St. Luke’s students enter school by walking directly under the school motto: Enter to Learn. Go forth to Serve. Finding meaning and purpose through service is central to St. Luke’s culture. 

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As teachers, we want our students to develop a personal understanding of what it means to serve others. That’s the only way they can genuinely embrace St. Luke’s motto and the call to service embedded in our mission.

The Fifth-Grade Teaching Team decided that service presented the perfect topic for our Fifth Grade Exploration Day, and we began crafting a full day of workshops designed to help define What It Means to Serve

What Matters to You?

While all St. Luke’s students engage in service activities, we wanted Exploration Day to dive into the skills, experiences, and thinking that help students identify how and why service might be a meaningful element of their lives. To do this, we created three workshops led by Math Teacher Melissa Zurkowski, English Teacher Elaine Juran, Middle School Art Teachers Jessica Dowling and Samantha Mongardi, History Teacher Robert Salandra, and me. Topics included

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Students work on happiness jars during Fifth Grade Exploration Day.

Happiness Lab 

What makes you happy? What makes others happy? Why do so many people feel good when helping others? Getting young children to ponder these questions is the first step to bigger thinking about what constitutes a good life (something taught in greater depth in the Upper School elective A Life Worth Living). In Happiness Lab, students explored what affects our emotions. They practiced mindfulness and meditation and created happiness jars filled with colorful sand to represent happiness levels.

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Ms. Dowling works with a student on her art project during the What's in Your Backyard? workshop.

What’s In Your Backyard?

Designed to tap into students’ sense of altruism and agency, this workshop focused on endangered creatures in Connecticut. Students learned about the threatened and endangered animals that live here in our own backyard and on the St. Luke’s campus and explored how people can take action. Students chose animals to research and created informative watercolor paintings to highlight these species and how the community can support them. 

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Mr. Salandra reads The Lorax to the fifth graders in the Sustainability Design workshop.

Sustainability Design

Rob Salandra and I led this workshop with the goal of encouraging students to think about the larger world and the roles they can play in shaping it. We read Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax and listened as students led a group discussion about their takeaways from the book. There were many perspectives on money—where it comes from, how it’s acquired, and what kind of work you need to do to obtain it. Some students attributed work ethic to the amount of money you acquire, while others felt it was circumstantial—just because you work hard doesn’t mean that you have the means and resources to get where you want to go. They observed that some people might value money over resources and that not everyone agrees about how to use or not use resources. Finally, students looked at ways that this interest might relate to service. For example, how can we improve the use of resources at home and in our school community? 

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Head of Middle School Amber Berry stops in the fifth-grade classroom during the students' presentations.

Exploration: In Their Own Words

The culmination of Exploration Day was a presentation by students to their peers, teachers, and special guests, including Head of School Mark Davis, Head of Middle School Amber Berry, and Middle School Dean of Students Katie Mersky. 

Inspired by the Student-Led Learning Priority in St. Luke’s Strategic Plan, Exploration Day offered students a choice of workshops and the freedom to express their findings in whatever format suited them; for example, art, videos, slideshows, and posters.

The presentations were outstanding, but most rewarding for the teaching team was watching our students listen carefully to one another. They were able to appreciate and consider perspectives different from their own and seemed ready to think broadly about their roles in the world. 

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Fifth graders work with Ms. Mongardi to study endangered birds in CT.

The Exploration Continues

The goal of student-led learning is to make a shift from “doing school to learning with a purpose.” Fifth Grade Exploration Day is one example of pausing the regular curriculum to broaden our views, find out what students get fired up about, and grab the opportunity to make sure learning is personal and meaningful for our students. 

We knew the day was successful when students began asking what else we can explore? 

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Will Yavenditti '29 presents about low self-esteem during the Happiness Lab.

To see additional photos, click here.

Fifth Grade Exploration Day took place before Connecticut's mask mandate was lifted.


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