The lower school acts as students’ introduction to the World Perspectives Program at GFA. Starting in pre-kindergarten and progressing through to the fifth grade, students learn how to develop empathy and compassion for those in their own immediate communities as well those in far away parts of the world.
Through picture books, classroom conversations, and research projects, students explore cultures from around the world and throughout history. Through these transcultural explorations they learn to think critically about the world around them, identifying ways that cultures are both similar and different from their own as well as exploring the ideas of fairness, social justice, and what it means to be a global citizen.
World Perspectives in the Classroom
As GFA’s youngest and most curious learners, lower school students delight in opportunities to step into other’s shoes through simulations, crafts and games, and field and service trips. From greeting each other in a variety of different languages at our daily morning meetings to units of study that delve into the daily lives of people from cultures around the world and, lower school students learn to celebrate cultural difference and think critically about how climate, natural resources, and religion affect culture.
Kindergarten Maasai Study
Kindergarten students engage in a semester long study of the Maasai culture. They learn to become keen observers as they explore the many ways that life as a GFA student is the same and different as the Maasai people. The students then use their powerful observation skills to write insightful questions, which they ask to a Maasai warrior over the phone, helping them to expand their knowledge of other cultures and teaching them to celebrate the things that unite as a global community while also cherishing the differences that make our world culturally rich.
First Grade Community Study
First grade students explore the concept of community learning how to be an active member of their classroom, as well as identifying the components of the GFA community and their town communities. By stepping outside their own wants and needs and examining what creates a successful classroom, school and town community, students take their first important steps in becoming a global citizen. First grade students visit important community landmarks such as the police office, post office and fire station in order to ask questions that help deepen their understanding of the many ways these community leaders help to keep the students’ local communities safe and thriving. The students then synthesize this information by designing a town community in technology class out of cardboard, utilizing everything they have learned the aspects of a community that help to keep its citizens happy and healthy.
Second Grade Mapping and Research Project
Second grade’s geography unit asks students, “What do maps teach us about the way people in different places live?” Students learn to study topography maps, climate maps and population maps in order to predict how people dress around the world, what they eat and what they do for fun. In addition to this research, they meet with book clubs to read texts about different countries and their cultures. Students learn to approach life in different countries with a sense of wonder, asking questions about different traditions in these countries, important historical events, and the food and dress in each culture.
Third Grade Immigration Unit
Each year third grade students look to their own family trees to shed light on how the united states became a land of so many different cultures and heritages. Each student chooses a country that their descendants called home and then steps into the shoes of an immigrant setting off for Ellis Island. Through this study they learn important cultural information about the country their descendants came from as well as exploring what the conditions were like for immigrants heading to America. As a cumulative project, students participate in a simulation where they must pass various tests in order to be admitted to the United States, just as their ancestors who came before them. This eye-opening project helps students not only learn about the history of immigration, as well as their own history, it is a lesson in understanding others hardships.
Fourth Grade World News
Fourth grade students are also hard at work researching about the world around them. Each week different students are responsible for a different portion of the class’s weekly news report. The news highlights GFA news, domestic news and includes an international report, where students teach their classmates about a recent event that is going on beyond the United States border. World news topics could include an update on the Winter Olympics, an important weather event such as a hurricane, or an upcoming holiday or celebration in another part of the world.
Fifth Grade Peace Teams
Our eldest lower school students, act as our Peace Team leaders. The Peace Games is an annual field day where students participate in games that promote cooperation and international acceptance. Each team is assigned a country, which our fifth grade students research and report on to the kindergarten-fourth grade members of their team. Students then work as a team to write a cheer that incorporates the customs of that country. Peace Games is a highlight of the year in lower school and we rely on our fifth graders and their impressive research skills to help inform us about the countries we each represent that day.
Science and the Renewable Energy Fair
Each year students in grades first through fifth grade participate in the Lower School’s Renewable Energy Fair. This twist on the more classic science fair, helps students to explore alternative energy sources that help take care of our planet and its citizens. Each grade explores different types of energy and builds projects that harness and utilize wind, solar and geothermal energy. Some lower school favorite’s include the third grade’s solar s’more cookers and fourth grade’s electricity producing wind turbines.
Students in grades pre-kindergarten through third grade participate in twice weekly Spanish immersion classes, where they learn to speak, listen, and write in Spanish. Through games and songs they learn the building blocks to becoming fluent Spanish speakers. They also explore Spanish and Hispanic culture, learning important vocabulary to help them understand Hispanic traditions and holidays. Second and third grade Spanish students explore Dia de los Muertos through crafts and stories. Students create decorations to help create a school wide alter that pays tribute to the holiday as well as honors and celebrates those who have passed away.
Fourth and fifth grade students are introduced to French through twice weekly immersion classes. Here, they act out plays and ad lib conversations that help them grow as French speakers, writers and listeners. They are also introduced to the art of French cooking. Through working as a class to make classic French dishes, students learn important vocabulary as well as a cultural understanding for how each dish is important in France and the French speaking world.
As lower school students learn how to operate the plethora of technology that is at their finger tips, they become aware of how technology helps them to connect to the global community, as well as how they can use technology to build their understanding of the world around them. First grade students culminate their community study by 3-D printing a city that includes all of the major attributes a population needs to remain safe, healthy and happy. In second and third grade, students use technology as a research tool, learning how to find and sort through information to help them learn about their own community and countries around the world. Second grade students also witness first hand how technology brings our world closer together, by mystery video chatting with a school from Germany. By asking thought provoking questions, and using their knowledge of geography, students must determine where their new friends are in the world, while also learning about life and school in Germany. In fourth grade, technology and art combine as part of a STEAM initiative, in which students learn about Moroccan tile mosaics. After creating their own paint mosaics in art, they project continues when they use computer programming to create a 3-D stamp of their design.
Students across the lower school are exposed to a wide variety of cultures through art projects that allow them to experiment with techniques from different parts of the world. Kindergarten students are introduced to the textile crafts of central Mexico, in particular, the yarn paintings of the Huichol people of Jalisco. Students discover similarities and differences between their own lives and the lives of the Huichol people and learn how important nature is to the Huichol people. The students then design images for their yarn paintings that honors nature and use only colored strands of yarn to complete their painting. Second grade students explore the meaning and form of the Mandala from India. They use their knowledge to create similarly symmetrical shapes, which they carve and tool into metal sheets. Fourth grade students study geometric patterning is Islamic Art, focusing on mosaics from Morocco. After examining repetitive and symmetrical mosaics, students create their own patterns which they then tape onto paper, paint and finally peal to reveal colorful mosiac designs.
In library class, traditions and cultures from around the world come to life through stories. During a unit on Caldecott Award winners, first grade students explore beautiful pictures books that introduce them to a variety of characters and settings, from places far away to some in their own backyard. As part of this exploration, first graders read Lon Po Po, the Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood, and think about the many ways the story is similar and different from the versions they have come to know and love. Second grade students engage in a folktales unit, in which they learn to identify the defining characteristics of this genre. Students read folktales from around the world, including the Chinese tale Tikki Tikki Tembo and the Southern United States story The Talking Eggs. The unit instills in students an understanding that storytelling is universal. In fourth grade, students embark on a fairy tales unit, in which they research different versions of fairy tales from around the world, analyzing similarities across the tales, as well as what makes each version unique.
Community Service and Service Learning
Thanksgiving Food Drive
The fifth grade students are the leaders of our lower school, helping to guide their peers in service learning. Leading by example, fifth grade students organize a Thanksgiving Food Drive, and help their younger peers to understand the importance of playing their part in helping those in their own community we are less fortunate. Our fifth grade leaders then deliver the nonperishable food items that help to collect to the Salvation Army. By delivering these goods first hand, they are able to witness first hand the impact their actions have on the world around them.
The Mitten Tree
Throughout the year, fifth grade students continue to act as our service-learning guides, leading us in helping to collect mittens and winter hats for families in need of these winter essentials. Not only do these service opportunities help the lower school community band together, but they empower our students, especially our fifth graders by helping them to see the change they can create through acts of kindness.
Second Grade Post Office
The second grade post office comes every February. During this service learning project, students make stamps in order to sell. Students who buy these stamps use them to send letters around the lower school, which the second graders then sort and deliver. Not only is this a chance to learn about money in a very hands-on way, by making chance and collecting coins, it also helps them to learn about an important service in our community:the mail system.