students collaborate in small groups to reinforce concepts taught during whole group instruction. Learning is differentiated within these groups to support the needs and challenge all learners. 

    Project-Based Learning is a key component of the third-grade experience. Projects are interdisciplinaryfar-reaching, and fun and are designed to create real-world connections to learning. Research and public speaking skills are highlighted throughout the year. 
  • Fourth Grade

    Fourth-grade students continue the challenge of collaborating on cross-curricular learning activities.

    Classroom collaboration is the stepping-stone to interdisciplinary experiences that allow students to work together in the intermediate grades, as well as across Divisions. Investigations are fluid and flexible based on students’ needs and interests. Each year, the activities range from spontaneous learning moments to community events such as Blue/White Day. 

    Through Reading Workshop, students read books at their independent reading levels. The skills developed in Reading Workshop help students continue to make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Essential critical and inferential thinking skills are reinforced through the use of fiction and nonfiction selections. Every student has frequent opportunities to work with their teachers to explore personal literary interests.

    Writing continues to be an essential part of the academic program. Students may keep journals, structure responses to reading, and write compositions and essays. Working closely with teachers, the technology educator, and the Librarian, students learn the appropriate and responsible method for citing resources. A continued focus on the conventions of writing strengthens their ability to communicate effectively. Communication is a vital skill to be successful in our global society. Although technology enhances the delivery and way information is transmitted, students are expected to speak confidently and comfortably.

    Fourth grade offers multiple opportunities to learn, practice, and refine public speaking skills. Whether teaching others about a personal interest in the classroom or sharing their expertise at school-wide events, students hone their skills in a practical setting. 

    Fourth graders begin developing a historical perspective, placing their lives in the context of the past. Local awareness helps students build on their knowledge about local functions and work toward practical application in a global community

    In fourth grade, the study of mathematics emphasizes practical applicationsproblem solving, and estimation in each operation. Through a developmentally appropriate approach, students build upon foundational skills. As confidence and interest grows, students feel empowered to extend beyond topics through learning centers, projects, and use of computers and iPad applications.
  • Fifth Grade

    Fifth graders are ready and eager to make connections between their real-life experience and new areas of knowledge. Discovering relationships among various branches of study is fostered by an interdisciplinary approach.

    As independence develops, students are encouraged to exercise autonomy when selecting independent projects, and they develop unique solutions to problems.

    Fifth graders experience a wide variety of literature in both independent book choices and in the selections read with large and small groups. A fifth grader’s growing ability to understand and communicate with others stimulates conversation as students work with partners, in small groups, and as a whole group. Students respond to what they read in student-led discussion groups and in blogs.

    During debates and exchanges of views, students are able to learn how different people can understand and respond to a piece of literature in diverse ways. There is nothing like sharing ideas within a community of readers. 

    Student interest helps to determine the topics that frame academics. Interdisciplinary projects have dealt with the concepts of toys and play, the history and future of books, and developing content for a digital downtown walking tour. Projects that include art and music are always enriching. 

    As fifth graders begin to develop their abstract reasoning skills, mathematics is an exciting and interesting subject. They have developed many of math’s basic building blocks, and are now able to apply and combine them in increasingly complex ways. An ability to associate fractionsdecimals, and percentages is a good example of their newly found skills.

    Technology impacts individual progress in math as students play games and solve problems with a variety of applications.

    Creativehands-on projects are encouraged, and fifth graders work together to solve problems like, “How many containers would it take to fill the room with popcorn?” Three-dimensional constructions help fifth graders to discover or reinforce geometric concepts.

    Written and oral communication are at the heart of many fifth grade activities. Whether expressing good reasoning in a compare/contrast essay that explains ideas formulated in a project, detailing steps used to solve a math problem, or writing a creative response related to a book, students learn to use language to communicate and to express themselves
            

Have questions?

Contact Head of Lower School Michelle Feiss at mfeiss@allendalecolumbia.org.
            

Divisions & Courses

At Allendale Columbia, we prepare students for the world they will inherit. In our trusting and responsive environment, students in nursery through grade 12 grow in confidence and develop scholastic independence.