Joy & health to you all summer long!


Overview – OUR MOST IMPORTANT GOAL is to lead children to a love of learning

North Branch faculty members provide students with a solid background in reading, writing, mathematics, sciences, and social studies. In addition, children experience an array of opportunities designed to complement the core curriculum including music, art, drama, handworks, Spanish and physical education with an emphasis on personal achievement and cooperation rather than competition. North Branch’s experienced, creative teachers and low student-teacher ratios allow us to provide every student with personal attention and individual challenge so that each student may gain mastery of basic skills without sacrificing creativity or academic breadth.

Since its inception, North Branch has included SEL (Social-Emotional learning) and UDL (Universal Design for Learning) practices, even before we knew what they were called. We are committed to helping each child gain resilience and confidence by providing learning experiences and social opportunities that provide growth for everyone.

NBS teachers design their curriculum to allow opportunities for creative, independent thinking. Themes are often integrated across the curriculum, deepening the students’ understanding of topics through the perspective of related literature, art, music, drama, mathematics, science or current events. Reading and writing are components of all areas of study, including math and science. While specific skills may be introduced and developed in small ability-based groups, theme units provide opportunities for a whole class to work together, for cooperative teamwork and for individuals to research independently. This fluidity allows children to succeed in a variety of settings and to experience the give-and-take needed to work productively with others. Accordingly, class groupings reflect our desire to respond to children’s changing needs and abilities, providing an environment which is both stable and flexible enough to help children learn how to learn and enjoy the process. 

Our whole-school math philosophy and how we put that philosophy into practice is below, followed by a class-by-class curriculum description.

NBS Philosophy on Mathematics

“The goal of the NBS Math Program across the grades is to create resilient problem-solvers who can apply mathematical ideas to real-life situations.  Throughout our program, students are encouraged to develop multiple strategies.  In the elementary years, much of the NBS curriculum is designed to build a strong foundation of number sense.  Students expand on that foundation in upper grade levels to discover, construct, and experience increasingly complex concepts through Algebra 1 and, for some, Geometry. Our emphasis on independent and flexible thinking serves our students well as they move on to high school math classes.”

NBS Philosophy in Practice* at all levels of math instruction:

  1. Students make sense of what a problem is asking and persevere, working independently and with groups to arrive at answers. They learn to accept that mistakes are part of problem-solving.
  2. Students can solve problems in more than one way.
  3. Students can explain their math thinking and attempt to make sense of others’ math thinking.
  4. Teachers use hands-on and real-world tasks to help students see the math in everyday life.
  5. Teachers make appropriate tools available, and students know how to choose and use them to solve a given math problem.
  6. Students increase their store of benchmark facts each year and use those automatic facts and available resources to work carefully and check their work.
  7. Students use what they know to solve new problems.
  8. Students solve problems by looking for and recognizing patterns.

*Based on 5 NCTM Process Standards and 8 CCSS Mathematical Practices.

The NBS math curriculum at all levels is based on Virginia’s state standards.  Rather than following one curriculum, teachers find and create resources that effectively engage students based on their needs for support and stretch.

Early Primary, children turning 5 and 6, begin each day with a picture entry to their journals,  gradually learning to write about their picture through small group work devoted to the development of phonological awareness: listening, rhyming,  syllables, initial & final sounds, sound/letter correlation, and multiple whole language experiences in class meeting and throughout the day. Emerging reading is supported in small group and individual interactions with teachers.

We use Handwriting Without Tears  to practice proper letter formation

Math skills are strengthened through a variety of games and activities, including number recognition, adding, subtracting, patterning, graphing, measurements, skip counting, place value.

Every day includes outside play.

Each week includes Music, Movement, Cooking, Spanish, Book Buddies.

Weekly afternoon focus units rotate between Art, Science and Handworks.

Primary Blue, children turning 7, continue beginning each day with Journal writing, begin punctuating and capitalizing their entries, as well as writing about Read Aloud books, activities at school, and thank you notes. They enjoy individual and small group reading instruction and partner reading as they continue to build phonological awareness, sight word banks and initial spelling skills.

We use Handwriting Without Tears  to practice proper letter formation.

Math activities daily at Level 1 include graphing,  place value, adding & subtraction through 10 & beyond, money, time and fractions.

Every week we have Music, Movement, Book Buddies,  Spanish and outdoor games.

We rotate weekly between Art, Handworks and Science for our afternoon focus.

Science topics include migration and  hibernation of animals, constellations,the solar system, arctic environments, rocks and minerals, seasons, and plants in our gardens.

Primary Yellow, children turning 8, continue to develop creative expression in their journals, poetry and short stories, learning and applying grammatical rules, punctuation and capitalization  and correct spelling, through use of the Spellwell program. They continue to build decoding skills, fluency, and reading comprehension  in class and through their reading at home, recorded in a nightly reading log.

We use Handwriting Without Tears  to practice proper letter formation.

Math class includes both inquiry based critical thinking and group activities to build automation of addition and subtraction facts to 20, coins & money, time and basic fractions.

Every week we have Music, Movement, Book Buddies,  Spanish and outdoor games.

We rotate weekly between Art, Handworks and Science for our afternoon focus.

Science topics include our Frog Pond, life cycles of animals, constellations, physical force and motion, as well as observations in our green house.

Junior Class, children 9 and 10, experience an integrated Humanities curriculum each morning, combining  social studies, history and geography. Fiction and non-fiction reading are correlated with the Humanities units, providing many opportunities to build vocabulary, reading comprehension and  fluency, research skills and practice with the writing process.

Year 1: American History takes a child’s eye view of 500 years of  people in America, native, enslaved and free

This alternates with

Year 2:  Following the creation of an Autobiography, students study each of the 7 Continents      

Students continue to use the Spellwell program, as well as  Handwriting Without Tears for cursive instruction, and begin weekly grammar practice.

Math Level 3 skills include place value, multi-digit addition and subtraction, multiplication, introduction to decimals, and fraction work. Math Level 4  extends all math skills and introduces multi-digit multiplication, multiplication with decimals

Every week we have Music, Movement, Book Buddies,  Spanish and outdoor games.

We rotate weekly between Art, Handworks and Science for our afternoon focus.

Science topics include awareness of scientific method, rock cycle (mountains and erosion) weather, the human body, states of matter, kitchen chemistry, forces of energy, inventors, and biomestudie, as well as experience in the green house and gardens.

Students in this class begin weekly instruction on the Soprano recorder.

SENIORS, ages 11 and 12, experience a 2 year Humanities rotation:

Year 1: the history of the planet, the rock cycle, volcanoes, the creation of the continents, early life forms, dinosaurs and ice age mammals, early humans, early civilizations thru Greece                    

Year 2: Ancient Rome, Barbarians and Vikings, World Religions, Islam and countries of the Middle East, Medieval Africa, Maya, and Medieval Europe.

The goal of Senior Humanities is to provide our students with a sequence of interactions to build an internal timeline, to stimulate their curiosity and develop their research and presentation skills.

Reading selections for class books are designed to support and extend our students’ engagement with the Humanities units and the writing projects we undertake.  Independent Reading choices made by each student provide peer recommendations, as students give Book Talks to their classmates.

Writing  is strengthened by grammar and vocabulary study, by annual participation in The Writer’s Eye  at the University of Virginia Art Museum, and by a wide variety of explorations  into story elements. Students in the Senior class learn to use school and home computers to word process their fiction and nonfiction writing.

Math  Level 5  includes higher level units on place value, basic operations with whole numbers including long division, decimals and fractions, geometry and probability.  Math Level 6 forms a bridge between the operational math of the elementary years and the algebraic thinking of middle school math. Emphasis is placed on reviewing, strengthening, and expanding skills in basic operations, fractions, and decimals. New areas of math are explored, particularly in the second semester, such as negative numbers, exponents, percents, ratios and probability.

The flexibility of our schedule allows us to meet the needs of students who need more support or more advanced courses.   We use traditional textbooks supplemented with hands-on activities and a discovery-based philosophy, as well as many different project based opportunities to use the math we are studying.

Science topics include geology, eras of life on earth, evolution, comparative anatomy,  chemistry, animal classification, arthropods and insects . Many science projects are shared with the whole school in Friday Assembly.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Senior students also have Spanish, Art, Instrumental Music, Games, Electives,  and Advisory each week, as well as Chorus and Drama opportunities.


MIDDLE SCHOOL, ages 13 and 14, experience a 2 year Humanities rotation:

Year 1: finishes the world history begun in Seniors, picking up from the end of the Middle Ages and continuing through the Industrial Revolution and early 20th century.  

Year 2: explores American history, from the “discovery” of America through immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries

The goal of Middle School Humanities is to give students the best toolkit possible for interacting with the world as thinking, questioning, active participants.  Whether it’s preparing them for a high school history class or for voting in an election, Humanities aims to give Middle Schoolers a solid foundation upon which to “hook” or build the many things they’ll go on to learn.

Middle School Reading is a bridge between the plot-based reading of elementary school and the literary analysis expected of students in high school.  While the novels, stories, plays, and poetry we read in Reading Groups are often chosen to complement our Humanities study, they are also chosen to give students new ideas to think about and new kinds of reading to experience. Middle School teachers have developed methods of teaching “active reading,” asking students to make connections, predictions, and judgments, to notice recurring images, symbols, and themes, and to think about what the author might be doing with them.  Students respond to what they read with art, projects, and essays

Writing Workshop is designed to help students become more confident, effective, and passionate readers and writers. We practice with all types of writing, from writing for different audiences and reading different genres,  mastering of the fundamentals, such as grammar, punctuation, and spelling, creating an original voice and style, which involves grammar and vocabulary study, but also opportunities to experiment without being penalized.

North Branch’s math philosophy is to meet each student where he or she is and work to bring him forward at an effective and supportive pace.  Students often take Pre-Algebra in 7th grade and Algebra 1 in 8th grade, but the flexibility of our schedule allows us to meet the needs of students who need more support or more advanced courses.   We use traditional textbooks supplemented with hands-on activities and a discovery-based philosophy. Small groups allow us to customize learning for each student’s style and needs. We insert units on the Stock Market and computer coding into our curricula to make sure students understand the relevance of the math they are learning.  Students complete a curriculum called Bootstrap: Algebra, in which they use Algebraic concepts to write the computer code for a simple video game.

Science topics include formal experiments, Science Fair, Watersheds of the Chesapeake Bay, energy, wind energy, maps and topography, physics-density,  physics-motion. Middle School projects involving catapults and rockets are displayed on the field, to the delight of the whole school.

Middle School students also have Spanish, Art, Instrumental Music, Games, Electives, and Advisory each week, as well as Chorus and Drama opportunities,  and monthly community service at the Nelson County food pantry.

Assessment (school-wide)

Student work is evaluated in light of each individual’s needs, abilities, and efforts. Neither standardized testing nor conventional grading systems are used. Progress is communicated to parents and students by weekly notes in our “Friday Folders,” frequent informal conversations, formal conferences each November and whenever requested by a parent or teacher, and written evaluations twice yearly.


While not an official part of the NBS curriculum, service is an unofficial theme that runs throughout the work NBS students undertake.  Through all-school celebrations of days like Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Earth Day, students learn at different ages and in different ways about working for change, being stewards of the Earth, and making a difference with their actions.  The Seniors and Middle School students travel to the Nelson County Food Pantry in Lovingston twice a month as volunteers, to help unload the food from trucks and organize it onto the shelves, and then bag it for each month’s distribution.  The entire school participates in “Read for the Record” each October, which helps Jumpstart raise awareness of the importance of books to preschoolers.  Families can choose to bring cans for a food drive each December, and students also make Valentines for local veterans each February.   NBS teachers strive to empower students to know that they matter, and that their words and actions make a difference in the world.