Welcome to the Lower School at GEMS World Academy Chicago, the city's premier private elementary school. Our elementary-years program, which covers preschool 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 foundation of our elementary-years curriculum is the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program, which inspires students to explore, ask questions and take risks. We are a certified IB World School for our PYP, the only private school in Illinois to be so accredited.
The PYP involves students in units of inquiry that spark thought and discussion about the world and their places in it. The concepts explored include biodiversity, water, symbiosis, storytelling, the human body, government systems, energy, public art and more. Each unit is transdisciplinary, meaning that the different academic disciplines are tied together throughout.
At GEMS, we combine the PYP with additional academic programs that set us apart from other private and elementary schools:
World languages: Each student at GEMS receives daily instruction in Spanish, French or Mandarin.
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.
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.