“Working closely with the Pre-K team, looking at their scope and sequence of learning goals and expected competencies for four-year-olds, has helped develop the framework for teaching and learning in Junior Pre-K,” says Fox. “When the Junior Pre-K students transition to Pre-K, they will have the readiness needed to begin the work that starts in Pre-K such as phonemic awareness, early math skills, and fostering independence.”
Making Connections in Middle School
An extracurricular science program launched ten years ago in response to student interest has grown into a Middle School mainstay. Science Olympiad, a competition consisting of 23 standards-based events in science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines, is fun, rewarding—”and a stellar way to explore science,” says Science Teacher and coach Tracy Valenty.
“Science Olympiad fits perfectly with the hands-on nature of our science philosophy here at WT. Team members get to choose many of the events that they work on and compete in, so they can find something they are interested in, and really learn about it in-depth at their own pace. And sometimes kids get put into events because the team needs someone, which can open up new areas of interest and avenues of learning.”
The program has flourished under Valenty’s leadership, from its original team of six students in 2012 to its current roster of 31. The team first qualified for the state tournament in 2016—igniting a streak that continues to this day—and in 2019, an Upper School team was also formed (they, too, qualified for the state tournament).
“Study events” for the competition encourage students to dig deep into subject matter and concepts, while “laboratory events” challenge students to put into practice what they’ve learned. Through it all, passion is nurtured and discovery is celebrated—and it all augments science at WT.
From “aha!” moments when students realize how to apply their learning, to developing tenacity to push through tough problems, the impact of participation is almost impossible to measure. Students increase their interest, knowledge, and skills in science and engineering—and that’s just the beginning.
“Students develop confidence,” observes Valenty. “These exams and tasks are hard. When kids meet with success, it feels great and they believe they can do hard things. They expand social connections—even across grade levels—often forged during memorable circumstances,” adds Valenty. Another byproduct is learning responsibility: “They have to be prepared for events with everything they need; if not, they have to figure out what they need and how to get it.” Such positive experiences flow from the environment Valenty has purposefully created during a decade of coaching.
“The number one thing I try to do is establish a welcoming environment for kids who like and want to do science. This is a place where kids can ‘find their people’ and make connections. To make that happen, we developed a Rights and Responsibilities document to establish team norms. Students on the team helped me draft it, and all team members sign it so everyone has the same expectations. As a team, we work hard to provide an environment where everyone is supported, treated fairly, and encouraged to work together.”
That, she believes, helps fulfill her goal for the program: “I want to focus on teamwork, integrity in our work, good sportsmanship, and having fun, as well as learning and doing the science and engineering.”