Our Program

Classical Curriculum  

We will provide a rigorous, college-preparatory, liberal arts education that meets and exceeds Common Core State Standards. Classical education is rooted in the best of time-honored educational practices. The traditional liberal arts are Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Music; the study of these prepared students for the study of Philosophy. Today, a classical curriculum is based on the first three liberal arts, which together are called the Trivium. Students are taught the grammar, or basic knowledge, in each subject. Young students readily learn rhymes, stories, language, vocabulary, arithmetic, and facts. As knowledge grows, students want to know not just “what” but “why.” They learn logic and critical thinking skills through reading ideas and arguments of others, by contemplating knowledge, truth, and ideas, and by discussing and practicing. Mature students learn rhetoric to express their ideas eloquently and persuade others. Throughout their study of the Trivium, students are trained in virtues and core values, such as citizenship, cooperation, courage, honesty, integrity, perseverance, respect, and responsibility.

Classes at Excelsior Classical Academy CFA will be taught using a variety of methods, including direct instruction, Socratic questioning, class discussion, seminars, read-alouds, research projects, and writing assignments. Students will work individually and in groups. Information throughout grade levels is presented in an integrated fashion, emphasizing the connections between areas of knowledge and reinforcing what students are learning.

Latin

Students in sixth through eighth grade study Latin as part of the grammar aspect of the classical curriculum. The study of Latin helps build students’ vocabularies and improves their understanding of grammar in English. Numerous evaluations of Latin study programs have shown that students who take Latin improve in a wide variety of areas, including reading comprehension, vocabulary, and even math and critical thinking skills, with underprivileged children making the greatest gains. (Efficacy of Latin Studies in the Information Age, Alice K. DeVane, 1997)

Logic

Throughout the grades, students are trained to think critically and to support their answers. They learn formal and informal logic in ninth grade Logic class, and continue to learn and apply logic in Geometry class in tenth grade. The study of logic is foundational to many other areas of study, and provides reasoning skills that are useful in almost every area of life.

Rhetoric

Juniors take rhetoric to learn to express themselves eloquently and persuasively, using logos, pathos, and ethos. They practice both writing and public speaking. The capstone of the classical education at Excelsior Classical Academy CFA is the senior thesis. Students write, present, and field questions about a paper on a topic of their choice.

Core Knowledge

There are two achievement gaps that exist in this country. One might be termed the quality gap. American students lag behind students in 16 other developed nations in measures of reading and academic achievement. This will make it difficult for the average student educated in America to compete in the global economy. The other gap, which we can call the fairness gap, exists between privileged and underprivileged students. Underprivileged children hear far fewer words at home in their early years, and the language they hear is less rich in complexity and variety of structure. Because much of our learning of vocabulary is implicit, from repeatedly hearing words used in context, underprivileged children start school with a vocabulary knowledge deficit that is a handicap to learning, as learning builds on prior knowledge.

The way to mitigate both of these types of gaps is to use a rich, coherent, consecutive curriculum that provides the knowledge students need in order for them to comprehend what they read, so that they can learn even more. The Core Knowledge Sequence is just such a curriculum. This sequence is predicated on the realization that what children are able to learn at any given moment depends on what they already know—and, equally important, that what they know is a function of previous experience and teaching. Although current events and technology are constantly changing, there is a body of lasting knowledge and skills that form the core of a strong Kindergarten through eighth grade curriculum. Explicit identification of what children should learn at each grade level ensures a coherent approach to building knowledge across all grade levels. Every child should learn the fundamentals of science, basic principles of government, important events in world history, essential elements of mathematics, widely acknowledged masterpieces of art and music from around the world, and stories and poems passed down from generation to generation.
The idea behind Core Knowledge is simple and powerful: knowledge builds on knowledge. The more you know, the more you are able to learn. This insight, well-established by cognitive science, has significant implications for teaching and learning. Nearly all of our most important goals for education–greater reading comprehension, the ability to think critically and solve problems, even higher test scores–-are a function of the depth and breadth of our knowledge. By outlining the precise content that every child should learn in language arts and literature, history and geography, mathematics, science, music, and the visual arts, the Core Knowledge curriculum represents a first-of-its kind effort to identify the foundational knowledge every child needs to reach these goals.

At Excelsior Classical Academy CFA, we will faithfully and rigorously implement the Core Knowledge Sequence in grades K through 8.

The Arts

Beyond providing wide background knowledge that can help with reading comprehension, studying the arts gives further benefits. A new National Endowment for the Arts Research Report shows potential benefits of Arts Education for at-risk youth. Those who study the arts have better academic outcomes, higher career goals, and are more civically-engaged. Studying the arts can also enhance creativity, creative thinking, and problem solving. Learning about the arts and cultures around the world, past and present, provides a better cross-cultural understanding and a greater comprehension of what it is to be human.

At Excelsior Classical Academy CFA, arts education is integrated into the Core Knowledge Sequence, and Elective and P.E. options will include Music, Drama, Visual Art, and Dance. Students will take an Art History course concurrent with World History as part of the high school curriculum.

Singapore Math

Parents in the United States often hear (and stress about) how students in other countries perform better than our children in math and science. A country that has consistently been at or near the very top in performance is Singapore. Singapore math, which refers to the teaching methods or the actual curriculum used for kindergarten through sixth grade in the small island country, has become popular due to Singapore’s consistent top ranking on an international assessment of student math achievement called the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). In the latest TIMSS report in 2007, Singapore was ranked in the top three in fourth- and eighth-grade math scores, while the United States ranked ninth and eleventh, respectively. Supporters of Singapore math credit the Singaporean methods of instruction and curriculum for its students’ success. While American math instruction often relies on drilling and memorization of many skills each year, Singapore math focuses on children not just learning but also truly mastering a limited number of concepts each school year. The goal is for children to perform well because they understand the material on a deeper level; they are not just learning it for the test. Singapore math uses a concrete-pictorial-abstract sequence to help students gain deep understanding.

Excelsior Classical Academy CFA will use Singapore Math through grade 6. We plan to hold sessions at the beginning of the year to help parents understand the Singapore system, as it is different from the way most parents learned math.

Physical Education

It is generally acknowledged that physical activity helps keep students fit and healthy, but numerous studies have shown that there are also academic benefits to physical activity. According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, physical activity can

  • Improve blood flow and oxygen to the brain, improving mental clarity.
  • Positively affect the portion of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
  • Improve connections between nerves in the brain, thus improving attention and information-processing skills.
  • Build strong bones and muscles.
  • Decrease the likelihood of developing obesity and risk factors for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
  • Reduce anxiety and depression.

Excelsior Classical Academy CFA is committed to providing each student the opportunity for a minimum of a half hour of physical activity a day while at school.

Character Education

Martin Luther King, Jr, in an essay written in 1947 for his college newspaper, wrote, “It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life. … Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one’s self is very difficult. … Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction. The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals. … We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”
At Excelsior Classical Academy CFA, we believe that education is incomplete without the character component. Character education will be integrated into daily lessons and emphasized through our student creed, our honor code, assemblies, posters, announcements, and bulletin boards. Students will participate in service learning courses in middle and high school. Teachers and staff will model the behaviors and character traits we wish to instill in our students.

STUDENT CREED

Each week, our grammar school students and staff will recite the Student Creed. It is a reminder and a promise to each other about the ways in which we must act and treat each other if we are to be the school we strive to be. Our student creed is as follows:

I will treat others as I would like to be treated. 
I will respect the rights and property of others. 
I will be honest and responsible.
I will be a good citizen of my school, doing what I can to make it a place of learning and growth.

HONOR CODE

The upper school students at Excelsior Classical Academy CFA will abide by an honor code. The honor pledge will be hand-written by each upper school student and affirmed by a dated signature of the student and a parent or guardian at the start of each school year.
Excelsior students behave responsibly and honorably. They do not lie, cheat, steal, or violate the rights of others. They are responsible to uphold the atmosphere of integrity and justice at Excelsior and to encourage others to do so.

As a member of the Excelsior community, I pledge to conduct myself honorably and to encourage others to do so. I will report myself and others for any failure to uphold the honor code.

On each test, paper, or project, the student will write the following affirmation.

On my honor, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment.

Spanish

There are many reasons to study Spanish. Here are some pertinent ones.By studying Spanish, students gain a better understanding of English. Spanish is a Romance language, or one that it is based on Latin, the language of the ancient Roman Empire. Many English words are also of Latin origin, and learning vocabulary in Spanish reinforces understanding of English cognates. Also, when studying Spanish grammar, students become more aware of English grammar as they notice the similarities and differences. Because Spanish is very nearly phonetically perfect, pronunciation is relatively consistent and easy to learn. When it comes to learning other Romance languages, such as French or Italian, already knowing Spanish is an advantage.
There are over 35 million Spanish speakers in the United States and over 40% of population growth is among Hispanics, thus native English speakers in this country will most likely have interaction with speakers of Spanish. The Hispanic population of the US will approach 50 million by the year 2015. Spanish is the mother tongue in 21 countries. In Europe, Spanish is the second most popular second language, after English. With some 400 million speakers, Spanish is the fourth most commonly spoken language in the world. Only Mandarin, English and Hindi have more speakers. The sheer number of Spanish speakers and their rate of growth makes learning Spanish a logical choice.
Learning any language in addition to one’s native language expands one’s horizons. With today’s focus on global awareness for students and the popularity of the Spanish language in our country and our world, learning Spanish is an obvious choice.
All students will study Spanish at Excelsior Classical Academy CFA in grades Kindergarten through 5. (Native Spanish-speaking students may have English as a Second Language support during some of the Spanish class time.)

The Growth Mindset

The research of Dr. Carol Dweck, world-renowned psychologist, shows that there are two kinds of mindsets, fixed and growth. In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success–without effort. Their idea is that the necessity of effort shows lack of intelligence. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work–brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. According to a study by Aronson, Fried, and Good (2001), thinking about intelligence as changeable and malleable, rather than stable and fixed, results in greater academic achievement, especially for people whose groups bear the burden of negative stereotypes about their intelligence.
At Excelsior Classical Academy CFA, we recognize that intelligence is malleable, and we will teach our students that it is. We will cultivate the growth mindset by praising students for effort rather than ability, and by encouraging diligence and hard work. We will support those who need extra help, and we will challenge those to whom learning comes easily.

For an 11-minute TED Talk on fixed and growth mindsets, please see TED Talk: The Power of Belief.

Modified Year-round Calendar

According to a study by Vanessa St. Gerard, students lose skills in math and spelling, and many also lose reading skills, during their traditional summer vacations. This loss is greater for economically disadvantaged children. Further time is lost because of the review necessary when they return to school. Gerard mentions benefits of year-round school beyond avoiding summer “brain drain”: there are vacations more often to break up the long stretch of school and refresh both the staff and students, and there is the possibility that during these breaks remedial and enrichment classes can be offered (“Year-Round Schools Look Better All the Time”, 2007).

The calendar at Excelsior Classical Academy CFA will provide the same 185 days of instruction as a traditional school calendar, with a shorter break in the summer. The decreased time off in summer will help keep students focused and reduce the amount of review that is necessary at the beginning of the school year. In addition to the shorter summer break, Excelsior Classical Academy CFA will have two to three week breaks in the fall, winter, and spring. This will make the school year more coherent and will be conducive to an attitude of continual learning. An added benefit is the reduced significance of between-grade transitions. The year-round academic calendar fits very well with our coherent, sequential curriculum.