Challenging Minds, Nurturing Spirits, Honoring Individuality as we start a new school year at Friends School
Introduction by Jenefer Donovan, Friends School Board Chair with excerpts from our division directors (Jessie Vanden Hogen, Mandy Stepanovsky and Shelby Pawlina)
The first weeks of school are an exciting time of building the wonderful community and norms that carry us through the school year and for which Friends School is known. Across the school from Preschool, through the elementary and middle school years and into the Teacher Preparation Program, Friends School is already challenging minds, nurturing spirits and honoring individuality. We invite you to read these back-to-school updates from our program directors.
PRESCHOOL NEWS UPDATE (& Parent Reading Recommendations for all ages)
The Preschool is off to a great start in co-creating our new communities. We had a great New Parent Orientation, delightful day of Class Lemonades, and welcoming Home Visits. Included in this new batch of morning preschool families are some old friends and some new friends. We are growing connections and building trust with parents and children as we set out to create a very gentle, supportive and successful first school experience for the littlest ones. We take our jobs very seriously as we know the dynamics of the gifts and challenges in beginning the journey of separation.
With Head of School Honor Taft’s 4 trail-markers in mind – 1) Social and Emotional Literacy, 2) Creativity, Collaboration and Communication, 3) Rich Academics, and 4) Diversity, Social Justice and Service Learning – the preschool team picked up a few books for our summer reading. NOTE: Some books and authors definitely challenged our thinking and beliefs as well as gave us new perspectives! Our ongoing commitment to professional education and best practices is part of what we believe makes us the best preschool in Boulder.
- Being at Your Best When Your Kids are at Their Worst – Practical Compassion in Parenting By Kim John Payne
- From Teaching to Thinking By Ann Pelo and Margie Carter
- Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers By Dr. Gabor Mate´
- It’s Ok Not to Share and Other Renegade rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids By Heather Shumaker
- StoryMaking – The Maker Movement Approach to Literacy for Early Learners By Michelle Kay Compton and Robin Chappele Thompson
What we came away with were some themes to work with throughout the year ahead: Empathy – Boundaries – Community – Play
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL NEWS UPDATE
“It looks so open in here!” “The school feels wonderful” “Everything is so light and bright.” These are just a few of the accolades heard as parents entered the elementary school for the first time this school year. It was a busy summer with painting, purging and preparing for students to arrive. The energy in the building has been full of anticipation and excitement for the year ahead. We have only been in school for a short time, but there is already much to celebrate.
We are already challenging minds through:
- Assignments and projects focused on celebrating our summer vacations and setting goals for the year ahead.
- 4th and 5th grade Invention Convention projects
- Implementation of the new math curriculum
- Benchmark testing in literacy and math
- Teacher participation in a day-long Design Thinking workshop with Future Design School that prepared them to bring design thinking into their classrooms this year.
We nurture spirits through:
- Welcoming our new Kindergarten friends and their families to the community, and new friends in other grades too.
- Implementation of Responsive Classroom practices in our K/1 classrooms after teachers participated in a week-long training. With the new implementation of full-day Kindergarten throughout Colorado, we continue to be the most intentional, nurturing, and best Kindergarten in Boulder.
- Time taken in each classroom to set class norms, create class constitutions and engage students in creating the type of learning environment they would like to have.
- Start of the 8 week parent Mindfulness workshop
We are honoring individuality through:
- The creation of a “cool down” space in the old copy room. This is a place where students can go to quietly draw, or jump on a trampoline when they need a moment to reset during the school day.
- Projects and assignments aimed at sharing individual interests/experiences as students get to know each other at the start of the school year.
- The creation of learning plans to further differentiate learning for students who need specific accommodations across subject areas.
- The exploration and celebration of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences in 3rd Grade
MIDDLE SCHOOL NEWS UPDATE
The middle school has grown by over 50% this year, and the energy in the building is exciting and inspiring! This incredible growth is a great demonstration of the need for a new, more progressive Boulder Middle School option.
- Summer book discussions – Each grade had a book to read over the summer that Diane chose specifically for its appeal to middle schoolers. One parent of an 8th grader reported that her child LOVED the book so much…a first for him! Each class discussed their opinions of the book, character development, plot, and other aspects of the book. It was a nice way to begin an academic conversation while getting to know one another.
- Problem- solving activities – Remember the game of Mastermind with the colorful pegs? At the middle school there is a similar game that we play…Pico-Firme-Bago in which students have to guess a set of numbers in a particular order while being given feedback of the accuracy of their guesses. The cheers that come from the homeroom when the correct number is finally guessed/ revealed are always enthusiastic. On a physical level, the popular camp game Human Knot got students problem-solving in a different way. Nuno led good reflective sessions on the process, connecting this to group work and problem-solving in general.
- Camping Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park -Temple Grandin has discussed the importance of leveraging the skills of visual learners and making sure our children learn the basics of cooking, shopping, and fixing things- engaging in hands-on learning as much as possible. Our trips program is underpinned by these expectations. In the days before the trip, students developed the menu for the trip, went grocery shopping for the ingredients (comparing products, figuring out amounts, and managing a budget), and learned how to set up/ dismantle the tents independently. On the trip, every student had an opportunity to be on a cook team and clean up team. For some students, these were first time events. There is something about doing things that expand our comfort zones that builds a greater and more nuanced sense of self, increased self-awareness and self-advocacy. In middle school, this is what we are going for.
- All About Me – One of our first central activities is the “All About Me” assignment that culminates in a Gallery Walk before the camping trip. Each student creates a poster of their design and presentation that includes information about each person’s personal heroes, favorite books, important event in their lives, etc. These are great ways to get to know one another as well as serving as jumping in points for teachers to connect curriculum with student experiences. These will decorate the homeroom and hallways.
The school year is off to an incredible start, and we can’t wait for a full year of challenging minds, nurturing spirits, and honoring individuality in this incredible school community.Read More
by Erika Norman, Friends School K-5 Math Teacher
Math education has changed drastically in the years since most of us, as parents, were in classrooms, and in that time there has been a wealth of research about best practice as well as brain development around math learning. At Friends, we are constantly researching this best practice. We offer yearly Kindergarten and 1st grade parent math nights, we share updates in classroom newsletters throughout the year, and we spend each day cultivating a growth mindset for our young mathematicians through the work of Stanford’s Dr. Jo Boaler. Jo is one of the world’s leaders in math education and I was fortunate to attend her workshop Mathematical Mindsets at Stanford University last spring. Dr. Boaler dispels the notion of having a math brain or not a math brain. At Friends we believe that all students are mathematicians, writers, readers, scientists, and most importantly thinkers. All of them are capable of success with the right mindset and experiences.
Friends School students are asked more than just how to complete a mathematical procedure, but also how to apply their math knowledge in unique situations. They see math in the world around them, not just on a worksheet page. We strive to make real-life math connections for our students through hands-on opportunities to use their math understanding. A few such examples of this are the 4th and 5th grade coffee cart project, our current Friday fraction cooking projects, creating a 3-D Polyhedraville to augment the 3rd grade curriculum, using Intooba building kits for engineering challenges, and linking a 1st grade bird study to our measurement standards. At Friends, math relates to every day experiences
In March, Friends made the exciting decision to adopt a new math curriculum to augment the good work we are already doing. This past Fall and winter all of the lead elementary teachers, with Mandy and I, spent many hours after school looking at curriculum, meeting with companies, testing out lessons from various curriculum, talking to other educators and diving deeply into what we wanted for our kids and school to meet the needs of our students. We were looking for a curriculum that had a clear scope and sequence and one that met all the standards at every grade level from Kindergarten through 5th grade. We wanted a curriculum that was usable for teachers, had resources for families and students, and contained lots of manipulatives and visual models to help students build that conceptual understanding that research shows is vital for success in higher math. Finally, we wanted to make sure that whatever curriculum we adopted was rigorous in not only problem solving, but also in computational fluency.
After much deliberation, we have decided to adopt Bridges in Mathematics, a K-5 math curriculum from The Math Learning Center. Bridges has been reviewed nationally and ranks highly in all the categories we were seeking: focus and coherence, usability, rigor and mathematical practice. Additionally, we were impressed by the resources for parents and families to help educate and support their child’s math learning, as well as a professional development site for educators to continue to explore best practice for our young learners. Finally, we were excited that the curriculum has built-in curricular components for our math learners that need extension and a well-developed intervention program for our struggling mathematicians.
All the elementary lead teachers, Mandy, and I will be trained in the Bridges curriculum in May and August, with ongoing touch-points throughout the year. Continued professional development will occur throughout next school year to ensure that we are successful with this transition. It is an exciting time and we are thrilled that we were able to adopt this curriculum, which will blend so nicely into the work we have already been doing and make it just that much better for our students.
We look forward to bringing this exciting curriculum into our classrooms and introducing it to our student mathematicians. If you are interested in learning more about Bridges, you can visit https://www.mathlearningcenter.org/ or feel free to reach out to me, Honor, Mandy, or Caroline Long who has piloted Bridges in her classroom for the past year.Read More