Teaching students to take risks and become independent learners.
Town’s academic program is designed specifically for children ages 3 through 14, integrating the right combination of nurture, socialization, and support with academic challenge. We continually evaluate and evolve curriculum to best serve our students, guided by expert Division Heads and dedicated, experienced teachers.
Questions are as important as answers. We encourage students to build awareness by forging deep, meaningful connections in everything they do. Children learn from Nursery 3 on up that the first step in understanding and solving a problem is asking good questions about real-life scenarios. Real learning comes from thinking about the best way to investigate a topic, taking risks, evaluating outcomes and learning from experiences.
N-K: Setting the Foundation for Learning at Town
Every aspect of the N-K Division, academic program to facility, has been designed to stimulate children to be critical and creative thinkers in an environment where they are surrounded by beauty, laughter, joy and intellectual stimulation. Throughout the day, children are provided with a balanced approach to learning that involves creativity, critical thinking, play and hands-on exploration. Faculty in the Division are aware that the landscape in which early childhood education is being delivered has changed through advancements in technology and the need for sustainability. Therefore, a delicate balance between hands-on exploration and the role of technology in learning is ever present when designing curriculum.
Immersed in project based learning, Nursery 3 and Nursery 4 children are encouraged to become an active participant in their own learning. Projects are designed to help children articulate knowledge that they already have on a topic and to think critically about additional information they would like to learn. This format sets the stage for meaningful exploration as children vest in finding out the answers to their questions through teacher guided research and hands on activities. In Kindergarten, the same approach is applied to the science curriculum allowing the youngest children at Town to experience the Scientific Method in a meaningful way. Throughout all they do, children in the N-K Division are encouraged to ask questions, take risks and persevere in the face of challenges as they begin their journey on becoming lifelong learners.
The Nursery 3 class is designed to facilitate the transition from home to school. Through the context of play, children can begin to develop and create new ideas about themselves and the world around them. Because children this age are sensory learners, they are provided with a wide variety of materials for exploration including, blocks, paint, sand, water and manipulatives. Activities are designed to foster and develop collaborative and individual skills. These include understanding that being part of a community requires you to respectfully acknowledge and listen to others thoughts and ideas. In addition, children learn to express their own opinions, build independence, and be actively engaged in the learning environment.
Building upon the foundation created in Nursery 3, children in the Nursery 4 class continue to build and develop their social/emotional, cognitive and physical skills through the context of play. Children are becoming more cognizant of words and how words or letters are used in combination with pictures to tell a story. When drawing, they begin to attempt to put letters together to form words for their story or dictate the story to the teacher. They have become more competent with language allowing them to work more collaboratively with peers as well as to problem solve more easily. They assume greater responsibility for their classroom and can direct their increasing attention spans and developing work habits into in-depth explorations of topics of interest. They delight in the rhythm of rhymes or silly songs and are beginning to make mathematical comparisons such as longer than or smaller than and are putting into place an understanding of one-to-one correspondence.
In Kindergarten, the core approach to curriculum is formally introduced. Kindergarten activities in language arts, math, science, social studies, Spanish and the arts are taught throughout the year as specific disciplines. The social studies curriculum involves a yearlong study of family. Through group discussions, family visits and literature, the teachers help children break down and question family stereotypes that children have acquired through their past experiences and societal definitions. Other family structures are discussed including divorce, adoption and same gender parents. Family albums created by the children are designed to celebrate the cultural and historical perspective of each family in the community. The daily schedule allows time for both small group and individual work to reinforce and expand children’s reading and math skills as they emerge. Classroom teachers collaborate with the reading and math specialist to monitor development and implementation of curriculum as well as to monitor individual skill development.
Nursery-Kindergarten parents and teachers are usually in close touch in informal ways and through a class web page. Parents are also invited to participate in various classroom activities. Formal conferences are held twice during the year to review children’s cognitive, physical and social/emotional development and a written narrative report is sent home in June. In addition, each child keeps an e-portfolio allowing parents to see the progression of a child’s development during their time in the N-K Division.
Lower School: Taking Risks and Mastering Skills
The joy, excitement and hard work of learning radiate from Lower School classrooms—onto the walls of hallways and stairwells, onto the stage in the auditorium, into every corner of the school. We believe that children learn best in an atmosphere where they are applauded for taking risks and feel safe enough to make mistakes. Although there are goals for the mastery of skills in each grade, children are encouraged to take pride in their own progress, not in comparing themselves to others.
Rich curriculum allows integrated learning; ideas and skills flow from one subject area to another. Because young children learn at different rates and in different ways, teachers use a variety of methods and materials; they may work on projects with a whole class, in small groups or individually. Ideas and skills flow from one subject area to another, including science and the arts, which are taught by specialists outside the classroom and world languages, which are taught by native speakers in the classroom. With two co-teachers in every class, two literacy specialists, a math specialist, a learning specialist, and a school psychologist, children are monitored closely and carefully and provided both enrichment and support when needed.
The primary objectives of the reading program in Lower School are to encourage enjoyment and involvement in reading and to help children develop into independent and critical readers. A variety of instructional methods and materials are used. Using Read Alouds, teachers and students share a common piece of literature, paying particular attention to discussion and comprehension skills. In Reading Workshop, a whole class lesson introduces reading strategies and skills. The children then read books on their individual reading levels with support from the classroom teachers or reading specialist. Individual conferences take place to consistently assess and provide goals for each student. Small group/guided reading sessions focus on specific skills and concepts that provide students with important foundational understandings. Lessons in phonics, vocabulary, and grammar are offered and children are encouraged to respond creatively, critically, and thoughtfully to everything they read.
Lower School children are writing constantly. They keep journals, create stories, and research projects, and respond to social studies-related themes. The Writing Program emphasizes the process of writing and builds upon the child's own abilities as a storyteller and reporter. Students spend time developing and refining stories and expository pieces prior to "publication". Daily reading and writing activities and skill instruction are integrated within the program based upon developmentally appropriate abilities, including a defined phonetic sequence. Children learn the process of writing—drafting, editing, revising, publishing—as well as the mechanics of sentence structure and punctuation. They learn to discuss their own work as serious writers and to offer helpful criticism to their classmates as serious readers.
The goal of Town’s mathematics program is to develop children’s ability to think systematically and abstractly, to understand relationships between numbers and operations, and to construct meaning for long-term application to various situations. Throughout the grades teachers use concrete manipulative objects to help children internalize mathematical concepts. As children progress from operations with whole numbers and fractions to basic principles of volume, area and perimeter, they learn to apply their skills to a variety of problem-solving tasks—word problems, mental math, logic puzzles and games. Whether learning about time, money or weather patterns, the emphasis is always on applying skills to real life situations. Although accurate computation is always required, the emphasis is on estimation and the reasoning that underlies all mathematics.
The focus of the social studies program throughout the Lower School – community - is especially compelling for children, and its themes deepen and expand with their growing understanding. They move from examining the various components of community - in the classroom, in the school, in the neighborhood, in New York City – local food sources, roles, jobs, and connections of people in a community, the impact of cultural backgrounds and languages - to considering the historic impact on local Native Americans when European explorers made contact, to studying community life in New Amsterdam. Finally, in the Fourth grade study of immigration, children make the connection between their personal heritage and the shaping of this country by various ethnic groups. They examine historic reasons for movement from and to a new settlement, and link these discussions to ongoing contemporary struggles of immigration in the United States. Research, report writing skills, history, geography and map reading are all incorporated into this curriculum, as are many opportunities for artistic and dramatic projects and field trips.
The science program fosters and focuses children’s natural curiosity by teaching them a process of inquiry. In a fully equipped newly renovated science lab, children conduct their own experiments taught by a science specialist. They learn how to make hypotheses and test them, how to do careful observations, take measurements and keep records, and how to interpret unexpected results. They learn to be resilient in the face of unexpected results and to move forward in their inquiry. The curriculum moves from a focus on plant and animal life and their own bodies in First grade to complicated subjects, such as electricity in Third grade and the solar system in Fourth, expanding and changing according to the children’s own interests and abilities.
Spanish is taught from First to Third grades in the class homerooms encouraging real-life use of the language. Students study families, foods, and neighborhoods and use songs, games, and artwork to bring different cultures to life. In Fourth grade students study French and Spanish, each for half of the year before making a decision for one world language in Upper School.
Technology in the Lower School is rarely taught in isolation but used to enhance and support students’ and teachers’ study. Smartboards, iPads, and Macbooks are used regularly and a 1:1 student iPad program begins in Fourth grade. Some applications that are used to support student learning include Minecraft.edu, MysterySkype, and GarageBand. Third and Fourth graders visit the Tech Center regularly to explore new applications, consider their digital footprint and safe researching techniques, and publish their writing compositions.
Conferences and Reports
Teachers meet with parents in November and March for formal conferences and send narrative reports to parents in December and June. Third and Fourth graders are included in the spring conferences as students increase their understanding of and take more responsibility for their learning and in order to set their own goals with the guidance of their teachers.
Upper School: Taking the Lead, Creating the Future
Town’s Upper School (grades 5-8) combines a thoughtful, rigorous curriculum and a supportive faculty in an environment that encourages students to think critically, read with care and write with conviction and apply their knowledge to new challenges. Beginning in the Fifth grade, the program is fully departmentalized, taught by teachers in their areas of expertise. We support our high academic goals by incorporating essential study skills and time management components that are vital in a middle school education. Our faculty are well attuned to the nature and learning styles of developing children entering adolescence and provide structured opportunities for them to talk about the world outside the classroom. As classroom teachers, homeroom teachers and academic advisors, Upper School faculty members’ relationships with their students are marked by caring and mutual respect.
Each child is guided by an advisor who oversees the academic, social, and emotional well-being of the student. The advisor keeps track of a student’s progress, meets with the student on a regular basis, helps the students develop organizational skills, and focuses on time management strategies and goal setting. Each advisor is in communication with the other teachers and parents throughout the school year. A weekly guidance meeting that takes place at every grade level in the school enables all academic and extracurricular teachers, the learning specialist, the psychologist, and the Division Head to meet and review the progress of each student. The goal of our guidance model is for students to grow into more self-aware individuals who understand what they need to do to learn and to set and achieve goals. The advisor plays a big role in helping students see the power they have to set their own path.
Upper School students at Town have many opportunities to assume roles of leadership. As the senior students in the school, they run the student government, plan assemblies, organize community service projects and social events, create and edit the art magazine and yearbook, play interscholastic sports, and form committees to explore issues that concern them.
In English classes students develop both their expository and creative writing and refine their mechanical skills and understanding of grammar. The Fifth grade year is devoted to structure and organization. Reading assignments encourage students to look for different types of structure authors use to tell a story, and the focus of the writing curriculum is outlining, a crucial skill which lays the foundation for all the writing students do. The Sixth grade program emphasizes mechanics. Already in possession of a strong sense of structure, students are now exposed to an extensive grammar curriculum. In reading, they begin to look for symbol and theme. In writing, they learn to develop their own theses and concentrate on proving them effectively. These grammar rules and analytical thinking tools help students express themselves fluently. By Seventh grade, the students make a leap forward in thinking and understanding, enabling them to grasp abstract concepts more easily, read more deeply, and discuss more complex questions. In order to further encourage this developmental growth, the curriculum is designed to help students explore philosophy, culture, and ethics. Effective development of the analytical approach is heightened in the Eighth grade. Language arts skills are reinforced by daily analytical classroom discussions, one-on-one conferences to debate interpretative strategies, multiple writing conferences, lessons and exercises in Barron’s Painless Grammar, reinforcement of vocabulary and repeated editing and proofreading sessions for each written work. The curriculum also promotes a student’s own thoughts and analysis of specific pieces of information within the researching process. Students are exposed to different outline forms, note taking systems, and the referencing of sources, all of which help the students develop a method of researching that best suits their individual learning style.
The social studies and history courses investigate diverse communities from the early cultures through contemporary government and society. Beginning in Fifth grade, students learn about archeology and then explore Ancient Egypt and Greece. The “Ancient World” tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the highlights each year. The Sixth grade studies the rise of the Modern World. Students study the societies in Medieval Europe as well as the rise of Islam. Students also learn map and research skills needed to understand, analyze and think critically about history. The Seventh grade concentrates on the Age of Discovery from the 13th through the 17th centuries. Using historical figures such as Marco Polo, Columbus, and Magellan, the students discuss the effects of expanding cultures through global exploration. Then the Renaissance exploration looks at Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, and Galileo and examine how they influenced history and change. The students partake in an in-class mock Galileo Trial which encourages role-playing and cooperative learning. The year culminates with a look at the last colony of Roanoke. The Salem Witch Trials are used as a backdrop to explore what went wrong and the consequences of being a bystander. The Eighth grade continues a general chronology and explores United States history and the founding and development of the country. Issues of immigration and citizenship, inclusion, exclusion and power are explored as students learn about the establishment of the US government, the expansion of the United States, the Civil War, the Progressive era and the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
The mathematics program continues to push students to think abstractly in order to reason through more complex real world situations. Students are routinely grappling with problems from multiple perspectives, and collaborating in order to find both the most efficient process, as well as the optimal solution. When students are engaged in solving problems that link to their lives, it necessitates the mastery of new content and skills. Students learn new math concepts through experimentation and collaboration. To balance this inquiry-based approach to mathematics instruction, teachers closely monitor student progress towards mastering benchmark skills. The iPad is utilized to provide students with differentiated skill practice that can provide real time feedback to both the student and the teacher. Over time, students build confidence in their ability to understand and find a solution to even the most complicated problems.
The upper school math curriculum is cumulative, and each year, teachers build on what was taught the year before. Much is covered, and here are some highlights. In Fifth grade, students expand their number sense and fluency to include fractions, decimals, and percents. In Sixth grade, students develop an understanding of ratio relationships, and master operations with all rational numbers. They also develop a foundation in algebraic reasoning. Seventh grade builds on this foundation by having students master more complex proportional relationships, and learn to describe linear relationships algebraically. The Eighth grade year groups students into Introduction to Algebra, Algebra, and Advanced Algebra classes. Each grouping is customized to allow students to build confidence in mathematics and prepare them for the rigorous math courses they will be taking in high school.
Upper School science classes are held in a newly renovated, fully equipped laboratory. Between the Fifth and Eighth grades students are introduced to the earth, life, and physical sciences through experiment-based curriculum. As they identify ecosystems and forms of matter, analyze solutions, wire circuits or study genetics, they are constantly developing their critical thinking skills and improving their laboratory techniques. Through labs, projects, class discussion, and designing their own experiments, students understand the scientific method and how to use it to make meaning of the world. Students develop the tools to be thinkers about science, and to use data to draw conclusions. Where appropriate, science classes will review the historical progression of a particular scientific theory; students debate how data is used and learn that scientific theories are created and revised. In order to further emphasize scientific thinking and the scientific method, students in every grade participate in a Science Night. Students in grade 5 – 7 design and run their own experiments; Eighth graders build Rube Goldberg machines. Beginning in fifth grade, students learn about ecosystems, how plants and animals are interdependent, how the earth is constructed and how it changes over time, and about how to read and understand the periodic table. The Sixth graders study ecology, astronomy, biology, and genetics. Seventh graders study cells, evolution and the human body; and in the Eighth grade, students master basic principles of chemistry and physics.
In the Fifth grade students will take either French or Spanish language classes and will continue in the selected language for four years. The Upper School language program is a comprehensive first year high school course. The classes are taught almost entirely in French/Spanish in order to build fluency in both speaking and listening. As the study of grammar becomes more rigorous, classes focus on and promote conversation. By the Eighth grade, students read short stories along with their text, discuss them together, write essays and perform skits – all in the target language. The study of French/Spanish literature and culture is enhanced by films, and units on the French or Spanish-speaking countries of the world. By the end of Eighth grade at Town, the expectation is that all students will place into French/Spanish II or II Honors in Ninth grade. There is a conscious effort to promote curiosity, a love of language, words and culture.
The study of Latin begins in the Seventh grade with a curriculum (Cambridge Latin) which stresses translation and comprehension along with grammar. Students learn Roman history and culture from the stories they read about a family living in Ancient Rome. This course also provides an understanding of linguistic structure and an important foundation for English usage. Wherever possible students are also encouraged to find connections between Latin and French and Spanish.
Students are introduced to letter grades in Sixth grade. Sixth through Eighth grades receive letter and effort grades at the end of each trimester. Portfolios are used as another tool to evaluate and keep track of progress. Students select various pieces of representative work that shows growth in areas such as writing, math, science, and art. Parents meet with their child’s advisor twice during the year and receive written reports, with evaluations of skills and work habits, and portfolios, in December and June.
Throughout the grades, technology is integrated within the classroom curriculum. Our full-time Upper School technology coordinator assists teachers in learning how to use iPads, Smartboards, 3D printers and various apps to reinforce math, reading and writing skills, to augment units in social studies and history, to create animations and movies in science, and to assist in research. In addition, the Fifth and Sixth grade students take one-trimester courses in programming and “making.” The Seventh and Eighth graders are encouraged to continue to use what they have learned to produce oral presentations, visual projects, and the arts magazine and yearbook.
Technology in the Upper School includes students learning how to use technology effectively to find, sort, evaluate, cross-reference, revise, share and contribute to the world of knowledge that is at our fingertips. In a digital world of accelerating change, more is not necessarily better; rather, it requires a new ethic of learning that is more intentional, creative, collaborative, and global. This ethic challenges students to develop the ability to interpret problems, design solutions to solve problems more effectively, and make meaningful connections.
The purpose of integrating technology in the Upper School is not only to focus on specific stand-alone tools, but rather to expand on the skills learned in Lower School. We offer curricular projects that leverage technology to help students delve deeper and achieve new levels of understanding. In Upper School, special emphasis is on collaborative and cross-platform resources to support learning across subjects, such as Google Apps for Education and the Schoology learning management system. All Upper School students have their own school-issued iPad to use at school and at home. Though the iPad is the students’ primary digital learning tool, laptops are available when needed.
Students work with Scratch and other programming tools to gain greater competency in the language of code. They learn of the pervasiveness of Photoshop image manipulation in today’s culture, and gain experience using Photoshop-like tools to create authentic self-portraits. They also use 3D design programs such as Tinkercad to create sculptures in art and various projects in math which are then printed on a 3D printer. With the addition of fabrication tools, students will have more opportunities to design and construct “maker” projects.