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The first-grade program inspires and engages students through in-depth and authentic experiences with thematic topics of interest.  It nurtures each child’s desire to learn through ongoing opportunities for meaningful, independent choices. Students develop an awareness of themselves as individuals and learners through direct dialogue and activities that address self-understanding and metacognition. The first-grade community is a safe environment for every child to be known.

Varied instructional methods provide a balance of collaborative group learning, explicit sequential instruction, and differentiation through challenge extensions and additional practice.  Students are guided toward more self-directed learning opportunities as the year progresses.  

Behavioral expectations are developed collaboratively within the first-grade community, shared with all co-curricular educators, and are reinforced by agreed-upon logical consequences.  

Parent newsletters detailing ongoing curriculum as well as social-emotional updates and calendar events go home weekly in the student homework folders and by email.  In addition to scheduled conferences, parents are invited to communicate with educators at any time with any questions or concerns, just as educators share their concerns with parents as they arise, in the spirit of open and honest communication.


Language Arts

Language arts instruction in first grade is based on authentic engagement and consistent practice.  First-grade students are immersed in speaking, reading, and writing throughout their day, from their interaction with the morning message at arrival to closing routines. 

Phonics are taught in a direct and sequential manner using a combination of Orton-Gillingham and SEE methods, including curisive handwriting,  spelling patterns, and auditory discrimination. Use of blending boards, vowel sticks, sand trays, white boards, and F.A.S.T. magnetic boards provide regular practice of phonetic elements, both decoding and encoding.  Phonics are practiced regularly using the Explode the Code series. The Basic Reading Inventory (BRI) and MAP Growth assessments are used to check progress and help guide focus areas for small group practice. Handwriting is presented in conjunction with phonics instruction and practiced both in isolation and during dictation activities.

Students are exposed to a variety of genres through independent reading, small reading groups, and daily read-alouds. Writing is integrated into morning activities and theme work, in addition to a dedicated writing time each day.  As the year progresses, students are encouraged and expected to increase their mechanics (spacing, spelling, punctuation), as well as develop the detail, content, and complexity of their work. During spring, each student does an independent research project on a whale of their choosing. Information is collected from a variety of sources and recorded as bulleted facts. These facts are organized into categories before being turned into full sentences for their first independent research reports.   



Math in first grade is spiral by design, regularly revisiting major topics of numeration, measurement, value, money, telling time, relations, data interpretation, patterns, and functions. Everyday Mathematics:  The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project forms the basis for the first-grade curriculum. Educator-created extensions provide depth and differentiation in all areas. Full-group lessons focus on problem solving and critical thinking skills to foster perseverance and finding creative solutions.  


Theme Studies (Science and Social Studies)

Science and social studies are integrated into the first-grade themes: Insects and Spiders, Birds of Prey, Water Cycle and Elements of Weather, Quilts, Civil Rights, Whales, and the Human Body. These units are integrated with reading, writing and math centers.  First graders are introduced to map skills when considering movement of people in family storytelling, as well as in studying the range and migration of whales.  


Technology in the Classroom

New themes are often supported by video clips and visual images to provide new information and inspire questioning.  Educators regularly use the Elmo projector for full-group demonstrations and for presenting student work.  Students use iPads in literacy and math centers and a variety of applications and websites to practice skills in phonics, spelling, and mathematics.  Photographs and short videos are also used for visual comprehension practice, inviting children to construct their understanding and evaluate visual material as they would when reading text.


Social-Emotional Learning

Social-emotional learning plays a central role in the first-grade classroom community. It is imperative that students feel safe and comfortable in order to learn and participate fully each day.  Topics include self-understanding, self-regulation, building friendships, studentship and responsibility, leadership, and inclusion. Students are encouraged to be increasingly independent in navigating daily life. Responsive Classroom  provides the structure and philosophy behind our classroom management including morning meetings, co-creating routines and expectations with the class, and systems of logical consequences. Students take turns leading a “brain break” on a daily basis, in addition to selecting other activating or calming strategies.


Service Learning

The first grade service project focuses on coordinating food drives to benefit the Santa Fe Food Depot. Students also have opportunities to volunteer at the Food Depot with the LOVE program, which helps extend their understanding of community beyond family, classroom and school.