Welcome to the Lower School at GEMS World Academy Chicago, the city's premier private elementary school. Our Lower School, which covers preschool (or pre-K) through Grade 5, unlocks the innate curiosity and imagination of our learners, placing them firmly on the path toward becoming principled and knowledgeable global citizens.
The academic journey at GEMS begins with our Early Childhood program, which comprises pre-K, junior kindergarten and kindergarten.
Pre-K is open to students who are 3 years old. (Students who will turn 3 by Dec. 31 of the academic year are eligible to enroll.) In this full-day preschool program, our teachers use the PYP to launch inquiries into units such as Music and Movement, which explores how music and the movement of our bodies can be used to express emotion; Symbiosis, which explores how humans and animals affect and rely upon each other; and Roles and Responsibilities, an examination of how families, communities and governments are formed.
Junior kindergarten, open to 4-year-olds, builds on the foundation created in our pre-K classes. Junior-kindergarten students go further in their explorations of Communities and Living Things. They also begin units on Health, which looks at the workings of the human body, and Materials, an exploration of the ways people use the natural world and its materials for different purposes.
Kindergarten, open to 5-year-olds, completes the Early Childhood program at GEMS with robust units on Farm to Table, which looks at the different systems involved in creating food and distributing it to people; Storytelling, an exploration of the ways in which the arts communicate stories; and Plants, which looks at the roles that plants play in our ecosystems.
Grades 1 through 5 make up the Elementary Years portion of the PYP. During these years, the units of study grow increasingly complex and our students’ inquiries become progressively more sophisticated. Here are some highlights of the PYP for our Elementary Years students:
Grade 1: The Accessibility unit has students exploring the concept of accessibility from a variety of angles – historical, sociological, civic and scientific. The unit includes active engagement with the city of Chicago and its efforts to enhance accessibility.
Grade 2: During their Innovation unit, students consider the importance of creativity and innovation. Working closely with our science and technology leaders, students begin to “take things apart” in an effort to examine the systems the lie underneath the surface.
Grade 3: A unit on Exploration allows students to study great moments of human exploration and conquest through the lens of a historian and scientist. Why do people explore new frontiers? What are the consequences?
Grade 4: Fourth-graders, during a unit on Waves, explore the ways in which we can use light and/or sound to express ourselves. The students develop a keen understanding of the scientific principles of both light and sound waves, and then they use this to create original works of art.
Grade 5: Students complete their PYP journeys with a year-end exhibition. Working in groups, they research, prepare, present and defend multimedia projects that explore and reflect the theme of “sharing the planet.”
At GEMS, we combine the PYP with additional academic programs that set us apart from other private elementary schools:
World languages: Each student at GEMS receives daily instruction in Spanish, French or Mandarin. Our commitment to the study of world languages is rooted in the belief that language is key to cultural understanding and global citizenship.
Technology and innovation: We thread a robust science, math and technology program through the curriculum, giving students access to state-of-the-art tools, coding and robotics each day.
Writer’s/Reader’s Workshop: Our students experience the acclaimed Writer’s/Reader’s Workshop approach developed at Columbia University. Students develop essential critical thinking skills as they read, write, revise and reflect.
Field Studies: Our students regularly venture outside the school building on focused explorations of the people, institutions and neighborhoods of Chicago, transforming the city into a mobile-learning laboratory.
Our Lower School provides students the high-level thinking skills they need to thrive in middle school, high school and beyond.
The Primary Years Program combines a thorough exploration of core academic subjects with a focus on developing a global perspective. Classroom lessons and activities are filtered through six overall themes:
Who we are
Where we are in place and time
How we express ourselves
How the world works
How we organize ourselves
Sharing the planet
Throughout the program, teachers meet regularly to devise and reinforce connections between subject areas. This “transdisciplinary” approach makes the subject matter more relevant and engaging to students, resulting in more effective learning. Lessons repeatedly ask students to consider alternate cultural perspectives, leading to a growing appreciation of diversity and global citizenship.
Our Program of Inquiry — the collection of each grade's individual units of study — is an uncommonly rich academic experience. Starting with our youngest learners in pre-K, students explore complex topics and design solutions for problems.
The Program of Inquiry is cohesive, with later units building upon and deepening the inquiries that came before. Click the button below for a look at our entire program:
We add to our core Program of Inquiry a series of classes that encourages students to explore how the world works and allows them to pursue discovery via a variety of pathways:
Our literacy program is based on the Reading and Writing Project developed at Columbia University's Teachers College. Students read works from a variety of eras, styles and genres, and they are encouraged to respond to the material through writing, discussion and peer-to-peer exchanges. Our students also experience deep engagement with the craft and process of writing, including original composition, revision and publication. Sharing work with peers for feedback is a cornerstone of the program.
“How does this work?” Science in the Lower School gives students the skills they need to find an answer to that question. The program includes exploration of the makeup of living things, of Earth and space, materials and matter, force and energy. Along the way, teachers show students how to set up a scientific investigation and how to communicate its results.
The Lower School uses the respected Singapore Math program, which is highly visual and teaches math in a relevant, realistic context. Students explore numbers, measurements, and geometric shapes. They start to identify patterns and the different ways that data can be collected. The program presents math as a way of thinking and reasoning, rather than just a mechanical exercise in memorization. Where appropriate, math concepts are integrated into other lessons to show students that math can be found everywhere in the real world.
Learning a second language is a key component of our curriculum. Students develop core skills — reading, writing, speaking and listening — in their choice of Spanish, French or Mandarin. Our program approaches the student of world languages as a way to create and enhance intercultural connections. Students discover how their values, mores and behavior differ from those exhibited by people across the world. That awareness fuels deeper insight into global problems and greater cultural respect and understanding.
Art & Music
The Lower School provides students with intensive engagement in the visual arts, music and drama. Students are exposed to a wide variety of works from different eras and cultures. They explore the different ways that people have expressed themselves through art throughout history. They also start to create their own art, both individually and in groups, learning along the way to be risk-takers and respectful collaborators.
The physical education program develops physical skills like body control, movement to music and athletic activities. The program also helps young learners develop a sense of what it means to take care of one’s body and live a healthy lifestyle.