Alice Birney School offers several specialty classes that are embedded into the students’ regular school day. The specialty classes contribute to building a balance in students’ capacities of intellect, imagination, and will. This balance is achieved through stimulating academic studies, challenging activities in the arts, and the development of physical and practical skills as part of the experiential curriculum. Some are taught by our classroom teachers, parent or community volunteers, and others by specialists in each area. These may include: Strings (Violin, Viola, Cello), Handwork (knitting, crocheting, needlework, sewing), Spanish Cultural Study, Movement/Eurythmy, Multicultural Dance, Woodworking, Gardening, Athletics (basketball and track), Games, and Music/Flutes.
In Handwork class, knitting, crocheting, and sewing in various forms are taught in two sessions per week by the Handwork specialty teachers. The curriculum is designed with the same important developmental considerations that inform the grades curriculum.
The purpose of handwork class is to develop and strengthen the will forces of the child. To begin a project, work to one’s best ability, and finish beautifully brings the love of work into the child’s nature. But beyond what we can outwardly observe, Handwork is building brain development in physiological ways.
What the fingers explore the mind must ponder. Neural pathways are built and thinking is enhanced. The balance between precision work and creativity integrates the left and right hemispheres of the brain which supports reading comprehension. Spatial awareness, counting, tracking and problem solving, all work to improve understanding in mathematics.
Ultimately a strong will leads to expansion of thinking capacities.
The students are engaged in this important work through the beauty, creativity and joy of accomplishment.
Alice Birney students typically receive one session of Eurythmy/Movement per week taught by a specialist beginning in grade 1 and continuing through grade 4. Structured artistic movement is import in helping students develop their capacity for focus and attention by connecting language centers using spoken word, poetry, and gesture. Mathematical understanding is enhanced by connecting abstract geometrical forms with physical movement and by combining step patterns, rhythm and beat. Spatial awareness and connection with the other are fostered as dynamic forms emerge.
Multicultural Folk Dance
Beginning in grade 3, Alice Birney students typically receive a 16 week block of Multicultural Folk Dance taught by an expert. Folk Dance supports sensory-motor learning, visual and auditory tracking and processing, balance and coordination, cooperative learning, physical fitness, social awareness and courteous behavior (Donna Burgess, 2010). Knowledge about other cultures is brought in a developmentally appropriate approach that is infused with language, music, and movement. Bringing an awareness to and understanding the meaning behind traditions and festivities, contributes to promoting global consciousness.
Foreign Language Spanish/Cultural Perspective
Alice Birney School’s approach to Foreign Language studies centers on a Spanish cultural perspective and is taught by a credentialed teacher. Beginning in grade 1, studying cultures opens children up so they may learn about and accept the uniqueness of others in the world for a more peaceful co-existence. Through the Spanish curriculum, they begin to develop an ear for a second language so as they progress into high school they have a stronger aptitude. In the younger grades, students are taught through songs, stories, and rhymes. Throughout the upper grades, students hear poetry, practice dialogue, study grammar, and are introduced to reading and writing in Spanish.
For the first three years of instruction, the students are taught through the use of Spanish songs, finger plays, games, stories and poems. The “shower of language” is needed for the students to feel the character of the language. The students create their own texts by making entries into their Spanish lesson books as a keepsake of what has been presented in each grade.
Beginning in grade 4, students are introduced to the study of Spanish grammar. There are whole class activities that require student participation. These include verb games, skits, riddles, and tongue twisters. At this time the students are ready for the reading of the Spanish word. The student created Spanish lesson book now becomes a resource for the student where the accuracy of information is stressed. In grade six, homework in Spanish is first introduced with the beginning of the study of the ancient Aztec civilization.
Grade 7 is a continuation of the study of ancient cultures with the focus on Maya and Inca civilizations. It is also a time for students to express their Spanish voice. At this point, the student is asked to speak as an individual through a Spanish interview and a biographical report on a person who influenced the Latin Culture. The preterite and imperfect past verb tenses are explored through these activities.
Grade 8 begins with a review of previous years’ Spanish lessons. Future verb tenses and a classical reading selection, “Don Quixote de la Mancha” are introduced. Although participation/effort marks are provided for grades 1-6 students at the trimester, only 7th and 8th grades are provided with letter grade for each quarter.
Music is an important element of the Alice Birney curriculum. Because every child has the innate capacity to sing and to make music, this is developed as much as it can be by the classroom teacher in the younger grades and at least two additional periods a week with a strings music teacher beginning in grade 4 and continuing through grade 8.
According to Rudolf Steiner, the human being is a musical being, and the making of music is essential in experiencing what it is to be fully human. Music in the curriculum awakens and nurtures the deep inner life of the child. Engaging the soul activities of thinking, feeling, and willing in the child, the study and experience of the various elements in music arouse and cultivate the very forces necessary to be able to meet the challenges of the world with enthusiasm and confidence.
Beginning in grade 4, children start to play a stringed instrument with a credentialed teacher at least twice a week. Music notation blends with the main lesson block on fractions nicely complementing the learning of the time signatures. Various meters are experienced and studied. Children begin to sight-read simple melodies. As students progress through the upper grades, deeper work with an instrument begins. The music curriculum in the upper grades brings the children ever more sophisticated and challenging musical experiences that are appropriate to their stages of development. Playing an instrument helps develop memory and fine motor skills, builds self-esteem, fosters self-discipline, and calls the children to a greater awareness of others as they work together to create something beautiful for the listener.
Students strengthen responsibility by caring for a district instrument. A liability contract must be signed by parents prior to distribution. Parents are liable for any lost or damaged instruments. Students are welcome to bring their personal rented or owned instrument to school. Instruments are only brought to school on the days their strings class is scheduled. The instrument remains at home for practice on all other days.
Contact Ms. Elizabeth Hernandez for more details at Elizabeth-Hernandez@scusd.edu.