Enter first grade teacher Mary Kathryn Vey’s classroom and you may find students working in groups or seated together on the rug. Each group encourages each other and there is an enthusiasm for learning as a team. This cooperative approach to learning is called Kagan Learning Structures. Learning is organized into structures including mix-n-match, quiz-quiz trade, stand up-hand up-pair up and I have-who has. Vey shares more on how the approach works and the benefits of this type of learning.
The Kagan approach to learning creates active classroom engagement. Teachers engage students to boost achievements and lower discipline problems. In a traditional learning structure, the teacher leads a whole-class discussion and asks for responses. The Kagan approach creates a less intimidating environment. With Kagan Structures the teacher uses one of several approaches that create and boost the classroom environment. Students use the learned structures to quiz each other or answer the questions collaboratively. Cooperative learning is a positive alternative and creates student interaction.
The Kagan structures promote collaboration and student communication. They use the learned structures to help guide pair and group work; which increases student participation. Kagan is a positive, hands-on approach to help students use team building and positive classroom language. The students learn to praise their partners and work collaboratively together. Students feel empowered and ready to share collaboratively with their peers. The Kagan approach promotes a positive learning environment where all students want to actively participate.
With Kagan, the teacher forgoes the traditional “whole class discussion” or the “one answer at a time” approach and instead has students use one of the structures that involves everyone and encourages student participation. Kagan promotes powerful and positive teacher language that in return creates positive student interaction. It helps create cooperation and self confidence. It’s a non-threatening way for all students to feel actively engaged within their classroom. The Kagan approach helps increase student communication skills and aids in positive student growth. The students will practice several Kagan strategies that they will use throughout the year to check for content knowledge.
Mary-Kathryn Vey joined the Episcopal faculty in 2015 as a first grade teacher. Before joining Episcopal, she taught first grade for six years in Mississippi and received the Teacher of the Year Award in 2013. Mary-Kathryn graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in child development. She continued her education and obtained a second degree in the area of elementary education. Mary-Kathryn is passionate about creating lifelong learners and enjoys instilling the love of reading in each of her students.
It was a fun-filled week on Episcopal’s campus as students celebrated Homecoming. All three divisions displayed school spirit with theme dress days, pep rallies and campus decorating. Everything culminated with the Knights' Homecoming victory over Catholic Pointe Coupee. Congratulations to the 2019 Episcopal Homecoming King and Queen - Griff Strain and Sarah Collier!
Alumni also got in on the celebration with a Cochon De Lait in the alumni tent. We hope the classes of 1979 and 1989 enjoyed their time back on campus.
“I hope to dance ballet and trick-or-treat.”
“I hope to learn about cars and trucks, how things work, and letters and numbers.”
Ask a PreK-3 student what they hope to do this school year and you’ll get a range of answers like the ones above. Students are also interested in playing with babies, eating healthy and even learning about taxes. Ask the parent of a PreK-3 student what they hope their child will achieve and you will also get a variety of answers, from growing socially and academically to expressing themselves appropriately and learning to take turns. So, what do students in PreK-3 actually learn and why does it matter?
The Building Blocks of Learning: Social/Emotional Skills
PreK-3 teachers Kristen Cascio and Emily Richard say the majority of learning for the littlest Knights revolves around developing social/emotional skills. Social/emotional skills, such as waiting, sharing and learning to sit quietly on the carpet, are important for a student’s future learning capabilities. So important that the PreK-3 team spends considerable time helping students develop these building blocks of learning. Additional highlights of what PreK-3 students learn include:
The PreK-3 team uses the responsive classroom approach to teaching in much the same way that other teachers use it. Cascio says the team begins the year with the hopes and dreams component as they identify and understand the student’s and parent’s goals for preschool. Beginning the year with this understanding helps the teaching team personalize each student/family’s PreK-3 experience. The teachers also use the responsive classroom approach to classroom management. “We coach children through difficult situations and use everything as a teaching/learning opportunity,” says Cascio. Those teaching moments can come in the form of asking for additional food in the cafeteria, walking in a line with friends or learning to be aware of others. The little Knights even have their own Morning Meeting. Cascio says they start each day with a greeting, reading aloud and a group activity, which allows for collaboration, community building and life skill development. “During the greeting, students are instructed to make eye contact, greet friends by name with a happy, loud voice,” says Cascio. “We talk about how a happy voice makes our friends feel happy.”
At the same time that the three year old students are developing social/emotional skills, they are also developing academically. As they listen to stories and interact with friends, they expand their vocabulary. Students also learn to identify the letters in their name and the letters in the alphabet, which are the pre-reading skills needed to begin reading from a page. The lessons are flexible, adaptable and specifically designed to provide age-appropriate academic experiences.
Play = Learning
Cascio and Richard say play is a key to learning for three year olds. While adults may simply see a student picking up small objects with tongs or playing with Play Doh, the teachers say there is purpose to their play. For example, Cascio and Richard say that manipulating small objects and playing with clay helps students fine tune their fine motor skills in preparation for gripping a pencil for writing in later grades. Research backs up the importance of play.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “play is not frivolous: it enhances brain structure and function and promotes executive function (i.e., the process of learning, rather than the content), which allow us to pursue goals and ignore distractions.” In a 2018 AAP report on The Power of Play, the authors conclude that “play is intrinsically motivated and leads to active engagement and joyful discovery,” and that “with our understanding of early brain development, we suggest that learning is better fueled by facilitating the child’s intrinsic motivation through play rather than extrinsic motivations, such as test scores.” The authors also suggest that “play provides a singular opportunity to build the executive functioning that underlies adaptive behaviors at home; improve language and math skills in school; build the safe, stable, and nurturing relationships that buffer against toxic stress; and build social–emotional resilience.”
The Episcopal PreK-3 classroom is designed to encourage student play and learning. The teachers say there is a focus on natural lighting and a comfortable feel so that students feel at ease and are not overstimulated. Centers are thoughtfully arranged so that noisy areas are not near the quieter locations. There are a variety of toys, games and activities to engage students. Because three year olds still benefit from a nap, there is designated quiet time during which students unfurl little mats and snuggle up for a rest after several hours of learning. Cascio and Richard also try to keep students to an expected routine so that they know what to expect and don’t experience too many interruptions.
Lessons for Life
Episcopal’s PreK-3 program ensures that students establish a strong foundation for the learning that comes as they progress through Lower School and transition to Middle and Upper School. The emphasis on social/emotional learning will continue as they progress. While the skills are different at each grade level, faculty and staff across all divisions are making these life lessons a focus for students. “We’re lucky to be in a school where we focus on this at every level,” says Cascio.
While Cascio and Richard focus considerable time on helping students learn school procedures and social/emotional skills, they are also helping the students begin their academic journey. The teachers hope that the well-rounded, age-appropriate experience helps students develop a true love of learning and school. “We want them to wake up loving to come here,” says Cascio. Fostering a love of learning and the social/emotional skills needed to be part of a community are a key component of the Episcopal experience. It’s how we are preparing tomorrow’s leaders every day.
Need help determining whether your child is ready for preschool? Click here to read tips from PreK-4 teacher Julie Mendes.
While the fall means “Back to School” for many families, some of you are also beginning to think about the next school year as you prepare to take the next step of enrolling your young child in a preschool program. While a child’s age and birthdate are important factors to consider, these are not absolute benchmarks in determining a child’s readiness to begin school. Being prepared for preschool has more to do with where your child is developmentally. Is he/she socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively ready to participate in a daily, structured, educational program with a group of other children? Ask yourself these questions as you consider if your child is fully equipped with the set of skills they need to have a successful preschool experience.
Is your child fairly independent?
Preschool requires children to have certain basic skills. Most schools will require your child to be fully potty-trained when they start school. Also, begin practicing tasks that require fine motor strength, such as zipping and buttoning pants, zipping up backpacks and hanging them on a hook, rolling up a nap mat, pulling a sweater on an off, hand washing, and eating independently using napkins and utensils. Practicing these skills at home will make your child’s start to school less frustrating and help them build fine motor skills that will help them later as they learn to cut and write.
Can your child participate in group activities?
Many activities in preschool require students to sit in a group setting for a period of time. Is your child able to sit and listen to a story? Do they take turns and listen when others are speaking? If your child isn't used to group activities, you can start introducing them yourself. Take him/her to story time at your local library, or sign them up for a recreational activity such as dance or soccer to help your child get used to playing with other children.
Does your child have good communication skills?
In preschool, it is important for your child to be able to communicate their needs to their teachers and peers. At home, you may find it easy to step in and give your child what he/she needs before they even ask. At school, your child will be around adults who may not know your child as well as you do. It is important to have your child practice these critical communication skills before they start school. For example, if your child hands you a milk carton, have them practice asking, “Could you please help me open my milk?” Role play with your child and give them scenarios that they might encounter at school. How would your child handle a situation where another child wasn’t sharing? Often, children with poor communication skills will revert to hitting or grabbing toys from other students. By practicing these conflicts ahead of time, students will be armed with the skills and language necessary to problem-solve with their peers.
Is your child used to keeping a regular schedule?
Preschool programs follow a predictable schedule. There are times set aside for play, eating, and even resting. There's a good reason for this. Children tend to feel most comfortable and in control when the same things happen at the same time each day. Students who do not follow a schedule at home will often have trouble during transitional times between activities at school. Help your child prepare for their school routine by adhering to a schedule at home. Plan meals at determined times and have predictable activities throughout the day. Set a bedtime routine (bath, brush teeth, story time, lights out). Giving your child structure at home will help them adjust to a school schedule.
The best way to decide if your child is ready to begin preschool is to spend time thinking about your child and to talk to other people who know him/her well, such as your partner, your pediatrician, or others who spend a lot of time with your child. While there is no checklist to give a quantitative score of readiness, there are many ways you can work with your child at home to make their transition into school as smooth as possible.
Are you ready to apply?
If you have considered the above questions and determined that your child is prepared to begin the next phase in their educational journey, we are ready to help you navigate the school admissions process. Visit https://www.episcopalbr.org/admission.html to schedule a tour of our campus, view the 2020-2021 application, or get in contact with a member of our Admissions team.
Julie Mendes, a 2001 graduate of Episcopal, returned to teach Pre-K4 at her alma mater in 2012. She received both her undergraduate degree and MEd in elementary education at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. After teaching second grade in a Dual Language program in Texas public schools for three years, Julie moved abroad to teach first grade at a bilingual school in Gracias, Lempira Honduras. Julie enjoys teaching alongside some of her former teachers and seeing what life is like on the other side of the desk.
During the hectic first weeks of school, Episcopal Lower School families generously donated school supplies for partner school Melrose Elementary. It’s a tradition that’s been ongoing for at least seven years. It goes hand-in-hand with what the fifth graders are learning in Religion class.
The students are learning about how and why we serve others. By reading Scripture and discussing the parable of the Good Samaritan, they made the connection that by serving others, in this case, donating school supplies to students who need them, they’re loving others - and that’s the greatest lesson of all.
On Friday, August 30, the twelve students in my first-quarter fifth grade Religion class loaded all of the boxes of donated supplies onto a school bus for a special in-person delivery.
“We loaded so many boxes of paper, markers, notebooks, binders, glue, scissors, pencils, backpacks, crayons, markers, and more!” exclaimed fifth grader Natalie Reimann. “We realized that our school families had donated tons of school supplies. It almost filled up half of the bus!”
Once they arrived at Melrose, the students met with Principal Olga Pack, ELA Content Leader Bianca Plummer, Counselor Seana Mercer, Math Content Leader Florence Bonton, Instructional Specialist Shanika Griffin, and Assistant Principal Brandi Brister. After delivering supplies to the auditorium of the school, the fifth graders were excited to go on a tour of Melrose.
The students were also excited to learn that Melrose has a theme every year just like Episcopal. The theme this year is “Every student glows!” Fifth grader Lilliana Latour reflected upon the experience: “As we got back on the bus to go back to Episcopal, we felt a glowing happiness that we did something wonderful. We were so glad to be part of the experience.”
“This experience warmed our hearts because we did something good for the community,” said fifth grader Tripp Veillon.
Jenny Heroman Koenig
Jenny Heroman Koenig is a proud 2001 graduate of Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. She returned to her alma mater as a Lower School Religion Teacher. Jenny earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mass communication with a minor in sociology from Louisiana State University. She has eleven years of experience as a television journalist in Baton Rouge and Gonzales. Jenny always had a desire to teach and eventually followed that calling by earning a teacher certification from the Teach Ascension Academy Certification Program. Jenny began her teaching career as a second grade teacher at Donaldsonville Primary School. Jenny is also active in the community as a member of the Louisiana Association of Educators, the Louisiana Association of Broadcasters, Baton Rouge Women in Media and the Louisiana Film and Entertainment Association. She has received numerous honors including the 2014 Individual of the Year Award from the Ascension Chamber of Commerce and the opportunity to be the Honorary Ascension Parish President on “Jenny Heroman Day”. When she’s not teaching, Jenny enjoys theatre and music and is the lead singer of the Something Blue Band.
Service Learning in Ninth Grade
Episcopal’s mission is to prepare graduates for college and for purposeful lives. The recent ninth grade retreat highlights the commitment to making this mission a reality. Each August members of the freshman class spend a Friday volunteering with local organizations. “It’s important for us to have students realize that service to others is one of the things that we view as important,” says Father Skully.
Students begin retreat day at one of five locations throughout Baton Rouge. This year students volunteered at the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, Melrose Elementary School, the Knock Knock Children’s Museum, Front Yard Bikes and the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired. Students assisted with everything from sorting food and cleaning up, to setting up for an event and painting.
“I want our students to be exposed to people who saw opportunities and made things happen,” says Father Skully. At each volunteer site, Father Skully ensures that an organization representative speaks with students about the organization’s mission and purpose. At the food bank students learned about the reality of Baton Rouge food shortages, the need for volunteers and the importance of food donations. At Front Yard Bikes students learned how the organization began because the founder saw a need and addressed it. Interaction with the representatives helps make the volunteer experience much more meaningful for students. The hope is that students feel empowered to serve others and to address the needs of their community.
The need to act and make a difference is a key component of the Episcopal experience. The National Association of Episcopal Schools (NAES) believes that one of the principal qualities of an Episcopal school, is that the institutions work for social justice through community service and service learning. Through service learning, students connect what they learn in class to real world issues, then explore and work toward solutions, all while reflecting meaningfully on their experiences and efforts.
Focus on Friendship in Sixth Grade
Problem solving and building new friendships outside of the classroom are hallmarks of the annual sixth grade retreat. “Friendship Retreat gives 6th graders an opportunity to begin forging an identity as a group,” says English teacher Martha Guarisco. Guarisco and her fellow teachers will make the day even more exciting this year by setting everything to a Harry Potter theme. (It’s hard to say who loves the book series more, the students or the teachers.) The excitement of the day helps students make friendships and develop the peer support system that will be there for them during the Middle School transition years. “Sixth grade retreat is a chance for students to get to know each other,” says math teacher Nancy Callaway. “They get to enjoy each other’s company in a very relaxed atmosphere.” Such an experience is also good for the teachers. “I think the retreat gives teachers a chance early in the year to see the students in a relaxed, non-academic setting, which is usually fun and enlightening,” says science teacher Stacy Hill. “This is a fun day away from campus that allows us to come together as a sixth grade community,” says social studies teacher Virginia Day.
This year’s sixth grade retreat is slated for Friday, September 13th.
Learning about Leadership in Fifth Grade
“I call on you to imagine what it looks like to be a leader of Lower School.” Bridget Henderson
Episcopal fifth graders recently participated in a retreat day of their own. Lower School Division Head Bridget Henderson advised students that the day would focus on their new role as Lower School leaders. Students self-organized and led group activities. The ten year olds also discussed meaningful topics such as altruism, supporting each other and serving as a role model for their younger Lower School counterparts. “The fifth grade year at Episcopal is special because fifth graders are the leaders of the Lower School,” says Henderson. “We wanted to provide a chance for the students to bond as a class and to prepare themselves for the leadership opportunities ahead.”
The retreat culminated with the traditional fifth grade sweatshirt ceremony in the Chapel. Together, students sang songs reflecting a commitment to servant leadership and gratitude. Amid the Louisiana heat and humidity, students then donned Class of 2027 sweatshirts. By design, the sleeves were too long and the hems fell well below the waist so that they can be worn for multiple years. Father Skully advised the students that the sweatshirts represent their unity as one class working together toward the common goal of completing their education. While the shirts appear large now, the students will quickly grow and one day those sleeves that fell below the hand will barely reach the wrist. As this transformation accelerates, hopefully the students will remember the lessons on leadership and compassion that were imparted to them on fifth grade retreat day.
Episcopal offers numerous retreat opportunities to help students develop a sense of community. The bonds created as a result of these experiences can last a lifetime and will be remembered long after they leave Woodland Ridge Boulevard.
Do you have a favorite retreat memory? Share it in the comments below.
Fourth Grade Learning Unit Includes Fishing, Rowing and Aiming
Louisiana is a sportsman’s paradise and Episcopal fourth graders are learning to appreciate it. Even though the school year is barely underway, students have already jumped right into their first project-based learning unit. As part of the annual National Parks lesson, students learn outdoor skills that might be used when visiting a National Park.
Students learn fly fishing techniques from Orvis manager Alex Beane. Beane, who is originally from the northeast, says there are plenty of opportunities here in Louisiana to deploy this style of fishing. Students also jump right into the Episcopal pool in inflatable kayaks. With much enthusiasm they practice single and double strokes across the water. In addition, students learn archery skills near the back of the football field. Classes spend three weeks learning each skill before rotating to the next.
This type of learning would not be possible without collaboration among the fourth grade and physical education teachers. You can learn more on how the PE teachers integrate classroom lessons into physical education by reading PE teacher and head softball coach Heidi Hebert’s blog here.
After the casting, splashing and aiming are over, fourth graders will continue their National Park journey. Students will learn about landforms and erosion. They will conduct online research and learn about mapping. The lesson will cross all subjects including science, social studies and language arts. Students will also work on art projects related to the topic and learn more about the topic in the library. The lesson will culminate with a National Parks Day where students will present what they have learned to their classmates and families. We look forward to hearing from these new outdoor experts!
Growing and Learning in PreK-4
PreK-4 students recently enjoyed their own outdoor adventure during the annual PreK garden party. The little Knights and their families prepared the garden for another year of growing and learning. PreK-4 teacher Lindsay Smith says each family brings something to plant together during this special day. She says caring for the little plants is something the students take pride in as they personally water and weed the little sprouts throughout the school year.
Smith says the PreK garden is a tremendous resource for math and science learning. While the students may appear to be simply enjoying themselves, there is a purpose to their play. As the school year progresses, students will watch as caterpillars munch on the crop and they will follow the transformation as the monarchs appear. This transformation will be similar to their own as they develop new skills and prepare for the next step in their educational journey.
At Episcopal, learning isn’t confined to an indoor classroom. Teachers work together to find creative ways to enhance learning and engage students. It’s just one more way to make learning fun!
It always feels like the school year is officially underway once the kindergarten/senior buddy program kicks off. Students had their first meeting this week on the kindergarten playground. Despite the August heat, students were all smiles as they played together. It was a great start to an annual tradition.
Imagine what the world will be like in the year 2033. Imagine the technology that will be available to us. Imagine how we will interact with each other. Imagine the new discoveries that will be made by today’s young people. 2033 may seem far away, but it is actually the year that our current PreK-4 students will graduate from Upper School.
This year’s Lower School theme is Imagine. For Lower School Division Head Bridget Henderson, this simple, seven letter word has tremendous potential. “Imagine what is possible for our students if we give them fertile ground to grow,” she says. Henderson says the ability to think critically, collaborate and problem solve will be important capabilities for these students as they become adults. Simply put, they must be prepared to imagine new possibilities and imagine solutions to new problems. “The future of education is trying to inspire children and teach them how to not set limits on what they can think,” says Henderson.
Imagine is a fitting theme for a school with such a strong focus on project-based learning. The projects are student driven and student focused. “Project-based learning is not scripted,” says Henderson. “No two projects are ever the same.” Such learning experiences encourage students to explore their world and imagine more. This type of learning fosters the innovative spirit that will be needed for students entering an increasingly more technologically connected and advanced world.
Henderson says Imagine is an empowering message for students of all ages. The idea communicates support and encouragement. “If we can get the students to imagine, then we know that anything is possible,” says Henderson. At Episcopal you can find students imagining everywhere from Lower School art rooms to coding discussions in Middle School and design studio classes in Upper School. Henderson and her team are also excited to imagine the possibilities with the new Episcopal Quest Center.
Nicole says the idea came to her as the team reflected on past themes, which all shared a common thread of peace, unity and kindness. She says as the session continued someone suggested they think of songs. “Of course, the music and religion teachers were able to think of tunes right away,” she says. But for this science teacher, one song kept coming to mind – “Imagine” by John Lennon. Nicole says the song has always represented peace for her and still gives her chills each time she hears it played. Like Henderson, the word Imagine means so much to Engstrom. “Imagine kindness everywhere, imagine what could happen if you send that letter, imagine how world leaders would respond, imagine your impact, imagine the possibilities, just imagine,” she says. Engstrom says it was an honor to be invited to the theme-planning discussion. “It was a team effort,” she says. “I just said a word.”
That one word was confirmed when Lower School Religion Teacher Laura Portwood read: “God has more in store for you than you can ever imagine.”
The 2019/2020 school year is sure to be a memorable and important year for the Episcopal community. It is likely to be better than we can imagine.
Can you imagine what life will be like in 2033? Share your thoughts below.
Splashing into Summer with PreK-3
PreK-3 students enjoyed a splash day to celebrate the end of the school year.
Going on a Bear Hunt in PreK-4
PreK-4 went on a bear hunt! Students searched for grizzlies on the Coach Duplechin Trail after reading "We're Going on a Bear Hunt." For lunch they enjoyed a picnic with their furry friends.
Field Day Fun in Kindergarten
Lower School Field Day was a huge success! The event featured water balloons, bubbles, yard games and even a giant water slide. What a great way to wrap up the school year!
Animal Encounters in First Grade
Episcopal first graders know a lot about animals. After participating in a six-week study of the different animals that inhabit a swamp, the students shared what they learned with their fellow Lower School students. Their presentations featured a range of swampy creatures, including snakes, frogs and even bears. Other highlights of the animal lesson included visiting the swamp, learning more about fifth grade teacher Eric DiMari’s animals and observing animals from the Barnhill Animal Preserve.
Author Chat in Second Grade
Second grade students had the opportunity to speak with Annie Barrows, the author of the Ivy + Bean series. Barrows answered student questions and shared what inspires her stories and characters. The Ivy + Bean series makes a great addition to a student’s summer reading list.
Third Grade Pen Pals
Third grade students are brushing up on their cursive skills by writing letters to residents at St. James Place. Read more about the project here.
Fun and Games in Fourth Grade
Fourth graders challenged their families to a variety of arcade games that the students actually made themselves. This annual event is always exciting and this year was no exception. Students created everything from air hockey and ping pong to flight of the dragon and dizzy duck.
Making a Difference in Fifth Grade
After a successful world expo event, the fifth grade students generated funds to support the Capital Area United Way, Heifer International and the Pulsera Project. Recently, students presented their donation to United Way Corporate Relationship Manager Ashley McDermott.