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Academic Curriculum

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Academic Curriculum
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At Washington Heights Academy, we seek to balance hands-on, experiential learning experiences with high academic expectations and the development of critical thinking skills for all students through carefully planned and differentiated instruction. Teachers are encouraged to plan thematic, interdisciplinary units of study at all grade levels, while covering the mandated content, concepts, and skills for each discipline.



Literacy: Each school day includes approximately 90 minutes per day of literacy instruction, using a Balanced Literacy approach. Daily Readers Workshops include varied reading experiences, including read-alouds, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading and reader responses. Students’ reading levels are assessed regularly to ensure that students are reading books at their “just right” levels. Daily Writers Workshops are guided by a writing process approach, in which students brainstorm, outline, draft, confer, revise, edit and publish pieces of writing that are personally and intellectually relevant to students.

Mathematics: Each school day includes approximately 60 minutes per day of mathematics instruction, following the Everyday Math curriculum. In addition to teaching basic arithmetic skills, mathematics instruction includes opportunities for critical thinking, logical reasoning and problem-solving. Hands-on materials are often used to reinforce students’ understandings and to accommodate diverse learning styles.

Social Studies: Teachers follow a published curriculum, which includes student textbooks and workbooks, to guide their work in Social Studies. While this curriculum provides a spine for Social Studies instruction, teachers often supplement the curriculum with projects that foster student creativity and critical thinking. Social Studies is integrated, whenever possible, with the reading and writing curriculum, especially in the upper grades.

Science: Teachers follow a published curriculum, which includes student textbooks, workbooks and materials for experiments, to guide their work in Science. Students in all grades become familiar with the steps of the scientific method, as applied through actual classroom experiments, as well as specific science content and concepts outlined in grade-level standards. Hands-on experiences with scientific measurements and experiments are essential parts of the science curriculum.

Visual Arts: The visual arts program follows a spiraling curriculum, exposing students to various artistic materials and methods while encouraging creative thought and expression. The arts serve as an important means of addressing critical thinking and process: Making a sculpture helps to develop problem solving skills; drawing not only exercises fine motor skills but highlights concepts of symbolism and imagery. Students are given skills to create the work as well as taught how artists take an idea to the†fruition of an artistic product.

Rhythm and Movement: The Rhythm and Movement Program integrates music, movement, dance and health. This multi-disciplinary program borrows from the Orff-Schulwerk method, a philosophy based on the belief that music and movement should be active, joyful experiences. Rhythm and Movement class also emphasizes multi-cultural dance and music with an active goal that students learn about diverse cultures through the performing arts.

Social and Emotional Learning

Teachers and staff at Washington Heights Academy are trained in Responsive Classroom*, an approach to teaching that aims to create safe, friendly, supportive classrooms where all children can learn. The Responsive Classroom approach supports our school’s mission and core principles by offering a set of teaching practices that promote academic success and help to build strong, positive relationships among children, teachers and families. Schools across the country use Responsive Classroom, and report these outcomes:

  1. Improved social skills
  2. Increased academic engagement
  3. Positive classroom climate
  4. Greater learner investment and independence
  5. Fewer disruptive behaviors

Responsive Classroom practices that you will see in WHA classrooms include:

Circle Time/Morning Meeting: Teachers lead students in a daily gathering for friendly greetings, sharing of news, having fun together, and warming up for the day of learning ahead.

Creating Rules: Teachers collaborate with students to develop classroom rules that support everyone’s learning. By working with students to create classroom rules, teachers help children learn to think for themselves and act in caring and responsible ways.

Learning that is Active...: Children have time during the day to be active and explore their environment. They have opportunities to make choices, practice and make mistakes while they are learning. Teachers understand children’s need for physical activity, and use movement breaks or “energizers” to help children channel physical energy and refocus for learning.

… and Interactive: Teachers understand that academic learning happens best within a positive social context. Teachers plan lessons that include small group and partner work, and pay lots of attention to teaching positive social skills.

*  This section includes excerpts from Responsive Classroom Introductory Overview Resource Book, Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc. 2007. For more information, you can visit the Responsive Classroom website at www.responsiveclassroom.org.