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
by Meg Hansen, Director of Marketing and Communications
Parents of Friends preschoolers know that their children are learning at one of Boulder’s best preschools. What’s often a surprise for them, however, is the added parent education they receive from our amazing preschool team of Christie Stanford, Hetta Towler, Jessie Vanden Hogen and Amanda Smith. There’s so much to learn during these early parenting years and our preschool teachers are often the first to help.
Once a month, our preschool team works with Polly S. Douglass, a Certified Synergetic Play Therapist, who advises our staff and works with families on child-related issues. Polly and our teachers discuss all sorts of things including the different tools we use to support kids going through challenges that might not always be school-related.
One way that our preschool teachers understand and support our students going through these challenges is through emotional regulation – how we deal with big emotions so that we can get back to a calm state. Often times, big emotions might arise for children around transition times and not knowing what’s coming next. Providing a consistent classroom schedule helps students feel confident and safe by reducing the number of unknowns during the school day. Teaching children about self-regulation through block stories, modeling, and practice as well as providing sensory materials helps support children’s understanding of their bodies and their feelings. Students might find comfort in a piece of chewelry, playing in the sensory bin, taking a jump on the trampoline, buffering sounds with headphones, touching soft pieces of fabric, or taking a break in the cozy cave under the stairs. Mindful breaths before transitions also help children to get back into their bodies and prepare them for the next transition. These are just a few of the ways that our preschool teachers help their students navigate their feelings, creating a safe environment of friends who understand that everyone is working on something while building compassion for one another.
Helping parents understand and practice their own self-regulation has a huge impact on their child’s ability to self-regulate. Preschool teacher Hetta Towler explains that “regulation is all about putting on your own oxygen mask first before we can best support our children. If your child is dysregulated and you are too, the situation quickly becomes amplified. By modeling regulation and holding space for your child when they are feeling a big emotion, you are acknowledging their feelings, providing a sense of safety, and comforting them as they move through the feelings. When parents are regulated, they are more able to tune into the emotion behind their child’s behavior and recognize what their child is experiencing. All behavior has an underlying cause and message.”
Earlier this week at a parent education event led by Polly for our current preschool community, Polly and parents offered self-regulation tools and techniques to help children and adults move through the underlying emotions with greater ease and compassion. They gave examples of taking a dragon breath, getting settled into their bodies, and providing play opportunities for their children to process emotions and experiences. When children are acting out, often times they are asking, “am I safe?” and “am I ok?” By creating a safe and loving space for the child, they are more readily able to come back into regulation.
These are positive tools that anyone can learn. Preschool teacher Christie Stanford reminded parents to “be compassionate and gentle with themselves when trying co-regulation with their child. It is a journey and a process that is not fixed overnight. Try one or two things, keep trying, and be persistent. Our preschool teachers are not only here to support our students, but also our parents by offering various tools and resources. All without judgment. We know that being a parent has its challenges and we are here to help.”
As we head into Thanksgiving break (another transition for children), Hetta reminds us to “take this time to be with your family, go slow, be present, practice self-care. Trust your innate knowledge of what it feels like to love your child and your innate ability to be a parent. It will not always be perfect but it’s not supposed to be. Be gentle on yourself so that you can practice the same with your child.”
With gratitude for everyone in our Friends School community, Happy Thanksgiving.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