by Anne Weisel, Head of the St. Andrew’s Lower School
Many families will remember being challenged by me on a tour or in an Open House, being asked to “think back to when you were in elementary school, and think of a meaningful learning experience that you remember having.” After a few giggles and the inevitable comment that our elementary experience was a bit more than a minute ago, memories start flooding back. While parents don’t have to share, many do, and the consistent thread among these memories is that the experiences we remember most are the opportunities we had to DO something. We remember applied experiences where a learning concept came to life in a meaningful way.
Our job in the Lower School is to ignite a passion for learning that will sustain as our students transition to Middle and Upper School. At this early age, our goal is for students to explore their learning in a wide variety of ways, something that the arts and athletics programs at St. Andrew’s help us uniquely do. Starting in our Pre K-3 classroom, Lower School Lions take art and PE classes that scaffold their learning experiences in these areas and continue through the time they leave the Lower School in fourth grade. Enrichment teachers in these areas intentionally plan with grade level teachers to design class content that often creatively reinforces or supplements concepts being taught in the classroom. Extending beyond academic content, arts and athletics opportunities in the Lower School target important social and emotional growth with an emphasis on creativity, collaboration, and problem solving.
Children develop their sense of mastery and confidence related to certain types of tasks early on. We can all identify things we knew in childhood were an interest and passion that we carried with us into adulthood. When we experience that connection, we continue to pursue that interest intrinsically, searching for ways to incorporate it more fully into our lives. The first step to this process is having the opportunity to have the experience, an opportunity that happens for every St. Andrew’s Lower School student each week. Beginning in our early childhood classrooms and increasing in frequency and duration as they move through the primary years, Lower School students have regular opportunities to explore and practice foundational skills in these areas. Watching our Kindergarten students roll out clay to design pots, or our third graders work together to find the best way through an obstacle on the low-ropes course, brings an immediate appreciation for the important creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving skills these enrichment teachers are developing in our students.
And it doesn’t stop at the end of the school day! Through the intentional collaborative planning of our Athletic Department, Arts Department, and Aftercare Program, Lower School Lions are able to deepen their experience after the school day through a variety of clinics, classes, teams, and performance opportunities. As you walk the campus after carpool you’ll see youth sports clinics being run by our Upper School coaches, dancing and performance classes in our gym and classrooms, and even opportunities to showcase our skills through competitions on the field and performances on the stage. By fostering student interest in a variety of areas, St. Andrew’s pushes back against the pressure families feel to narrow their child’s activities to a singular focus too early in their development. We provide the access needed to multiple opportunities within the structure of a student’s Lower School experience, making it easy to explore and develop mastery and confidence in more areas in the early years when it matters most.
Children learn best when they are engaged in the learning process. The arts and athletics at St. Andrew’s offer us unique and diverse opportunities to foster that engagement early in a child’s educational experience, positioning them as lifelong learners who bring creativity, commitment, and confidence to their work each day. The joyful exploration our arts and athletics staff create for our Lower School students is impactful, creating influential learning experiences and memories I have no doubt will serve as a strong foundation from which to move to the Middle and Upper School. Ultimately, we are creating a variety of moments that may be called to mind someday when they are the ones being challenged on one of my tours to remember one of their meaningful learning experiences!