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Waterford parents had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Melanie Battistone, Lower School Head and Asstistant Head of School, as well as Dr. Brandon Bennett, Associate Head of School during January’s Parent Assocation meeting. Battistone and Bennett spoke about the curriculum and program at Waterford School, below you will find transcriptions of what they shared. 

Speech given by Dr. Battistone at January Parent Association Meeting

Good morning! 

I am delighted to be sharing with you this morning something near and dear to my heart, and that is my purposeful work in the Lower School.  I know that fortune has smiled upon me, because I am privileged to spend my days with 468 beautiful children–your children. So I want to start by saying thank you for entrusting your children to us.  

This morning, I am excited to talk about the LS program, and how it relates to our Mission.  Parents, you experience Waterford through the eyes of your children. I want to give you a behind the scenes look, highlighting a some recent enhancements, and, to bring you in on how we think about how we are doing–our outcome measures. 

So: program, enhancements, and outcomes.  Here we go….

First, our academic program. In Lower School, we begin with the building blocks–this is the ‘stimulating intellect’ part of our mission.  To form a firm foundation, we teach the core subjects of reading, math, writing, and history/social studies, beginning in PreK and laddering up through Class V. Reading. Math. Writing. History.  

I want to pause a moment on reading. Recently, I did a deep dive into some of the latest research on literacy education. And I have to tell you what went through my mind.  I’m at the perfect school!  Waterford has stayed out of the pendulum swings of the reading wars, holding steady with a solid program of explicit, multisensory instruction in phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, spelling, and handwriting. All of these essential skills are brought to life throughout your child’s Lower School journey through book clubs, journals, and special units of study–for example, Greek Myths, Famous Americans, and the Bird Unit, to name just a few.

Similarly, our math program begins with fundamental number sense, and moves to the basic skills of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, measurement, and time, so that students have a strong foundation upon which to build as they move to more abstract math concepts. Our goal is for our students to develop math reasoning, problem-solving, and to be able to communicate their mathematical ideas.  

And now, a brief foray into cognitive psychology.  All while learning foundational skills, students are literally soaking up content knowledge. Why is this so important?  Because content is the essential cognitive framework to which knowledge is added. The more content knowledge students are exposed to, the more background information about the world they will develop.  The more background information students have, the more likely they will be able to absorb additional information and new vocabulary.  It’s exponential! In fact, background knowledge has been described as the Velcro that helps each new piece of information stick.  

And here’s the real beauty of a Liberal Arts Education.  Because, not only are our students learning how to read, do math, write, and understand history, they are also absorbing vocabulary and content knowledge in Theater, Art, Music, Dance, PE, Computer Science, Chess, Science, and Library. 

This interstitial space between content and skills is where we see passion ignite.  When a student has the skills to read a book about a snow leopard, and they write about it, and they draw it, and they present about it at the Endangered Animal Exhibit–they develop a deep interest in it. They are invested in it. They want to protect the Snow Leopard.  And they will want every single stuffed animal snow leopard that they can get their hands on! 

Now, program enhancements.  Last Spring, many of you completed a parent survey, and shared a desire for more after school programming.  We heard you, and have increased the number of activities for Lower School students to include Waterford Dance Academy, the new Waterford Vocal Academy, Robotics Club (held in the Murray Science Center), Knitting Club, Math Club, Outdoor Club, Theater, Forest School, and Chess Club. And by the way, the Utah Chess Association’s state tournament will move from the University of Utah to Waterford, and will be held on Saturday, March 30th. And, Lacrosse may be on the way.

We know you value parent connections. We are returning to grade-level spring Community Connections with the theme, Ages and Stages where Lower School Counselor, Jenny Wojcikowski, will cover developmental milestones, how we support your children in meeting those, and how you can too. We will also be hosting a Parent Book Group in February to discuss Good Inside, by Becky Kennedy. 

In the spirit of teaching excellence, our teachers are continually seeking rich professional development opportunities. A few examples: 

  • Supporting and Developing Executive Function in the Lower Grades
  • Study of Vocal Anatomy and Pedagogy – the interaction of anatomy, physiology, and pedagogy, with the development of voice across childhood, differentiating instruction across development levels
  • Purposeful Play to Increase Students’ Academic Learning and Social Emotional Growth

Another enhancement…..in Computer Science, Jen Johnston (Computer Science teacher) and Paula Getz (Director of Curriculum and Instruction), have developed a Computer Science framework that builds vertically and integrates with other academic subjects. 

Math enhancements…..​​ Class III students are doing “math investigations” based on the “thinking classroom” a research-based model of student engagement and challenge in math.  Students are given low floor/high ceiling tasks where everyone can contribute regardless of skill level. In groups of 3, they work on non-permanent  vertical surfaces with just 1 dry-erase marker to complete 1 task at a time, and where tasks get progressively more complicated. Each student has to contribute by showing and explaining their thinking. By taking away the “front of the classroom” students (unknowingly) rely less on their teachers and more on each other and their own problem-solving skills. We are learning that students love it! (and so do the teachers!) This model could easily be expanded across grade levels. 

Finally, we attend to the whole child.  As many of you know, Jenny goes into classrooms to teach essential life skills including conflict resolution, how to join in play, how to develop emotional fluency.  

Outcomes.  Our Lower School Administrative team includes Melissa Armenta (Assistant LS Director), Jenny Wojcikowski (LS Counselor), Nicole Kennedy (LS Nurse), Paula Getz (Director of Curriculum and Instruction), and myself. Together, we have developed a set of metrics that help us track progress over time in 3 key areas: 

  • Academic program
  • Students
  • Faculty

A few examples of what we pay attention to….K-V reading assessments tell us that roughly 90% of our students are at or above grade level

Attendance–we look at attendance because students aren’t able to learn if they aren’t in school

We look at the number of students and families that Jenny has supported throughout the year

With regard to Faculty:

-How many participate in professional development and coaching (both new and veteran teachers)?

-Faculty retention- do our teachers stay with us?

-We measure-–in adjacent ways–our faculty culture.  Are our teachers happy? Do they love what they do? Do they feel valued?  

We also are striving to strengthening relationships with Playground and lunch staff, bus drivers, parking lot and cleaning crew and Extended Day. They all have a different interface with parents, facilities, and students, and we see them as part of our school community. 

I hope that today’s talk has illuminated the continual thought and intention that goes into the Lower School program, the faculty, and the students. We have all the necessary parts–an exceptional academic program, incredible faculty, staff and administration, invested parents, and most of all, your children and their bright futures.  

Thank you for listening today—

Speech given by Dr. Bennett at January Parent Association Meeting

Good morning! It’s a true pleasure to talk with you about our program in Middle and Upper School.

Our mission is to provide a world-class liberal arts education that stimulates intellect, ignites passion, and shapes character. If we strip away, for the moment, any thought of specific achievement outcomes—like honors and college acceptances—and focus solely on the capacities and qualities our children will have developed at the time of graduation, what would we hope for? 

I think we’d want our children to graduate as individuals with integrity in every sense of the word. We’d want them to be curious, ready to explore beyond our campus, fully ready to learn at college and throughout life. We would want them to feel a sense of responsibility, first of all for themselves, for their own behavior and their own learning—a capacity for resourcefulness and resilience in the face of challenge, the ability to initiate and follow through, as well as an understanding of when and how to seek help from others, and also when and how to give help to others. We would want them to have developed an understanding of what excellence looks like across many domains, and we would also want them to have learned how to want to pursue excellence in their own lives, all the  time appreciating that perfection isn’t possible and isn’t the goal. And we would want them to care about others and about making their world a better, kinder place.

We would probably also want to know they had developed a set of foundational learning skills:

  • The ability to read with insight and appreciation for nuance and complexity
  • The ability to write with clarity and precision, and to adapt a message to different contexts, audiences, and purposes
  • A capacity for mathematical reasoning and scientific inquiry
  • The ability to carry on a conversation in a non-native language
  • The ability to create, both in artistic disciplines, and in any kind of endeavor where creativity is an asset
  • And still other things that we associate with good education and good character:
    • A capacity for hard work and self-mastery
    • An ability to stay calm in the face of pressure
    • An openness to different ways of thinking and a commitment to intellectual humility
    • A capacity to get along with others and to bridge ideological divides
    • A strong sense of self
    • A deserved confidence
    • An awakened sense of where one’s passions may lie
    • A capacity for optimism
    • A sense of purpose 

The Middle and Upper School program takes the mission aspirations seriously, and strives to create the kind of environment, filled with both challenges and opportunities, both rigor and joy, that will allow students to develop into individuals who possess the qualities and capacities I have just described. We can’t promise that every student is fully formed at graduation. That’s not how education—or life—works. But the program is designed to stimulate intellect, ignite passion, and shape character along these lines.

We have organized the Middle and Upper School program around three pillars—academics, arts, and athletics—each of which has its roots in the classical world, where the liberal arts were born. We look specifically to the works of Plato, whose Republic lays out the course of study for the Philosopher Kings, those ideal rulers he envisions for his ideal republic. The training for Philosopher Kings, like the training for Waterford students, is holistic, aiming to educate the whole person—mind, body, and spirit. Plato’s curriculum for Philosopher King inaugurated the 2500-year history of what we now call liberal arts education. We see the general outline of that ancient starting place in our commitment to a rigorous set of academic requirements in English, history, mathematics, science, world languages, and computer science; in our commitment to the expectation that all students will pursue sustained study in both the visual and performing arts; and in our commitment to the crucial importance of physical fitness and competitive experience in athletics. 

Beyond Greek philosophy, our program is conditioned by the specific expectations of the colleges and universities where our students will seek admission to continue their education after graduation from Waterford. Our 4-year high school requirements in English and math prepare students for the reading, writing, and calculating demands of a college curriculum. The three-year requirements in history, science, and world languages further train the minds of students, readying them for the inquiry and analysis they will face in the years ahead. The commitment to the arts and to athletics is less directly tied to college preparation—although colleges clearly value applicants with the kind of well-rounded records Waterford students have. The deeper rationale for our requirements in the arts and athletics lies in the impact those experiences have on the other parts of the human experience. Education should be for the mind, the body, and the spirit, if it is to succeed at stimulating intellect, igniting passion, and shaping character.

The standard we set for ourselves as teachers at Waterford is deep learning—learning that works its way into the souls of the learners, challenging them, inspiring them, and ultimately changing them. We don’t meet this standard every minute of every day. Education is an imperfect, often messy process, and we are working with adolescents whose very existence is defined by imperfection and messiness. But we know what deep learning looks like, and we achieve it often enough to know that our work is having an effect, and that our students are—sometimes in spite of themselves—becoming the kinds of individuals I sketched at the outset of this talk. When deep learning is happening in a classroom, you can feel it as you enter the room. Students and teachers are fully engaged. The lesson has become a dialogue—a conversation animated by shared inquiry. No one is watching the clock or waiting for the bell. Everyone is immersed in the activity of thinking, exploring, doing, learning. When there are enough of these moments over time in a course or activity, something begins to change for students. They begin to shift their sense of self, and to feel a deeper connection to the subject. They may even begin to identify with the activity and start to see themselves less as students doing academics, arts, and athletics, and more as scholars, artists, and athletes. This deeper level of immersion in the activity leads to higher levels of competence and mastery—which in turn leads to more creative engagement. In these situations, education becomes self-propelling, energized by powerful feedback loops that allow students to take off and fly higher than we ever imagined. Even when such flights don’t happen—and, to be honest, they don’t happen every day—the experience of education is at its best when we are all animated by the aspiration for deep learning. It’s the liberal arts ideal that we are always aiming for in the Middle and Upper School program. 

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