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The Catalyst Public Schools Curriculum

What We Teach and Why

"The Opportunity Myth," published by the non-profit organization The New Teacher Project, found that while America's public school students successfully complete 71% of the academic work assigned to them they are only able to master 17% of grade level academic standards.

Without access to engaging, high-quality, and rigorous learning tasks, scholars will not be adequately prepared to succeed in college, career, and life.

Because of this, the founding team at Catalyst Public Schools worked with their community design team and partners to explore and select only curricular materials of the highest quality.

Each of our adopted curricula is aligned to relevant Washington State learning standards and has received top-ratings from the non-profit


Core Curricula


Catalyst Public Schools has adopted the EL Education curriculum for Humanities.  EL Education, which is rooted in the science of reading, provides integrated units of study which incorporate Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking, History, and Science objectives into thematic units that are taught over the course of each school year.  


EL Education has consistently received the highest ratings for alignment and usability from the non-profit organization EdReports. 


What Principles Underlie the K-8 Curriculum?


  • Equity Matters: EL Education is fiercely focused on equity for all children.  All children deserve schools that foster their unique abilities, give them real opportunities to achieve high academic standards, and help them take their full place in a society for which they are well prepared when they leave school. Equity is the foundation upon which the entire curriculum rests. 

  • Backward Design Means Planning With the End in Mind and Assessing Along the Way:  The guiding principle of backward design is straightforward.  Designers must consider three questions:

    • At the end of a sequence of instruction, what will students know and be able to do?

    • What will proficiency look like and sound like?

    • How will we know when students are proficient?

  • Students Excel in Diverse and Inclusive Settings:  The EL Education curriculum recognizes that students learn from one another--and learn to respect one another--when they learn together in the same classroom.  At the same time, students sometimes have needs that require differentiation.  Curriculum materials provide tools and scaffolding to support and engage all learners.

  • Protocols and Conversation Cues Promote Student Thinking, Collaboration and Respect:  Clear and simple protocols make collaborative conversation rich and purposeful to students. Through collaborative conversations, students deepen their learning and come to appreciate the value of one another as individuals with diverse perspectives.  Conversation Cues (questions that teachers can as, such as "Can you say more about that?) encourage productive and equitable conversation.

  • Students Own Their Own Learning: Students using EL Education's curriculum learn to see themselves as active learners with agency in their own education.  With teachers' guidance, they articulate specific learning targets ("I can. . . ") for every lesson.  They learn to set goals, assess their own learning, and use feedback from peers, themselves and their teachers to make progress. 

  • Emphasis on Habits of Character: Character is one of EL Education's three Dimensions of Student Achievement. Collaboration, perseverance, a growth mindset, and being able to set goals and reflect on them are all key aspects of strong social-emotional learning.

  • Families and Guardians are Partners:  EL Education's curriculum welcomes students' families and guardians as partners in education.   Students learn best when families have the opportunity to be part of the educational journey. 

  • Curriculum as Powerful Professional Development:  This curriculum helps teachers build on their existing expertise and continue to improve their ability to make strong instructional decisions during planning and while teaching.  


Learn more about EL Education by watching this video. Take a closer look at your scholars’ grade span and what EL education looks like here.


While the school reserves the right to supplement the curriculum with additional texts and resources, families can access the suite of recommended and trade books used in EL Education lessons here.

Across grades K-8 scholars participate in 4 modules each year as part of the EL Education curriculum.  Detailed overviews of each of these modules can be seen here.

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Catalyst Public Schools has adopted Zearn as our core mathematics curriculum in grades K-8.  You can learn more about the principles behind our mathematics curriculum by watching the video below


Zearn is a math curriculum that consists of small groups, teacher-led instruction; online lessons for scholars, and mathematics fluency and word problem practice.  Scholars take lessons in Zearn daily and teachers are able to gather data on how scholars are performing that can be used to inform their instruction.


One of the most beneficial aspects of the Zearn curriculum is that scholars can work through the online portion of the curriculum at their own pace.  So, scholars who are advanced in math can work at higher grade levels and scholars who need more support can take more time to master core content.  


Zearn is aligned to the Engage New York scope and sequence for instructional standards which is aligned to the Common Core standards.  

Curricula for Social Emotional Learning and Change Maker Space

Social Emotional Learning Curriculum

At Catalyst Public Schools, each day starts with a class called Sunrise.  Sunrise is a time for social-emotional learning, community building and to help scholars develop the skills that they need to regulate their emotions and to build their skills to work with others.  


While our Sunrise curriculum is developed by members of our social-emotional learning team, we rely heavily on externally developed standards and resources to ensure that our Sunrise lessons and activities are of the highest quality.  Key resources that we rely upon include:


  • Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards.  Learning for Justice is a non-profit educational organization committed to supporting equitable learning environments for all scholars.  Their social justice standards are anchored in four domains:  Identity, Diversity, Justice, and Action.  You can read about the full standards here.

  • Match Fishtank Learning Units.  Match Education, a non-profit organization based in Boston, MA produces high quality literacy units with a focus on social emotional skills and development.  For our Sunrise lessons we adapt and modify texts and lessons from this curriculum to support the development of our scholars.  


In addition to these core resources we also leverage learning activities from a variety of other high quality resources known to support the social and emotional development of our scholars.  


A typical Sunrise session lasts approximately 30-45 minutes.  Sunrise is a structured time where we follow the Strong Start protocol created by Van Ness Elementary School.


Change Maker Space Curriculum

Our  mission at Catalyst Public Schools is to support our diverse scholars to become agents of positive community change.  We foster the leadership of our scholars through our Sunrise classes and Deeper Learning Blocks, during which they are learning about leaders of community change from history and from our local communities.  Change Maker Space is a class that provides scholars with the opportunity to learn about community challenges in a hands-on, project based manner.  Each year at Catalyst Public Schools scholars participate in 2-4 Change Maker Space units, many of which are aligned to the themes and content of their EL Education modules of study.  


In grades K-4 Change Maker Space units focus on helping scholars understand their place in the world, how their lived experiences are similar to and different from others around them, and how they can act in ways to promote justice and equity for all in our community.


By the middle school grades (5th-8th) Change Maker space provides opportunities for scholars to learn about the science and history behind community challenges and to take action to create novel solutions to some of the most persistent issues facing our community.  


For example, a theme in  the 5th grade curriculum at Catalyst Public Schools is an exploration of human rights, both locally and globally.  Scholars begin the year in 5th grade by reading and analyzing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and exploring how these rights are honored in the United States and across the globe.  At the same time, scholars read the novel Esperanza Rising, which is a story about a young woman from Mexico who faces tremendous challenges and must immigrate to the United States where she and her family work as migrant farm workers.  Through this story scholars explore themes related to human rights.  Later in the year, scholars transition to learn about other issues, including issues of environmental science and justice.  As part of the 5th grade Change Maker Space work, scholars participate in a science based unit about the biodiversity of our local ecosystem.  During this unit scholars learn the science of energy transfer and learn how the amount of biodiversity in any ecosystem is a  key indicator of the survivability of the organisms that make up that system.  They also explore the causes and effects of shrinking biodiversity in our local ecosystem and that of the Amazon rainforest.  Through this work scholars participate in field work experiences with the Great Peninsula Conservancy where they learn alongside ecologists about the forces impacting our local watersheds and ecosystem and they are able to generate recommendations and solutions for the ecologists to consider as they work to restore various local habitats and preserves.  


By doing this hands-on, project- based, solution-oriented learning alongside their more traditional academic learning in their core classes, scholars develop the habits of mind and character that they need to become leaders of positive community change.  

Learn more about this work on our Sunrise and Change Maker Space webpages.

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