Monday, March 8, 2010

St. Elizabeth's Episcopal School

I recently toured St. Elizabeth's Episcopal School in Denver and asked many questions of Walter McCoy, the charismatic Head of School and the parent representative that graciously guided us around the school and told us all about it. Here is what I learned about the school.

I understand that socio-economic integration is a chief goal of the school. Why is that so important and how do you ensure that goal is met?

Part of the main mission of the school is to integrate children for different socio-economic backgrounds because that actually helps improve learning. By having a sliding scale for all families, it ensures that more students, regardless of family income, have the choice to attend a private school such as ours.

The largest class size is 18. That is much lower than Denver Public School’s cap on class sizes. Why is this important and why 18 as a cut off?

Small class sizes are critical to good learning environments.

Arts are featured heavily in your school. What do you offer, how often and why?

There is music and visual arts offered multiple days a week. We feel it is important – creativity stimulates the senses and improves education and performance.

Do you use standardized testing?

There is no standardized testing. Teachers routinely assess each child as the year progresses and communicate the progress to parents.

St. Elizabeth’s is an Episcopal school, yet it is said that students from all religions are welcomed. How would a Buddhist or a Jewish person feel at the school? How much of a role does religion play at the school. Please describe the beliefs and traditions of an Episcopalian.

The Episcopal Church is liturgical, similar to Catholic and Lutheran churches, and there is “chapel” time twice a week for 20 minutes followed by a Faith Studies class that looks at what all the world’s religions offer. Episcopal schools enroll a wide range of Christian and even non-Christian families. We do not proselytize, and we hope that whatever faith a family brings to schools will be stronger when they leave.

Describe the community feeling at your school. How do parents and students integrate with others of different socio-economic, religious, or racial backgrounds? How is community nurtured and encouraged at the school?

There is a strong Parent Association that is very active. We have events that foster community and there is a lot of volunteer work that unites people. Play dates and birthday parties abound. Our sliding scale tuition, the Family Commitment Plan, unites families in a sense that all contribute according to their financial ability.

How long has the school existed? Where do most of your students come from and why did they choose the school?

The school has been around for 2 years now and most of our students come from varied socio-economic backgrounds from the Park Hill, Stapleton, and Five Points neighborhoods.

Respect and dignity are mentioned more than once on your website. How is this fostered? How are learning styles and speeds honored? How do you handle a child who is reading below grade level or not doing as well at math as a second grader might do?

There is a learning specialist that helps students who need help. Reading is a big focus.

Do you have a pre-school? Do you have an after care program? What are the hours of the school?

There is no pre-school, it is currently K-2 and we’ll add a grade each year. School lets out at 3:10 and there is an after-care program until 6:00.

I saw some “workbooks” and understood that worksheets are sent home for homework. How much do worksheets and textbooks comprise the work and homework?

Kindergarten: We do not send home homework. Most of our classroom time is spent manipulating and investigating new concepts and then followed up with showing that knowledge on paper.

First Grade: Our homework in first grade goes home to students on Monday and is due on Friday each week. We have a reading chart on each assignment sheet so kids can track how many minutes they read each night. The written homework is comprised of weekly spelling lists (that follow phonetic patterns) to study, a language arts worksheet, and a math worksheet. We also have occasional special projects, such as our mathematical masks for the 100th day of school for which students gathered 100 items for the masks at home.

Combined First/Second Grade: Worksheets and textbooks are used for daily lessons as well as for homework. All work is interrelated for a classroom theme or subject. I would say we use them about 50% of the time. The rest of the time, we are using Morning Journals, Literature Logs, and guided or leveled readers.
As for class work, we are a traditional program in the sense that we do expect our students to complete written work that coincides with our thematic units. We keep the classroom work balanced, however, so that kids are completing written work, doing art projects, and working together in different hands-on centers.

How are science, social studies and history learned? Do you use textbooks?

Kindergarten: Our science, social studies and history are all comprised by the teacher and based somewhat on core knowledge content standards as well as standards used in other schools we chose to model our program from. We do not use textbooks.

First Grade: We align our science and social studies units with the Colorado state standards, but do not use textbooks. Judy, Kim, and I have met to determine what units the kids should be learning in each grade level so there isn't much overlap. Judy and I integrate our thematic units, which usually pertain to social studies and/or science, into our daily language arts work in order to help students make meaningful connections. Kids complete written work, do research projects, and delve into hands-on work as they learn about science and social studies. Our field trips are almost always designed to enrich our science/social studies units.

Combined 1st/2nd grade: Science and Social Studies are taught at the first and second grade levels. We create our own units through various resources. We do not have textbooks for these two subjects.

For more information about St. Elizabeth’s School, go to

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