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
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 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 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
Friends School’s first 8th grade class will be graduating in May. As they look towards high school, Honor has taken the opportunity to interview each of them to find out about their time at Friends School, whether they are “lifers” (here since Preschool) or brand new to Friends School. Please enjoy this interview of Anastasia Hook, at Friends School since 6th grade.
Name: Anastasia Hook
What grade are you in and how long have you been at Friends School?
I am in 8thgrade and I have been at Friends School for three years – since the beginning of 6thgrade, so all of middle school. Before this I went to Community Montessori.
This is a much smaller school than Community Montessori was. The teachers really have time to work with me one-on-one and go through things in a lot of detail to make sure you really understand things.
How old are you?
I am 14 years old.
Share a memory from a ceremony or trip. Tell me about the experience and what it meant to you.
Last year in Moab all the girls were in one room and we stayed up until about 1:00am talking about all kinds of stuff. We were sad that the year was ending and, even though we would be together again the next year, we were sad it was ending. And Kevin was downstairs and he heard all of our secrets. We were both embarrassed and we thought it was funny. We were laughing and covering our faces when we found out.
Tell me about a project or class that stands out and/or inspired you.
Science really inspires me. Kevin is one of the greatest teachers ever. He has us do really creative and interesting projects. Also, if we are struggling he gives us really inspirational talks. Pretty recently, for example, he gave us a talk about what it will be like when we go to high school. He said there will be the chance for a lot of parties and things, but we should always remember to put our school work first. We need to do this because getting a strong GPA from the start is easier than bringing it up if you start off with lower grades. I had no idea about this before.
What will you take from your experience here into your future?
Friendship. I worked on being friends with people. At CM making friends depended on how we acted. Here, because it is so small, we really only had each other. We might not have been friends in another setting, but this taught me to expand the kinds of friends I have. I know that I can be friends with people even if it doesn’t seem like I can.
Tell me about a person from Friends that stands out and/or inspired you.
Kevin. He has taught us so much in science and otherwise. Also, my friend Ali who gives me a lot of inspiration to try things I wouldn’t try otherwise. She helps to push me out of my comfort zone. And all of my friends here who help me to be the best version of myself.
Do you have advice for future Friends students?
There will be a point some time in life – I don’t know when – when you will feel like what you’re doing doesn’t really matter, or that your grades aren’t important. Even if it is unimportant to you, it is important to someone else, so just work on it and get it done. Also, take every opportunity to do more – if there is extra credit work you can do, do it!
Do you have any advice for me, things to change/things not to change?
Be a friend to the people in the school – being a friend may be more important than being a head of school.
Do you know where you will go to High School?
New Vista – I am so excited. I am ready for a bigger environment, making new friends and having new experiences.
The following questions were asked of Anastasia by first grade students Johnny and Olive, who were acting as junior heads of school for the day:
Johnny – what is your favorite sport?
I’m not really a sports fan, but if I had to choose, I would go for running or volleyball.
Olive – What is something in your life that you would want to go back and change?
Nothing, because if you change something, then you wouldn’t be where you are. I am glad for the experiences I’ve had, the mistakes I’ve made and the people I know. I wouldn’t change anything.Read More
Friends School’s first 8th grade class will be graduating in May. As they look towards high school, Honor has taken the opportunity to interview each of them to find out about their time at Friends School, whether they are “lifers” (here since Preschool) or brand new to Friends School. Please enjoy this interview of Tori School, at Friends School since 3rd grade.
Name: Tori Schell
What grade are you in? 8th.
How old are you? – 15 years old. My birthday is February 17. I have been at Friends School since third grade. Before that I was in a Montessori school, and before that I was in SC at a school called St. Matthews.
Tell me about a person from Friends that stands out and/or inspired you. Diane Bramble inspired me in so many ways. She is the person who taught me to read which is so incredibly special. Diane has been there from the beginning. She will talk with me about absolutely anything and she always listens to me, too. I know that Diane always has my back.
When did you feel like Friends School was the place for you? For me, this happened on my first day of school. I started a couple of days late, because I was on a trip or something. So it was a few days into the school year in Diane’s class and things had already gotten started. Also, many of the kids already knew each other from second grade. So I was a little nervous. I walked in and there was no one in the room. All I saw was Diane sitting there quietly and I was really confused. I walked in and then, to my surprise, everyone jumped out from behind bookcases and couches and surprised me! I felt welcomed and excited and I knew then that this was the place for me.
Share a memory from a ceremony or trip. Tell me about the experience and what it meant to you.
We were just talking about a memory today – when we went rafting. I got teary-eyed – there have been so many fun times. Every memory I have of a trip or ceremony has been special to me in different ways. I can’t really choose a favorite because I loved them all.
One memory that shows how caring everyone is takes me back to Grade 5 when we were coming back from our trip. I had gotten very sick and still wasn’t feeling well on the bus. To make things worse, we had completely run out of tissues. My teacher, Liz, got the bus driver to go to Target and everyone was encouraging her to get the best tissues for me. She returned to the bus with a big box of tissues and I slept in the back of the bus for the rest of the ride feeling supported and cared about by my teachers and friends.
What was it like being a part of starting the middle school
It was really fun, I have to say. There have been times when we’ve had to be flexible and go with the flow, but we are such a connected class and it really feels like we are a part of something special. Whenever we say, “do we have to…?” Kevin always says, “no, you get to…!” After hearing that for three years, I think it’s finally starting to sink in.
Do you know where you will go to High School?
I am going to Monarch. I’m excited and a little bit nervous. Mostly, I’m nervous about getting lost.
What will you take from your experience here into your future? There are a lot of lessons I have learned from being here. Especially in the middle school. I was shy and being here has really brought me out of my shell, and helped me believe in myself. I am still a perfectionist, but being here has taught me that it is okay to be a little less perfect. Learning this has been helpful because I now try new things and feel good about who I am.
Do you have advice for future Friends students? I think the advice I would give is to really connect with the people around you. Knowing that you have a community around you will really lift you up. I can’t say enough how grateful I am for my friends and the friendships I have. Bring your peers up and they will bring you up too.
What question haven’t I asked you that I should have?
What makes this school special? It is the community. It is really special and I am going to miss it a lot.Read More