Nativity, Fine Motor, and Colonial Visit

This time of year schools are busy with programs and the holiday excitement abounds, and Prek is no exception! It is easy to get caught up in the rush of the Christmas holiday and lose focus on what is the true meaning of Christmas. We are so blessed to be able to teach our students about Jesus’ birth and talk openly about God at St. James. Last week the St. James PreK performed the Nativity story. The children have been very dedicated to learning the songs and movements for the program. How impressive these children are! They have memorized songs, lines, solos, and moving parts. All of which requires a tremendous amount of focus and commitment. Such a courageous group of children, it isn’t easy to perform in front of a large audience especially when it is full of your loved ones. I love that the children are able to soak up the story of Jesus’ birth. With the play, creating a sticker story, and role playing with puppets the children have the the Nativity story memorized.

 

The class has made several ornaments for our Christmas tree, they really enjoyed decorating the tree. One fun activity that the children completed was painting with bells. The children used small bells to paint a paper plate green, it later became a wreath with wrapping bows. This activity exercised the children’s fine motor muscles. Much of what is done in class helps develop the student’s fine and gross motor muscles. Which aids in more complex skills, such as: being able to dress and easily feed oneself, having strength and confidence in body movement, lessen writing fatigue, stronger computer keyboard skills, etc. We are very fortunate to attend PE everyday and strengthen their gross motor muscles and skills.

Last week, the children fashed back to the colonial period as they visited the 5th graders. Mrs. Jordan’s 5th graders did a great job as they gave their presentations while in full costume and time of the colonial period. I’ve said it before, and I am sure I will again, the younger students love visiting the middle school to see what the big kids have done in their classes. It builds on the mentoring relationships that are built between the different age groups. St. James is a one of a kind place and I feel abundantly blessed to be apart of this family.

 

MATHEMATICS AT ST. JAMES DAY SCHOOL

There is an old saying that if you get two educators in a room, you will have three opinions about which curriculum is best!  And likely a dozen textbook companies willing to sell the latest and shiniest course.

Mathematics has been a particular flash point in these different outlooks on curriculum.  In the 1990s, most public schools shifted to Reform Mathematics, which was itself a reform of the New Math of the 1960s and onwards.  

The predominant reform approach to math has not been a great success.  In the period of 2012-2015, the United States has slipped 12 points in the PISA assessment administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an assessment that includes students from nearly 70 countries throughout the world.

Many private schools, St. James included, stayed the course by teaching Classical Mathematics, with one significant change being that traditional concepts are taught at earlier ages than they were in past generations.    

At St. James, we continue to use a classical curriculum because it has been our experience, honed over many years, that the traditional structure is best for laying a developmentally-appropriate and solid foundation leading to long-term mastery of content skills for success in higher math in middle school and beyond.  

St. James uses the Saxon Math curriculum across grades 1 through 6.  Its pedagogical underpinnings include the following:

  • An incremental development of concepts with understanding its parts before trying to work with the whole concept

  • Continual review with required homework that has 85% of problems from previous lessons (no skipping of lessons unless student shows 80% mastery of problems from that lesson; no working “every other” problem)

  • De-emphasis of transitory test-taking tricks in favor of permanent mastery of concepts

  • Frequent cumulative assessments

  • No “hunk swallowing” of topics

  • Practice with new problems of repetition for learning, not for drilling

  • No use of calculators.

With minor adjustments which we make, our curriculum correlates to Common Core and TEKS (the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) for math.   

Each year, we use the Stanford Achievement Test Series (SAT10), to measure our educational achievement.  The Stanford, used by many private schools, rates our students’ achievement not against a district norm, nor even a state norm, but against a national cadre.  We analyze these results closely at the end of each academic year.  

Instead of an approach to education based on “the average student”, we tailor our educational experience for each particular student.  As you would expect, different students have different skills and move at different paces.  For those students who need a “bump up” in a particular core subject, we provide it.  We do the same for those students who need extra support.   

Because St. James provides this individualized education, our yearly analysis of the SAT10 is for each student.  This way we can differentiate the educational experience so that each child learns at his own pace and in her own way.  We understand that this personal attention is one of the reasons that you send your child to St. James.

Needless to say, there will be students who excel in subjects when they leave us, math included, and those who will need extra support, but a firm foundation of skills and comprehension will have been laid at St. James in either case.

As a whole, St. James graduates regularly and consistently

  • finish high school in the top ten percent of their class

  • receive significant college scholarship awards

  • are admitted to many of the most selective colleges to which they apply.   To give but one example, this year one of our 2011 graduates was admitted to Harvard.

Since 2000, thirteen St. James graduates have been either the valedictorian or salutatorian of local public high schools.  In eight of those years, St. James grads have seen both valedictorians and salutatorians amongst the several local schools.  This is hardly a statistical anomaly, but a remarkable accomplishment given that our graduates comprise only the tiniest percentage of the thousands of students who attend these educational institutions.

St. James Day School consults regularly with wider educational leaders to ensure that we are preparing our students for their next educational placement.  To keep current, we confer with local educators at public middle school, high school and university levels.  We also have the benefit of the collective wisdom of a community of Episcopal Schools through our accrediting body.  This consultation means that we provide the best and most up-to-date educational experience possible.  
As always, the Administration of the School welcomes and encourage ongoing feedback from parents, knowing as we do that we are partners in your child’s education.  For seventy years now, St. James has been the educational leader in Texarkana.  We are thankful that your family is part of this tradition of educational excellence.

Have a blessed holiday!

Claire

 

Claire Gordon