Medical University of South Carolina
An MUSC pediatric cardiologist demonstrates the catheter umbrella patch used to repair a hole in the heart
High-achieving students need a specialized learning environment.
High-achieving students (with their own distinct combination of curiosity, ability and work ethic) are eager to move quickly to advanced levels of understanding and to apply what they learn to real problems and situations. To be effective, educational programs should engage students in a flexible combination of acceleration, enrichment, and the application of higher level thinking skills.
Intermediate/middle school should be designed especially for young adolescents' needs.
Programs and activities at the intermediate/middle school level must be active, interesting, and challenging in order to keep students engaged. Intermediate/middle school students need to be actively involved in their community and develop responsibility for their own education. Although adolescence can be a turbulent time of life, it should also be a time for exposure to many new pursuits, active learning, experimentation in a safe environment, and personal growth. Curiosity, reflection, inquiry, and problem solving are crucial to fostering interest in education at this time in a student's life when so many other things are happening physically, socially, and emotionally.
A small school and a personal setting work best.
Small class sizes and personal attention are vital to learning. Intermediate/middle school students need guidance from adults who know them well, in an environment where they are recognized individually. This individual attention and sense of belonging is more feasible in a small school with a low student-teacher ratio. In this setting, faculty and mentors can realistically give our students guidance in the social, emotional, and intellectual aspects of their lives.
Creating and maintaining a positive overarching culture is a cornerstone belief of USL. Students will see and regularly interact with people who believe in and exhibit the values and characteristics expected from each student. These individuals (high school students, college students, young adults, and adults) will serve as real-life models for USL students as they look to what the future can hold and what type of person they would like to be. In turn, our students serve as mentors for their younger classmates and for kindergarteners from Hibben Preschool.
Collaboration among teachers, students, and parents is imperative. Parents who are aware of what their children are learning at school can model learning and reinforce these ideas at home. Close and continuous communication among home, school, and student is essential at University School
Our students are expected to read and write continuously, complete assignments conscientiously, work independently and collaboratively, exhibit respectful behavior, be responsible for obligations, and contribute positively to the school community.
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Fort Johnson Facility
Biologist Billy McCord (“The Butterfly Man”) discusses S.C. butterfly and moth species, and then he demonstrates logging & tagging Monarch butterflies.
Humanities is an integrated History/Language Arts course. It focuses on skills: writing, reading, speaking, and listening. Students are asked to read for both enjoyment and content. Novels, short stories, plays, essays, poetry, and other primary sources are encountered regularly. A heavy emphasis is placed on improving writing, specifically drafting, rewriting, revising, editing, and polishing the final product. Our students are taught to write for a wide variety of purposes. Individual projects, classroom discussions, and oral presentations are common requirements. As students mature within the program, our expectations for in-depth thinking and high quality work increase. There is also a strong arts component, and this includes creating works that are found in the period of study. In the Middle School, historical topics are taught in a three-year-cycle (I. pre-Civil War U.S. History, II. post-Civil War U.S. History, and III. Modern European History, Ancient Greece & Rome and civilizations of the Mediterranean). MS Humanities includes the yearly study of a play by William Shakespeare (Cycle I - Romeo and Juliet, Cycle II - MacBeth, Cycle III - Julius Caesar). In the Intermediate School, topics are taught in a three-year cycle (Our Lowcountry, Our World, and Government and Geography). All students study history, world geography and cultures, and contemporary world issues. Humanities classes are presented in an interactive environment with a special focus on debate, simulations, oral history, research, and projects.
Mathematics includes the latest understanding of best practices as advanced by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and we follow the standards for grades 4-8. University School uses the Singapore Math program through grade 6, and it is lauded for its clarity and effectiveness. The program encourages our students to think mathematically and solve significant problems in addition to learning and practicing the basic processes of arithmetic. For grade 7 math and beyond, University School uses several approaches to help each student fulfill their potential. The Math program is individualized for each student, allowing proficient students to thrive and advance and master material at an accelerated pace. Students have the opportunity to gain additional high school credit by taking Algebra II and/or Geometry. This means that Intermediate School students (grades 3-5) can begin Middle School work upon completing the grade 5 standards, and Middle School students can advance through higher level courses.
Science courses use the scientific method to provide for in-depth study of core concepts in biological, physical, chemical and environmental sciences. USL science classes help students understand scientific processes, record and communicate findings, and appreciate the role of science in the modern world. Instructional methods are inquiry based, and students engage in frequent lab work and research and analyze topics at a high-school level. In the Middle School, USL follows a three-year cycle of themes (water, air, earth) that blends all four sciences and asks each student to think and operate like a scientist. In the Intermediate School, scientific exploration and inquiry is integrated into the curriculum.
Leadership & Life Skills is a class for all students that integrates the lessons in the other disciplines together for the students (you can view the curriculum map for L&L here). We regularly watch and discuss CNN Student News, and lessons in geography and history emanate from the "issues of the day" that emerge with each passing day. Guest speakers, student job shadow days, and field experiences (Learning Outside the Classroom) originate in L&L Skills in collaboration with the teachers in the other disciplines, and students regularly create and share reflections about what they have learned. Students also take ownership for their Leadership Skill Wheel that USL uses to evaluate students each quarter (in addition to grades and narrative comments), and this includes averaging and sorting their numbers in each discipline and planning a strategy to improve them.
Global Language classes are designed to expose students to the discipline of studying a global language and they also emphasize an appreciation of different cultures. To capably function in an increasingly interconnected world, America's future citizens will need proficiency in non-English languages. Each University School student studies Spanish, Mandarin and Latin, and USL will strive to accommodate additional language interests of each student. In the Middle School, the Spanish program is structured so that each student will complete, as a minimum, high school-level Spanish I upon graduating from University School. Students are grouped by ability, and the standard grade progression is as follows: 6th Grade (Spanish I-A), 7th Grade (Spanish I-B), 8th Grade (Spanish II or Introductory Topics in Spanish II). The same pattern is followed in Latin. Therefore, an eighth grader will graduate from USL with one or two high school credits in Spanish and Latin -- for 2 to 4 total credits. In the Intermediate School, the Spanish program is designed to increase comfort and aptitude for Spanish in an immersion-style environment. For both the Intermediate and Middle Schools, Latin is studied for its lasting benefits for one's education: improvements in English grammar, vocabulary roots, and increased precision with words. USL students explore Mandarin to gain an understanding of Chinese culture and language, including both the unique characters and the pinyin (phonetics).
Physical Education / Health classes promote individual fitness, sportsmanship, and good health (diet, etc.) while encouraging lifelong recreational interests. Exercise is also built into our daily routine as classes regularly walk to educational resources and opportunities in the areas around USL's campus. USL follows the principles set forth in Dr. John Ratey's work, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Ratey offers research that students learn best by beginning the day with vigorous exercise. USL students have PE as the first or second period of every day.
Writing is designed to increase each student's proficiency in crafting and revising responses to a variety of prompts in a variety of writing styles and direct grammar instruction. This USL-developed course is one of our hallmark features. Assignments are diverse and frequent, and feedback and revisions are individualized and include attention to grammar. In February 2015, we learned the results of the annual Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for the Southeast Region. This competition is for 7-12th graders, and this year our 7th-10th graders entered 75 works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and received an amazing 33 awards! 73% of our students were honored, and over 85% of the 8th graders garnered an award for writing in 7th or 8th grade. Typically the number of submissions in the region numbers in the tens of thousands and for the country is 250,000+. We have four students with pieces that will move on to the national competition. Congratulations to our students and our MS/US Writing teacher Sara Peck and IS Writing teacher Donna Croft!
Arts classes are designed for immersion in the multiple media and forms of expression, and they allow for each student to develop and gain confidence in his/her artistic ability. Classes are year-round on Friday afternoons. Students also learn and create art projects related to their studies in their classes, especially Global Languages and Humanities. USL also engages in collaborative opportunities in the arts with community partners like Redux Contemporary Art Studio, ArtBuzz Kids, The Artists' Loft, and Paper Rock Scissors. University School also regularly (4-5x per year) hosts cultural performance groups and shares these events with the greater community. Several of our Learning Outside the Classroom experiences (field trips) are also arts-focused, and for 2014-2015 this includes attending a theatre production at the College of Charleston, exploring the College of Charleston's Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, learning more about the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, hosting a performance by classical pianists Elena Winther and Vladimir Pleshakov, and all students had a chance to explore playing several instruments with instructors from Charleston International Music School.
Flex Time allows for students to engage in pursuits geared to their individual interests and talents. This can include additional courses in Math and/or Global Languages, on-line courses, guided independent study or time for homework or other interests. For example, a student may concurrently take two Math courses or two separate Global Languages, and the student can earn high school credit for both. This time is also occasionally used for all-class and all-school theme-based seminars.
Research findings on the use of time at schools drive the daily schedule at University School. While some aspects of the school program will occur at regular times, flexibility in the use of time is a key organizing aspect. While most schools operate in 40-50 minute periods, in-depth teaching is associated with more intense experiences and varied teaching approaches carried out in longer class periods. To promote deep learning, USL is committed to providing academic learning time as it is needed for our students. This means that specific class/instructional periods may vary in length throughout the year. This approach to time honors student achievement and a supportive school culture as the primary goals in organizing time at USL.
University School believes that intermediate/middle/upper school-age students benefit from extensive involvement in the community. This involves service learning (service to others) and first-person learned (as opposed to received) knowledge that one gains from discovering the many opportunities, aspects, complexities, occupations, people, etc. that are present in the world around us. The information that students encounter is incorporated into classroom activities to help students make relevant and direct links to what they learn. Experiences are selected that are consistent with USL's mission. For example, developing leaders who can self-advocate and make a positive difference in the world are key goals. To foster this development in our students, we guide and regularly evaluate our students in six areas of leadership (encompassing over thirty separate skills). Students track their growth in these areas by sorting and analyzing their rankings in these areas.
University School's approach to homework is guided by the following principles:
- USL firmly believes that galvanizing curiosity in each learner will result in extensive activity at home, and this will generally take the form of guided or independent reading and researching. Our approach respects family time and dynamics, and it yields a student who learns self-discipline for life by balancing acting upon personal interests (academic, artistic, etc.) and meeting school expectations.
- USL strives to assign homework that is designed by our teachers with specific objectives. We feel “busy work” should be avoided, and assignments should have strong relevance to a student’s needs and capabilities.
- Students will be asked to make choices in many of their homework assignments. Students relish the challenge of doing assignments worth doing, and they learn how to make good decisions by making decisions.
- The amount of time needed to complete homework will vary nightly. Homework is a carefully considered response to what is going on at school at the time, and this entails different lengths and types of assignments at different times.
University School of the Lowcountry subscribes to the National Association of Independent Schools' Principles of Good Practice for Middle School Educators:
Recognizing that middle school students experience a variety of significant changes, middle school educators respond to and provide for the unique developmental needs and characteristics of their students.
- Middle school educators affirm the dignity of each individual and promote equity and justice.
- Middle school educators and all personnel who interact with middle school students have a thorough understanding of the patterns of physical, intellectual, social, and emotional growth of their students.
- Middle school educators actively engage parents as partners in recognizing the implications of the significant changes affecting middle school children.
- Middle school educators work to ensure a smooth transition experience for students and parents entering and leaving the middle school years.
- Middle school educators provide programs that support each student's need to develop a distinct self-concept and to be recognized as an individual and as a member of a group.
- Middle school educators create an environment that fosters respect, understanding, and acceptance of differences.
- Middle school educators help students learn to make responsible choices and understand the consequences of their actions.
- Middle school educators create opportunities for students to develop a sense of belonging to and responsibility for the multiple communities in which they participate.
The NAIS Principles of Good Practice for member schools, defining high standards and ethical behavior in key areas of school operations, are designed to help guide schools in becoming the best education communities they can be.