A Day in the Life of an LCA Second Grader

by Kelsey Castaneda, Second-grade Teacher

There are so many elements that make Louisville Classical Academy what it is: a first-rate educational home to bright, inquisitive, and motivated students from diverse backgrounds. An exceptional classical approach to education, small class sizes, and an erudite curriculum help our unique students reach their potential from kindergarten all the way through high school. Our students are able to participate in Chess Club, Cross Country, Junior Classical League, fencing lessons, drama productions, the local and national spelling bees, academic team, and more to build their social skills and relationships. To get a better idea of how all of these disparate elements work together, let’s go through a typical day in my second-grade classroom. 

Our day begins bright and early at 8:30. Students come in and start their morning routine by completing their weekly morning jobs, such as changing the class schedule or collecting homework. Responsibility can never start too soon! 

My students begin their day with free reading for the first 10 minutes of class. This daily practice of independent reading for fun helps students develop a love for reading as it is integrated into their everyday lives. After morning reading, students transition into completing daily grammar and literacy exercises in their Blue Books, another unique LCA tradition! The Blue Book is full of all sorts of language activities — paragraph editing and writing, grammar practice, creative and analytical writing, spelling, and reading comprehension practice. My second graders are currently working on properly punctuating dialogue, as well as writing letters and using possessive apostrophes. Wow, right? 

After daily grammar work, we move on to study our class novel. This is everyone’s favorite part of English, by far! Yes, even in second grade, LCA students read and discuss novels as a whole class. Currently, second graders are reading the classic Stuart Little by E. B. White. For each chapter, we focus on new vocabulary words, figurative language, comprehension practice, summary skills, and responsive writing. In addition, we spend a lot of time discussing proper discussion habits. When is it my turn to speak? I have an important comment, but do not want to interrupt another friend. What should I do? It is important to discuss these speaking habits from a young age in order to create a respectful classroom. 

Currently, we are on chapter 4 of Stuart Little. In this chapter, students learned new vocabulary words like “abdominal” and “shrill,” practiced identifying metaphors within the text, answered comprehension questions (multiple choice and short answer), and wrote a paragraph summarizing the chapter. Students also wrote a creative letter from the perspective of the Stuart Little himself, and created illustrations to accompany their letter. 

In the midst of all this novel-talk, we always work in some kid-necessary things, like moving around or taking mental breaks, because focusing for an hour and a half is difficult for any elementary-age student. We rotate from group circles on the floor, to table work, to small group work, and so on. Occasionally, we work in some drama, acting out parts of the story, or making crafts that complement the reading. 

After English, students have a short snack break followed by 15 minutes of morning recess. At LCA, we believe that play, especially outdoor play, is essential to elementary students. They need to release energy and play with friends. Exercising and building social skills are an important part of our social-emotional curriculum. 

Second grade math is interactive, too. On a daily basis, we use manipulatives like counting blocks, marker boards, clocks, scales, games, and everything in between. We complete work as a whole class, in small groups, or individually in workbooks. Currently, second graders are learning about length (cm, in, m, ft, yd) and weight (lbs, kg, tons). Students experiment with using different measuring tools and learn to compare different units of measurement. We even measured the length of our classroom!
After math, students head to a 30 minute long lunch followed by a second recess (20 minutes). We encourage parents to pack healthy lunches that represent all food groups! With the second recess, students have a total of 35 minutes of recess per day, where they can play outside, play with hula hoops or jump ropes, or, most importantly, create imaginative games with their friends. 

Students transition to Global Studies or Science after second recess. In Global Studies this month, second graders are learning about early 20th century immigration. We read immigration stories from the perspective of kids their age, learn about passage through the Atlantic and Ellis Island, and discuss the reasons for the immigration boom of this time period, to name a few things. Eventually, students will create their own family history timeline! 

Second graders loves science at LCA because it is not just something that they learn about from a textbook. Starting in kindergarten, LCA students practice hands-on, experimental science. My second graders just began a unit on the deciduous forest environment. We will not only discuss the parts of flowers and plants, but also dissect them to identify these parts first hand. We will not only learn the shapes of leaves and identifiers of trees, but also go out on a walk to explore them up close! 

Following Global Studies or Science, LCA students have two more afternoon classes. Drama, P.E., Music, Art, and Choir are all part of our curriculum. Students come back to my class at the end of the day reciting Hamlet or with a beautiful watercolor painting to show me. 

At the end of our day, we (hopefully) add some Positivity Pom-Poms to our class jar. One of the three most important school rules at LCA is “be friendly,” which includes being kind, respectful, and a helpful peer. Our classroom thrives on kindness. For kind or friendly behavior, students can earn pom-poms for the class jar. Unkind behavior can result in a loss of pom-poms, though. Once students fill the jar up, they earn a whole class reward, like time at the park. Having a common class goal that is rooted in kindness creates a positive and loving classroom environment where students encourage each other to consider the feelings of others on a daily basis. 

For most kids, the day ends after those two afternoon special classes, like P.E. or drama. For some students, though, LCA’s after-care program is a place where they continue to create, read, complete homework, do puzzles, or play outside until parents can arrive to pick up their children. 

As I hope is evident, a day in the life of an LCA second grader is a day full of learning, friends, experimenting, creating, reading, exercising, and trying new things. Before I came to LCA last year, I taught at my university during my graduate school work. I truly think that my second graders could give some of those undergraduate students that I taught a run for their money academically. LCA students are the students that teachers dream about teaching. They are students who ask questions, who solve problems, and who love to learn. 

Classical Choice: A Founder's Perspective

by Marcia Cassady, LCA co-founder and head of school 2007-2013

I still remember the article extolling progressive education that inspired me to set my three children on a path for which I've spent the rest of their lives apologizing.  The year was 1991. With a first-born entering first grade, its author pushed all the right emotional buttons with phrases like child centered, learning by doing, authentic assessment, critical thinking.  The photos conveyed happily engaged children, all collaborating on group projects with teachers smiling from the sidelines.  Appropriating the term "progressive" for this 20th-century creation was brilliant –– who questions progress?

By no coincidence, the article closely followed passage of Kentucky's Education Reform Act of 1990, with $1.3B in new school funding.  Progressive education merchants descended on those funds with curricula and teacher training. The reforms were piloted in 91-92 in a few schools, one of them in an adjacent county.  I actually paid tuition for my daughter to attend that public school pilot.

By 1997, all three children had finished primary schooling shaped by progressive reforms:  whole language reading instruction, technology-infused math education, social studies with little to no history, constant projects.  With no standardized testing, I was slow to see the growing gap between their aptitude and achievement. When we finally did private testing at U of L, the results showed serious deficits.  Anxious but clueless, we moved to a private school. To help cover tuition of $80K in pre-tax dollars, I returned to practicing law with my faith in schools remarkably intact.

In the fall of 1999, my daughter failed a freshman Algebra I exam.  I requested a conference for insights to share with a soon-to-be-hired tutor.  As the teacher directed her through a sample problem, we found that she didn't know 6 x 6 = 36.  But the insight I most needed came with the teacher's immediate response, "That's what calculators are for."  In that moment, I began to understand the pervasiveness of progressive education, across teacher training and credentialing and across both public and private schools.  

My children in grades 9, 7 and 5 were soon enrolled in Kumon Math, where all had to return to single-column addition to find a secure skill to build upon.  We needed more tutors for grade-level math, where they joined many classmates whose parents were comparing notes in parking lots.  The engineering types blamed the school's curriculum. On the language side, the school's mantra was 'balanced' language arts instruction, progressive-speak for minimizing explicit instruction in grammar and composition.  Here, even I could see cause and effect. Why the struggle with reading speed and comprehension? For starters, whole language instruction had limited the ability to parse out prefixes or suffixes to quickly see the roots in multi-syllabic words.  

By the time I understood what I'd allowed to happen, we had little time for repairs.  Desperate to choose remediation with more wisdom than I had chosen schools, I left the practice of law for full-time research into education that would continue for a decade.  

The Schools We Need by E.D. Hirsch was an epiphany.  While the claims for progressive education never came close to describing my children's experiences, Hirsch nailed them as if he'd been a classroom observer.  He was just as correct about what they needed to become engaged students again. In addition to Kumon, we added explicit instruction in all facets of language arts.  Happy to finally experience some learning success, my children hung in with the work that filled their evenings, increasingly frustrated at classroom time that felt wasted by comparison.  Even so, I was floored when my rising 7th grade son said, "Mom, can't we just homeschool?"    

My husband and I anxiously deliberated for months, especially after his 9th grade brother asked to be included.  The tipping point was my research into classical education, then in the early stages of a renaissance in reaction to progressive education's dismal outcomes.  Being done with blind faith, I researched its claims across every discipline, especially cognitive science. Exchanges with Hirsch and psychology professor Dan Willingham, author of Why Don't Students Like School?, clinched the decision.

The story of that terrifying, sleepless, wonderful year of homeschooling cannot be shared here, but the outcomes can.  Testing at U of L before and after that year showed gains of two to four years in all subjects for both boys. The most important thing learned was that joy in learning depends upon being good at learning.  Being good at learning is far easier when teaching methods both respect the need for efficiency in learning and properly account for how the mind works.  Progressive education failed monumentally in both respects, while methods that drew upon the wisdom of many centuries repaired the damage to the extent possible. *    

These were the lessons that inspired my role in founding LCA.  My co-founders were brilliant academics who understood better than I how the study of classical languages hones the young intellect and unlocks the logic in language –– how shared inquiry into great literature provides a vocabulary of powerful ideas and the confidence to use them –– how mathematics and music can be studied as languages that, with enough practice, open our minds to transcendent beauty –– how the study of history makes sense of the present –– how science can be informed by wisdom derived from all the rest.  But I knew something they never had to learn: the bitter regret of failing my children.

Together, we created the school of our collective dreams, Kentucky's only non-sectarian classical school.  We resisted the false dichotomies rampant in education debates and maintained thoughtful flexibility in pursuing our mission.  But we remain committed to a rigorous and knowledge-centered education, one that cultivates students' habits of mind and intellectual capacities in support of whatever they dream for themselves.  That is the source of the joy and respect, for each other and for learning, that we call the spirit of LCA.   

*Mrs. Cassady's daughter is an attorney with an LLM in trial advocacy and a former Jefferson County prosecutor who now works in the office of the Attorney General.  Her elder son earned an MBA, serves as a Central Bank Investment Officer, and continues his education in software development. Her younger son, also an attorney, attained an LLM in real estate development and practiced at Greenberg Traurig in Miami before joining the firm of Dinsmore & Shohl.