Orientation: 15 months–3 years
Orientation provides toddlers the opportunity to make a gentle transition from the home to a small nurturing classroom environment. Initially, both the child and the parent are welcomed into the classroom as they begin to form a trusting relationship with the teacher. The classroom itself is a specially designed space, where indoors and outdoors are closely linked, and where children are sensitively guided to work on and master the many developmental tasks corresponding to their age, while teachers simultaneously observe their individual needs and interests.
Our faculty in the Orientation program model social graces, courtesies, and offer social “coaching.” In this way, children learn to interact in a positive way with their peers. The teachers also validate the child’s varied emotions and feelings, providing him or her with the basis for self-knowledge and an understanding of others.
The Orientation class is rich in opportunities, both indoors and out, that promote the young child’s physical development. He or she can participate in a range of activities, from the simple tasks of maneuvering in the environment to those that require a greater degree of ability, such as setting the table, working in the garden, or playing on the outdoor climbing structure.
Respect is the underlying theme that occurs at St. Stephen’s. Even at this early age, children learn to respect and value others as they are introduced to world traditions and a sense of community. They begin to develop an appreciation for the beauty of the natural world as well. Learning is an integral part of all tasks and routines in the Orientation class. The richness of the experiences and the security inherent in this environment help the children begin to achieve autonomy and develop a healthy sense of will.
Primary: 3–6 years
The Primary program builds on the skills presented in the Orientation Program. The experiences of the primary student include the continued development of language, motor and social skills, as well as the introduction of concepts such as reasoning, perception, and comparison. This is all accompanied by the development of an internal and external sense of order.
The Primary experience includes the introduction of academic subjects such as reading, mathematics, science and geography.
The Primary child begins the process of classifying the multitude of impressions so easily sown during the first three years of life. The Primary environment is a prepared environment based on the needs of the growing student. The student is given the “freedom with limits” in the Montessori classroom. He or she is given the freedom to move as he or she wishes, to make his or her own choice of activities and to work on those activities for a time period of their choice.
Because the student has the particularly human tendency to communicate with verbal and written language and has been given a mathematical mind, Montessori designed an environment that would meet his or her developmental needs. According to Montessori’s son, Mario, one of her fundamental discoveries was devising a means of introducing highly abstract concepts in a concrete way so that children could explore them at this early or pre-operational state.
Lower Elementary: 1st–3rd grade
The Lower Elementary child has many new needs and interests. He or she has a new found sense of independence and an awareness of both the small society of the classroom and the larger society of the world. The child now thinks with an inquiring mind and wants to explore the “why,” “when,” and “how” of the concrete facts they already know. The Lower Elementary program is designed to address these new sensitivities and concerns for the six-to nine-year-old child.
At St. Stephen’s, the Lower Elementary curriculum far exceeds state standards in all areas. A main goal of the Lower Elementary program is mastery of basic math and language art skills. The child learns these skills and arrives at a clear understanding of abstract concepts through personal use of carefully planned progression of manipulative materials in each area. This highly structured approach fosters individual success.
In addition to daily work on these basic competencies, the interest of the six to nine year old is captured by the science, history, and geography curriculum. Broad concepts are first explored and then specific details are examined in depth. The children are introduced to the process of research and frequently work in small groups to find out more information about the topic presented during these lessons. This research work provides an opportunity for the children to utilize the basic skills they are acquiring in a meaningful way. Through this small group work, children also learn about the importance of sharing and taking turns in a leadership role. The teachers will also plan field trips, which correlate with classroom studies and the children’s research interests and projects. Fine arts, music, wellness, Spanish, and weekly chapel enrich the class’s experiences.
Gaining Confidence, Giving Respect
A child of this age is learning to think for him or herself and to take responsibility for the completion of work. The teacher is an active participant in helping the child to develop basic time management skills.
Respect is the underlying theme for all that occurs at St. Stephen’s. The Lower Elementary class operates as a small community that mirrors the larger one of society. Children are helped to understand that they are responsible for their choices and accountable to the group. Class meetings are held to discuss issues of general concern. The focus of these meetings is kindness and respect.
At St. Stephen’s, children leave the Lower Elementary program feeling good about themselves and their capabilities. They are well rounded academically and are curious, busy learners. They have developed a sense of who they are and their place within the community and are eager to contribute to the group as a whole
Upper Elementary: 4th–6th grade
The Upper Elementary student is a capable young person ready to tackle the challenges that the St. Stephen's curriculum offers at this level. For the younger child, the emphasis has been on "learning to read." The student in Upper Elementary now "reads to learn." Students are drawn to explore all aspects of the world and their interrelationships. A major focus at this level is in-depth study of the cultural areas: history, geography and the sciences.
Organizational skills are learned and include note taking, outlining, and creating a bibliography. Growth in written language occurs as the student gathers her findings and prepares reports. Children gradually acquire public speaking skills and they frequently present their completed research, along with related exhibits to other students.
A concerted effort is made to link school-based learning to the real world. Students, both as a class and in small groups, participate in many “going out” excursions that relate to cultural studies. The school's location in proximity to the museum and theater districts encourages frequent and diverse cultural opportunities away from campus. Overnight excursions provide additional opportunities to enhance this level's objectives of independence, community and environmental studies. Students also move away from using concrete manipulative material to working in the abstract. There is a distinct shift away away from teaching the students how to do something-developmentally appropriate at an earlier age, toward looking for evidence of mastery in the students' completed work. They continue to review all needed skills and information learned earlier. They make advances in the basic content areas of math, geometry and language arts. Students read age-appropriate literary classics and discuss them. They are encouraged to utilize the higher-level thinking skills, including analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
In the classroom, increased emphasis is placed on self-management. Students are given weeklong assignments and are helped to plan and organize their work and their time. St. Stephen's students will continue to use these skills throughout their lives. Their days are busy participating in numerous activities such as Spanish, music, art, and wellness-which are integral components of the school program. In addition, they attend a weekly chapel service and may elect to participate in after school sports or music programs. The St. Stephen's theme of value and respect for each child is apparent in the daily life of the Upper Elementary student. Students come together frequently for community meetings where the focus is on communication and group problem solving. Students are encouraged to listen to each other and to consider all sides of a problem before drawing conclusions. In this way, the community meeting mirrors the democratic processes of society. Children at this level also begin to participate in meaningful community service within the school community.
Students who complete the Upper Elementary program are competent, capable, caring young people who are well prepared for the secondary level of their education.