Welcome to Oak Hill Lower School

In the spring of 2003 I hand delivered an application to teach kindergarten and first grade at Oak Hill. I asked to walk around and look at the school and right away I knew that Oak Hill was a place I wanted to be. I saw happy teachers and happy children engaged with each other and the curriculum in an amazing natural setting.

When I started teaching in the fall of 2003, Oak Hill had three lower school teachers and 35 children. The specialists were music, physical education, art, computers and Spanish. We regularly met in the “Gather Room” for shared activities and impromptu talent shows.

The lower school has been steadily growing for ten years, adding four new classrooms in the fall 2005, and another in 2011 as we gradually added students and divided into separate grades. The 2015 school year started with 93 students and over the years we’ve added public speaking, outdoor education, and language classes in French and Mandarin. The statistics don’t tell the real story. The real story happens in the classrooms.

Every year, after weeks of gathering information and artifacts about their families, kindergartners create a family museum box. I watch kindergartners enthusiastically share their creations with first graders, who are intently listening and asking questions. In the fall, first graders dig for potatoes in the garden as if digging for gold. Then they count, weigh, clean, cook, and share their bounty with the second graders who planted them the prior spring.

I love watching the second graders walk by my window with Ms. Lynn and Mr. Jim in their beekeeper suits as they go to harvest the honey from the Oak Hill hives, which they will later spin out, bottle, and share with the Oak Hill community.  And then the third grade cartography class marches by with their writing tablets as they gather information to create a map or as they decipher another student’s map to find a treasure.

The fourth grade class is in charge of managing the lower school’s classroom food waste. Each week they collect the compost from each classroom and feed the earthworms who live in a bin in the garden, creating nutrient rich dirt to add to the garden beds. You might also see our responsible fifth graders collecting the recycling from special containers throughout the whole school and delivering the collection bins for pick up.

Another common early morning scene is fifth graders gaily walking by with pillows and blankets. They’re having a “Read-o-Rama” day, which means they read all day, trying to meet a collective page-number goal set by Ms. Kim. Or you might see fourth graders dressed like pioneers pushing wagons down the hill on the final leg of a simulated journey on the Oregon Trail, on their way to a pioneer meal in the woods cooked over a wood fire.

Every week, I watch the fifth graders head out to lower school classrooms for their mentoring activities and watch the eyes of the first graders light up as three fifth graders walk into the room, eager to engage first graders in games and make-believe play.

On another day I see second graders dressed in bee costumes performing a play they wrote themselves. Or maybe I see the third graders excited that the an earthworm has just left a casing from which babies will hatch. An ordinary day at Oak Hill is rarely short of extraordinary!

Some years ago a second grade class was gathered at a local restaurant to celebrate a birthday. The children sang the normal happy birthday song in English. Then one of the children said, “Let’s sing it in Spanish!” and they did. Then another student said, “Let’s sing it in French!” and they did. Then the loud restaurant began to get quieter as observers noticed something unusual happening, and another child said, “Let’s sing it in Mandarin!” and they did. Everyone got really quiet, and someone asked, “Where are those children from?”

I am so proud to share in the creation of a great school!

Lower School Director,

Mary Ellen Arbuckle
Mary Ellen Arbuckle, Lower School Director