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Students, Teachers Reap the Benefits of Marymount’s Integrated Program

Marymount of Santa Barbara’s junior kindergarten through first grade is gaining recognition because of its innovative and connected teaching program.

In a recent “Spotlight on Programs” conversation with Anna Belitski, Marymount of Santa Barbara’s junior kindergarten teacher and primary grades specialist, Belitski explained how it is not enough to be excellent at teaching a certain age or grade level and how Marymount students benefit from an integrated three-year model and the development of what Marymount calls a “Professional Learning Community” of teachers.

Having worked for several years with the California Reading and Literature Project to train teachers in methods to improve teaching and student outcomes, Belitski is in the position to know this well. She stressed the importance of “helping students get the right start in school” and the fact that while it is “crucial to understand your class and specific age group and to use best practices in teaching that class, it is also important to know, understand and coordinate what comes before that grade level and what will come after it to provide a complete learning experience.”

Belitski explained that doing this takes intentionality and communication between grade levels and between instructors. Marymount’s junior kindergarten is able to work closely with both kindergarten and first-grade teachers to create a curriculum that can be understood as a continuous, integrated three-year program. This type of teaching environment not only helps its students achieve more, but also helps teachers teach.

Marymount’s junior kindergarten through first-grade teachers work together as a Professional Learning Community to create curriculum standards and building blocks for consistent assessment in JK-1, to foster learning consistencies in core subjects such as literacy, writing and mathematics and to increase higher level student thinking skills and rigor in classroom work. The Professional Learning Community model allows teachers to work as a team across grades and feel less isolated in their teaching.

The results are evident in the students themselves. Marymount’s junior kindergarten program, though only four years old and originally created for “older fours and younger fives,” has quickly gained a reputation as a highly effective teaching model, not only in fundamental skills such as reading, math and science, but in classroom readiness, peer relations, physical coordination, confidence and self-awareness.

The power of establishing a Professional Learning Community of teaching and thinking of student learning in connected, not isolated and broken up grade levels, not only requires excellent communication between teachers, but also communication with parents. Elizabeth Hanson, division head of the lower school, explains that the Professional Learning Community of Teachers “helps parents understand what to expect as their students move from junior kindergarten through first, and this ends up helping students learn more effectively.”

Marymount has a track record of engaging parents in the learning process. As an example, the school offers a Singapore Math class for parents to accompany the Singapore Math Program that the school has been teaching for the past seven years so that parents can not only understand this innovative method of teaching math, but can be an integral part of the program’s success.

“The Professional Learning Community of Teachers exemplified so well by the junior kindergarten through first-grade program at Marymount is yet another way that members of this community benefit from the unusual culture and sense of community at this school,” said Andrew Wooden, Marymount Head of School. “The success and achievement of our graduates on so many different levels is the best indicator of this.”

Marymount is an independent coeducational school, junior kindergarten through eighth grade, on a picturesque 10-acre campus nestled on the Santa Barbara Riviera. Building on a 75-year tradition of excellence, the educators at Marymount have crafted a unique learning experience that blends mastery of core subjects with acquisition of the essential skills students need to navigate and be successful in a rapidly evolving world.

— Molly Seguel is the admissions director for Marymount of Santa Barbara.

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