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Grades 1-5

Lower School

Active learning has distinct energy in DCD’s Lower School

You can hear it in the sounds of children working on group projects, participating in class discussions, conducting experiments, and speaking during assemblies. Faculty teams in each grade plan and teach the curriculum cooperatively, joining their academic expertise and knowledge of children’s developmental needs to foster the strengths of each child. Our understanding and respect for the many different ways by which children learn enable us to design an engaging and robust curriculum that flexes for our students’ different learning styles.

A student presenting in front of the class.
A student raising their hand in class.
Students looking for items in nature.

Lower School Highlights

  • Small learning groups for more 1:1 attention

  • Curriculum-based field trips to enhance learning

  • Lower school assemblies to bring all students together

  • Opportunities for cross-grade connection

  • Theme-based learning approach

  • Rich and diverse classroom libraries

  • One to One technology to support curriculum

  • Recess twice a day

First grade is a wonderful year of growth, both inside and outside the classroom. Students are a part of a strong classroom community, and they learn to develop a respect for individuality, as well as a love of learning and exploration. The social curriculum is as important as academics, and how children learn is equally as important as what they learn. In this way, first graders encounter many opportunities to share their thinking with others, reflect on their successes and areas of growth, and interact with their peers in productive ways.

In one of the year’s social studies units, first graders learn first-hand what goes into building a community. Students learn about the people and places that make up a community. What jobs do people do? What resources do communities need to thrive? What kind of outdoor spaces are needed? What do the buildings look like? How do people connect? There’s reading, research, and design in this cross-curricular project. First graders particularly love the opportunity to build a model community each designing and contributing their own part of the community – a library, a fire station, a grocery store, some roads, and perhaps a park.

Second graders exhibit growing confidence and competence with their academic and social skills. During this year, the students take part in more challenging and creative experiences while working independently and cooperatively with their classmates. The second-grade curriculum emphasizes reading, oral and written language development, and mathematics. Students spend the year developing organizational skills and good work habits, as well as managing responsibility and their growing independence. By sharing and caring about one another, second graders learn the importance of being a part of the DCD community and the world beyond.

Students “travel” around the United States! As they explore the many geographic regions throughout our country, they learn about Indigenous People and practice research skills gathering fascinating facts about each state. This is a great introduction to geography!

Third Grade is all about independence! Our students learn how to do so much on their own this year! To emphasize this topic, even more, we spend the year focusing on American history starting from early immigration to the US, the establishment of the thirteen colonies, colonial times, slavery and the underground railroad, the revolutionary war, and end with the westward expansion. During all these time periods, people were yearning to be independent and free. Students engage in cross-curricular activities from reading books to exploring new vocabulary words, creating art projects, performing a class play, and partaking in a variety of hands-on activities. Themes of kindness, respect, and "trust in the process" run throughout our year together.

Students are assigned a country for their summer research project and upon returning to school, they share what they have learned about their countries. This launches their immigration unit in social studies which culminates with the World’s Fair. Gathered together with families and teachers, third graders share cultural traditions they would have brought with them if they were immigrating to the US. With customary food, clothing, stories, and songs, it’s quite an engaging experience with some great practice in public speaking!

In fourth grade, teachers encourage self-confidence, a love of learning, a sense of responsibility, and pride in accomplishment. Students are encouraged to become more articulate about their needs as learners, asking questions and seeking out assistance when needed. We emphasize problem solving, responsibility, collaboration, and community engagement. Through inquiry, exploration, discussion, and project work, students develop empathy by learning about themselves and others. Students explore human rights through the topics of LGBTQ+ history, the Black Lives Matter Movement, people with disabilities, and refugees. Through these units, they start developing an understanding of how to engage in the diverse world around them.

With each book that students study in reading class, they complete a final project. Students have a variety of choices regarding the types of projects they complete. They might channel their knowledge of a protagonist and write journal entries from their perspective, create a graphic novel, or use stop motion animation to recreate a scene from a book.

Fifth grade is the top rung of the lower school ladder and the precursor to the DCD middle school experience. In preparation for this transition, the fifth-grade year focuses on students’ developing more autonomy and responsibility while still being supported by the familiar routines and practices of the lower-school community. Fifth graders strive to think more critically and independently. At the same time, they continue to refine their skills with cooperative learning, conflict resolution, and personal organization. As leaders of the lower school division, fifth-graders act as role models for younger students. This is a year for enhanced academic, social, and personal maturation, which will serve as a solid foundation for moving on to middle school.

The Odyssey Storytelling Project one of the highlights of the year. It goes hand in hand with their social studies focus on ancient Greece. In this project, students develop an impressive knowledge of a classic piece of literature as they prepare to share their portion of Homer’s Odyssey. They work both independently to read, learn, synthesize, and present the material for their part and cooperatively to critique their peer’s interpretations and performances and to smooth transitions from one part to another. It’s wonderful for all to see how the individual parts come together to make a cohesive whole.

What the DCD Community is Saying

View All Testimonials

Before coming to DCD, our son was tentative about new situations and would hold back. Since being here, he seems to be able to walk into any situation with an air of confidence. The comfort and safety he has felt in his learning environment has enabled him to enjoy each new situation he encounters. He’s just ready to handle whatever comes his way!

Siobhan Clafflin DCD Parent

When I came here I was really shy. In 3rd grade, I had a goal with my teacher that I would work on speaking up. She encouraged me daily and I was inspired to continue to work on this. By the time I got to 4th grade, I thought, this is my school, I got this!

Caroline Class of 2021

The community around me at DCD is why I am where I am – especially the teachers. I had a safety net so to speak. If ever something was hard or scary, you have you community around you to lift you up, encourage and support you.

Mary Class of 2018

DCD is a place where you can send your child to get a hug while at the same time be motivated and pushed to excel in the classroom.

Steve Perry Class of 1985 & DCD Parent

Meet the Lower School Team

Carla Haith headshot

Carla Haith

Head of Lower School

Learn More About Carla