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Curriculum Overview


The English curriculum at the St. Thomas Choir School focuses on providing students with a solid foundation in English language and literature by building the boys’ skills as writers and critical readers. Students read and study works encompassing a variety of genres, authors, and time periods over the course of their four years in the middle school. This exposure to such a diverse range helps develop the boys’ understanding of, and appreciation for, different forms and styles of writing as well as the histories and cultures out of which these works arise. The focus within each year, however, remains on depth rather than breadth in our studies of each text. Formal instruction in grammar and vocabulary strengthens the boys’ comprehension and expression. Over the course of their four years, the boys build a comprehensive portfolio of creative, descriptive, and imitative written works including personal narratives, biographies, memoirs, scenes from plays, chapters of novels, short stories, myths, and poems. However, the primary writing focus—particularly in the seventh and eighth grades—is on learning how to write critically. The boys learn how to write thesis-driven paragraphs in sixth grade, and continue expanding that knowledge until it culminates in full-fledged analytical essays in eighth grade. While the immediate goal of the program is to prepare the boys for the challenges they will encounter in high school English classes, on a broader scale it seeks to foster a love of reading, writing, and language in the boys that they will retain for the rest of their lives. 


History has traditionally served two distinct, but complimentary, purposes, to delight and to instruct. It was one of the first entertainments in pre-literate societies. It has produced bestsellers since the beginning of the print revolution in 15th Century Europe. It still fascinates in its more theoretical academic and sensational electronic guises.

History delights by solving some mysteries while suggesting others. The most compelling "Who-Done-It?” of all for individuals and nations is the question of origins. This irresistible genealogical impulse links history’s delights with its instruction.

The study of our family or cultural past leads to the realization that the people in the rear-view mirror are more like us than they appear. The immutability of human nature humbles our modern pretensions and reminds us of the unending struggle between good and evil in each of us. History dramatizes this conflict on stages great and small. Done well, it inspires genuine moral reflection… and makes for engaging company on rainy days.


Mathematics at Saint Thomas is based largely on the constructivist model. This model is grounded in the theory that a student learns most effectively when they are actively engaged in the learning process and that new ideas build upon a previous base of knowledge the student already has. The students are actively involved in their own learning, through exploration. The overarching goal is to provide students with the tools to be logical thinkers and to help them gain a solid foundation in problem-solving. The classroom is student centered, rather than teacher centered and is based on student discovery. The classes help students become more confident in their mathematical abilities as well as appreciate ways in which the math they are studying relates to the world around them. Emphasis is placedon both mastery of mathematical operations and understanding of the underlying reasoning of the operations themselves. All topics are explored visually, symbolically, and verbally through the use of manipulatives, computers, SmartBoards, presentations and writing. The students become active participants in becoming strong math students.


The science program at the Saint Thomas Choir School seeks to instill in students an understanding of, and an appreciation for, the laws which govern the natural world. The course of study includes earth science in the fifth grade, biology in the sixth and eighth grades, and chemistry and physics in the seventh grade.

In addition to the facts and theories of science, students learn about what science is, and, just as importantly, what science is not. Students become aware that intuition and personal experience are inadequate, and often misleading, as we seek to develop an accurate understanding of the natural world. While common sense tells us the sun "rises” in the east, science has shown that what we experience as sunrise is the rotation of the Earth, not the movement of the Sun around the Earth. This fact need not diminish in any way our enjoyment of this event.

Students learn about how science is done, and how the application of the scientific method ensures reliable results and conclusions. When appropriate, we read current, peer-reviewed research articles from major journals. The understanding of concepts is emphasized over the memorization of facts.

In the laboratory portion of the courses, we perform simple and safe experiments to support class work. Students write lab reports in the style of an article for publication, complete with references.


Entering boarding school at a young age is a huge challenge. The grade three and four program has several components built into it to help boys meet this challenge. The first part is to provide a supportive environment where boys can make a smooth transition into The Saint Thomas Choir School. This is done through an advisory program. Boys meet as a whole class, in small groups, or individually with their advisor to discuss issues, concerns, and positive experiences and receive feedback from each other and the advisor. Goals are set and followed-up to ensure progress is being made. From our experience, this has been a very good method for creating a cohesive and supportive school environment during a boy’s first years at the Choir School while also laying the foundation for future success.

Academically, the program’s structure is set up to offer boys in grade three a homeroom environment where they receive instruction in all their major subjects – English, Mathematics, Science and History. Grade four is organized so that the boys maintain a homeroom but also venture out to the middle school for History and science. This gives the grade4 boys a sense of middle school academics while maintaining a place of their own – a homeroom. From our experience we have found that this is a very good way of preparing our students for the transition to middle school.

Class instruction in English utilizes Writers Workshop for students to explore writing in its many forms and at their own pace. The theory used by authors to create a written piece of work is closely examined so student can eventually find their own voice. Grammar lessons arise from the boys’ writing needs and include spelling, punctuation, and proper syntax. Reading is literature based with fantasy, realistic fiction, biography, science fiction and poetry genres explored. During reading, an analysis is done of the literary devices the author has used to write the piece. Science class is based on the fact that children are naturally curious and inquiry driven. All lessons provide students the opportunity to conduct experiments through the scientific method. Grade three mathematics works with the Everyday Mathematics program which provides learning through exploration of numbers. History class is also inquiry based. Questions such as: why is the Saint Thomas Choir School here? what is its mission?, and who were its founders? are explored an answered. A complete survey of New York State history follows the unit on Saint Thomas Choir School.


Students at Saint Thomas take French and Latin. French is taught in grades 3-8, Latin in grades 6-8. In both French and Latin class, students are regularly encouraged to develop a feel for the workings of language per se, and to climb out of the confines of their maternal language. It is hoped that in doing so is they can put their own language and culture into full perspective in both time and place.


The Students ofThe Saint Thomas Choir Schoolare enrolled in French studies from grade 3 through 8. Students are taught French primarily for its role in therich cultural traditions of France, as well as its language as it has become a part of the world language. The study of French exposes students to a language spoken by 265 million people worldwide, and is one of theofficial languages of allUnited Nationsagencies and alarge number of international organizations.

The French program that we are currently using atThe Saint Thomas Choir Schoolwas developed by AIM language learning and is calledHistoires en action!orJeunesse en action!the appropriate programappliesaccording tothe gradelevel. The program uses stories, dramaand music to help students develop oral and written fluency as quickly and naturally as possible. Specifically designed stories that are written in the form of plays become the focus for a range of motivating language activities that help students develop confidence and competence in their use of French as they progress through each unit.

French grammar is taught inductively, meaning that students learn to acquire it in a way that very closely resembles the manner in which they learned their English grammar. Once this concept has been acquired, grammar becomes meaningful to them.

Another component of the program is the Gesture Approach, a technique that uses hand signs to help students learn and remember the important vocabulary found in the plays, songs and other activities that brought French into their lives.

There is an equally, strong emphasis on the development of all four language skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) through a program that meets the specific needs of each language learner and his learning styles. Classroom activities are variedso that students have the opportunity to work individually, with partners, in small groups, and with the entire class in a French-only environment.


Latin is taught for its numerous intellectual benefits. It cultivates a student's powers of expression in English, both oral and written, and it strengthens his ability to analyze and interpret written texts. Latin also provides an especially useful complement to the study of French, and is a valuable point of reference in the study of other modern languages, especially Romance languages. The study of Latin also gives students a line of connection to the fundamental unifying element of the humanities as pursued in the occidental world for over two millennia.


The goals of the computer program are 1) to provide modern computer literacy for every student, and 2) to support and enhance the overall academic curriculum through the availability of computers as class enrichment and research tools in every grade level. Specifically, modern computer literacy comprises knowledge of basic computer hardware terminology and functions, keyboarding (typing) proficiency, general operating system knowledge, file system navigation, software proficiency including word processors, spreadsheets, web browsers, and email programs. Our students use computers as an everyday academic research and communication tool. Our network consists of Pentium class computers, file servers, email servers, web servers, and a fast full-time T1 internet connection. Students have supervised access to computers in our computer lab, which offers 12 computers, a scanner, and a laser printer. Each computer has a full complement of software and email functionality. Students may email family and friends one night per week after their academic assignments are completed. We are very mindful of online safety issues, and we require all students and their parents to sign an Acceptable Use Policy, which outlines in detail the appropriate use of our computers.


The theology program at Saint Thomas is designed to introduce students to the great themes of Christianity. More specifically, the theology program seeks to follow the narrative flow of the Bible, in order to appreciate the overarching themes of Christianity. The classes are held weekly seeking not only conversance with these great themes, but also open discussion and debate about their meaning for today. The goal of the program is for each student to embrace his faith and make it a part of himself as something he will take with him as he goes through life with courage, hope and love.


The philosophy of the physical education program is to provide an arena where boys can enjoy themselves in a structured environment while developing motor skills and coordination. Equally as important is the development of proper sportsmanship and learning the appropriate actions of a supportive teammate. Students are encouraged to exert a maximum effort and achieve their best. Class activities focus on getting everyone involved and teach students to enjoy and appreciate physical activity. Minimal emphasis is placed on individual athletic results.


It is one of the world’s marvels that the beautiful sounds we hear sung at Saint Thomas or in the concert hall can actually be written down. Indeed, they must be written down, so that performers miles and centuries removed from the composer can recreate his intentions. Understanding musical notation, or what musical sound looks like, is an important aspect of music theory. The objective of music theory at Saint Thomas is to teach students to read notation (i.e. perform) as well as be able to write it. The legendary music teacher, Nadia Boulanger, believed composing to be the one thing all musicians must be able to do. Musicians must have some exposure to this art as background to their own specialty. In keeping with this belief, students are required to complete several composition assignments each year. Not only does this ground them in notational practice, it also gives the boys the excitement of hearing something they wrote performed. Perhaps most importantly, it allows them to have some creative involvement in music other than performing. Whether or not the boys at Saint Thomas choose to become professional musicians is not at all the point. To these talented and gifted boys music will always be important; they will always support and appreciate it. It is a happy thought that each year St. Thomas graduates another group of boys who have experienced art in sound at such an impressive level, and made the world just a little bit more musical.


Each boy at Saint Thomas chooses with his parents and Headmaster one musical instrument for study. The purpose of the program is not to turn out professional instrumentalists, but to broaden each boy’s musical experience while at Saint Thomas. It is an opportunity for each student to develop and express his musicianship individually in contrast to his contribution to the collective work of the choir. The program also helps to improve and strengthen a student’s musical skills which will contribute to both his group and individual work. Lessons are arranged with some of the finest musicians in the city. Practice time is included in the schedule on a daily basis and is monitored by the faculty. Some examples of instruments in which instruction is offered are violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, trumpet and piano.


The art program at Saint Thomas is based upon the idea that all children are inherently creative and expressive. The projects in the classes encourage and reveal such tendencies through a wide range of experimentation and play. Discovery is at the forefront of all assignments. Since children respond to the materials on very intimate and personal levels, the art program tries to offer a copious variety of media in both two- and three-dimensions in order for each child to find the medium that speaks to him most clearly. The media introduced in the fourth grade are returned to over and again throughout the children’s tenure at Saint Thomas with the techniques and concepts behind the projects advancing with each successive year.

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202 West 58th Street | New York, NY 10019-1406 | (212) 247-3311