Themes frame the academic program at each grade level and provide guiding questions or concepts for the students and faculty to explore in focused, intentionally ways. The themes, which have been carefully chosen to correlate with age-related social, emotional, and intellectual development, tie together every subject a child is studying and provide context for exploration. At GUS, students do not learn material in isolation. Rather, they encounter subjects through essential questions presented by the year’s theme.
Kindergarten Theme: The World Around Us
First Grade Theme: Who Am I?
Second Grade Theme: Where do I live?
Third Grade Theme: Where am I going?
Fourth Grade Theme: The Sea
Fifth Grade Theme: The Land
Sixth Grade Theme: The People
Seventh Grade Theme: Who Am I?
Eighth Grade Theme: The Individual in Society: Where Do I Live? Where Am I Going?
Of all that is unique about GUS, our mathematics program might top the list. Our proprietary math curriculum, which draws from the latest research and ideas from the top mathematics schools in the world, affords students deep comprehension—from concepts to procedures, from concrete to abstract. We start in kindergarten teaching a strong understanding of the language of mathematics. Then we build to a complete mastery of sophisticated topics using models, manipulatives, and current technology (including a library of 150 “flipped classroom” instructional videos created by GUS faculty). It comes as no surprise that our students go on to be placed in honors math in some of the most competitive high schools.
Our “And, Not Or” philosophy is the very DNA of our school, as demonstrated by our hands-on science program. There is plenty of experiential learning happening in our classrooms every day. And, whether they are conducting botany experiments in the greenhouse or engrossed in ecology research along our trails, students at GUS are learning in living laboratories. Sixth graders might be engineering and programming robots to simulate NASA’s Mars rovers. Eighth graders could be conducting advanced experiments in electroplating or fractional distillation in our laboratory. Students leave our school with strong scientific writing skills, complex laboratory experience, and confidence in their ability to find solutions to advanced problems. GUS also has ties with MIT. Third graders go to the MIT Edgerton Center to learn about electricity; eighth graders go to the LEGO ® Robotics program. Our upper school Coding Club learns to program with Scratch, supported by the MIT Media Center.
English Language Arts
A love of language arts starts early here. Our kindergarten program is devoted to the multiple strands of reading acquisition, from phonemic awareness to comprehension. As students move up through the grades, they are deeply engaged as they read, write, create, and orate. Fifth graders embark on a comprehensive research project in which they sharpen their critical thinking skills, organize and cite sources, interview experts, write, and present. Prior to graduating, our eighth graders impart the wisdom they have gained as they deliver their impassioned “This I Believe” speeches at Evening with the Graduates to their parents, teachers, and school community.
¿Habla Español? Our kindergarteners do. Spanish language and Hispanic culture are integral to our curriculum, culminating in the eighth grade service trip to a Latin American orphanage. On these trips, our students use their acquired language skills to immerse themselves in the Spanish-speaking culture while working alongside families from Honduras or the Dominican Republic, expanding their sense of place and purpose on a global scale. Latin is added to the program in sixth grade. Students study grammar and vocabulary while learning the origins of English and the romance languages. Excellent SAT scores and advanced language placement later in life are just an added benefit of our immersive World Languages program.
Social Studies + History
Our social studies curriculum exemplifies how our interdisciplinary approach to learning deepens students’ understanding of all subjects. For example, our seventh grade students explore the theme “ The Individual: Who Am I?” While studying anthropology, sociology, psychology, and metacognition, they become more reflective and analytical in their writing, asking such questions as “What events in the world have helped to shape me as an individual?” and “How do family, class, and cultural identity in Roman society compare to my own?” Studying early civilizations in sixth grade, students mummify fruit in social studies class, construct clay canopic jars in art, and consider the number systems of the Mayans and Egyptians in math class.
Strong character development begins in kindergarten on day one. Every GUS teacher is trained in Wellesley College’s Open Circle or Developmental Designs Responsive Classroom curriculum. Just as children need to be taught algebra and chemistry, they also need a very deliberate education in being good human beings, compassionate members of their community, and responsible citizens of the planet. We know our students become good people because we work hard to make sure they understand what that means and why it is important. We do this in the same way we do everything—by weaving our lessons into many areas of school life: social service, community partners, advisory groups, Life Skills classes, and our academic program. There are many schools that can prepare children to succeed in life. We are preparing our students to change the world.
Student Life Program
There are several components to our Student Life Program, giving students and teachers an opportunity to establish rapport and giving teachers an opportunity to provide the best possible counsel to students. We believe that we work in a partnership with parents to help students grow responsibly and healthily toward adulthood. The components of the Student Life Program include the following:
Homeroom teachers meet with their students at the beginning of the day in the upper school. Homeroom time begins at 8:15 AM so that more time can be devoted to the “Developmental Designs” curriculum, which is an extension of “Open Circle” in the lower school. The goals of the program are to promote a sense of community within the class and to develop positive social skills within each student, all of which are part of our Bullying Prevention Program. It is critical that students be on time for homeroom. Homeroom is also “home base.” Each upper school student has a large locker inside his/her homeroom. Students keep book bags and projects in the homeroom, eat lunch there, and do chores. At the end of the day, there is a checkout procedure for making sure students are organized to leave for home. The class reviews the assignments for the day, and students make sure they have all the appropriate materials for any homework assignments.
The weekly Life Skills period in the upper school gives students a chance to explore nonacademic topics of value to young teenagers. Topics discussed in past years have included drug and alcohol use, peer relations, decision-making, communication, media education, preparation for secondary school, and sexuality.
Each upper school student has a teacher or administrator as an advisor. Generally, there are seven or eight advisees in a group. Advisors keep an eye on each of their advisee’s social progress and emotional health while at Glen Urquhart School. They meet with their advisees once a week for lunch. Each advisory group has students from all three grades. Advisors are also available for informal discussions with their advisees. Advisors informally keep track of a student’s nonacademic issues, which can include everything from developing friendships to serious disciplinary infractions. During the lunch meetings, the advisory groups discuss an agenda related to the goals of our Student Life Curriculum, usually having to do with social development and peer relations. These lunch meetings are another component of the School’s Bullying Prevention Program. Each week a different member of the advisory group brings a snack to share. We encourage nutritious snacks, such as fruit or healthy treats, rather than donuts or other foods high in sugar content.
Lower school students begin each day with Circle Time or Morning Meeting, which is an important part of their daily routine. Students and their teachers share concerns about school life, current events, and personal interests and triumphs. Classroom rules arise out of and are reviewed during Circle Time throughout the school year. Assembly or holiday themes and special all-School projects might also be the focus of Circle Time activities. In addition, all lower school classes participate in the “Open Circle” program, which is a curriculum developed by Wellesley College to help students develop healthy social skills. Classrooms often end the day with a class meeting as well.
Arts + Athletics
As with everything else they do here, GUS students dive into arts and sports with gusto. Every student at GUS is on an athletic team and in an artistic production. Wander through our halls and you will see great works from hands at every grade level. Visitors are awed by what is possible when young minds are taught effective techniques, given space to create, and then allowed to fly. In addition to studio arts, kindergarteners through fifth graders are students of music and dance. In the upper school, music and dance evolve into drama and choreographed musicals. Eighth grade culminates with a performance of a Broadway musical and an arts evening, featuring a student exhibition, oral presentations, and a dance recital. Physical education and interscholastic sports are also vital to fostering well-being, collaboration, and a readiness for competition. GUS students compete in soccer, cross-country, track and field, basketball, and lacrosse, aquiring the physical and mental foundation to become valuable players, captains, and All-Americans on high school and college teams.
Since 1977, Glen Urquhart has been a leader in offering a challenging educational experience that combines learning inside and outside the classroom.