Parent Advocacy Handbook: Elementary School (Grades K-6)
Elementary School (Ages 5 to 12)
Elementary school (kindergarten through sixth grade) forms the foundation for lifelong learning. Beginning as early as kindergarten, FCPS offers a curriculum that encourages and supports your child’s social, emotional, physical, and intellectual growth. Every day, your elementary school child is involved in learning experiences with language arts, reading, writing, mathematics, social sciences, science, technology, health, music, movement, and art.
Elementary School: What is it all About?
- Elementary schools include students in kindergarten through sixth grade (some elementary schools end at fifth grade). Students in elementary school range in age from 5 years old to 12 years old.
- The school day in most FCPS elementary schools begins between 8:10 a.m. and 9:20 a.m., and ends between 2:55 p.m. and 4:05 p.m. Schools have different times of operation (called the “Bell Schedule”) depending on the bus schedules for that school. If you have children who attend different elementary schools, they may not have the same school hours.
- In elementary school, students usually have one main teacher–their classroom teacher. Students spend most of the day with that teacher. This teacher teaches language arts (reading and writing), math, science, social studies, and health.
- In upper grades (fourth-sixth), students may have more than one teacher. For example, one teacher may teach all fourth graders language arts and social studies, while another teacher may teach science and math. Each student still has a main classroom teacher.
- Elementary school students also have classes in art, music, physical education, and in some schools, foreign language (FLES) or STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts integration and math). These subjects often are called “specials.”
- Elementary schools serve breakfast and lunch for students in the school cafeteria. Some elementary schools also offer Breakfast in the Classroom, a program that provides breakfast at no charge to all students in the school.
- In elementary school, all students participate in daily recess, a time for unstructured play that happens outside (weather permitting) or in the classroom. Recess is an important time for physical activity and socialization.
Elementary School: Who Is in the Building?
- Assistant Principal
- Office Staff
- Classroom Teacher
- Reading Teacher
- English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Teacher
- Special Education (SPED) Teacher
- Advanced Academic Program (AAP) Teacher
- Art Teacher
- Physical Education Teacher
- Music Teacher
- Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) Teacher
- Instructional Assistants
School Support Staff
- School Counselor
- School Librarian
- School Health Aide
- Parent Liaison
- School Psychologist
- Social Worker
- School Based Technology Specialist (SBTS)
- Equity Lead Teacher
- Cafeteria Staff
- Custodial Staff
- SACC (School Aged Child Care) Staff
Be an Advocate
- Set high goals for learning. It is never too early to talk to your child about graduating from high school, and college and career goals. Praise your child for putting forth good effort in their schoolwork.
- Set clear guidelines for behavior at school.
- Keep an eye on your child‘s progress. Check your child’s backpack or book bag every day! Is there homework? Is there other important information for you from the teacher or principal?
- Make sure your child gets enough sleep at night (10-12 hours per night is recommended) and starts the day with a healthy breakfast.
- Help your child develop good study habits at home by providing a clean, quiet space for them to study without distractions. This may be a place at home (desk, table, or other workspace) or in the community (local library, community center, or other location).
- Encourage reading. Read to and with your child, in any language with which you are comfortable. Listen to your child read. Plan regular visits to your local public library. Get a library card for your child and for yourself. It’s free! Your school’s website will also have free reading apps, such as MyOn, that your child can use at home.
- Help your child develop special talents and interests by having him or her join a variety of activities, both in and out of school. This may include playing a musical instrument, art, dance, scouting, or sports. Many groups have scholarships to help with the cost of activities.
- Limit screen time. This includes TV, video games, and other electronics or mobile devices (e.g., cell phones, tablets, etc.)
- Monitor your child’s use of social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook.
- Know how the school works. (Where is the main office? What are school hours? Where is the clinic?) Read welcome letters and other mailings and information packets. Keep all important school phone numbers and email addresses (e.g., main office, attendance line, and school clinic) teachers and administrators (so you can find them when you need them).
- Make sure that all of your contact information (e.g., email addresses and phone numbers for parents/guardians and emergency contacts) is up to date with the school.
- Bookmark your school’s website so that you can easily find links your school may use. Examples include the Attendance Form, G Suite, Google Classroom, and FCPS Online Databases.
- Know all important dates for events, testing, and school holidays or vacations. Your school’s website will have a Calendar of School Events. Check www.fcps.edu for system-wide events and holidays.
- Participate in your child’s school activities and events. When children see that their parents care about their education, they are more likely to take learning seriously.
- Let teachers know your goals for your child and share information about your child’s skills and any concerns you have about your child. Keep in mind that teachers are responsible for the learning of many students. It is important for all students to meet state standards. Remember that teachers may not be familiar with your culture, expectations, or concerns.
- Attend your school's Open House, which is usually held before the first day of school, and Back-to-School Night, which is held soon after the start of school.
- Ask your school administrators about parent-teacher conferences, home visits, parent liaisons, and interpreters. Request an interpreter or translator if you need help with English. Ask about what your student will learn in every subject and at each grade level in elementary school. Ask any questions you may have about the elementary school grading policy.
- Attend parent-teacher conferences. Elementary schools may schedule parent-teacher conferences for all parents in early November. You may also request a conference with the teacher at any time. Write down your questions before you meet with your student’s teacher.
- Ask about volunteer opportunities in your school. Some parents offer to help in the classroom or school library. Others help on field trips, and some assist at other special school events. Your school may have parent volunteers that serve on school-community advisory committees such as a Human Relations Advisory Committee or Curriculum Advisory Committee.
- Join the PTA/PTO (Parent Teacher Association/Organization) to meet other parents and get involved with your school. You may request a translator for PTA meetings. Or, you may bring a neighbor or friend who can help you understand.
Programs for Elementary Students
All elementary schools provide the following services to students who require them.
- Special Education: FCPS provides specialized services for students with disabilities. These services are supported by special education teachers and other professionals such as school psychologists, speech and language pathologists, and physical therapists. For more information, contact your child’s teacher and the principal or procedural support liaison.
- English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Services: ESOL helps children who speak other languages learn to read, speak, and understand English. Elementary school ESOL services focus on each individual student’s English-language development needs. School-based ESOL teachers work with English language learners to improve their English skills.
- Advanced Academic Programs (AAP): AAP provides higher-level learning for students who show exceptional abilities in academic, intellectual, and creative learning. Students may receive differentiated services (Level II) in specific areas at their base school. Others may receive part-time services (Level III), usually once a week, at their schools. Some students also are identified for full-time services in all academic subject areas (Level IV) at a Local Level IV center. Students are identified for Level II and III services through testing and a school-based screening process. Students are identified for Level IV services through testing and a selection committee at the Central Office.
Some elementary schools offer the following academic programs and services.
- Foreign Language in Elementary School/Language through Content (FLES/LTC) helps students learn world languages through science or STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics). Some schools offer FLES/LTC in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and/or Spanish.
- Foreign Language Immersion Programs are full-day world language programs where students have some of their learning in English and some in another language. Immersion is offered in French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish at some elementary schools in FCPS. Students are selected for immersion programs by lottery. Registration for the lottery begins in late January every year.
- Young Scholars Initiative identifies and nurtures gifted potential in young learners from underrepresented populations in FCPS to prepare students for advanced academic programs. Students are identified through a selection process.
- Magnet Programs, with specialized focuses, are offered at two elementary schools in FCPS: Bailey’s Elementary School for Arts and Sciences; and Hunters Woods Elementary School for Arts and Sciences. Students are chosen by lottery.
- Title I Schools are schools with a high number of students that qualify for free and reduced-price meals (FRM), who qualify under federal rules to receive grants under Title I, Part A of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Title I schools receive extra funding that allows for smaller class sizes in grades K through 3, and also provide more supports for their students.
Contact your teacher or school counselor for more information about these programs and if your child is eligible to participate in these programs. If your school does not offer a program that you would like started for your student, talk with your school’s principal.
Resources for Elementary School Parents
- Parent-Teacher Groups: Many schools have a PTA/PTO that offers help to schools. The PTA is run by parents, many of whom can be helpful to new parents.
- Parent Resource Center Library: The Parent Resource Center Library has books, journals, periodicals, and videos to assist parents and professionals in better understanding children with special needs, family interaction, education, and roles and responsibilities in the special education process.
- Fairfax Office of Early Childhood and Family Services: The Office of Early Childhood and Family Services runs preschool, kindergarten, and early elementary programs such as the Family and Early Childhood Education Program (FECEP), Head Start, and the Parent Child Center.
Who are some of the important people I should know at my child’s school?
There are many people at your child’s elementary school who can work with you and your child to ensure student success. These individuals include administrative, instructional (classroom), and support staff. Make sure you know the names of each of these staff members and how to contact them if necessary.
- Principal. Every school has one principal who is the chief administrator and instructional leader.
- Assistant Principal. Assistant principals help the principal with planning, assessment, instructional leadership, and other tasks. Every school has at least one assistant principal. Elementary schools with more than 900 students have two assistant principals.
- Teachers. Teachers are responsible for the day-to-day instruction of students. Elementary schools have many teachers, including:
- Classroom Teacher. Your child’s primary grade-level teacher.
- Reading Teacher. The reading teacher offers special help in literacy and reading skills.
- Special Education Teachers. SPED teachers provide individual instruction or assistance in the classroom for students with disabilities.
- ESOL Teachers. ESOL teachers support English language learners.
- AAP Resource Teacher: The advanced academics resource teacher offers services for students identified for advanced academic resources.
- Equity Lead Teacher: The equity lead teacher works with the school principal to build relationships and foster a culturally responsive environment at school.
- Instructional Assistants. Classroom assistants help teachers and students in large classes.
- Librarian. Every elementary school has its own library that provides special reading programs for students and loans books to its students. The school librarian can assist parents in finding age- and reading-level appropriate books and reading material for your student. The librarian can help provide you and your student with access to technology.
- Elementary School Counselor. The school counselor provides guidance lessons with children and consults with parents, teachers, and other staff to help the child’s adjustment to school. School counselors also coordinate student services for children with special needs; helps students and parents find programs to help with academic work; and serves on committees for assessment and placement for special education and gifted and talented programs.
- Office Assistants/Administrative Assistants. School office assistants schedule appointments, greet visitors, and get messages to school staff. If you have questions about registration, bus schedules, school lunches, immunization, or attendance, call the main office. Remember they are busiest at the start and end of each day.
- Parent Liaisons. Most schools have parent liaisons who work with parents and teachers to help your child. They are usually local parents and speak the predominant language of your community. If your school does not have a parent liaison, and you feel you need one, start with the principal.
- Social Worker/Psychologist. School social workers help address the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students. School psychologists provide services to help families navigate educational and community systems to support students in addressing academic, mental health, and behavioral needs.
- School Health Aide. The school health aide oversees the school's Health Room or clinic.
Does my child have to attend elementary school?
If your child turns five years old on or before September 30, he or she may go to kindergarten that school year. Most families can register their children for school at their local elementary school. Contact your local school to make an appointment to register. Registration information is also online.
If your child turns six years old on or before September 30, he or she MUST attend school. Students who do not go to public school must be enrolled in a private school or be home schooled.
My child is having trouble with reading. What should I do?
Contact your child’s teacher and/or your school’s reading teacher for help. Think about having your child’s vision tested if it hasn’t been checked recently by your doctor or another health care provider.
Does FCPS offer child care before and after school for elementary school students?
The School-Age Child Care Program (SACC) is a school-based program that cares for elementary school children before and after school. SACC is located in many FCPS elementary schools, but is sponsored by the Fairfax County Office for Children, not FCPS. Available space may be limited, so check on deadlines and wait lists. For more information, call 703-449-8989.
Your school’s parent liaison(s) also may know about child care facilities that provide before- and after-school care in your community.
Your elementary school may offer after-school programs for its students as well. These programs, which may be offered up to a few times a week, often are operated by the school PTA. Check your school’s website and the school’s PTA website for more information.
What important testing in elementary school do I need to know about?
All elementary students take various assessments and standardized tests in elementary school. Beginning in kindergarten, students may take tests to measure their development in various subjects including reading, mathematics, science, art, and music. Also, students take state-mandated Standards of Learning (SOL) standardized tests in third through sixth grades. Check your school’s website for SOLPass, which has practices for SOL concepts. Find more information on testing for elementary students.
Parents need to know about additional testing that is done in elementary school to identify students for advanced academic opportunities. These include:
Testing for Advanced Academic Program Placement
Naglieri Nonverbal Abilities Test (NNAT; also called Naglieri)An IQ (intelligence quotient) test, the NNAT is given in October to all students in grade 1.
Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAt)An IQ test given in October to all students in grade 2.
Testing for Algebra 1 Readiness
Iowa Algebra Aptitude Test (IAAT)
A test to measure readiness for Algebra 1, or higher level math, in grade 7. Given in January to sixth grade students enrolled in Advanced Math 6.
The NNAT and CogAT are used by FCPS as one source of data to determine admission into Level 4 (center-based) Advanced Academic programs. If your student enters FCPS after these tests are given, you may request that the tests be administered to your child for consideration for AAP Level 4 services.
How does my student’s elementary school teacher evaluate their progress?
Elementary teachers may use many tools to measure your child’s progress in school. They include:
- Teacher-made tests and teacher observations.
- In-class work.
- Classroom participation.
- Special projects.
Progress reports (Report Cards) are sent home four times a year at the end of each quarter. The first report may be given out and discussed with you at a parent-teacher conference in early November. It is your responsibility to sign and return the progress reports.
Elementary school achievement is reported using a 4-point scale to describe a student’s ability to understand and demonstrate concepts and skills. For example, a grade of “4” indicates a high level of achievement; it communicates that a student has a strong understanding of all the concepts and skills taught for that standard during the quarter and can demonstrate understanding independently and with very few errors. These marks are not equivalent to letter grades (A, B, C, D, and F) that are given in middle and high school.
Elementary Progress Marks and Descriptions
4 – Student consistently demonstrates concepts and skills of standard taught this quarter.
3 – Student usually demonstrates concepts and skills of standard taught this quarter.
2 – Student sometimes demonstrates concepts and skills of standard taught this quarter.
1 – Student seldom demonstrates concepts and skills of standard taught this quarter.
Also, a mark of “nt” may be used if a concept or skill was not taught, or “na” when a standard was “not assessed” for a final grade.
For more information about grading of elementary school students, see the Elementary School Grading and Reporting Handbook for Parents.
Is it too early to be thinking about Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology?
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST or TJ) is a unique school for students who are interested in a challenging program of mathematics, science, and technology. TJHSST is a Virginia Regional Governor’s school enrolling students from Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun, Prince William, and Fauquier counties and Falls Church City. Students must apply for admission, take an admission test, and submit letters of recommendation. If your student is interested in TJHSST, you must start planning early–many parents would recommend that you start by the fifth grade.
Admission to TJHSST is highly competitive. Only a small percentage of eligible students can be admitted every year. TJHSST is not the only school where students are challenged and can excel academically in FCPS. Our school division offers advanced academic course work in all of its high schools through either the AP or IB curriculum, or through dual enrollment classes. Encourage your child to look for academic challenges wherever he or she goes to school.
Is it too early to be thinking about college?
Getting ready for life beyond high school (including college, technical school, vocational careers, or other opportunities) starts at kindergarten, when students begin to build the strong foundation that will help prepare them for the future.
For more information about options after high school, see the “Thinking Beyond High School” section of this handbook.
If college is a future plan, consider opening an educational savings account, if you are able to do so, to begin investing in that future option. Check your college financial aid/savings plan often and update as needed.
What happens during the summer?
The school year usually ends by mid-June and does not begin again until late August. There are many opportunities for summer learning and summer fun for elementary school students. The Washington metropolitan area offers many specialized summer camps and programs. Start planning for summer as early as January each year, as spaces may be limited and often fill up quickly.
FCPS and Fairfax County both offer summer opportunities for students. Some of these programs are free of charge or charge a minimal fee.
Summer Reading: Have your child read over the summer. Your student’s elementary school may have a suggested list of books. Plan for regular visits to your local public library to borrow books of interest. The Fairfax County Public Library (FCPL) has a summer reading program to encourage elementary students to read over the summer. During the FCPL Summer Reading Adventure, students note the number of books they read and can earn rewards for reaching goals.
FCPS Summer Programs: FCPS has many summer programs for elementary school students looking for enrichment activities. These programs include:
- Elementary Institute for the Arts (grades 3-5).
- Tech Adventure Camp (grades 5-7).
- STEM Camps (grades 3-5).
- Institute for the Arts (sixth graders entering seventh grade after the summer).
- Other Summer Opportunities
These programs have limited spaces available. Parents should pay attention to deadlines and plan ahead.
Fairfax County Summer Camp Programs: Fairfax County has many summer camp programs, some in conjunction with FCPS, over the summer. These programs include:
- Rec-Pac (Pretty Awesome Children) is a summer program for students in first-sixth grades (entering seventh grade in the fall) run by the Fairfax County Park Authority. Rec-Pac is a six-week program focusing on fun and fitness, crafts, storytelling, and other activities at 40 locations in FCPS. It is a drop-in program where students can go for the entire day or a part of the day. Pre-registration begins in late April. Parents also can register weekly on Mondays during the summer. There is a sliding scale for fees based on income; partial scholarships are available.
- FCPA Summer Camps The Fairfax County Parks Authority has a variety of day camps throughout Fairfax County at county recreation centers and parks. This includes: Kiddie Camp (for ages 3-5 years); Summer R.O.C.S. (RECenters Offer Cool Stuff; 8-12 years) and Junior R.O.C.S. (ages 5 years, 3 months to 7 years, 11 months.) There is a fee. Extended care is available at some locations.
- TRS Summer Camp (ages 5-12; must have completed kindergarten) offers special events, arts activities, sensory play, games, sports, field trips, and music activities for students with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, physical disabilities, emotional disabilities, learning disabilities, and/or attention deficit disorders. Registration begins in March. Fees vary. Scholarships are available.