Nine Ways FCDS is Innovating in Elementary School

By: Priscilla St. John

Forsyth Country Day School is well known for preparing students for what’s ahead, but what does that look like when it comes to younger children? Below are just a few of the ways in which FCDS is engaging curious learners each day.

1. Science Every Day. 

At FCDS, we believe that science is just as important as reading, writing, and, well, arithmetic. Lower School students have two dedicated science specialists, Jacqui Chance and Danny Lough, who are trained scientists and make learning their subject fun.

“Lower School science is all about sparking their curiosity and enthusiasm and getting them to ask questions about the world around them,” Mrs. Chance says.

Mr. Lough agrees. “It’s all about hands-on learning. We do experiments. We learn scientific concepts, but it’s fun.”

2. Daily Conversational Spanish. 

In the FCDS Lower School, students are always talking in class—and that’s a good thing. Conversational Spanish, which is taught daily to students in kindergarten through third grade and twice a week to preschoolers, is centered on having relatable conversations. “We teach in a natural way,” says Maria Teresa Ortiz-Thompson, who created the Lower School world language curriculum. “We don’t focus on the parts of speech. If you speak to one another and tell stories, you access the vocabulary through the story, and you retain it better. Grammar and vocabulary come instinctively.”

Learning a world language also generates a respect and appreciation for people’s similarities and differences. “Part of language learning is the culture,” Señora Ortiz-Thompson says. “We learn and respect that there are different people with different languages and different ways of doing things. That opens up a lot of curiosity about the world for these children.”

3. We still teach handwriting. 

Most schools have dropped handwriting from their curriculum, but not Forsyth. Why? Research shows that learning to write in cursive is actually good for your brain. “Current research suggests that cursive handwriting instruction contributes to reading and writing skill acquisition,” says Darcie TeVault, the Assistant Upper School Director for Teaching & Learning. “Specifically, cursive instruction contributes to the development of spelling and sentence composition for typically developing writers and writers with diagnosed learning disabilities.” In addition, writing in cursive addresses fine motor skill development and supports executive function skills, such as sequencing and focus.

4. Our Lower School classroom teachers are the OG teachers. (that is, Orton-Gillingham Classroom Educator-trained).

At FCDS, Lower School teachers are trained in the Orton-Gillingham Multisensory Language Approach to teaching, which helps them meet the needs of elementary school students as they learn English language structure and phonological awareness, says Ashley Clark, Director of the Johnson Academic Center at the school. “This training is specifically designed to address the needs of elementary school students who exhibit reading and learning delays, but it benefits all students as they are developing skills in reading and writing.” This specialized instruction also allows teachers to better differentiate instruction, so that all learners can, well, learn.

5. Our fully staffed health room has a full and part-time nurse.

During each school day, our health room is ready for your child’s skinned knees, runny noses, and loose teeth. Nancy Hart, our full-time nurse, builds strong relationships with all of our students and gets to know them and their health conditions. This veteran healthcare provider is able to assess and treat what needs treating in her office (or call you, if your child needs to come home or see a doctor). Sure, it’s no fun to be sick, but a visit to Nurse Nancy is almost worth it.

6. We’re flexible about seating. 

When you walk into some elementary school classrooms at Forsyth Country Day, you might be surprised to learn that students don’t have assigned seats—they don’t even have to sit in chairs! First grade teacher Happy Bell-Wiatrek, whose room looks more like a coffee shop, with tables of different heights and seating options that include cushions, padded milk crates, exercise balls, and rocking Hokki stools, believes strongly in the benefits of flexible seating. “It allows students to be their best learning selves,” she says. “Having choice not only empowers students to be active learners, but allows them to think for themselves.”

In Mrs. Bell-Wiatrek’s class, students decide where to sit and what to sit on each day, and they move throughout the day when subjects change. One student who enjoys bouncing on an exercise ball during math may prefer to sit on a cushion during reading, and that’s okay. “When no one is telling them where to sit and remain for the entire day, and students have a choice, they take more responsibility for their own learning,” Mrs. Bell-Wiatrek says.

7. We have a specialist for that—on site. 

Forsyth Country Day features a team of teachers who help kids learn their best. These range from language development specialists who work with children with diagnosed learning disabilities to speech-language pathologists and academic coaches. Children can work with their special teachers during the school day—and homework is coordinated between the classroom teacher and the specialist to be just right for the child’s needs.

8. Small class sizes allow teachers to build relationships with students and parents.

When adults work together for the benefit of children—the children benefit! Forsyth’s small class sizes allow teachers and parents to form meaningful relationships with students and tune in quickly to how their children are performing and feeling. Parents or teachers communicate frequently and often share information about what’s going on in a child’s classroom life or external life, thus building community and fostering strong relationships.

9. We live our core values every day.

A lot of schools talk about values, but we teach and live our core values of respect, honesty, integrity, compassion, and curiosity in all that we do. “Though guidance classes, we discuss the ways in which we can apply our core values both in and outside of the classroom,” says Lower School counselor Megan Martin-Wall. “We discuss how listening shows respect to others, how sharing compliments is a way to show compassion, and how honesty shows our integrity.”

In the classroom, teachers reinforce those values daily. “Our teachers highlight and praise individual students when they see them exhibiting one of our core values, and we recognize those students at our monthly assemblies, as well as add a leaf with their name to our Core Value Trees,” Mrs. Martin-Wall says.

Want to learn more about what’s ahead for your child’s education? Schedule your tour at today!



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