Bridging Between Academic Divisions

Student works with teacher at desk


Intentionality is at the core of St. Mary’s academic curriculum. Our faculty and staff communicate regularly across grades and divisions regarding coursework, learning patterns, and educational advancements to enhance the learning experience for our students.

One of the ways St. Mary’s showcases its academic intentionality is through a strategy called “vertical planning.” Vertical planning allows teachers in different grades and divisions to work together to ensure our curriculum is taught using buildable concepts. This planning makes it easier to comprehend more advanced iterations of the same concepts in later grades. 

“It takes a lot of time and a lot of planning, but the payoff is worth it. It's all student-focused but guides the instructional implementation for the teachers,” said North Campus Curriculum Director Jessica Lancaster. “We get a much better end product if everyone is part of the discussions, process, and planning.”

As part of vertical planning, teachers in adjacent grades work closely to ensure their curriculum pacing is cohesive, ensuring a seamless transition in curriculum goals between grade levels. 

“While we usually stay on pace, sometimes it depends on the needs of a particular group of students. Vertical planning ensures the next teacher has a solid understanding of the rising students and the previous grade's curriculum, which then guides their instruction and pacing going forward,” said Mrs. Lancaster

For instance, this year, Senior Kindergarten and first grade teachers observed one another’s classrooms to further enhance the connection between the Early Childhood Center and the Lower School.

“I gained a wealth of knowledge witnessing a fellow teacher's classroom management style, assessment technique, and curriculum instruction. Having a glimpse into a first-grade classroom provided me with a new outlook on how to prepare my girls for the coming grade,” said SK Teacher Genevieve Kuhar.

First grade teacher Elizabeth Ray concurred.

“The intentionality of the SK teachers enables the girls to transition into first grade with very few hiccups. Seeing the girls learning in SK offered insight into what rising first graders may be accustomed to when they walk through our doors in August,” said Ms. Ray.

“It’s been interesting for the first grade teachers to see how an SK classroom runs and how both grades approach math and literacy instruction,” said Mrs. Lancaster. “More importantly, it gets the teachers communicating and building relationships with each other.”

Vertical planning occurs across many subjects but is especially critical when introducing new curricula.

“We are updating our math curriculum for the third and fourth grades. This spring, we will have planning time for these teachers to work on their pacing for next year. At the beginning of that meeting, the two grades will meet to create an overarching plan before they separate to focus on their specific grade level,” said Mrs. Lancaster.

Sometimes, vertical planning can include special subject teachers like art, counseling, and science. 

“Recently, some of our Lower School specialist teachers have joined classroom teachers during language arts planning. Adding these voices creates collaborative, cool projects that build off of knowledge from our core curriculum,” said Mrs. Lancaster.

The intentionality of vertical planning continues throughout the Lower School and includes select subjects in Middle School. “The Lower School shares its structure with the Middle School in literature, grammar, and math,” Mrs. Lancaster continues. “We let them know our pacing guides so those teachers have a clear idea of what's been covered when the students transition to the South Campus.

While the impact of this planning and these conversations benefits the students, it’s also appreciated among the faculty and staff. 

“I feel grateful that I teach in a community that values collaboration across grade levels," said Ms. Kuhar.

“The goal is to build a bridge of understanding and communication between the divisions so educators aren’t teaching in isolation,” added Mrs. Lancaster.

  • All-School
  • Early Childhood
  • Lower School

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