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
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