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MCS’ academic program is a comprehensive and distinctive reflection of the school’s mission. We recognize that a vital and purposeful academic career requires a strong foundation, and it is our goal to ensure depth in the academic program. Our commitment to diversity, equality, and social justice is integrated into the curriculum, which supports the values of working democracies: self-reliance, free inquiry, and a respect for differences. Students learn to be responsible to themselves and to their communities.
The school’s cohesive curriculum and methodology reflect developments in educational theory as well as its own research findings. MCS values how children learn as well as what they learn and seeks to support each child’s unique intelligence, encouraging the process of questioning, reflection, and verification of ideas. The results are an ongoing excitement for learning and graduates who are confident and competent, academically and socially.
The program of the Lower School emphasizes active participation in learning and community involvement. Social Studies is developed around one or more thematic units each year. The daily curriculum incorporates language arts, math, Spanish, and science. Over time, students are introduced to other special subjects, such as art, shop, music, library, physical education, and computer. Teachers give equal importance to skills development, appropriate sequence, and individual student needs. Teacher collaboration ensures continuity from one year to the next.
The Upper School incorporates the school’s mission of engagement and justice within a sequential curriculum preparatory to high school. It balances active experiential learning, intellectual inquiry, and adolescent development. Academic expectations are high, encouraging children to think critically, to demonstrate in-depth understanding of course material, and to offer analysis comparing multiple perspectives. Students in the Upper School are nurtured and challenged in exploring themselves, culture, and identity. Mastery of academic skills occurs in tandem with increased self-awareness and community involvement.
In 7th and 8th grades, the program is fully departmentalized and taught by specialists. English, history, and science are taught in mixed age groupings. These classes promote academic mentoring relationships and allow for more support for the wide range in adolescent development. Math and Spanish, requiring sequential instruction, are taught primarily in grade groupings. Electives expand arts, music, and physical education offerings. Seventh and 8th graders meet regularly with an advisor who provides personal and academic support.
The social studies curriculum is the common thread that runs through the entire educational program at MCS. The social studies program upholds MCS’ commitment to social justice and equality, and its appreciation for diverse perspectives and different experiences. Social studies curriculum draws on every classroom activity and discipline—block building, graphing, geography and mapping, creative writing, literature, science, dramatics, and art. Trips, oral histories, films, textbooks, newspapers, electronic media, and the Internet are all part of the rich mix of resources through which students learn about their world. Social studies is viewed as the understanding of lived experience, and, as a result, parents, grandparents, and friends are historians who are invited to share their stories and perspectives with students.
Through the social studies curriculum, students hone skills such as note-taking, critical reading, doing research in the library and on the Internet, using an array of computer programs, and creative and expository writing. In the 7th and 8th grades, students use the skills they have developed over the years to complete a long, analytical research paper.
At the heart of our math studies is the development of competent mathematical thinkers. MCS students develop logical thinking and problem-solving skills bolstered by mastery of math facts. Math is integrated into daily classroom life and includes the study of math in real-life situations. For younger students, patterns, charts, and games introduce mathematical concepts and symbols. Manipulative materials enable children to illustrate relationships concretely and to solve and explain questions with understanding. As students progress through their math studies, they revisit and build upon concepts introduced in earlier age groups. With the completion of algebra, our students leave MCS equipped with the comprehension of mathematical concepts, knowledge of standard algorithms, and the ability to apply them.
Children enter MCS with a natural curiosity about the world of language and with various levels of literacy skills. Some are already fluent readers; others develop their skills steadily, and still others require consistent support as they build their skills. At MCS, students are surrounded by words, stories, discussions, books, debates, rhythm, and poetry, namely, the life and purpose of language. To encourage an appreciation of language as a vehicle for personal, social, and intellectual exchange, teachers make opportunities for reading aloud and independently, for pleasure and for information. Students enjoy viewing literature as a window into other lives and cultures, searching for themselves and their experiences as they read. Reading and writing become the tools of imagination, skill-building, shared connections, self-knowledge, and analytical thinking.
Children learn to read in many ways, and the program takes into account the learning styles of individual students. Formal reading is taught using a combination of methods (sight, phonetic, analytic, and whole language) with individuals and small groups. Reading broadly and in a wide variety of genres fosters a love of literature and analytical thinking skills.
Teachers follow a sequential program of instruction in writing mechanics, vocabulary, spelling, and grammar. As students acquire these skills, they apply them to their own writing with increased consistency. Assignments cover a range of literary forms: expository prose, creative stories, letters, original plays, and poetry. The teaching of reading and writing in the upper grades is characterized by a critical exploration of text, voice, and perspective, as well as the historical context of race, gender, and social class.
The science program cultivates students’ sense of wonder. Students are continually learning how to be scientists as they ask questions about what they observe, and as they note the changes that occur around them all the time. With an emphasis on understanding through discovery and problem solving, students acquire the skills of observation, classification, and collaborative and individual experimentation. They engage in scientific inquiry by making predictions, recording data through charts, graphs, drawings, and writing, analyzing data, and drawing logical conclusions. Lower School science concentrates on the natural world, particularly Central Park as a nature laboratory. Classrooms contain accessible science tables, reference materials, block areas, and living creatures that provide experiences observing life cycles. For older students, science is increasingly taught in a laboratory setting, supplemented by trips to museum exhibits and the MCS Farm. During investigations, they research topics in literature and the field, design and conduct experiments, and communicate the knowledge gained from these experiences through discussion, presentations, and laboratory reports.
Spanish is integrated throughout everyday life at MCS. In order to give students many opportunities to use the language, Spanish is woven into cross-curricular units, featured in creative displays in all classrooms, and used to communicate daily with bilingual staff. Given this experience of real-life applications of the language, students are willing and eager to communicate in Spanish outside of the classroom. Spanish lessons at MCS intertwine the structure of the language and the cultures of Spanish-speaking people. Students learn to be culturally sensitive by studying different Spanish-speaking countries and exploring the identities of Spanish speakers in their community. In the Lower School, students explore culture and language in El Barrio, the neighborhood surrounding the school, as well as Latin American countries. Once a year, the Lower School gathers in a tertulia to share Spanish poems, songs, and plays. In the Upper School, students are formally introduced to verb forms in the present tense. They keep journals, write dialogues, work together on projects, and explore identity and culture through the lens of family, country, or politics. Eighth graders generally place in the intermediate level in high school.
All children have weekly classes in library and are welcome to visit before and after school. The library program excites students about literature, authors, illustrators, the writing process, and the evolution of stories into published books. Library classes include quiet reading, library and research skills, creative projects and games, storytelling, dramatics, and writing. Professional authors, storytellers, and illustrators are invited to speak in the library several times each year, funded in part through the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. A special focus of the program is the annual “Living the Dream” Book Award: 5th graders work closely with the librarian and a public school class to select a children’s book that extends the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The author and illustrator are invited to accept the award in person.
Teaching with technology is distinctive at MCS because teachers use technology as a means to an end, rather than teaching the technology itself. Each year they implement new strategies to integrate technology into the curriculum. Computers and SmartBoards are in all classrooms except those of the youngest groups. Computer stations are also located in the library and in a design center in the shop studio. Students use computers for writing, Internet research, presentations, videos, web design, graphic design, photography, and to archive their work. They go regularly to the computer lab to practice skills and to work on projects developed jointly by classroom teachers and the Technology Coordinator. Seminars enable older students to produce a newspaper, conduct scientific and historical research, build websites, or complete multimedia projects. Students also discuss the ethical and safe use of technology. They learn to think critically while using the Internet so they can identify bias and interpret media messages.