On Monday, in their science and engineering class, McDonogh fourth-graders Sophie and Hersh were challenged to create filters to remove mud from water. Later in the week, they hiked to the stream to collect and test samples of the Chesapeake Bay tributary that flows through campus. On Tuesday, their day included Spanish and visual arts; and Wednesday was highlighted by Mandarin Chinese classes. On Thursday, Sophie went to the barn for a riding lesson while Hersh went to the pool for swimming—both units have been part of their physical education classes since prefirst grade. On Friday, they had performing arts—Sophie is in choir, and this year, Hersh is trying drama. The following week, in addition to their traditional academic classes, the two students and their classmates will have these special subjects again, as well as library and woodshop.
The daily special subject classes, better known as specials, are an integral part of McDonogh’s Lower School curriculum, and they are designed to expose the prekindergarten through fourth-grade students to the many possibilities that exist in the world around them. “You never know what will pique a child’s interest,” says Interim Head of Lower School Nancy Fleury. “The exposure gives students an idea of what may one day become a passion. There is something for everyone, whether you love robotics or you like art or woodshop.”
Sophie, who was introduced to riding in her prefirst PE classes, admits she was nervous at first but, by second grade, was hooked. She now takes after-school lessons and competes on a pony named Jelly. “It is my favorite thing in the whole world,” she exclaims! McDonogh Riding Instructor Amy Dawson is not surprised. “In the equestrian unit, children not only learn the basics of horse care and take their first rides on our ponies, but they are introduced to a sport that may turn into a lifetime love,” she says.
Equestrian is just one unique opportunity the eight specials provide. Fleury explains that the specials woven into the Lower School curriculum not only broaden the students’ horizons, but the lessons learned in one class often inform what’s being taught in another. She says students are aware of how their classes are intertwined. “They see how skills they learn in math class are applicable to coding in science and engineering or how the culture of a Spanish or Chinese speaking country is related to lessons on global citizenship,” she explains.
Hersh, who fluctuates between science and Chinese as his favorite classes, says he is learning about how our actions impact the health of the Chesapeake Bay, which makes him want to take care of the world—a world he is learning more about through both language classes.
Fleury knows that among the many reasons specials are so appealing is the opportunity for hands-on learning and problem solving. Speaking as an educator with more than 30 years of experience, she is also keenly aware of how the special subject classes tap into different parts of the brain allowing every student to be successful.
“It’s exciting to see our students continue to explore the interests they discover in Lower School as they journey through the Middle and Upper Schools at McDonogh,” she adds.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our School Spotlight Series. Each week, we will spotlight one of our partner schools to give you a glimpse into what learning looks like on their campus. To learn more about McDonogh School, visit their directory listing in our Independent School Directory. Photos were provided by the school. Want to become a school partner? Email us.