The Independent School Engagement and Empowerment Advantage

Tell me and I forget.

Teach me and I remember.

Engage me and I learn.

-Chinese proverb

I recently visited one of our 5th grade classrooms to ask students how they feel they are engaged and empowered in their learning. Among the many examples they shared with me was the following:  

Ben – “We have a lot of freedom in our learning, but it’s contained freedom and its challenging freedom, because we can choose the things that we do. I think it makes people want to learn more because you’re learning more of what you want to learn. If you didn’t want to learn what you were being taught, it would be harder to learn and focus as much – and you’re supposed to learn at school.”

Max – “I like that sometimes we’ll study something small and the whole class will wonder about this really big thing and keep asking questions and I like it because the teachers aren’t stiff, like ‘We’re going to do this.’ They’ll sometime make time for the things that we’re curious about. For example, when we were learning about the Great Depression, and we were trying the understand the bank failure part of it. We (students and teacher) did some research and then asked a parent who works in banking to visit and explain better the banking failures.”

As a result of the students’ curiosity around the concept of bank failure, their teacher invited a parent who works in the bank industry to visit their class and talk to them about his work in banking and to explain bank failure. He spoke about the Great Depression, how banks work, and the variables that affect the market. The visit created a tangible bridge between history and current topics.

When teachers are not required to teach to standardized test content, as is the case in independent schools, they are able to listen to their students’ curiosity and to go with the students where the lesson leads them. Both teacher and student are empowered and better engaged.

More on BCD’s Elementary program

The Benefits of BCD’s Middle Years IB Program (MYP)

Boulder Country Day’s Middle School is an authorized International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (MYP). The IB MYP emphasizes intellectual challenge and encourages students to make connections between their studies in traditional subjects and to the real world. The IB program fosters the development of skills for communication, inter-cultural understanding, and global engagement, qualities that are essential for life in the 21st century.

We are excited to unveil a video we recently developed on the benefits of the IB program for middle school students at BCD. 

Click here to watch the video. Enjoy!

8 Tips for Choosing a Kindergarten Program

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There are numerous Kindergarten options available for children and parents. Today, more than ever, parents carefully examine their many choices: open enroll or neighborhood, public or private, full day or part day, morning or afternoon, academic or play-based…So what should a parent look for in a Kindergarten program?

 1. Consider the atmosphere of the school and classroom. Are you greeted warmly when you visit the school? Do the children seem happy, excited to learn, and eager to be there? Do the teachers and administrators create an atmosphere of support and individualized attention. Remember that the early years are a time when children must develop a love of learning and excitement about school. A child’s sense of “I am and I can” is often solidified in kindergarten and that confidence will help to propel them through many more years of school and learning. Chose a school that communicates this message to you.

BCD teachers and staff, from Preschool through to Middle School, are intentional every day in their teaching and dedication to children. We promise to promote a love of learning within a safe and nurturing environment our priority.

2. Small class size is critical. Small class size helps to ensure that your child’s Kindergarten teacher truly knows your child. Small class size coupled with in-depth knowledge of your child means that teachers are better able to support your child strengths, challenges, and opportunities for growth. Many educators talk about the need for differentiating instruction (i.e. tailoring teaching for individual students). However, reality often does not provide the time or resources for this to happen in classrooms. When class size grows, even the best teachers are forced to teach to the median learning level of the students. When your touring schools be sure to ask about how teachers meet a wide variety of learning styles and needs. Be sure to ask about their strategies for acceleration, remediation, and accommodation.

Elementary class sizes at BCD are limited to 18.

3. Teachers support and nurture students as they learn to navigate socially. Academics are important, but strong social skills are critical to success in today’s world. Whether a person is five years old and knocking over another child’s block tower, or is 50-years-old and irritating co-workers at the copy machine – it is the same thing. Social skills, and the life lessons that accompany learning what works and what does not, are a cornerstone of success today. Look for a school that is focused on supporting development of the whole child and is committed to teaching character development.

BCD’s Elementary School Program has an extensive social and emotional support program including: Responsive Classroom trained faculty, a school counselor, and the Kid Power program.

 4. Teachers have support. Do the classroom teachers have the support of the school administration? Are there resource teachers to help ensure that student needs are met? Do teachers have time to collaborate with one another? Do teachers work as a team and share ideas? Do teachers take the time to work one-on-one time and in small groups time with students? Again, do not be afraid to ask these questions. 

BCD teachers have time built into their weekly schedules for grade level collaboration. Additionally, BCD teachers have a monthly collaboration time that focuses on cross-division collaboration or professional development.

5. Every child matters. No child should ever fall through the cracks – PERIOD.

BCD students are known and nurtured everyday by a faculty of many. The Kindergarten team at BCD includes a homeroom classroom teacher, teachers in world language, science, innovation, music, art, physical education, and library, as well as, school counselors, literacy specialists from the BCD Learning Center, the Head of Elementary, and the Head of School.

6. Look for balance. Just about every adult can recall the drone of Charlie Brown’s teacher and the image of children being sucked into a void of boredom. Kindergarten should also be exciting! Look for a balance in the daily routine. Ideally, students should experience a blend of teacher directed and child initiated activities; activities for the large group, small group, and time to work individually or one-on-one with a teacher; time indoors and time outdoors; time to be focused and put pencil to paper and time to just play and have fun. A balanced Kindergarten program will offer challenging academics and variety of enrichment classes (i.e. “specials”) such as art, computer, music, choir, world language, physical education, technology, and science lab.

BCD’s Kindergarten program stands apart in its breadth of enrichment offerings.

7. After school programs are an important factor. If you know that you will need to use a school’s before or after school program (also commonly known as Extended Day, Y-Care, or KinderCare), check out the program. Does the program seem organized? Are classes held afterschool that might interest your child? Is the program easily accessible to families and easy to use? Can you have your child drop-in on an as-needed basis or is a reservation required? In addition, the cost of extended care either before or after school is often significant. Ask about these costs up front.

BCD offers several affordable (and fun!) on-site after-school classes, as well as, daily aftercare. Our After-School Program (After 3 at BCD) is available to use any day you need it – without advance notification or reservation.

8. Trust your instinct when you visit. One of the most important factors to consider is the feel of the classroom and the sense that the children are actively engaged. It is critical that teachers create this foundation through joy, enthusiasm, and a nurturing passion that reminds us all of our most nostalgic memories and positive experiences in elementary school. Avoid the “mompetition” of what others parents say or do and choose a school that feels right for you and your family. The school that feels right is often the best fit for your child.

If you’re still considering your Kindergarten choices for Fall 2020, we invite to take a look at BCD. Call to schedule your tour today.

Developing Social Intelligence in Preschoolers

Of all the skills we encourage our children to develop, social intelligence may be the most essential for predicting a fulfilling, successful life. Social intelligence is the ability to effectively negotiate interpersonal interactions and complex social environments. It involves effective communication skills, the ability to read non-verbal cues into how other people are feeling and virtues such as empathy and consideration.

Children learn appropriate behaviors by emulating adults. The easiest way to help your child learn qualities such as patience, forgiveness, compassion, generosity, and gentleness is to model these qualities in your day-to-day interactions with other people and with your children. 

Preschoolers are social creatures, generally very interested in other and quick to notice and adopt social norms. They’re becoming more able to control themselves, and more able to verbalize their feelings, opening up a host of options beyond for communicating and problem solving.  The preschool years are a perfect opportunity to teach social habits and skills that will help them throughout their lifetime. If you would like to read a fascinating article that was recently in the New York Times about how work places are really just like preschool, click here.

It is completely natural for preschoolers to experience conflicts. Children this age usually want to have things go their way and yet have other children to play with. The ability to negotiate and compromise is honed through the conflicts that arise between toddlers. Be close by but do not intervene in a conflict until you feel that you absolutely need to. Even when you do intervene, make sure that instead of simply telling everyone what they should do, you help them empathize with each other and understand why they should behave in a particular way.

Some ways you can support the development of social intelligence in your child include:

Support their friendships. Honor and reinforce your child’s developing friendships. Talk about them, remember them, create opportunities to play. Remember that children get aggravated with each other, just as adults do. It doesn’t mean the end of a friendship, necessarily, just that they need help to work through the issues that come up.

Model respectful relating. Remember that your child will treat others as you treat her. Show your child respect, be tactful in the ways you talk to your child about how they are treating others, and help them work out difficulties when they play together.

Teach your child that people are important. Teach your child consideration for others. Model it for him early on, praise it, help him brainstorm to solve peer problems, and don’t let your child intentionally or unintentionally disrespect another person.

Teach kids to express their needs and wants without attacking the other person. For instance: “I don’t like it when you push in front of me like that” instead of “You’re mean!”    “I need a turn, too! instead of “You’re not letting me have the ball.” 

Help your child learn how to repair rifts in relationships. When we think about repairing relationships, we usually focus on apologizing. Giving children a chance to cool down first always works better and then ask them ‘How can you fix it?’. Be sure to model apologies to your children and scaffold this process for them.

Remember, that teaching and modeling social skills is a process that takes time and patience. Stick to it – we promise you will see the results.

Classroom ‘Flooding,’ a Literacy Advantage

Children are acquiring literacy from birth; from dinner table conversations promoting oral language development, to bedtime storytelling demonstrating that meaning can be made from text, to creating shopping lists which help children learn sounds and alphabetic symbols.

Good educators understand this and work to know and support each student where they are, or, where they fall in the ‘Continuum of Literacy.’ (Fountas and Pinnell)

Based on the continuum of literacy framework, targeted instruction is the current gold standard in literacy programs. What is targeted instruction? It’s not quite individualized curriculum; it’s closer to a tailored curriculum. It begins with collecting information, also called a ‘body of evidence,’ to determine what students know and what they need to know next. Tools such as benchmark assessments, running records, authentic tasks, teacher observations, student work samples, and, in some cases, standardized tests allow for the creation of a ‘literacy profile.’ From there, educators tailor curricular decisions by student, organize groupings, plan strategies for teaching reading and writing, discern how to appropriately-level resources, and create productive learning activities.

Targeted instruction is then implemented through ‘literacy blocks.’ Literacy blocks are 90-minute periods of uninterrupted literacy instruction in reading and writing. Studies show they are the best way to maximize instruction and make sufficient progress. (FCRR) Boulder Country Day School students in Kindergarten – 2nd grade begin every morning with a ninety-minute literacy block called The Daily 5. (Boushey and Moser) Students select from five purposeful reading and writing choices and work independently toward personalized goals while the teacher meets individual needs through whole group, small group, and one on one instruction. BCD’s Learning Specialist Team of literacy experts also ‘floods’ the classroom to further reduce the teacher/student ratio. The early literary advantage created by the Daily 5 is among many benefits we are able to offer at BCD.

Sources:  FCRR (Florida Center for Reading Research)Boushey, Gail and Moser, Joan. The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy in the Elementary Grades. Stenhouse Publishers and Pembroke Publishers, 2014,Irene Fountas, Lesley University, Gay Su Pinnell, The Ohio State University. The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Continuum. 2016. http://www.fountasandpinnell.com/continuum/

Middle School Magic

If our Preschool and Elementary school divisions have been described by some as “magical”, then I can only imagine our middle school can be described as transformational.

Anyone who has reared a pre-teen through middle school can attest that their bodies and minds are in a constant state of change and that providing the right balance of nurture, structure, and latitude requires special talents of both parents and teachers. Ultimately, our work to create balanced, kind, and thoughtful middle schoolers will be judged by who it is we send out into this world, not what. To that end, we have diligently created a Middle School program at BCD that we believe offers a unique balance of academics, electives, character development, and community service forming an innovative overall curriculum designed to challenge and guide students through these sometimes tumultuous years.

Our academic culture is influenced by our status as an authorized International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (MYP). Targeting interdisciplinary teaching and learning, the IB philosophy favors a focus on concepts rather than merely on content, and provides a rich, inquiry-based model of introducing and exploring concepts within and across the disciplines. The MYP’s focus extends beyond the notion of knowledge as an accumulation of content to include connectedness in learning and the big ideas that bind people and civilizations together. These concepts create an intellectual challenge that encourages students to make connections between their studies in traditional subjects and the real world. The IB program cultivates “international mindedness,” a mindset that fosters the development of skills for communication, intercultural understanding, and global engagement – qualities that are essential for life in the 21st century. Research shows that students participating in the MYP build confidence in managing their own learning, learn by doing, seek to connect classroom learning to the larger world, thrive in positive school cultures where they are engaged and motivated to excel, and develop an understanding of global challenges and a commitment to act as responsible citizens. While this list is long, it keeps us focused and steadfast in remembering that it is the character of the individuals we have been charged with guiding that is more important to us than their qualifications.

We balance the core academic subjects of Science, Math, English, STEM, and world languages with opportunities for in-depth pursuit of interests in the Arts, Health and Physical Education, and Design/Technology through our robust elective program which is capped off by an introspective 8th grade Capstone project. As well, students are encouraged to explore in the areas of school athletics, student government, and after-school programs.

Character development is also woven into life at BCD on a daily basis at all school levels, but more formally in middle school through the advisory program. Students work through an identity development program that is designed to progress from a “Who am I as an individual?” perspective to “What is my role in the world?”

Starting in sixth grade, students explore self-awareness and thinking about their goals for the future. Students are guided through exercises and discussions that build a strong sense of self-respect and self-esteem.

As students move into seventh grade, the focus shifts more in the direction of how we function in relationships with others. The goal of the seventh grade curriculum is to provide each student a solid foundation of their self-identity and enable him/her to effectively and respectfully work with others.

The eighth grade curriculum builds on the two previous years of self-exploration and working with others and brings these concepts to a deeper and more global level. Students explore their own global position through activities and discussions covering various topics, and examine the impact that they as individuals have (and hope to have) on the world.

Finally giving back in the form of community service is a critical part of world citizenship and as such it plays a large role our middle school curriculum. Students are required to complete 20 hours of community service. But again, it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the outcome. Thus, each grade level provides service to a non-profit organization for a three-year period adding depth and breadth to the students’ involvement. Students to contribute philanthropically, with in-kind donations and with time spent on service learning field trips putting practice into action. The focus of the program is on forming long-term relationships that cultivate awareness and understanding of the cause being served.

I believe our families and our students would tell you that our middle school program presents students with age-appropriate challenges in a nurturing environment that cultivates independence of thought, habit, and mind. This combination of foundation coupled with exploration enables pre-teen adolescents to do the work of developing a superior academic foundation and good study habits that will lead them to success in high school and beyond, while providing opportunities that enable them to explore who they are as individuals with unique interests and goals ready to serve as responsible citizen of the world.