Writing workshops begin the first day of school using a hybrid program including Kid Writing, Lucy Calkins’ and Charlotte Daniels’, Units of Study, The Writing Process focused on the improvement of writing, The Four Square Method, and also formal handwriting instruction.
Younger students begin letter formation and use the Kid Writing Curriculum. They begin to sound out letters to form phonetically based words, and continue writing for many purposes throughout all subjects. This gradual process later becomes more detailed with accurate spelling and legible sentences by writing for different purposes in upper grade levels using The Writing Cycle, as well as The Writing Process in conjunction with The Four Square Method.
Our social studies curriculum is based on Project Based Learning. Whether we are studying history, geography, civics, current events, or anthropology, students research topics and create projects to share information with their classmates. With this learning approach, students are empowered as they independently research a topic of their choice and share information with classmates. Other subject areas such as music, language, art, and cooking are incorporated as we delve into a variety of topics.
We reinforce what we are learning in the classroom through frequent field trips ranging from local museums to our annual city trip, when the older students spend a day exploring a major city like Washington, D.C. or New York City. Monthly trips to nursing homes teach students empathy and the importance of community service. Social studies are consistently incorporated into all aspects of our school day. The books we read together explore questions of civics and history, while planting and harvesting our school garden give students a way to engage in environmental and community concerns. Everything we do is done with intentionality and for the purpose of growing our students into caring, informed individuals who understand the importance of engaging and serving the culturally diverse society in which they live.
The art curriculum emphasizes exposure to a multitude of materials. We often incorporate an art project with a project in another academic area such as making papier-mache volcanoes or clay animals for a science diorama. Creative expression is an integral part of our curriculum. The dramatic arts flourish as well with reader’s theater, skits, mime, plays, puppet shows, story re-enactments, and public speaking.
The school-wide Science Curriculum focuses on the integration of hands-on projects and inquiry based learning. Each year a different area of science is featured, rotating between Earth Science, Life Science and Physical Science. Learning each year expands on several areas of study within each science.
Regardless of the area of science focus, certain projects are explored every year. This includes an embryology study (students incubate and hatch poultry eggs) and a plant study (including planting seeds for observation and outside school garden) and Monarch Watch through the University of Kansas. This program consists of raising, tagging and releasing monarch butterflies and observing the monarch’s life cycle. Students also participate in a school-wide science fair each year.
Every year the students at West Branch School take a two or three day (depending on grade level) field trip to Camp Susque to focus on Environmental Science. The second half of the school year, WBS is fortunate enough to work with Dr. Joseph LeBlanc, professor of physics from Penn College, who offers the upstairs students an array of science experiments at the school.
The Language Arts curriculum of West Branch School is comprised of several elements of literature ranging from Fountas’ and Pinell’s leveled books for guided reading, phonics, fluency skills, exploring texts closely, reading independently, grammar, poetry, elements of literature, spelling with Words Their Way, vocabulary, comprehension skills, genre exploration, writing, as well as an overall appreciation for literature involving group discussions and literature circles. The Language Arts program is a multi-faceted hybrid approach to supporting a love for literature using cross-curricular subjects throughout the entire school.
The math program is in a transitional period. We have begun the transition to Singapore Math with the incoming kindergarten class of 2015. This curriculum will be phased in over time with each subsequent class. Meanwhile, our current hybrid program for all other grades is guided by the Everyday Math curriculum, and supplemented and supported with elements of Singapore Math (such as an emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking skills) and other programs.
Singapore Math emphasizes the development of conceptual understanding prior to the teaching of procedures. A powerful, hands-on, visual approach—a progression from concrete to pictorial to abstract—is used to introduce concepts, which at the core include strong number sense, place value, and problem solving. Higher-level thinking, which is intrinsic to the Singapore Math program, is the goal of West Branch School teachers for all students in all subject areas. Singapore Math aligns with that goal.
West Branch School utilizes current teaching practices and technology, which are complimented by a variety of specialized hands-on experiences that enhance the development of the whole child. We not only focus on the academics, but there is an equal emphasis on the social emotional development of children. Leadership skills along with problem solving and taking responsibility are trademarks of our curriculum.
Our goal when students leave West Branch is that they are well-rounded individuals who excel at problem solving, communicating, and who demonstrate exemplary leadership skills.