Our curricular approach has several salient features which make it unique and effective:
Comprehensive program: What we teach
Methodology that works: How we teach
Differentiated instruction: How we personalize
The whole child: Teaching people, not “subjects”
Teaching for meaning: Integration of subjects and thematic learning
Language arts and literacy
Science and social studies
Hebrew and Judaic studies
Whole child education: Health and social/emotional learning
Tzedakah and service projects
- Comprehensive program: What we teach
We provide a rich program that focuses on key skills in literacy and mathematics, that highlights the sciences, social science and the arts, and features intensive study of Hebrew language and Judaic culture and thought. Our program places emphasis on developing the skills students need in a rigorous academic environment in middle school and beyond. We teach a great many things for exposure, or breadth, and in addition spend time on topics to focus on depth and complexity.
- Methodology that works: How we teach
Levey uses an eclectic and pragmatic mix of what works with the children we have at a given time and their learning styles and abilities, strengths, and preferences. We personalize, which means that the program is flexible and accommodating to each student’s needs. We have an effective balance of traditional and progressive methods. We mix direct instruction in mathematics and literacy where appropriate with hands-on and project-based learning that integrates subjects and connects them in a way that makes learning clear and meaningful. We integrate technology to enhance learning rather than for its own sake, seeking ways to increase creativity and expression. Field trips, guest speakers and direct experience enhance learning.
- Differentiated instruction: How we personalize
We differentiate our curriculum with a focus on helping each child to excel and meet his or her potential. Gifted students are able to progress, pursue interests, and move at a rate that fits their abilities. Children who need more assistance are able to receive it without stigma. We seek the balance between choice and structure that will allow our students to develop their boundless curiosity and natural love of learning.
- The whole child: Teaching people, not “subjects”
We embrace the whole child and value social and emotional learning and growth, spiritual development, and being a good person as well as a learned individual. Students think critically, solve problems, and function well in a collaborative setting. Teachers establish a community of learners in their classrooms, and each child is treated as a part of the community with privileges and responsibilities. The Honor Code, “Code of Kavod,” is important and celebrated. Tikkun olam, repairing the world, is part of what we do each day through actions and words.
- Teaching for meaning: Integration of subjects and thematic learning
On a regular basis, Jewish values and Jewish knowledge are integrated into the academic and arts program. For example, a class studying biographies might focus on famous Jewish Americans or a class studying environmental science will examine Jewish texts on taking care of the earth. Conversely, Jewish studies often teaches components of other subjects, for example a class learning about the climate of Israel created hydroponic systems for growing plants. A class studying weather created weather broadcasts in Hebrew and English. Arts specialists integrate what is being studied in the academic classroom with their curriculum. Learning is often organized around thematic units of study (see social studies and science). Our approach is high-interest and challenging, allowing our faculty and students room to be creative. Levey’s program captures the enthusiasm of our students as they embark on new adventures in learning.
Language arts and literacy
Language arts are central to almost all that we do; each subject we study has a component of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. We aim to build skills for use in all subjects and to develop in our students a love of words, books, and reading. We use several programs within the school and continually revise and upgrade our methods and resources. We integrate technology when it is advantageous to greater learning. This approach is known as “balanced literacy,” as it combines a rich balance of approaches and studies.
Our reading program combines the study of great literature, phonics, and whole language instruction, reading fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. We include “shared reading” as well as reading groups and literature circles. We guide students in reading and give opportunities for independent reading. In the first grade, for example, each morning students gather to read a morning message or discuss a poem. This exposes students to a variety of literary styles while reinforcing phonetic and reading skills. Practice in reading happens throughout the day in small groups and individually, together with instruction in skills and strategies. Reading assessments are given throughout the year to ensure that instruction is provided at the appropriate level and targets are being met.
As part of our community emphasis, and to promote love of reading, older and younger students partner as reading buddies, and guest readers often share stories with children.
Writing instruction includes integration with reading instruction and a focus on the writing process through writers workshop. We include word study, vocabulary, and handwriting/keyboarding.
Students focus on both skills and self-expression. They learn to follow processes and also have opportunities to write freely. Students write frequently, whether it be journaling, stories, poems, or letters. In the fourth and fifth grade, for example, writing projects may include a narrative story based on experience, a persuasive essay, a fictional story that includes multiple drafts and a pre-unit on character development, a unit on poetry, and several research reports which include instruction in note taking and synthesizing information.
Our approach to mathematics study is one that combines basic skills and computation study, hands-on problem solving, critical thinking, and application of concepts. We use manipulatives, counting, writing, and discussion as well as traditional math materials. We have created a scope and sequence that covers major areas of math and has a yearly calendar of concepts taught at grade level/appropriate level for each student (see below). The investigations program is used as a base for some of the learning, emphasizing inquiry-based learning and introduction of new concepts through experience with concrete materials and games. Other programs such as Everyday Math and teacher-created materials are also used to enhance learning.
Third through fifth grade students take a standardized test in math and reading in the spring of each year to assess both individual and group progress. We do not teach to the test, but do give the opportunity to learn the skill of test taking.
Science and social studies
Students are curious about the world around them and learn enthusiastically when pursuing thematic units. In large part, students are taught high-interest units of study which combine both social studies and science topics or focus on one. While the school has certain topics which are required and repeated, others are added based on interest and richness of resources.
During these units of study, students complete projects, do research, and form their own questions and hypotheses. They conduct research and do projects in groups and as individuals. They practice reading for content knowledge and writing to express opinions and communicate information. They incorporate visual arts into hands-on creations. They develop skills in categorizing, finding relationships, exploring and synthesizing multiple sources of information, and expressing their understanding through presentations, writing, and art. Field trips and visitors enrich these studies.
Sample topics have included:
- Pre-K and Kindergarten: seasons, the calendar, the rain forest, Jewish and American holidays and heroes, butterflies and insects
- Early Elementary: ocean habitats, sea mammals, globe and map study, mystery powders, Maine’s maritime history, Maine’s forest habitat, simple machines, forms of matter, introduction to the human body
- Upper Elementary: electricity and magnetism, light and sound, the fifty states, immigration, colonial America and the American Revolution, Native Americans, earth science (rocks, minerals, weather, natural phenomena), health and human development, famous Jewish Americans
Additionally, project-based learning that is student-directed and -centered is used in several areas each year. An example is a recent “Go Green” initiative that lasted over a two year period.
Hebrew and Judaic studies
Levey offers Hebrew language both as a cultural and religious benefit and as a boon to overall language development. Many studies show that second language acquisition is successful when taught in early grades and when it is consistent and ongoing. Language learning has positive effects on a child’s ability to acquire basic language and verbal skills, enhances brain development, and produces positive attitudes about other cultures. Our graduates gain a heightened understanding of the grammar and structure of all languages. Hebrew is introduced in Pre-K and Kindergarten and is continued daily through fifth grade. Older students experience Hebrew immersion in most Hebrew class periods, listening and speaking primarily in Hebrew.
Hebrew study focuses on speaking, reading, writing, and learning blessings and prayers. Classes are alive with singing and with joyous celebration.
Judaic studies cover a broad mix of topics: Torah and text study, Jewish holidays and seasons, variety and meaning of religious practice, history of the Jewish people, ethics and values, and the state of Israel. Units are also taught on such topics as Jewish life cycles and Jews in America. Favorite times each week include such traditions as “Tea and Torah” and Shabbat parties. Kabbalat Shabbat celebrations with special guests who are members of our broader community take place on most Friday afternoons.
Instruction involves a variety of methods, and students and teachers engage in lively and deep discussion. Students of all backgrounds benefit from and are engaged in critical thinking and spiritual and ethical exploration. As a community day school, we celebrate and embrace the traditions of all kinds of Judaism, along with those of our non-Jewish students. We respect the diversity of all of our families and the Portland community as we share and learn.
The school owns 13 shared iPads, three smartboard interactive whiteboards with projectors, several laptops, and desktop computers. Students and classes have easy access to their use. We work with experts in technology integration to use these tools with best practices and to update our knowledge on a regular basis. Students’ level of excitement and participation is heightened by creative use of technology.
The arts are an essential component of a well-rounded education, giving expression and expansion to concepts and ideas, and also providing joy and creative experiences for children.
The school provides weekly classes in music and art, and in addition integrates artistic pursuits into all aspects of its curriculum, including drama as well as singing and visual art.
Music education spans a wide range of topics and activities, including rhythm, music theory, and music history. Students learn to play basic instruments such as recorders and ukuleles. Judaic content is integrated into the program, especially when in preparation for performances and student showcases. Song is pervasive, both in our music and Hebrew classes and throughout the school program.
Visual art at Levey Day School includes an emphasis on process as well as product. It introduces to the language of art and to a wide variety of media and techniques. Students learn about artists and art history. While building skills and understanding, the art program encourages individuality and fosters pride in achievement, self-expression and curiosity. To learn more about what is happening in art, please visit the Levey Day School Art Blog.
Drama and dramatic play take place during literacy units, thematic studies, and during Judaic studies social and emotional learning sessions. Students love performing for other classes and for their families.
In the elementary years, physical education is a time for children to enjoy physical activity and to play through a variety of activities including movement, fitness, sports, and games. Active participation is encouraged while the development of the body, mind, and social interaction is of importance as well. Students continue throughout the years to build gross and fine motor skills through instruction and practice. Classes are held outdoors when possible. Students also have recess time each day and opportunities to be outdoors occur throughout the school program.
Whole child education: Health and social/emotional learning
Our Code of Kavod, or Honor Code, is central to our school community. Caring, compassion, taking responsibility, and showing respect are values that are pervasive at Levey Day School. Students learn and discuss being a good person and citizen on a daily basis.
We believe in talking with children about their well-being and helping them to strengthen their relationships and their resilience. Students are most ready for learning when they feel secure, confident, safe, and positive. We use the successful research-based Second Step program to inculcate such skills as developing empathy, managing feelings, and resolving conflicts. The program takes just twenty minutes each week, but has a big impact.
Students also learn about good health habits, the human body, nutrition, and exercise at appropriate developmental levels. At all grade levels, our students discuss making good choices. In the fifth grade we offer units in puberty education and in resisting drugs and harmful substances.
Tzedakah and service projects
While children are young and their hearts are open, we introduce the fundamental Jewish value of performing mitzvot (kind deeds) by integrating a variety of service projects and tzedakah (righteous acts) into the school program. Students are encouraged to give coins to tzedakah each day and play an active role in deciding how to distribute the funds. Students visit senior living centers, participate in activities which support greening the environment, collect clothing and food for the needy, and participate in programs which support the people of Israel. They help out at school and at home, and develop tools to be active participants in their communities. Our students begin a lifelong commitment to tikkun olam, repairing the world.
Throughout our school year, we are alive with activities and programs that stimulate our children intellectually and creatively and foster a sense of community among children, teachers and families. The talent show, arts showcases, writers’ celebrations, closing ceremony, and class breakfasts are opportunities for expression and demonstration of accomplishment.
Grandparents and Special Friends Day provides a wonderful time for intergenerational connections. Community dinners, 5K and jog-a-thons, and an annual “Holy Smokes!” Kosher Barbecue bring us together to honor community and underscore the importance of family. On many holidays there are traditional school-wide activities where parents and siblings join students in celebration, such as eating lunch in the sukkah, enjoying a model Passover Seder, or lighting Chanukah candles together at a yearly celebration.
In 2016-2017 Levey is sponsoring a series of movie nights , screening educational and family films. On November 3 we will screen the documentary “Screenagers,” along with a children’s film running simultaneously. Here is the link to purchase tickets and more information: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/levey-day-school-presents-screenagers-growing-up-in-the-digital-age-tickets-26286136542
Students may be enrolled in the after-school kids club run by the local Jewish Community Association which meets at our school. In addition, the school has over the years sponsored many different activities on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, including:
- Chess club
- Girl Scouts
- Running club
- Odyssey of the Mind
- Fun and games
- Mad Science
Some activities require a fee and others are free. They vary with the season and interest.