Portland Progressive School 4th and 5th Graders | Emerald Class

Nine and Ten year-olds at Summa Academy

The Emerald class on Field Learning 2015 at Westwind.

Our Emerald class is a mixed-age classroom comprised of fourth grade and fifth grade students.

Visitors to our Emerald classroom are often struck by the confidence of the students and the respect they show one another. As an independent grade school in Portland, we are able to offer our students the freedom and support they need to learn and develop their emotional intelligence.

During any given day there are periods of silence as each student engages in their studies. There are small group collaborations where students focus on their academic learning. As they acquire information for their studies, students move from quiet reading areas, to experimentation tables, to their desks as needed. Lessons for the whole class proceed respectfully. When playing a game, laughter and shouts of support fill the room. These students are an exemplary community of learners.

Competent as an academician, Mr. Ley employs a developmentally appropriate curriculum based on his knowledge of the strengths and challenges of each student. Summa’s philosophy of whole-child development, Natural Learning Relationships, ensures the emergence of trust in all relationships. The 11:1 student-teacher ratio provides ample time to build trustworthy relationships with each student which creates a foundation for success.
Emerald students explore the inspiration in nature.
Qualities of the Emerald Classroom:

  • High-level academic goals with rigorous expectations and ongoing progress monitoring
  • Breaks for physical and social activities mix with highly focused, intensive work
  • Emphasis on self-esteem through academic and interpersonal success
  • Application of whole class and small group work
  • Environment supports community development and cooperative problem solving
  • Trustworthy relationships fostered
  • Knowledgeable educator attentive to each student

Ms. Gray

Ms. Grey
(Master in Educational Psychology)
Through my education at the University of New Mexico I have gained a better understanding of the cognitive development and science of learning in order to enhance the cognitive processes for myself and to better serve my students. I have learned ways to help my students use metacognitive strategies to grow as learners. Most recently I was the 4th grade teacher at Albuquerque School of Excellence a public charter school in NM, where I also ran the soccer club for 3-6th graders. I am a believer in the power of positive thinking and positive reinforcement. My teaching philosophy and personality reflect those beliefs.

Academic Excellence

Academic Excellence and Emotional Intelligence weave together seamlessly in our Emerald classroom. Students engage lively dialogues about all classroom matters from relationships among students (what is a friend?) to the difference between rights and obligations (everyone has a right to learn but are they obliged to keep the room clean?). These dialogues lead to insights and motivation. Small group discussions focus on the meaning of passages in a book club reading group. There is instant appreciation of the influences on a character’s motivation. Effortlessly students begin to predict plot development. In both the dialogues and the discussions understanding on one another’s perspective deepens. Academic Excellence and Emotional Intelligence spark one another, igniting greater learning and deeper understanding.

As educators, know that strong academic foundations must be fortified during the student’s three years in the Emerald classroom. Subjects are approached from an interdisciplinary perspective. In math, for instance, understanding that equivalency describes the relationship between two states leads to the easy application of the equals sign. This understanding can then be applied to chemistry and physics equations.

Emerald students work together to solve spatial challenges.

In Language Arts, an infrastructure for language is provided by introducing Latin. Together, the students explore the roots of words and the many ways these roots combine to create textured meaning and nuance for writing and speech. Sharpened mastery of words leads to larger working vocabulary and better expression of ideas and concepts.

The same commitment to strong foundations can be found in curricula for humanities and the sciences. Throughout their life in the Emerald classroom, confidence and self-trust go hand-in-hand with a rapidly expanding sphere of academic competencies.

As always at Summa Academy, parents are integral for successful education. Educator and parent collaborate on the Personal Learning Plan at the beginning of the year to ensure strengths and challenges are well understood. The educators track progress with bi-weekly student notes that are shared with parents. Three times a year, parent/educator conferences focus on a detailed summary assessment of the academic proficiencies accomplished that term. As the year progresses and a student grows personally, socially, and academically, parents see this progress as additional proficiencies are added to the assessment.

Emotional Intelligence

Students take a break while on a fieldtrip

Learning how to decipher their own feelings and the feelings of others is the essence of Emotional Intelligence for Emerald students. Carefully mentoring the emergence of trust, the educators guide students in their exploration of feeling complexity. The students learn by observing educators and one another as they model honesty, fairness, and justice.

The educators know that when students experience trust they willingly cooperate; and conversely, when trust is absent cooperation diminishes. Reciprocal cooperation becomes a barometer for the growth of Emotional Intelligence in the Emerald classroom.

Students are given the time and opportunity to resolve conflicts that arise in relationship to fellow students, sometimes in the middle of an academic lesson. By the time an Emerald student moves up to the Onyx class (our mixed-age class sixth and seventh graders), they have a strong sense of fairness and justice. They can identify and navigate their internal feelings and can show empathy for others. They have a deep sense of trust in themselves and their community.

Experiential Learning

Marine biology is within reach for these fourth grade students.

Every day Emerald students enjoy experiential learning. Take the popular game Battleship. Instead of simply calling out a letter and number, Mr. Ley turned the board into Cartesian coordinates so that students learn graphing while playing. Students build longhouses while reading Indian in the Cupboard, others create dioramas for Because of Winn Dixie.

Excitement erupts from the classroom when students form teams to play “Definition Jeopardy”.  A list of words is posted on board. Then Mr. Ley reads a definition and the race is on. Which word matches the question? On Grandparents and Special Friends Day, Mr. Ley invited guests to play against students. Guests lost, but everyone wished they had experiential learning when they were in school. Summa educators engage endless variations as they pair their profound knowledge of the students with the main focus subjects, thus bringing learning alive, expanding students’ joy in learning and increasing the retention of information.

Physical Activity

Brain research shows that morning physical activity promotes cognitive and behavioral competence. The entire school does thirty minutes of physical exercise together each morning. Activities vary, and students usually have two activities to choose from. Some examples include Tae Kwon Do, dance, soccer and ball skills, relay races, and cooperative games. Emerald students also enjoy extra outside time for either free play, or organized games when their educators see the need for body movement.


Emerald student paints in Jackson Pollock style.
Every week Emerald students come together with Onyx students (ages 12-14) to participate in formal art class. Well-known and lesser-known artists are studied and their stylistic innovations sampled. Art projects vary, and technique and creativity are valued. In addition to a formal art class that they have for an hour once a week, the budding artists often engage in other artistic projects throughout the week.  Using Summa’s large art studio they enhance their skills as they learn by doing. Mediums we explore range from stone to clay, wood to paint, watercolor to charcoal. With the Emerald students project management is also emphasized as they learn to master the artistic process from conception to show. Students are proud of their work, and are given the chance to display it in the lunch room at the end of each section.

A Day in the Life of an Emerald Student

Emerald students at the Ape Cave during Field Learning.
9:00-9:30 Interpersonal curriculum
9:30-10:00 Physical Activity
10:00-10:45 Language Arts
10:45-11:30 Mathematics
11:30-11:45 Body Break
11:45-12:30 Latin, Science, or Humanities
12:30-1:20 Lunch/Recess
1:20-2:10 Science or Humanities
2:15-3:15 Project-Based Learning
3:15 Wrap-up and debrief of the day
3:30 Pick-up