May Flowers

April showers bring May flowers, that's how the saying goes and boy have my flowers bloomed! This end of year blog has been the hardest one for me to write. How do you say good bye to such a wonderful group of children? 

The last few weeks of school have been a wild and crazy ride. The children participated in their spring program and were absolutely amazing. There were children that wouldn't touch a microphone at the beginning of the year who now were handling their speaking parts like professionals. I think public speaking is so important and it's been great to see a school that supports exposure to public speaking at such a young age. The children sang songs about all sorts of subjects ranging from educational to Biblical. I was so proud of how loud they sang and how maturely they handled walking across the stage to receive their certificates in front of all the families that were watching. 

After the spring program was finished we began to wrap up our last study of the year, Recycling. Recycling was such an interesting study to work through with the children. I never though that they would be so excited to sort trash but they sure had a blast! Paper, Plastic, Glass, Metal....it was all sorted and along the way they made so many discoveries. We discussed where items came from - soap bottles, bags of chips, tin cans from food, paper towels rolls, glass baby food jars, and so on. We counted items, compared and contrasted the types of items using our descriptive words, and even hunted for shaped like our cones, spheres, and cubes that we have studied. I was amazed at how well the children retained these concepts. 

We also learned about the impact that tossing trash outside had on the environment. We talked about what animals might think of the trash lying around in their habitats. Once the children realized the dangers of litter they became ambassadors to their families. I had several parents stop me to tell me how their little ones were implementing recycling procedures at home as well as stopping to pick up litter from outside. 

Aside from wrapping up our curriculum we had 2 major items left to finish of at the end of the month: our community service project and our fun fair. For our community service project we teamed up with the Primary I class to complete a book drive for For the Sake of One. For the Sake of One is a Christian Non-Profit that works with local foster children. We not only donated books to the group but we also worked on an art piece with a bible verse to offer encouragement to the families that come through their office. 

At St. James we believe that family is incredibly important. You know your child the best and we want to work with you to help your child receive a great educational foundation. Our end of the year Fun Fair was a great example of how our children's families work together with our teachers. Mrs. Diane, Mrs. Amanda, and myself had the pleasure of working with two wonderful room moms who helped decorate and coordinate the parents volunteers. There were games that went with each study the children learned throughout the year and our parents helped with setup, running the games, and cleaning up afterwards. The children had fun and the parents had fun, overall it was a perfect way to wrap up the school year. 

I started out this school year with all the jitters a new teacher typically has and I have ended it with a mix of sadness and joy. Life always has it's ups and downs and here at St. James we believe failure is a great way to learn. So, while I don't believe anyone but Jesus can achieve perfection I do believe this was as close to a perfect year as we could have. I can't wait to see what these children go on to accomplish next year. 

 

Sarah White
April Showers

     Spring has arrived on the St. James campus. The children have really embraced the changes and it has been exciting to watch their imagination bloom. One of the advantages of having a campus in the middle of nature is getting to observe firsthand the natural world and all of God's beautiful creation.

     For example, the children discovered caterpillars on a tree in our playground area. We collected them and I got their identity confirmed through an entomologist. Once we knew they were safe for the children we proceeded to raise them and learn about their life cycle. Out of our 4 caterpillars we had 3 form chrysalises and become butterflies (Limenitis arthemis). In our classrooms, we were able to observe the entire process and then we were able to "touch" our butterflies by sitting in our observation tent with orange juice on our fingers. Through this journey of development the children used math skills, critical thinking skills, and even art skills. 

     The children have also observed other animals around our campus. We have 3 active bird nest around our building and they have been able to observe the parents care for the young birds. We also discovered a toad in our playground area and were able to touch the toad and discuss where he came from and what his habitat was like. The toad was then relocated to a much safer area of our campus. 

     Another advantage of having a wooded campus is having several great trails to explore. Our class joined with Primary I to take a hike through the woods. We started off our hike by  practicing our leadership and safety skills. We discussed staying together in the woods, not touching random plants, and how to set a good example for the younger class. We partnered up with our younger cohorts and took off on an exploratory adventure. 

     Aside from all of the life science we have been experiencing we also have finished our clothing study. We learned about where our clothing comes from, how it is made and all about patterns (pre-math skill!!). We ended our unit of study by having a shirt party - we all got to wear our favorite shirts. During our large group time each child was given the opportunity to come up to the front of the class, speak into a microphone and tell us what was special about their shirt. I can tell you that I am so proud of these children. Every single one of them got up in front of the class and talked on that microphone!! Yay!! That is such a difficult thing to experience. 

     Now, I know you are probably wondering when we work on the letters, writing, etc. All of those wonderful skills that we need to know by kindergarten. What is really neat is how our curriculum is set up to help us experience the letters and learn about them in real life. For instance in our clothing study we made shapes and letters with scarves. We also looked at stripes on shirts in horizontal, vertical, and diagonal patterns and then used those lines to make different letters. 

     Every day is an adventure here are St. James Day school and we love every minute. I had the joy of watching our older grades put on the musical "The Jungle Book". The children were amazing and it was a wonderful experience. We have so many more programs coming up - Lights on with Louie, Midieval fair (6th grade), Talent Show (Pre-k), and our spring program. I look forward to sharing these experiences with you next time. 

 

Sarah White
All Things Bright and Beautiful

The seasons are not the only things changing around here. The children are growing and learning so quickly. At the beginning of the year we worked on recognizing our names and the letters of the alphabet. Now we can not only recognize our names but we can recognize our friend's names too.  We can recognize the letters, make the phonetic sounds and are learning to write them. I have enjoyed getting to be a part of the children's journey with writing. Writing at St. James is a bit different and you won't see a lot of worksheets around our classrooms. I know for many that is a serious infraction to learning. However, our goal at this age is to expose them to letters/writing and to pique their interest, and worksheets rarely interest 3-4 yr old children. So, instead we discuss lines, curves, shapes, and colors. We write with sand, play dough, shaving cream, paint, q-tips, and paintbrushes. We go on an adventure, a journey, not a lesson. 

On that note we have recently journeyed into a new study about clothing. This study gives us an opportunity to focus on concepts and skills in literacy, math, science, social studies, the arts,and technology using items we are already familiar with in a basic way. We started off our study by discussing what clothing we wear during different types of weather. This is a great way to compare items and to develop our critical thinking skills.  The study has asked the following questions so far: 

  • What do we want to know about clothing? 
  • What do we want to find out?
  • What makes our clothing special? 
  • Who might wear this? (ballet dancer, fireman, astronaut, etc.)
  • How do we find out what size clothes or shoes we wear? 
  • What tools can we use to measure?
  • What are the features of clothing? (buttons, pockets, logos, etc.)

We have read the following books: 

  • Llama Llama Red Pajama
  • Cap for Sale
  • Uncle Nacho's Hat
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears 
  • A pocket for Corduroy
  • The Mitten

 The children are practicing public speaking by showing off their favorite items of clothing and to help prepare for the Spring Program. They are also learning songs to help them with their counting, weather concepts, general knowledge and even patriotism for the Spring Program. The Spring Program will be in May and it is hard to believe that May is so close. We really only have one study left after clothing and then the year will be over. Well, speaking of spring our spring break is here and I look forward to sharing more of the children's studies and growth when we come back. See you in a few weeks!

 

Sarah White
It's building time!

We have had a fantastic time exploring the subject of buildings. The past few weeks we have investigated the following questions: 

  • What do the buildings in our neighborhood and others look like? 
  • How many buildings are on our campus? 
  • Is a building always a house? 
  • Who builds buildings? What tools do they use? 
  • What are buildings made of? What makes them strong? 

The children have thoroughly examined the story of the Three Little Pigs. They even compared our traditional story with two other stories, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs & The Three Javelinas. During our examinations we noted the difference between straw, sticks, and bricks. We talked about wise decision making and how different materials are used when building houses in the desert. The children also practiced the storytelling process by learning to place pictures of the story's events in order. This helps develop listening and cognitive skills because they have to listen and remember the story in order to retell it correctly. 

We examined the buildings on our campus and discussed their purpose. We even counted windows and doors while comparing them to the familiar shapes of squares & rectangles. We looked at a hand drawn map of the area and noticed the similarities between the map and what we see when we walk around campus. Learning how to compare objects is a very important skill and one that we have worked hard on developing. We even charted the differences between single family homes and apartments on the board. 

We love to build towers, do you? It's so much fun that we decided to examine those towers we were building to see if they were structurally sound. We compared different blocks and how they stack together and counted the number of blocks it took before it fell over. This was important to know as we then examined other ways to build a tower higher without it falling, such as, wider bases or interlocking blocks. 

Surprise!

    We had a little special visit this week from the Tooth Fairy. This visit kicked off a little side study of healthy habits for us. We've talked a lot in the classroom about responsibility and taking care of ourselves but it is always good to repeat these discussions (especially during cold/flu season). The Tooth Fairy taught us about brushing our teeth and our tongue. She was very nice and made us laugh while we learned about what kinds of food are good for our teeth. The next day we discussed bacteria and viruses and how these germs spread. We talked about washing our hands, covering our cough, and general self care throughout the rest of the week and look forward to more discussions on the topic over the following weeks. 

As always, we have had a fun time learning and I look forward to sharing our future adventures with you! 

Here are a few of the Objectives we've covered with this study so far: 

  1. Regulates own emotions and behaviors - Social Emotional
  2. Establishes and sustains positive relationships- Social Emotional
  3. Participates cooperatively and constructively in group situations - Social Emotional
  4. LIstens to and understands increasingly complex language - Language
  5. Uses language to express thoughts and needs (expanding vocabulary) - Language
  6. Remembers and connects experiences - Cognitive
  7. Demonstrates positive approaches to learning - Cognitive
  8. Demonstrates phonological awareness (Alliteration & Rhyme) - Literacy
  9. Demonstrates knowledge of the alphabet - Literacy
  10. Demonstrates emergent writing skills - Literacy
  11. Uses Number concepts and operations - Mathematics
  12. Compares and Measures - Mathematics
  13. Demonstrates knowledge of physical properties of objects and materials - Science
  14. Explores drama through actions & language - Arts

 

Sarah White
A few of my favorite things

Recently the school is all abuzz with activity as we prep for open house and Grandparent's day. The children are having a blast learning songs and making crafts for grandparents. Amidst the chaos there are a few moments here and there where I can step back and see the big picture - how the moments are connecting to create such a special world for the children. It's during these moments that I've realized how blessed I am that God has placed me right where I am.  So, along those lines here are a few of my favorite reasons why I love St. James. 

 

PLAY

 When I was looking for preschools for my own twins play time was a huge determining factor for me and I love that St. James has incorporated so much play in their curriculum. Children learn best through play. As parents it's easy to focus on the academic proof (worksheets/tests) of development but there are other ways to assess students. At St. James they focus on the whole child so when they are playing in centers we are not just assessing social skills we are looking to see if they use both hands when dressing, will they cross the mid-line when sitting or reaching, or do they always choose fine motor skill vs. gross motor skill activities. Something as simple as watching to see if they jump with both feet or one foot can tell us a lot about their development. We play a lot - for example in the past two weeks we have made snow to play in our sensory bin, written letters in sand, painted with colors and discussed how they mix, and glued beans into patterns. All of this taught the children something and helped develop a motor skill but they can only tell you that they played today. 

Family

Every time I turn around there is some kind of family activity on campus. I love it!! Learning should be a family activity. I know we don't always have time to specifically teach a lesson to our children but we should be engaged and connected to the concepts they are learning. It is great to find a place where family is so welcome. In fact, we are having a blast prepping for Grandparents day! The children are learning some sign language and doing art to give to their grandparents. Parents are constantly in and out of the building at any time of the day and that's great. We as teachers get the chance to connect and know about our children outside of the school day which actually helps us work with them to grow during our school day. 

Christian Environment

We sing the Lord's Prayer every day and have chapel once a week, as well as regular Bible lessons. It's great to incorporate these into our studies. In fact, we are currently studying buildings and we also studied the parable in Matthew of the wise and foolish builders. How great is that?! Not only is the Bible studied but the children are encouraged at every level to develop morally appropriate characteristics from simple manners to kindness, compassion, and even perseverance.

On that note, did you know about all of our awards? There's a "Caught being kind" award that occurs weekly in chapel, a "Perseverance" award that focuses on overcoming difficulty, and even a "Spartan" Award that is given out only once in lower and middle school to someone who embodies the spirit of St. James. This Christian environment is not just for the children but also for the teachers and staff. I have experienced such kindness and support from all of the staff here that it is truly amazing. When the teachers are sharing and caring with each other it creates such a great environment for learning. 

These three things are only a few of my favorite things here at St. James but they exist at every level of the school. I can randomly take a walk around campus and see older children holding doors open, conducting flag ceremonies, and reading/doing work on the grassy areas. There are teachers correcting with love and grace and encouraging with excitement. It truly is a great place to learn and I love all of my children.

Here is a letter that the board has given us explaining one aspect of the curriculum here at St. James. (See support even comes from the board!!) :) Please enjoy reading it and don't ever hesitate to reach out and ask questions - there's never a wrong one! Keep an eye out for more letters about our different aspects of the curriculum and stay tuned for more information about our building study! 

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.

Sarah White