University School of Jackson

Lower School Curriculum

The USJ Lower School offers a strong, developmental curriculum. USJ’s unique program is educationally stimulating and exemplifies practices that are developmentally appropriate and responsive to the individual needs and talents of our students. Through team teaching, self-contained classes, and flexible grouping, students are taught language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science. Students learn in a loving environment that encourages self-discipline, respect, participation, communication, and trial and error. 

Enrichment programs include art, music, library, computer, foreign language, character education, physical education, and hands-on science lab. Spanish begins with the Cubs program. French is introduced in Second Grade and continues through Fifth Grade when students have one semester of French and one semester of Spanish. Opportunities for age-appropriate participation in the PAL League (sports) and the after-school art program further enhance the curriculum.

Lower School Literacy is taught through a readers and writers workshop approach found in  Lucy Calkins Units of Study. This method of instruction is built on the best practices and proven frameworks developed over decades of work. It provides a highly differentiated mode of learning so that all students are taught the structure, development, and conventions of reading and writing through a rigorous and authentic use of literacy.  Through the writing workshop approach, students write a variety of genres including narratives, information, and persuasive writing. Additionally, your child will read, listen to, and discuss a wealth of children’s literature including folktales, fables, picture books, informational texts, and novels. Learning will focus on specific comprehension strategies while promoting an enthusiastic love of reading. In the lower school, students are taught the conventions of spelling through the use of Words Their Way, which is an adaptive approach to spelling that allows students to work through bands of complexity as they become familiar with the patterns of letters that form words in the English language.  The developmental spelling stages that this supports are: Emergent Early Letter Name, Letter name, Within Word Patterns, Syllables and Affixes, or Derivational relations speller.

Math is taught in the lower school through the use of Everyday Mathematics and Redbird Math. Everyday Mathematics is a comprehensive, researched-based mathematics program developed and written by education researchers at the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project. The goal of Everyday Mathematics is to help elementary students acquire a deep conceptual understanding of mathematical concepts and greater mathematical fluency, helping them to become problem solvers and life-long mathematical thinkers.  Everyday Mathematics utilizes hands-on projects, group work, and games to support students in developing their problem solving and higher-level thinking skills. Each grade of the Everyday Mathematics curriculum is carefully designed to build and expand a student’s mathematical proficiency and understanding. 

Redbird Math is the Lower Schools online math resource. Redbird is a web-based adaptative mathematics curriculum developed after more than 20 years of research at Stanford University. Redbird consists of seven units in each grade level and has been designed to engage students with advanced math games that are unlocked as they advance through each unit. Redbird addresses the critical foundations of Algebra readiness and problem-solving. A key feature of Redbird is that each student has their own personalized learning path that is always assessing their proficiency and adapting to the students learning pathway.

Our goal: to build powerful mathematical thinkers.


The kindergarten science program introduces students to the Earth's systems as they analyze and interpret weather patterns and seasons.  This inquiry is ongoing as the students discover how observations and data can provide valuable insights to the world in which we live. Kindergarten students learn how to classify by observing living and nonliving materials and then determine the needs of living plants and animals


First Grade

A hands-on, inquiry based learning approach is provided that involves experiments and research based practices to explore the world around us. As part of this journey, students will investigate plants and their interdependence with the surrounding environment.  Intertwined through these investigations students will consider the scientific process through the use of tools and the identification of real world problems that they will analyze through testable questions.


Second Grade

The Second Grade science curriculum includes animal adaptations, the study of forces and motion with an emphasis on simple machines, and how the natural environment changes over time. There are opportunities for hands-on, inquiry based learning that challenges our students to think as scientists.


Third Grade

In Third Grade the science curriculum challenges students to consider physics through examinations of matter and its interactions.  This leads to an investigation into motion and stability through the use of magnets and their properties. Students continue their scientific inquiry by looking at the planets in our solar system.  These investigations are conducted through hands on lessons that challenge students to think about the world around them.


Fourth Grade

The fourth grade science curriculum focuses on Life and Earth sciences.  This inquiry begins with learning which is centered on ecosystems and the interrelatedness of their many parts. Students have the opportunity to consider what may happen if one or more variable is changed in such an environment and what the results could be!  Students continue their scientific exploration by considering the Earth’s place in the universe and the systems that are to be found on our planet. All of these investigations are supported by work in the science lab.


Fifth Grade

The science curriculum uses a broad, hands-on inquiry based approach to science that involves research and experiential learning. These inquiries challenge the students to consider the world  through the eyes of an engineer to identify a real world problem and then use scientific principles to offer solutions to that issue. Fifth grade students are engaged in physics, life and earth sciences and engineering technology.


In Kindergarten, students build upon experiences in their families, school environment, and the world around to explore traditions, customs, and cultures.  Within this learning, students will examine the foundational elements of what it means to be a good citizen within their community and the United States. As part of their studies, students will explore economic concepts, based on industries found in Tennessee.  Additionally, students will be able to discuss and analyze significant symbols and holidays of the United States and why they are important.



The First Grade social studies curriculum challenges students to deepen their understanding of how families and communities work together and how the environment impacts the lives people lead.  Students will continue to develop their knowledge of geography, history, civics, and economics. The goal is that our students become active inquirers into social studies related concepts so that they can connect to the world they live in.  



The Second Grade social studies curriculum investigates geographical features, significant historical figures, and the roles of the three branches of government of the United States. These strands of social studies are explored through the use of hands-on, student-centered investigations that challenge second graders to consider the world around them.



The Third Grade social studies curriculum explores significant components of world geography and cultures of the world.  Students will develop skills across core elements of geography through the examination of geographical features, places, and regions, physical systems, human systems, and society.  Students will conduct their investigations through hands-on activities that include the use of individual and group activities.



The fourth grade social studies curriculum encompasses an in-depth study of early American history. This investigation leads to an exploration of the foundation of the United States of America with a  rigorous study of the Revolutionary War and the resulting formation of a national government. Alongside this investigation, students will take time to consider the history of Tennessee and how the state contributed to the development of the country.  Students will conduct their studies through hands-on activities that include the use of individual and group activities.



The fifth-grade social studies curriculum takes a look at the challenges that the new nation endured. The work begins in the Antebellum South, investigating the causes, consequences, and path of the Civil War.  The investigations challenge the students to consider the journey that the United States took from this juncture through to the modern era. As many critical events of post World War II, domestic turning points occurred within our immediate region we use these locations to expand and deepen the learning experiences of our social studies journey. Students further develop their analytical thinking skills through this course of study as they research causes and effects of significant historical events.

Character Education

USJ is committed to character education in all grades. In the Lower School, character education is multi-faceted. The term “education” implies that character can be taught. Our task is to determine how to best provide instruction that will encourage children to understand and apply character traits to their lives. Character education is taught daily in the classroom through values, examples, and academics, as well as through the strong partnerships we share with our families to help prepare our students academically, socially, and emotionally. 

Our guidance counselor teaches formal character education classes to all Lower School students. These lessons are representative of many good character traits, such as respect for yourself (honesty, integrity, responsibility, effort, and pride); respect for others (generosity, compassion, understanding, and loyalty); and characteristics that convey a positive outlook on life (fairness, open-mindedness, initiative, optimism, and sense of humor). It is our desire that these will help our students become not only scholars but also productive citizens.

Foreign Language

The elementary Foreign Language program is designed to give younger minds an introductory step in foreign language acquisition. The primary goal is to foster interest and enthusiasm for foreign language learning by expanding in sequential order the vocabulary and its application in base communication, as well as to acquire an understanding and appreciation of other cultures.

Each grade level introduces new thematic units and activities to apply learned concepts. Spanish begins with Jr. Cubs (2 year olds). French is introduced in the Second Grade and continues through Fifth Grade. Students have one semester of French and one semester of Spanish.

Depending on age level, students are challenged with the five basic skills necessary for foreign language study: listening, speaking, reading, writing, and culture. Due to the dual nature of foreign language study at USJ, the objectives for each grade of foreign language learning in the elementary school will remain constant and only the target language will change.


USJ’s Lower School Library contains more than 20,000 books and audiovisual materials. Jr. Kindergarten through Fifth Grade classes have a weekly, 30-minute library class to help foster reading, gain an appreciation of what a library has to offer, and get new reading materials. Each year the Lower School Library hosts three Scholastic book fairs, Read Across America, author visits, and Summer Library, which gives students and parents the opportunity to check out books and enjoy presentations by authors, naturalists, scientists, and others over the summer.


Lower School Music incorporates a variety of teaching methods with a focus on beginning music theory and the performing arts. All of our students, including our youngest in Cubs and Jr. Cubs, are exposed to different genres and elements of music. They are taught music concepts (steady beat, rhythm, high/low, loud/soft, short/long, etc.) through the use of musical instruments, creative movement, dancing, and singing. Students begin performing grade-level musicals each year at the Jr. Kindergarten level and continue through Fifth Grade.

Performing an annual musical offers several advantages for each student. The youngest students develop a love of singing, movement, and pretending, which all come naturally to children at this age. Upper elementary students continue that love of singing and movement, while also developing their music-reading skills. Students also develop public speaking skills, learn theatrical terms and stage locations, learn the importance of each part in making the whole production come together, learn a different way of understanding children’s literature, and, most importantly, self-confidence and self-esteem.

Beginning music theory (use of staff, notes, and rests) is also introduced, starting at the Kindergarten level, and continuing throughout the student’s Lower School music experience.

Physical Education

Jr. Cubs through Fifth Grade physical education classes combine teaching developmentally-appropriate movement forms, fine and gross motor skills, games, and sports with the social skills that are imperative in this setting. A comprehensive curriculum is used to ensure the students in this age group not only learn skills, games, and sports but also begin to understand the importance of lifelong health and fitness goals and how an active lifestyle plays a part in that. This program helps children enjoy physical activity while building confidence as they interact with others safely and become more competent in their movement abilities. It is our goal to lay the foundation for students to begin to actively pursue lifelong physical activities that meet their needs and the needs of their families.


Students in Kindergarten through Fifth Grade come to the Computer Lab once a week. They use computers to format and create documents in Microsoft Word, create spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel, and use the Internet safely for learning and research. Internet safety is an important part of the curriculum, and students learn to protect their privacy, research correctly, and play online safely. Students in Third Grade through Fifth Grade learn to produce presentations using Microsoft PowerPoint to share information related to curriculum they are studying. These learners also use Type to Learn 3 to develop their keyboarding skills. We participate annually in’s programming week with all students learning about basic computer programming through apps and online games.

Visual Arts

Opportunities in the Visual Arts at USJ range from two-dimensional drawing, painting, and collage, to three-dimensional sculpture in clay and paper, with a variety of craft projects. An understanding and appreciation of the arts manifests itself in the artwork created and is displayed throughout the school. Spirited discussions about artists and their styles and lives stimulate the creative process and are evident in student production. Cross-curriculum activities engage students and contribute to the whole school atmosphere. After-school art classes are offered for students with a continued interest in the Visual Arts.

Elementary Science Lab

The Elementary Science Lab, for First Grade through Fifth Grade students, provides a unique atmosphere of exciting science lessons with a more hands-on approach to learning. The students are involved in activities that both complement the traditional classroom curriculum as well as expose them to scientific insights that are present in the world around them. The lessons are designed to foster cooperation in a team setting as well as challenging the creativity and interests of the individual.

Children learn better when more of the senses are engaged in the process, and the lab seeks to build on that understanding with manipulatives that supplement the concepts being discussed. This approach to learning reinforces information gathering through discovery.

For More Information

Cindy Kirsch
Lower School Director

[email protected]

Holly Stroup
Assistant Lower School Director and Early Childhood Coordinator

[email protected]

Lisa Cates
Lower School Assistant

[email protected]

Jessica Barton
Lower School Receptionist, Digital Communications Specialist, Student Health Assistant

[email protected]


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