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
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.
GRADE 3 – 4 PROGRAM
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
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.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE PROGRAM
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 FRENCH LANGUAGE PROGRAM
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.
THE LATIN LANGUAGE PROGRAM
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
PHYSICAL EDUCATION PROGRAM
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.
MUSIC THEORY PROGRAM
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.
VISUAL ARTS PROGRAM
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.