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An Intentional Student Experience
Dawn Chmura, Director of Communications

Rectory's intentional design to create exceptional experiences for our students goes far beyond what happens in the classrooms. At Rectory, the student experience isn't just pedagogy… it's personal.

School administrators put a lot of thought and effort into developing an intentional student experience that, in the end, may look different for each student. The student experience is considered with a 360° lens. At every point in each student's journey, Rectory students have the tools available to build a foundation of skills to succeed in life. Throughout this series of articles that will continue on Rectory's website this academic year, we invite you to learn more about the different aspects that encompass the Student Experience at Rectory School.

Space and Curricular Design

"When thinking about the future of Rectory's academic program, we focus on the students' experience," said Director of Academics Lisa Hart. "This includes curriculum design but also the smaller details like the classroom layout, the paint color on the walls, and the furniture students use. When we create or update our curriculum, we think about the scope and sequence of the curriculum. We intentionally focus on building skills from one grade to the next to ensure students' growth."

The wall colors in the classrooms and hallways were a deliberate choice because colors impact students' emotions and mindsets. Furniture for spaces is determined by how teachers use it; it can be put together for groups or pulled apart for individual use --- even in the library. The Hale Elementary Wing in John and Millie Green Hall was designed by New England Design after receiving input from the elementary faculty on how the spaces were used by the children. The intention was to create warm and inviting gathering spaces for collaboration in the lobby and hallways. According to Director of Elementary Maria Carpenter, "The vision was always to design a collection of nature-inspired classrooms near each other so that children can explore and learn in community while supporting each other."

Student schedules and curriculum at Rectory center around 21st-century teaching and brain-based learning. In 2015, Rectory introduced a new middle school schedule that meets the needs of an increasingly sophisticated, rigorous, and dynamic curriculum. The intentionality between how we build the programs and the spaces that surround our students is powerful.

Achievement For All Learners

"Our two children, whose interests and personalities are vastly different from each other, both feel a deep sense of belonging within the Rectory family. They feel challenged, uplifted, cared for, and valued by their teachers and classmates," said Alyssa & Hal Walker P'25 '27.

At Rectory, our students are expected to immerse themselves in our broad programmatic offerings, which provide essential opportunities to develop critical academic and life skills. Whether in English class, the art studio, the science lab, or our outdoor environment, students are guided by experienced professionals who strive for engagement, encourage creativity and critical thinking, and promote communication and collaboration. Our instructional approach leverages the power of technology as a teaching and learning tool, and children are taught how to use these resources responsibly and safely.

Students in middle school need a unique approach to academic learning and social/emotional growth. Because each student has different needs and interests, a cookie-cutter approach isn't effective. Rectory moved to a more personalized approach, placing students in classes that meet their specific capabilities, unlike the typical middle school placement experience where students travel together in their English, history, and science classes. This method works whether a student is neurodiverse, high-achieving, or twice-exceptional and incorporates appropriate rigor to reach their potential.

Professional Development and Faculty Collaboration

"To support student achievement through the curriculum, it's important to support faculty professional development and connections to develop opportunities for cross-curricular studies. Our faculty are learners too. We host on-site professional development opportunities, bringing in top experts in their field, and we send our faculty to regional and national conferences. Finding time for faculty to collaborate and design curriculum across disciplines is a challenge, which is why building in time for professional development and collaboration across the year is so important," said Mrs. Hart.

Rectory's academic philosophy is focused on student engagement. Professional development for faculty is critical to improving our students' learning experience, and it is also very intentional.

According to Mrs. Hart, before the pandemic, the committee for academic excellence (CAE) also started hosting faculty luncheons as a more casual way to provide opportunities for those cross-curricular discussions. While these luncheons were suspended due to the pandemic, this year, monthly faculty luncheons have already been added to the schedule. Said Mrs. Hart, "We are very strategic in our planning and how we support faculty growth and how that, in turn, supports the curriculum and the students' learning."

Support and Enrichment

 "The pathway of the students makes Rectory stand out," said Director of Learning Services Andrea Fahl. "The students here feel like they have a trusted adult they can talk to if they have an issue. They feel safe. Their experience has the support systems and the people who help them on their journey. They develop as a better person because of their experience at Rectory."

To ensure the student experience is considered through that 360° lens, the dean of students position was re-instituted this academic year to work directly with the students to anticipate and respond to their needs.

Opportunities to develop self-advocacy and self-efficacy are embedded in our students' schedules. Skill Block, a once-weekly class, is designed to foster organizational and effective study habits and is an opportunity for students to hone their academic skills. Students also are provided with Enrichment blocks twice a week; this is time set aside for students to meet with teachers to clarify classroom content and learn to advocate for themselves. Student support goes far beyond what happens in the classroom. Sometimes the best relationships are formed and the most helpful learning is realized when you go beyond academics!

Rectory counselors have extensive experience supporting adolescents as they navigate what can frequently be a challenging time developmentally. It is an invaluable opportunity for students to talk with a trusted adult about their day or about the challenges they may be experiencing in the classroom and in their peer relationships. Guiding students through these challenges is one way that Rectory builds strong, independent learners and happy and healthy young men and women.

We're excited to bring back Rectory's Enrichment Series after the two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. This series offers opportunities that many schools don't have. Because they are opt-in programs, students join if they are interested and pass on the programs they are not interested in, which makes it a high-engagement program. These programs have included blacksmithing, shark dissection, celestial navigation with a sextant, and many more.

Student Choice: Creating an experience that is unique for each student

"We're making a conscientious effort to provide more opportunities for our students," said Head of School Fred Williams. "The breadth of our programs is exceptional. When you combine our academics, athletics, and arts offerings, students can pursue existing interests and develop new ones."

Especially beginning in middle school at Rectory, students can make personal choices with arts, electives, athletics, and MELP. Additional choices are available as students progress through their middle school years, including in their academic courses. By the time students reach the ninth-grade year, they have opportunities only available to them; there are ninth-grade-only MELP options, they choose their related-arts courses and can take an online world language class. High-achieving students in the ninth grade can also take honors courses and participate in the Bigelow Scholars program, which allows select students to take an additional course rather than a study hall.

A Safe Space to learn and try new things

"Safety is important for all of our families, and that means a lot of different things," said Director of Enrollment Lesley Gibbs. "Safety at Rectory doesn't only mean physical safety; it means that students feel comfortable trying new things and knowing that the adults around them will support them along the way."

Rectory has a Safety Committee made up of school administrators and faculty. The charge of the Safety Committee is to develop and oversee the implementation of a comprehensive school safety plan relevant to the needs and resources of Rectory School.

Safety at Rectory goes beyond the physical and includes respect for people and property and the ability to receive help when needed, whether mental, social, emotional, or physical. We establish an environment of trust; there are no locks on dorm-room doors, and there are open cubbies in the academic building instead of lockers. Perhaps most importantly, students at Rectory are encouraged to take advantage of the breadth of offerings available to them and try something new. When students talk about their time at Rectory, they often reflect on those things they had never done before and the new passions they developed here.

At Rectory, students are at the center of everything we do. Creating a meaningful experience for each of our students is a top priority. The people at Rectory look at that experience from every angle and make intentional decisions based on the needs of each child. This series will take a deep dive into each element of The Intentional Student Experience at Rectory School


  • Academics
  • Feature
  • Homepage News
  • Student Experience

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Please contact Dawn Chmura, Director of Communications, regarding the following:

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Rectory School Communications
528 Pomfret Street
P.O. Box 68
Pomfret, CT 06258