Lower School Academics
The SMA Lower School is caring, supportive, and developmentally stimulating, so students can be successful with the rigorous academics. 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.
- Integrated core subject curriculum—including math, literacy, science, social studies and our Loretto School 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.
- Whole-child/healthy body activities designed to empower students to discover new interests in sports, fine arts, and community service—and twice-daily recess.
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.
SMA students are immersed in learning environments that are rich in words, whether on paper or screen, and inspire a lifetime love of reading and writing. Our teacher librarian works closely with each grade level to align our Loretto School Values with literacy experiences, too.
“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 this 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 Pre-Kindergarten and continues through grade 5 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, Argumentative 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 Pre-Kindergarten starts their mathematical learning with The Creative Curriculum, enhanced by the Building Blocks program. K-5 students use the enVision 2020 math program that combines problem-based learning and visual learning to deepen students' conceptual understanding.
We pride ourselves on providing math instruction that makes sense to students, teachers and parents. The enVision 2020 program provides teachers with differentiated instruction and strategies in every lesson. Students benefit from personalized content, tutorials, and homework practice. Our students perform above state standards, feeling confident in their mathematical and problem solving abilities and prepared for the next levels of study.
St. Mary’s Academy offers an engaging, 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.
As part of their inquiry-based learning, students in grades 3 – 5, students work with a dedicated science specialist teacher and delve into the FOSS (Full Option Science System) curriculum developed at the Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley. FOSS lessons engage students in enduring experiences that lead to deeper understanding of the natural and designed worlds. Students actively participate in scientific practices through their own investigations and analyses. 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. Design-based thinking is cultivated in our dedicated Inspiration Lab, complete with a 3-D printer. Students grades K-5 receive an iPad and all necessary accessories for classroom and lab use; Pre-K classrooms also have iPads at a radio of one iPad for two students.
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. The Lower School has several hydroponic plant growing towers as well as areas across campus to study plants in their environments.
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 myWorld Social Studies program for grades K-5, Discover Colorado, online resources, and expository texts are used by classroom teachers. Storytelling is the foundation of the myWorld Social Studies program, which makes it truly engaging to elementary school learners and also offers a key benefit of literacy development.
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 Pre-Kindergarten utilizes The Creative Curriculum program, the leading research-based, whole-child curriculum built for early childhood educators.
Inquiry, exploration, and discovery are the foundation for learning. The program delivers developmentally appropriate academic rigor alongside social-emotional learning and cognitive development. And the students love it.
Music and movement, the arts, recess, and a rest period are also incorporated in the Pre-K program.