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Grade by Grade

Year One:
Community Study: How Things Work

To the young child, there is no greater thrill than discovering new and interesting information. To discover how things work behind the scenes and in our larger world, students take weekly field trips in small groups and then have the opportunity to evaluate what they have learned and share it with their peers. This experience provides frequent preparation of questions for informal interviews and regular opportunities for public speaking. After this long-term journey of discovery, students celebrate the experience with a "How Things Work Exhibition" attended by their families and the CFA community.

Map, Models & Magical Places

The Little Explorers and Fourth Graders complete a long-term, cross-grade study of local historical and environmental treasure, Airlie Gardens. This local site provides a multitude of opportunities for learning across the curriculum. During the study, Little Explorers study the many species that make the garden home. They visit and learn about Airlie's unique lake and estuary habitats and track their walking routes on a large scale map, They study the art and writing of author and illustrator Eric Carle, represent select Airlie critters in painted collage collaborative artworks, and partner with our fourth grade buddies for projects and adventures. Fourth graders build more elaborate maps based on their visits to key Airlie sites. Students are divided into teams responsible for researching key sites and prominent figures in Airlie Gardens' long history. Their non-fiction writing pieces serve as examples of savvy research skills and successful collaboration within a group. This exciting study is punctuated by multiple trips and a magical evening event!

Pint-Sized Patriots

As Dr. Seuss so aptly put it, "A person's a person, no matter how small." At CFA, this means that our Little Explorers are often a powerful catalyst for inspiration and excitement within our larger school community. In this long-term study, students learn about and celebrate freedom, citizenship, and service during this study of our country's values. Without reference to politics, students instead highlight the importance of being respectful and responsible in all things such as how to do the right thing and why. They learn many favorite American anthems, demonstrate gratitude to our veterans, complete a student-developed service project, and host a "Pint-Sized Patriots Parade and American Pie Sing-Along."

Farmers' Market Study

The Little Explorers visit local farmers' markets to discover the rich bounty of foods grown locally. They discover how local products such as cheese, honey, and fish tell the story of our local natural environment, air, and water. They use this information to plant our own classroom garden using soil from our compost and water from our rain barrel. Students interview and explore the workshops and studios of local artisans as they make their artisanal wares including local favorites such as reclaimed wooden birdhouses, iron forged jewelry, and hand-crafted art. The study culminates with our very own farmers' market. This is an event highlighting our study and sharing the bounty of our own gardens and art studio.

Year Two:
Community Study: The Special People on Our Campus and Beyond

To discover the importance of each member of our larger society, the Little Explorers head out into the greater community and investigate! They visit many, varied workplaces to discover the tasks and responsibilities of different people and how each person's distinct role plays in making our world work. We focus on artisans, food producers, and big thinkers. This study promotes the recognition of personal interests and development of natural affinities and passions. Discovering that each person can find and share their interests and talents with the larger group is a fun-filled and powerful experience.

Community Mapping Exhibition with 4th grade:

The Little Explorers team up with the Fourth Grade for an exciting study of our campus. While the LEs explore to discover what happens behind the scenes at CFA and meet and interview key figures on campus, the fourth graders are on a cross-curricular adventure! Little Explorers construct a giant 2D map of our campus using Google Earth as a guide before building a larger-than-life campus map using refrigerator boxes.

As with all cross-grade studies at CFA, students serve as both mentee and mentor, and their experience in each role provides ample opportunity for academic and personal growth. Our LEs and fourth graders are challenged to let their curiosity take flight. Often this develops into mini-studies spurred by students' ideas and discoveries along the way. As a celebration of this long-term study and a culmination of all we will discover and experience, we host a Community Mapping Exhibition. Parents attend and view the children's many research, art, writing, math, and construction projects.

Recycling Study & Presentation with Middle School Green Team:

Going green is no little matter for these big thinkers! The Little Explorers learn everything they can about the care and stewardship of our planet. From composting, to gardening, to recycling and beyond! Within this indepth year-long study trips and hands-on experiences abound. To complete our study and share their insights gained, the Little Explorers take to the main stage and share their knowledge with the Lower School at a spring assembly.

Yoga and Social Emotional Learning:

Led by our School Counselor, a certified Children's Yoga Teacher, yoga is a fun and beneficial way to support our social and emotional development. Yogic principles of honesty, non-violence and cleanliness are universal guidelines for living a life or purity in body and mind. Stretching in yoga overrides the stress response, and develops mental and physical focus, strength, balance, flexibility and overall health. We become more self-aware as we grow in our ability to self regulate and we are ready to learn!

Monthly Field Trips Designed to Enhance Our Curriculum via Real-World Experience

Anatomy Academy

Upon completion of the Human Anatomy unit, the kindergarten students present their research as a team of doctors based on their particular organ of study. The kindergarten doctors, including neurologists, nephrologists, cardiologists, pulmonologists, and gastroenterologists, gather together to unveil their findings to their fellow Lower School students through posters, songs, written work, drawings, sculptures and 3D models. This project allows kindergarteners to practice many valuable skills including higher-level thinking, public speaking, researching, reading, writing, drawing, and measuring.

Thanksgiving Feast with the Little Explorers

Learning about life as a Native American or Pilgrim sets the stage for this cross-grade study and celebration. Kinder students make and decorate Pilgrim costumes for themselves and cut and sew vests and headpieces for their LE friends. Onlookers watch while the little Pilgrims and Native Americans walk hand in hand across campus. Families join in to make a hearty feast and give thanks for the gifts of food and friendship.

The Mitten

The Mitten performance is a longstanding tradition at Cape Fear Academy, and one that students and families hold dear to their hearts. Based on the popular Ukrainian folktale, The Mitten retold by Jan Brett, depicts the story of a young boy who loses his white mitten in the snow and when it is found, he realizes the mitten is larger than the other due to animals who made their way into the mitten to keep warm! The kindergarten students enjoy acting out the winter folktale through a comical and musical performance upon completion of their author study on Jan Brett.

Muffins for Moms & Donuts for Dads

In recognition of Mother's Day and Father's Day, the kindergartners celebrate and acknowledge the special people in their lives. During these special morning events, the students present a class-book that they create based on the books from children's author, Laura Numeroff. This author wrote many well-known stories such as, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and If You Give a Pig a Pancake. After reading many of her stories, the kindergartners create their own rendition of the story for their mothers, titled If You Give a Mom a Muffin, and for their fathers, If You Give a Dad a Donut.

Author Study

As part of our literacy-enriched program, the kindergartners learn about many popular children's authors throughout the school year. Students listen to many stories during Read Aloud time and Shared Reading to analyze and uncover the author's intention and purpose, discuss events in the story, and form connections and opinions to the texts through discussions and written work. Some popular authors in our study include Jan Brett, Laura Numeroff, Dr. Seuss, Tomie dePaola, and Leo Lionni.

All Kindergarteners take monthly field trips designed to enhance our curriculum via real-world experience.

CFA Community Study and Reception:

This long-term cross-curricular study provides students countless opportunities to seek and process information about the world in which they live. We strive to develop children's understanding of their individual characteristics and gifts, while encouraging them to appreciate similar and different characteristics in others. Interviews and visits precede a Community Reception honoring special people on campus. Trips develop children's knowledge of themselves in relation to others in various groups and settings (home, classroom, lower school, whole school, town/city, and beyond). Children's geographical knowledge grows as they create maps of their classrooms and the Lower School, all while utilizing the corresponding vocabulary.

Flat Stanley Project:

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown tells the humorous tale of Stanley and his travels across the U.S. via the U.S. Postal System. Students write to friends and family across the country, gathering information and comparing the sites, climates, and traditions of different locations in the United States to our own environment in Southeastern North Carolina. Stanley's movements are tracked on classroom Smart boards and help students develop a better understanding of the layout and diversity within our country.

Photography and Writing Trips and Exhibition:

As a jumping off point for an exciting study of our multi-faceted Port City, students are introduced to the terminology used in the art of photography including point of view, perspective, and most importantly making discerning choices. Students are shown examples from many genres, including portraiture, still life, and landscape scenes. Students are given small "lenses" and asked to explore parts of their CFA environment, looking closely and developing their own point of view. This exercise is designed to encourage the children to see the larger picture, but also the details within. Photographic mini-trips to Carolina Beach State Park, Fort Fisher, and Downtown Wilmington take students into their larger environ with the purpose of discovering and experiencing our fair city with fresh and inquisitive eyes.

After the trips, students review their photographs, selecting several for exhibition. They write about their photographs, trips, and overall experience. Their writing and photography is shared and celebrated at our Annual Exhibition.

Compliment Kids Project with Upper School:

This heartfelt community service project highlights the value of noticing others and being kind. The concept is introduced by asking each child to cover one side of a faux tee-shirt with words describing the special qualities they see in themselves. The other side is then filled with compliments from each of the child's peers. This introductory activity serves as a jumping off point for our "free compliment" experience.

This project is based on a happy social experiment carried out by two young men at Purdue University several years ago. Our goal is similar – how can we make others feel good with our words and actions? Our objective as teachers is to encourage the first graders to notice others; to be congenial, out-going and kind. Compliments are given verbally and from a free compliment jar that holds the many beautifully written "feel good" sentiments that first graders have jotted down. Smiles abound as compliments flow in both directions!

Dinosaur Convention:

This cross-curricular study is a favorite at CFA. The students begin by studying the Earth and its layers and progress to learning about the eras of the Earth. Children do hands-on activities such as a shark tooth excavation and a dinosaur dig. In cooperative learning groups they select, research and report on a dinosaur of their choice. They write their own script, make their own props and aid the teachers in the creation of a multimedia presentation. The culmination is the Dinosaur Convention performed in the Fine Arts Center.

Patriotic Symbols Study:

This dynamic study puts students in the driver's seat. They select, research and report on several of our most beloved patriotic symbols. They then consolidate their data onto giant charts to be evaluated and discussed in whole group at the end of each week. Higher order thinking is the name of the game as students debate to determine which of the many details regarding a symbol, whether real or conceptual, is the most important thing about that symbol, taking our lead from the classic Margaret Wise Brown storybook, The Important Book. Teachers serve as facilitators as students take the lead in this valuable intellectual challenge.

First Grade Circus:

For over 30 years, the First Grade Circus is one of CFA's favorite events for the entire school community. The Upper School Band students, many of whom were once in the circus themselves, accompany the performers as they take to the stage. Family and friends are welcomed back every year to join in the fun of this high-energy performance under the big top!

Mother's Tea:

Celebrating the lovely ladies in our students' lives provides for a heart-warming morning. Ladies are serenaded with beautiful songs, thanked warmly for their care, and walk away with lovingly hand-made gifts. Encouraging students to notice caretakers and be thankful is fundamental to character development and part of the culture of our school.

All first graders take multiple field trips designed to enhance our curriculum via real-world experiences.

Second Graders Buddy with Middle Schoolers

Buddying up with grades across our divisions provides stimulating opportunities for learning and skill development. Middle School buddies assist second graders as they learn how to research effectively. They support students as they research specific geographical locations, discerning key information from details. These important skills come in handy during later Japanese and African units of study. Forging relationships that support academic growth while also fostering warm and friendly bonds across grades helps develop a broader sense of community.

Japan Study & Festival:

Second graders explore the history, geography, culture, people, and traditions of the Japanese people. This study includes discovering Shinto and Buddhism, Japanese Gardens, Bonsai, holidays, origami, kanji, foods, education, and art. Students use fictional Japanese stories that highlight their explorations. The entire unit is integrated so that writing, reading, social studies, and art are included.

Field Trips include:

Students visit local Bonsai business, The Painted Lady, for examples and explanations about Bonsai. There are numerous bonsai trees on the property, and the Bonsai Master gives a demonstration as he begins with a bush and turns in into a beautiful Bonsai tree. The discussion of the art of Bonsai brings the Japanese art to life.

At Ash's Japanese Maple Nursery students learn about the relevance of these lovely trees to the Japanese culture. A replica of a Japanese style temple, referred to as a garden house sits among a peaceful pond filled with Coi - the perfect spot for rest and contemplation. Students enjoy lunch by the pond, with a lively discussion of why the fish are important and how to care for them.

The Buddhist Monastery in Bolivia - Tan Ajahn, the Abbot and teacher at the temple, speaks with our children about his religion. Students learn about the Wheel of Life, the daily habits of Monks, and how to strive for peace within ourselves and in the world. They visit the actual temple and view pictures of the elders. Each child rings the great gong located in the temple. Discussion follows regarding the Japanese religions.

Japanese Restaurant in Wilmington - The unit of study culminates with lunch at a Japanese restaurant where students enjoy watching skilled chefs prepare their meals in front of them.

Africa Study and Celebration:

The students explore the geography, history, culture, and people of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. One of the main focuses is The Nile River and how it impacts the people and their culture. The students explore The Amhara people of Ethiopia, their customs, and churches. They also learn about the Oromo and Afar. In Sudan the Dinka are explored and in this unit slavery and the Underground Railroad are also discussed. Students investigate Egypt today, as well as Ancient Egypt, through a variety of fictional stories. Art projects, poetry and letter writing are integrated throughout.

Students perform a musical production entitled The Elephant Twins, based on an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's Elephant Child.

The annual Puppet Show provides students with opportunities to act out the various stories they read. During this culminating event, The African Celebration, students share the breadth of the study and invite families to see their art, writing, and a SMART board presentations. Field Trips and guests including an African drummer round out this expansive study.

Burgwin-Wright House - A visit to this house gives an informative view into the life of house slaves in Wilmington. Students tour the house and its grounds. During this trip students also visit the Orange Street Docks and an underground railroad station.

Williston School - The Williston School was the first school for African Americans in Wilmington. A guide shows students the old part of the school and describes what it was like to receive an education there. Many renowned scholars began their education at this school.

Social Studies and Science Exhibit

Upon completion of the social studies unit on world communities and the science unit on electricity, students present their research and projects in an exhibit for families and the larger school community. Friends and family enjoy presentations created by the third grade geographers on their chosen country and marvel at the electrical circuit boards created by the third grade scientists.

During the World Communities Presentation, students explain their understanding of countries around the world, presenting the facts using PowerPoint presentations and brochures on the country's geography, government, culture, and climate. Students provide detailed and valuable information about their chosen country to their audience while wearing attire commonly worn by citizens from that country. Students gain an awareness of how world communities are similar and different in terms of their cultural, political, and geographical aspects.

Modern society relies heavily on the convenience and versatility of electricity. In the Electrical Circuit Presentation, students highlight their projects on electrical circuit boards and discuss the process and inner workings of electricity. Students discuss the process of electricity while recognizing the value of electricity. Students' learning and research is the highlight and focal point of the Social Studies and Science Exhibit.

Simple Machines Study and Invention Convention

Cape Fear Academy's third and eighth grade students work as engineers, inventors, mathematicians, writers, and mentors/mentees during our Simple Machines Study. This cross-grade, cross-curricular study touches upon mathematical and scientific fields ranging from architecture to physics and allows for a myriad of hands-on experiences.

Students face and solve complex problems creatively and cooperatively. They use their ingenuity to create inventions that require at least three simple machines and a purpose. Students are encouraged to use innovative thought processes and advanced problem-solving skills to invent their own machines. Best of all, intellectual passions are ignited regarding science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Research, special guests, scavenger hunts, and field trips make this a truly exceptional learning experience as each students creates his/her own compound machine.

Third graders are pioneers of computer programming at Cape Fear Academy. Using the technological software, SCRATCH, students develop digital machines with Future Minds teacher, Bill Kanzinger. Our Simple Machines and Invention Exhibit celebrates the ingenuity, invention, and collaboration of our amazing students.

Wilmington and the World Port Study

This geographical study allows students to learn more about their community of Wilmington and its importance as a port city. Over the course of this study, the kindergartners and third graders team up as researchers, cartographers, and geographers as they read about and travel around Wilmington to learn how the port city plays a large role in importing and exporting goods and services around the world. Students visit the Port of Wilmington, tour the area, learn from local port experts, and even operate a model container crane!

Oceans Abound With Life All Around

The purpose of this cross-curricular study is to help students learn how we are linked to the ocean. Students have the opportunity to learn about the unique adaptations of marine life. They research the animals and plants in the three ocean zones. They learn about the animal's prey and predator and how they adapt to their habitat. The students present their information in a "talking picture" using an online web tool called Blabberize. They dissect a fish online and design circuit boards with questions and answers about the ocean. On an overnight field trip to Sound to Sea the students dissect a squid, and learn about its body parts. Using their research skills again, students discover the importance of all five oceans and the necessity of protecting the unique marine habitat.

The third graders also create original clay fish. The students write their names and morph them into sea creatures using crayon resist techniques.

Community Mapping Exhibition with Little Explorers:

This cross-curricular study and event gets every student engaged in some serious mathematical problem solving! In mathematics, students study a blueprint of our campus and hone their skills at determining perimeter and area. In teams, they use legos to construct small 3D models. They mathematically reduce the data regarding the size of each building to recreate scaled models using sugar cubes and determine the volume of each sugar cube structure. The older students model and mentor the Little Explorers in academic and social situations and create the positive, inter-grade relationships that are so valuable. The fourth grade class is busy researching, learning, discovering, and studying various maps and map features. Students are immersed in the process of creating maps in the classroom and learning about different types of maps (physical, political, and topographical). Students discuss and learn what important features a map must contain to be valuable. The fourth graders discuss the value of map titles, legends, cardinal and intermediate directions, compass rose, and lines of latitude and longitude. This opportunity for fourth graders to speak candidly about their experience and learning at the Mapping Exhibition allows them to take proud ownership of their own learning.

The transition to map reading and map making marks an important stage in the progress of objective thinking. The children start with a 2D viewpoint of their world on paper. They move to developing 3D maps that depict buildings, playgrounds, porticos, and other topographic details. Understanding perspectives and perceptions comes easier when it is done in this organic and concrete way. Our culminating event offers rich opportunities for public speaking and parent education.

Map, Models and Magical Places

The Little Explorers and Fourth Graders complete a long-term, cross-grade study of local historical and environmental treasure Airlie Gardens. Learning about other places through comparison and contrast enriches our ability to reflect and analyze information. Thus, children learn not only about the specific place in question (in this case, Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, NC), but also how to approach any new place with an inquisitive mind. Opportunities for scientific and historic learning abound on the grounds of Airlie Gardens. From the oysterbed refurbishment project to the garden's storied history, students have many topics to research and discover. Students use mathematical skills to create scaled landmark and trail maps. Airlie Gardens truly is a magical place!

Colonial Week:

Colonial Week focuses on the settling of the 13 Original Colonies and Colonial America. Throughout the week students have the opportunity to learn calligraphy from a local artist, study and sample herbs used for medicinal and culinary purposes, build a log cabin by hand, travel through the grounds of Moore's Creek, and spend the day participating in colonial activities on Colonial Day. By living a week in the shoes of Colonial settlers, students come to understand the hardships and simplicity of Colonial life.

Camp Flintlock:

This new tradition, an overnight at Camp Flintlock, gives students the opportunity to live the life of a colonial child. They participate in daily chores, recreation, and work the farm.

In addition, student take the following field trips which support Colonial America studies:

Cape Fear Museum
Tryon Palace
Moore's Creek Battlefield

Pi Day:

Pi Day features a trip to the Cape Fear Museum to celebrate the beauty of the mathematical element Pi. The number π is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, approximately equal to 3.14159. It has been represented by the Greek letter "π". Students rotate through stations dedicated to understanding the many important features of Pi, even having fun with real "pie" in the process!

Biz World:

The fifth grade participates in a hands-on, interactive project in which the students create their own businesses. They solicit investors, manufacture a product, develop a marketing campaign, produce a commercial, and take their product to market. A presentation is shared with parents and then with the third and fourth graders, who are the customers. The companies compete to earn the largest profit. Biz World offers our eldest Lower Schoolers yet another opportunity to experience the ingenuity, dedication, and teamwork needed to function successfully and be accountable within a small group.

Wilmington History and The Bellamy Mansion:

The fifth grade takes an overnight field trip to the historic Bellamy Mansion, located in downtown Wilmington. Students begin their afternoon with a guided water tour of the Wilmington waterfront. They learn about the unique history of our city and its port. Next, they head to the Bellamy Mansion for an extensive, behind the scenes tour of the Bellamy Mansion, exploring four floors of the main house, the belvedere, and the slave quarters. Inside the main house, students examine architectural details, family-painted artwork, original artifacts, and learn secrets of the house. The next morning, they walk to the Cape Fear Museum to examine exhibits about previous coursework including the Civil War, Historical Wilmington, WWI, WWII, and Civil Rights. Our fifth graders have a fabulous time learning about the history of our beautiful city.

Advisory Program

At CFA there is a unique opportunity to prepare our fifth graders for a seamless transition to sixth grade. One avenue is through our Advisory program. Led by our school counselor, Advisory mirrors the Middle School Advisory program based on "The Advisory Book" by Linda Crawford. Advisory offers students practical ways to meet their developing social and emotional needs. Lessons are once a week for 30 minutes and build social skills and conflict resolution, all while having fun.

Reader's Workshop Author's Study

Each spring, fifth graders utilize their knowledge about plot, characters, conflict, tone, theme, literary devices, and style to complete an in-depth study of an outstanding author. Students read multiple books by their author wearing the lense of an expert reader and writer. They examine what the author does to entice the reader as well as what the author accomplishes as a writer. Their Author Study projects encompass interactive technology, biographical writing, dissection of books, comprehension projects, and direct correspondence with authors and publishers. Students present their projects dressed as their authors, utilizing public speaking skills while staying in character. Throughout this project, students own reading and writing is inspired by the close study of powerful authors.

Coastal Horizons Learning Center Team Building

Fifth graders, along with the Coastal Horizons professionals, participate in a day of fun, frolic, and team building. Students work together to accomplish feats and play games that promote cooperative behaviors, supporting one another and celebrating each other's accomplishments - lessons that help the students be the best citizens and friends they can be!

New Hanover County Courthouse

After studying Federal, State, and Local Government, fifth graders go on an in-depth, behind the scenes tour of our county courthouse. They sit in on traffic court, learning more about the judicial process as the judge explains what is going on around them. They notice the ebb and flow of lawyers, district attorneys, the accused, police officers and witnesses. It is very interesting to hear the accused and the judge discuss the cases before a ruling is made.

When court goes into a short recess, the judge, the district attorney, and some of the lawyers speak with us at length and answer our questions. We learn a lot about what it takes to be part of the judicial system, and how much members of the judicial branch enjoy their jobs!

LS Moving Up Ceremony

This new rite of passage is designed to be a celebration of each and every fifth grader as they ascend to Middle School. An evening filled with spirited sings and heartwarming speeches give recognition of our students' hard work and achievement.


Students visit the WECT newsroom to observe their midday newscast. They see the inner workings of a live television production and also visit with Colin Hackman, meteorologist for the station, to ask and answer questions regarding their study of the weather. This is an exciting and informative culminating activity for the weather unit.