First grade teacher Sue Carty’s classroom is colorful, creative, and constructive. It’s also located next to the loading area at Princeton Day School, a private K-12 school in Princeton, New Jersey. Every morning, the sounds of learning are interrupted by the barreling noises of two 18-wheel delivery trucks backing in, then unloading food for morning snacks and school lunches. Although many teachers would grow frustrated or try to ignore the distraction, Carty has incorporated the noise—and her kids’ deep interest in what takes place outside the window—into her lessons.
The students become representatives of “Carty Distribution Services,” and when the trucks arrive, they pair up to deliver 250 snacks to other students. The activity teaches the 6- and 7-year-olds about teamwork and responsibility, says Carty. And back in her classroom, the ins and outs of the food-service business inspire all sorts of academic exercises. For example, students work on math skills by tallying the snacks and charting the delivery schedules. After reading a number of books on the subject, the kids create their own construction-paper trucks, everything from ice cream vans to armored vehicles, and write poems about the big rigs they see. They also learn about their community by meeting drivers, chefs, and dishwashers and touring the Princeton Day kitchen. Following one such tour, a class created a pop-up book titled How Many Pizzas Are Made on Fridays and Other Questions.
After working with the distribution program for a year, tears are common among graduating 1st graders, who have taken ownership of their learning and the CDS program. So 2nd graders are allowed to mentor new 1st graders at the start of each new school year. “Sometimes the juice leaks,” one student warned in a written evaluation about the program, while another pointed out that “you’re not always going to like your partner.” Explained a third: “CDS doesn’t always stand for Carty Distribution Services, but it means friends and cooperation.” Says the teacher, as she sorts through a pile of student comments, “It is amazing what 1st graders can do when they are excited about their learning.”
Carty is spending this year on sabbatical, formalizing the curriculum and adapting it for older students with the intention of sharing the model with teachers across the country in workshops. “She started out with nothing,” observes Dina Bray, head of Princeton Day’s lower school, “but what she has and is still creating is one of the most exciting pieces of curriculum I have ever seen.” In more ways than one, CDS delivers.