Lower School Students Explore the Theater Arts

By Ms. Paige Hoke, Director of Theater and Chorus

This year Lower School students in grades 3-5 have explored theater arts. An education in the theatrical arts grows skills of confidence, public speaking, empathy, and creative thinking. Each grade level meets for about nine sessions. In these sessions students explore the tools an actor has at their disposal onstage: body, voice, imagination, and cooperation. These tools are explored through guided exercises, games, and discussions.

The body is used onstage to develop the physicality of a character, portray emotions, and depict the movement of the story. Students are asked to explore height, weight, muscular tension, speed, width, and focus of movement. These facets of movement can all combine to help imagine how different characters might move. How does an older person walk? Or a giant? In a broader picture, this can help students to understand what it is physically like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

The 4th grade class presented The Three Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. 

The voice is used onstage to speak the text of the theatrical piece. Students explore inflection, pitch, speed, accents, articulation, and volume. Students learn how to best project, or speak loudly onstage. Not only are these skills invaluable to a performer, but they carry over to other presentations or public speaking areas.

Imagination helps an actor develop the world of a play. A play may be set deep in a forest, and it is the actor’s job to transplant the audience there without ever leaving the theater. They must imagine the smells, sights, sounds, and feelings of the place they are pretending to inhabit. An actor must also imagine what it is like to be a different person. Have you ever heard the phrase, “the show must go on?” Actors must utilize imagination when something happens on stage that isn’t in the script. If someone forgets a line, an actor can imagine a new one. If something on the set falls down, an actor can imagine how their character might deal with that problem. This use of imagination leads to creative thinking and problem solving. An actor must always be ready to think on his or her feet.

Students in 5th grade performed Mystery at the Billionstay Hotel.

Theater is a huge collaborative effort. Actors must work together to tell the story of the play. In larger productions, there are also designers, directors, and crews that are part of the theater processes. Students explore team building and working together.

After these four tools are well explored, each class works on a performance piece. While preparing their respective performance pieces, students learn about the rehearsal process. This includes reading through the script, character development, blocking the play, and performing for a live audience.

Theater is, of course, also a lot of fun. Students get to make believe, explore other worlds and people, and share great stories. Through this wonderful fun we get to learn about ourselves, learn valuable life skills, and take pride in working with others to achieve a common goal.

Students in Spanish 2 Experience Authentic Puerto Rican Cuisine

By Mrs. Katie Ritter Torres, Middle and Upper School Spanish Teacher

Tostones, plátanos maduros, mofongo, sancocho, bistec, canoa, pernil, flan, tres leches, tembleque… Do these dishes sound familiar? Perhaps not. I was unfamiliar with several of them until I set foot in Mi Caldero, a Puerto Rican restaurant near the Byrnes Center in downtown York. Since the students in our Spanish 2 class recently learned restaurant phrases, Mi Caldero was the perfect fit. Filled with bilingual chatter and salsa music, it is clearly a favorite of Puerto Ricans, and I knew I had found an authentic experience for the students. Not to mention, my new contact at the restaurant shared my philosophy of requiring students to order in Spanish – ¡Perfecto!


Choosing a Puerto Rican restaurant was a way to broaden students’ horizon of Latin American food. My personal experience with foods from Latin America has been mostly with Mexican food. Going to Mi Caldero also allowed me to learn about new dishes, or in some cases, the Puerto Rican version of something I had tried in Mexico, like tres leches or bistec. It was exciting to share in the experience of trying new foods alongside the students.

We arrived at Mi Caldero hungry, excited, and a little bit nervous. The students approached the register to order, and some argued over who should go first. Others called me over to practice their order or to ask how to say a particular phrase. I could sense their nervousness and was reminded of the first several times I ordered food in Spanish. When they arrived at the counter, they were greeted in Spanish and asked for their order. Afterward, some walked away lamenting “I totally said that wrong.”  However, they had done it! The food arrived, and students enjoyed the fruits of their successful ordering. It didn’t matter if their grammar was not perfect, which is a lesson about oral expression that I try to emphasize.


Creating a connection in the York community was an added benefit of the trip. I hope that we continue the relationship with the restaurant and that our students return later with friends and family to share in the experience. The staff at Mi Caldero complemented our students on their behavior and their Spanish. “Son bien educados,” one employee said. As their teacher, I am grateful for the impression they left.

In reflecting on the experience afterward, students said that the trip made them realize that Spanish is more than a language we use in the classroom. It has the ability to help us connect with our community. This is why experiential learning is so valuable and truly enhances a York Country Day School education.  I hope to continue this tradition with my students next year, and that this year’s group will look back on the trip with fond memories. By the way, if you decide to go to Mi Caldero, we recommend the bistec.

Curriculum Mapping Benefits Students at YCDS

By Dr. Melanie Glennon, Curriculum Coordinator and Upper School English Teacher

Teachers at York Country Day School have spent the past two years mapping, drafting, designing and reinventing curricula to create the best learning opportunities for our students. Mapping has been, and continues to be, a powerful tool for accomplishing both curriculum alignment and curriculum-focused programmatic improvement.

What is curriculum mapping? Curriculum mapping is as much a noun as it is a verb. It is a repository for curating (collecting, organizing and displaying) and maintaining our curriculum; it is a method for curricula creation and innovation (drafting & designing). A mapping system creates a digital hub to connect teachers, courses and content—ideas of old and new. And finally, curriculum mapping establishes a systematic way to review and analyze curricula for gaps and areas in need of (re)vision.

Our teachers continue to reflect upon and assess what is currently taught, why it is being taught, and how this learning is assessed. We think about our challenges and successes. Our teachers use their curriculum maps to systematically house their curricula and to connect with other classes within their discipline and beyond. Mapping creates a climate for asking questions: Does my assessment align appropriately with the objectives established?  Am I teaching too much of one skill and not enough of another? Where else in my division, or within my discipline, is this skill being introduced, taught, and/or assessed?

Our initiative this year is to continue developing and entering course and content objectives, essential questions, content and assessments, and by the close of this year, to continue the process of critical self-reflection and collaboration—checking for alignment and gaps as well as for pedagogical need and restructuring. Our teachers continue to craft inquiry-driven, national standards-inspired curricula and are using a systematic approach to draft, co-create, collect, analyze and align curricula.

What did we learn this year?

The Rubicon Atlas mapping system is the tool Country Day teachers use to electronically encompass the process of curriculum mapping and enhancement.

Mapping functions as an advanced curricular tool helping our teachers design instructional units that mirror best teaching practices;

Mapping our curricula enables insightful pedagogical connections, across grades and between disciplines;

Mapping our curriculum enhances collaboration and conversation across the grades and disciplines; it promotes focused conversation around relevant information and collaborative inquiry;

Mapping encourages intentional curriculum review and growth through analytical reporting tools;

Webinars and intentional curriculum mapping time guides us in our professional development endeavors.

A Look Ahead:

Moving forward, teachers will be working on creating, searching, and sorting information about what, when, and how they are teaching and assessing learning; they will be collaborating, peer reflecting and learning through horizontal and vertical alignment task forces. There will be a lot of reflection and a lot of discussions about what Country Day students need and how we can best teach them.

Known and Valued at YCDS

By Mrs. Kari Miller, Head of Lower School

“Known and valued…”  two small words which hold powerful meaning within the walls of York Country Day School. This amazing phrase from the YCDS mission statement is the essence of our school. As humans, we need to feel that we belong and that we are known. It is through that feeling of belonging that we grow. When you walk through the doors of our school, you feel the positive energy created by a community of people who feel safe, supported, and encouraged to be the best versions of themselves.

What does known and valued look like on a daily basis? At YCDS, it takes on many forms. A few examples include:

  • Adults and children are greeted by name in the hallways, as they enter classrooms, and in the cafeteria. Every person’s name is known, and if someone forgets, we teach children how to ask someone their name politely and respectfully. Students learn that your name is the most important word to you, and we honor and respect others when we say it.
  • During daily class meetings in the Lower School, at the start or close of the day, children share what is happening in their lives, the good and the bad, so the community is available to celebrate and support. Children and adults alike share with one another which emphasizes the importance of everyone in the community.
  • We TALK with one another about our lives during lunch, recess, morning meeting, and while we wait outside in the hallways. We ask questions to learn about each other. On a daily basis I hear things like “How is your hip-hop class coming along? Or When is your next wrestling match?”
  • Passions are celebrated and incorporated into our school lives. This can be in the form of teachers using individual students’ passions to contribute to a class lessons or someone bringing in a creation from home to contribute to a class project. Teachers tap into students’ passions which increases engagement in the learning process.

Being known and valued at York Country Day School means being known for your academic, social and emotional growth. The faculty assess, review, and adjust to meet the academic needs of each and every student, taking that student where they are right now, and moving them to their own individual next step. This is accomplished in small groups or individually, as well as in larger group settings, when students are learning from and with one another.  

Our students are known and valued which allows them to engage as compassionate, bold, and active citizens as they identify a purpose outside of themselves, for the common good, and generate the call to better the world.” Being known and valued means that all within our community are honored and respected, so we go out into the larger York community to make a difference.  

Math Enrichment Challenges Lower School Students to Apply Classroom Lessons to the Real World

By: Mrs. Kristina Jones

York Country Day School launched a math enrichment program in the Lower School in 2015 to meet the needs of students. Through project-based learning and real-world applications, students are challenged to expand their understanding of particular concepts.


To enrich their understanding of perimeter, our third-graders recently sketched a farm and determined where to place fences to properly allocate spaces for various animals. They needed to determine how much space each animal required and then the cost of the fencing necessary. In another project, the students were asked to furnish a house. They spent time shopping to furnish their new abode by rounding numbers and estimating costs to make sure they stayed within budget.

Our second grade class explored squares and square roots, a topic usually reserved for middle school students in pre-algebra. Students used a simple grid to explain the concept, so that they could understand that 4² can also be represented by a 4-by-4 square on the grid. Then, they can see that 4² equals 16 blocks on the grid. The students worked in pairs to match square cut-outs of the same dimensions that were labeled with both sides of the equations, for example, 4² and 16.


The exercises completed in enrichment go beyond basic mastery of skills to expand one’s own learning.  Students solve problems in both conventional and innovative ways to increase their problem-solving skills, while explaining their thinking and reasoning. These experiences are taught through direct instruction and guided practice each week to reinforce concepts.

Advanced Biology Students Get STEAMy About Photosynthesis

By: Mr. Matthew Trump

The curriculum of the Advanced Biology class offered to 11th and 12th grade students at YCDS is modeled after a freshman college Biology course. The level of detail of biological concepts covered in the course, such as the chemistry of photosynthesis, is sometimes mind-numbing, especially for those not totally enthralled with biochemistry. Traditional collegiate-style lecture with a slide deck can make the study of the organic chemistry of photosynthesis one of those topics that students memorize for an exam and then quickly let slip from their pre-frontal lobes. To inspire and nurture the innovative and creative spirit of students as they pursue their intellectual promise, the study of photosynthesis this semester took a sharp left into STEAM-town. Students were introduced to Ozobots.

unnamed (1)These admittedly cute little robots do two things rather well. First, using light sensors, they follow a solid black line drawn with markers. Second, they detect codes inserted into the line using dashes of red, blue, and green. Based on the drawn code, the bots perform a variety of tasks. These include things such as: turning a certain direction at the next line intersection, speeding up or slowing down, pausing for a certain amount of time, or turning backward and “moonwalking” down the line.

Students were tasked with modeling the biochemical processes of photosynthesis using the Ozobots. Breaking into groups, the students quickly set to task exploring the functionality of the robots. They discovered how long the speed bursts last, how sharp of a turn they can accomplish, and the fact that the bots light up green when sensing a green dash or line (something one group in particular utilized to demonstrate the wavelengths of visible light that are reflected and transmitted by chloroplasts). Students used the robots to represent items such as electrons, glucose molecules, and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate. After two class periods of researching the science, experimenting with the technology, drawing the code, and calculating the coordination of the bots, they presented their final products.  


It was amazing to see the creativity of the students, as all three groups took different approaches toward incorporating the Ozobots into the presentations. As a faculty member of a STEAM school, I couldn’t have been more proud of their approach. Specifically as their Biology teacher, I am certain the biochemistry of photosynthesis will be something that gets transferred from the short-term working memory of the pre-frontal lobe through the hippocampus to long-term memory…even if that long-term memory is focused on the cute-factor of those robots.