A year of elementary school science usually begins by turning to chapter one in a textbook, spending several months reading and memorizing, then enduring the occasional quiz until the final chapter. But students at Rossman School see science come to life and watch it change through the seasons, when their classroom moves to the school’s half-mile nature trail, complete with a creek.
One of the projects made possible by the largest capital campaign in the school’s history—A Vision of Excellence—the trail is used by students at every grade level. “The junior kindergarten students walk the trail at least once a month,” explains Rossman lower school director Karen Boyle. “It gives them an opportunity to explore wildlife and plants.” Science is taught as a specialty subject at Rossman, she adds, so the science specialists in each grade use the nature trail throughout the year to support the curriculum.
Since the fall of 1917, when the school welcomed its first students, Rossman School has stayed true to its mission of excellence and personal attention. Boyle believes the nurturing environment is the school’s most exceptional asset. “The best thing about this school? I think it’s the family-focused sense of community. The academic standards are high, but character development is emphasized, as well. When children leave Rossman, not only are they academically prepared, but they have an understanding of other cultures and perspectives. They learn empathy, respect and personal responsibility.” The personal relationships are made possible by the school’s 8 to 1 student to teacher ratio, she adds. “It’s wonderful for the teachers and the students. We achieve our low studentteacher ratio through the use of team teachers, so when children go to specialty subjects, like science, art or music, they go as a half-group, so there’s 15 kids who remain with their two full-time teachers,” Boyle says. “That drops the ratio for core subjects like reading and math. It’s nice because the students benefit from a low ratio, but they’re part of a bigger classroom community. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Rossman’s reputation for academic excellence is reflected in the achievement of its students, most recently in the 2009-2010 National Geography Challenge. Rossman fifth-graders placed second in the nation in their age group, only two points behind the team that took first place. “We are blessed with a social studies teacher who just really has a passion for geography!” says Boyle. “She really gets them engrossed in all kinds of interesting projects and brings the subject alive.” Boyle’s own daughter is currently in fifth grade, working on the annual project, where students use the outline of their hand to create their own island. “They give the island a theme,” Boyle says, “Like Candy Island, for example. Their drawing has to include things like bays, canals or archipelagos in a way that shows they understand what those features are.” Boyle’s daughter named her project ‘Shopping Island.’ From the nature trail to the islands, Rossman School faculty clearly understand how to bring learning to life.