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
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
An interview with Friends Spanish Teacher, Maria Gamboa, by Lou Bendrick
Tell us a little about yourself: What did you do previously and what brought you to teach Spanish at Friends School?
My family is from Mexico. I came to the USA to do my Ph.D. in Chemistry. When I was doing a post-doctorate at the University of Illinois I met my Polish husband, Krzysztof, and we decided to stay here in the USA. When we got our daughter, Monika, I decided that I wanted to take care of her at home. With the passing of the years, I changed careers and decided to teach Spanish, a career that I enjoy profusely.
For those who don’t know about Day of the Dead, will you explain what it is and why it is celebrated?
The Day of the Dead is a celebration to honor our ancestors. Its origins reside in the Mayan culture. However, with the coming of the Spaniards, the traditions from both sides got mixed and developed the Day of the Dead the way we celebrate it nowadays. So, in Mexico people go to the cemetery to clean the tombs of their beloved people who are not with them anymore and sometimes they stay in the tomb to talk, eat, drink, and sometimes even sing, talking about the person(s) and remembering the good times. In the evening, people go to a special Mass offered for the deceased. At home, people set “altares,” which are tables nicely ornamented to call and honor the spirits of their ancestors.
Where did you grow up and what were your family’s Day of the Dead traditions?
I grew up in several parts of Mexico. We did not visit the tombs of my relatives because they were in other States. Some years we set “altares” to remember our grandparents and we used to go to Mass to pray for their souls.
What are your traditions now?
I passed the traditions to my daughter, although we do not celebrate it formally at home. However, I enjoy talking about it at school and sharing the traditions of my country with my students.
What is your favorite part of this holiday?
All of it! When I teach it to my students, I enjoy comparing and contrasting it to Halloween. Also, I like the idea of colorful skulls, so as to say that we are not “afraid” of the dead but consider it as part of life.
Will you be doing anything special in your Spanish classes to celebrate?
Yes! This is a collaborative project between Art and Spanish classes. From 3rd to 8th grades, I explain the differences between Halloween and the Day of the Dead. We talk about the altars and what elements should be included in them. The students plan to make an altar (this year 3rd and 5th) and the whole school (K-5) contribute to make the elements in Art class. In 6th to 8th grades, students make colorful skeletons from paper rolls. Also, 4th and 6th grades go to the Museum in Longmont where there is a special exhibition about the Day of the Dead (although this year it got cancelled because of the weather.)Read More
Interview of Kevin Nugent by Meg Hansen
Middle school science teacher Kevin Nugent does his part to lessen his carbon footprint. For one, he commutes by bike from Denver to Boulder every day. Like many of us, he is inspired by @GretaThuneberg, the 16-year-old climate and environmentalist activist who brought world attention to saving our climate. While it can be overwhelming for our students to tackle climate issues on Greta’s level, Kevin wanted to show them how we can lessen our impact on the world.
“Bring me your trash!” Kevin asked of his students.
His objective was to show students how much trash our small representation of humankind produces, and disposes of, in a short period of time. He handed out trash bags to each student and asked them to collect two days’ worth of everything that they would normally throw away, compost, recycle or repurpose and put it in their bag. They filled their bags,tracked, and graphed their items separately by category: trash, compostable, recyclable, plastic.
At the end of the second day, 37 bags were piled into the home room and weighed together for a total of 26 pounds.
Their realization: they created a lot of trash! While Kevin did not want to alter their behavior ahead of the project, he did. During the two-day experiment, one student ate everything at every meal because he didn’t want to throw a single crumb into the bag. Another student skipped the plastic bottle of water and used a glass instead. One asked to buy a larger container of concentrated powder drink mix rather than 24 bottles of pre-mixed drink.
The students explored the subject further through the documentary “The Story of Stuff”. They learned that food is an enormous drain on resources – all that it takes to grow, package, transport, store, refrigerate, and generate the chemicals to preserve it if necessary – just to throw much of it away. Students learned for every 1 can of garbage that we drag to the curb, there are 9 cans “upstream” trash created to produce everything that we just threw away. Only 34% of what we recycle is actually used again. Only 9% of plastic is recycled. The rest form one of the 5 major ocean gyres, each the approximate size of Texas. The contents of these plastics crash into each other and then become microplastics, which are small enough to enter the water system and thus affect sea life, the water we drink and the air we breathe.
The students wanted to do more than just collect their waste for two days What more could they do to help? Their raised awareness is definitely impacting how they consume and discard. They are also making bricks of plastic they would have previously thrown away. During last year’s 8thgrade trip to Costa Rica, Kevin learned from their guide how to tightly pack plastic bottles with trash, making them so dense that they can be used as bricks to create structures. Middle schoolers are making their own bricks, lots of them, to turn into something such as a bench, a new gaga pit, sculpture, art, chair, or perhaps…a bike locker for Kevin.Read More
By Honor Taft, Head of School
On a recent Friday, while visiting with our middle school students, I witnessed something unique that I believe captures some of the magic of our school. As part of the daily welcome, middle school science teacher Kevin Nugent prompted the students to share one or two things they are grateful for. As this traveled around the group of nearly forty students, and as students expressed gratitude for pets and food and family, at least 6 of them included “Friends School” on the short list of things that they are grateful for. One student went further, saying “I am grateful for friends, and just to be clear, I mean the school and the people.”
If you haven’t spent much time around middle school age students, this may not seem noteworthy. But if you have (or when you do), you will know that for a middle school student to be so bold and proud as to speak up and compliment their school in front of their peers is something truly special. Students at our school are not only being challenged in their classes, they are seen, known and valued for who they are and they feel this to their very core.
As a parent remarked to me at the close of graduation in May, Friends School sent a class of students into the world having loved middle school and that is an accomplishment to be proud of. How many of us as children loved our own middle school experience? I can’t say that I loved mine like our students love Friends.
This is the power of Friends School – cultivating a love of learning and a secure view of self that results in empowered, thoughtful and skilled people who know what community feels like and who do and will have a positive impact on our world.
We are honored to provide this experience and environment for our littlest preschoolers all the way through to our 8th graders. And we are grateful to be part of this remarkable community…the school and the people.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.Read More