An independent K-12 school on a beautiful wooded campus, 3 miles from Washington, DC


Donnette Echols
LS Head
(703) 749-6334

Michelle O'Hara
Lower School Dean
(703) 749-6360

Joanna Huang
Assistant to LS Head
(703) 749-6335

Welcome to Lower School!

We know that children are naturally curious. Our Lower School educational team cultivates each child’s curiosity and imagination, inspiring a lifelong love of learning. The Lower School curriculum is research-based and meets children at their academic levels of readiness. We guide our students to take risks, stretch themselves, and become critical thinkers, preparing them to meet and surmount high academic standards.

Among the unifying principles that connect one division to the next is the conviction that students learn best when they learn with others, when they explore and build upon one another’s ideas. Our students engage in collaborative learning activities and service learning projects. The joy of learning and the spirit of challenge brim from our Lower School classrooms every day.

Lower School

There are lots of cozy nooks for enjoying a good book in the Michael Granger Library.
What’s more fun than the annual Lower School dance assembly?
The Kindergarten Circus is a favorite Lower School tradition.

Students' musical talents are showcased every year during our Winter Carols event.

Students learn outside as well as in the classroom.

We often start our day by reading with friends in the library.

Working in small groups helps us provide differentiated instruction.

Learning happens everywhere!

It's always fun to share our favorite stories.

Recess is a great time to make new friends...

...and climb to new heights.

Students remember their roles in Lower School plays well into their adult years!

We love our playground!

We value taking care of our campus and our environment.

Spending time outside together is a favorite Lower School activity.

Every Friday we gather in Assembly to share what we’ve been learning.

We're proud to be Panthers!

Riding the school bus is a chance to make neighborhood friends of all ages.

Donnette Echols

Head of Lower School

From the Desk of Lower School Teachers

Recently, I had the opportunity to remove my administrator (and former reading specialist) hat to awaken my inner mathematician. I attended a three-day math conference in Worcester, Mass., where I had the privilege of working with two brilliant mathematicians and educators, one from the United States and one from Singapore.

Though I had always considered myself to be a strong mathematician, I was nervous when we were presented with problems ranging from division of mixed fractions to calculating the area of a polygon. It seems that some of those formulas and algorithms had escaped from my working memory. But I discovered that there are multiple ways to attack these problems, and struggling with them without the benefit of a rule or formula empowered me to make new discoveries about mathematics on my own. My instructor did not rob me of this opportunity to unearth a new strategy by providing step-by-step directions. I have always believed that the role of mathematics education is to teach students to think, not simply compute. My experience at this workshop solidified this belief for me.

Read more about Teaching Students to Think, Not Compute

Every once in a while, a parent will ask, “Why does my child have to learn about number lines (arrays, partial sums) when she already knows how to carry and borrow (or multiply two-digit numbers) using the traditional algorithm?”

Fair question. My response has always been that while procedural knowledge and fact fluency play significant roles in mathematics, conceptual knowledge and the ability to manipulate numbers in a variety of ways lead to greater competency. Our goal is to lead our students to be flexible, efficient, and proficient problem-solvers.

Read more about Creating Math Problem-Solvers

Even though I had already read Tina Payne Bryson’s book, The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind, from cover to cover, I found myself feverishly taking notes during her presentation to faculty last Wednesday. Here’s what resonated with me: We must chase the “why.” If our students aren’t doing well, we have to ask why. How do we expand their capacity to access learning and make decisions that will lead to their success?

The metaphor of building a staircase between the upstairs and downstairs brain made such sense to me. I had a conversation with a student on Friday who had not made a wise choice. Luckily, I caught myself before blurting out, “What were you thinking when you did that?” Dr. Bryson’s words reminded me that children know when they’ve made a poor decision. Instead, we must acknowledge that they know what they did was wrong and ask them, “What is your plan moving forward?”

Read more about Understanding the Whole-Brain Child

Whenever I'm having a particularly frenetic or stressful day, I find my way into a kindergarten classroom. Last Wednesday was one of those days. On that particular day, the children in Ms. Steiner's class were abuzz with excitement. First of all, it was Ms. Kettler's birthday, and they were putting the finishing touches on their special birthday cards while licking frosting from the birthday cupcakes. And as it turns out, it also happened to be the day of the much-anticipated Rainforest Play. Rolls of scotch tape were being shuttled around the room so the performers could tape their carefully crafted costumes to their bodies: skinny orange tails marked with black spots, ornate butterfly wings, jaguar ears, colorful poison darts, and, of course, blue water for the river. Once everyone was ready, Ms. Steiner introduced the animals, who then gathered on the rug. (This was Ms. Steiner's only role in the event, mind you. The children planned and collaborated on the play during their "Center Time.")

Read more about A Walk in the Rainforest

One of the things I enjoy most about being around Lower School children is hearing their stories: stories about catching 40 fish in one day, or taking the training wheels off a bicycle for the first time, or “accidentally” stepping in that huge puddle during Woodland Recess. Children have many stories to tell, and our job as educators is to help them do this well. When children begin to write authentic stories about those everyday events that are important to them, we call them “Small Moments.”

In kindergarten, small moment stories begin with elaborate sketches, which are later accompanied by sentences that match their pictures. In first and second grades, students practice telling their stories across three fingers or five fingers and then record these stories by stretching their writing across several pages. Once they have the bones of their story, they learn to elaborate by adding descriptive details, dialogue and internal thought. By the time our students reach third grade, the process becomes more sophisticated. Third graders construct “Personal Narratives” that evolve from a timeline. They hone their craft by experimenting with interesting leads and the “show, don’t tell” strategy.

Read more about Small Moments in Lower School