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Lower School Curriculum

Grades 1–4

Durham Academy Lower School seeks to provide students with a challenging environment for learning, while offering the care and attention that guide a child to success. Lower School teachers present opportunities that foster the joy of learning and allow for discovery as skills are practiced and refined in supportive surroundings that encourage independence and risk-taking.




Respect, Responsibility & Support

The Lower School has set Respect and Responsibility as our community commitments because preparing students for moral, happy and productive lives is at the heart of Durham Academy's mission. As we provide students with a stimulating academic environment, close attention is given to offering opportunities that will contribute to the development of a child’s character, personal identity, self-esteem and respect for others.

We have a robust learning support team — including the Preschool/Lower School learning specialist, a dedicated Lower School learning support coach, and the Lower School literacy specialist and math specialist — ready to help any students who experience academic challenges. We know that such supports in the early years have a profound impact on a student's confidence, self-advocacy and lifelong academic journey.

Character & CommunityLearning Support

Our curriculum content strikes a balance between relevance to the present world and ideas that look to a world beyond. Enrichment classes in art, technology, drama, library, music, physical education and Spanish round out each child’s educational experience by complementing what is learned in the classroom, providing opportunities for students to express their individuality while developing competence and discovering personal interests.


Lower School students compare picture books.

Our ultimate goal for our young readers is to guide them in creating a reading life of their own and to inspire them to become lifelong readers. We work to equip our young writers for a life of writing with confidence and proficiency. 

The Lower School literacy specialist collaborates with teachers to support instruction in all grades and provides professional development to faculty regarding curriculum and research-based pedagogy.

The Lower School library holds more than 20,000 volumes and runs on a flexible schedule so students can visit at any time. Teachers use the library to support their curriculum, but the library also has its own curriculum to teach children how to independently find resources and conduct research. The library curriculum also incorporates digital literacy lessons about how to safely use technology as a tool, finding reliable sources for research and presenting information with technology. An annual highlight is a visiting children’s author.


The Lower School uses the Bridges curriculum as the primary resource for mathematics instruction. Bridges in Mathematics is a comprehensive curriculum that gives teachers the opportunity to facilitate instruction in a manner that is rigorous, coherent, engaging and accessible to all learners. The curriculum focuses on developing students’ deep understanding of mathematical concepts, proficiency with key skills, and the ability to solve complex and novel problems. Bridges blends direct instruction, structured investigation and open exploration. The program taps into the intelligence of all students by presenting material that is as linguistically, visually and kinesthetically rich as it is mathematically powerful.

The Lower School math specialist functions as part of each classroom's teaching team, helping to reduce the teacher-student ratio in the classroom during math units of study for differentiated instruction, or working with small groups of children who need support or additional challenges in math. 

Lower School students work together on a math activity.

Social Studies/Unit Studies

Third-graders' artwork of states is displayed for Grandfriends Day.

As Lower Schoolers learn about the history, geography and culture of our local community, state, nation and world, we also work to instill lessons about personal leadership, independence and their roles as citizens — on local and global levels.  

Enrichments & Assemblies

Each day, students participate in at least one to three Enrichment classes outside their regular classrooms. These classes are taught by expert teachers in each subject area and offer students opportunities to move their bodies, stretch their creativity and use their brains in new ways. 

The Lower School operates on an eight-day rotational schedule for Enrichment classes.

Upper School dance students lead Lower Schoolers though a dance at an assembly.

The entire Lower School community gathers for weekly assemblies, which are typically focused on enjoying a presentation or participating in a sharing experience. Assemblies sometimes offer students the opportunity to practice public-speaking skills as they share what they have been working on in their classrooms.