K-8 Academic Program

Saint Joseph Grade School offers a core curriculum from kindergarten to 8th grade that far exceeds state and federal standards. Our students consistently excel on state and national standardized tests due in large part to our emphasis on mastering fundamentals of reading, writing, and mathematics. Studies in science, social studies, and religion round out the foundational curriculum. Traditional core studies are enhanced with classes in music, art, computers, foreign language, and physical education.

Our curriculum is unique in that it is literature-based, rather than textbook-based. We have mastered the craft of teaching by finding the best materials and resources, and implementing cross-curricular subject integration wherever possible. When our kindergartners study apples, they write about their favorite color of apple; they create mathematical graphs of classmates’ favorite ways to eat an apple; they peform science experiments by floating apples and making apple sauce! When our 5th graders study states and capitals, they learn songs about the U.S. in music, and create interactive Google maps in computer class! When our 2nd graders study pioneers in social studies, they learn square dancing in gym class!

Learning at SJGS is enhanced by providing access to tools and technology that allow teachers to implement a variety of innovative techniques, creating better student engagement as well as more efficient, more personalized, and more “fun” learning. And, learning is not just confined to the classroom, but rooted in the South Bend community through field trips, speakers, service projects, and community-sponsored activities.

Language Arts

The language arts curriculum at SJGS includes four main components: reading, writing, spelling, and grammar. Students have opportunities to express language arts abilities in a variety of ways, from discussions, written responses, and book projects, to plays, song, and artistic expression.

Our literature-based reading program allows students to experience authentic text (books rather than textbooks) and permits differentiated learning to meet individual interests and abilities. Thematic units provide opportunities to challenge students to read from a variety of genres as well as integrate other areas of the curriculum. The implementation of higher level questioning through the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy helps our students become better critical readers. Literature circles, book talks, and enrichment centers contribute to our “reader’s workshop” framework. Grade by grade, students build upon a foundation of “nine essential reading strategies,” which aim to create lifelong critical readers. Emphasis on vocabulary instruction in all areas of the curriculum supports each student’s ability to grow a richer listening, speaking, reading, and writing vocabulary. These fluency activities enable students to become more proficient readers.

“Writer’s workshop” is the common framework we use for navigating the writing process. Students are taught to analyze and model writing that they in turn apply to their own writing. A key element of the workshop is the 6+1 Trait Writing Model, a mechanism of instruction which helps students self-assess while working through the writing process, and provides a consistent vocabulary for discussing writing from year to year. SJGS students also use our staff-developed “writer’s guide” as a resource for strong writing.

Spelling, phonics, and grammar are incorporated through mini-lessons and are linked to literature and writing. In grades K-3, we implement Wilson’s “Fundations” program to provide a critical foundation in phonics.

SJGS celebrates love of language arts through yearly participation in enrichment programs such as Spelling Bee and the Young Authors’ Conference.


SJGS implements the Everyday Mathematics program in grades K-5. Incorporating basic facts and computation, the program encourages the use of multiple methods for understanding math, and allows individual students to find ways that are personally successful. It is also unique in the way it spirals learning throughout the program, providing continuous reinforcement of skills and concepts. Students also work on mastery of basic math facts using the Otter Creek program, which provides focus on personalized math fact goals.

Our junior high math program has been designed to meet Algebra I standards for grades 6, 7, and 8. The 7th grade program is a transition to Algebra, while the 8th grade curriculum is Algebra I with a spiral review of skills. Students, beginning in 6th grade, keep a notebook that becomes their textbook, and they use it throughout their junior high years. The program prepares students for success in high school math.

Our teachers enhance foundational math learning programs with a variety of instructional methods and enrichment tools to ensure subject mastery. Problem solving activities, games, hands-on manipulatives, and literature allow teachers to reach students with differing learning styles. All of these tools help move students from a beginning, concrete understanding of mathematics to more abstract mastery.

Science & Technology

Our science curriculum at SJGS uses hands-on and inquiry-based techniques to guide student learning. Our goal is to ensure that each student achieves a functional level of scientific and technological literacy, but also to awaken within our students a thirst for continued scientific inquiry. A combination of textbooks, literature, journals, vocabulary study, and experiments, supported by the latest tools and technology, enables students to understand and experience scientific concepts. Junior high students are able to conduct all experiments in our well-equipped science classroom featured in the new Suzanne Wiwi Education Center. Our SJGS Science Fair, taking place each December, features science research projects by 5th and 7th grade students!

During weekly hands-on classes in our computer lab, students in grades K-8 receive not only basic computer skills instruction such as keyboarding and word processing, but are also introduced to coding, app building, and tech innovation. In 2015, 8th grade computer students were awarded “Best in State” in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge, a national competition in which students design a mobile application concept that addresses a need or problem in their local schools or communities.

Students at SJGS have the opportunity for additional STEAM creativity and innovation using mobile computer labs, smartboards, digital cameras, 3D printers, programmable robots, and a variety of other tools available throughout our classrooms. They use these tools for enrichment projects, from PowerPoint presentations to student-created movies, that enhance all of our curricular areas.

Social Studies

The goal of the social studies curriculum at SJGS is to develop knowledgeable citizens and to instill in students both an awareness of and a curiosity about the ever changing nature of the world and society in which they live. We seek to provide students with the intellectual and moral foundation for constructive participation in the democratic institutions that affect both their own lives and the lives of those around them. By blending factual foundations, including vocabulary and conceptual development, with inquiry-based thinking skills, students develop informed appreciation of cultures, national identity, and civic responsibility.

Social studies concepts are also integrated into the classroom in a variety of cross-curricular applications, and skills are extended through participation in Geography Bee, Quiz Bowl, and enrichment projects sponsored by community organizations.


SJGS follows the Catechetical Curriculum Guidelines of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which are designed to conform to the 2005 National Directory for Catechesis. For in-depth details about the religion curriculum at SJGS, please view our catechetical curriculum page.


Exposure to Spanish language and culture is both enlightening and practical, enhancing and enriching the lives of all students who meaningfully engage the language. At SJGS, the richness of the Spanish language and culture is integrated into various classroom thematic units as enrichment in 1st to 4th grade. Students in 5th and 6th grade begin taking Spanish language class multiple times per week, working towards an advanced 7th and 8th grade curriculum that prepares students for high school Spanish study.

Our 8th grade students, as part of our grade-level service learning program, have the opportunity to learn about and work with La Casa de Amistad, a charitable organization in South Bend that offers programs to support Hispanic youth and adults.

Art & Music

The Suzanne Wiwi Education Center opened in 2016. This new classroom wing addition has provided our students with beautiful, fully-equipped spaces for art and music, subjects that are part of the weekly curriculum in each grade at SJGS.

The art curriculum at SJGS follows a discipline-based art education approach with a focus on art production, art criticism, art history, and aesthetics. We believe that an artist resides in everyone! In recent years, SJGS students have won numerous Scholastic Art Awards, with one student receiving a national honor at Carnegie Hall in New York in 2016.

Studies in music at SJGS combine music, movement, drama, and speech in student-centered activities to develop musical literacy and the students’ identities as composers with cultural and historical awareness. Our full-time music teacher is trained in three philosophies of teaching music – Orff, Kodaly, and First Steps – which are all integrated into our music curriculum for grades K-8. Students in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades put on a musical drama performance each year – a highlight for students and families! Every other year, junior high students have an opportunity to participate in our school play production. SJGS also provides extracurricular strings and band programs for further music enrichment.

Many SJGS families look forward to our Celebration of the Arts each spring, showcasing the many outstanding artistic and musical talents of our students!

Physical Education

In 2016, we were blessed to open our new Parish Gymnasium and Parish Green. Our physical education program is greatly enhanced with the new full-size gym and adjacent outdoor green space, allowing instruction in both indoor and outdoor activities from soccer and football to volleyball and rollerskating.

The mission of physical education class for our K-8 students is to motivate students to value physical fitness and provide opportunities for enjoyment, challenge, self-expression, and social interaction. Students develop and enhance proper personal and social behavior while participating in physical activities and learning new skills.