How We Learn

“Synergy teachers excel at what they do because they are encouraged to be innovative in the classroom.”

Garden Project photo Photo ballon kids at Mission Science Synergy School science class photo


Kindergarten Language Arts

Kindergarteners develop oral language, reading, and writing skills through an interdisciplinary, multi sensory approach. Listening and discussing a wide variety of literature, telling their own stories orally and in writing, acting out stories and creating plays are all elements of this approach. The program focuses on individual, small group and large group activities, allowing all students to work at their own levels and pace. Reading skills include concepts about print, letter, and sound recognition, decoding and comprehension. Writing skills include letter formation and handwriting skills, moving from left to right and top to bottom when writing, and using phonetically spelled words in journal writing. Students create individual and class books on themes across the curriculum.

Kindergarten Social Studies/Humanities

Social studies centers on ourselves, our families and our community. Students learn about being members of a class and about Synergy’s Agreement System (respecting each other, learning to work together and taking individual responsibility for our actions). Kindergarteners develop an awareness of the diversity of their families and community through books, discussions, activities with older buddies, art, and hands-on projects.

Kindergarten Math

Children learn that math is everywhere. Budding kindergarten mathematicians use manipulative materials as the basis for learning about patterns, classifying, sorting numbers, and developing number sense. Measurement, geometry, data analysis, and concepts of time are also introduced. Students work in small groups during math centers and as a whole class for calendar and graphing. Individual activities are used for practice and application of concepts.

Kindergarten Science

Science is taught through thematic units and hands-on exploration of our physical world, for example, watching chrysalises change into butterflies. Units include penguins, frogs, and ladybugs. The students learn skills including observation and comparison, and form theories and conclusions. The classroom, the schoolyards and field trips, including an overnight trip to a natural area, provide ample opportunities for scientific exploration.

Kindergarten Outdoor Education

Students in the younger grades take a bi-annual camping trip in June to a local state park. Activities on this trip include swimming, berry picking, outdoor arts and crafts, hiking, field games, and campfire activities. In alternating years from the camping trip, the kindergarten class participates in an outdoor adventure overnight trip in the Bay Area. Through a combination of hiking and experiential activities, students learn about the natural world and earth stewardship.

Kindergarten Spanish

In the downstairs classrooms, Spanish is introduced through games, stories, songs and other activities. Repetition is used to develop pronunciation and teach basic vocabulary. The Spanish teacher works within the classroom environment to enhance and enrich the classroom curriculum. In 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade, students are asked to do small projects incorporating the everyday language used in class. Art is an important component during this part of their learning process. Through art projects, students practice multiple skills while speaking, discovering and creating in Spanish.

Kindergarten Art

Kindergarten students explore and gain familiarity with various materials in art class. These materials include drawing, painting, clay, collage, and mixed media. Students are introduced to principles of art such as line, shape, color, and pattern. At this age, projects are designed to celebrate and encourage students’ active imaginations, while developing their fine motor skills.

Kindergarten Drama

Kindergarteners experience drama and music as integrated arts, team-taught by the drama and music specialists. Students play with improvisation, pantomime, character, and plot, through storytelling, music, and games. The heart of the class is a process through which teachers and students collaborate on a play and stage an end-of-year performance.

Kindergarten Music

Kindergarteners internalize the musical concepts of melody, beat, rhythm, phrasing, improvisation, and teamwork, through games, songs, dances, creative movement, and playful exploration. The primary goal is to build skills while instilling a healthy musical curiosity.

Kindergarten Physical Education

Children are introduced to the concept of teamwork and learn to appreciate individual strengths and leadership skills. Locomotor skills and body and manipulative control exercises are woven throughout the year. Class incorporates stretches, cardiovascular warm-ups, guided movement, and predominantly non-competitive games.

Kindergarten Social/Emotional Development

Our approach to social and emotional development is rooted in the Agreement System. The Agreement System is based on ideas of cooperation, logical and natural consequences, responsibility, and encouragement. Students participate in cooperative learning activities and facilitated problem solving. They are taught to take responsibility for their actions in a non-punitive environment. Anti-bias education begins in kindergarten as a foundation for our social justice curriculum.

1st - 3rd Grade Language Arts

We continue our interdisciplinary, multi-sensory approach, utilizing a wide variety of literature and many avenues for language arts development. Children are grouped according to their reading level, beginning with guided reading for emergent readers who need to focus on decoding strategies and the development of sight word vocabulary. More fluent readers who need to focus on comprehension and word study participate in literature circles.

In writers’ workshop, children are introduced to the different stages of the writing process: brainstorming, creating multiple drafts, revising, editing and publishing. Students explore the literary elements of plot, setting, and characters in literature and in their own writing. Mini-lessons on organization, word choice, voice, conventions, and sentence fluency further expand their writing.

As fluency and skill progress, students write longer passages that demonstrate knowledge of conventions and literary elements (plot, setting, character). Writing short stories, poetry, and reports are some of the opportunities for self-expression. Students are encouraged to write from personal experiences as well as to complete writing projects based on units in science and social studies.

1st - 3rd Grade Social Studies/Humanities

Social studies units are interdisciplinary and project based. The main goals are to help children learn to observe, question, draw conclusions, and begin to develop a blend of personal and global perspectives of the “human condition.” We are committed to educating children as “student citizens” who value and promote equity and social justice. Our combination classrooms have a two year rotation of themes. These interdisciplinary units combine reading, writing, art, geography, oral presentations and longer term hands-on projects, and culminate in large family celebrations. Curriculum units include studying Ancient Egypt, an “Around the World” unit complete with passports, a “Global Village” project and other units designed to engage students in recognizing and respecting the diversity in our school community, neighborhood, nation and world.

1st - 3rd Grade Math

A multi-sensory approach encompasses the use of manipulative materials, mental math, rhythm and clapping to introduce numerical operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) and place value. Children are explicitly taught a variety of problem solving techniques and use math journals to demonstrate their thinking. As students’ skills develop, they create story problems, graphs and solve multi-step problems, applying a wide range of strategies. Algebraic thinking is introduced throughout at age-appropriate levels. Children work in various combinations (whole group, small group and individually) to deepen their understanding of numeration, operations, problem solving, measurement, geometry, time, and money.

1st - 3rd Grade Science

Synergy’s approach is very hands on and experiment based. The main goal of the early years is to connect students’ innate curiosity about the world to the foundations of various scientific strands: life science, earth science and physical science. The primary focus is to enhance observation, classification, measurement and communication skills. Units are integrated with other areas of study in social studies, math, and language arts. Our combination classrooms have a two year rotation of themes. Areas of study include the solar system, insects, mammals, dinosaurs, magnets, weather and the water cycle, balls and ramps, and geology.

1st - 3rd Grade Outdoor Education

Students in the younger grades take a bi-annual camping trip in June. This is primarily a community-building event with a large amount of family participation. Students in the Sunroom usually do an overnight camping trip with an environmental science focus, and each class does day field trips that include outdoor experiences.

Every other year, students in grades 1-3 go on a snow trip along with grades 6 and 7. With plenty of parent helpers accompanying staff and students to Claire Tappan Lodge in Soda Springs, California, the students enjoy inner tubing, playing in the snow, and fireside activities. Relationships are built across ages and many are challenged on cross country skis for the first time.

1st - 3rd Grade Spanish

In the downstairs classrooms, Spanish is introduced through games, stories, songs and other activities. Repetition is used to develop pronunciation and teach basic vocabulary. The Spanish teacher works within the classroom environment to enhance and enrich the classroom curriculum. In 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade, students are asked to do small projects incorporating the everyday language used in class. Art is an important component during this part of their learning process. Through art projects, students practice multiple skills while speaking, discovering and creating in Spanish.

1st - 3rd Grade Art

Students’ understanding of art expands as they continue to explore diverse art mediums. At this age, they learn more about art principles such as color mixing, the effect of warm vs. cool colors, overlapping images to create the illusion of depth, and how to break down larger forms into recognizable shapes. Works of varied artists are shown to inspire students and develop their “artistic eye.”

1st - 3rd Grade Drama

Students have theater class with the drama teacher for a portion of the year. At this stage of development, students learn the skills and creativity of improvisational theater. Children help select the theme and characters around which they will create a play. This process culminates in a performance. Language of theater, such as character development, plot, and stage directions is an integral part of the class. There are no written scripts, because students are learning the art of speaking through a character. The play is produced through rehearsed improvisation, so that students learn to draw on their own instincts and dramatic spontaneity on stage.

1st - 3rd Grade Music

Students learn names of notes and pentatonic scales through melodies and improvisation on xylophones and other Orff instruments. Technique on a variety of drums and handheld percussion is taught, including basic rhythmic vocabulary. Material is drawn from original student work, pentatonic melodies from around the world, and various percussion traditions. Students learn folk dances and create their own choreographies. There is a great emphasis on building a vocabulary of musical form. Recorder study begins in the third grade.

1st - 3rd Grade Physical Education

Children continue working with large motor skill activities and build cooperation, listening, and leadership skills. Team sports are learned through the execution of drills and appreciation of varying degrees of athleticism. Children create and play outdoor games. Muscle identification is introduced. Children are encouraged to begin a lifelong awareness of body health and nutrition.

1st - 3rd Grade Social/Emotional Development

In this age group, children are developing more independence from their parents and are encouraged to take more responsibility for their schoolwork and relationships with friends and classmates. As friendships become more important, children are learning how to work out conflicts and participate in problem solving with their peers. They are encouraged to develop sensitivity towards others and resiliency when faced with failure or disappointment.

In the beginning of each school year, a community building intensive takes place, including a review of the Agreement System and team building activities. The school’ principles against bias and prejudice are taught in age-appropriate ways. Throughout the school year, there is on-going education regarding social interactions, such as class discussions and role-playing a variety of situations.

4th - 5th Grade Language Arts

Language arts skills are integrated with social studies as well as taught explicitly through mini-lessons, spelling and vocabulary programs. On alternating years, biographies and historical fiction are the theme, highlighted by the students reading and writing their own version of each genre. Guided reading and mixed age groupings allow students to develop their skills at an appropriate and challenging level. Proofreading is emphasized at both grade levels, and fifth graders learn the fundamentals of essay writing.

4th - 5th Grade Social Studies/Humanities

Our history curriculum alternates between California history and US history, to coincide with California standards. Students are presented with a variety of perspectives through readings, reflections, and experiential activities. Units include the California Gold Rush, interaction of ethnic groups in early California history, the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, Native American cultural regions, life in the colonies, slavery, the causes of the Revolutionary War and the US Civil Rights Movement.

4th - 5th Grade Math

Fourth graders focus on the four basic operations and their applications, including multi-digit multiplication and long division. Problem-solving approaches are emphasized, and curriculum includes algebraic thinking, geometry, fractions, and measurement. A variety of texts and workbooks are used in addition to teacher created materials so that students have multiple avenues to understanding.

Fifth graders solidify multi-digit operations and study rational numbers in depth. Students use manipulative materials to explore fractions, decimals, geometry and probability. Exponents are introduced in our continued study of place value with large numbers. Students learn to use variables to set up and solve equations through algebraic problem solving. Mathematical reasoning challenges require students to use a variety of methods to solve problems, explain their process and check their answers for accuracy.

4th and 5th graders work collaboratively each year on units of study such as probability, combinations and data analysis.

4th - 5th Grade Science

Science is also on a two-year cycle. Units of study include crime lab chemistry, acids and bases, eco-systems, animal adaptations, explorations in physics, chemical reactions, sound, climate change, human anatomy, and nutrition. Components of the scientific method are emphasized with each unit, and students demonstrate their understanding of the process when conducting and presenting their own experiments for our annual science fair. We use a variety of hands-on materials and several units from the Lawrence Hall of Science.

4th - 5th Grade Outdoor Education

Beginning in 4th grade, classes spend a week at Farm School. This important part of our school culture provides a unique opportunity for community building as well as development of self reliance. An ever-evolving portfolio of classes in pond study, botany, art, gardening, poetry, and woodworking are taught by teachers and parents. Students camp out, help prepare their meals, and learn from various traditions to become stewards of the land. By spending an additional day at Farm School in the fall harvesting pumpkins planted the previous spring, making scarecrows, and pressing apple cider, students experience first hand the cycle of seasons.

4th - 5th Grade Spanish

In the fourth and fifth grades, students engage in thematic projects based on Latin culture or related to the social studies curriculum. Students learn through conversation, a variety of written materials, hands-on projects, games and field trips. They are also taught basic grammatical structure and verb conjugation. Students engage in longer-term projects and expectations include research, oral reports, and short written reports. We use the classroom computers, encyclopedias and dictionaries to help with the process.

4th - 5th Grade Art

At this level, the art program is sometimes linked to the rest of the 4/5 curriculum, such as projects relating to California history and preparing for the 4/5 play. Other projects focus on identity expression using various mediums. Art concepts such as complementary and analogous colors, contrast, value, and composition are taught. A range of art from different cultures will be shown throughout.

4th - 5th Grade Drama

The music and drama program converge in an intensive production experience for the 4th and 5th grade classes. Over the course of two months, students work to present an original play. They act, accompany themselves, help create the sets, and present a multi-scene play with costumes and props.

4th - 5th Grade Music

Students build on previously introduced skills and ideas, and major and minor diatonic scales are taught. Students learn about triads and how to accompany melody over two and three chords. Recorder study features prominently during these two years, as do the 4/5 plays. Students learn how to support dramatic action and emotion with music. Beginning in 4th grade, students may elect to sing in the Synergy Choir.

4th - 5th Grade Physical Education

Students continue goals introduced in previous grades. Greater emphasis is placed on strategies in games, individual physical achievement and fitness, resistance strengthening, and cardiovascular conditioning.

4th - 5th Grade Social/Emotional Development

Personal responsibility enters a new realm when students literally come upstairs in our school. As in younger years, the Agreement System is used to develop interpersonal skills and academic organization, starting with an intensive review at the beginning of the year. They are guided towards increasing independence in their problem-solving with each other. Students are asked to take more control of their words, actions, schoolwork, and belongings. The social studies curriculum includes many opportunities to study prejudice and discrimination at the societal level. Students are asked to relate what they’e learned to their own lives.

Middle School Language Arts

Students read and analyze a wide range of multicultural literature, deepening their understanding of literary elements such as theme, imagery, characterization and symbolism. Literary analysis enriches their own writing of short stories, memoirs and poetry. Students read and write for a variety of purposes and in a variety of genres. Lively engagement with literature and writing is encouraged through class and small group discussions, literary journals, writers’ workshops and interdisciplinary, hands-on projects. Students continue to use the writing process in creative and expository writing and the five-paragraph essay is emphasized. The study of vocabulary, punctuation and grammar continues.

In 8th grade, Shakespeare is added to the curriculum and students work extensively on an eighth grade play, either of their own creation or from dramatic literature. Individually-chosen eighth grade research projects culminate in an exhibition at the end of the year, drawing together students’ reading, writing, research and creative skills. Students continue to use the writing process in creative and expository writing, extending their comfort level and mastery of various forms. The study of vocabulary, punctuation and grammar continues.

Middle School Social Studies/Humanities

This interdisciplinary, project based curriculum is taught in a three year rotation of year-long units of study: United States History in the 19th century, World History with an emphasis on world religions, and Ancient History studying cultures from each continent. History is brought alive through simulations, hands-on projects, discussions and the use of reading from multiple genres and perspectives, including primary documents.

An exploration of global perspectives and social justice is emphasized. Students develop the ability to ask question, to think critically, to generalize, compare and contrast. Using current issues and events as springboards, students make connections from the past to the present. Active participation in democracy at school is linked to the role of people in action throughout the wider community, country and world. Students explore individual topics of interest, learning how to use and evaluate a variety of research tools and materials. Research skills include formulating research questions, note taking, outlining, evaluating information and writing well-organized reports.

Middle School Math

Block Math

Block classes are a mix of sixth, seventh and eighth graders. The focus of our block class is geometry, encompassing perimeter, area, surface area, circles and pi, triangles, Pythagorean theorem, symmetry and scale factor, and using both customary and metric units of measure. The students are taught to use graphing calculators, which are used for many class projects. Geometry focuses on area and volume, and many of our projects are activities where the idea is to allow the students to create and hold a certain concept. For example, if we are working on volume, the students make cylinders, spheres and prisms so they can truly grasp volume. Not only are the projects hands on, there is also plenty of computation and usage practice. Throughout the course there is a strong emphasis on the expression of mathematical reasoning by expressing mathematical thinking.

6th grade Math

Through a variety of methods, including cooperative learning projects and hands-on activities, students review and extend the skills and concepts presented in the fifth grade. Mastery of the four basic number operations is supported by real life applications and games. We focus on strengthening their understanding of ratios and their ability to compute using fractions and decimals. New topics include finding and recognizing equivalent expressions in fraction, decimal and percent form and all applications of percent. Students are also introduced to variables and basic equation solving. Extensive work in geometry encompasses perimeter, area, surface area, circles and pi, using both customary and metric units of measure.

7th Grade Math

The Pre-Algebra class offered in the seventh grade is designed to help students bridge the skills learned in previous classes to the skills, applications, and abstract reasoning needed in algebra. The units covered include: the use and understanding of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division patterns, exponents, solving equations and inequalities, patterns and graphing. Students continue to work on their computation, estimation and problem solving skills with manipulatives and cooperative learning activities.

8th Grade Math

The Algebra I curriculum includes a concrete study of the traditional topics of Algebra I, including graphing, and application of linear, rational and irrational expressions and quadratic formula. Emphasis is placed on developing confidence with the algebraic process. This course provides the conceptual framework and skills for further study in mathematics and the sciences.

Middle School Science

Students work cooperatively in hands-on activities to explore and investigate science topics and to develop their skills in scientific thinking and analysis. Each class brings an opportunity for students to ask questions, make observations, and share their discoveries with each other. Students also apply their skills and knowledge toward individual projects which involve making models, designing experiments, and analyzing data. Life, earth, physical and environmental science are integrated throughout their Middle School years.

Main units of study:

  • Botany
  • Ecology
  • Human anatomy
  • Sound physics
  • Electricity and magnetism
  • Energy and matter
  • Evolution
  • Cell biology
  • Marine biology/oceanography
  • Light physics
  • Force and motion
  • Electricity and magnetism
  • Chemistry
  • Geology

Middle School Outdoor Education

The Farm School experience happens in the fall for grades 6 through 8. The curriculum for 6th and 7th graders always provides for a cooperative group study and alternates between a science and humanities focus. One year, students study the various eco-systems present on the Healdsburg property – redwood forest, chaparral, pond, mixed oak forest – and create on-site museums. The next year, students create a culture complete with traditions, mythology, art and artifacts, and way of life. Students produce written materials and documentation of their process, create structures on the property, and write reflections about the multi-faceted and meaningful experience of Farm School.

At Farm School, eighth graders engage in a unique process based on self-discovery and challenge. This year-long exploration is a Synergy rite of passage, designed to equip students for the world beyond Synergy School. While at Farm School, they work together on a project of lasting use and beauty. In the past, students have planted a meditation garden, created a spiral labyrinth, and restored a stream bed. Their labor is a gift to the land as well as to the future generations of Synergy students.

In addition, 6th and 7th graders go on a bi-annual backpacking trip. They build their outdoor survival skills on a 4-day and 3-night journey near Desolation Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Their 10-mile round-trip trek pushes students to go beyond their self-perceived limits. They enjoy their accomplishment and each other while camping by a lake. The experience of leaving roads behind with only the possessions in their packs teaches respect for and understanding of the wilderness.

Middle School Spanish

Middle school students expand their abilities with deeper cultural knowledge, more complex projects and increasing language skills. Spanish curriculum is integrated whenever possible with other areas of the curriculum. World history, poetry and current events are just a few of the topics discussed in class. The curriculum is differentiated for various ability levels through a range of written assignments, special projects and conversational groups.

Eighth graders have the opportunity to practice and reinforce their language skills on the annual 8th grade trip to Costa Rica.

Middle School Art

The middle school students are required to take 1 elective art class each year, but may take as many as 4. The one required class is designed to strengthen art skills in a variety of mediums, including drawing, painting, and clay. The other non-required art electives are more specified. Examples include Surrealism, Fashion Design, and Comic Book Design, and they vary year to year. Throughout all classes, projects are designed to to activate students' creativity, cultivate the art of seeing, and deepen their understanding of art concepts. Renowned works of art are shown in conjunction with the topics at hand.

Middle School Drama

Sixth and seventh graders work with the drama teacher for a portion of the year on acting technique and scene study. Eight graders produce a full-scale theatrical production. Past years have included Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, original student plays, Word for Word, and a theatrical piece based on the students‘ interviews with Bay Area residents in many walks of life. Students work on sets, costumes, and other technical aspects of the theater. Music, both student-composed and existing, is a component of the 8th grade production.

Middle School Music

Students arrive in middle school with an experiential foundation in musical forms, melodic and harmonic theory, and movement. They have sufficient technique on Orff instruments, unpitched percussion, and recorder to enable them to play increasingly challenging music. They have the musical vocabulary with which to articulate ideas. The middle school curriculum continues with the Orff approach and a broad selection of styles of music. There is an increased focus on composition and independent student work, both group and individual. Students who study an instrument outside of school are encouraged to incorporate it into the ensemble. The Synergy Choir affords additional opportunities to develop vocal and performance skills.

Middle School Physical Education

Physical education in middle school builds upon the K-5 foundation of individual physical achievement, cooperation, teamwork, health and nutrition. Students focus on strength and conditioning, emphasizing flexibility, speed, upper and lower body strength development and agility. They continue to learn and refine the fundamentals of various team sports. Synergy students in grades 6 through 8 participate competitively in leagues for cross-country running and basketball. Our goal is to assist students in becoming well rounded and able to interact cooperatively.

Middle School Social/Emotional Development

“Young people undergo more rapid and profound personal changes during the years between 10 and 15 than any other period of our lives.” (National Middle School Association)

The obvious truth of this statement gives us unique responsibilities and opportunities to provide a safe place in which middle school students can explore their growing sense of self. Through a strong advisory program, multiple leadership opportunities, problem solving and decision making roles in the school community, and many chances to explore moral and ethical issues, our middle school students emerge as self-confident young people, ready for the challenges of high school. The Agreement System provides a structure through which students’ abilities and challenges with personal and group responsibilities can be addressed and strengthened. A vibrant student council, a Gay- Straight Alliance, a chapter of People of Color in Independent Schools, and other student-led clubs are important aspects of life in middle school.