The Hewitt School mourns with deep sadness the passing of Linda MacMurray Gibbs, who served as Hewitt’s sixth head of school from 2000 to 2010. Linda believed wholeheartedly in the power of education, and her visionary leadership of independent schools made a lasting impact on the many faculty, administrators, and staff she mentored and the countless students she taught.
Dynamic, Girl-Focused, and Student-Driven
At Hewitt, we understand that teaching is both an art and a science. Great teaching defines what we do in lower school. Our teachers not only think carefully about what we should teach our girls, but they also feel strongly about how we teach our girls. Our faculty members provide each student with a rich learning experience that is dynamic, girl-focused, and student-driven. This does not just benefit our students—it also attracts inquisitive and passionate teachers. While our warm, familial atmosphere endures decade after decade, our curriculum is constantly evolving.
Terell Cooper-edwards, Head of Lower School
Might your daughter find her purpose in Hewitt's lower school? Contact our Admissions team.
lower school curriculum overviews
Kindergarten is a time of wonder and exploration. It also is a time of transition. At Hewitt, girls begin their journey with teachers who deeply empathize with the experience of stepping into a new world. A kindergarten student walks into her classroom, delighted to discover that this morning is choice time. Puzzle solving, Lego building, and drawing stations beckon, and she occupies a spot on the rug with several girls working with bits from a large Lego box. Soon, the class gathers in a circle for morning meeting, an essential routine that transitions the girls mindfully into the day’s learning. This is a hallmark of how we begin learning together at Hewitt. After a careful review of the day’s schedule—science, mathematics, arts, literacy, and language—the girls are excited and ready for the adventure ahead.
In kindergarten, girls learn to care for each other and to explore their feelings, especially through cooperative work and play. In our joyful yet structured environment, girls come to love learning and appreciate that they have a purpose each day: to learn alongside their teachers, collaborate with their classmates, and develop a growth mindset. We assign two teachers to every kindergarten classroom, ensuring ample support for girls during individual work time, and all of our academic lessons integrate elements of inquiry and play.
The entire kindergarten team at Hewitt celebrates the power of words and the joys of reading. Our literacy program kindles the girls’ interest in reading by engaging them in the delights of a good story through daily read-alouds. Word games reinforce the relationship between working and long-term memory, as girls play with repeating words as they progress toward mastery. Skill building in handwriting accompanies opportunities for girls to visually represent part of their story, which develops their confidence to express themselves fully on paper. Imaginative and dramatic play bolster fundamental comprehension and communication skills. The reading workshop model allows the girls to apply newly learned strategies and skills to their own reading with increasing independence, and encourages them to to share their ideas about books with their peers. Our reading curriculum incorporates the expertise of literacy specialists who collaborate with homeroom teachers to ensure that each student is engaged at her level of decoding, fluency, and comprehension skills. A variety of teaching structures–whole class, small groups, and one-to-one conferences give each girl the chance to flourish as a reader. We assess every Hewitt kindergartener formally and informally throughout the year to measure her progress and to determine her individual needs, all the while spurring her to achieve her personal best.
Our philosophy of teaching writing in kindergarten complements our philosophy of teaching reading. Girls cultivate their ability to tell meaningful stories about their lives through drawings, labels, and words. Students write about real-life experiences, areas of personal expertise, and their opinions. They also experiment with nonfiction. They become familiar with the concept of “writing for a reader”--or writing with the intended audience in mind. Girls learn the processes of writing, revising, editing, and publishing as they write about what matters to them. They also learn to share their writing aloud for an audience. Teachers meet regularly during workshop time with students for individual conferences to share feedback, fostering confidence in the power of the editing process.
Kindergarten is the first year in a K-5 sequence of a Singapore-based mathematics program, Math in Focus. This curriculum combats cultural messages that boys are “better at math” by providing a workshop-oriented, conceptual approach that emphasizes understanding over memorization. Students develop a deep understanding and love of mathematics through routines, investigations, and games. The program roots mathematical concepts in the context of real-world, non-routine problems that are pertinent and interesting to girls. Students have opportunities to defend their thinking verbally, make connections, and see multiple perspectives and problem-solving strategies. With an emphasis on numeracy, the girls learn to use numbers to make connections and realize their relationships to real-life situations.
The mathematics program lays a foundation for a more abstract understanding of numbers in future grades. Kindergarteners solidify their abilities to count; learn how to represent, order, compare, read, and write numbers; and discover systematic ways to make combinations of various whole numbers using tangible and visual manipulatives as well as pictorial representations to model their mathematical thinking. They apply their growing understanding of the number system to solve quantitative problems involving joining and separating, first using concrete objects to act out these addition and subtraction situations. Once they develop a conceptual understanding of the operations, students practice creating pictures to model problem situations before learning how to represent situations with abstract numerical expressions. We encourage girls to persevere in solving mathematical challenges with determination and grit, and we scaffold math skills so our kindergarteners develop confidence, a love of math, and eagerness to try new ways of working with numbers.
Hewitt’s social studies curriculum provides girls with the skills to think about themselves in relation to their world, encouraging students to pose questions and then using those inquiries to shape the curriculum. Our kindergarten explores what makes a community, using key social studies skills to learn about themselves, their classmates, and what it means to be a part of a classroom community. With a focus on individual similarities and differences, we encourage kindergarteners to celebrate the spectrum of human diversity. During the family unit, girls learn about various family compositions, what makes a family, and the cultures and traditions celebrated by different families.
Throughout the second half of the year, kindergarteners broaden their concept of community. By interviewing different “community helpers” at Hewitt, students learn about the unique roles in a school and how they can help make a positive difference in their own community. The kindergarteners wrap up the year with a study of human wants and needs. Students engage in rich explorations of shelter, clothing, and food through books, interdisciplinary hands-on projects, class discussions, and relevant field trips designed to enhance the curriculum with experiences beyond the classroom.
At Hewitt, we recognize that first grade is a big step—which is why we ensure our first graders can stop by their old kindergarten homeroom most mornings on their way to their new classrooms. Then each day, after morning meeting, first graders dive into a curriculum that emphasizes mastery of core skills in literacy and mathematics—working in small groups, as a class, and as individuals in ways that support their pace of learning. With one year proudly under their belts, they are eager to explore the world, learn new ideas, and make connections across subjects. They immerse themselves in problem solving, storytelling, and scientific inquiry as well as growing as French or Spanish language learners, historians, artists, musicians, and designers. Our public speaking curriculum fosters confidence in oral presentation of students’ original writing, building confidence in our girls as they develop a unique voice.
In literacy, Hewitt readers develop their decoding skills and comprehension strategies through a workshop model that features student choice, “just right books,” and individual teacher coaching. All faculty members are well trained in the reading workshop model of student conferencing, and their classrooms can quickly transform into calm, quiet bastions of reading and note-taking about books. Head teachers and literacy specialists provide personal instruction in reading for each girl, while also fostering confidence in her ability to read independently. We assess each girl formally and informally throughout the year to monitor progress, and girls regularly set new reading goals in conferences with their teacher. In addition, girls engage in a language-rich environment throughout the school day with read-alouds, word study, shared reading, independent reading, and interactive writing.
Our girls’ emerging love of reading coincides with the first grade’s celebration of telling personal stories and enjoying nonfiction books about topics of interest. Their joy in language and emerging sense of themselves as an audience make them eager for the tools they learn through Hewitt’s writing workshop program. Hewitt girls love to be the authors of their own stories. In first grade writing workshop, girls build their skills by writing with focus, detail, and dialogue about what is close to their hearts. Units of study include “small moment” personal narrative stories, nonfiction and opinion pieces, and realistic fiction stories. Writing at Hewitt is a process, and girls learn to take each piece through planning, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing as they develop a much greater awareness of writing for an audience.
The mathematics program in first grade, Math in Focus, continues the Singapore approach. As first graders prepare for a more extensive study of addition and subtraction, they practice organizing and counting strategies of objects to 120. They develop and apply skip counting skills by unitizing objects into sets of 2s, 5s, and 10s to count more efficiently. First graders use their developing number sense, counting skills, early place value knowledge, and understanding of number combinations to learn early addition and subtraction properties and strategies. Students develop their mathematical vocabulary as well as the ability to share their thinking and challenge the thinking of others.
First graders are challenged daily to find solutions to their own problems. Engaging investigations involving double decker buses, beaded necklaces, blocks from the block room, and bake sales ensure the girls are engaged in their learning of mathematics and see its application to the real world. We encourage students to use their math skills to deconstruct complex, non-routine problems and to remain persistent when working on math challenges. Classroom teachers and a math specialist provide a team-teaching approach that ensures our girls have every opportunity to grow as mathematicians.
Social studies provides a unifying narrative for some of the essential questions girls consider in first grade: What is a city? How do people move around in a city? Why do cities need parks?
The much-anticipated Central Park unit allows girls to explore Central Park using an inquiry approach. Students use their own experiences and curiosity to guide the curriculum while mastering developmentally appropriate social studies skills. Through field trips, interdisciplinary work, and guided explorations, first graders learn the relevance of Central Park to their families and to the larger New York City community.
With this strong sense of place, the girls then engage in a unit on environmentalism. Students consider environmental issues they have observed from their own life experiences and work together to research those issues using print and digital resources. A visit to New York City’s reuse center, Materials for the Arts, allows students to learn more about ways to use everyday extras and discarded items for artistic and cultural purposes. The unit culminates with first graders creating posters to teach their fellow students about the importance of being environmentally conscious.
Second grade marks a significant moment in a girl’s Hewitt journey as she eclipses the mid-point of her time in our lower school program. As such, second grade is a time of growing independence for girls, accompanied by a greater desire to explore friendships and take on new responsibilities. Hewitt second graders are also ready to think about next steps: What is my neighborhood like compared to my friend’s? Why do some people live uptown and others downtown? Why do we have so many bridges in New York City? We nurture girls’ emerging passion for critical thinking across subjects in their language study, reading and writing workshops, public speaking, science, and the arts.
The literacy program helps students transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Girls make this transition at different times throughout the year, and our teachers are deeply attuned to supporting girls in reaching advanced levels of comprehension. The reading workshop model continues, and girls work with both fiction and nonfiction texts at their reading level, supported by the feedback coaching of our homeroom teachers and literacy specialists. A greater emphasis on comprehension and increasing stamina builds on the strong foundation of earlier grades, using strategies such as context clues to derive word meaning, understanding the origin of root words, using prefixes and suffixes, and studying the structural analysis of words.
Reading comprehension skills grow more complex as students explore character development, plot, and setting as readers of fiction, and main idea, key details, and vocabulary as readers of nonfiction. Students develop strategies for summarizing, which is a powerful tool for long-term retention of the story. Students also develop their inferential thinking skills and deepen their understanding of the literature they read.
The writing workshop program similarly advances to incorporate a wider sense of genre. In writing workshop, second graders improve their narrative, informational, opinion, and poetry writing. Girls look to their own experiences and interests in order to write about topics and ideas that are relevant and purposeful. The girls study the published works of mentor authors and discuss what each writer may have hoped for in telling their story. Through this inquiry process, the girls identify how established authors use craft to convey meaning; they then try these craft techniques in their own writing. Our second grade writers learn beginning research skills and paraphrasing to create engaging and research-based nonfiction writing. In each unit of study, girls experience the full writing cycle of rehearsing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing in order to gain a greater awareness of writing for an audience.
The mathematics program in second grade continues to challenge our girls through real-life problem-solving opportunities. Students explore a variety of problem-solving strategies and use manipulatives, visuals, and abstract representations to portray their mathematical thinking. Second graders solidify their understanding of place value and equivalence in two- and three-digit numbers and learn multiple ways to represent these numbers as well as compare their magnitude. The students then use their knowledge of place value and the properties of operations to assist them in solving a variety of addition and subtraction problems. Second graders develop a crucial, foundational number sense by working on mental math strategies for addition and subtraction. Students are encouraged to look closely at the numbers they are adding and choose a strategy that will help them arrive at an accurate answer with efficiency.
Instructional time focuses on the following critical areas: extending place value understanding, building fluency with addition and subtraction, a conceptual introduction to multiplication and fractions, and a deep study of money. Our second grade teachers place a strong emphasis on a unified math vocabulary, and we encourage students to use their math skills to deconstruct complex problems and to remain persistent when working on math challenges.
In social studies the year begins with discussions about identity. Students engage in critical explorations of their own gender, race, class, culture, and abilities through read-alouds, class discussions and debates, and various writing projects. This identity work lays a foundation for greater exploration of New York City in which second graders act as anthropologists, sociologists, and historians while considering the many neighborhoods that make up our city. Students use research materials, picture books, field trips, and neighborhood walks to learn about each neighborhood’s unique culture and community. Second graders also learn about the five city zones (commercial, residential, institutional, industrial, and green space) and consider needs versus wants in a community.
Students then engage in a neighborhood study, working in small groups to research and observe a specific neighborhood’s architecture, religious buildings, restaurants, grocery stores, languages, landmarks, and other identifiers. The neighborhood study culminates in the creation of a second grade model city. Each student-architect designs two structures inspired by her neighborhood observations, creating her own blueprints and building the structures using recycled materials.
In third grade, Hewitt girls gain greater fluency and comprehension as readers, develop strong organizational, grammatical, and vocabulary skills for writing, and hone their ability to think in more abstract ways about the world they inhabit. The workshop methodology that informs all lessons in third grade encourages our students to practice collaboration, to try multiple solutions to a problem, to learn how to speak up and share an idea, and to express themselves coherently on paper and in a presentation. As historians, they are ready to bring the past to bear on our understanding of the present. Our girls are growing up, and they are eager to know more about why things happen and how they can make a difference in the world.
The third grade literacy program teaches girls the importance of building a reading life. In reading workshop, students continue to develop a passion for reading rich texts across genres with the guidance of their teachers. They develop a sense of agency around their own reading choices, and we encourage them to read deeply in a particular genre if one appeals to them. Classroom teachers and literacy specialists create a team-teaching approach that fosters a love of literature. Teachers use a variety of structures–whole class, small groups, and one-to-one conferences–to ensure that each girl enjoys personal attention in meeting her learning goals.
Third graders in writing workshop develop their storytelling skills by learning to move beyond plot and summary to incorporate dramatic effect through specific details, such as dialogue. They craft true stories drawn from their lives and keep writing notebooks that become repositories for possible scenes in a narrative. They have opportunities to follow their passions and work on independent writing projects during the year that draw on their growing repertoire of writing skills.
The girls continue to develop the crucial skill of information writing as they research influential women to write engaging, fact-filled biographies that celebrate their learning about this special person. Students also write poetry incorporating figurative language and poetry techniques learned from mentor poets. Through writing, they investigate issues that matter to them, and compose persuasive speeches which lay the foundation for units in essay writing in the middle school.
As part of our public speaking program, girls prepare oral presentations of their speeches carefully, focusing on pace, enunciation, and eye contact. In each unit of study, girls experience writing as a process that includes brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. In addition, the students learn basic grammar conventions to compose complete and thoughtful sentences. By now, Hewitt girls appreciate the complex stages of writing for publication, and they possess the patience and determination to make sure they showcase their very best writing. They write for readers, not just teachers, and they take great pride in being young authors.
The Math in Focus curriculum in third grade continues the Singapore mathematics approach, building a strong foundational understanding of math concepts through extensive hands-on lessons, real-life problem solving, and the use of diagrams, manipulatives, and models. Reasoning routines and number talks are incorporated into daily lessons and provide opportunities for girls to discuss individual strategies and deepen their number sense. In addition, computation-based games and activities offer engaging ways to enhance flexibility with numbers. Once third graders have acquired a solid understanding of addition and subtraction processes through various methods and strategies, they are introduced to traditional algorithms. Instruction focuses on several critical areas: developing strong number sense and mental math flexibility, building computational fluency, and fostering logical thinking and communication skills. Teachers stress the power of a unified math vocabulary and the importance of collaboration in problem solving, and use growth mindset techniques to foster critical thinking skills. Students are encouraged to use their math skills to deconstruct complex problems, to identify multiple strategies for solving a single problem, to articulate their process for coming to a solution and defend their thinking both orally and in writing, and to remain persistent when working on math challenges. Each and every day, our third grade mathematicians rise to the occasion.
In social studies, third graders participate in an inquiry-based study of the Hudson River. Read-alouds, research, and discussion help students learn about the many facets of the Hudson, including its uses, history, and human impact upon the river. Geography and cartography skills are emphasized throughout the unit, and site visits help students familiarize themselves with the river’s geography, size, and scale. During these trips, the girls learn to make observations and record their thinking through various mediums. The third graders expand their understanding of the Hudson River through a collaboration with upper school students who are working with the Billion Oyster Project to restore the marine life and water quality of New York Harbor. Their study of the Hudson River culminates in a group project in which teams of third graders investigate 10-mile sections of the river, focusing on flora and fauna, transportation, and key landmarks and features. Using their findings, each group constructs a detailed three-dimensional model of their section of the river.
Entering their capstone year of lower school, fourth graders demonstrate resilience, curiosity, empathy, and courage, and are serious about service learning. Hewitt fourth graders have reached a level of reading and writing competence that allows them to dive deep into genre, both as readers and as writers. Their abstract thinking skills have developed to a point where they eagerly apply their conceptual understanding of mathematics to the world around them. They have developed historical perspective, both in terms of knowing key dates and details and understanding the arc of cause and effect. Thus, the fourth grade curriculum challenges them to engage in deep problem solving in the STEM fields, the arts, and the humanities.
Literacy in fourth grade combines the writing and reading workshop models to emphasize the idea of purpose: Why do we read? Why do we write? What books do we choose? And which stories do we want to tell? How can we positively impact the world beyond our school with our words? We place a strong emphasis on reading and understanding informational texts and the key skills needed to discern factual information. Primary sources take on great importance in bringing history to life, as girls learn to notice key details and interpret their significance while also considering multiple points of view on a topic. In their study of fiction, fourth graders continue to examine various story elements that include plot, setting, character development, conflict, and theme. They further add the study of literary devices such as symbolism and simile to develop their appreciation for figurative language. Girls enhance their abilities to express themselves and their ideas as they engage in book club discussions centered around social issues, fantasy, and a variety of genres. Students continue word study to master spelling patterns and deconstruct words for meaning.
The writing program in fourth grade emphasizes applying the skills learned in writing workshop to other disciplines. Students explore a variety of genres and learn how to write descriptive, narrative, literary, and persuasive essays. They also learn the power of voice in writing, and come to appreciate that they can convey presence with words. As narrative writers, they explore the arc of the story, use techniques to develop suspense, and craft writing to engage their audiences. Girls write responses to shared reading texts and learn to support their responses using evidence and examples. They also practice public speaking by presenting their work aloud. Additionally, girls gain an understanding of paragraph structure, topic sentences, supporting details, and concluding sentences. Students write in all classes—explaining their analytical thinking in math, taking on historical roles in social studies, and describing lab work in science—allowing them to see that writing is not just a task in English classes, but a lifelong skill needed to communicate in all areas.
In fourth grade mathematics, our program continues to guide girls in problem solving, skill consolidation, and a deep understanding of core mathematical concepts. Engaging investigations allow girls to make relevant connections to real-world problems as they continue building their conceptual understanding of math operations. Through reasoning routines, computation-based activities, and math discourse, fourth graders continue to develop an appreciation for alternative ways of thinking mathematically and deepen their number sense. Instructional time focuses on several crucial areas: fluency in multi-digit multiplication and division; a sophisticated understanding of fractions and decimals; the analysis and classification of geometric figures; and the evaluation of data, graphs, and probability. We place a strong emphasis on a unified math vocabulary as well as critical thinking skills, and girls are expected to reflect on their process as mathematicians and communicate their math thinking both orally and in writing. We encourage students to use their math skills to deconstruct complex problems, work collaboratively, articulate and defend their thought process for a particular solution, identify multiple strategies for solving a single problem, and remain persistent when working on math challenges. Resilience proves key to the development of girls’ growth mindset in mathematics—and across all other subjects.
The social studies program spurs girls to strengthen their growing skills as historians. Well versed in thinking about historical causality, fourth graders explore the varied causes of immigration around the world, with an emphasis on immigration to the United States during the active years of Ellis Island in New York City and Angel Island in San Francisco. Students investigate the role and impact that immigrants have made and continue to make on New York City using a variety of resources–maps, texts, videos, field trips, websites, and software–to develop their understanding of the material. We keep each student active and engaged through a rich variety of class work, including whole class discussions, partner work, independent work, small-group cooperative learning, and research projects.
In the fourth grade leadership program, students learn key leadership skills such as deep listening, collaboration, cooperative dialogue, and service. They mentor younger students, serving as role models who represent the diverse ways that girls can be leaders. This program incorporates daily community leadership responsibilities, features regular “committee” sessions organized by homeroom on ideas and topics suggested by their lower school classmates, and fosters ongoing interactions with middle and upper school student councils to share the lower school’s voice on issues that are important to them. Fourth graders also meet older girls and women for leadership discussions in a series of panels, speaker visits, and field trips during the year.
Public Speaking and Performing Arts
The fourth grade public speaking and performing arts curriculum serves as a counterweight to what Hewitt visiting scholar Rachel Simmons describes as the contraction of girls’ confidence, bodies, and voices as they enter puberty. Their leadership program gives girls strategies to speak in front of their peers and to answer questions from an audience. In addition fourth graders participate in an interdisciplinary musical theater program, co-taught by music and dance faculty who teach students how to develop stage presence, take up space, and project their voices when speaking before an audience. This capstone experience culminates in a spring performance for the entire lower school community.
At Hewitt, our young scientists work collaboratively as they build resilience and perseverance through hands-on learning. Following their own questions and curiosity, our girls are continually engaged in collecting information, solving problems, applying creativity, and communicating what they learn in our lab and out in the field.
In the STEAM Lab, our young scientists are immersed in both the scientific method as well as in the engineering design process as they build on their prior knowledge, collect information, carry out investigations, and record data. To help increase stamina and engagement with the wonders of scientific exploration, design, and building, we give the girls opportunities to apply scientific and mathematical concepts to engineering challenges. For example, second graders pose as environmental engineers and construct a water filter to help them better understand the process of filtration. Hewitt faculty use an interdisciplinary approach to enable students to connect the dots to what they learned in other disciplines. For example, in their year-long investigation of the Hudson River, third graders assume the role of civil engineers and learn how to strengthen and reinforce bridges in the STEAM Lab while simultaneously recreating a model of the Hudson River in social studies. Such dedicated, purposeful moments of experiential learning enable the girls to broaden and deepen their knowledge as capable and confident scientists.
As part of Hewitt’s commitment to educating girls as global citizens, students begin the study of a language in kindergarten. After studying French and Spanish during their kindergarten year, students choose to focus on one of those languages for the rest of lower school. By focusing at an early age on one second language, girls have time to absorb the sound of the language and begin to master basic vocabulary and grammar structures, preparing them for more intensive study in middle school. Lower school language classes are fun, creative, and action oriented, full of lively visual and audio documents. Lessons use gradual, spiral approaches to reinforce learning from one lesson to the next. Throughout the program, students focus on the incremental development of listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills, developing a good ear for the language and confidence in both oral and written communication.
Music education is essential to Hewitt’s lower school program. Our girls sing, play instruments, and participate in movement activities that encourage kinesthetic learning. We base our music curriculum on the Orff-Schulwerk method (which focuses on percussion and movement) and the Kodály method (which uses a child-developmental approach to sequence). After the children become familiar with a new musical concept, they learn how to notate it. We also review concepts through games, movement, songs, and exercises.
The girls practice notation by playing a variety of instruments including percussives and wind instruments. By fourth grade, students hone unison singing and learn two-part and choral music. Students expand their musical vocabulary using terminology surrounding dynamics (i.e. crescendo, decrescendo, piano, forte, etc.) and tempo (i.e. ritardando, accelerando). Building on their recorder playing from third grade, fourth grade students learn notes that require forked fingering positions and larger interval leaps. Fourth graders attend a Young People's Concert performed by the New York Philharmonic and a Metropolitan Opera dress rehearsal at Lincoln Center. We expose students to a wide range of musical genres through recordings and field trips to live performances around New York City, building a lifelong appreciation of diverse musical traditions.
Our lower school art studios hum with constant energy, as girls across grades learn to take risks, problem solve, translate their ideas, take responsibility, practice a discipline, and make discriminating choices. Girls work with a variety of materials and ideas and come to trust their own creative process. Each girl discovers a personal haven in the art room where her individual talents are valued and celebrated.
Our art faculty collaborates with homeroom teachers to develop new projects each year that connect thematically to units of study and to exhibitions currently on view around the city. Hewitt artists learn from the outset that there is a wide, diverse world of artistic expression in New York City, and they eagerly embrace its influences. By fourth grade, our artists explore personal ideas and experiences through various artistic media, including drawing, painting, mixed media, collage, wool, and sculpture. We emphasize effort, participation, originality of ideas, and the process of art making, and design art lessons to both increase skill level and to reflect the interests of the students, as the girls work toward demonstrating understanding of concepts, original thinking, and quality of craftsmanship.
In each year of lower school, our dance program combines instruction, exploration, and performance. The program is distinguished by its use of live musical accompaniment in all dance classes, and by opportunities for students to perform at the Hewitt Theater at St. Jean. Kindergarteners are introduced to dance through a curriculum focused on creativity, fundamental dance vocabulary, musicality, and basic composition. Along with a mid-year informal parent observation, kindergarten dance culminates in a full performance of class material and student choreographed work. Building on the foundation established in kindergarten, first graders are introduced to basic ballet vocabulary and dance literacy skills. After a mid-year parent observation, first grade dance culminates in a collaborative performance of theater, song, and dance. In second grade, dance classes aim to strengthen students’ balletic vocabulary while delving into a deeper investigation of choreography and dance making. In addition to a mid-year parent observation, second grade dancers perform an end-of-year student-choreographed poetry presentation. In third grade, the dance curriculum expands to include principles of modern dance, particularly the Horton technique. Students end their year working closely with Alvin Ailey Arts in Education to develop a spring performance. Lastly, fourth grade dance features a one-semester musical theater investigation of a specific topic from the fourth grade academic curriculum and culminates in a performance.
We introduce technology in the lower school as an opportunity for girls to explore, experiment, and play, augmenting their learning experiences in class. Early exposure to iPads and Chromebooks helps enrich, reinforce, and extend each grade-level curriculum. Introduction to hands-on electronics, robotics, engineering, and programming challenges teaches girls how to process information, problem solve, troubleshoot, and communicate. Teachers work closely and sometimes co-teach with Hewitt’s educational technologist to design and implement technology-enhanced projects. Using Chromebooks, students formally begin typing using Keyboarding Without Tears and complete assignments using Google Apps for Education. Throughout the lower school program, students experience the engineering process of design by planning, building, testing, rebuilding, and retesting. They use age-appropriate technology to locate, collect, and organize content for a specific purpose. And our girls begin to learn about responsible uses of technology and digital information, and they perform basic searches on databases to locate accurate information.
Me, You, and We
Launched in 2018, our Me, You, and We program incorporates anti-bias education into our lower school curriculum. Inspired by the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Anti-bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves program, Me, You, and We encourages students to explore the wide range of human diversity they see at school and in their extended communities while building a positive sense of self and developing caring human connections. Supported by deliberate and appropriately challenging discussion prompts, activities, and scenarios that encourage self reflection, lower school students learn to recognize unfairness and stereotypes, consider their own misconceptions, and stand up for what is right in the face of prejudice.
Each Me, You, and We lesson starts with a series of carefully considered questions for students to discuss as a classroom community. Over the course of the year these questions, which often tie into students’ social studies explorations, center around specific themes including culture and language, physical attributes and abilities, communities and class, and family structures and values. Through these topic-specific conversations, teachers are able to identify what students already know about their various social identities (e.g. ability, beliefs, culture, ethnicity, family composition, gender, language, race, religion, and socioeconomic class) and discern misinformation and knowledge gaps. Lower school teachers use classroom discussions, activities, and read-alouds to develop in-depth lessons that feel meaningful and personal to their students.
The lower school physical education program emphasizes the joy of movement while developing girls’ spatial awareness and balance. In addition, lessons focus on practicing the coordination necessary to perform various movements and activities related to team sports, such as running, throwing, and catching. Students practice these skills during class as individuals and in small groups, working cooperatively with classmates to achieve common goals while consistently demonstrating sportswomanship.
By fourth grade, our athletes are developing lifelong physical fitness attributes, movement skills, and sports concepts. We provide students ample opportunities to develop leadership skills and to work in small groups to solve problems or accomplish tasks. Through purposeful learning activities, we guide students to refine motor, social, and intellectual skills, and embrace a fit and active lifestyle. By the conclusion of lower school, Hewitt girls are well prepared, mentally and physically, to join our athletics program that begins in middle school.
As an essential component of a Hewitt girl’s education, public speaking in the lower school cultivates confidence and clarity in presenting ideas. Writing workshop incorporates public speaking at each grade level by encouraging girls to read their work aloud and for an audience. During the third grade wax museum project, girls research a woman in an area of interest, from science to the arts to politics, and then give a speech from the point of view of that inspirational figure. In fourth grade, students perform in an interdisciplinary musical theater program that is connected to their role as lower school leaders. And in every grade in lower school, we encourage girls to practice presenting their ideas to their peers and teachers in all subjects, so that speaking in public becomes a familiar and comfortable pursuit.
We celebrate independent reading in every grade as a complement to our reading workshop. Teachers instill a deep appreciation for reading and for “choice books.” The library program strives to develop students’ personal interests through guided exposure to the library’s collection, where students enjoy a wide variety of print and electronic resources. The library provides another opportunity for girls to listen to stories and discuss them together during surveys of favorite authors and illustrators. In later grades, we emphasize research skills and introduce girls to new library resources, including appropriate online resources.
Learning Resource Team
Lower school learning specialists work closely with homeroom teachers to provide support and enrichment to ensure that every girl is working at the high edge of her ability. Specialists join classroom lessons when appropriate to work directly with students, and they make recommendations to teachers on differentiated instruction to best address the learning goals of all girls in a classroom. In addition, our learning resource team works with parents to develop learning plans for specific students and serves on the lower school’s child study committee.
After-school and Summer Enrichment Programs
Hewitt offers after-school and summer camp enrichment programs for students in kindergarten through grade 7. We carefully select each activity to improve students’ overall experience in the arts, academics, and physical education. We offer classes on a semester basis, allowing students to immerse themselves deeply in multiple areas of interest. Classes include piano, dance, theater, karate, chess, and more. Students have the option to attend extended day care, where they can play games, create art projects, or finish homework assignments.
Our summer enrichment programs are a dynamic extension of our academic schedule with week-long pursuits that include musical theater, language immersion, sports, and STEAM. These programs include instruction specific to each area of study, trips, industry workshops and specialists, and each program ends with a family-and-friends event. Staff members include current Hewitt faculty, industry professionals, and a team of fantastic coaches and instructors. Students participating in enrichment programming often build deep relationships with other students, make new friends from different grades, and explore new areas of interest.
Service Learning and Community Purpose
Hewitt’s lower school service learning program brings the school and community together in partnership to share resources, meet real community needs, and educate our young girls to become the change agents of tomorrow. For example, after third graders learned about the Lenape and explored the importance of respecting the environment, they volunteered to help clean up Central Park. The service learning experience promotes reciprocal benefits for all participants and a renewed sense of community connection while upholding the principles embodied in Hewitt’s mission statement. As another example, lower school students made Valentine's cards for the residents at a local nursing home and kindergarteners delivered the cards to the residents while singing Valentine's Day songs. After reflecting on this experience, the kindergarteners verbalized the importance and significance of connecting with the local community.
Effective feedback creates space for students to practice and explore different solutions and strategies so that they can transfer what they have learned to new contexts. At Hewitt, we are implementing research-based strategies for delivering frequent, specific, and actionable feedback that teaches our students the habits of mind necessary to respond to feedback with readiness and purpose.
Our experiences at Hewitt have encouraged our passion for mathematics and helped us develop a sense of purpose around sharing that passion with our peers. Through the Math Olympiad club, we hope to give all upper school students a space outside of their classes to develop positive attitudes about mathematics while expanding their analytical thinking and creative problem-solving skills.
In December 2020, the Hewitt community came together for a socially-distanced signing day celebration in honor of Anne M., Class of 2021. A Hewitt athlete who played basketball and soccer and rowed crew, Anne will continue her sports career next year as a Division I rowing recruit for UCLA. We spoke with Anne about her journey as an athlete, the importance of teamwork, and how her time as a Hewitt Hawk has prepared her for the future.
At Hewitt, we know that formative learning experiences take place when students are given spaces to address issues that are personally meaningful to them. Through student-led civic engagement, members of the Middle School Sustainability and Social Justice Committee are honing their abilities to think critically, speak confidently, and tackle real-world, transdisciplinary problems.
Instead of relying on dry textbooks to teach confusing concepts, my freshman physics class showed me how effectively student-led, hands-on labs based in real-world scenarios could help break down complex principles. My experiences in ninth grade physics have given me the courage to pursue a subject that I initially thought would be overwhelmingly challenging, which feels heartening and empowering.
I decided to get involved in Hewitt's peer mentorship program because I wanted to support ninth graders in their transition to upper school. As a peer mentor, I get to help build community while sharing guidance and perspective on the challenges and opportunities that high school brings.
Hewitt has been awarded a $250,000 Educational Leadership Grant from The Edward E. Ford Foundation. The Foundation supports schools that serve diverse populations, and that encourage bold, new ideas that will catalyze change beyond their individual institutions. Their endorsement confirms Hewitt’s position as a thought leader and model of best practice among independent schools in the country.
When students teach their peers they take ownership of their knowledge and sharing new skills ceases to be a top-down exercise that must be led by the adult in the room. In these moments, the student sharing her wisdom deepens her own understanding and gains confidence in herself, while the student being taught gets the chance to hear a peer explain a new skill or concept, demystifying it and making it instantly more accessible.
In seventh grade science, students immerse themselves in two valuable systems of inquiry with real-world applications: the scientific method and the engineering design process. Through hands-on and self-directed work — time spent solving, testing, building, and creating — students develop a strong grasp of how scientific inquiry and experimentation can inform and improve engineering.