If you stop by Elmwood’s Junior School on a Tuesday or Thursday around noon, you are likely to be met with a flurry of excitement. There you will find yogis and dancers milling about, while artists and scientists gear up for their next big project. You might even hear murmurings of French, Spanish and Mandarin, as students rehearse their newly acquired language skills.
This is all thanks to the new Junior School Enrichment program, which was introduced in September 2018 after a months-long design-thinking process. “Design thinking starts with a powerful question being developed,” explains Christine Blackadar, Deputy Head of Elmwood’s Junior School. “The question we landed on was: How might we rethink the school day to create a richer, more meaningful experience in our Junior School?”
Based on the success of the Middle School Enrichment program, which launched in 2017, the school decided to create a new version that was geared more towards our younger students. The resulting Enrichment block provides girls in Grades 1-5 with two 50-minute periods a week that are dedicated entirely to co-curricular activity.
A main goal of this new Enrichment program was to eliminate the need for lunch-time clubs, which require students to miss out on recess. By removing clubs from the hectic lunch hour, this time is now dedicated entirely to nutrition, relaxation and play, which Grade 2 teacher Chandra Wiegand notes is a key benefit of the schedule change. “Play and the development of social skills are of great importance at the primary and junior years,” she says. The new program also allows students to enjoy Enrichment activities for a longer period of time and engage with them in a more meaningful way.
Program leaders, which include Junior, Middle and Senior School staff, as well as outside instructors, offer weekly sessions that cover everything from creative arts to STEM to physical activity. The programs offered throughout this first year were incredibly wide-ranging. Students with a flair for the arts could choose from Introduction to Irish Dance (taught by Sue Fay Healy, owner of the renowned SFH dance studio), Writer’s Workshop, Sketchnoting and more, while those curious about the world around them could take part in Lab Rats, Mandarin Club, and Latin and the Roman World—all of which were led by Senior School faculty who are experts in their respective fields.
There were also plenty of opportunities to stay active and learn a new sport. This year alone, students studied everything from yoga to rock-climbing to running and fitness. It was often during these more physical activities that faculty saw the most significant personal development. As one teacher noted, “During the rock-climbing Enrichment, I witnessed a lot of student growth, as the girls challenged themselves and pushed themselves to limits that they perhaps didn’t know they could reach.”
Through the Enrichment program, students are granted the power to choose two activities each term, putting them in control of their own learning. Additionally, the fact that there are no grades involved means the focus is on learning for the sake of learning. This helps empower students to step outside of their comfort zone and try new things—regardless of prior knowledge in a subject area or perceived skill level.
“Teachers also remarked that they really enjoyed teaching multi-age groups and watching different relationships and interactions develop,” notes Ms. Blackadar. “We frequently observed older students stepping forward to support younger students and the younger girls set new goals based on the skills of older students.” One group of Grade 3 students were so inspired by this dynamic that they recently proposed their own Enrichment activity. They are currently working with Ms. Blackadar to create and run an Enrichment class for their peers, which will hopefully begin in September 2019.
However, the Enrichment program is only one way that the Junior School has been expanding its co-curricular offerings as of late. The 2018 – 2019 school year also saw the introduction of a new, optional Skill Builders schedule, which runs twice a week after school. During this time, Elmwood faculty offer a variety of skill-building activities such as math facts, French verbs, keyboarding and cursive handwriting. These 30-minute sessions offer a supportive, low-stakes environment for students to develop foundational skills, and are available at no cost to anyone looking for additional practice or enrichment.
At Elmwood, we are always looking for innovative ways to inspire our students to reach their full potential. Through these programs, our Junior School girls have been encouraged to step outside of their comfort zones, uncover new talents, and develop their friendships. It was wonderful to see them respond so enthusiastically and embrace the programs wholeheartedly. As both the Enrichment and Skill Builder programs continue to grow, we look forward to providing even more rich, meaningful learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom.