Breaking Barriers by Redefining "Academics"

I always cringe when I hear folks talk about school programs being divided into "academics" and "specials." Why the cringe? Because so-called "specials" ARE academic! That's why we have "Connections," so named because music, art, environmental sustainability, Spanish, physical education, information and technology literacy, theatre arts, and animal care provide our students with learning experiences that enable students to make connections among all disciplines in meaningful ways. Students study science by learning in art how prosthetics are products of both form and function; they study writing by crafting their own plays in theatre arts; they learn world citizenry by understanding how different cultures have different values in Spanish; they learn mathematical principles in the expression of instrumentation in music. The list goes on and on, and the lessons are all the more powerful because they break barriers and teach kids how life is not compartmentalized.

Tonight, our students demonstrated to the community how they shattered academic barriers by engaging in the multifaceted study of "Flight," the theme of our two-week, school-wide Emphasis program which you will read about below. I learned about the Bernoulli principle (look it up!) from a fifth grader, and how fuel is stored and activated in a rocket from a kindergartner. It was the perfect demonstration of how beautiful and elegant learning can be.

The best schools teach students to transcend boundaries. And High Meadows does it with planful effortlessness. Read on to find out how!

Jay's signature
Jay Underwood
Head of School
School-Wide Study Creates Fun Learning Opportunities
Once a year, all High Meadows students explore a single unit of study at the same time in an experience called "Emphasis," a program that is unique to our school. The yearly topic is a closely-guarded secret until the day the three-week unit begins. Each classroom interprets the topic in its own way, driven by the skills, inquiries, and interests of students. The unit culminates in Emphasis Night during which students, parents, and community members have the opportunity to see how each class approached the topic. The entire experience is dramatic and exciting, offering a dynamic demonstration of what makes High Meadows such an extraordinary educational environment.

What's Emphasis All About?
Emphasis topics have ranged from Weather to China to Money to American Artistic Expression to Leonardo DaVinci. This year's topic is Flight. Check out the previous Emphasis topics.
"Emphasis is an exciting time because teachers and students are all learning together, " said Kate McElvaney , Director of Educational Advancement. "Teachers start planning with students once the topic is announced and follow students' thinking to see where their inquiries go."
Pre-K students unpack the "Flight" unit of study.
The Emphasis topic is selected by a committee of teachers from e ach grade level. This year, a Middle Years student was chosen through an application process to be part of the group. Memb ers suggest topics and how they can be looked at in different grade levels. The g roup discusses the options and votes on the year's to pic.

Unpacking the Topic Together
Once the topic is announced, students and teachers quickly start unpacking it. This work varies by grade level. In younger grades, the class learns abou t the topic together. In older Elementary Years grades, students and teachers share ideas, brainstorm what they know about the topic, and discuss what they would like to learn. The teachers listen to the areas kids are gravitating to. Then, they work
These are some materials 2/3 students are using to explore this year's Emphasis topic. 
with them to plan related learning activities. In Middle Years, students suggest what they want to study and plan their activities.

"It's fun to see how different grades approach the same topic in a way that is developmentally appropriate for them," McElvaney said. "Last year's topic was  Cleopatra, and many students across grade levels were interested in mummies. Some of our you ngest students demonstrated their study of mummies by dressing up dolls in tissue paper, while some older students studied the fluids of mummification." 

Emphasis Exploration Draws from Several Learning Buckets
Emphasis combines inquiry, discovery, critical thinking, and communication. The focus is on HOW to learn rather than WHAT a final project will look like. Students and teachers use various learning methodologies during Emphasis learning, including:
  • The Inquiry Model: What do we want to learn? How best will we learn? How will we know what we've learned?
    4/5 students took advantage of the campus' 40 acres to study archery as part of the Emphasis topic of Flight. 
  • The Action Model: REFLECT - CHOOSE - ACT
  • Constructivist Education: What knowledge/experience do we already have? What new experiences can we add in order to build meaning?
  • Primary Years Programme (PYP) Transdisciplinary Skills: Thinking, Social, Research, Communication, Self-Management
  • PYP Concepts: Form, Function, Causation, Connection, Perspective, Responsibility, Reflection
  • High Meadows' 42 Acres: How can you take your learning outside? What is the role of our environment in this topic?
Balloons, Rockets, Planes, and More! Students Showcase Their Learning
After students study the Emphasis topic, they put together a project to showcase their learning.  The majority of projects are completed at school, but families are encouraged to be a part of the learning by sharing enthusiasm and providing opportunities outside of school to expose children to places related to the topic. 

"There is not a one size fits all approach to projects," McElvaney said. "Instead, each project represents who the children are that worked on it."

Check out the photos below of students learning as they prepare Emphasis projects. 

2/3 students have fun throwing paper airplanes they made during their Emphasis studies.

Some Middle Years students studied birds. 

K/1 students play in a plane they made.
Pre-K students made models of hot air balloons.

Advanced Band Earns Highest Scores at Evaluation

On March 21, the High Meadows Advanced Band performed at the District 5 Large Group Performance Evaluation (LGPE) of mid dle school bands. The band of approximately 40 sixth through eighth graders played three songs and three judges rated their performance.  While the band has a long history of superior ratings at LGPE, they achieved an extra level of accomplishment this year by earning all "A's" as part of their rating of superior. Af ter performing the prepared pieces, the band participated in the sightreading portion of the evaluation. For that, they received a new piece of music they had never seen, practiced it for a few minutes, then played it for a judge. Congratulations to band teachers P aula Williams and Patrick Wrigh t and the Advanced Band members who worked hard to earn those ratings! Check out the band's LGPE performance  here.
The Advanced Band has a long history of superior ratings at the Large Group Performance Evaluation (LGPE). They achieved an extra level of accomplishment this year by earning all "A's" as part of their rating of superior.

Connections Classes Offer Pre-K - Fifth Graders 
Exciting Learning in Many Areas

There are many reasons students love High Meadows, and "Connections" classes are some of them! With classes like Animal Care, Art, Music, Information and Technology Literacy, and Environmental Sustainability, what's not to love? Connections classes are fun and interactive and provide learning experiences that enable students to make connections among different academic disciplines in meaningful ways. They're also linked to the Early and Elementary Years classroom curriculum and International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP)  units of inquiry at each grade level, but don't tell students that! 
Music Program Gives Students Hands-on Experience
A favorite Connections class is Music, where Early and Elementary Years students are exposed to singing, movement, percussion instruments, Orff instruments, guitar, recorder, and band instruments.
"Our goal is to create a well-rounded music program for PreK - 8th grade student s," said  Paula Williams, one of two Music co-teachers. "We consider what we want them to know and feel about music and have fun along the way."
One thing that  Williams and co-teacher Patrick Wright want students to get from the music program is hands-on experience with instruments. They also 
Teacher Patrick Wright and shows K/1 students the inside of a piano to help them understand and get hands-on experience with it.
follow the National Association for Music Education standards, which say students should be able to read and write music, recognize instruments,
understand styles of music , play and perform music by themselves and with others, understand pitch, and explore ear training, pitch, and rhythm. The teachers also integrate music technology throughout the curriculum, including arranging and composing music via iPads and various apps such as T oontastic, Garageband, and iMovie.  An  iPad is typically a gateway to a deeper interest in learning to play an acoustic instrument. Once students have experienced "playing the guitar" on an iPad, they are much more excited to learn to play an actual guitar.

"Technology can be a great way to introduce kids to music," Wright said. "They are able to  create music faster on an iPad compared to the time it takes to learn to play an instrument. They can express themselves immediately, which helps set up a comfort with and appreciation of music."
All Music students participate in two performances a year. W hen students get to fifth grade, they learn a band instrument. In many schools, students don't have the chance to participate in band until middle s chool or beyond.
Music students participate in two  
performances a year. 
Middle Years Students Offered Band Program and Music Mini-Courses
High Meadows also offers an Advanced Band program for Middle Years students, who can also choose to study Music Arts, Music Technology, Music Video Design, or Beginning Guitar as mini-courses. Band members can participate in extracurricular ensembles such as Jazz Band, Percussion Ensemble, iPad Ensemble, and Drumline.
Check out this story about SoundTapp, the well-regarded High Meadows iPad ensemble.  

Band students can also audition to be part of the Student Conductor Program or the Leadership Program to have a voice in the band program and develop their leadership skills.
"The Student Conductor Program is a unique learning opportunity not offered in other middle schools and even many high schools," Wright said. "It helps students develop leadership skills, performance excellence, and music knowledge."

Advanced Band offers Middle Years students the chance to perform together and develop leadership skills.
These interesti ng learning opportunities are key reasons why High Meadows studen ts love Music class and the Band program.
"We see kids ages three to 13," Williams said. "It's super cool to introduce them to music and then see some of them become student conductors in middle school, or drum majors in high school, or music majors in college."

Friendships and Fun Happen in the Library
Another treasured Connections class is Information and Technology Literacy, or  ITL. This class integrates technology, information, and literacy experiences, and are taught by technology integration specialist teachers and school librarians. 

The Information and Technology Literacy class integrates technology, information, and literacy experiences for Pre-K - Fifth grade students.
The library program s upports classroom curriculum, student research, and independent reading by  providing students and teachers with print and digital resources for inquiry research as well as a wide array of books to read for fun. The library is also home to a digital production lab and 3-D printers. These are used during Connections classes, for independent research, and in Middle Years mini-courses.

Early and Elementary Years students spend time in the library each week to explore books and check them out. They can also play games like checkers, chess and Uno before school. It's a fun place for kids, and that's because Librarians Lisa Backalenick and Kim Platnick make it that way.
They want the library to be a place students want to go to learn and make friendships. They offer lots of programs to help kids love getting books and discover that reading can be an important, engaging, and powerful thing.

Students have fun and make new friendships in the library by exploring centers and playing games.
For example, Backalenick and Platnick create centers for students to explore, including puzzles, I Spy jars, books related to a unit of study, and Origami. For younger students, they hold s tory time and help them select books to check out. They also explain the 'neighborhoods' in a library to help students develop an understanding of how to look for a certain book or research a topic.
For 4/5 students, the librarians host a book club which meets at lunch every few weeks. It generates an excitement among participants and helps kids try books outside their comfort zone. Platnick and Backalenick also teach 4/5 students about non-fiction books which helps them as they move into Exhibition, a capstone unit of study that incorporates skills fourth and fifth graders have learned in the Elementary Years program.
The library offers engaging programs for all students, from the youngest to the oldest.
They encourage kids not to get fooled when looking for information by teaching them to evaluate a source for relevance and bias.
The High Meadows library is open to parents too, whether they want to stop by to say hello, check out materials or help shelve books. Both parents and students can access the library's robust portal page at It's a treasure trove of resources, including reading lists, student book reviews and suggestions, and news about what's happening in the library. You can also follow t he librarians on Twitter: @KimPlatnick and @LisaBackalenick. 
Mini-Courses Give Middle Years Students Engaging Options to Explore Wide Variety of Interests

While Connections classes are for Early and Elementary Years students, Middle Years students pursue their interests by selecting a variety of mini-courses throughout the year. Course offerings vary from year to year, but mainstays include debate, music/band ensembles, technology, life skills, theatre and production programs,
Middle Years students select from a variety of mini-course options including technology and art courses.
philosophy, fine arts, product design, outdoor living skills, and yearbook staff. Students complete the equivalent of 12 mini-courses each year, spending 25-30 hours in a course over six we eks, allowing them enough time to dive into a project.
" Having choices for Middle Years students is important ," said Pat Wolf, Middle Years principal. "It's often the first time they have had a chance to select an area they want to explore."
All students must take a few classes to ensure they acquire the necessary study skills. Other classes provide opportunities to encounter new subjects or further develop an existing interest in areas like creative writing, film studies, metalsmithing, cooking, knitting, rocketry, robotics, yoga, and ropes. Both teachers and students make suggestions for courses based on kids' interests.
Sewing is one of the Middle Years mini-courses.
Some mini-courses are project-based such as Literary Magazine, Drama, and Yearbook production. Offering these classes during the school day gives more students access to them without competing with after-school activities.
Wolf noted that at the beginning of each year, all Middle Years students take a combined Study Skills and Social-Emotional course that focuses on peer relationships. Sixth graders learn time management and organization skills, how to take notes, and explore test taking strategies. Seventh graders build on those skills and learn about the rules of engagement for social media. Eighth graders learn how to study for tests over the long term versus cramming.
"Kids love the mini-courses," Wolf said. "They get to explore a range of interests and be social with their peers at the same time. It's a win-win for everyone."
Students can dive into their current interests or explore new ones through mini-courses.
There are many art classes offered as mini-courses.
Metalsmithing is a popular mini-course.
Upcoming Events
Join Us on April 28 for 'A Night on Broadway'

We are looking forward to an exciting night of bidding, dinner, and dancing-Broadway style at our biennial gala on Saturday, April 28. 
The excitement starts at 7:00 p.m. and includes a silent and live auction, dinner, drinks, dancing, and more! It's a great way to get to know current and past High Meadows parents and teachers. Purchase your tickets at! . We hope to see you there!
We Need Auction Items!
Do you network with businesses that would be willing to donate an item, service, or experience to our auction? If so, use the documents linked below as you approach business owners with a request for an auction item. All donations are tax deductible.

Please contact Development Manager  Angela Lockard with questions. 
Important Admission Dates for 2018-19 Applicants
While the preferred application deadline for the 2018-19 school year has now passed, High Meadows will continue to accept applications through the spring. Contact Laura Nicholson to learn about current space availability and the application process at
  • MARCH 31, 2018: Common Atlanta Area Association of Independent Schools (AAAIS) Admission Notification Date
  • APRIL 13, 2018: AAAIS Response Deadline
High School a nd College Students Invited to Free Leadership Workshop With Andrew McPeak
Andrew McPeak will share Primary Colors of a Leader.

Do you know a  high school or college student who is lookin g for new 
expe riences, interested in making new connections, or wanting to know wh a t makes for a healthy, effective leader? Invite them to gather with other young people to explore the subject of leadership at a free workshop on May 12 from 1 - 4 p.m. offered by the High Meadows Center for Progressive Learning and High Meadows Camp. At the workshop,  Growing Leaders  facilitator Andrew McPeak will share Primary  Colors of a Leader, a globally recognized form ula for leadership. Students will have fun learning  about the four fun damentals that everyone and anyone can develop in their  lives: character, perspective, courage and favor. A ndrew is a millennial speaker and content developer with  Growing Leaders . In his role as Program Excellence Manager, he works closely with schools, universities, companies and sports teams on implementing "Habitudes" as a tool to teach life and leadership skills. Primary Colors of a Leader is a globally recognized formula for leadership.  RSVP for this exciting FREE event.

The High Meadows community celebrates and perpetuates each individual's quest for knowledge and skill, sense of wonder, and connection to the natural environment. We empower each to be a compassionate, responsible, and active global citizen.

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