Academics

Our primary goal is to create scholars.
 
Our academic program is challenging and flexible, keeping the individual student in mind. Over the course of nine years, from kindergarten through grade eight, students develop sound habits of reading, writing, problem-solving, calculating, experimenting, creating, critical thinking, and reflecting. Our students master the essential skills of organizing, researching, memorizing, and managing time well before they enter high school. Our graduates are well prepared for the best secondary programs, with skills and habits that continue to serve them into college and beyond.
 
Developed by our faculty, our curriculum is thoughtfully developed and reviewed in an ongoing way. Our world is not static, and neither is what we teach. We keep abreast of current knowledge, techniques, and technologies in order to best prepare our students for their next steps. We seek to give each student what he or she needs to become the best scholar possible. We use our curriculum and modern teaching methods to enable each student to be a person with an active, agile mind, willing to question and to seek solutions.
 
Please use the expandable sections below to explore our curriculum by age group or by subject.
Our early elementary program is designed with the whole child in mind.
We care about physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development. Our teachers are able to differentiate their instruction to support early readers and writers. Word study begins right from the start, producing strong decoding and spelling skills. Hands-on activities in science, mathematics, language, and social studies engage emerging thinkers. We include outdoor and indoor play, visual art, music, physical education, technology skills, library skills, and an introduction to a second language – either French or Spanish – in every grade. Our students learn the JRDS character pledge and recite it every day. The six pillars of good character: trustworthiness, fairness, respect, responsibility, caring, and citizenship, are taught directly in the classroom, in the lunchroom, and on the playground.
Our middle elementary program continues to support the whole child, with gradual changes to prepare students for the more demanding academic expectations of middle school. History, geography, science, and mathematics instruction complement continued focus on reading, vocabulary, grammar, and writing. Students make the shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” We teach organizational skills and study strategies in the context of homework and test preparation.
We continue to include outdoor and indoor play, visual art, music, physical education, technology skills, library skills, and second language instruction in every grade. Third grade students all begin the study of violin, which they may continue through grade eight. An emphasis on character education continues with the character pledge recited daily and character education activities incorporated into class time.
Our middle school program gives young adolescents a safe, supportive environment and a challenging academic program. Students are expected to master a rich body of factual knowledge, to present orally on a regular basis, and to demonstrate the ability to do research and to work collaboratively.
All students continue to study a second language, completing world language studies through French I, Spanish I, or Spanish II before graduating. All students take Algebra I before graduating, and our flexible program allows students who need to move more quickly through the math sequence the opportunity to take Algebra II in eighth grade. The eighth grade Earth Science course is a high school level course, as well. All middle school students take both a literature class and a grammar and composition class, guaranteeing superb reading and writing skills. History study includes ancient history, American Civics, geopolitical studies, and post Civil War American history. Technology skills continue to be taught directly and are used throughout the curriculum.

Even in this challenging academic environment, we remember that our students are children. They have time to play outside, they continue to have physical education, and they continue to have art and music instruction. Athletic teams begin with 5th grade and include: volleyball, cross country, soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. Fifth graders are required to take a music course: orchestra, band, or chorus. After fifth grade students choose whether to continue taking music courses. Because of the quality of our music department, these courses remain highly sought electives in grades six through eight. Character education activities continue to be a part of the each student's studies and middle school implements the use of an honor pledge on test and quizzes.
We seek to foster a love of reading and an appreciation of the English language. Our students learn to read closely and thoughtfully, with strong comprehension. Our students study decoding systematically and study words and vocabulary in depth. We incorporate direct instruction in the fundamentals of English grammar into the practice of writing. We teach traits of writing: ideas, voice, organization, support, sentence fluency, word choice, and mechanics. Nonfiction writing instruction emphasizes paragraph unity and using evidence to support a thesis. In grades 5-8, students take both a literature course and a grammar and composition course. Our graduates are fluent and adept readers and writers. We demand the development of strong listening and speaking skills, providing regular opportunities for public presentations, thereby instilling poise and confidence in each child.
 
Through the use of hands-on projects that model real-world situations, we strive to give students a challenging, enriching, and relevant math experience. From cooperative learning groups in Kindergarten to project teams in later years, collaboration and process are emphasized. Our mathematics program balances computation and concept. Our math standards ensure mastery of basic computation, mathematical vocabulary, and problem-solving skills at each grade. We place an emphasis on thinking mathematically as we strive to develop an understanding of fractions, decimals, ratios, and percents, which are essential to success in higher-level math courses. We offer the opportunity for students with aptitude and motivation to accelerate, and qualified students are able to take Algebra II in the 8th grade. All of our students study Algebra before graduation.
Nowhere is our celebration of wonder and curiosity more evident than in our science program. Through hands-on research and exploration, our students learn science by doing science. Our science lab, greenhouse, and outdoor classroom facilitate instruction, supported by current technology for demonstration, data collection, and research. Our students build, apply, and link concepts and themes related to physical, earth, life, and environmental sciences, using a cross-curricular approach incorporating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics). Throughout this investigative process, students incorporate a working scientific vocabulary and practice essential science skills.
 
Essential Science Skills
1. Guided & Student-Generated Inquiry:  
  • ask questions
  • conduct background research
  • generate hypotheses
  • use equipment and materials
  • follow procedures
  • record observations
  • collect and interpret data
  • draw conclusions
  • conduct error analysis
  • suggest improvements
  • plan next steps
2. Critical Thinking and Curiosity:
  • analysis
  • compare and contrast
  • synthesis
  • explanation
  • application
3. Collaboration
4. Technology Use
5. Measurement
6. Calculating and Graphing
7. Note-taking and Technical Drawing
8. Reading Scientific Literature and Writing about Science
 
Our mission is to create scholars, leaders, and citizens. The history and social studies curriculum prepares our students to be responsible and respectful citizens who have a scholarly appreciation for cultural and social history, geography, and research. We promote global understanding, while providing students with a foundation in Western civilization. Civics and geopolitical studies courses in seventh grade balance the study of American government with the in-depth exploration of politically sensitive global regions.
The mission of the Physical Education program is to develop positive character traits through physical activity and inspire enduring healthy lifestyles. We employ a whole-child approach, teaching beyond just the physical domain, but the cognitive and affective as well. K-4 students engage in foundational activities to develop a broad range of motor skills and movement patterns. 5th-8th grade students participate in a wide range of activities, including traditional team sports, lesser-known international sports, racquet sports, recreational activities, and fitness activities. The topic of sportsmanship is a thread that connects all of our Physical Education classes. Sportsmanship is explicitly taught and is consistently referenced. Health is also incorporated in grades 5-8, with the goal of graduating students with a strong grasp of the relevant issues in the areas of nutrition, substance abuse, fitness, and sexuality education.
James River Day School’s visual arts curriculum encourages each student to find their own personal artistic point of view. Through a variety of art activities we cultivate students’ creativity, originality, and imagination. The curriculum approach gives students a background knowledge of all media, principles, elements, and history of art. Students learn specific techniques to increase proficiency in making art and learn artistic relevance regardless of what path they pursue in life.
James River Day School Music Department is proud to offer choral, instrumental, and theatrical programs designed to instill a lifelong love and appreciation of the arts through a wealth of experiences both as a performer and audience member. A progression of core musical concepts is taught in elementary school, developed in middle school, and supported through eighth grade with Middle School Band and Choir. Strings are introduced in third grade and offered through eighth grade with Orchestra. The theater department advances public speaking, acting, and performance skills with musical plays and productions offered K-8. Students are given ample opportunities to perform and perfect their talents during the school year and with extracurricular activities such as after-school chorus (grades 3-4), as well as private instruction.
 
Students begin studying a second language, either French or Spanish, in Kindergarten, and continue that study until graduation. Eighth graders take French I or Spanish I, earning high school credit. Students with aptitude and motivation may accelerate and take Spanish II in the eighth grade. French and Spanish instruction seeks to create oral proficiency first, followed by the ability to read and write the target language. Cross-curricular, cultural projects help students appreciate the diversity of world languages and the importance of learning about other cultures.
As scholars, leaders, and citizens for the 21st century, students will analyze, utilize, curate, and create digital content wisely and ethically  across academic disciplines. Current technology applications are incorporated into all of our classrooms and areas of study, as appropriate. Kindergarten and first grade have access to iPads while each 2nd through 4th grader has access to Chromebooks and iPads for use in the classroom. In grades 5-8, students use their own devices with Chromebooks being the recommended devices. The technology curriculum encompasses six fundamental areas of instruction including: coding, content creation, content analysis, file management, keyboarding, internet safety, and digital citizenship.
 
Essential Technology Content Areas
Within these six fundamental content areas, we focus on different skills as they are developmentally appropriate.
  1. File Management - creating, opening and saving documents, creating folders, moving files and documents, local storage versus web-based, uploading and downloading, network geography
  2. Keyboarding - Type using the home row keys with thumbs on the spacebar, sitting up straight with feet flat on the floor, not looking at hands and memorizing the keyboard.
  3. Content Creation - Word processing, spreadsheets, slide presentations, video creation and editing
  4. Content Analysis - keyword searches, website validity, creative credit, fair use and copyright, citing sources, recognizing altered photos
  5. Internet Safety and Digital Citizenship - various topics including privacy and security, creating secure passwords, cyberbullying, online etiquette, posting pictures