At Equitas Academy we recognize that literacy is the key academic skill on which all-future skill and knowledge acquisition is based. We create structures and systems to ensure our scholars master literacy skills and develop a deep love of reading.
Scholars in kindergarten through third grade receive intensive phonics and phonemic awareness instruction through the Reading Mastery program to ensure they have a solid foundation in fundamental reading skills. We simultaneously introduce in TK/Kindergarten to the basics of reading, exposing scholars to a range of literature and informational texts.
In terms of writing, kindergarten scholars combine drawing, dictating, and writing to express ideas and narrate events through our implementation of the Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop. Over the years they begin to show a command of the English language regarding grammar and usage when writing and speaking. They hone their speaking skills by participating in collaborative discussions with different partners about the texts or key topics covered in class.
Each subsequent grade builds upon the reading, writing, speaking, listening and language skills introduced in kindergarten. The instruction at each grade level includes increasingly complex reading materials and as the scholars develop stronger skills, they assume more independence in their work assignments.
A foundation of strong literacy skills developed in the primary years through the instruction of a balanced literacy program allows literacy instruction in the upper grades to focus powerfully on deep comprehension of a variety of fiction and non-fiction texts. We recognize that reading proficiency is essential to the mastery of all other academic subjects. Scholars must graduate from Equitas Academy reading at or above grade level in order to be successful in college.
Math Skills + Math Problem Solving
Equitas Academy students have a daily mathematics course that focuses on computation and a second math session daily that focuses on application and other critical math skills. We utilize Eureka Math along with teacher created resources for our computation course, and teach Cognitively Guided Instruction as our model for our problem solving. In TK/kindergarten we introduce counting skills and the concepts of addition and subtraction. To create a basic foundation for place values, we expand students’ number knowledge to include 11-19. Our teachers help students grasp a basic understanding of measurement by comparing “measurable characteristics.” They also introduce problem-solving skills and other mathematical practices in age-appropriate ways.
The curriculum recognizes that students need both basic fact knowledge and “automaticity” with procedural computation as well as deep understanding of conceptual concepts and the ability to solve complex mathematical problems. All Equitas Academy students know their addition and subtraction facts by the end of second grade and their times tables by the end of third grade. Students are expected to complete basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division computations to 95 percent accuracy. Teachers require students to apply this strong basic skills knowledge in challenging problem-solving situations. Specifically, students are expected to: use basic symbols to solve simple and complex problems; gather and interpret data using graphs and charts, predict outcomes of probability experiments; and solve problems involving proportional relationships. We use a problem-solving supplement that provides daily demonstration of problem-solving skills.
Our social studies curriculum follows the comprehensive and challenging California State Standards and now incorporate the Common Core as well. Teachers use the state adopted California Vistas textbook program to present curriculum in an engaging and challenging format. Teachers expect students to master the key concepts and vocabulary, and they also teach them to analyze primary sources, debate different points of view, and make cause-and-effect connections. Social studies classes are fast-paced and teachers work with students to hone their non-fiction reading skills, learn important content, and apply and retain it in written essays and oral presentations.
Science instruction combines student mastery of core vocabulary and conceptual knowledge with the application of scientific principals in laboratory settings. The science program is designed to address all the California Science standards, which were recently modified to align with the Next Generation Science Standards (www.nextgenscience.org). We agree with current thought leaders in the science community that “learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage scientific inquiry and engineering design.”
In kindergarten, students acquire basic knowledge about energy flow, understanding that animals need food to survive, while plants need water and light. They are introduced to weather and climate concepts, and grasp the meaning of natural resources and natural hazards. Teachers organize activities that help students understand humans’ impact on our environment. Students also learn about motion and stability, connecting the push-pull dynamic. Many of the science standards covered in kindergarten simultaneously help them to comprehend “cause” and effect.”
For each subsequent grade, our teachers employ scaffolding techniques to build students’ science knowledge and to foster their sense of curiosity about the physical world they live in and the energy forces they observe. At culmination of our program, students’ understanding about energy flow, a topic first introduced in kindergarten, deepens to the point that they realize that energy from food was once energy from the sun, which was captured through photosynthesis by plants. They appreciate the interdependence of ecosystems. Students comprehend gravity and the effect of the sun on earth given its proximity compared to other stars. Students learn that matter can be subdivided into particles and understand that chemical reactions can occur when different substances combine. As a highly valuable long-term skill, they learn the principles of engineering design and are able to identify problems and strategies to test for solutions.
Using both the hands-on FOSS science curriculum with the Harcourt Science textbook ensures students have access to an engaging and challenging curriculum. Science assessments, for example, include sections that focus on the key terms and ideas of a unit as well as a performance task component that requires students to synthesize and analyze data from laboratory experiments. Teachers also actively work to reinforce key mathematical concepts, especially graphing and measurement skills.
The Equitas Academy curriculum incorporates a rigorous and developmentally appropriate program of values and character education to prepare students to thrive in school, college and the world. This curriculum guides all students with the life skills necessary to create self-motivated, competent, and lifelong learners. Established curriculum such as Second Step and Morning Meetings are used along with developmentally appropriate texts that highlight and teach our school’s core values of curiosity, optimism, gratitude, grit, self-control, social intelligence and zest. These values are the basis of a school culture that provides a safe and productive environment necessary for the academic, social, and emotional growth of every student. We believe that ethics are important in creating civic individuals. Ethics combined with perseverance help students to successfully confront the challenges they will face as they grow and mature and to avoid self-destructive behaviors and situations they may face as adolescents and young adults.
The development of perseverance and/or grit is particularly key to our students’ success. Therefore, we focus on this value and drill the mantra that you must work hard. We are charged with helping students develop the capacity, when faced with difficult decisions and situations, to make educated decisions and not run from difficult situations but rather have learned to deal with challenges with a strategy to mitigate the challenges they face. Teacher professional development includes significant time devoted to common practices for positively dealing with academic errors on tests or mistakes made in homework, helping students build confidence, and fostering and modeling integrity, perseverance, dignity, pride, respect, and compassion. We create learners that feel confident about learning and have the skill sets to understand how to sit still, focus, be quiet, listen well, and organize themselves for successful learning.
Much of the emphasis in the primary years on character education is furthered with the ethics curriculum in the upper elementary grades as students become more self-aware and autonomous. Students in the upper elementary grades have an opportunity to explore multicultural literature in the pursuit of ethics, or the study of what it means to be a good person. Students read a collection of materials to explore the philosophy of what is right and what is wrong and engage in debates, written analysis and deeper level thinking on ethical issues.
Morning Meetings: Each day it is important for the Equitas staff to convey the urgency and excitement of learning. The tone of the day is set with the first interaction. Every morning, the leadership team, along with teachers, greets students with a morning handshake. Once students pass through the school threshold, a professional, considerate and scholarly environment is maintained. Building on the morning handshake, each student begins their day with an emphasis on the Equitas Academy core values. The primary teachers implement Morning Meetings as this sets the tone for a respectful learning environment. Morning Meetings motivate students and create an environment of trust, community, respect, and scholarship. The meeting format includes the teacher beginning with a class greeting using class chants or a group motto, group activities, and closing. In addition, morning meetings provide opportunities for developing student vocabulary, oral language and team building skills. While a short period of the day, it sets the tone for the learning community and extends beyond the meeting.
Community Meeting: Justice, fairness, and equity also are important values infused throughout the school culture and rituals. Through studying nonviolent social movements for justice, learning strategies for problem solving and conflict resolution, and our emphasis on respect for self, perseverance, and respect for others, our students learn to navigate challenges and conflicts in a peaceful way.
To create this school culture and infuse the ethics curriculum on a school-wide level, every Friday all students come together to participate in a Community Meeting, where teachers and school leaders exemplify and celebrate the school’s core values. Explicitly teaching values helps students achieve and succeed in our rigorous, college preparatory academic program, and grows students into young adults that embody the values that build self and community beyond the schoolhouse doors. The school leadership and teachers celebrate student progress, prepare lessons to illustrate the core values and bring a global perspective of justice, equity and fairness through presentations and activities.