Lower School

DVFriends Lower School Language Arts
Welcome to Lower School at DVFriends
DVFriends’ Lower School program is rooted in the best current research and evidence-based teaching practices supporting diverse learners. Language arts remediation, multisensory math instruction, and supporting students’ executive functioning are the cornerstones of our academic program. All of our lower school lead teachers are Orton-Gillingham trained and bring that flexible, individualized approach to every subject. The program is further enriched with a variety of specials such as music, theater and movement, PE, health, and time in the Makerspace, as well as daily recess--to create a well-rounded program that engages students in a variety of skills and activities.
At DVFriends, education is about more than strong academics and co-curricular experiences. Our Quaker community is welcoming and built on values of respect, acceptance, and lifting up what makes each of us--students and faculty--unique. Lower School is integrated into the whole DVFriends community for daily Quaker Gathering, weekly Meeting for Worship, school-wide service projects, and community-building activities.
We invite you to learn more about the program below, and please, join us for an Admissions Event where we can meet face-to-face and answer any of your questions.
In Friendship,
Christy Zawadzkas signature
Christy Zawadzkas
Christy Zawadzkas
Lower School Director
Lower & Middle School Counselor
In Language Arts students receive direct, explicit, multisensory, hands-on instruction as they learn the essential skills involved with reading comprehension and fluency including; decoding, spelling, writing, vocabulary, and morphology (word forms and roots). Students participate in interactive games and projects as they practice and refine these skills. We have developed our own accredited Orton-Gillingham teacher training program focused on teaching language skills to adolescent learners. All of our language arts teachers receive training and certification in this program. Content area teachers also receive training in these methods to ensure consistent approaches to language use and instruction across the entire curriculum.
We recognize that most Lower School students have not had sufficient time and instruction to solidify the skills needed to shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”. Therefore, we have designed our schedule to include an additional class focused on strengthening reading skills. Using Orton-Gillingham based methods and materials, and meeting students where they are in their reading level, students have an opportunity to practice and apply the skills they are learning in Language Arts. 
The DVFriends Lower School Math program aligns with the Common Core framework but is delivered through the multisensory math approach. This approach is based and focused on the “meaning behind the math”. When learning a new skill, students first experience it at the concrete (manipulatives-based) level. This tactile experience helps students grasp the next level which is representational (illustration-based). Finally, the students are ready to tackle the skill in the abstract (using digits and traditional formulas) because the concept is now grounded in real meaning. Instruction is given through direct whole-group instruction, modeling, and independent practice.
Through hands-on multisensory lessons that incorporate both science and history, students are learning and studying Ancient Egypt this year. Each year is a different theme and area of focus.
Support for time and materials management is integrated into each lower school classroom. We have daily communication logs called the STAR sheet that serve as our parent communication tool and help students develop self-awareness. A single-binder system also supports our students and is set up in a very systematic way and used across the curriculum. This effective organizational system stays with students through middle school, and at times beyond.
Our faculty has worked with national experts in developing our approaches to EF support, including Sarah Ward, Russell Barkley, Sam Goldstein, and others. Here you can find an interview with Sarah Ward when she visited DVFriends in 2016.
We use a 1:1 iPad program in Lower School. Each student has a dedicated iPad that stays at school and use of assistive technology informed by each student’s learning difference.


Lower School has a variety of Specials and unique programs that round out the curriculum and focus on the development of the whole child.

The purpose of Lower School Music has been to give the students a chance to be creative together and work towards the shared goal of making beautiful music. Students use percussion and vocalize in music class with teacher Tim Simmons, who has created an innovative curriculum around improvisation. Students of varying musical experience and ability can participate in this form of making music, which research shows also activates the areas of the brain that students use in both language acquisition and executive function. So, while the students are having a great time making sounds and playing together they are also working on strengthening the neural pathways that will help address their learning differences.
The Lower School art program is designed to provide each student with an outlet to promote self-discovery and creative problem solving while developing craftsmanship within their skills and learning how to visually communicate ideas. Lower school students are exposed to drawing and painting as well as ceramics. Their work is displayed in the all-school Arts Festival in the spring.
In Lower School Physical Education classes, students are exposed to many different activities that use eye/hand and eye/foot coordination. Throwing, catching, dodging, aiming, basic movements and game situations are explored. Some games and activities are team-oriented while others are individual. A variety of the activities are designed to promote problem-solving and critical thinking. In all activities, sportsmanship, teamwork, and supporting one another are modeled and emphasized. Students are encouraged to be physically active and learn the benefits of lifelong activity.
The Lower School Makerspace class encourages hands-on, creative ways for students to design, experiment, build, and invent. Students hone their design thinking skills. Trial and error build resilience and confidence as students collaborate, think critically, problem-solve, communicate, and discover by doing.
Students learn to use their voices and bodies as they explore acting and movement through improvisational games. Students enjoy the physical aspect of this class and have a lot of fun learning from teacher Khalil Munir, a DVFriends alumnus who is himself an award-winning actor.
In partnership with the Director of Equity and Inclusion, students engage in various activities to help increase their awareness of a variety of diversity issues.
Fifth-grade students are paired up with upper school mentors in DVFriends’ chapter of this national peer-to-peer program. Our younger and older students discuss their learning differences through interactive art projects designed to help them learn about their strengths.
Lower school is an integral part of DVFriends Quaker community, and the students participate in daily all-school Gathering and weekly Meeting for Worship. These are Quaker practices that begin with silence in which members of the community may stand and share what is on their minds if so moved, followed by announcements. Lower school students often announce lower school programs, friends’ birthdays, and introduce visitors during announcements. In addition, lower school students learn about the Quaker values of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship (called the SPICES) during lower school community time on Fridays.
Lower school students participate in school-wide and division-specific service projects, such as collecting blankets for homeless shelters and food and toy drives around the holidays. Lower school students also have their own clubs that meet on Friday afternoons and are responsive to student interests. Current offerings include Baking Club, Art/LEGO Club, Movie & Stuffed Animal Club, and Sports Club.
CORE is a Character-Based Program that Lower School students participate in weekly. The goal is to build relationships with our students, further develop their social and emotional skills through group instruction.
Download our guide to Early Warning Signs of Learning Differences in Pre-school and Elementary School Age Children

The School shall not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, national or ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity, age, disability or marital status in the administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, athletic and other school-administered programs, or in hiring, use of volunteers or board membership.