Dorchester Elementary School
Dorchester Elementary School is the educational home of children in kindergarten through fifth grade in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. The ongoing growth and development of our students and staff are at the heart of our every decision, improvement, and initiative. Through a diverse collection of programs and a wide variety of teaching methods, all of our students’ needs are met. We continue our quest of schoolwide improvement and inspiring a love of lifelong learning in our staff and students.
The teachers at Dorchester work collaboratively to ensure that all students grow as learners. The combination of teacher collaboration, differentiated instructional strategies, individualized student support, and high expectations encourage cooperation, synergy, and problem-solving in order to meet the needs of each Dorchester student.
Woven through our entire school is the philosophy of growth mindset. Teachers empower students to understand that every person is capable of learning and that a person’s abilities are related to the amount of effort that person puts forth. Students are encouraged to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, persevere through their struggles, and believe that they are able to grow as learners through hard work.
Our teachers and students utilize a workshop model in reading and writing, which allows all students to be supported and challenged. Students take part in mini-lessons as a class to build their skills in specific genres of reading and writing. They then work independently as readers and writers at their own levels, conferencing with their teachers for individual instruction and working with their teachers and classmates in small groups on specific skills. The workshop model is student centered in that students have the opportunity to generate their own topics for writing and select their own books to read within the genres of study.
In mathematics, students are engaged in learning through a combination of Singapore math instructional strategies, rich mathematical tasks facilitated by their teachers, and activities such as number talks. Rather than simply memorizing procedures, Dorchester students construct understanding through inquiry-based tasks, engage in mathematical discourse with their peers, make connections between concepts, and build fluency through conceptual understanding. Learning is tiered so that all students can access and master skills with teacher support but that students with higher levels of understanding can also take their skills to new depths.
Students in grades two through five experience science with our science specialist, while students in kindergarten and first grade work with their teachers on science explorations. In keeping with the Next Generation Science Standards and New Jersey Learning Standards, students engage in science practices to ask questions, develop investigations, analyze data, support arguments, and learn to behave as scientists.
Likewise, students in grades two through five experience social studies with our social studies specialist, while students in kindergarten and first grade work with their teachers on social studies explorations. The teachers lead students in investigations of geography, culture, and history as they develop their skills in research, analyzing texts, building arguments, and using technology to expand their knowledge. Students are encouraged to make connections between geography and periods of history as they think critically about our human experience.
Beyond these subjects, students at Dorchester also take part in rotational classes of art, music, library media, technology, physical education, and health throughout their week. Instruction in these areas aligns to the New Jersey Student Learning Standards and gives students the opportunity to build new skills and develop their passions. Additionally, we are continuously expanding our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Mathematics) program in all grades. Through this program, students learn about concepts such as perseverance and teamwork, while working on engineering design challenges and other tasks that engage their critical thinking and creativity.
Technology is integrated into different areas of students’ academic life so as to enhance their learning. Students learn how to be responsible digital citizens, master the basics of keyboarding and other computer skills, use the Google Suite of apps to collaborate, take part in coding and robotics activities, and practice effectively using the internet for research. Additionally, students use Chromebooks, desktop computers, Epson boards, document cameras, and iPads to access digital mathematics manipulatives, practice word study skills, gather science information, and much more. These skills are not only taught in students’ technology classes, but the teachers in all subject areas infuse these technology skills in their instruction as well.
We have recently introduced departmentalization for our students in Grade 5. The purpose of this educational approach is to gradually introduce students to what they will experience in the middle school. Students are no longer in the same classroom for major subjects, but travel to different classrooms with varied groups of students. They are taught by different teachers for the different subjects, as they are taught by staff specializing in ELA, math, and a variety of other subjects.
Dorchester School also provides opportunities for students who are in need of support or extension beyond the differentiation in their classrooms. Our reading and math support programs give students the opportunity to work with a specialized teacher to hone their skills. Small group instruction and individualized objectives encourage the development of skills and strategies as an extension of the students’ classrooms, while the flexible support model enables students to utilize the program for as long as needed. Our high achieving students in grades 3, 4, and 5 benefit from our gifted and talented pull-out experience, Program for Advanced Learning (P.A.L.). By organizing groups of students on their ability, strengths, and needs, student activities and expectations can be individualized for each group of students. During this experience, students engage in explorations that are teacher-facilitated and student led, such as higher-level engineering design tasks and student-selected passion projects.
Students are also nurtured by our guidance counselor, school nurse, child study team, and support staff. We are all very fortunate to have an active and energetic Parent Faculty Association (PFA) and Educational Foundation (WCLEF). Students at Dorchester School have numerous opportunities to grow and develop as compassionate, giving human beings with the encouragement of the caring adults who support our school. With the support of the staff and community, student experience extends beyond their school day as many participate in the Ninth Period program of academic support and enrichment. Numerous after school clubs and activities are available to students who wish to pursue leadership and high-interest topics.
The experiences students are provided at Dorchester School enable them to enter Woodcliff Middle School, a designated Star School by the State of New Jersey, as questioning, problem-solving, and creative seekers of information. Our goal for our students is to not merely teach them while they are with us, but to give them the desire and motivation to continue their learning far beyond our school doors.