At Pioneer Springs Community School, our goal is to create an innovative, inspiring school to serve families in our community. We are concerned with the total development of each student and believe that it is our responsibility to address the cognitive, social, emotional and physical development of all our students throughout each school day. This holistic approach to educating our students is designed to help them develop into healthy and well-rounded individuals who enjoy life and learning.
The elementary school curriculum reflects our mission belief that every child can and will succeed in ways that reflect his or her own aptitudes and interests. This is how we do it:
Integrated Thematic Units
At Pioneer Springs, our students become well informed, lifelong learners. Each grade level passes through several integrated thematic units of study which are all part of a meaningful, global, year-long theme. These themes are based on the Core Commonalities from Dr. Ernest L. Boyer’s educational program “The Basic School.”
At Pioneer Springs Community School, literacy is the first and most essential goal. All students are expected to become proficient in the written and spoken word. Language at Pioneer Springs is defined broadly to include words, numbers, and the arts. We consider all of these to be critical areas of development for students to be truly communicative, and we expect our students to have a deep understanding of all three areas. Language is the means by which all other subjects are pursued.
Reading instruction in elementary school is one of the biggest concerns for both parents and educators. Success in reading is directly related to later success and achievement in life. At Pioneer Springs Community School, we adhere to a balanced literacy approach which focuses on reading for meaning. We incorporate the five major areas of reading instruction (phonemic awareness, explicit phonics instruction, fluency, vocabulary development, and comprehension) into our balanced literacy program. We teach students strategies to decode unfamiliar words, such as using phonemic and phonetic awareness – how does the letter sound by itself or in combination with other letters, or semantic and syntax awareness – what does the word mean and does it make sense in the sentence. Our reading instruction is heavily influenced by the work done by Marie Clay in relation to the Reading Recovery instructional program.
Emergent and beginning readers spend time in guided groups where they receive direct reading instruction while using texts that are appropriate for their level. They also spend time working on phonics skills with the Making Words model developed by Pat Cunningham. This model focuses on word chunks (-ick, -ock, -ain), word patterns, and the blending of sounds. Students spend time on systematized phonics rules in short mini-lessons and then transfer and apply these newly learned skills to their reading and writing.
We use a set of approximately 70 phonograms, based on the phonetic work of Romalda Spalding, to address spelling and the complex system of letter/sound rules in the English language. By studying the way these phonograms are used, students gain a deeper understanding of common patterns that will assist them in determining the spelling of unfamiliar words. Although all students work on similar spelling/word/phonogram activities, we also use an individualized spelling program that provides students with words specifically chosen for them each week. We incorporate word walls into all of our classrooms, beginning in kindergarten, to quickly imprint the correct spellings of high frequency words for our students.
Reading instruction is not just limited to a short block of time, but is also incorporated throughout the day across the curriculum. As a result, students become exposed to a variety of genres of literature, such as fiction, non-fiction, poetry and song.
At Pioneer Springs Community School, writing is viewed as the counterpart to reading and is woven through the entire curriculum. “…writing is an act of both discipline and discovery, one that allows children to be wondrously self-expressive while teaching clear thinking, too….Every day, children are expected to write, write, write.” (Boyer)¹ There is an emphasis on the writing process throughout our elementary program which includes brainstorming, drafting, editing, revising and publishing. Students experience extensive mini craft lessons to stimulate growth in the very complex act of writing.
1 Ernest L. Boyer, The Basic School – A Community for Learning (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., 1995), 71.
Pioneer Springs Community School utilizes the Investigations Math Curriculum as a guide for scope and sequence and the number sense work by Kathy Richardson in Developing Number Concepts. Providing students with a deep sense of number is a focus of our mathematics instruction. The goals of the Investigations Program are to:
- Support students to make sense of mathematics and learn that they can be mathematical thinkers
- Focus on computational fluency with whole numbers as a major goal of the elementary grades
- Provide substantive work in important areas of mathematics—rational numbers, geometry, measurement, data, and early algebra—and connections among them
- Emphasize reasoning about mathematical ideas
Our approach to math instruction is based on a diagnose and prescribe technique: we actively study what developmental level a student operates from for a given math objective and then prescribe the correct math instruction and manipulatives to assist the student in his/her learning for that math objective.
Other essential components of math instruction at Pioneer Springs
- Math objectives taken from the Common Core
- Small, developmentally appropriate instructional groups
- Developmentally appropriate math manipulatives
- Putting problem solving in context for teaching and learning mathematics
- Estimation (reasonableness) and checking solution for accuracy
Natural Connections and Healthful Living
Pioneer Springs’ focus on the whole child includes the natural world and the relation to the health of the physical body and the health of our environment.
Nature will be explored and embraced, getting in touch with ecological systems, and balance in nature will be emphasized. Teachers will model and teach children about healthy diets and the importance of exercise and good health habits. Attention is given to teaching children about healthy food choices and to that end, parents are encouraged to pack healthy snacks and healthy lunches each day that include fruits, vegetables and a good source of protein. Water bottles will be available to students throughout the school day. Tennis shoes will be required for all students on a daily basis. Students will exercise each day during outside play and physical education classes. Parents are also encouraged to provide outside play in the afternoons and on weekends.
Pioneer Springs Community School uses the widely acclaimed writing program Handwriting Without Tears® (HWT). This program was founded and created by Jan Z. Olsen, an occupational therapist, and is perfectly developed for young learners. The curriculum in the program places emphasis on teaching the readiness skills necessary to ensure handwriting success. The HWT teaching method was also developed to have as few opportunities for letter reversals (the most common early writer mistake) as possible for the students, and as a result, makes handwriting easier and less frustrating for young children to learn. We use HWT curriculum for both printing and cursive instruction.
At Pioneer Springs Community School, we feel strongly about incorporating the arts into everyday activities. The following quote is a cornerstone of our philosophy, “Art, too, is a universal language – perhaps the most evocative form of human expression. Through singing and painting and dancing, it is possible for people of different backgrounds to communicate powerfully their feelings and ideas…For young children, art is not a frill; it is an essential language that makes it possible to communicate feelings and ideas words cannot express.” (Boyer)2
We weave the arts, visual, music, and performing, throughout our entire curriculum at Pioneer Springs, giving the students the opportunity to explore and respond to content through aesthetic experiences. We focus on art history, art appreciation, and art making. In addition, students in every grade level create and participate in various classroom performances, incorporating dialog, song and movement. These extensive age appropriate experiences with dramatic presentations help build a strong respect for the art and certainly enrich our students’ lives.
2 Ernest L. Boyer, The Basic School – A Community for Learning (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., 1995), 76-77.
Pioneer Springs Community School understands the importance and benefits of foreign language instruction at early ages. Therefore, we incorporate Spanish language instruction into our curriculum, beginning in kindergarten.
A Commitment to Character
At Pioneer Springs Community School, we are just as concerned with the ethical and moral dimensions of a student’s life as we are with the academic dimension. One of the building blocks of our philosophy, A Commitment to Character, considers how the school experience shapes the ethical and moral lives of children: “The goal [of the school] is to assure that all students, on leaving our school, will have developed a keen sense of personal and civic responsibility. Seven core virtues (respect, compassion, honesty, responsibility, kindness, self-discipline, giving and perseverance) are emphasized as we promote excellence in living, as well as learning. These core virtues are taught both by word and deed. Through curriculum, through the school climate, and through service, students are encouraged to apply the lessons of the classroom to the world around them……they will have discovered that what they learn in school really does make a difference in their lives, that it will touch their deeper selves and help them become more knowledgeable, responsible human beings.” (Boyer)4
Virtues take on meaning when they are lived. Pioneer Springs is also committed to developing relationships across the generations. For too long, our society has separated the generations and created a horizontal culture. We strive to bring senior citizens into our school on a regular basis and we also reach out to the seniors in the community. As part of our service learning, each class will visit a nursing home/retirement facility throughout the school year. Students will participate in a variety of art, music and learning activities with the senior community. We want our students to not only learn from these wonderful people who bring so much from the past, but to also experience the joy of giving back to the community and its older generation.
4 Ernest L. Boyer, The Basic School – A Community for Learning (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., 1995), 11, 185.
Individualized Instruction and Differentiation
Individualized instruction means meeting the needs of individual learners as they move along their learning journey. This does not mean a ‘one-to-one’ teacher/student ratio, but rather a way of viewing each student as a unique human being with distinct and specific learning needs. Research indicates that people differ as learners, and in order to address the varied needs of each individual learner at Pioneer Springs, teachers use the method of differentiation as a means of teaching essential content. Differentiation is a student-centered instructional approach where teachers study and assess their students’ learning needs and adapt instruction accordingly.
Through differentiation, teachers are able to attend to individual students’ differences in readiness, interest, and their overall learning profile, which results in the ability to connect more effectively with each student. Teachers achieve this by implementing a wide variety of instructional techniques to enhance the overall learning environment. Key principles of differentiation in the classroom are rooted in the teachers’ responsibility to: create a classroom community, utilize high-quality curriculum, offer relevant and meaningful tasks for all students, and use on-going assessments to formulate instruction plans. Through these differentiation methods, students are allowed and encouraged to take greater responsibility for ownership of their learning and as multiple pathways to learning are established, the possibility that all students will experience success and reach their full potential as learners is maximized.
At Pioneer Springs Community School, we believe that students learn best when they gain knowledge through exploration and active learning. We do not rely on text books and lectures to teach content. We do engage students in meaningful, hands-on, real-life experiences that challenge them to think and explain their reasoning instead of memorizing and reciting facts. Hands-on learning allows students to make connections among and between the different disciplines, thereby enabling them to formulate deep, conceptual understandings of over-arching themes and concepts within our world. As a result of this type of learning, passions are ignited and student motivation soars. Students fulfill their brain’s innate desire to make meaning of information, while also learning how to think critically about the learning process, as well as the experiences.
Assessment and Testing
At Pioneer Springs Community School, on-going assessment constantly drives instruction, enabling teachers to individualize instruction and promote student learning at the highest level. All assessments are authentic in nature, meaning that students do not “prepare” for a test only to forget the material immediately after. Rather, assessment is used as a tool to inform and guide teachers as they make instructional decisions.
Pioneer Springs teachers utilize a variety of assessment techniques in order to cover the various domains of learning. Therefore, assessments take on many forms, including performance-based tasks, teacher anecdotal notes based on oral discussions and/or written responses, interviews, cooperative group work, portfolios, and also, the more traditional paper-and-pencil “tests”.
Along with administering high-quality assessments that target the “whys” and “hows” not just the “whats”, teachers promote student ownership of their learning by continuously providing specific feedback to students. By working together as partners in the teaching and learning process, teachers stay informed of their students’ learning, and students feel empowered and motivated to reach their full potential as learners. Pioneer Springs follows the Common Core and Essential Standards as adopted by the NC State Board of Education.
In the future, if we gain NC Charter status, our students would take state mandated tests. While we acknowledge the reality of standardized test-taking, we would not teach to the test. Rather, we would engage the students in meaningful hands-on experiences linked directly to the curriculum all year long, and then six weeks before the state mandated tests, we will teach our students test-taking strategies and skills in order to promote their best performance on this particular mode of assessment. All in all, our assessment program is about balance; parents and students can expect to see a variety of assessment techniques utilized with specific feedback given to maximize the learning potential of each individual student.
Report Cards and Conferences
At Pioneer Springs Community School, we do not give traditional letter grades in elementary school. We do, however, use the results of the variety of on-going assessments to determine where students are on the journey to mastery of content for their grade level. Our report cards include meaningful and authentic information, detailing a student’s academic growth and development. Report cards are issued three times a year, October, February, and May.
Parent/Teacher conferences are wonderful opportunities for sharing and receiving information about your student. The Parent/Teacher Covenant Conference takes place in August and is a chance for parents to share information about their child to the teacher, and the teacher can share goals and expectations. This mutual sharing allows both parties to understand, from the very beginning, that a partnership is being formed in the education of the student. Parent/Teacher conferences are held in October, February, and May.