Lower School Academics
While the curriculum is rigorous, the academic atmosphere at SMA Lower School is caring, supportive, and developmentally stimulating—children have daily opportunities to grow, succeed, and achieve during these formative years. It is an environment of balance where children can be children. Teachers work in vertical teams, allowing them to truly know each student—where they are in their academic and emotional growth, and how to ready them as they move to the next level in their learning.
An integrated curriculum, which includes core subject areas of math, literacy, science, social studies and values, connects subject matter and analytical problem-solving skills with the real world, engaging students’ hearts and minds. Five specials area courses including art, music, library, physical education, Spanish, and technology complement core curriculum on a regular basis. With an emphasis on the whole child, our Lower School participates in a myriad of activities (including twice daily recess!) designed to empower students to discover new interests in sports, fine arts, and community service.
At St. Mary’s Academy, we believe that Literacy is the core of a student’s education, as it makes all other forms of higher-order learning, critical thinking, and communication possible. Our teachers provide rich and authentic learning experiences in reading, writing and communicating. SMA students are immersed in learning environments that are rich in print and inspire a lifetime love of reading and writing.
“It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations – something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.” Katherine Patterson
ReadyGEN is an integrated and balanced approach to reading and writing instruction for grades K-5. Students learn using authentic literary and informational texts. Instruction focuses on reading, writing, speaking, and listening in response to authentic texts. Teachers model and use directed activities to motivate and engage students and drive learning. ReadyGEN uses the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model which moves from teacher directed to student centered learning. This is done with the goal of building independent readers and writers.
Reading Assessments: All students are assessed using DIBELS ( Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills), the DRA ( Diagnostic Reading Assessment), and embedded assignments and activities throughout the year,
For detailed information on the ReadyGEN reading program grades K-5, visit the following link:
An essential part of learning to read and write is the understanding that letters and combinations of letters make up particular sounds and words. Phonics instruction begins early in our Junior Kindergarten and continues through fifth grade in daily, short, fast-paced teaching sessions. Our teachers deliver instruction using a multisensory approach. High quality phonics teaching involves the use of auditory, visual and kinesthetic activities that acknowledges students’ different learning styles and encourages them to activate as many of their senses as possible.
Direct phonetic instruction is embedded in daily ReadyGEN lessons. These lessons focus on phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding and word recognition. In addition, primary teachers are trained in the Orton Gillingham method which is an intensive, sequential phonics-based system which teaches the basics of word formation before whole meanings. The method accommodates and utilizes three learning modalities, or pathways, through which people learn—visual, auditory and kinesthetic.
Assessments: All students are assessed using DIBELS ( Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills), Performance Based Assessments and weekly spelling tests.
Writing is a dynamic and exciting process in the lower grades. Students write daily and across genres. Writing is an integral focus of the ReadyGEN program. Writing is taught on a continuum which moves from Concepts of Print for Writing, to Traits of Writing, to the Writing Process. Students learn to express themselves through multi genres of writing including Narrative, Expository, Descriptive writing, Arguementative and Persuasive pieces, notes and letters as well as personal responses to literature. Students have a large amount of choice in their topic and style of writing. The teacher acts as a mentor author, modeling writing techniques and conferring with students as they move through the writing process. Direct writing instruction takes place in the form of a mini-lesson at the beginning of each workshop and is followed by active writing time. Students are given opportunities to present and share their work.
Assessments: Students are assessed in writing through task based writing prompts, and cumulative pieces. Rubrics are used to assess proficiency in grade level skills and concepts.
St. Mary’s Academy offers rigorous math instruction for all students. Our Junior Kindergarten starts their mathematical learning with The Creative Curriculum and enhanced by the Building Blocks program. K-5 students use the Saxon Math program, which distributes content throughout the year, providing deep, long term mastery of content and skills.
We pride ourselves on providing math instruction that makes sense to students, teachers and parents. St. Mary’s Academy has the flexibility to adjust our curriculum to meet the needs of each student. Teachers combine Saxon’s direct instruction model with robust hands-on experiences using a variety of manipulatives. Our students perform above state standards, feeling confident in their mathematical and problem solving abilities.
Topics in Saxon Math are grouped into nine strands:
- Numbers and Operations
- Patterns, Algebra, and Functions
- Statistics, Data Analysis, and Probability
- Problem Solving
- Mathematical Reasoning
Assessments: Students are given a Saxon baseline assessment at the beginning of the year. Assessment is ongoing with tests every five days and lessons every ten.
For detailed information about mathematical concepts taught in K-5, explore the Saxon Math Scope and Sequence and Building Blocks Scope and Sequence. For Junior Kindergarten, explore The Creative Curriculum.
St. Mary’s Academy offers a rigorous hands-on approach to science for every student. Students experience the adventure and fun of discovering science through inquiry based activities, projects, and investigations that follow the Next Generation Science Standards.
Our K-2 students participate in Mystery Science, an exciting and motivating program which includes discussion questions, videos, nonfiction reading, and hands-on activities.
In grades 3 – 5, students follow the FOSS (Full Option Science System) curriculum. FOSS lessons engage students in active learning including outdoor experiences, science notebooks, nonfiction texts, and reflections on learning. An emphasis on engineering is embedded in science instruction as students are encouraged to ask questions, make observations, and develop drawings and physical models.
STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) is a framework for creative instruction. Our goal is to prepare students to inquire, think, investigate, and innovate to succeed.
As a Loretto school, a focus on the environment is richly interwoven into our science curriculum as well. Students learn about sustainability, recycling, water conservation, and current events related to caring for the environment.
Assessments: Students complete unit assessment and science notebooks.
The Next Generation Science Standards guide our work with students.
St. Mary’s Academy prepares students to become powerful agents of change in the world. We are dedicated to helping young people become contributing citizens in a culturally diverse, democratic society. Students embrace authentic opportunities to think critically, to develop an informed opinion, to express their ideas both orally and in writing, and to listen to others who believe differently than themselves.
Social Studies instruction begins with individuals and families, and moves to exploring neighborhoods, communities, the State of Colorado and the United States. In each grade, students investigate historical events, examine geographic features and resources, consider economic decision making processes, and define civic roles and responsibilities.
To support these educational goals, instructional resources such as Scholastic News, the Pearson Social Studies textbook, Discover Colorado, online resources, and expository texts readers are used by classroom teachers.
Assessments: Students complete unit assessments, projects and reports to demonstrate evidence of understanding of key concepts.
We believe that the best way to help children succeed is to teach them to be creative, confident thinkers. We provide opportunities for hands-on exploration and discovery that help build lifelong critical thinking skills and foster confidence. SMA Junior Kindergarten utilizes The Creative Curriculum program.