In the Lower School (Kindergarten – Fourth Grade), core academic subjects are taught by the classroom teachers, while Specialists provide instruction in Performing Arts, Studio Arts, Spanish, and Physical Education. With a focus on integrated curriculum, students often work through multifaceted projects of their own design. This constructivist approach pushes students to collaborate, analyze, and reflect throughout their work process. For example, in math, students are encouraged to notice patterns and engage in conversation with others to develop their own ways of solving problems. As various methods come to light, students will compare and analyze each idea, solidifying their own understanding through a number of possibilities.
Lower school teachers recognize that this type of constructed understanding provides students with much more meaningful insight while instilling the idea that students are in charge of their own learning. With such emphasis on collaboration, students become aware of the different perspectives and skills that each brings to the table. The free flow of ideas encourages an acceptance and promotion of independent and innovative thinking. This provides a critical opportunity for students to learn from each other under a structured mechanism of respect and personal responsibility.
The community environment drives the academic program. Empathy and respect give way to collaboration and academic success. Responsible for their own roles in the community, lower school students initially develop a set of guidelines based on fairness and respect within their classrooms. Every classroom begins its day with a morning meeting routine emphasizing the idea of building trust within the community of learners. It is within this kind of environment that students feel encouraged to take risks and try something new.
The small class size (18 student limit) allows teachers to individualize instruction for students focusing on their growth according to their own unique development. Every student works together to understand the big concepts within a lesson, but all are expected to show their understanding in their own way at their own level. Choice and interest play a large role in how a student may creatively show what he or she is learning. With fewer students, teachers can afford the time and attention this type of allowance requires.
The World Outside
Most Lower School students participate in overnight field trips each spring. These trips are related to the curriculum and may include a study of sea life in Seward, mountain ecosystems in Denali National Park, or tidal invertebrates in Kachemak Bay. Teachers have the freedom to set up field trips throughout the Anchorage area as they relate to class curriculum and field trips to the Performing Arts Center, the Alaska Native Heritage Center, and Campbell Creek Science Center are routine. All students are also involved in a variety of PNA’s community events throughout the year including the fall concert, a day of service, the spring science fair, a student art exhibit and the spring musical.The World Outside