March 15, 2018

7th Grade Activism

This week’s blog is different. It is written by our 7th grade students (with no editing from me.)

Friends School’s vision is to make the world better by challenging minds, nurturing spirits and honoring individuality.” Part of our mission reads: Our students gain a deep understanding of themselves and are inspired to act with compassion and integrity.”

When I read our students’ words, I did not hesitate to share them with you, our greater community.  I did not read this as a political statement, nor did I worry that these views may not align with everyone in our community.  I read these words and saw 13 and 14 year olds carrying out our vision and mission. They are making the world better and they were inspired to act…
Introduction by Charlotte C.
“We Call BS!” Seventeen kids were killed in the Parkland mass shooting. The seventh grade class has been studying gun control and the recent school shootings in Florida. We are doing a lot of work on activism of gun control. We started by watching a speech that Emma Gonzalez wrote and performed. She is a high schooler at the school in Parkland, Florida where the shooting occurred. After being inspired by the amazing speech we went on to write letters to Jared Polis, a Democratic Colorado Representative. He got our letters and offered to contact us via Skype. We had a great informative call with him on March 8th.
Emma Gonzalez Speech by Anastasia H.
            “It’s time for victims to be the change we need to see.” This quote is by Emma Gonzalez, a very powerful senior at Stoneman Douglas High School. On February 17th, three days after the Florida shooting, teen Emma Gonzalez gave a twelve-minute speech about gun control called “We Call BS.” Since we, the 7th graders are focusing on activism in almost all subjects, we watched Emma’s speech two days after she spoke. We’ve brainstormed and thought about all sorts of activism. Kevin Nugent, the middle school homeroom and science teacher in fact said, “We have had a lot of shootings, and everyone stood back and tolerated it. This could be the breaking point.” We have all felt this, and this is the main reason we are studying activism, and participating in it too. See Emma Gonzalez's speech here.
Letter Writing by Avery L.
The next step, we realized, was writing letters. We were all so motivated by Emma Gonzalez’s speech, we decided to write letters to Colorado Representative Jared Polis, making our voices heard. During homeroom one day, we had a huge brainstorm about what we would say in our letters, and Kevin wrote all of our ideas on the whiteboard. We then worked on our letters individually and shared them with each other when we were finished.

In our letters, we mentioned gun control and the Second Amendment, saying that we thought the Second Amendment wasn’t being interpreted correctly or the way it was originally written to be interpreted. We talked about getting rid of all guns, then more realistically, only assault rifles. We all agreed this would help solve the problem of the mass shootings. We think that assault rifles belong in war. We also talked about Emma Gonzalez’s speech and how we were motivated by her power and captivation of the crowd. We agreed that what she was saying was and is really important, and that it shouldn’t be ignored.

Another topic that came up in our letters was asking Jared Polis what his opinion was on arming teachers. We read an article in Humanities with Diane Bramble about a teacher protecting his students with a gun. The article introduced the idea of arming teachers, and we discussed this amongst ourselves. We all agreed that this idea wasn’t the best way to handle the mass shootings, which originally gave us the idea of asking Jared Polis his ideas on this topic. He, like us, didn’t support that idea.

These topics were our main points in our letters, and we felt a lot less helpless writing them. We can’t wait to see some change, but change doesn’t happen easily. We will keep fighting and writing for what we know to be true. If you feel helpless, as we did before we started writing, there are so many ways for you to make a difference, too. Tori S. has listed multiple ways for you to help- so read on!

Phone Call with Rep. Jared Polis (Part 1) by Audrey A.
On Thursday, March 8th. We, the seventh grade class, had a Skype call with Representative Jared Polis. During the phone call we got to ask him questions about gun control. Some of the questions we included in the call were, “What is the next step for making this stop?” “Can we get other schools involved in helping?” “Do you think the second amendment is currently being perceived as our founding fathers intended? How do you think it should be perceived?” Jared Polis answered our questions shortly but detailed. After the call we talked about what our next step would be. We decided that we would write to Cory Gardner using the same letters we sent to Jared Polis.

Phone Call with Rep. Jared Polis (Part 2) by Ali T.
            The 7th grade asked questions to Mr.  Polis on a Skype call. We asked him questions related to gun control. Some of the questions that they asked were, “What is stopping the banning of assault rifles?” and “How do you feel about teachers being armed in schools?” These are only some of the questions that the 7th grade came up with to ask him. Jared Polis responded in short but very detailed answers. Jared Polis’s answers were not what they totally expected because they went into this thinking that he was against gun control when writing the letters and before the call, but the 7th grade then found out near the first question that he is with it and he wants to help. The questions did end up working anyway.
National School Walkout by Allison H.
            On March 14th, our middle school participated in a nationwide walkout. The walkout was in honor of the victims of the recent Florida high school shooting. We stayed outside of the school for seventeen minutes to pay tribute to the seventeen people who died in the shooting. This project is student-led and students were the only ones outside (teachers observed nearby). We have done a lot of brainstorming about posters and other things we could do or say while outside. We feel this was a very important thing to participate in because we wanted to make our voices heard about what has been happening with the mass shootings in our country recently. We have been talking about gun control a lot lately and we are very excited that we got to participate in this walkout with many other schools in honor of the victims of the recent shooting.
What Everyone Can Do to Help by Tori S.
            At this part of this blog you are probably wondering. How can I help? How can I be an activist? How can I make my voice heard? Well, we also felt helpless when we first started learning about mass shootings and gun control, but then we had an idea--How about we write letters.

I will talk about what sources I used. I first found this source about mass shootings and when I first read it, I was shocked about how many there are in the United States. It broke my heart to see how many people were affected by one shooting and how their community reacted and it motivated me even more. This source said there were 346 mass shootings. This is the link if you want to check the website. Mass Shootings in the U.S. in 2017.  

How can you help in your our community? Like us, you can write letters to your own local representative. Here is a link You can donate money or your time to organizations helping the cause. Here is another link that has more information about the organizations and you can also join organizations to help. How to Take Action on Gun Control. I hope you join us to make the world a better place.

Statistics by Jaden S.
There are more guns in the USA than every other country! There have been a total of 146 school shootings from 2000 to 2018. Seven children and teens (age 19 or under) are killed with guns in the U.S. on an average day. On a average year there are nearly 13,000 gun homicides a year in the U.S.! How can we help to fix the overwhelming gun violence in America?

Conclusion by Allison H.
            In conclusion, our middle school is doing a lot to make our voices heard. We are trying to do everything we can to be the change we want to see. Some next steps for us are writing letters to Cory Gardner, participating in in the National School Walkout, and we may even write to the National Rifle Association. We hope you all will try to stand up for what you believe as well.   

March 7, 2018

Smooth Sounds of the Jazz Café

André playing at the 3rd grade Jazz Café
Friends 3rd grade class hummed on Tuesday of this week with the smooth sounds of the Jazz Café.

Students, and their teachers Krysten and Anna, came dressed for the part as they celebrated their integrated unit of study on the Harlem Renaissance, which focused heavily on the history, art, music and poetry of the period.

Mandy and I took our place at the café tables alongside parents, siblings and grandparents, where we selected from a menu of fine breakfast options, served by waiters dressed in sharp ties and vests or 1920s dresses and headbands.

We were treated to a beautiful rendition of Ella Fitzgerald’s “It’s Only A Paper Moon”, sung by the whole class, followed by individual poetry readings, inspired by the works of Langston Hughes and other Harlem Renaissance poets.

Teacher candidate Anna Ura was the inspiration behind this uncommon, yet fabulous, course of study, which she was teaching as a requirement of graduation from Friends Teacher Preparation Program (TPP).

A lifelong artist, Anna has been teaching art to kids over the course of many years and she loves sharing her passion for creativity. With a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she has been a practicing artist for over 20 years.

As she was contemplating which integrated curriculum to bring to her 3rd graders, Anna knew that she wanted to combine her artistic background with elements that brought community and diversity to her class.

Anna shared with the audience of the Jazz Café that “The Harlem Renaissance was a period during the 1920s when African-American achievements in art, literature and music flourished. A period of great diversity and experimentation. The Great Migration saw the movement of thousands of African Americans from the farmlands in the south to the cities in the north in order to find new opportunities and build better lives. Many made their way to the New York city neighborhood of Harlem in Manhattan, New York City which became the home of the movement.

Anna & Krysten
 The Harlem Renaissance coincided with the Jazz Age, a time of innovative ideas and modernism with rapid cultural and social changes. Harlem became a cultural center buzzing with new ideas and attracting African American scholars, writers, poets, artists, actors, musicians and singers. The Cotton Club was the most famous Harlem night spot where musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington played Dixie, the blues and developed the improvisational style of music called Jazz.”

A thematic unit, as defined by our TPP, is a curriculum unit that integrates learning in several content areas and developmental domains centered around a single or primary theme. Anna incorporated not only music and history, but language arts, science (of sound waves), art, quilting, mathematics, social studies and story telling.

Great teachers know that teaching through thematic units increases student engagement. In addition, the integration between content areas allows students to more easily make connections in their learning. When planned well, students are given opportunities to draw on real-world and life experiences.

An integrated unit for our TPP requires a minimum of ten lessons that meet or exceed Colorado Academic standards and our school standards.  An essential piece of the unit is that the TC write a reflection on the learning process.
As incoming head of school Honor Taft wisely wrote in a letter to our community this week: “the best educators…. never stop reflecting on their work, they continuously seek out ways to improve their craft and they will find tremendous power in cultivating deep professional connections with their colleagues.”

That is what Anna created for our 3rd graders. But she is not alone.  Our teacher candidates in each of our elementary classrooms are currently hard at work at different stages of their thematic units and they’re all wonderful.

Leah Heasly in Kindergarten is studying Ancient Egypt. Katie Regan in 1st grade is inspiring her students with The Ocean. Enrique Zuppas, 2nd grade, is on a similar theme, focusing on Coral Reefs. Callie Friedman’s 4th graders are learning all about Energy – and it was a treat for me to bring her students up on the roof of our elementary building to learn about our school’s impressive solar panel array. And finally, Pepper Dee in 5th grade is teaching his students about the American Revolution (see our Facebook page for pictures of me, as King George III taxing his students, quite unfairly!)

Thank you to Anna, Krysten and the 3rd grade class for inviting us in to your Jazz Café and inspiring us with your music and poetry. 

March 1, 2018

A Passion for Literacy

Tricia Callahan has been instilling a passion for literacy among our students for 14 years!

Each year, Tricia presents important information to our PK, K and 1st grade families that helps give parents essential tools for increasing their child’s engagement with books and literature, for strengthening phonological awareness, and for supplementing simple reading with games and activities.  Tricia works with every one of our elementary students at various stages of literacy and word work, and we see the results of her passion every day.

Tricia is fully certified as an Orton-Gillingham teacher (Orton-Gillingham is an instructional approach intended primarily for use with individuals who have difficulty with reading, spelling, and writing associated with dyslexia) and in Linguistic Remedies (a different program for children with or at risk for specific reading and writing difficulties, such as dyslexia.)

Orton Gillingham and Linguistic Remedies both use a multi-sensory approach, also known as VAKT (visual-auditory-kinesthetic- tactile) implies that students learn best when information is presented in different modalities. We believe that students learn a new concept best when it is taught using all four modalities.

Tricia’s own personal philosophy, and one that makes her such a great fit for Friends School, is that she knows that the more students are engaged in reading, the more they learn.

She brings games and fun activities to our students that are so much more engaging than the basic materials recommended in the above-mentioned programs. Rhyming games, rhythm games, Go Fish, Duck, Duck, Goose, puzzles, Wingo!, letter construction – these are all part of Tricia’s bag of tricks that she expertly shares with her students as well as with her teaching colleagues.

Tricia grew up on Long Island, NY and attended public schools. As in most schools at that time, the reading curriculum consisted of basal readers and answering comprehension questions.  As a struggling 4th grade reader, young Tricia viewed reading whole passages as a waste of time and went straight to doing her best to simply answering the questions.  As an unsuccessful writer at the State University of New York, Tricia wasn’t allowed to take a Writing Composition 100 class until she had ‘learned to write’ by taking tutoring at the university’s Writing Center.

It wasn’t until her late 20s that Tricia finally figured out that she had dyslexia.  Her father was dyslexic too.

Some of the most gifted teachers I have ever worked with have struggled in some ways as learners.  They understand the hard road and Tricia is no exception.

After completing her teacher training, Tricia became a 1st and 2nd grade teacher in the Bay area. She loved to teach science.  In the 1980s, ‘whole language’ was all the rage, yet Tricia continued to teach phonics and phonemic awareness.  She took classes to help her to become a better teacher of reading.

After moving to Boulder in 1993, Tricia became the reading specialist teacher at Bixby School where she stayed for 11 years. She moved to Friends School in 2004.

Friends literacy specialist
Tricia Callahan
At Friends, Tricia has continued to learn and evolve as our reading and literacy specialist.  She authored our Curriculum Overview on Literacy which can be found on our website. In it she writes:

“At Friends we teach children not only to read and write but also to be joyful about literacy. In each grade, children are given the essential elements needed to enable them to become readers and writers. Those elements include time, choice, response, community, and structure. In each grade there is a balance of choice and teacher directed experiences. Children learn about craft, procedures, and the conventions of reading and writing to develop their skills over time. Because of our individual approach, each child progresses at his or her own pace but is continually challenged to work to his or her potential. We work to empower the children by giving them a strong language arts foundation so that their voices may be heard – on paper, aloud, and through technology.”

In this writing, you can see the skilled guiding hand that Tricia gives to our emergent readers and writers – experiences she never had as a child. 

She truly gets it when a child doesn't get it. And she loves it when a child does get it.

Tricia’s eyes light up when she describes to me her love of teaching reading at Friends.  She loves working with different ages – and intentionally spends more time and energy with our younger readers to give them the best and strongest foundation possible. She is highly skilled at differentiating reading approaches and materials to suit each individual learner. She loves the big picture – and is also passionate about teaching what she calls the “nuts and bolts of reading”.

We are very fortunate to have Tricia on our teaching faculty.

February 22, 2018


Tragically, here we are again.

Debates rage on  - in mainstream and social media - about gun rights, mental health, and the safety of our children. On Wednesday, the President weighed in, calling for more teachers to be armed.

At Friends School, we will not take that step. However, there are multiple proven safety measures we are taking because your children’s safety, and the safety of our staff, come first.

I am using this space this week to remind our entire community of the effective training we conduct regularly, and the physical improvements we have made to our campuses.

As a school, we are committed to keeping students safe at all times, and we take active measures to prevent a tragic event from happening in the first place.

It is our firm belief that every school’s staff should be trained in ALiCE emergency response training.  ALiCE stands for Alert, Lockdown, inform, Counter, Evacuate.  Three years ago Friends sent Mandy Stepanovsky and Meg Hansen to become trainers in ALiCE. Mandy and Meg lead our Emergency Management Team and they have trained our teachers and staff to follow protocol to assess any situation and decide on the best course of action to have a greater chance of survival in the potential event of an intruder on campus.

Since Meg and Mandy took the ALiCE training in May 2015, there have been 169 school shootings in our country. ALiCE empowers teachers, staff and students in the event of an active shooter. Research clearly shows that empowered teachers who know about countering, barricading, and evacuating have given their students far higher odds of survival than those who simply hide and wait.

As far as we are aware, Friends is the only school in Boulder County to be fully trained in ALiCE protocol. Friends School has been commended by the Boulder Police Department on our proactive engagement on school safety. Meg and Mandy want to get this same essential training into other Colorado schools. This spring they will meet with the administration of Boulder High School to discuss how Friends trains our staff and students and to hopefully convince other schools to adopt the ALiCE protocol. .

ALiCE is a proactive, highly-effective standard of care adopted by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, FEMA, the Department of Education, the FBI, the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services as well as all 50 states.

Friends staff are fully trained annually, we conduct regular drills, and our staff receive monthly reminders and updates about procedures and protocol, as well as a mid-year refresher course. We conduct real, age-appropriate scenario training for students that allows them to feel confident, safe and empowered.

At each campus, and at each building, Friends has a number of measures in place. We are constantly auditing our campus to make improvements.  

Our safety features include:

  • locked doors with secured keypad entry systems on all buildings
  • protective window film to create shatterproof glass at all entrances
  • only one point of entry for guests in each building
  • other exterior doors are locked and need a keyed entry
  • front desk presence in all buildings
  • emergency lockdown security system with mushroom buttons in the elementary building

Other essential parts of our emergency planning include:

·      training staff and students not to let anyone unrecognizable in the building 
·      training staff and students not to prop doors at any time
·      ongoing training for our dedicated Emergency Management Team in most current protocol
·      in-depth staff training with scenario work twice each year
·      monthly reminder emails to staff to keep protocol in everyone's minds
·      staff-manned parking lot duty at morning drop-off ensures students are safely led into the buildings
·      clear evacuation and re-unification plan
·      School Resource Officer assigned by the Boulder Police Department conducts regular walk-throughs of our campus and provides us with essential safety recommendations. 
·      Boulder Police Department has reviewed and recognizes that our safety policies and practices, facility safety measures, and staff training are advanced compared to most schools. 
·      emergency notification system alerts families to school closures and emergencies in a timely fashion.

Mandy and Meg have conducted two parent information sessions this school year which cover all of the above as well as many more details of our emergency practices, protocols, safety features and the important reasons why we take this work so seriously. They also discuss the school’s expectations of parents on these topics.

We want to make sure that all parents receive this information.  If you were unable to attend an earlier information session, please let us know because we will gladly host another event this spring.  We want you to be informed.

When I first became a teacher in 1990, I never imagined that I would be thinking about and planning school safety as I do today. I don’t know of another educator who entered the profession with the thought that they may have to protect his or her students from an armed intruder. Yet, this is our reality.

I am grateful to Meg and Mandy for their unbridled passion for school safety, and to everyone on our staff who take the safety of our students so seriously. The ever-changing landscape of our world has, tragically, made safety preparedness an essential part of school life. Our foremost goal is always the safety of our students. Friends School prides itself not only on a secure campus, but also on a staff and student body that is very well trained in the event of a dangerous event.

Please let any of us know if you want to know more. 

February 15, 2018

Teacher’s Poem is “Most Creative”

Preschool teacher Christie Stanford
Simplicity Parenting is an online community and resource which supports parents to have a simpler, more connected family life. 

I’m pretty sure we all want that!

The organization also offers trainings around the country to support parents at different stages of the parenting journey.

Friends preschool teacher, Hetta Towler has qualified to become a trainer for Simplicity Parenting and her colleague, Katy Hollenbach is in the process of becoming qualified. Long-time preschool teacher, Christie Stanford recently applied to train to become a qualified coach for Simplicity Parenting’s Family Life course.

In combination with her application, Christie entered Simplicity Parenting’s essay writing contest – and her entry was selected as “most creative”.  It is a poem that Christie used to define what discipline and guidance mean to her.

Her entry also qualified her for a substantial discount off the training.  Christie will learn a proven system for supporting parents in doing the important work of bringing new rhythms to bear on the lifelong art of raising children.

Christie tells me that she is “super excited” about becoming a coach, in part because she will be taking a training associated with the Simplicity Parenting book that our entire preschool team  read this past summer.

Over the years, parents have shared with me again and again how our talented preschool teachers have helped them to become better parents.  A healthy number of our parents have attended a formal presentation given by our teachers on subjects such as growth mindset or executive function. Others have simply asked their teacher for pointers on a new thing to try at home with their child, or a way to change their language for better results. 

Our Director of Marketing and Communications Meg Hansen, whose office was above the preschool for years, tells me our preschool teachers helped her raise her two sons by learning from their daily lessons below.  It’s amazing what you can learn by listening downstairs! Meg’s sons Michael and Jack also attended our preschool.

Our preschool educators are an amazing resource for our parent community and, through the Simplicity Parenting training, they are only getting better.

Christie’s poem is reproduced below. Congratulations to her!

February 8, 2018

Take Me Out to the Science Fair

Our 7th grade scientists
One of the great joys of continuing to expand our school and build towards a stellar 8th grade program is presenting our middle school students with ever-increasing opportunities to spread their academic wings.

Under the guidance of science teacher extraordinaire Kevin Nugent, six of our 7th grade scientists were selected to present their projects at the CordenPharma Boulder Regional Science Fair which will be held on the CU campus on February 22. The theme at this year’s fair is “Stormy with a Chance of Science!” The regional fair is open to both middle and high school students. Friends is one of only two independent schools in Boulder County to have student representatives at the fair.

Later this year, Kevin is also taking the middle school girls to the GESTEM (Girls Exploring Science Technology Engineering and Math) conference in Denver, where he has presented workshops annually. GESTEM is a conference for 7th grade girls in the Denver-metro area geared towards introducing girls to career opportunities in STEM fields. Participants engage with local STEM professionals through hands-on workshops designed to widen their horizons and introduce STEM careers in a fun and active environment. 

Kevin Nugent with 6th grade scientists
In preparation for the science fair, our 7th graders have been exploring research methodology and experimental design as they created their own experiments. Elementary students and parents will get a sneak peek of their amazing projects in the South Campus Great Room next week on Wednesday February 14 at 9:30 a.m., with the official Friends School Science Fair kicking off later the same day from 6-7:30 p.m. at the North Campus (3800 Kalmia Ave.)

For a list of the fascinating projects that our students have been working on, scroll down….

Kevin is no stranger to middle school science fairs.  He has been preparing students for these events for many years and in 2016 he won the Outstanding Teacher Award at the Front Range Regional Science Fair in Denver.

Just this week, our middle school director Shelby Pawlina received a note from a parent: “I know you know what a truly talented teacher Kevin is - you all are so lucky to have him. The community at Friends middle school is thriving! I continue to recommend it as a life changing positive experience.”

One of the founding principles of our middle school is the importance of integrating different skills and school subjects together into multi-dimensional projects – because this is how life works and what students need to be prepared for high school and beyond.

In creating a science fair project, our students must learn how to apply their existing abilities to new areas, as well as learn many new skills. A science fair project involves reading, logic and thinking, writing, grammar and spelling, math, statistics and data analysis, computer science, and graphic arts and artistic expression, peer editing and review, as well as scientific methodology. When our students participate in formal competition, they also practice public speaking, and learn how to explain and defend their work in front of a panel of judges.

Projects involve scientific questions that each individual student is interested in, and a specific topic they have chosen for themselves. Participants must research their question, learn and apply the scientific method to create a valid experiment, and think about the meaning of their results. Science fairs are also a way for students to demonstrate motivation, self-learning, critical thinking, ethics, and other important 21st century skills and traits.

For Kevin, challenging his students to create well-researched, well-presented projects is a labor of love.

We are exceptionally lucky to have a teacher with Kevin’s passion for science at our middle school.  He is making a difference for our students that will impact them for a lifetime.

(For more background information on Kevin and his extraordinary journey to becoming a science teacher, read this earlier blog entry.)