Academics are important at Just Right Academy. The most intense focus is on reading, language arts, and math, as these are the skills that are critical for students to succeed in the world. Science, social studies, the arts, and languages are worked into the program in an integrated and intentional way.
JRA offers a research-based language arts and reading program. The goal of language arts instruction is not to prepare for a test, but to be able to function in today’s world, communicate effectively, and enjoy reading and writing. Students begin where they are and build on their skills in a systematic, sequential way. A success-based approach means that the work never seems too difficult or scary. Failure and embarrassment have no place in a successful language arts program. We offer serious learning with a playful approach.
Reading instruction focuses on the five essential elements of successful reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics instruction, fluency instruction, vocabulary instruction, and comprehension. This is achieved through direct, explicit instruction, individualized practice, and computer and game reinforcement.
Phonemic awareness, the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds within words, is taught directly by learning letter sounds, word segmentation, and blending. Games, puppets, songs, physical activity, and hands-on activities give the students additional practice.
Phonics instruction is explicit, systematic, and multi-sensory, using the Orton-Gillingham approach. Direct instruction and creative drill make learning the language enjoyable. A solid grounding in decoding is necessary for comprehension to occur.
Fluency, the ability to read accurately and quickly, is achieved through the Great Leaps program, choral reading, partner reading, readers’ theater, and reading to younger students.
Vocabulary instruction is both direct and indirect. All instructors directly teach and use the vocabulary of their subject. The word of the day program means a new word is taught and played with each day. Word parts and their meanings are taught. But indirect instruction is also effective. Conversations, discussions, oral and silent reading, and games all contribute to the student’s vocabulary.
Reading comprehension becomes easier as decoding reaches a point of automaticity. Observing students’ ability to follow directions, answer questions about read-alouds, and understand subject area materials constantly checks listening comprehension. In addition, comprehension strategies (finding the main idea, understanding characters and their motivations, etc.) are taught. Figurative language is directly taught and practiced.
Because composition is difficult for many students, it is taught in manageable pieces in a relaxed way, beginning with writing a single good sentence and working up to larger and more complex pieces. The Staging a Sentence Program helps students learn in a hands-on way why parts of the sentence are important. Diagramming sentences is enjoyable for students who are strong visually and spatially. In addition, keyboarding is taught and encouraged.
Spelling instruction goes hand-in-hand with reading and writing instruction, but not through weekly lists and tests of unrelated words. Students are taught how to sound out and spell phonetically regular words, along with spelling rules. Words that don’t follow the patterns are taught directly using mnemonic devices and word history stories. As work is transferred or composed on the computer, the use of spell-check (with recognition of its limitations) is encouraged.
Exposure to good literature and the development of a joy in reading is a goal for every student. Every reading class begins with listening to a story, and literature is used in social studies, math and science as well.
Math is taught using all modalities. Many of our students require repetition and practice, and the Saxon Math Series provides that as students learn new skills and practice old ones until they become automatic. What do puzzles, games, blocks, balls, and dominoes have to do with math drill? Everything at JRA, where many students need to move to learn. Music, rhythm and video games are also utilized. Each math class begins with a short mental math exercise, along with practice in telling time and using calendars.
Students who are advanced in math need a more conceptual program, and that is provided as well. For all students, real life applications such as cooking, building, handling money, and business skills are a part of math instruction.
Social studies is taught through a thematic unit approach with all students learning about different aspects of a particular country, culture, person or historical period. Hands-on materials, literature, art, drama, food, writing, and even math relate to the subject we are studying. A whole-group timeline places the different subjects in context. Subjects studied include ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, the Vikings, Medieval times, the Renaissance, the Revolutionary War, Slavery and abolition, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, inventors, peacemakers (Gandhi, MLK), presidents, states, countries, and Native Americans, among others.
Science is also taught in thematic units and often in conjunction with the math and social studies curriculum. Guest science teachers will make regular visits to teach particular concepts and skills.
Achievers Class is offered for students who need social skills instruction. Topics covered include anger and impulse control, relaxation, communications skills, self-advocacy, friendship skills, setting and achieving goals, and manners.