School Setting

My research took place at Christ Church Day School (CCDS), a private Junior Kindergarten – 6th grade school of 124 students, attached to Christ Episcopal Church. It is centrally located in the small town of Coronado, CA and was founded in 1957 for the purpose of providing superior educational opportunities as well as sound Christian training for its students.

The purpose of CCDS is to ensure that students are provided a high-quality learning environment that meets their developmental and individual needs while encouraging them to reach their full potential. The mission statement of Christ Church Day School is a bridge between the Christ Episcopal Church and the Day School:

The Educational Mission of Christ Episcopal Church is predicated on Anglican Theologians of the 17th Century who suggest that human reason offers a tool to interpret scriptures and to wrestle with the most difficult issues of humanity. It is our desire to establish a learning environment that fosters the development of reason and critical thinking skills to serve in the exploration of the deepest issues of humanity and to better understand our responsibilities as individuals for the well-being of society. It is an environment founded on the love of God and the love of our fellow human beings.

The mission is accomplished through the belief that students should become lifelong learners and acquire a strong foundation in Christian Ethics. As teachers at the school, we therefore:

  • encourage a natural curiosity
  • teach basic skills, enabling the pursuit of independent learning
  • promote and understanding of the relationship between the arts, science, and the humanities to stimulate learning
  • honor diversity, both within and outside the community
  • foster respect for thoughts and opinions of others
  • encourage an awareness and concern for local and global communities
  • provide an environment which promotes an awareness of God’s love and forgiveness
Our school wide learning expectations (SLEs), what we expect our students to become by graduation, develop students who are critical thinkers, effective communicators, self-directed learners, innovative producers, community members, and positive healthy learners. The SLEs are explained to the students at the beginning of the year and in my classroom I point out when we are using the different expectations. They are revisited frequently throughout the school year. Each SLE is represented by a color. As time goes on, students are encouraged to notice when they use them and mark their work with a color-coded dot to indicate which SLE they’re using on a particular assignment.

Enrollment is based upon an entrance exam, in which students are assessed in all aspects of their being; emotionally, socially, and intellectually. Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten aged children are given the Gesell Developmental Test, and students in 1st through 6th grades are assessed by the teachers, using a variety of testing materials (reading/math tests, running records, etc.). Those who meet the criteria academically are then assessed for their emotional and social developmental level. Report cards from previous schools can also play a role in their selection. Priority is given to those with siblings in attendance or whose families are members of the church. Students need not be residents of Coronado to attend CCDS, though 83% come from Coronado neighborhoods. Coronado is an affluent community and there is also a large amount of military living and working within the city limits. The following Figure 1 illustrates the home cities of the students at CCDS.

In keeping with the Gospel imperatives of inclusiveness, CCDS accepts qualified (those who have undergone academic testing and whose social and emotional developmental levels are within expectations for their grade) students of all races, creeds, colors, and national or ethnic origins for inclusion in all the school activities. The predominant language spoken is English (90%). Six percent speak Spanish at home, and 4% speak both English and Spanish. Ethnically, fathers are 82% Caucasian, 13% Hispanic, and 4% Asian. The mothers are 84% Caucasian, 14% Hispanic, and 2% Mid-Eastern. Our demographics, while not as diverse as Coronado Unified School district (CUSD), have similar large ethnic groups. The primary ethnic group is white, with Hispanic being the second largest group. Other ethnicities are lower, or non-existent at CCDS. The cost of tuition, which is $6,500, may be a limiting factor for some families. Although scholarships are available, they are only given once a child has attended CCDS for a full year. This most likely affects our demographics and limits those who are able to attend CCDS. Figure 2 breaks down and compares the demographics of CCDS and CUSD.

At CCDS, there are seven classroom teachers (K-6th) with a maximum of 16 students in a classroom. The Junior Kindergarten has an enrollment maximum of 12, with one classroom teacher and aide. Six part-time enrichment teachers instruct in the following subjects: art, technology, Spanish, music, Religion, and physical education. In the upper grades (4-6), composition, technology, and science are departmentalized. There are specialty teachers who teach these subjects in the afternoon to all upper grade classrooms. In the lower grades (JK – 3rd) classrooms are self-contained. The classroom teacher instructs all subjects over the course of the day. The school is not equipped to educate special education students, although there are some children with special needs. Gifted students are not identified, yet challenged on an individual basis in their classroom. A headmistress oversees all teachers.

Staff meetings occur on a weekly basis. This is a time where collaboration, sharing, and learning between grade levels happen. Student work is reviewed regularly and teachers discuss expectations across the grade levels looking for continuity. Often we break into two groups – lower grades (JK-2) and upper grades (3-6) to look for trends, needs, and positive examples of student learning. Teachers are also given the opportunity to share new ideas and offer support to each other. Our staff meetings are open to opinions and because of our small size, change can occur quickly. For example, when a trend was noticed that spelling scores were not where we wanted them, a new program was reviewed and implemented by the next year. We have a staff that listens and truly cares about the best for the students that attend.

Professional development is encouraged and ongoing. The budget provides for both classroom teachers and specialty teachers, when appropriate, to attend professional development workshops and conferences. Administrators may request this attendance to enhance curriculum, and teachers may request funds to attend conferences meeting their particular interests in education. Those attending staff development conferences or workshops share with colleagues formally at staff meetings and informally, during lunch or one-on-one with other teachers, their experiences and knowledge.

Parental involvement is a cornerstone of the education process at CCDS. Parents undergo a new parent orientation upon admittance and are given a mentor family to help them become involved. There are parent room representatives from each grade that meet to discuss and plan school wide functions. Many parents choose to be involved in the classroom, assisting the teacher, reading, or presenting planned art lessons. The parents serve hot lunches. Parents come to school many times throughout the year for parent conferences, special presentations, winter and spring school wide performances, class chapel presentations, as field trip drivers and chaperones, and to attend grade level coffees with the headmistress. A high percentage of our parents are actively involved in the school.

Classroom Setting There is one classroom at each grade level (JK – 6th). I teach 16 first graders and have an aide in my classroom most of the day. My responsibilities include teaching language arts, math, science, social studies, and technology. The students are with me all day, except when they go to their specialists. Figure 3 depicts my weekly specialist schedule.

Soft music greets you when you walk into my classroom each morning. Desks are arranged in cooperative groupings. There is an extensive classroom library available with rocking chairs. An interactive calendar brightens up the front of the classroom and student work is displayed on the bulletin boards in the back. Class-made charts hang along the side of the room. Resources, such as hundred charts, magnifying glasses, and whisper readers for editing work, are available for math, science, language arts, and social studies. Four computers sit in the back of the room, where students are able to practice and apply their skills. On the walls are common words and concepts they might need to refer to during the day. As we work through our phonic lessons, supporting material is hung on the walls so that students may refer to them when needed.

Lessons are taught using a variety of strategies. At this age, hands-on activities are the most motivating and successful. As skills become stronger I move to more abstract ideas and representations. To help all types of learners (kinesthetic, auditory, and visual) lessons are presented in various formats. A SmartBoard, which is an interactive white board, connected to a computer that students can manipulate and use, is used in most lessons, and has been a great motivator for the students. It is extremely visual, and it’s easy to show real connections daily. If we’re discussing a topic, I can quickly go to the internet and show how it relates to them. For example, we were learning about the life cycle of a butterfly, and I was able to go to a website that illustrated the stages. They love to come up and interact with the SmartBoard and while using it they show their understanding of the concept. We also sing, chant, and march different skills and concepts.

Math (we recently adopted Singapore Math) is taught after lunch, since it is a very hands-on type of activity. I follow math with language arts, which includes reading, writing, phonics, and grammar. Skills are taught to the entire class for about 15 minutes. The students then break into groups (both homogenous and heterogeneous) that rotate through four centers: computers, independent activity related to our topic, Mrs. Orr (my aide) to practice reading skills, and reading with me. It is at this time I am able to differentiate my lessons to meet the needs of the students. When students are in my group I base my guided reading lesson on their reading level. I may begin with some phonic review for the struggling readers, while my more fluent readers may be working in literature circles. These groups are fluid and change often during the year depending on the focus of my lesson. If we are working with fluency, I’ll make sure each group has a variety of different levels of readers so they can all hear fluency. Other times I may group by ability so that a focus on development of a particular reading skill can be reinforced.

Literacy instruction is based on the California State Standards. The adopted textbooks are used for the basis of our instruction. Teachers at all grade levels improve on the adopted curriculum by adding appropriate and challenging instruction using supplementary materials such as novels or games.

Students are also given the opportunity to have “Public Speaking” weekly. Each child is encouraged to bring something from home to share. They work on their ability to speak in front of a group, and following their short presentation, ask for questions or comments. Different groups of students have different days to share each week.

At the end of the day we often wind down by having our prayer table. Students sit on the ground around a small table that has a candle, cross, and chime on it. Once the candle is lit, the chime is rung and students prepare for prayer. They are each given the chance to orally pray for someone, thank God for something, or if they choose, let us know they have a special thought in their head. Following this opportunity, we all say the classroom prayer that was written at the beginning of the year. It is a beautiful way to add peace and end the day.

Dear Glorious God,

Thank you for our fantastic families, caring friends, and wonderful teachers. We love the playful pets that make us happy. Thank you for our beautiful lives and safe homes that we live in. Please help those who need you here on Earth and keep people who are with you safe in your love and arms. Please help us be nice and care for each other and all that you have made.

With love,

The 1st Grade