The lower school provides students a challenging and exciting curriculum, strong in basic skills and broad in enrichment.
Integration among topic areas is a mainstay of our academic program. This approach broadens a child’s overall understanding of a subject. For example, a third grade child may be studying Native Americans in social studies, studying Indian design in art and visiting the American Indian exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and dramatizing tales in the classroom.
The lower school’s learning design is built around self-contained homerooms for students. Each kindergarten through fourth grade classroom features a teacher and an assistant teacher who teach language arts, social studies and math. Fifth grade students also have homeroom teachers and assistant teachers, but they have a separate teacher for math, social studies and language arts. Each of the fifth grade teachers specializes in one of these three disciplines.
The children leave the homeroom classes to attend art, music, band (fifth grade), computer, physical education, library, foreign language and science (grades 2-5). Teachers in these areas are knowledgeable about the topics taught in language arts, social studies and math and work with the homeroom teachers to integrate the subject areas whenever it is appropriate.
The language arts curriculum is designed to develop students who, by the time they leave the lower school, will be able to: (1) read and assimilate a wide variety of materials for knowledge and pleasure; and (2) communicate that knowledge and pleasure to others through speaking and writing.
We use a balanced reading and writing program, which can be adapted to meet individual needs and learning styles. Beginning in first grade and continuing through the upper school, the Pembroke Hill English department uses the 6 + 1 Trait writing model for teaching and improving student writing. This method helps students look at the six main characteristics of writing including ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and the proper usage of grammar and mechanics. The +1 element is presentation – the form and layout of the work.
This model provides a method for analyzing and responding to writing that results in a shared writer’s vocabulary and allows both the reader and writer to note the strengths and weaknesses in the work as it moves through the writing process.
The social studies program provides opportunities for students to develop skills in data gathering, critical thinking, problem solving and written expression. Integration with subjects such as music, art, science and technology enrich the learning process. It is our belief that learning involves doing. To that end, active learning is emphasized, using a wide variety of teaching strategies in conjunction with the multiple intelligences.
Students read, discuss and work together collaboratively as they tackle the large ideas behind the historical facts they encounter. In this way concepts are reinforced and enriched, and students are better able to relate what is being learned to their lives and to the life of our nation.
Our mathematics program focuses on both conceptual understanding and competency with skills. We challenge each child to think mathematically, develop a foundation of strategies to problem solve and to achieve a high level of competency with the basic skills and their application. We focus on helping students make sense of mathematics by using a variety of methods such as: manipulative materials to introduce concepts in a concrete manner before moving to the abstract; math games to build understanding and provide practice; continuous review; use of correct mathematic vocabulary; practice of basic facts and operations; problem-solving strategies and applications; and verbalizing concepts, procedures and solutions to problems. Music is incorporated in our math program to help students retain basic math facts.
The primary objective for our science and health curriculum is to encourage students to become life-long learners by experiencing the joys and wonders of investigation and discovery. We strive to accomplish this through hands-on, student-driven activities that support and enhance the formal lessons presented during class. Students focus on the Scientific Method through predictions, observations, data gathering and evaluations. In each grade level, we focus on specific topics in the areas of life science, earth science and physical science.
Our students participate in many hands-on science activities in their classrooms and in our lab. A favorite unit takes place in fourth grade as part of students’ study of air density, convection and the relationship between contained gas and air pressure. Students create hot air balloons out of colorful tissue paper and then launch them from a large heating device made from a propane tank and a turkey cooker! Some balloons have traveled as far 100 yards and as high as 100 feet.
In our science classes we work closely with homeroom teachers to enhance their thematic units. Science classes do not repeat the homeroom studies, but reinforce and enhance these experiences by allowing more detailed investigations.
Students study Spanish through fifth grade. Our language program is based on well-researched language acquisition theories.
In Spanish, students learn one to three language structures per class through repetition in the form of questions and answers and short stories about themselves and fictitious characters. We study Spanish-speaking countries and their cultures throughout the year and celebrate Cinco de Mayo and Día de los Muertos. We also use total physical response (whole-body or kinesthetic learning), songs and games to assist students in memorization of target vocabulary.
Music in the lower school is a rich experience in singing varied literature, exploring new music concepts, honing Orff instrument skills and playing the recorder (through fourth grade). Grade level concerts are staged each year and often present a thematic unit of study from history or literature. These productions are age-appropriate, showcase our students’ talents and are amazingly professional. Opportunities for students to be on stage from an early age develop their confidence as public speakers or performers.
While our students are expanding their knowledge of music, they are also having a lot of fun. Our classes are very cooperative and active. Students are up out of their seats singing, participating in musical movement activities, using interactive technology or playing instruments together in pairs. Often, the sounds of music are heard in our campus courtyard as pairs of students work together practicing their instruments.
In fifth grade, solo band and string instruments are incorporated into classroom arrangements. Through activities such as creative movement, orchestrating instrumental accompaniments for original and traditional songs and reading staff notations, students develop independence in their musical pursuits, both in and out of the classroom. At all grade levels, music instruction incorporates the concepts of rhythm, melody, form and expression.
Beginning in fifth grade, students participate in the optional lower school instrumental music program. Students may choose to study any band instrument. Fifth grade band is an exciting opportunity for students to learn to play an instrument, experience a variety of musical styles and work together as an ensemble.
Instrumental music lessons are offered at Pembroke Hill through private music teachers after school. String players also have the opportunity to participate in several ensembles.
The goal of the art program is to develop the creative abilities of each student through problem solving and drawing out the child’s individuality through a variety of lessons. The elements of art are an important part of the creative process and, throughout the lower school years, we emphasize the study and use of line, color, shape, form and visual composition. Through the stimulation of each child’s curiosity, we strive to help our students view art as a part of everyday life.
Students’ art is displayed throughout the campus. Their work decorates our light poles on campus, hangs in Curry Theatre during art shows and enhances our outside gardens.
Our physical education program is dedicated to teaching motor skills and competency in many movement forms, but also in assisting students achieve and maintain a healthy and physically active lifestyle. Through our activities, we help our students demonstrate responsible personal and social behavior in physical activity settings and an understanding and respect for differences among people in these same settings. Our students also realize that physical activity provides opportunities for enjoyment, challenge, self-expression and social interactions.
Our program benefits greatly from wonderful facilities including our field house that features a state-of-the-art climbing wall, gymnastics area and basketball courts. We also have many opportunities for outside activities on our adjoining playing fields and playgrounds.
One of the longest-running traditions at Pembroke Hill is our May Day/Field Day celebration. Our students re-enact the old English May Day activities including wrapping very colorful May Poles. Field Day events take place following the May Day activity,
Many of our students play on athletic teams, managed by the lower school athletic program.