Technology Transforms a Beloved Tradition

Today I learned about some very special people in the lives of our Grade 4 students. I learned about parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, a police officer in the K9 division, a reporter, a musician, a mentalist, entrepreneurs, and many other interesting friends.

For years, the Biography Tea has been one of the highlights of our Grade 4 curriculum. Students composed books about a beloved family member or friend, presented them before a large group in the Library, and then we all enjoyed a lovely tea reception afterwards. The Biography Tea is a culminating project that concludes Grade 4’s biography study in reading and writing.  

COVID restrictions created an opportunity for us to rethink the way this event transpired, and it ended up evolving in some very meaningful ways. First, our teachers changed the name of the event to the VIP Celebration. Instead of composing with pencil and paper, the students used the StoryJumper app to create illustrated books that can later be physically printed. Students developed their research skills, learned to “show not tell” with their pictures and narrative, and honed the editing process, being mindful of their audience. The stories explored the individual’s memories, favorite teacher, first job, accomplishments, and words of wisdom. 

For the ceremony itself, our guests–the parents, grandparents, and special friends who are featured in the books–joined via Zoom as the students read their creations. The students were excited to honor their loved ones in meaningful ways. 

So although there wasn’t a tea reception this year, our students created professional quality books and proved to be quite the talented biography authors. We’re so very proud of our Dragons’ publications; even better, our Dragons are also proud of what they have accomplished.  

Danny Vogelman

Head of School

Making Time for Fun

As we draw to a close of one of the most unusual years in WES’s history, our faculty have been making sure our Dragons have time for a little good old-fashioned fun. After a year of quarantines and physical distancing, we all truly need it. 

Our Middle School faculty transported Grade 7 to Europe right here on campus last Friday night as part of their “WES Italia Night.” The students dined on homemade antipasti, gourmet Italian pizza and Italian ices; used Euro to purchase souvenirs; climbed to the top of the WES rooftop to simulate the walk to the Duomo at the Vatican (and had their picture taken in true tourist fashion!); practiced their Italian; and planted basil seeds so they could later create homemade pesto. (You can see photos of the evening HERE.)

The Early Childhood students have been taking over the Turf Field the last few weeks, creating a May Day surprise coming soon (digitally) to your house. Even with masks, our youngest students enjoy celebrating spring with song and dance! 

Just like the cicadas are busy coming up from the ground, our Elementary students have been venturing off campus to explore the Capital Crescent Trail, nearby creeks, and Kenwood Park. Many of our Dragons have also taken a keen interest in the cicadas, and are excitedly searching for new shells during recess.

This week has been Spirit Week for the Middle School, and depending on the day, you might have been able to spot a Harry Potter, Nats jersey, or a disco lover wandering the third floor. Our Spirit Squad has also been very busy creating decorations and signage for tomorrow’s Field Day. 

Speaking of Field Day, we’re thrilled to be able to host a traditional Field Day this year, and our Blue and Gold rivalry continues. Our Dragons will enjoy a morning of water balloons, tug of war, and various relay races, finishing the day with a sweet treat from Carmen’s Italian Ice. The culminating event will be the time-honored tradition of the faculty vs. Grade 8 soccer game. Grade 8 is the odds-on favorite to take the game, but we’ll see if our teachers and staff can rally. 

Alongside all of the great trips that I mentioned last week, our Dragons are making wonderful memories with their teachers and friends, and finishing the year with much joy. 

Danny Vogelman

Head of School

Why Math Matters in Early Childhood Education

Sorting objects. Building with blocks. Playing with different types of shapes. If you wander into a WES Nursery or Pre-K room on any given day, you’ll see lots of these types of activities. It may look like play (and it is) but it’s also laying the foundation for algebraic thinking.

Research shows that early math skills are the best predictor of academic success later in life. When early numeracy is developed in our youngest learners it builds flexible thinking and problem solving. So what does it take to provide your child with a strong foundation for achievement? 

“Of course we teach the children their numbers and counting, but our mathematics curriculum is so much deeper,” says Mary Lee Nickel, director of the Early Childhood program. “Our approach to Early Childhood math lays the groundwork for future problem solving and logical thought. We are trying to build a strong number sense.”

So what is number sense, anyway?

The phrase refers to a group of skills that allow children to work with numbers. It includes:

  • Understanding quantities
  • Grasping concepts like more and less, and larger and smaller
  • Recognizing relationships between single items and groups of items 
  • Understanding symbols that represent quantities 
  • Making number comparisons 
  • Understanding patterns

Sorting, comparing, building, shape exploration, and counting are integrated throughout the day at WES, helping children build and expand this innate number sense. 

Children encounter patterns all around them from the time they are babies. They develop an understanding of these regularities from their environment, such as the uniform row of giraffes on a favorite baby blanket or the tune from a beloved nursery song mom and dad sing every night.  To build a strong number sense, children must move from recognizing patterns to understanding the structures and rules that make up a pattern. Once a child understands patterns, s/he is able to describe them, reproduce them, extend them, fill in the missing elements, and create new ones. 

The search for the structures and rules underlying patterns is one way children begin to engage in algebraic thinking even at an early age. A child may realize that each tower in a series of buildings increases by three blocks, so that the next tower must be X+3 and the next tower will be (X+3) + 3. Although the child is not writing anything down or using written symbolism, the child is engaged in simple algebraic thinking that expresses a general rule. This early learning provides the gateway to formal algebra taught in later grades. 

“In my Nursery class, we introduce these concepts through games; using blocks, pegs, and various counters; and measuring, estimating and predicting, just to name a few,” says Katya Elkassem, Nursery teacher. “But no matter what we do, the most important thing is that the children have fun and know that they are loved.”

WES has a limited number of openings in their Nursery, Pre-Kindergarten, and Kindergarten programs for Fall ’21. If you would like to learn more about the Early Childhood program at WES, please join us at one of our Early Childhood Coffees:

Wednesday, May 26, 9-10 a.m.

Wednesday, June 2, 9-10 a.m.

RSVP HERE

You will meet our Head of School and Early Childhood Director Mary Lee Nickel. Our teachers will also drop by to say hi! 

Meaningful Experiential Study Trips

Experiential study trips have long been a core part of our curriculum because they increase student interest, knowledge, and motivation. Although all study trips were paused due to the pandemic, I am delighted to share that we are slowly venturing off campus so our Dragons can enjoy safe, outdoor learning experiences once again. 

Our youngest Dragons were actually the first to leave campus this year, when several grade levels took different nature walks to admire the cherry blossom trees in Kenwood. But over the course of the next several weeks, there are a number of meaningful and community-building short trips coming up.

Here are just a few of the experiences our Dragons will have:

  • Kindergarten will enjoy a nature walk with Ranger Jen tomorrow. The class will walk alongside Capital Capital Crescent Trail, and then have a lesson at the Little Falls Branch. In addition, while they are there, they will dip their feet into the creek and check out creatures in their natural habitat. 
  • Grade 2 is heading to Breezy Point State Park to hunt for shark’s teeth! They’ll also participate in a scavenger hunt identifying geometric shapes in nature and do a few activities supplementing their current study of the Chesapeake Bay. 
  • Grade 5 will undertake a historical scavenger hunt (that includes quite a bit of hiking) in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, exploring John Brown’s Fort, the Harper Cemetery, the Historic District, and more!
  • Middle School will travel to Harper’s Ferry, where they will enjoy community-building activities such as a ropes course, zip line, and rafting, among other adventures. 

We’d like to thank our teachers for their creativity in creating fun and memorable experiences in a safe way, and for our parent chaperones/drivers for making these experiences possible! 

Danny Vogelman

Head of School

Building Powerful Public Speaking Skills

The last two weeks have been bustling in Middle School, as our teachers have sought to recreate some traditional WES milestones while following COVID safety protocols. Our science fair, once a crowded room of displays, students, judges, and onlookers, was transformed last Friday into Zoom breakout rooms where our students presented their research via very professional slideshows (once again judged by our skilled and talented parents). That evening, our Grade 8 students performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream via livestream, and tomorrow evening Grade 6 will present Behind the Blue Curtain, a musical mash-up of Broadway, film, and TV hits, via YouTubePremiere. 

Although the theatrical performances may masquerade as fun, and indeed they are, all three of these events are outstanding examples of how we help our students become kind, confident, and prepared. They nudge children out of their comfort zones and help them develop poise and learn how to speak with confidence before groups of people. 

We support and challenge our Dragons through these experiences from a very early age. In a typical year, our Early Childhood students take part in a Christmas pageant, and our Dragons enjoy their thespian debut, with lines, in Kindergarten. These annual productions continue each year, culminating in the Grade 6 Musical, the Grade 7 performance of Antigone and House of the Tragic Poet in Italy, and a Shakespearan production in Grade 8. It’s a joy to watch the progression, and how years of practice both help our students become self-possessed and competent public speakers.

COVID, while presenting its challenges, has also provided new opportunities. You may remember the first time you gave a powerpoint slideshow in front of a group of people. For many of us, those experiences may have come during college or in the first several years of our career. And you most likely distinctly remember the first time you had to give an important presentation through Zoom. Our students are building these critical skills, articulating their thoughts and reasonings in persuasive ways, and they haven’t even started high school yet!

We are so very proud of the incredibly professional way our Middle School students conducted themselves during our first-ever virtual science fair and their lively theatrical productions. Please join us tomorrow night for the Grade 6 musical debut – you won’t want to miss it!

Danny Vogelman

Head of School