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