Our approach to teaching kindergarten through fifth grade is firmly rooted in our philosophy that students thrive when they are invested in finding answers to their own questions. Our teachers use the Responsive Classrooms Approach to teaching and classroom management, which is student-centered and focused on social and emotional learning. Our classroom communities are joyful, energizing, and safe, allowing each student to flourish as they prepare for the grades ahead.
Lower School Head John Kuckens has a proud history with school, being the founding 4th-grade teacher in 2016 and teaching other grades and subjects before taking on this role in 2023. From John: “Our students arrive at school with a wide range of strengths and competencies. Just as our 4th graders learn, there are all kinds of ways someone can be smart. At The Co-op School, teachers are excited to discover these qualities alongside them. We let student empowerment, choice, and curiosity lead the way whenever possible. We understand that there’s never just one way to get to an answer, and strive to create the experience of giving students problems to solve rather than facts to memorize. We are passionate about cultivating lifelong, joyful learners and responsible citizens who are prepared to engage with challenges and triumphs in school and in the world. Our low student-to-teacher ratio means our skilled and engaged teachers can teach to the individualities of every child. We want learning here to be joyful for both teachers and students.”
English Language Arts
We use a balanced literacy approach, which recognizes the need for both direct teaching of skills, as well as participation in activities that build comprehension and meaning. Students read and write in a variety of genres each year, both independently and in partnerships and groups. Beginning in the earliest years, teachers introduce and model a skill, like looking for clues about reading dialogue with expression. Students work together in small groups and then gather as a whole class to reflect on what they’ve learned. New literacy skills and challenges build on earlier ones, and students expand their vocabulary, grammar, and background knowledge as they read and write.
Deep attention is paid to mathematics content and to student thinking and understanding. The Co-op School uses carefully chosen curricula aligned to the content and practice standards of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Each supports investigation and problem-solving and promotes reasoning, communication, and higher-order thinking.
Social Studies Inquiry-based Projects
These projects are the core of our classroom activities. They encourage students to think and communicate as readers, writers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, and social scientists. This constructivist approach to teaching is infused into our classrooms through a Reggio Emilia inquiry-based Open Work/Project Work periods. Projects are planned with attention to state standards, teacher goals, and individual classroom curiosities.
These projects take an in-depth look into a particular topic. Classes work on subtopics in small or whole groups, occasionally even individually. Innate curiosity is expressed purposefully as students read, construct, research, interview, and create in various mediums. Students pursue their projects in the real world, through trips, interviews, and lively debates and conversations. Through it all, teachers balance support with observation. They step back, listen, and document student ideas and questions, as well as asking provoking questions and introducing new materials.
Through our Specials Program, students take a closer look at core concepts like Science, Movement, or Music, and spend dedicated time exploring our Library or Creative Maker Lab. Technology begins in the second grade.
Health and Wellbeing
Our Health program for third, fourth and fifth graders takes a holistic look at wellbeing. This eight-week program creates a safe and supportive environment and offers clear, accurate information about human development, community, and socioemotional wellness. Topics include diversity and inclusion, boundaries and consent, nutrition, puberty, gender identity, self-esteem, mindfulness and coping skills, and safe use of the internet.
The school day begins with drop-off followed by a morning meeting where students greet one another, read their morning message, discuss their schedule for the day and look at the calendar. Students have lunch in their classrooms with the classroom teacher. Daily recess is held on our rooftop playground. The closing circle occurs just before dismissal, where they reflect on their day together.
The Co-op School believes that reading should be a habit and a pleasure. Students spend a minimum of 20 minutes reading just-right books independently each night. For some children, teachers may also recommend short periods of additional study in targeted subjects. For example, families of Kindergarten through 3rd-grade students will regularly receive some activities that children can work on at home to reinforce reading and writing skills. Students in second and third grades may benefit from additional time spent using Dreambox Learning, an online platform for developing math skills. Parents support and encourage students by creating time and space to use these resources.
The Co-op School uses Northwestern Evaluation Association (NWEA) MAP Growth as a part of our assessment process starting in third grade. This adaptive computerized standardized assessment measures growth and proficiency. MAP is used in addition to other formal and informal assessments that take place in the classroom.
We believe that it is important to consider the whole student throughout the assessment process. While it can provide a “snapshot” view of the moment, testing doesn’t show the student’s whole set of strengths and abilities. However, assessments do help us chart student progress over time, pinpoint specific areas of strength and weakness, make needed changes to curricula, and create class groupings. Standardized test results are considered as one piece of data along with other performance evaluations, including teacher-made tests, projects, and creative assessments.
Early world language instruction builds verbal and social skills and fosters an interest in different cultures, so we include Spanish instruction in the curriculum for all Kindergarten to Fifth-grade students. Students engage with the language through conversation, storytelling, music, and games. They learn to communicate basic concepts and develop a cultural understanding of Spanish- speaking countries; first verbally, and then in writing.
Students engage with their community and make social connections through student council, chorus, drama, and health class, as well as overnight trips for fourth and fifth graders. Our extensive range of after-school enrichments offers optional activities from basketball to photography and more. And families and students participate in a host of annual community events—from a Kids Gala to Community Potluck—and education events like community open work, which lets members of the community share special skills with students.