The Lower School introduces students to the World Perspectives Program at GFA. Starting in pre-kindergarten and progressing through to fifth grade, students learn how to develop empathy for people living in their immediate communities and in faraway parts of the world.
Through picture books, classroom conversations, and research projects, students explore the history and traditions of societies from around the world. They strive to understand the ways in which other cultures are both similar and different from their own, while exploring ideas of fairness, social justice, and what it means to be a global citizen.
World Perspectives in the Classroom
As GFA’s youngest learners, lower school students delight in opportunities to step into other’s shoes through simulations, crafts and games, and field and service trips. From greeting each other in different languages at our daily morning meetings to units of study that delve into the daily lives of people from other cultures, lower school students learn to celebrate cultural difference and think critically about how climate, natural resources, and religion affect the human experience. Each grade has a key unit that focuses on introducing world perspectives into the classroom.
Kindergarten: The Maasai Study
Kindergarten students engage in a semester long study of the Maasai culture. They learn to become keen observers as they explore how life as a GFA student compares to the lifestyle of the Maasai people. Students then write and ask insightful questions to a Maasai warrior over the phone, which helps them to expand their knowledge of other cultures and to celebrate the things that unite us as a global community.
First Grade: Community Study
Students in first grade explore the concept of community and their role in it. By stepping outside their own wants and needs, students take their first steps in becoming a global citizen. They visit landmarks such as the police office, post office and fire station in order to understand the many ways these leaders keep local communities safe and thriving. They then synthesize this information by designing a town out of cardboard, utilizing everything they have learned about what makes a community successful.
Second Grade: Mapping and Research
Second grade’s geography unit asks students, “What do maps teach us about the way people in different places live?” Students learn to study topography maps, climate maps and population maps in order to predict how people dress around the world, what they eat and what they do for fun. They read texts about cultures in different countries and explore the ways in which geography shapes the traditions, food and dress, and historical events around the world.
Third Grade: Immigration Unit
Each year third grade students look to their own family trees to shed light on how the United States became a land of many different cultures and heritages. Each student chooses a country that their descendants called home and then steps into the shoes of an immigrant setting off for Ellis Island. Through this study they learn cultural information about the country their descendants came from as well as exploring what the conditions were like for immigrants heading to America. As a cumulative project, students participate in a simulation where they must pass various tests in order to be admitted to the United States, just as their ancestors who came before them. This eye-opening project helps students learn about their own history and the history of immigration.
Fourth Grade World News
Fourth grade students are also hard at work researching about the world around them. Each week different students are responsible for a different portion of the class’s weekly news report. The news highlights GFA news, domestic news and includes an international report, where students teach their classmates about a recent event that is going on beyond the United States border. World news topics could include an update on the Winter Olympics, an important weather event such as a hurricane, or an upcoming holiday or celebration in another part of the world.
Fifth Grade Peace Teams
Our eldest lower school students, act as our Peace Team leaders. The Peace Games is an annual field day where students participate in games that promote cooperation and international acceptance. Each team is assigned a country, which our fifth grade students research and report on to the kindergarten-fourth grade members of their team. Students then work as a team to write a cheer that incorporates the customs of that country. Peace Games is a highlight of the year in lower school and we rely on our fifth graders and their impressive research skills to help inform us about the countries we each represent that day.
Science and the Renewable Energy Fair
Each year students in grades first through fifth grade participate in the Lower School’s Renewable Energy Fair. This twist on the more classic science fair, helps students to explore alternative energy sources that help take care of our planet and its citizens. Each grade explores different types of energy and builds projects that harness and utilize wind, solar and geothermal energy. Some lower school favorites include the third grade’s solar s’more cookers and fourth grade’s electricity producing wind turbines.
Students in grades pre-kindergarten through third grade participate in twice weekly Spanish immersion classes, where they learn to speak, listen, and write in Spanish. Through games and songs they learn the building blocks to becoming fluent Spanish speakers. They also explore Spanish and Hispanic culture, learning vocabulary to understand Hispanic traditions. Second and third grade Spanish students explore Dia de los Muertos through crafts and stories. Students create decorations to help create a school wide alter that pays tribute to the holiday as well as honors and celebrates those who have passed away.
Fourth and fifth grade students are introduced to French through twice weekly immersion classes. Here, they act out plays and ad lib conversations that help them grow as French speakers, writers and listeners. They are also introduced to the art of French cooking. Through working as a class to make classic French dishes, students learn important vocabulary as well as a cultural understanding for how each dish is important in France and the French speaking world.
While Lower School students learn how to operate technology at their fingertips, they also become aware of how technology helps them connect to the global community and build their understanding of the world around them. First grade students culminate their community study by 3-D printing a city that includes all of the major attributes a population needs to remain safe, healthy and happy.
In second and third grade, students use technology as a research tool, learning how to find and sort through information to help them learn about their own community and countries around the world. Second grade students also witness first-hand how technology brings our world closer together, by mystery video chatting with a school from Germany. By asking thought-provoking questions, and using their knowledge of geography, students must determine where their new friends are in the world, while also learning about life and school in Germany.
In fourth grade, technology and art combine as part of a STEAM initiative, in which students learn about Moroccan tile mosaics. After creating their own paint mosaics in art, they project continues when they use computer programming to create a 3-D stamp of their design.
Students across the lower school are exposed to a wide variety of cultures through art projects that allow them to experiment with techniques from different parts of the world. Kindergarten students are introduced to the textile crafts of central Mexico, in particular, the yarn paintings of the Huichol people of Jalisco.
Students discover similarities and differences between their own lives and the lives of the Huichol people and learn how important nature is to the Huichol people. The students then design images for their yarn paintings that honors nature and use only colored strands of yarn to complete their painting. Second grade students explore the meaning and form of the Mandala from India. They use their knowledge to create similarly symmetrical shapes, which they carve and tool into metal sheets. Fourth grade students study geometric patterning is Islamic Art, focusing on mosaics from Morocco. After examining repetitive and symmetrical mosaics, students create their own patterns which they then tape onto paper, paint and finally peal to reveal colorful mosaic designs.
In library class, traditions and cultures from around the world come to life through stories. During a unit on Caldecott Award winners, first grade students explore beautiful pictures books that introduce them to a variety of characters and settings, from places far away to some in their own backyard. As part of this exploration, first graders read Lon Po Po, the Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood, and think about the many ways the story is similar and different from the versions they have come to know and love.
Second grade students engage in a folktales unit, in which they learn to identify the defining characteristics of this genre. Students read folktales from around the world, including the Chinese tale Tikki Tikki Tembo and the Southern United States story The Talking Eggs. The unit instills in students an understanding that storytelling is universal. In fourth grade, students embark on a fairy tales unit, in which they research different versions of fairy tales from around the world, analyzing similarities across the tales, as well as what makes each version unique.
Community Service and Service Learning
Thanksgiving Food Drive
The fifth grade students are the leaders of our lower school, helping to guide their peers in service learning. Leading by example, fifth grade students organize a Thanksgiving Food Drive, and help their younger peers to understand the importance of playing their part in helping those in their own community we are less fortunate. Our fifth grade leaders then deliver the nonperishable food items that help to collect to the Salvation Army. By delivering these goods first hand, they are able to witness first-hand the impact their actions have on the world around them.
The Mitten Tree
Throughout the year, fifth grade students continue to act as our service-learning guides, leading us in helping to collect mittens and winter hats for families in need of these winter essentials. Not only do these service opportunities help the lower school community band together, but they empower our students, especially our fifth graders by helping them to see the change they can create through acts of kindness.
Second Grade Post Office
The second grade post office comes every February. During this service learning project, students make stamps to sell. Students who buy these stamps use them to send letters around the lower school, which the second graders then sort and deliver. Not only is this a chance to learn about money in a very hands-on way, by making change and collecting coins, it also helps them to learn about an important service in our community: the mail system.