Academic Program

Academic Dean

Message from Academic Dean Dr. Jeneen Graham

At St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, the academic program prepares students for lives of learning, leadership and service. Within this mission are goals that are thoughtfully cultivated for each and every student who enters our community of learners. The curriculum and the educational experiences that take place throughout a student’s time at St. Margaret’s are carefully designed to achieve these ends.

In order to better understand how we accomplish our mission, it is useful to unpack the language that is central to our purpose. To prepare students for lives of learning means that we are actively cultivating lifelong learners. This desirable end point is well beyond the boundaries of the St. Margaret’s experience. The focus on developing lifelong learners is fundamentally different than the traditional approach to schooling. Formal schooling was geared toward delivering content and information and developing skills that would support the next phase of life which was work and career life. When career began, education ended. This notion of a divided lifetime, education then work, is no longer feasible in the information age.
How do we imbue our students with a desire to keep learning well after they leave our school? To develop lifelong learners, we must focus on learning dispositions and the mindset of a learner. First and foremost, we believe that each and every student has boundless potential and the desire and ability to learn. We focus on engaging the learner and providing students with opportunities for self-directed learning because we understand the role that positive affect has on motivating students to learn. We help students uncover truth and focus on the wonder of learning as opposed to simply covering a standard set of objectives. We ask our students to have an opinion or develop a hypothesis based on careful analysis of facts. We encourage them to defend that opinion through lively debate or a well-crafted essay or test that hypothesis through research. We cultivate curiosity and informal learning that can happen at any point. We encourage our students to persevere and experience the sense of mastery that develops through overcoming challenges. We understand the distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and the consequences of a performance orientation. We ask students questions that don’t have predetermined answers and encourage them to engage in real and relevant problem solving. Ultimately, students develop a belief that learning is useful, enjoyable and something that they are capable of doing without the support and encouragement of a teacher. Teachers serve as mentor learners, with the goal of modeling learning as their life’s passion and a viable pursuit.
The development of lifelong learners looks slightly different at each division, which is consistent with the growing capacity and developmental readiness of the learner. In the Preschool, the academic program is specifically geared toward the child’s desire to physically interact with the environment and develop competencies based on personal inquiry, tactile engagement, curiosity, and the safe and nurturing relationships with adults and peers. Learning in the Preschool is hands-on, integrated and play-based. Almost a century of theoretical and empirical research supports a play-based curriculum for the developing child.
In the Lower School, the students continue developmentally appropriate learning with opportunities for multifaceted engagement of academic material with a strong emphasis on reading, writing, mathematics and thinking. The Lower School focuses on differentiated learning with lessons tailored for individuals, small groups and whole classrooms. Standardized and local assessments are frequent in the Lower School so that teachers are able to readily identify areas of weakness and strength and use that information to drive instruction for the class and the individual.
In the Middle School, subject matter specialists teach within the discipline of their expertise and students move from classroom to classroom. The learning experience is focused on content mastery, skills development, collaborative engagement, greater freedom and choice, and the growing independence of the student. Through the advisor system, students continue to have a robust network of supportive adults, but are given the freedom and latitude to take a leading role in the learning process.
When students arrive at the Upper School, they are capable and conscientious learners who are ready to experience the next level of academic challenge and commitment. Upper School students are ready to engage in the demands of honors and Advanced Placement courses while simultaneously managing the demands of athletics, arts, leadership and service commitments and other extracurricular experiences. Opportunities for involvement are seemingly endless and students are encouraged to follow passions, find their voice, manage their time, and prepare for the next level: college and the continuation of lives of learning.
The carefully crafted academic experience and the commitment to educating both hearts and minds leads students to be learners with passion and conscience. Through the emphasis on leadership and service, truly different sides of the same coin, students learn that they have a civic duty to lead and serve with honor, compassion and integrity. We are a school that aims to develop and educate the whole child at every stage of development. In this era of educational trends and buzz words it is easy to disregard the concept of whole child education. The truth is, it is very challenging, dynamic and purposeful work to educate the whole child and requires an extraordinary commitment from the teachers, staff and administration. At St. Margaret’s, we do exactly as we intend and we see the fruits of our labors leading to meaningful lives of purpose and passion.
Dr. Jeneen Graham
Academic Dean
An independent preschool through grade 12 college-preparatory day school in Orange County.
St. Margaret’s Episcopal School
31641 La Novia Avenue
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675