Curriculum

Saint Paul's Choir School's curriculum is inspired by the Catholic Church’s rich and ever-relevant history of cultural, scientific, literary and philosophical learning. Within small classes, students learn to think critically and apply their skills in interdisciplinary projects. The course of study is both challenging and rewarding.  Students are exposed to a classical educational atmosphere that is intended to lead each child to fulfill his potential through inquiry and demonstration of mastery both in music and academics.  The curriculum at Saint Paul’s Choir School reflects the guidelines set forth by the Archdiocese of Boston Catholic Schools Office as well as the Massachusetts State Curriculum Frameworks.  The boys’ broader academic experience is an invaluable complement to the music program; the curriculum offers a rich opportunity for study covering all major subject areas, including:

Mathematics

The mathematics curriculum is based on a solid understanding of numeration and problem solving, developing the ability to demonstrate the function and usefulness of mathematics in life.  Throughout the curriculum students are introduced to increasingly complex systems of mathematics. The culmination of the program is an extensive coverage of Algebra in grade eight.  Geometry is introduced throughout all grades and formal logic is used to support mathematical conjectures and proofs. With the assistance of technology to aid in graphing and visualizing mathematical relationships, students develop a strong mathematical foundation and acquire the algebraic and geometric habits of mind that will lead to success in high school. A strong emphasis is placed on understanding the logical reasoning of mathematics and the classical origins of mathematical inquiry. Our classrooms are equipped with modern technology the extend the use of graphing calculators and use computers, Smartboards and supplementary resources, students develop a strong mathematical foundation.

English Language and Literature

We respond to our reading with expository and creative writing; speaking, listening and drama are also assessed. We engage in a range of activities to develop accuracy and variety in grammar, punctuation and vocabulary; our aim is for each boy to graduate with a mature, fluent, accurate prose style, and the ability to express himself articulately and with confidence in conversation. In the upper grades students receive training in the use of rhetorical skills and are prepared for public speaking and debate. Writing workshop are used throughout all grade levels to increase boys’ abilities to communicate in various genres, with an emphasis on persuasive writing in the upper grades.

Our early grades use the Writing Units of Study from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Students will be introduced to increasing complexity in the following three types of writing:  narrative, informative, and opinion. Students experience the writing process of planning, drafting, revising, editing, and sharing/publishing through writer’s workshop which includes a mini-lesson, writing time (writing, conferring, peer work), and sharing.  Conversations about writing are framed by essential questions and mini-lessons support what students need to know, do, and understand as writers. Writing for research is embedded in each type of writing. Students apply conventions through the editing component of writer’s workshop.  Third graders will attend to the mechanics of the English language, including parts of speech, punctuation, and capitalization. Fourth graders focus on using increasingly complex sentence patterns and more sophisticated uses of punctuation, such as using commas, apostrophes, and quotation marks for dialogue.

Using the Reading Units of Study from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, students will be guided through the crucial transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Students will be immersed in fiction books while working on word solving, vocabulary development, and prediction. Students will develop essential skills for reading expository nonfiction, such as main ideas, recognizing text infrastructure, comparing texts, and thinking critically, as well as the skills for reading narrative nonfiction, such as determining importance by using knowledge of story structure are present in the units. Students also learn to closely observe characters, make predictions, and sharpen their skills in interpretation.

Students in the middle grades will read literature that touches on three important themes: Seeing Ourselves in One Another, Mythological Origins, and Our Place in the World (Real and Imagined). Target texts include the summer reading assignments of Around the World in Eighty Days, Chains, and I Kill Giants [all three of which touch on Seeing Ourselves in One Another and Our Place in the World (Real and Imagined)]. Throughout the course of the year, cross curricular work with the social studies programming will introduce us to Gilgamesh the Hero [Mythological Origins], as well as frequent looks at the origin myths of major world civilizations. Reading Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare will help us analyze the “great man” myth of history, and As You Like It (paired with a film version set in feudal Japan) will help us examine differences across cultures.

Students then proceed to additional themes: Notions of Justice in a Diverse World, The Creation of Culture, Documenting Truth Versus Documenting Experience in Fiction. Several readings will touch on these themes including The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Things Fall Apart by Chenua Achebe, and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. These texts will be supplemented with additional readings and poems that correspond with the themes of the novels. Sixth graders will work on analyzing texts for character and plot development as well as work on the art of combining fictional and non-fictional texts to create effective thesis driven essays.

Informational writing prompts will be frequent, but most of the writing will be a creative exploration of our three themes and their expression through fiction. Students will use the Grammar for Writing series to gain grade-level mastery of the English language’s technicalities. They will also use the Vocabulary from Classical Roots series to build off their Latin studies with an etymological study of roots, cognates, prefixes, suffixes, and word construction to expand their vocabularies.

Students in the upper grades will study reading that highlight such themes as the Cost of War, Human Geography, and Dystopia. We will examine these themes through the texts of The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Night by Elie Wiesel, selections from Maus by Art Spiegelman, and selections from A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power. The curriculum is designed to challenge the boys’ preconceived ideas of societal norms and improve their critical thinking, articulation of complex ideas, and essay writing skills, beginning to prepare them for the higher expectations that accompany high school. Themes also include Race in America, Class in America, and The Founding of the Nation. Texts will naturally work cross-curricularly with the social studies program and will include: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, selections from Between the World and Me by Ta Nahasi Coates, selections from Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, selections from Our Declaration by Danielle Allen, May Day by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Students will explore different perspectives and expand their horizons through these novels and various thinkers throughout the year. In their writing, the eighth graders are expected to form unique theses, write concisely and utilize textual evidence effectively, to effectively prepare them for high school.

History/Social Studies

Students use their critical thinking and reading skills to explore early cultures to Classical civilizations.  These skills are later used for exploration of the five themes of geography and the effect of mankind on this planet.  The program concludes with an in-depth study of United States history.  Research techniques and development of a final research paper conclude this program. Students are encouraged to use primary sources where appropriate and to engage in quantitative analysis of social constructs as needed.

In early grades, students examine varied geographic regions’ roles in the development of Native Peoples in the United States and the rest of North America. students will also become familiar with the culture, history, and regional impact of the great pre-Columbian civilizations, the Aztec, Maya, and Inca. We research specific facets of the Mayan Civilization, among others, and visit the Peabody Museum to learn from experts in the field. We then turn our investigation to the history of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies during the years of 1620 – 1776.

Boys in the middle grades study the Pre-History (“cavemen”) to understand the roles of archaeology, museums, and historians in the construction of history. Additionally, this will include familiarity with the basic “tools” of history: latitude and longitude, an introduction of geographic themes, critical reading of primary sources, and observation/analysis of archaeological fragments and artifacts. Students will study the growth of humanity from small, family-based groups into large civilizations (specifically, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Republic). Students then explore world history with the Roman Empire, studying its rise and fall. They continue with all major civilizations from then until the Enlightenment (Byzantine, Islamic World, Empires of Africa, Medieval World, and Renaissance Italy).

In the upper grades, we take up American history again from its beginnings as Europe’s “New World” to Reconstruction following the Civil War. This will include major events such as the build up to hostilities with Britain, the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the War for Independence, troubles in forming the new nation, the Constitution, the War of 1812, the lead up to the Civil War, and the continuity of slavery and a growing regionalism throughout it all. Students will be challenged by critical thinking, including being exposed to areas of history where historians disagree. Students will also explore the personal attributes of curiosity, resilience, charm, and courage and the role that figures possessing these played in the formation of our country, as well as the philosophical underpinnings of liberty, justice, and a rule of law to our nation’s governing principles.

Science

The science program is based on a multimedia and demonstration lab-based experience that fosters students’ understanding of the world around them. Students will develop a long-term science fair project and have an opportunity to compete at the school level. Students in upper grades will not only compete with their peers but also at the regional and possibly the state level.  Students will also be responsible for smaller projects throughout the year.

Students in the lower grades will observe carefully to find patterns and ways of categorizing as they hypothesize how and why.  The transfer of matter and energy between objects (both in space and on Earth) and between organisms will be the major theme for the year.  Students will learn how to make measurements, use units appropriately, and record their scientific observations. Students will learn about landscape formation, the layers of the Earth and how heat is transferred through it, rock types and fossils, renewable and nonrenewable energy resources, plant and animal structures, kinetic energy and energy transfers, and especially waves. Further, students will consider the size, shape, and weight of materials as they try to build the best prototypes of structures.

Middle grade students move beyond making conjectures and become more accountable for providing evidence for their hypothesis and using analytical tools from mathematics to do so. They explore the integration of Earth and space, life, and physical sciences. Students will relate structure and function by analyzing the macroscopic and microscopic world.  Students will study such topics as the Earth’s features and processes, the lunar phases and eclipse of the Sun and Moon, the role of cells and anatomy in supporting living organisms, the properties of materials and waves, and chemical reactions.

Students in the upper grades will be encouraged to not only observe and wonder “why?” and “how?” but also use concrete data analysis and abstract thinking skills to explain causes and their effects.  Students will study the causes for planetary orbits, seasons, the tides, the movement of tectonic plates, weather (especially extreme), climate, atomic and molecular interactions, gravity, and especially motion. Students will use their knowledge and understanding gained in earlier years to investigate analytical systems and cycles less concretely and more abstractly, using their skills in Algebra to explain relationships in the physical world.  They will gain experience with plate tectonics, the interactions of humans and Earth processes, ecosystem dynamics, motion and energy systems, the basics of chemistry, and key technologies used by society.

Religion

An education at the Choir School is enhanced and strengthened through formation and study of the Roman Catholic faith.  The desire for each student choir boy is that he grows in his knowledge and love of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – so that he may recognize both the importance of God in his life and his God-given talents, so as to place those talents at the service of the Church and the community in which he lives.

In recognition of the importance of prayer in order to grow in relationship with God, Holy Mass is celebrated each school day.  It is the hope that through the singing of the Mass and understanding the rich musical tradition of the Church, students will appreciate at a deeper level the power of God in his life, and thus respond as faith-filled individuals.

 

The Choir School provides theological education at each grade level in keeping with the guidelines for the education of young people in the Catholic faith.  The highly acclaimed Faith and Life Catechetical Series, published by Ignatius Press, guides the religion curriculum in grades three through eight.  This education is complemented by additional programs that encourage the living of a virtuous life and by the integration of social outreach projects and other activities that enhance the classroom experience so as to promote faithful living in every circumstance. Boys are challenged to understand the reasons supporting theological principles and to be able to defend the logic and reasoning of the Catholic faith and compare it to other religions.

Latin

At St. Paul’s we begin the study of Latin in Grade 3, when the boys’ minds are absorbent and interested. The boys will work with the aid of Hans H. Orberg’s Familia Romana, in which they are introduced to Roman life and classical mythology. They will learn the linguistic and grammatical differences between English and Latin; form the diligent habit of analyzing scrupulously word forms and syntax for both English and Latin; acquire the ability to translate an intermediate-level piece of Latin into workmanlike English; and build a fund of vocabulary that should not only improve their use of English, but also make any future learning of a Romance language (or two) less daunting. It is also hoped that the unremitted effort at memorizing and analyzing this inflected language will bring about a more concentrating, logical and precise mind.

Students will learn the pronunciation of Ecclesiastical Latin, the official language of the Catholic Church.  In the lower grades, this will enable them to both sing and pray in Latin. Using the immersion method, which provides a lot of experience with Latin, students will learn grammar, vocabulary, declensions, and conjugations while learning the basics of Roman culture and life.  Students will also learn basic prayers such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be.

During the middle grades, mastery of Latin will aid students greatly to sing and to understand what they are singing as Choristers. Students will learn the workings of this ancient language, which will study their facility with grammar, vocabulary, declensions, and conjugations while learning about Roman mythology, customs, and architecture. Students will also learn basic prayers in Latin which will enable them to say the Rosary and the Angelus.  

For upper grades, students will also study some original Latin aphorisms as well as selections from the Vulgate, especially Psalms.

French

Students begin their French studies in grade three and develop the fundamentals of the French language to include comprehension, speaking, reading and writing.  Students also learn and appreciate the rich traditions of the French culture. In the middle grades, reading and grammar concepts build upon from previous years. The text introduces additional vocabulary words. Students are taught adjective agreement at this level. Customs and culture continue to be discussed. Introduction to conjugation of verbs singular.

Physical Education and Theater

Students become aware of the requirements of good physical fitness and learn the rules of common team sports.  Good sportsmanship and cooperation is expected.  All work is done in class. The course also incorporates acting via acting technique, character development and script analysis. It makes no difference whether students are experienced actors and, indeed, a class of mixed experiences is the norm. The students must be willing to approach acting seriously and with rigor, eager to learn by doing, and accepting of the belief that acting is ultimately a team endeavor, not an individual one. One or two complete performances are presented each year.

Rhetoric - Grades 5 to 8

Students participate in guided coaching sessions in the art and craft of public speaking. Training includes competitive speech training, intensive coaching and feedback and the opportunity to choose and practice three speeches from five events (Impromptu, Volte Face, Monologue, Standup Comedy, and Persuasive). Skills will build confidence by illuminating the power of language, to give students greater understanding of how we create ourselves through the words we use, and to use those words—in writing and speaking—more deliberately and persuasively. The course creates an environment where students can grow as communicators with their peers using speeches to monologues to journalism and short videos. Students are trained to make strong impressions, meaningful conversation, and speak persuasively — indispensable skills to the modern leader. Optional competitions are offered.

Handwriting and Penmanship - Grades 3 & 4

Students will develop basic skills needed for legible handwriting in both print and cursive.  Areas covered include: sitting posture for handwriting, activities to promote hand strength and dexterity, functional pencil grasp, accurate letter formation, appropriate letter size, and placement of words on the lines of the paper.  The Handwriting Without Tears curriculum will be used to learn printed letter formation, and a combination of programs (Loops and Other Groups, Getting it Write, etc.) will be used for cursive.  

 

The group will include a pre-test and a post-test to ascertain progress.  Assessments will include standardized measures of visual motor skill and handwriting such as the Developmental Test of Visual Motor Integration and the Handwriting Screener.  The pre-and post-tests will also include functional writing samples.

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