After an extensive search with dozens of candidates, we found the very best person for Roycemore’s next Lower School Head right here at Roycemore. We are pleased to announce that Darcy Aksamitowski has been named as Roycemore’s next Lower School Head, commencing the 2020-21 school year.
Darcy has served as Roycemore’s third grade teacher since 2017. While in this role Darcy has provided leadership to strengthen and advance the Lower School math and reading program and the Leader in Me program. She has brought mindfulness into daily routines, and implemented Adobe Suite products in classroom lessons and projects. Darcy currently serves as the President of the Roycemore Faculty Club. She also participated in the Teacher Evaluation Committee to design a new evaluation program for the school and she has participated actively in NextGen Roycemore conversations to help advance the school. Prior to Roycemore, Darcy worked at Arie Crown Hebrew Day School and at Crow Island School where she taught fourth and fifth grade students and took on a variety of roles to support school improvement, including SEL.
Darcy holds a B.A. in Philosophy & Psychology from Tulane, a Master of Education in Elementary Education from Lesley University in MA, and is in the process of obtaining her M.S. in Educational Leadership from Western Governors University. She also has a certification as a Mindful Education Coach.
About her appointment, Darcy says, “I am honored to embrace this new role at Roycemore as Lower School Head. Roycemore exudes family, friendship, growth, achievement, leadership, and possibility. It is a community formed through partnerships striving to develop critical thinkers and young leaders. I am excited to continue to work with staff, students, and families to extend the ideals of our core mission and values while respecting Roycmore’s storied history and tradition as a leader in progressive education.”
We appreciate the involvement among many faculty and parents in the selection process. Darcy will officially begin in her new role on July 1, 2020, however, she will immediately begin working with Melinda Orzoff and the senior administrative team to plan for a smooth transition.
At Roycemore, we know that each student is full of endless potential, waiting to be unlocked. We embrace who they are, where they come from, and their journey by welcoming them into a supportive community that feels like home. It is a team effort. Not only do they have a top-notch group of educators on their side, they also build invaluable relationships with their peers.
Our faculty and staff aim to help all students achieve their academic, creative, physical and social potential. Emphasis is on the individual student.
In our Lower School, we strive to help children develop self-esteem and lifelong learning skills in a safe, nurturing and diverse community. Each student’s personal success is ensured through a stimulating and personalized college-preparatory curriculum focusing on the growth of the mind as a whole.
Teachers know where each learner is on a continuum of knowledge, and support their educational journey throughout the year. In addition to small class sizes, the support of both a Learning Specialist and a Gifted Coordinator helps to meet each student at a level appropriate to them.
In Lower School, the core curriculum is taught by the classroom teacher. Students also receive instruction in world languages, art, music, physical education and library skills from specialized faculty.
Our Lower School faculty use a variety of educational approaches like differentiation of instruction and teaching on gifted model to ensure that all students are challenged at their own levels of achievement and are not bored. Character education is taught and emphasized throughout the school day. The school day runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. From 7:30 a.m. until the beginning of school, there is a designated room with supervised activities for all Lower School students arriving early.
A hot lunch is prepared at school by HandCut Foods and is provided to all students, with the cost included in the annual tuition and fees. Students in Grades 1-4 participate in a cafeteria-style lunch in our dining hall, where they may choose from at least two entrees, salad bar, sandwiches, soup, milk, water and mostly fresh fruit for dessert.
Roycemore’s Extended Day Program (EDP) is available for students in pre-kindergarten through Grade 6, for an additional fee. EDP provides socialization, outdoor and indoor physical activities, enrichment and snacks. A quiet homework room staffed with college student aides is also available. EDP begins at 7:30 a.m. for students who arrive early and goes from after school until 6:00 p.m. There is no charge for morning EDP. EDP is also available during some vacation periods.
For students in Grades K-4, after-school enrichment activities or clubs are offered daily until 4:00-4:15 p.m. Besides being fun, they emphasize academic skills, enhance the school’s curriculum and involve socialization, higher-order thinking skills, and learning to follow directions. The clubs offered vary from year to year, depending on interest and sponsor availability. Some clubs are sponsored by teachers, some by parents, and others are offered for a fee through outside organizations. This year, Lower School students can participate in Chess Club, Creative Improv with Mudlark Theater, Cross Country running, STEAM, Fitness Fun Friday, Lego Club, Martial Arts, and the Sprout Gifted program.
When a Roycemore Firstie gets dropped off, that student is greeted with a warm smile, and eagerly enters the room, anxious to see his or her friends and chat about our latest thematic learning. He or she enters a room with different working options, such as a standing table and squishy seats. Parents stay to share what’s happening at home and laugh over the latest Firstie quote.
First Grade thematic units integrate all content areas to create rich and authentic learning experiences. During our Wild Weather unit, students visit the Museum of Science and Industry’s Science Storms Exhibit, where they can enter a lifesize vortex, feel high speed winds in a wind tunnel, and test out a tsunami tank. The Firsties partner with high schoolers to make anemometers, barometers, and a rain gauge in the lab. We also practice the onomatopoeia of weather and use technology to help us experience and track weather.
During our ‘America the Beautiful’ unit, we gather postcards from friends and family across the United States to learn more about special landmarks and geographical features in each state. Songs, 3D models of land formations, and a mystery skype with first grade classrooms across the country add to the richness of this unit.
The year ends with a biomimicry study in which first graders learn how to research one animal of their choosing. Firsties then design and build an invention based on their animal’s adaptations. Students’ inventions have included a sled mimicking antibacterial and aerodynamic shark dermal denticles, tools mimicking a giraffe’s neck, and a camouflage box (to hide toys from siblings) based on a coyote! Not only do the Firsties build these inventions, they also record their learning in a digital book. While all content areas are integrated during this thematic learning time, first graders have dedicated math, reading, and writing time to ensure they develop the skills to pursue and communicate their learning.
Differentiation is an important part of the first grade curriculum. Teachers know where each learner is on a continuum of knowledge and support their unique growth throughout the year. In addition to small class sizes, the support of a learning specialist and gifted coordinator help to meet each learner where he or she is. Academics and a deep love of learning are important, but so is the social emotional growth of a first grader. Each day begins with a morning meeting to welcome each learner and develop our sense of classroom community. We incorporate Stephen Covey’s 7-Habits to build leaders, guiding and supporting them at school and beyond.
The Firsties have recess with second, third, and fourth graders. Here, multi-age groups play together in a baseball game or work together to build an animal hospital out of sticks and leaves. Each student in Lower School has a Griffin Buddy, an Upper Schooler, who is their special friend. We come together as a school to Stand Against Racism, participate in a carnival put on by the high schoolers at Halloween, celebrate the winter season, and many other events so our Firsties feel part of the larger Roycemore community. It feels like family.
First graders participate in physical education class daily and have a wide variety of other specials including art, music, chorus, French, and library. Integrated technology learning is done in a natural way as part of the first grade curriculum. Firsties have 45 minutes of unstructured recess time where they learn to navigate social relationships, choosing what games to play, drafting the rules, exploring nature, and getting a chance to be a kid!
By the time the firsties line up at the door to give their teacher a hug or high-five goodbye, they don’t want to leave! They head to enrichment clubs like chess or cross country and then to the after school program to learn finger knitting or help design a cardboard village. A Roycemore Firstie is an inquisitive, thoughtful, and kind hearted Original.
Second grade is a very exciting year in terms of developmental and academic milestones. Educational research shows that when learners are encouraged to create, they achieve higher levels of thinking. In second grade, one of our science units is on simple machines, which is purposely based on student-led creation and exploration. As the students learn about the six types of simple machines, they learn about the function and capabilities of these tools through questioning and hands-on experimentation. Meaning is created through experience, and in this unit, the students truly understand how simple machines work because they are given the experience to create their own functioning simple machines. The culmination of this unit is a challenge! Using Design Thinking, the students pretend they are elves who work in a bakery. Their challenge is to get the flour, eggs and milk into a mixing bowl that is much larger than they are. They create Rube Goldberg type machines to do this. They end with an Expo where they explain how their machine works and how they built it. An exciting and meaningful unit is on people who have made a difference. Through reading and hands-on activities, students are made aware of how people who care, can make a difference in the world.
As second grade students’ literacy skills blossom and they become independent readers, they reach that exciting stage in their lives where they can use their reading skills to explore topics of interest. Roycemore second graders are able to apply these newfound skills during our rainforest unit, where each child researches and writes an informational book about a rainforest animal
of their choice. This project challenges the students to research using online and text resources, identify important facts, organize and sequence information, and create a written product for others to enjoy. The culmination of this project ends in a rainforest presentation where the students decorate the room, design a headpiece resembling their animal, and show off their typed informational book to their families and the rest of the lower school. The best part of this project is not the amazing final products that the students create, but the pride and motivation that they exhibit throughout the process. The rainforest presentation has become an annual lower school tradition, where older students enjoy reminiscing about when they did the project, and younger students develop a sense of excitement for the future. In fact, when first grade students are asked what they’re most excited for in second grade, the most popular answer is always “Making a rainforest book!”
Another goal in second grade, is to give the students an opportunity to develop a global perspective and learn about other cultures and ways of life. During our Native American unit, we choose to focus on developing an understanding for the diversity and culture that shapes each tribe. Using authentic Native American legends as a teaching device, the students learn about social, physical, and spiritual aspects of Native American societies.
An example of this is when we study the Iroquois tribe. The students read a legend about “Why the corn husk doll does not have a face.” From that legend, the students gain knowledge about the Iroquois peoples’ natural resources, child-rearing practices, and societal values. The lesson then ends with an opportunity for the students to create their own corn husk dolls in order to gain, appreciate, and provide authentic experiences. Another engaging project that the students take part in is creating a replica of a Native American house. After studying the materials, steps, and building techniques that the Native Americans used, the students then work together in small groups under the facilitation of the lower school art teacher. This is a great opportunity for the students to work together and apply their knowledge in a multidisciplinary setting.
Exploring the world is natural to life. The key to effective education is to foster this exploration in a group setting with children who have different interests and needs, and to gently guide the learning so that the students acquire the needed skills and concepts. This is the journey of a Roycemore third grader who is a child reaching out to be independent, yet is still innocent and delicate. At Roycemore we foster self-confidence in each child as a learner and in his/her relationships with others, and create an environment in which the child can develop and express his/her own creative intelligence. Throughout the year a Roycemore third grader will develop the skill of comparing and contrasting across the curriculum. They will find the underlying similarities, or patterns, in math, science, and cultures. Students will zoom in to examine details and take a step back to look at the big picture. Third graders at Roycemore hone their skills of asking questions and identifying problems. They learn the value of collaborating with others to best succeed. They also learn it is important to evaluate any conclusion at which they have arrived.
Morning Meeting is a valuable time in the Roycemore third grade classroom. Students use this time to build a sense of community and expand their social emotional learning. Throughout the year, students engage in different activities that foster the understanding of compassion and appreciation of ideas that may be different from their own. They learn to examine themselves as unique learners. Students participate in discussions about being a leader based on the books, The Leader in Me and The 7 Habits of Happy Kids by Stephen and Sean Covey. Students also focus on themes, such as belonging, friendship, and compassion to strengthen their social emotional growth. They keep a journal and do a variety of activities that involve goal setting.
Themed, or integrated, units are a focus of the Roycemore Lower School. In third grade students alternate between social studies and science. Themed units allow for the use of larger blocks of time to dive deeper into a subject while integrating reading, writing, and mathematics into the topic of study. Students learn and practice valuable research skills within all themed units completing various types of research projects. Third grade units in social studies are: U.S. Government, Mayan Culture, Leadership, Mapping Skills, and Current Events. Science units are: The Mind that is Mine (parts of the brain with a focus on growth mindset), From Seed to Plant (the life cycle of a plant from seed, to plant, to fruit), Mystery Powders (chemistry), Bridges, and the Universe.
Looking more closely at a couple of the thematic units, after learning about the three branches of government, the students are divided into the Congress, the President/Vice President, and the Supreme Court. They then work together to propose bills based on areas of the students’ personal interests, ranging from legislation about the environment, smoking, and other contemporary issues. Not all bills are agreed upon by the students as they comprise the various branches, nor are they guaranteed to be passed into “law,” providing some insight into how complicated legislating can be. Often a representative from our local government speaks to the classroom; past guests have included the Mayor of Evanston and the Congressional Representative from our district.
A third grade student also learns about change seekers in the world. Each student chooses a current or historical change seeker, and reads a biography about him or her. On a very special morning, parents, friends and classmates from throughout the school are invited to come to their “Wax Museum.” Students are dressed as their change seeker and recite their written biography for anyone who stands in front of them, just like a modern interactive museum display.
Computers are such a large part of a young student’s life, so this is the perfect time to learn proper keyboarding skills. Students put those skills to use with word processing and ultimately create a variety of reports and projects integrating technology. Naturally, students use the Internet to research projects as well as books from the library.
Roycemore strives to create a safe and comfortable learning environment where students are at ease asking questions, exploring learning opportunities, and making mistakes. Creating a strong sense of community while building empathy and compassion within the classroom are just as important as the actual core curriculum. Fourth grade instructional goals also include providing learning experiences that are differentiated and student focused.
Fourth grade student learning is centered around a positive environment that promotes risk-taking and encourages students to trust themselves. Through our “Leader in Me” program, fourth grade begins with a focus on wellness, accepting differences, and making good choices, which continues throughout the year. Being at the “top” of the Lower School, students have the opportunity to practice supportive leadership skills through our “Leader in Me” program by leading the “Monday Morning Meeting” for the entire lower school.
Fourth graders begin their day by participating in a Classroom Community Meeting that separates home from school and prepares students for the day’s events. During the year, the fourth graders focus on the following themes: Belonging, Motivation, Integrity, Responsibility, Emotions, and Perseverance. Community Meetings boost empathy and teamwork, allow all students to feel important, and encourages respectful learning.
Fourth Grade continues to provide the nurturing and creative environment of the Lower School and, at the same time, emphasizes those skills necessary for successful academic achievement. Students learn to establish priorities, manage study time, and organize their work, and they are challenged to achieve to their potential. As well as working toward becoming self-motivated, responsible, independent learners, students learn the importance of building a productive community. The curriculum includes reading, writer’s workshop, math, science, social studies, spelling, and cursive handwriting.
The curriculum is integrated in a manner that focuses on carefully chosen themes, books which are read, shared, and discussed as a whole group or in literature circles, and project-based assignments that give greater depth to literacy, math and social studies skills and content. Some of the integrated units in fourth grade are Ecology, Space, the 5 regions of the United States, Geography, and Illinois and Chicago History.
As the “seniors” of Lower School, fourth graders earn the privilege of taking an overnight trip to Springfield, our state’s capital toward the end of the school year. They can see sets and costumes from the movie “Lincoln,” visit the restored home and New Salem neighborhood of Abraham Lincoln when he lived in Springfield, and also see the Lincoln Presidential Museum. Finally, students tour the beautiful capitol building and rotunda, and they stay overnight in a hotel!
Over the course of the year, the fourth graders increasingly focus on and prepare for the transition to fifth grade and the Middle School. Through aligned curricular experiences, middle school personnel visits, step-up day programming and focused teacher-led classroom discussions, the fourth grade students are well prepared for their move to the Middle School level.
Roycemore School believes that technology is an integral educational tool that is fundamental to the learning process. Technology, paired with teacher knowledge, facilitates transformative and innovative learning. We aim for devices to be seamlessly integrated and invisible in the learning environment. To this end, computer and technology lessons are integrated into classroom instruction whenever possible. Students use classroom sets of iPads and Chromebooks as tools for word processing, communication, research, presentations, creative expression, podcasts, digital photography, and many other projects. Classroom teachers work closely with the Director of Curriculum and Innovation to plan many lessons, and computer skills are taught alongside the core curriculum. Using technology in a responsible and safe way is emphasized at all grade levels.
Students and teachers use Google/G Suite tools (including Drive, Classroom, and Sites), the Adobe Cloud and SPARK (through Roycemore School’s unique collaboration with Adobe Corporation), online collaboration tools (such as Padlet), video editing and screencasting tools, subject-specific software, and several other resources for learning both in and out of the classroom. In addition to the Chromebook program, each classroom is equipped with a projection and sound system. Teachers also have access to various coding and robotics equipment, and we host an annual Hour of Code celebration for our whole community in December. We strive for all technology tools to help students and teachers create, communicate, collaborate, and think critically throughout the school year.
Opportunities for Expression in the Arts
Participation in the fine arts is important for the development of a well-rounded student. Our faculty includes teachers who specialize in the instruction of music and visual arts. Lower School students attend art class two times a week and music class three times per week. Every Lower School student has a piece of his or her artwork selected for display in the Young Evanston Artists (YEA) festival held in Evanston each spring. Students also have many performance opportunities. Lower School Chorus is offered as part of the regular curriculum. Students sing, dance and/or play instruments for Grandparents’ Day, Winter Program, and the annual Lower School Musical. They also participate in dance, tumbling and athletic demonstrations at Palio, Roycemore School’s oldest tradition going back to 1916.
The Role of Physical Education
Physical education is required of every student, and classes are taught by teachers specifically trained in the field. In First to Fourth Grade, students attend gym class every day to develop and maintain a suitable level of physical fitness, to encourage good sportsmanship and teamwork, and to learn skills and rules for a variety of team sports and games. Dance/tumbling, one of our signature programs, is introduced beginning in third grade.
The study of world languages is included in our program beginning in Pre-Kindergarten with French language instruction. The program supports students’ acquisition of early conversational skills. Instruction includes basic vocabulary and pronunciation, with the goal to achieve competency at a developmentally appropriate level. Our program is designed to provide young learners with an oral/aural exposure to the French language and culture through conversation- based instructional methods. The classes are taught through an immersion instruction where very little English is spoken.
The focus is on providing an enjoyable experience which will help students become more facile language learners when they begin the more traditional study that is available in Seventh Grade and have the option to continue with their French studies or switch to Spanish. The program is guided by a specialist teacher who works with each class.
At Roycemore, children come from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds. The school encourages understanding and acceptance of all cultures. All Lower Schoolers have recess together. Diverse, multi-age groups play together in a baseball game or work together to build an animal hospital out of sticks and leaves. We also come together as a school several times a year to Stand Against Racism with the YWCA, participate in a carnival put on by the high schoolers at Halloween, celebrate the winter season, and many other events so our Lower Schoolers feel part of the larger Roycemore community. It feels like family.
In our Lower School, we strive daily to help children develop self-esteem and lifelong learning skills in a safe, nurturing and diverse community. Each student’s personal success is ensured through a stimulating college-preparatory curriculum focusing on the growth of the whole child.