Princeton Charter School
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Subsections


 

Education Program

Princeton Charter School views a young learner's early years as a precious resource not to be squandered. These are the years in which a solid foundation must be built on which to base a lifetime of learning. The failure to challenge adequately this age group is a national problem identified in numerous reports over the last few decades.

We believe that only through meeting challenges arising from a sequential and cumulative curriculum, with a significant focus on skills and knowledge, do learners acquire genuine self-esteem. Students should celebrate concrete accomplishment and mastery of appropriately defined objectives.

Serious education must begin earlier than is fashionable today - before the learner is faced with the complexities of approaching adulthood. Princeton Charter School cannot hope to erase achievement differences entirely, but it believes that a stronger educational program will significantly ameliorate them. Today, many students never overcome these differences, and both the student and society pay a price.

The Princeton Charter School education program features a rigorous approach to the six basic academic disciplines: language arts, mathematics, science, history and geography, foreign languages, and the arts.

The heart of the program is a sequential and cumulative curriculum. In each area, our school emphasizes skills as well as knowledge and ideas. Our objective is not a program in which repetition and drilling are by any means the only tools, but we believe that current thinking in mainstream education has diminished their role to an unreasonable extent. In every field of human endeavor, the achievement of excellence involves experiences of this kind. To write well, one must write frequently and be exposed to the tools with which experienced writers construct polished prose. The same is true in the arts, in mathematics, and so on.

Leadership and service are part of the PCS student experience. Within the school, students are encouraged to participate in school improvement projects, and may propose projects of their own, such as leading a reading circle or a discussion group. The school will cultivate a limited number of meaningful community service relationships, so that students may experience the satisfaction of contributing beyond the school walls.

The program is an integrated whole, but we now present three more detailed perspectives: teaching, curriculum, and assessment (in Section 6).


Teaching Methods

The PCS faculty have the opportunity to meet creatively the challenge of achieving timely mastery of the knowledge and skills specified in the curriculum. To help meet this challenge, assessment is integrated with the curriculum in order to confirm student progress and ensure accountability of the school. In a sequential and cumulative curriculum such as ours this is particularly important. Partly through assessment, PCS teachers identify students for whom additional tutoring or challenges may be appropriate. Assessment is also used to evaluate the effectiveness of different teaching methods and curriculum materials.

The majority of instruction time is spent teaching the standard PCS curriculum to the entire class. However, a feature of the PCS program that distinguishes it from most public schools, is that early intervention is provided if needed, even in the absence of a diagnosed disability. This happens in several ways:

  1. Tutoring: During reading period (half hour), students may from time to time receive tutoring from the faculty. This is perhaps the most important PCS instructional innovation. Its use is not limited to remediation. Even students with a strong achievement record sometimes need this kind of one-on-one instruction.
  2. Program adjustments: The school views all subject areas as important, but success in reading, writing, and basic mathematics are seen as crucial for K-4 students. During these years, special steps are taken to support any student who appears to be at risk in these areas. If the daily tutoring period proves insufficient, the PCS teacher, in consultation with the Head of School and parents, may consider adjusting the student's academic weekly schedule, so that some additional time is made available for faculty tutoring. Other situations may warrant schedule changes as well. An appropriately modified program is provided for any student with an individual educational plan which requires it.
  3. Flexible and highly mobile groupings: When appropriate the teacher may use either achievement-level or special-interest groupings as a tool to ensure that all students receive appropriate and stimulating instruction.

It is PCS policy that homework should complement and supplement, but never replace the teacher's obligation to cover material in the classroom. Classwork allows sufficient practice to acquire proficiency, with homework providing reinforcement and enrichment. Through classwork and homework the teacher helps students to develop effective learning and work habits.

Common public milestones are established by the school to punctuate a student's progress in a highly visible way, and to give students and the rest of the PCS community an opportunity to celebrate academic achievement. Milestones might, for example, consist of an essay to be published (with the student's permission) on the school's Web site, or a piece of artwork for display at a school exhibition.

Parents and students will support the teachers' efforts towards maintaining an appropriate atmosphere and level of safety and authority in the classroom.

The PCS faculty and community will openly value and recognize academic success.

Curriculum

The PCS curriculum reflects the belief that knowledge and skills are best acquired in an incremental and cumulative manner. Continuity and coherence of the curriculum from grade to grade are emphasized. The lack of curricular coherence is the most fundamental distinction between most U.S. public schools and the best private schools or public school systems of many other nations. The curriculum minimizes fragmentation of an academic discipline into independent and unrelated units; the emphasis is on using previously acquired knowledge and skills for further learning.

The PCS curriculum is designed to encourage critical thinking and applications of acquired knowledge and skills. However we avoid integration of different academic disciplines as an end in itself. Integration is used when it promotes understanding and accomplishment. For example, mathematical skills and concepts are used extensively in the science curriculum, and reading and writing skills are an integral part of the curriculum in all academic disciplines. Learning about string instruments in music might, for example, be integrated with the study of acoustics in science, and lead to understanding of the relationship between the length of a string under tension and the pitch of the sound the string produces when plucked.

Instructional materials, including textbooks, reading lists, and enrichment materials, are an essential element of the PCS curriculum. The PCS process of selection is based on the following criteria: 1) correspondence with the school's achievement targets for each grade, 2) subject accuracy, 3) clarity of exposition, and 4) vocabulary and ideas that build from grade to grade. Materials used for class and homework are selected to provide the practice needed to master a subject. Faculty and members of the extended PCS community may contribute supplemental curriculum materials. These are subjected to the same review and approval process used for other instructional materials. The school builds its curricular equity rather than losing it when an author leaves.

The core PCS grade-by-grade outcomes meet New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards as described in Appendix B; Appendix B also provides an overview of the appropriate progress indicators for grades 4 and 8. The grade-level outcomes are defined in part by referring to existing national and international efforts. In language arts the focus is on reading, comprehension, writing, grammar, and speech. A second language is taught beginning in first grade. The mathematics curriculum includes numerical operations, measurement, probability and statistics, algebra, geometry, and selected topics in discrete mathematics. A special emphasis is placed on problem solving, including age appropriate challenge problems. Quantitative reasoning combined with observation and experimentation are stressed in the physical sciences, life sciences, earth sciences, and astronomy. The students study the political, economic, geographic, cultural, and technological forces that have shaped the history of the world and of the United States. Both performing and survey components in the visual arts, music, drama, and dance are included. The development of self-discipline along with effective study, organization, and work habits is a stated outcome at PCS.

The PCS approach to technology also includes specific skills to be acquired and concepts to be mastered. Computers connected to the Internet are used as tools where appropriate, but not as ends in themselves. Beyond working with specific computer programs, the students come to understand the algorithmic paradigms on which they are based - ideas which will outlive the programs or machines themselves.

The curriculum also includes physical and health education with a focus on healthy everyday living. Physical education overlaps the arts in the areas of dance and movement.

Princeton Charter School curricular objectives in specific areas are described in the sections below. Before classes begin in the Fall of 1997, our Head, together with advisory committees to the Board of Trustees, will finalize the PCS educational program for the school year 1997-98. The Board of Trustees shall have the authority to adjust the PCS education program within the stated goals and objectives of the school.

English

English language skills are the most essential part of a child's early education. Students must learn to read so that they can read to learn. They must have a fluent written and oral command of standard English. They must read the literature that forms the knowledge base of a literate citizen. The Princeton Charter School English curriculum is a carefully sequenced, comprehensive program for teaching children to read, write, and speak standard English. It is based on the 1988 United States Department of Education report, James Madison Elementary School: A Curriculum for American Students. The main elements of the curriculum are: the use of literature to enliven reading, to inform, and as a model for writing; reading for comprehension, vocabulary, and entertainment; writing for communication and for creative expression, with emphasis on organization, syntax, spelling, and penmanship. These elements are briefly sketched below. As described in Appendix B, the curriculum complies with the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards in Language Arts.

The English program uses a core list of imaginative, challenging literature selected to expand students' vocabulary and knowledge of the world. The students read poetry, folk tales, fables, legends, plays, classic and modern novels, speeches, essays and other works of nonfiction. At every level the reading list is from multiple cultures, moving from children's literature to serious literature by the eighth grade. Literature is studied not only for content but also for style, and appropriate literary prose is presented as a model for the student's own writing.

Since good reading skills are the gateway to education, the PCS uses the most effective method for teaching reading: systematic phonics instruction integrated with reading and writing. In the 1990 report sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education [Beginning to Read, p. 49], psychologist Marilyn Adams concludes that ``the vast majority of program comparison studies indicate that approaches including systematic phonics instruction result in comprehension skills that are at least comparable to, and word recognition and spelling skills that are significantly better than, those that do not.'' By learning the phonetic keys to language, children become fluent readers, able to focus on meaning as word recognition becomes automatic.

In Kindergarten and first grade, children learn to read by developing both a sight vocabulary and knowledge of phonics. In the early grades, teachers read poetry, folk tales, fables, and legends out loud to give students experience with a variety of literature and to inspire their interest in reading. Class discussions, guided by the teacher's thoughtful questions, promote analytical thought, comprehension, and listening skills. By third or fourth grade the children read individually then the class discusses themes, plots, and character motivations; they make inferences, form generalizations, and distinguish fact from fiction. Students read and summarize biographies. As they advance in school, the students read, discuss, interpret, analyze and compare literature of all forms, including plays, fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. By the end of eighth grade students are careful readers, able to analyze the structure and style of a work of fiction, and to understand and summarize a written argument.

The acquisition of writing skills progresses in conjunction with reading. Students in Kindergarten and first grade write simple sentences. In second and third grade, they write stories, poems, letters, and book reports, and begin to learn the formal writing process of outlining, drafting, revising, and editing. Students in fourth grade refine composition skills such as paragraphing, dialogue, and more complex sentence structure. Emphasis is on expository and expressive writing that is well organized with introductions, conclusions, and a coherent flow of ideas. Students write every day, and assignments are selected to encourage writings of all types, imaginative and expressive as well as expository and analytical. Grammatical instruction begins in first grade. As their knowledge of sentence and paragraph structure, grammar, spelling, and vocabulary progresses, students are expected to apply these skills to their writings in all subject areas. By the end of eighth grade, students' writing should exhibit coherent thought, appropriate vocabulary, correct syntax, and style. Teachers stress the connections between precise thinking and correct syntax.

The development of oral speaking skills is an integral part of the school's program. Informal practice during class discussions is enhanced by students reading out loud, giving simple oral reports, and giving formal presentations as their skills mature. Memorizing and reciting poems and pieces of literature is often enjoyed by children and it enhances their grasp of the sounds and rhythms of speech.

The program specifies milestones for reading, composition, and speaking to allow students to demonstrate their proficiency and celebrate their achievements. A milestone familiar to many educators is the Kindergartner or first grader who reads his or her first book and is added to the `official list of readers.' A sequence of milestones is specified by the staff along with guidelines for judging successful completion.

Mathematics

Like English language skills, a strong foundation in mathematics is a prerequisite for success in our increasingly analytical world. Just as PCS is dedicated to early achievement in reading, early mastery of arithmetic skills and basic mathematical problem solving are viewed as essential first steps.

The core PCS mathematics curriculum is based on the 1963 report of the Cambridge Conference on School Mathematics, Goals for School Mathematics, and the curricula employed in other high-achieving nations. The curriculum complies with the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards for Mathematics as described in Appendix B, and is sufficiently rigorous to challenge all students. It covers a broad range of mathematics and includes applications to motivate students and reveal the utility of mathematics to problems encountered in all fields. A feature of the PCS program is that essential areas such as algebra and geometry are integrated throughout the curriculum, so that students accumulate geometric notions and learn the language of algebra by starting with very simple intuitive concepts and progressing to more formal deductive reasoning. This approach has been carefully researched and developed by an international community of teachers, mathematicians, and pedagogical researchers. As an example, a complete geometry curriculum, including student problems, is available in the book Geometry in Grades 1-4: Problems in the Formulation of Geometric Conception in Primary Children, translated from the Russian by the University of Chicago Mathematics Project. This is also the approach adopted in the New Jersey Mathematics Curriculum Framework.

The concepts are reinforced by problems and practice materials. The students and teachers have the opportunity to use a variety of appropriate text sequences to accommodate different learning styles and rates of progress. Sufficiently advanced students have the opportunity to study axiomatic geometry by the time they leave eighth grade.

PCS students master the basic mathematical skills identified by the 1977 National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics Position Paper on Basic Mathematical Skills, including problem solving; applying mathematics to everyday situations; alertness to the reasonableness of results; estimation and approximation; appropriate computational skills; geometry; measurement; reading, interpreting, and constructing tables, charts, and graphs; using mathematics to predict; and computer literacy. PCS adds to this list a knowledge of probability and statistics, risk, and orders of magnitude. Our students will need these to confront many of the complex social and technical issues facing society.

The hour spent on mathematics each day includes a balance between discovery directed by the exchange of ideas between the teacher and the class, and direct presentation of material by the teacher. In addition, several hours each month are used for mathematical games, special topics, and experiments. The program is rich in the use of concrete materials and applications to develop concepts and to connect children's intuition to abstract mathematics. Instruction cycles between using problems to motivate knowledge and using the knowledge base to solve problems. The problem-solving activities are carefully selected to challenge children to think creatively and to extend their knowledge. Applications for problem solving are to science, other aspects of the real world, and internal applications to mathematics itself. ``Both the internal applications and the external applications must be taught, so that the student understands both the power of mathematics as a scientific method and the unity and beauty of mathematics as a science in its own right'' (Goals for School Mathematics, p. 21).

The fundamental elements of computer science that underlie all of today's machines and software are incorporated into the mathematics curriculum. These supplement the discrete mathematics in the main curriculum and include modular arithmetic, data representation, boolean logic, the stored program computer, and most importantly, the concept of an algorithm. The student who understands these will adapt easily to changes in computer hardware, languages, and application software. In later grades (6-8) students write computer programs to make concrete the abstract concepts covered and to build their ability to think algorithmically.

The study of mathematics offers many opportunities for the definition of concrete public milestones. In early grades these consist mainly of arithmetic mastery. Older students might be asked to submit an essay analyzing the numbers and graphs presented in a current news story, or write their first rigorous proof of a mathematical theorem.

History and Geography

Princeton Charter School teaches history, geography, and social studies, from Kindergarten through the eighth grade. Children are introduced to history through stories and by fifth grade embark upon more serious study. The emphasis is on political, economic, geographic, cultural, and technological forces which have shaped the history of the world and of the United States. As demonstrated by the progress indicators in Appendix B, the curriculum follows the guidelines of the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards for Social Studies.

The PCS history curriculum was developed by the Washington World History Project with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is used in the Washington International School (D.C.), the Oyster School (D.C. Public Schools), the United Nations School (N.Y.), and the Nishimachi International School (Tokyo).

History and geography are taught from Kindergarten to grade 3 through good stories: folk tales, legends, myths, accounts of historical events, and biographies. These form an introduction to the beliefs and traditions of many cultures. The stories are read aloud to the youngest classes and introduce children to dramatic expression and public speaking. Reading and listening to these stories builds a child's sense of the world as a community, and introduces new vocabulary and basic cultural knowledge. Each year there are stories from all around the world and the United States, and in grade 1 to 3 there are also specific regions of concentration. These regions are the Americas and Europe in first grade, Africa and the Middle East in second grade, and Asia and the Americas in third grade. The third or fourth grade history program includes a unit on Princeton history. Activities and discussions promote understanding of the history, government, daily life, culture, economy and geography of the various regions.

The transition from stories to a more detailed and factual study of history occurs during fourth grade. Here students read biographies, study Native Americans, and study the history and geography of the United States and the role of New Jersey in its formation and heritage. Because of our area's rich history, this is a wonderful opportunity for PCS students to study history in a context that is familiar and tangible.

Starting with fifth grade, the students pursue a chronological study of world history and geography. The fifth grade studies civilizations up to approximately 500 B.C., including Mesopotamia, North Africa, China, India, and Mediterranean civilizations; the sixth grade does a chronological survey from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D., again on a world-wide basis, including classical Greece, Rome, China, and India; the seventh grade begins circa 500 A.D. and carries the narrative through the explorations of the fifteenth century; and the eighth grade completes the narrative up to the modern age. A unit on civics is part of the seventh- or eighth-grade history program. As they study the history of each region, the students analyze the interdependency between political and cultural developments and the physical environment. As part of the history curriculum, and at all grade levels, students are introduced to our system of government, along with others in the world.

PCS students learn geography in conjunction with their study of history. The geographic concepts and learning outcomes are from the Guidelines for Geographic Education prepared by the Joint Committee on Geographic Education of the National Council for Geographic Education and The Association of American Geographers. Map skills start with simple location and advance to interpretation of coordinates, elevations, economic and climatic data, etc. These mapping skills promote geometric concepts such as scale, coordinate systems, and two-dimensional projections of three-dimensional objects.

Science

Numerous studies and reports decry the inadequacy of science education in the United States. For example, in 1991 the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government described the current scientific illiteracy as ``a chronic and serious threat to our nation's future.'' Science education at the primary and secondary levels in most schools today is chaotic and ineffective. It ranges from rote memorization of isolated facts and vocabulary, to vague, ``hands-on'' explorations that do not lead anywhere.

Princeton Charter School adopts a ``minds-on, hands-on'' approach to science education; it stresses quantitative reasoning as well as experimentation and observation. Students are encouraged to be curious about the natural world surrounding them and come to understand the importance of science in many different careers. The PCS experience will be for some students a good first step towards a career in science, but every student will learn through practice the ``scientific method'' - which is really a disciplined approach to discovery that applies to almost all walks of life.

Our approach uses three essential components of science education, identified in the Iowa Guide to Curriculum Development in Science: ``knowledge, skills, and application of scientific information in resolving problems. Knowledge refers to the facts, theories, and principles of science. The skills or processes of science include activities embodied in the scientific method, which encompasses the ability to formulate and state hypotheses and to evaluate them by experimentation or observation. Application is the use of science content and processes not only in work but also in personal, social, and political decision making.'' The PCS science curriculum complies with the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards for Science as described in Appendix B.

In science as in any other subject, children learn in an incremental manner. In early grades (K-3), science should be fun and stimulating, designed to make children explore and wonder about the world; to learn to ask questions, and seek answers. Backyard birds, magnets, the solar system, simple machines, and dinosaurs are topics which have intrigued children for years. In grades 4-8 the approach becomes more rigorous. Students start to ask quantitative questions and develop the ability to determine if they have enough information to answer them. As student's mathematical skills increase, they are applied more extensively in the science program.

Four major areas are covered: physical sciences, life sciences, earth sciences, and astronomy. Some topics from each area are included each year. Emphasis is placed on understanding how facts are interrelated through natural laws and mathematical relationships. For example, the concept of energy is first used to discuss the conservation law in physical and chemical transformations, and then in the metabolism of living organisms, and finally in the food web. Other examples include the use of probability in genetic studies, or the application of conservation of momentum to understand rocket propulsion. The process skills emphasized are: observing, measuring, classifying, recording, predicting, hypothesizing, inferring, and experimenting. Knowledge and skills mastered are used to discuss issues of social concern, such as burning of fossil fuels.

During selected science periods, students are introduced to computers and their underlying software and hardware concepts. More science period class time is devoted to computer study in the early years, since it is ``hands-on,'' and because students are capable of mastering many computer-usage concepts and skills. In K-1, students are familiarized with the operation of a computer, exposed to basic related vocabulary, and become comfortable with a small number of application programs including a drawing package. In grades 2-3, additional skills and vocabulary are taught, and students begin to use word processing software to prepare reports. During third grade, keyboard skills are emphasized. By the end of fourth grade, all students are proficient at word processing, capable of creating and manipulating a database and spreadsheet, and use its graphing component. Current strategies for navigation and search on the Web are presented to students beginning in third grade. However, the speed of change in this area requires a dynamic approach to establishing curriculum content.

The Arts

The arts are a fundamental component of the educational program at PCS. The curriculum includes visual arts, music, theater/drama, and dance. Creative writing as well as some elements of drama are integrated into the language arts curriculum. Following the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards for the Visual and Performing Arts, our goal is to achieve art literacy for all students, i.e., to educate not only providers, but also recipients of the arts [Literacy in the Arts: An Imperative for New Jersey Schools, October 1989].

Arts education is best accomplished through participatory experiences. All PCS students actively ``make art'' from the earliest years. For example, in music students are provided with choral singing experience, as well as age-appropriate instrumental instruction. All students learn to read music and the rudiments of music theory. They learn composed music and also explore the principles of combining sounds through their own improvisation and composition activities. In visual arts, students learn the elements of drawing, painting, and sculpture. A variety of techniques for creating two or three-dimensional art are taught; creative explorations coexist with instruction in specific techniques.

In addition to the ``art making'' component, students learn the elements of each art form's language - the vocabulary, the grammar, and the syntax of music, visual art, drama, and dance. Differences and similarities among examples of the arts from around the world are analyzed. Uses of the arts, and conventions and fashions in the arts are discussed in conjunction with the study of art history. Students learn how to use the acquired knowledge, art vocabulary, and analytical skills to develop an aesthetic appreciation of the arts.

Princeton is fortunate to have McCarter Theater, the Princeton University Art Museum, the Westminster Conservatory of Music, the Princeton Ballet School, the Arts Council of Princeton, and world-class artists. Whenever possible and appropriate, these resources are used in the Arts curriculum.

World Languages

Following the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards for World Languages, Princeton Charter School teaches a modern foreign language to every student in grades 1-8. Students who begin study of a second language in elementary school and continue its study for a number of years have a much better chance of achieving full proficiency. Classes meet each day to maximize exposure to the sounds of the new language and to provide as much immersion experience as possible.

In grades 1-3, to take full advantage of the young child's special ability to imitate sounds and absorb linguistic concepts, students are taught through games, songs and dramatizations. Teachers use manipulatives and visual aids, stressing oral expression and listening comprehension. Cultural elements and basic vocabulary are introduced through stories describing pictures. Students are encouraged to play and sing, to name pictures, and exchange simple sentences among themselves. By grade 4, students are introduced to the written language, and begin to learn specific vocabulary and verb conjugations. Teachers continue to use visuals and dramatization, supplemented with newspapers, Web documents, magazine articles, product labels, and so on. By 6th grade, formal grammar and syntax are studied. Short stories, poetry, and later novels are used to focus class discussion and build reading comprehension, while studying written expression. Milestones of achievement range from mastering a small set of phrases and vocabulary words in 1st grade, through genuine literary expression in 8th.

The language program is integrated in a meaningful way with other subjects. For example, when 1st grade students learn addition and subtraction in mathematics, language class might practice these operations in the new language. When 6th grade students analyze style and content of English texts, they might perform the same exercises in language class using short stories or poems. Throughout the program, classroom learning is supplemented by audio tapes, films, and computer software programs that allow students to build vocabulary and understand sentence structure.

In grades 7 and 8, instruction in Latin may replace instruction in the selected second language either once or twice per week. Etymological and syntactic parallels and differences are explored, giving students a new perspective on the way the English language functions, as well as a deeper understanding of its roots.

Health and Physical Education

PCS provides a comprehensive health and physical education program in accordance with the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards in Appendix B. Most health topics are covered in the science curriculum; certain topics such as substance abuse prevention and family-life education may be scheduled during science or physical education class time. Students learn about health promotion and disease prevention, human growth and development, nutritional science (to develop healthy eating habits), accident and fire prevention, and physical activity concepts (to develop physical fitness). Part of the program focuses on nonviolent strategies for conflict resolution. Students learn about the purposes and proper uses of medicines, and also about deleterious effects of alcohol, tobacco, and other mood-altering drugs. Special topics such as prevention of drug and alcohol abuse, prevention of cigarette use, safety training, and information about Lyme disease, AIDS, and HIV transmission are enhanced with presentations by some of the many community services available in the Princeton area. A list of the health and outreach organizations contacted is supplied in Section 5.13.

Students learn about age-appropriate aspects of human sexuality and family life as part of the health program, provided parents/legal guardians agree to their participation in this part of the program.

Princeton Charter School encourages physical activity every day. The school's daily schedule promotes physical activity throughout the day, through free play between classes as well as organized programs. During the midday recess, as well as during one of the 15-minute breaks, students exercise or participate in fitness activities, sports, or free play. In addition, one 45-minute period per week will be devoted to elements of dance, rhythmic and creative movement, martial arts, team sports, or personal fitness programs that develop cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility. For example, the students receive instruction in basic skills such as throwing, catching, and running that are common to a range of physical activities. The importance of safety is stressed.

School Calendar, Schedule, and Hours of Operation


School Calendar 1997-1998
     
August 25 Mon Faculty In-Service begins
September 8 Mon First day of school
October 2 Thu Rosh Hoshanah Holiday
November 27-28 Thu, Fri Thanksgiving Recess Holiday
December 20-January 4   Winter Recess Holiday
January 19 Mon Martin Luther King Day Holiday
February 16 Mon President's Day Holiday
April 4-12   Spring Recess Holiday
May 25 Mon Memorial Day Holiday
June 19 Fri Classes End*
June 22-26 Mon-Fri Make-up Days*
  *Tentative: based on emergency closings


The school day will run from 8:00 A.M. to 3:15 P.M. Among the special features of the schedule for the lower grades are activity breaks separating major blocks of instructional time to allow children to release energy, socialize, and exercise. Tutoring or individual reading time is built into the schedule so that students may be tutored without missing valuable classroom learning. English and mathematics are studied for at least an hour a day. Studio art and science experiments are accommodated in longer blocks of time as needed.

Although it will vary according to grade level, the following schedule illustrates the time spent in each subject area. The time blocks are not rigid; especially in the lower grades, teachers modify them as needed.

A Typical Schedule
   
8:00 - 8:15 Administration/warmup lessons
8:15 - 9:15 Mathematics
9:15 - 9:30 Break/Snack
9:30 - 10:30 English, discussion, grammar, spelling, writing, speaking
10:30 - 10:45 Break/Games
10:45 - 11:30 History/Geography
11:30 - 12:15 Lunch/Recess/Games
12:15 - 1:00 Science (Health class once every two weeks)
1:00 - 1:45 Individual Reading and Tutoring
1:45 - 2:30 World Languages
2:30 - 3:15 Music/Art/Fitness & Dance/Drama


The expected hours of operation are 7:30 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. These hours may need to be adjusted based on facilities limitations.

Grade Range

PCS will begin operation in the 1997-98 school year as a 4-6 elementary school, and will expand yearly until a K-8 configuration is achieved.

Innovative Strategies for High Student Achievement

Princeton Charter School is committed to teaching methods that provide students the support and challenges they need to master grade-appropriate skills, ideas, and facts in every subject area. The school atmosphere encourages academic achievement, recognizes the importance of hard work and personal responsibility, and holds out high expectations for every student and teacher. Princeton Charter School cannot hope to erase achievement differences entirely, but it believes that a strong education program will significantly ameliorate them.

A feature of the PCS program that distinguishes it from most public schools is that early intervention is provided so that children do not fall irremediably behind. Several strategies are used to promote high achievement for all students:

  1. Tutoring: During daily reading period (half hour), students may receive tutoring from the faculty. This is perhaps the most important PCS instructional innovation. Its use is not limited to remediation. Even students with a strong achievement record sometimes need this kind of one-on-one instruction.
  2. Program adjustments: The school views all subject areas as important, but success in reading, writing, and basic mathematics is seen as crucial for K-4 students. During these years, special steps are taken to support any student who appears to be at risk in these areas. If the daily tutoring period proves insufficient, the PCS teacher, in consultation with the Head of School and parents, may consider adjusting the student's weekly academic schedule, so that some additional time is made available for tutoring. Other situations may warrant schedule changes as well. An appropriately modified program is provided for any student with an individual educational plan which requires it.
  3. Flexible and highly mobile groupings: When appropriate the teacher may use either achievement-level or special-interest groupings as a tool to ensure that all students receive appropriate and stimulating instruction.
  4. The faculty establishes public milestones to punctuate a student's progress and to give students and the whole PCS community an opportunity to celebrate academic achievement. Milestones are not competitive; they are goals that students, with the help of teachers, set for themselves and meet successfully. A well-presented report showing proper use of data analysis, a grammatically correct tall-tale showing proper use of the elements of a story, or an instrumental musical performance, are examples of such milestones.
  5. Active breaks are incorporated into the schedule to allow students to release energy, socialize, and exercise so that they may be more attentive during instruction time.

Other strategies PCS uses to promote timely mastery of the knowledge and skills specified in the curriculum are discussed more fully in the appropriate sections. Briefly, these are:

  1. The PCS curriculum minimizes fragmentation of an academic discipline into independent and unrelated units; the emphasis is on using previously acquired knowledge and skills for further learning.
  2. Assessment is integrated with the curriculum to identify students for whom additional tutoring or challenges may be appropriate in a timely fashion. Assessment is also used to evaluate the effectiveness of different teaching methods and curriculum materials.
  3. Instructional materials, including textbooks, reading lists, enrichment materials, and faculty or community-contributed supplements are reviewed carefully.


Partnerships

The Princeton Charter School Founders have identified and contacted a range of local social service and health care providers, all of whom have indicated that their services would be available to the students of Princeton Charter School. These groups are listed below.
  • Adopt-a-Cop: Princeton police officers visit schools with a series of lessons/talks about various personal safety topics.
  • Carrier Center for Counseling: a private provider of mental and social health services in Skillman which also provides free community outreach programs such as workshops on eating disorders, addiction, anxiety, and depression; it maintains a speakers bureau which provides speakers to community groups.
  • CONTACT: a United Way agency serving Mercer County and offering a helpline for adolescents who need referrals or are in need of counseling.
  • Corner House: provides preventive and educational training for teachers, youths, and their families, including substance abuse treatments when necessary. Corner House may help schools develop curricula in its area of expertise and trains teachers to identify, access, and use available resources.
  • DARE: a substance abuse prevention and education program administered by the Mercer County Sheriff's Department; DARE officers travel to schools to speak with youngsters about the dangers of substance abuse.
  • HiTops Teen Health Center: a clinical service provider in Princeton which offers confidential reproductive health care, counseling and referrals for young men and women.
  • Lift Inc.: a Mercer County agency which offers counseling services, pregnancy prevention, young family parenting services, tutoring, and other support for teenagers; it also provides referrals.
  • Lyme Disease Network provides information on Lyme disease.
  • MECHA: an organization which provides generalized counseling for Spanish-speaking persons in the Princeton community as well as translations and interpreting services for Spanish-speakers needing to interact with English-speaking service providers.
  • Princeton Medical Center: has outreach services which include information on nutrition, diseases, and health issues. The Community Education Department provides free lectures and screenings to the community and the Public Relations Department provides a speakers bureau.
  • YMCA and YWCA: both of these Princeton organizations, which run established after-school day care programs at the local elementary schools, are willing to provide the same to the Princeton Charter School students, as well as expand the scope from simple child care to an enriched component.

 




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