K-8, Co-educational Independent School


Lower School

Welcome to the ACDS Lower School!

Small classes, highly qualified teachers, excellent resources, and forward-thinking leadership. These assets support a program that is academically challenging, personalized, joyful, and focused on preparing each child for success in a diverse and complex world. Our caring teachers build relationships with their students and understand their strengths, challenges, and interests. Students become excellent communicators, critical thinkers, and effective problem solvers because of their engagement with meaningful curriculum, skilled and passionate teachers, and our robust and integrated approach to social-emotional learning. A spirit of discovery enlivens our classrooms, and play reinforces and is integrated with study, making learning both rigorous and joyful. Our unique emphasis on speaking, writing, and multimedia expression ensures that our students distinguish themselves as effective communicators at an early age. Technology is integrated thoughtfully into instruction, balancing tech-enhanced experiences with hands-on, tactile work. Extensive opportunities in the arts, physical education, and service bring balance to their studies and provide expansive opportunities for students to develop and explore their myriad talents and passions.  

Explore our curricular offerings below and discover the extraordinary experiences that await the ACDS student.

Language Arts

The Lower School Language Arts program employs a structured literacy approach, encompassing phonics and phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and oral language skills, as well as writing craft and mechanics. The classrooms use the Reading and Writing Workshop structures along with Heggerty Phonological and Phonemic Awareness, Wilson Fundations and Patterns of Power. Lower School teachers regularly participate in conferences and other professional development opportunities to continuously grow their ability to effectively deliver these curricula to their students.



Reading instruction accommodates emergent through advanced readers using minilessons and instructional read-alouds geared to the whole group, as well as small group guided reading and skills-based instruction. Reading instruction each day begins with a short mini-lesson that teaches a decoding skill, fluency skill, or a comprehension strategy, followed by a longer instructional time where teachers can differentiate based on student needs. During this time, teachers meet with students in small groups and individually to teach them phonics and comprehension skills. Small groups are phonics based and decodable texts are used with students. When students are not meeting with a teacher, they read from a selection of decodable and leveled readers that they have selected based on their interests, or they complete different phonics activities to reinforce different phonics features being taught during phonics. 


The Writing Workshop allows for individualization, while providing students with the opportunity to experiment with narrative, expository, and argument/opinion writing. Whole group minilessons focus on instruction in the writing process, genre, craft, and mechanics, while small group and individual conferences hone in on each student’s areas for growth. Beginning in first grade, students start to learn grammar through an inquiry process. A sentence is presented on the first day of a five-day lesson cycle. Students discuss what they notice about the sentence and the teacher guides them to a specific teaching point (i.e. we capitalize names). Throughout the five-day lesson cycle, they have an opportunity to compare and contrast sentences, imitate model sentences, and apply language conventions to their own writing.

Oral Language Development

The Language Arts program also nurtures oral language development, enabling students to become effective and confident communicators. Students develop their oral language skills through sharing during Morning Meeting, class plays, poetry readings at a local coffeehouse, Author’s Teas, video-based presentations, and formal speeches.


Through the Math in Focus curriculum, students are actively engaged—trying out problems on mini whiteboards and building with base-10 blocks or Unifix cubes, explaining their answers using models and pictures to help them deepen their understanding, and working independently at their own level to practice the new skill they acquired during the day’s lesson.  

Math in Focus is the American version of Singapore Math, an internationally recognized and celebrated program that sets the bar high for students while striking a balance between traditional algorithms and visual representation models that help build critical thinking skills. Math in Focus offers a three-step learning process that emphasizes the transition from concrete to pictorial to abstract when learning new concepts. Typical American programs tend to skip the pictorial component, which can compromise a student’s depth of understanding. In Math in Focus children are given various visual models (specifically number bonds and bar models) to help them better understand the information in a problem and the number relationships.  Another hallmark of the program is its focus; Math in Focus devotes more time to fewer topics over the course of a year enabling students to truly master concepts. Rather than racing through content, teachers are able to go deeper and expand students’ abilities to reason, think critically, and solve real-world problems.


ACDS’s science program is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards and pushes students to explore connections across the four domains of science, including Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering Design. Faculty assist students in gaining an understanding of the subject matter, as well as an appreciation for and curiosity of the natural world. Through their learning and exploration, students are asked to think critically, observe, analyze, experiment, predict, and communicate their thoughts, ideas, and observations through writing, speaking, and drawing.

The Lower School science curriculum is designed to build on a child’s natural wonder and curiosity about the world around them. Hands-on activities allow students to explore, question, predict, and observe. Students participate in experiments modeled after the scientific method, build models, and perform direct observations. Balanced science lessons in the Lower School include read-alouds, independent and paired reading, writing, drawing, labeling, categorizing, classifying, observations, demonstrations, experiments, field trips, and beginning note-taking. Classes reflect active learning, critical thinking, and discovery.

In fourth grade, science learning becomes more specialized as one of the core teachers takes on the teaching of science to the entire grade. In the fourth grade, students build on their curiosity about the world around them and begin to tackle more complicated science tasks. Students begin more formalized research skills through the writing of reports and papers, as well as conducting scientific experiments independently. The work that takes place in fourth grade science prepares students for the experience they will have in the ACDS Middle School science program.

Social Studies

ACDS teachers regularly teach the Social Studies curriculum through interactive simulations, inquiry-based units, field trips, and current events. Fundamental to the Social Studies curriculum at ACDS is the development of critical thinking, tolerance and respect for the self, community, and world, as well as cross-cultural understanding.

In kindergarten and first grade, social studies is taught through thematic units of study. Themes in kindergarten include the study of self and community, introductory map skills, and the impact of humans on their environment. First grade students focus on families and their role in the larger community, U.S. symbols, wants and needs, and the concept of past, present, and future.

In second grade, students broaden their understanding of local and global communities and their responsibilities within these communities. Second grade students learn about citizenship and being an active community member, human diversity, winter holidays around the world, geography and community on a global scale, and what makes a person a hero.

In third grade, students use the Social Studies Alive! Regions of our Country curriculum to explore the five regions of the United States through the lens of four social sciences–economics, geography, political science, and history.  

Lower School social studies culminates with a study of early American history in fourth grade using Social Studies Alive! America’s Past. Topics of study in fourth grade include geography, native peoples, colonialism, the Revolutionary War and the creation of government, the settling of the American West, and Industrial Revolution.


At ACDS, we believe that the intellectual development of a well-rounded student should include knowledge of a second language, both as a means of self-expression and to better understand other cultures. The foreign language program aligns with the national standards of the American Council on the Teaching of a Foreign Language: communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities. Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TRPS) and Comprehensible Input (CI) are two instructional methods that play prominent roles in our K-8 program. Each program promotes growth in Spanish through engaging activities that repeatedly expose students to a high volume of authentic and useful language.

Spanish teachers provide a developmentally appropriate academic program that engenders enthusiasm for learning about other languages and cultures. The cultural aspects of the Spanish program provide an excellent opportunity for inspiring in students respect and understanding for all people and cultures. The language skills that students acquire help them build self-confidence and further their communication skills.

Students are introduced to Spanish language and culture in Kindergarten in order to make use of the maximum potential that young children have for learning a foreign language. Each year students strengthen and broaden their comprehension and expression skills, as well as their knowledge and appreciation of the cultures of the Spanish-speaking world. By eighth grade, students complete the equivalent of high school Spanish I and have the opportunity to put their Spanish skills into practice during a class trip to Puerto Rico.


The Physical Education Department at ACDS provides a physically and emotionally safe environment for students to pursue physical, mental, and social growth. Our goal is to equip each student with the knowledge and skills needed to lead a physically active life.

Students in Kindergarten through second grade learn locomotor, manipulative, and non-manipulative skills. Skipping, hopping, jumping, running, galloping, and walking are all examples of locomotor movements in which the children work to become proficient. Students also learn the basics of manipulative skills: volleying, dribbling, punting, kicking, and striking with implements. Additionally, the children work on non-manipulative skills, such as moving safely in the space, relationships with others and self, bending, twisting, rolling, balancing, and weight transfer. Third and fourth graders apply skills acquired in the younger graders into game-like situations where they develop teamwork, leadership, and sportsmanship.

Fine and Performing Arts

The Music, Art, and Drama Department at ACDS teaches each student to combine creativity with conceptual knowledge; to help each student develop interpretive and problem solving skills through the arts; and to make fine, applied, and performance arts relevant to each student. Lower School students study Music, Art, and Drama in designated classes regularly within their weekly schedule.  


Staffed by a full-time librarian, the ACDS library is open at all times that school is in session. Lower School students visit the library once or twice per week to hear stories, pursue research, and develop information and media literacy skills. The collection consists of nearly 12,000 titles including books, videos and dvds, magazines, audio tapes and CDs, iPods and Playaways. Anyone in the school community, including students, teachers, staff, and parents, may borrow items.

Technology Integration

At ACDS, our Technology Integrationist works closely with each teacher in the Lower School to enrich student learning through the use of technology. The objective is to make sure that technology integration in the classroom is relevant, effective, thoughtful, and deliberate, and provides the opportunity for students to do things that weren’t possible before. Technology is used by teachers to enhance instruction with video, simulations, primary source images, animations, audio recordings, and presentation slides that can be played back at a student’s individual pace, and to connect students to information sources outside the school, such as experts in the field. Students use technology to create projects that demonstrate knowledge and mastery of skills.  Projects are completed on iPads, which are 1:1 in our classrooms, or in our Innovation Lab where students have access to video production equipment, a blue screen wall, and 3D printers. 


In fourth grade, students are invited to participate in three of our seven interscholastic athletic teams: Cross Country, Swimming, and Tennis.  Fourth graders join our fifth through eighth graders as full participants on these teams and compete against students from other area schools.

Learning Support

Recognizing that children learn in many ways, progress at different rates, and sometimes need extra instruction, reinforcement, or enrichment, the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) staff work to ensure that students’ educational needs are met. TLC staff members collaborate with teachers to develop classroom strategies, provide small group or individual instruction, and differentiate learning as needed.

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