by deana harragarra waters, Friends School Librarian and Technology Teacher
There is something undeniably special about books. That connection is confirmed when a reader comes to the library telling me and classmates, “This is the best book ever. My Dad read it to me.” The reader is holding Watership Down by Richard Adams. I’ll always remember the smile and the twinkle in the eyes of that ‘read to’ child.
We love talking about books and their wonderful connection to our lives. In May, one right of passage for 5th graders is a review of characters from children’s literature. Using Kahoot, an online game, readers view book characters on the screen and they select the correct corresponding book title. Listening to “Oh, I love that book,” “I read that [book] every day when I was in preschool,” and “you guys have to read that book,” reaffirms the memorable connection of books to our lives. However, I once heard, “I don’t know any of these, I don’t remember anyone reading this.” I changed our library curriculum for upper grades, to include as many picture books as possible.
Our library exit ticket requests the title of the book currently being read. It gives me an idea of what authors are being read, book titles I might be missing and a guide into students’ growth as readers. One reader lists not only the book they are reading but also the book being ‘read with Dad.’ What an affirmation that parents play a uniquely valuable role in the life of their child.
The last Monday of January, the American Library Association announces its awards for books and media. Think of it as the ‘SuperBowl’ for children’s book lovers anticipating the Caldecott Medal honoring “the most distinguished American picture book for children,” and the Newbery Medal honoring “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” In January, we read books published in 2019 predicted to be serious contenders for the Caldecott Medal, by those in the know. When I began sharing one beautifully illustrated book, The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, a student said, “I received this book for Christmas.” What a reminder that the gift of a book allows us to experience life through the eyes of another.
My first grandchild is named Benjamin. While days old, I took him outside, opened my Bible and read to him from the Old Testament where the first Benjamin is recorded. Because I knew, from personal experience that there are readers who loved reading even before they knew how to read, I wanted to give him that gift as well. It is a gift I witness in the lives of our Friends School students. When asked the value of reading, our 5th graders said, “reading exercises your mind,” “it increases your intelligence,” “reading is important because you learn vocabulary,” “you need it in life,” and “you need to read how many eggs to buy.” Well, there you have it, reading is just down right practical.Read More
by Bryn Pennington, Friends School Art Teacher
Growing up in the Bay Area, CA, I was exposed to a rich tapestry of cultural traditions. I remember rubbing turmeric on my friend so she would glow at her three day long Hindi wedding, and rolling sushi with friends from Japan. I felt humbled to experience the traditions of my closest friends, and today feel reverence for the people that shape them. I hope to grow appreciation for such traditions in Art Studio.
My first memory of Chinese New Year happened in San Francisco. I remember squeezing through the thick crowd to glimpse a terrifying creature parading through loud, popping firecrackers. He was a long maze of red fabric and impossibly yellow fringe, growing three stories tall in one stride and coiling down to stare down onlookers the next. As he approached me, I realized my mom and dad were very far away! Thankfully, he cocked his head and blinked. With a playful nudge, he continued his acrobatic path down the street.
Teaching in California decades later, we had our own celebration complete with stories, a Lion Dance (drums and fireworks of course), a feast of moon cakes and home-made potstickers. Many parents visited our classroom and explained their connection to Lunar New Year as well as the nuances that differentiated their country’s celebrations.
Lunar New Year is celebrated around the world, and Friends School is no exception. I invited Moon to share about the origin of Chinese New Year:
“(It’s) about a legend … (about) a monster called Nian. It came out to the villages and tried to scare people and hurt them… First, the gods came and locked him up on the edge of the world, where he stayed for one year. But then, the Nian escaped. People gathered in the village, and asked the gods to help them. The gods told them that the Nian was scared of the color red, loud noises and his own reflection. That’s why we dance with real firecrackers to make noise, to scare the Nian away… the lion from the lion dance represents the Nian’s own reflection. And that’s how people scared the Nian away.”
This year, Lunar New Year is January 25th. In Art Studio, each class will create a different art form representing this holiday, from fierce Lion masks to drums, glowing lanterns to Chinese Zodiac drawings. We read stories, compare traditions country to country, and watch performances to get a taste for the holiday that involves 20% of humanity. And, if we’re really lucky, we’ll see another Lion Dance to scare the Nian back to the edge of the world!
Happy New Year, everyone!
If you have a Lunar New Year tradition to share, please email Bryn at firstname.lastname@example.org.Read More
There are so many amazing things happening all around Friends School. The following excerpts from our 4 divisions were shared with our Trustees at our most recent board meeting. We invite you to read these recent updates from our program directors: Jessie Vanden Hogen (preschool), Mandy Stepanovsky (elementary), Shelby Pawlina (middle), and Julie Hart, EdD (TPP).
In Preschool we have started to dive into teaching and building Executive Function (EF) skills of focus, working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility. Think of an executive as a person who manages, delegates and tells other people what to do. So, here is a child who is telling their brains and bodies what to do. It is the biological foundation of school readiness/performance and they are skills that children can develop and grow. We believe that along with social and emotional skills (making a friend, cooperating and collaborating in a group, negotiating tricky situations, expressing and managing emotions, getting needs met from teachers and friends, taking on challenges), preschoolers/pre-Kindergartners need to have a foundation of these EF skills in place in order to be prepared for elementary school. As the brain develops through elementary, middle and high school years, these skills develop further and are utilized in and outside of the classroom. In class we have begun to practice these EF skills in a variety of ways through play and games during choice time and our meeting times. It amazes us how the children have grown in their abilities to sit, wait, hold, manage, focus, plan, remember, and recover and be resilient in times of disappointment. As adults, we can all use some practice in these areas as well!
It has been an exciting few months in the Elementary building. Classes have embarked on engaging units of study and we welcomed two new teachers: Zoe Solomon (Lead Teacher, First Grade) and Chelsea Bruder (Associate Teacher, Fourth Grade). Kindergarten and first grade are working together to study bats. Second grade continues to study Ancient Egypt through art, literacy, science and social studies. Third grade completed impressive and varied array projects, applying their multiplication knowledge to real-world scenarios. Fourth and fifth grade are studying the American Revolution through reader’s theater, engaging lessons and creating books. All teachers continue to utilize the Bridges math curriculum with success. Students are engaged and learning in hands-on, exploratory ways. All elementary faculty, Mandy and Shelby will soon be certified teachers of the Design Thinking approach to problem solving. This has been a fulfilling and challenging process for our teachers who have attended virtual meetings, completed assignments and are scheduled to “pitch” their ideas in the coming weeks. The next step is to work on integrating what they have been learning into the classroom to bring the experience to our students.
Our Middle-schoolers’ minds are being challenged in so many ways. Middle School math on a block schedule has greatly improved our ability to meet students where they are. One of the highlights and sources of great excitement are the Mini-courses. As part of our professional development this semester with Future Design School, we have been working to develop the Mini-Course program into something that is increasingly student-driven and organized, aimed at providing compelling experiences on topics outside of material usually discussed in class. Our newly formed Mini Course Committee, made up of 6th and 7th grade volunteers, is working diligently and with great enthusiasm to communicate with potential presenters on a range of topics that received the most votes in a survey of potential topics. They are really leaning in, taking their job seriously and coming up with great ideas. They are responsible for emailing and talking with presenters to fine tune and clarify their presentations, and will be responsible for welcoming, facilitating, and thanking them later. Their enthusiasm for the work is palpable. On December 3, we will host mini courses on three different themes, with at least 6 different presenters:
- Music: Digital Music Production and DJing
- Animal Care: Longmont Humane Society tour and workshop with a veterinarian
- Culinary Arts: Tour of Frasca and cooking workshops with a private chef and food business owner
In our Teacher Preparation Program the Teacher Candidates, placed in each school, have successfully completed the first three months of the program and the first of two major projects this semester, the Child Study. A preliminary review of their submissions reveals that the TCs worked thoughtfully and effectively to complete this assignment. Later this month, TCs will submit their Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum assignment, which will complete their major assignments for the first semester.
Potlucks are an important Friends School tradition bringing classes together, it is a way for parents, teachers, and staff alike to really connect as adults as a community. Thank you to Honor and Doug for hosting our very first combined Pre-K Potluck in their lovely home.
Former 4th grade teacher Lois Sandusky and her class conceived the concept of Cosmic Buddies, or Twigging, many years ago right after the Columbine school shooting. It is the idea that a tree has branches that reach out and move away from the trunk in new directions. So instead of calling it “branching out” we call it “twigging.” We use it during our staff retreats to get to know new teachers and admin staff as well as current staff who we might not see as often as our co-teachers. It helps us to connect with different people in different ways, see different perspectives, be uncomfortable, find common ground and grow and nurture new relationships. In Preschool when we call it Cosmic Buddies, we pick 2 children out of a hat who usually don’t play together and ask that they spend time together. The children sit together for snack, circle time, and play for a set amount of time during indoor/outdoor choice time. They are asked to play each other’s game for half the time even if it is hard. We call this a “heart challenge.” One Pre-K child we will call Ben was very nervous and said, “I don’t want to do it. I only play with one friend. I don’t know any girl games. This is too hard. I won’t like it one bit. I’m never going to do it!” We gently encouraged him and stayed nearby. This was their interaction:
- Hi Ben, how about we swing and then I’ll play your game.
- I’m kinda nervous, I don’t know how to swing.
- I’ll teach you Ben!
- Ok, and for my game I want to look for bugs.
- Well I’ve never really looked for bugs before Ben.
- Really? Ok, I’ll show you!
- 45 minutes later they were still playing and Ben reflected: Well, I just can’t believe I thought I wouldn’t have fun with you! I was wrong and now we’re playing sports!
Our Preschool Play Therapist, Polly Douglass (Alum Parent), with whom we meet once a month to discuss children, behavior, parenting, and classroom dynamics, is giving an evening talk titled: Emotional Regulation – Parenting Brain to Brain and Heart to Heart. We value her as such an amazing resource for us as teachers and are lucky we get to share her with the greater community. She deeply supports our teaching and our Social and Emotional curriculum as well as our relationships with children and families.
Elementary students are loving the challenge of the new climbing structure. In the classrooms, this year’s schedule permits mixing ages for some special subjects and we are having success with this. In particular, K and 1 are having science, social studies, music and art in mixed classes. Grades 2 and 3 are mixing things up for PE and art. This has helped to expand social connections and to separate students who benefit from time apart. Our Third grade students continue to take a deep dive into mindfulness practices and are learning to use them in and out of the classroom. Halloween is a wonderful time for connection as fifth graders worked closely with their first grade buddies on completing a Halloween craft. They demonstrated leadership skills and supported their first grade buddies with kindness and encouragement. Kindergarten worked to identify emotions through pumpkin faces on Halloween. Fourth grade embarked on their annual trip to Calwood Education Center for three days and two nights of working and learning together in the snow!
The Middle School’s hearts were warmed by the sound of our Chorus elective rehearsing for their performance on 11/13 at the elementary school and their performance at the middle school on 11/14. There is something about these children with their harmonies singing some songs from the “old days” that brings a special vibrance to our school. Charlotte and Priscilla have done an outstanding job of bringing out the best in all these singers. What a treat! Hopefully some of you were able to experience it.
The new Teacher Candidate and Mentor Teacher match process that we implemented last year in the Teacher Preparation Program is paying off this year as all of our Teacher Candidates/Mentor Teacher partnerships are working well and thriving. Added support meetings and informal check-ins from TPP staff have aided in proactively setting this amazing new partnership up for success! Our Advisory Council meetings for the fall have all taken place. Our partners are happy with the TCs at their sites and appreciate the thoughtfulness that the program takes to match TCs with Mentor Teachers. As always, there are valuable suggestions offered by our partner schools in terms of program improvement that will be taken into consideration while keeping in mind the Friends mission, CDE requirements and overall TPP program goals.
Krysten held another parent workshop this fall that was free and open to the whole Friends School community. Feedback from parents is that they feel empowered, inspired, and calmed by this workshop. It has been amazing. Krysten has also held a book group with lead teachers, visited classes to present and share directly with children in grades other than her own, and is working with teachers to share the important practice of mindfulness in the classroom.
The whole community will also soon be better connected to each other and to our wider community once our new bus gets rolling! Our first group of adults were trained on November 15th and it was taken for its first field trip this week! Thank you to everyone involved in making this happen.
We just held Preschool conferences for all four classes over the course of a month. We put so much time and effort into extremely detailed, individualized conference forms. We highlight children’s ability to transition throughout the day and through difficult situations, their social and emotional development, physical development, cognitive development, language development, executive function skill development and self-help skills. We also include a personalized sixty photo slideshow for each one of our fifty-eight families. New parents are often nervous for their first conference and we remember that as we put them at ease letting them know we are there to celebrate and share with them what their young children are choosing to do and learning in preschool. Preschool and Pre-K children often are not able to reflect and share on their own so we take a month to compile observations, data, and anecdotes in preparation for these one-on-one connections. Returning parents comment that they look forward to their time with teachers and express gratitude for the detail, richness and how we really see, honor and know their child as they are just beginning to start to know themselves.
The Elementary portfolio gala was a very special evening for Elementary families as we came together to celebrate our students. Each class began with the meaningful Friends School tradition of honoring each child’s gifts to the world and presenting them with a bead. Families then spread out around the school finding quiet nooks and comfortable spots to sit and share their child’s portfolio and celebrate their hard work this semester. In the classrooms students across grade levels are encouraged to read “just right” books. Teachers support students in choosing books that are engaging and challenging at the appropriate level. Grade 2 students are finishing their “Unlikely Friendship” stories. These stories highlight similarities and differences between friends and teach the importance of finding the gifts each person brings to a friendship.
The new Gaga pit on the Middle school playground is providing a huge boon to the outdoor activities and interactions among the middle schoolers. This game, originally from Israel, is a form of dodge ball, but one that is controlled and accessible to people of all ages and abilities. Since this was installed on work day towards the end of October, we’ve seen a resurgence of multi-age play. This game is wonderful because it is a mix of chance and skill, and no matter your perceived athletic ability, you have a chance to be the “winner”. Students from all grades play and cheer one another on, making note of exceptional dodges or new strategies. It’s a great new addition to our community!
We are currently in the early placement process for the applicants who have already applied for next year’s Teacher Preparation Program. The success of this process requires honoring the individuality of each teacher and teacher candidate in order to make a good match and a successful partnership.
Finally, to challenge minds, nurture sprits and honor individuality into the future all faculty and staff joined the board for our retreat and kick-off to strategic planning. It was a fun and productive workshop full of love, passion, hopes and dreams for our school. Please make sure your voice is heard by completing the survey! Thank you.Read More
Interview with Friends parent Mindy Mullins by Lou Bendrick
We love our volunteers. This month’s volunteer is a busy Friends School mom of three kids, former trustee, veterinarian and parent council leader who pitches in whenever she sees a job that needs to be done. We’re in awe of her energy level and thankful for the time she dedicates to Friends School. Meet Mindy Mullins.
Volunteer activities at Friends:
Various committees, Room parent, Former Trustee, Parent council, ice cream hauler, pumpkin hauler…just whatever anyone needs!
Bluff City, TN (go VOLS)
I live in Boulder with my three amazing daughters, a great husband, two crazy dogs and a pretty cool turtle
Education/current or previous employment:
ER veterinarian. My husband and I have an emergency and critical care veterinary hospital in NY and we are currently under contract on a day practice locally.
Hobbies, passions & talents: drawing, running, hiking, skiing, anything on the gulf or in the mountains! Talents?? It’s for sure not cooking! Keeping up with three kids..that’s a talent, right?
Q: How did you find Friends School and why did you choose it for your children?
A: My good friend Amy Scheff told me about it when Moon was three. We came in Pre-K and have been here ever since. I chose Friends because I knew my kiddos would be surround by love every day.
Q: What motivates you to volunteer? In what ways do you volunteer for Friends School?
A: I volunteer any way I can. I’ve done a little bit of everything from room parent to co-chair of parent council to being on the board and various other committees. What motivates me is easy… my three hearts that beat outside my chest! My kids.
Q. What books are you reading right now? Or if you could have one super power what would it be?
A: My husband just bought me The Ride of a Lifetime. Super power….to be able to fly over the ocean and play with the marine life. So I guess I want to be a pelican. LOL.
Q. If we were to open your fridge, what would we find?
All plant based, almond milk, fruits, spinach, chai.
Q. How do you recharge?
Walking or running OR if I am by the gulf then just looking at the movement of the water. I could stare at it all day. I’m not very good at sitting still so anything with movement.Read More
An interview of Annika Nygren and Krysten Fort-Catanese by Meg Hansen
Kindergarten teacher, Annika Nygren, loves science. Her eyes light up when she describes Kindergarteners as natural scientists, filled with curiosity and endless questions and theories.
Upon learning about Kindergarten’s recent science unit on the five senses, third grade teacher and Friends own mindfulness master Krysten Fort-Catanese asked Annika if she’d considered integrating mindfulness into the unit. Krysten trains our staff, students and parents (a new class is coming in February) in mindfulness practices and also integrates it into just about every subject. Among a number of resources, Krysten recommended “The Mindful Child” by Susan Kaiser Greenland to Annika to help turn one of our Kindergarten’s historical science units into a deeper connection to the five senses and mindful awareness.
To begin the unit, Annika asked her students “When we eat, our bodies are using much more than our sense of taste. Do we always focus and try to connect to all of our senses when we eat?” They didn’t have the answer just yet, but they were excited to find out. All they knew was that the project involved Craisins and that made them excited.
The unit involved practicing the five different senses and then mindfully experiencing those senses using a single Craisin (this practice is known more formally as “mindfulness of eating”):
A field trip to Celestial Seasonings teas helped the students put all their senses to work: smelling, seeing and feeling the loose tea, listening to the sounds of the machinery, and finally tasting the delicious tea. The students agreed. They hadn’t really been connecting with their senses when they were eating (or drinking). Before the 5-senses unit, a cup of tea was just a cup of tea. By taking the time to be present and really notice what their senses were telling them, they were able to connect with all five senses that made up their experience.
Annika had one last challenge for her students. Several times a week, Kindergarteners practice “Golden Moments”, a silent pause in the day when the energy in the classroom seems a little elevated. This practice centers the group, slows down the nervous system and gives them 45-60 seconds where they practice being still. During the 5-senses unit, the students focused on each of the senses during these silent Golden Moments. While silent, they noticed the sound of a locker closing in the hallway, a bird chirping outside the classroom window, the sound of the water fountain, a teacher’s voice. They learned that sounds are happening all the time, but we are able to tune them out to focus on what’s right in front of us. Mindfulness helps that focus.
At Friends, our shared definition of mindfulness with children is: paying attention with kindness and curiosity to ourselves, to other people, and to the world around us. We view mindfulness as an integral part of our everyday life and ultimately practice it as a “way of being.” Krysten has rolled out the full “Paws b” curriculum with several upper elementary classes and will be teaching the “full.b for Teens” to 8th graders in the new year. This curriculum focuses on mindfulness and neuroscience and the interplay between the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the insula. Children use this knowledge of brain science as they build up a toolkit of mindfulness practices that can help them throughout the day – taking the time to notice and be present, calming the nervous system, and getting the mind ready for learning. This sensing mode of inquiry helps to ground us, enhancing our ability to then engage with a calmer, clearer perspective of what’s happening within, to, and around us. Mindfulness practices provide opportunities for students and staff to calm, and ground their minds and bodies shifting out of “thinking mode” into a “sensing mode” of mind—establishing balance between “doing” and “being.”
So whether it’s a Craisin, a juicy apple, or a delicious piece of chocolate cake, we hope you’ll try this mindfulness experiment just as our Kindergarteners did, the next time you consider your favorite food.Read More
by Jenefer Donovan, Friends School Community Board Chair
The new school year is now well underway and off to a great start! From day one I have been overwhelmed by the multitude of ways in which I have witnessed all the elements of Friends School’s mission in action…I have felt the energy and excitement of a dynamic community reuniting and reaching out to support one another and welcome our new families; I have been amazed by the wealth of team-building, collaborative projects and hands-on academic activities taking place in classrooms and I have been touched by the kindness of children connecting and helping others transition. I have felt the renewed energy of our wonderful teachers and met enthusiastic teacher candidates. I have admired the creative process of an elementary all-school collaborative art project and overheard middle schoolers display their passion for learning in eagerly asking when their full schedule would start! I have noticed the time taken in every grade for students to reflect on and share about themselves and listen to their peers, and for teachers and students to all get to know each other again; and I have seen the 5th graders already stepping up as leaders showing compassion and empathy for the new Kindergarteners helping them to feel safe, welcome and at home at Friends School.
These are just a few examples of the elements of the Friends School mission being put into practice, and all of this was in just the first week!
Before Honor started at Friends School, she began looking at everything here through the lens of the school’s mission and vision. One of her priorities in her first year was to “align decision-making practices with the mission and vision of the school”. She worked to bring Friends School’s mission and vision into everyday decision-making, keeping them front and center, putting children and mission first and consistently using the mission and vision to guide her and her leadership team. She encouraged all teachers and staff to do the same. Honor has also brought the 3 core principles of the vision to the forefront: ‘challenging minds, nurturing spirits and honoring individuality’. These provide the framework for all that the school does and, as you know, they have been chosen as the theme for the school this year.
In early September, the Friends School Community Board met for the first time this school year. I would like to thank all of our dedicated trustees for their hard work and commitment to the school. Over the summer the board read First Do No Harm, Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk by Steve Nelson and was inspired by his demonstration of “how education can nurture engaged and motivated children who actively discover their world and grow up to be good citizens”. Friends School has been the leader among Boulder schools in social and emotional education for over 32 years and we were proud to appreciate, while reading this book, that Friends School excels on every aspect of Nelson’s ‘Educational Bill of Rights’:
- Recognize the broad consensus that early childhood education should be primarily dedicated to free, imaginative play;
- Provide arts programming, recognizing that the arts are critical to all learning and to understanding the human experience;
- Provide ample physical movement, both in physical education classes and in other ways, recognizing that exercise enhances learning for all children;
- Exhibit awareness that children develop at different rates and different ways; that strict age or grade level standards and expectations are meaningless and damaging;
- Acknowledge the large body of evidence that long hours of homework are unnecessary and detract from children’s (and families’) quality of life;
- Exhibit genuine respect for all children;
- Honor a wide range of personalities and temperaments;
- Encourage curiosity, risk-taking and creativity;
- Cultivate and sustain intrinsic motivation rather than relying on elaborate extrinsic systems of rewards and punishments;
- Understand that brain research supports active learning, engaging all the senses;
- Understand that all children are intelligent in multiple ways and that all these intelligences should be honored and developed;
- Listen to each child’s voice, give them real experience in democratic processes, and allow them to express their individuality;
- Know each child well, appreciate the unique mix of qualities each child brings, and never demean, discourage or humiliate any child.
This year, Friends School Community Board has the important responsibility of creating the next strategic framework/plan for the school. Each of our board meetings throughout the year will include a strategic thinking work session. As we move through the process we will first examine our mission and vision, our “North Star”, guiding us through the journey of creation and implementation of the framework/plan. We will then gather input and data from the entire Friends School Community – teachers, staff, students, parents, families, trustees, founders, alumni parents and alumni students, before synthesizing and processing the data and formulating a strategic, flexible, forward-thinking framework/plan for Friends School.
I am looking forward to working on this process with the Friends School Community Board and our Strategic Planning Committee, led by alumni parent and trustee Anne Hunter. I am also excited to hear from all of you. Over the next few months the Strategic Planning Committee will reach out to all of you with various opportunities for you to provide your input – these could be surveys, small group vision meetings, or larger ‘dream-catcher’ meetings. We hope that you will participate in whichever ways work for you. Friends School is one of Boulder’s best independent schools because it has a strong community that cares.
Thank you all for being part of what makes Friends School such a special place for all our children.
Jenefer Donovan, Friends School Community Board Chair
If you would like more information on the role of the Friends School Community Board or are interested in being part of one of the Community Board committees, please email me at email@example.com.Read More
Challenging Minds, Nurturing Spirits, Honoring Individuality as we start a new school year at Friends School
Introduction by Jenefer Donovan, Friends School Board Chair with excerpts from our division directors (Jessie Vanden Hogen, Mandy Stepanovsky and Shelby Pawlina)
The first weeks of school are an exciting time of building the wonderful community and norms that carry us through the school year and for which Friends School is known. Across the school from Preschool, through the elementary and middle school years and into the Teacher Preparation Program, Friends School is already challenging minds, nurturing spirits and honoring individuality. We invite you to read these back-to-school updates from our program directors.
PRESCHOOL NEWS UPDATE (& Parent Reading Recommendations for all ages)
The Preschool is off to a great start in co-creating our new communities. We had a great New Parent Orientation, delightful day of Class Lemonades, and welcoming Home Visits. Included in this new batch of morning preschool families are some old friends and some new friends. We are growing connections and building trust with parents and children as we set out to create a very gentle, supportive and successful first school experience for the littlest ones. We take our jobs very seriously as we know the dynamics of the gifts and challenges in beginning the journey of separation.
With Head of School Honor Taft’s 4 trail-markers in mind – 1) Social and Emotional Literacy, 2) Creativity, Collaboration and Communication, 3) Rich Academics, and 4) Diversity, Social Justice and Service Learning – the preschool team picked up a few books for our summer reading. NOTE: Some books and authors definitely challenged our thinking and beliefs as well as gave us new perspectives! Our ongoing commitment to professional education and best practices is part of what we believe makes us the best preschool in Boulder.
- Being at Your Best When Your Kids are at Their Worst – Practical Compassion in Parenting By Kim John Payne
- From Teaching to Thinking By Ann Pelo and Margie Carter
- Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers By Dr. Gabor Mate´
- It’s Ok Not to Share and Other Renegade rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids By Heather Shumaker
- StoryMaking – The Maker Movement Approach to Literacy for Early Learners By Michelle Kay Compton and Robin Chappele Thompson
What we came away with were some themes to work with throughout the year ahead: Empathy – Boundaries – Community – Play
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL NEWS UPDATE
“It looks so open in here!” “The school feels wonderful” “Everything is so light and bright.” These are just a few of the accolades heard as parents entered the elementary school for the first time this school year. It was a busy summer with painting, purging and preparing for students to arrive. The energy in the building has been full of anticipation and excitement for the year ahead. We have only been in school for a short time, but there is already much to celebrate.
We are already challenging minds through:
- Assignments and projects focused on celebrating our summer vacations and setting goals for the year ahead.
- 4th and 5th grade Invention Convention projects
- Implementation of the new math curriculum
- Benchmark testing in literacy and math
- Teacher participation in a day-long Design Thinking workshop with Future Design School that prepared them to bring design thinking into their classrooms this year.
We nurture spirits through:
- Welcoming our new Kindergarten friends and their families to the community, and new friends in other grades too.
- Implementation of Responsive Classroom practices in our K/1 classrooms after teachers participated in a week-long training. With the new implementation of full-day Kindergarten throughout Colorado, we continue to be the most intentional, nurturing, and best Kindergarten in Boulder.
- Time taken in each classroom to set class norms, create class constitutions and engage students in creating the type of learning environment they would like to have.
- Start of the 8 week parent Mindfulness workshop
We are honoring individuality through:
- The creation of a “cool down” space in the old copy room. This is a place where students can go to quietly draw, or jump on a trampoline when they need a moment to reset during the school day.
- Projects and assignments aimed at sharing individual interests/experiences as students get to know each other at the start of the school year.
- The creation of learning plans to further differentiate learning for students who need specific accommodations across subject areas.
- The exploration and celebration of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences in 3rd Grade
MIDDLE SCHOOL NEWS UPDATE
The middle school has grown by over 50% this year, and the energy in the building is exciting and inspiring! This incredible growth is a great demonstration of the need for a new, more progressive Boulder Middle School option.
- Summer book discussions – Each grade had a book to read over the summer that Diane chose specifically for its appeal to middle schoolers. One parent of an 8th grader reported that her child LOVED the book so much…a first for him! Each class discussed their opinions of the book, character development, plot, and other aspects of the book. It was a nice way to begin an academic conversation while getting to know one another.
- Problem- solving activities – Remember the game of Mastermind with the colorful pegs? At the middle school there is a similar game that we play…Pico-Firme-Bago in which students have to guess a set of numbers in a particular order while being given feedback of the accuracy of their guesses. The cheers that come from the homeroom when the correct number is finally guessed/ revealed are always enthusiastic. On a physical level, the popular camp game Human Knot got students problem-solving in a different way. Nuno led good reflective sessions on the process, connecting this to group work and problem-solving in general.
- Camping Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park -Temple Grandin has discussed the importance of leveraging the skills of visual learners and making sure our children learn the basics of cooking, shopping, and fixing things- engaging in hands-on learning as much as possible. Our trips program is underpinned by these expectations. In the days before the trip, students developed the menu for the trip, went grocery shopping for the ingredients (comparing products, figuring out amounts, and managing a budget), and learned how to set up/ dismantle the tents independently. On the trip, every student had an opportunity to be on a cook team and clean up team. For some students, these were first time events. There is something about doing things that expand our comfort zones that builds a greater and more nuanced sense of self, increased self-awareness and self-advocacy. In middle school, this is what we are going for.
- All About Me – One of our first central activities is the “All About Me” assignment that culminates in a Gallery Walk before the camping trip. Each student creates a poster of their design and presentation that includes information about each person’s personal heroes, favorite books, important event in their lives, etc. These are great ways to get to know one another as well as serving as jumping in points for teachers to connect curriculum with student experiences. These will decorate the homeroom and hallways.
The school year is off to an incredible start, and we can’t wait for a full year of challenging minds, nurturing spirits, and honoring individuality in this incredible school community.Read More
by Erika Norman, Friends School K-5 Math Teacher
Math education has changed drastically in the years since most of us, as parents, were in classrooms, and in that time there has been a wealth of research about best practice as well as brain development around math learning. At Friends, we are constantly researching this best practice. We offer yearly Kindergarten and 1st grade parent math nights, we share updates in classroom newsletters throughout the year, and we spend each day cultivating a growth mindset for our young mathematicians through the work of Stanford’s Dr. Jo Boaler. Jo is one of the world’s leaders in math education and I was fortunate to attend her workshop Mathematical Mindsets at Stanford University last spring. Dr. Boaler dispels the notion of having a math brain or not a math brain. At Friends we believe that all students are mathematicians, writers, readers, scientists, and most importantly thinkers. All of them are capable of success with the right mindset and experiences.
Friends School students are asked more than just how to complete a mathematical procedure, but also how to apply their math knowledge in unique situations. They see math in the world around them, not just on a worksheet page. We strive to make real-life math connections for our students through hands-on opportunities to use their math understanding. A few such examples of this are the 4th and 5th grade coffee cart project, our current Friday fraction cooking projects, creating a 3-D Polyhedraville to augment the 3rd grade curriculum, using Intooba building kits for engineering challenges, and linking a 1st grade bird study to our measurement standards. At Friends, math relates to every day experiences
In March, Friends made the exciting decision to adopt a new math curriculum to augment the good work we are already doing. This past Fall and winter all of the lead elementary teachers, with Mandy and I, spent many hours after school looking at curriculum, meeting with companies, testing out lessons from various curriculum, talking to other educators and diving deeply into what we wanted for our kids and school to meet the needs of our students. We were looking for a curriculum that had a clear scope and sequence and one that met all the standards at every grade level from Kindergarten through 5th grade. We wanted a curriculum that was usable for teachers, had resources for families and students, and contained lots of manipulatives and visual models to help students build that conceptual understanding that research shows is vital for success in higher math. Finally, we wanted to make sure that whatever curriculum we adopted was rigorous in not only problem solving, but also in computational fluency.
After much deliberation, we have decided to adopt Bridges in Mathematics, a K-5 math curriculum from The Math Learning Center. Bridges has been reviewed nationally and ranks highly in all the categories we were seeking: focus and coherence, usability, rigor and mathematical practice. Additionally, we were impressed by the resources for parents and families to help educate and support their child’s math learning, as well as a professional development site for educators to continue to explore best practice for our young learners. Finally, we were excited that the curriculum has built-in curricular components for our math learners that need extension and a well-developed intervention program for our struggling mathematicians.
All the elementary lead teachers, Mandy, and I will be trained in the Bridges curriculum in May and August, with ongoing touch-points throughout the year. Continued professional development will occur throughout next school year to ensure that we are successful with this transition. It is an exciting time and we are thrilled that we were able to adopt this curriculum, which will blend so nicely into the work we have already been doing and make it just that much better for our students.
We look forward to bringing this exciting curriculum into our classrooms and introducing it to our student mathematicians. If you are interested in learning more about Bridges, you can visit https://www.mathlearningcenter.org/ or feel free to reach out to me, Honor, Mandy, or Caroline Long who has piloted Bridges in her classroom for the past year.Read More
by Chris Hollinger, PE Teacher & Director of AfterCare and Enrichment Programs
The Big Blue Blocks (BBBs) are here, and are capturing hearts and minds of the Friends School community! During the past week and a half, grades Kindergarten through fifth have had the opportunity to become familiar with this new and awesome addition to our playground. Each grade was separately introduced to the BBB’s. This served several purposes, including providing a low-stress environment when first using the equipment, age-appropriate comprehensive and inclusive discussions about safety and respecting school equipment, free play with like ages, and getting all kids involved in the pack-up process (cleaning up and storing BBBs).
Already the kids have been using the BBB’s to:
- create forts with water systems
- organize and play their own sports games
- create and problem solve ball ramps
- engage in fair-trading
- build items from speeder bikes to lawn mowers to giant cats
We are excited to introduce the BBBs to the community at large! You will see your child engage in unstructured, child-directed free play. And when weather permits, we’ll bring them outside.
This kind of play is critical to a child’s intellectual, social, physical and emotional development. The three core elements to the BBB’s are: Loose parts, a manipulable environment and “Play Associates” (“Play Associates” are your loving teachers and staff, trained to oversee an open setting where children can direct their own play, while maintaining a safe and welcoming environment). A changing collection of moveable or “loose” parts lets children make each play session a new experience. Children play most creatively in settings that they can manipulate..
Warning: With Big Blue Blocks, children are highly likely to have fun and learn!
Enjoy this short video of our students engaged in play with the BBB’s.Read More
by Meg Hansen, Director of Marketing and Communications
Third grade teacher Caroline Long is always looking for the next great adventure and thinking of ways she might weave it into an interesting lesson for her students. It’s just one of the things our students and parents love about Caroline and what makes her a great teacher.
Back in December, the great uncle of one of Caroline’s students shared something that sparked her interest. A 45-day expedition to Antarctica was about to take place and her students had the chance to be part of it. Through modern technology, a crew of scientists and marine exploration experts were allowing students around the world to track and interact with them via weekly video conferences as they boarded the S.A. Agulhas II on the Weddell Sea Expedition in Antarctica.
This program, offered through Reach the World, a nonprofit global education organization out of New York, connects schools with explorers and scientists around the world. It was the perfect segue to Caroline’s upcoming units on weather, explorers and other cultures. She started researching and even studied for a technical test she had to take over winter break in order to be considered for the program. She passed and she and her third graders were accepted into the program.
Caroline picked this particular expedition to share with her students for two reasons (with its connection to her curriculum):
- Environmental impact– The explorers were looking at the Larsen Sea ice shelf that broke off near the Weddell Sea in Antarctica in 2017. In particular, they were studying global warming’s effect on Antarctica and the broken ice shelf’s impact on water levels, the environment and the rich sea life that exists in this region. (Curriculum link: The class is studying weather and, in particular, they are looking at how climate change impacts weather and changes the overall climate in the U.S.)
- Finding the Endurance Shipwreck– Additionally, these explorers hope to use Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) to be the first to find Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance, which was lost in an ice floe off Antarctica in 1915 and never found again. All members of Shackleton’s crew survived, but all missions to find the ship have failed. (Curriculum link: The class is studying explorers, namely the Spanish and French explorers who settled in Colorado, their country of origin, and what it took to travel all the way to Colorado.)
Caroline receives an email from the ship every Friday and on the following Monday the students learn of their assignment and plan their weeks around the call with a variety of experts on the expedition. Soon the students made connections with Holly, the main scientist on the ship, and began following her blog (many of our students used their time during Readers Workshop to read about the expedition). John Shears, one of the scientists on the ship, offered his thoughts on the expedition and the kids surprisingly learned that John won the Polar Medal from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Wow! The students began keeping logs of what they were learning, and a list of questions and what they wanted to learn from the explorers. They wanted to know a lot. For example:
- What makes this expedition different from Shackleton’s Endurance and what would happen if the SA. Agulhas II got stuck just like the Endurance?
- How on earth do they get all that safety equipment and people to Antarctica?
- How do planes stop when they are landing on a sheet of ice?
- What were the scientists learning about wildlife in Antarctica?
- What does Antarctica have to do with Mars?
- What are the explorers learning about other cultures since they are mostly just encountering animals?
- We know a lot about collaboration at Friends School, but why is collaboration in Antarctica so important?
- Tell us where flexibility, adaptability and unpredictability lessons were part of this expedition?
The answers are fascinating! See one of our third grader experts who would be happy to share answers to these questions and all they’ve learned about this project. (Teaser: You can’t touch or hug a penguin in Antarctica unless it’s on the runway, and NASA is studying Antarctica in the hopes it will help astronauts one day live on Mars.)
The students are particularly excited about their last video conference which will be a YouTube live stream with John Shears reflecting back on everything they learned on their voyage: has the climate changed and what are the effects, has the ice gotten thinner, and…did they find the Endurance? We can’t wait to find out!
It turns out modern-day explorers are all around us.You don’t have to go to Antarctica to be an explorer. Visits from two Friends alumni will bring modern-day expeditions right into the classroom. Phoebe Norman (Friends School Fifth Grade Class of 2011) visited 3rd grade last week, and Michael Hansen (Friends School Fifth Grade Class of 2007) will visit soon to share their own experiences of exploring the world and learning about new cultures. Through Where There Be Dragons, Phoebe went to Senegal and Guinea for three months and stayed with two different host families. She shared with the students about adapting to a new religion, living in different homes, eating/cooking different food in different ways, and learning new languages. The kids were all surprised to hear that in some places there wasn’t technology or access to WIFI and phones and that she was only able to communicate back home a few times via email. They loved seeing her pictures and learning about a new country and her experiences
as an explorer. Michael will be visiting the students in March to talk with them about his annual college trips to Argentina to study their culture and business economy. After graduating from college, he traveled to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro where he was immersed in the African culture and completed this expedition that was both physically and mentally challenging. There were challenges and surprises along the way and times where he needed to adjust the course of his travels. But all of them were worth it for the people he met, the places he saw, and some of the unidentifiably delicious food he ate.
Whether it’s Antarctica or Africa or just around our beautiful state, Caroline is always challenging her students to reach beyond their own cultures and learn more about our larger world. She hopes the Weddell Sea Expedition project and the real-life expeditions of their Friends classmates who walked our halls long ago spark a desire to continue to explore and discover new lands and cultures. It’s easy to search online for any place on earth these days. While technology can help us explore different lands and cultures, true exploration happens by actually physically traveling to lands near and far and immersing yourself in the culture.
Which one of our current third graders’ future expeditions will inspire the next generation of Friends students to explore our greater world?Read More