May 17, 2018

So Long Friends School! Thank You For Everything!

This entry marks the end of this particular road.  This week I tender my 250th and final weekly blog for our school community. It’s time to share one more reflection, a few final thoughts, before taking the next few days to say farewell and move along.

There are so many things that this amazing school does well.  Transitions are just one of them.  Our teachers implicitly understand that we all need to walk with care through life’s transitions.  Leaving one place behind and walking through a new door is not always easy.

And now the moment is here for my own transition from Friends School. My younger daughter Leah graduates from high school tomorrow in Denver and will soon fly from the nest. Steph and I are off on a new adventure of our own in the Pacific Northwest, where we will call West Seattle home.

Graduation is always a bittersweet moment for all of us – for kids, for educators, and for parents.  We knew that this day would come when we have to let our children go a little bit more and they have to step away from us into something new.  

As I consider our Friends graduates – the Pre-K kids who crossed their bridge yesterday into Kindergarten, the 5thgraders who ring the bell next week as they journey into middle school, and our first ever class of 7thgraders who will become high schoolers a year from now – I know that this school and my colleagues here have taught them well.  

We have taught them the value of growing up in a community that supports and loves them. We have taught them how to make and keep friends, and if that friendship runs its course, how to continue to be kind. We have taught them to be sensitive and caring of our environment. We have taught them that learning is for life and there are ten different ways to do a math problem. We have taught them to respect each of our differences and to understand that diversity makes our community a healthier place. We have taught them that messy is ok. We have taught them that education is a journey.

Now, as I consider my own ‘graduation’ from Friends School after seven magical years, I know in my heart that this school and the people here have taught me a thing or two as well.

You have taught me what a joyful place school can be.  You have shown me that the process is more important than the product.  You have reminded me of the importance of play. You have helped me continue to understand what it means to be a lifelong learner. You have surrounded me with color and creativity, laughter and friendships.  

And I’ve got to know one other thing here. One truly important, remarkable thing.
            
Twenty-eight years in progressive education including seven years at Friends, and I think I’ve finally got that one thing figured out.  

I know myself.  

This school does an inspirational job of helping people know who they are.  

The schools I attended when I was a kid taught me what to think, where to stand, and how to fit into the crowd.  I’m thrilled that the children here have been given this opportunity to know themselves and take their own place in their ever-widening world.
            
As I head away from Friends, I encourage every one of us to keep with us everything we’ve learned at this school.  

I challenge you, when it’s your turn to leave this place, to be kind and stand up for yourself and others. I challenge you to self-advocate and be a great team-builder. I challenge you to be an outstanding contributor to your community. I challenge you to see the beauty in our world and to use your talents and skills to add to it. Whatever your passion, I challenge you to pursue it with energy and spirit and enthusiasm. 
 
Go out there and be the best that you can be.  And do it with love.
            
I know that we all go forward with the love and light of this community surrounding and embracing us, as we sing:

“Make new friends and keep the old
One is silver and the other gold
A circle is round
It has no end
That’s how long I will be your friend”

Thank you to my colleagues, to the parents, and of course to the children - for everything!



Steve has been Head of School at Friends from July 2011 to June 2018. He will become Head of School at Westside School in Seattle, Washington on July 1. He can continue to be reached at stevegdebeer@gmail.com or through his website stevedebeer.com

May 10, 2018

Memory Lane

My first week at Friends School, August 2011
Each week our elementary school comes together for our weekly Gathering.  On occasion, our Pre-K and middle school students join in the fun.

Last week, Dacia invited me to ‘be’ the Gathering.  I chose to use the time for some storytelling and to share a collection of photos from my seven years at Friends School. Apart from mild alarm at how less grey I was on top in 2011, it was a fun trip down memory lane! And it was even more fun to share it with the kids.

I invited fifth graders who began in preschool the same year as me to stand and be acknowledged. We have shared a lot of events together over the years. Showing photos of upper elementary kids from back when they were in preschool drew some big smiles!

Zombie Steve
I enjoyed sharing with our elementary students photos and stories of the solar panels we put on the elementary building seven years ago, that at the time provided over 90% of the energy for the building.

I showed photos of early changes we created in our upper elementary grades that have now become long-standing traditions, such as the fifth grade play and the Crow Canyon trip – a trip from which our current fifth graders return today!

I reminisced with a few snapshots of various elementary celebrations over the years, including, Harvest and the telling of Stone Soup, with a group of parents acting as the pot, lovingly holding their children in bounds. I shared pictures of Halloween and my love for dressing up. I told the story of my first Friends School Halloween when I overdid it, arriving as a zombie in full theatre makeup, and was admonished by the Kindergarten teacher for being too scary.  This year’s Swedish Chef had just as much makeup but was a little less frightening!
Pancake Steve

I showed pictures of some of the South Campus improvements we have done over the years, and the development of the North Campus and the beginnings of our middle school.

I highlighted a few wonderful achievements including a 2ndgrade film that made it all the way to an award at the White House Student Film Festival, and Friends students on the stage at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

I included a number of fun slides featuring our introduction of our Friends Fox mascot, the head of school created in pancake batter, Diane Bramble inspiring reading dressed as Roald Dahl’s BFG, and the fifth graders defeating their teachers at dodgeball.

Friends student Sadie M. meets the President, 2015
I featured our now year-old Friends School logo and brand.

Pictures. Stories. Changes.

How do you capture seven years of learning, laughing, living and loving in a few slides?

The short answer is, you don’t.

You give a glimpse and hope to highlight a few moments. Moments that are brief pausing places along memory lane.  

Diane Bramble as the BFG
As I was preparing the presentation, I spent hours strolling down memory lane, revisiting the thousands of photographs that still only catch a glimpse of hundreds of individual journeys. Some of these journeys are just beginning.  Some our wrapping up their third grade, or fifth grade, or seventh grade journeys.  Some have passed through our school’s doors several years ago and are now flying in high school and beyond.

As a head of school, it has been and continues to be a privilege to walk alongside our students as they travel the road.  Not in the ways I used to when I was a classroom teacher, but in small ways when I share a quick connection, or in broader ways when I help shape the strategic vision for what’s to come.

Memory lane is a wonderful place to stroll. Thank you for letting me walk alongside you.

May 3, 2018

Look Out – May Is Here!

5th grader delivering May Day flowers to one
of our neighbors (and a preschool family!)
You’re a parent.  You get it.  May is nuts! Some people in schools call it Mayhem.  There is so much going on!

At Friends, we are no exception.  We encourage you to keep a close eye on your teachers’ newsletters and our school online calendar, as well as the weekly Happenings to make sure you are clued in to what’s going on.

As a school that believes in the importance of tradition and ritual, and of truly honoring transitions, we do a lot around here.  We celebrate the year that is ending, and we help children look ahead to the future. It’s important to pay attention that many children find transitions difficult and some are saying goodbye to beloved teachers and friends.  

Thank you, parents, in advance for all the time and energy you give to our celebrations.

Thank you also to everyone who came to Parent Work Day last week.  Unfortunately I could not attend because I was out of town for a friend’s wedding, but I returned to our South Campus on Monday to find it sparkling. All of us are greatly indebted to everyone who gave up a Saturday morning to help, and to our Facilities and AfterCare staff who worked so hard.

Mayhem has already started. 
Thank you to everyone who attended Parent Work Day

I received a lovely phone call and a few emails this week from grateful neighbors who found beautiful flowers in May Day baskets delivered by our students on Tuesday.  

Congratulations to our 5thgrade class whose annual soccer game with the staff was rained out, but who rallied to overcome some hard-throwing teachers and beat them 2-1 in a competitive dodgeball game!

Our middle schoolers spent Thursday at the Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary, owned by a former Friends family who brought two of their mustangs to our preschool and elementary playground a couple of weeks ago.  Middle schoolers also hosted Kindergarten buddies at the North Campus this week, and visited 1stgrade buddies at South.

High fives after the dodge ball game
Our fourth graders are hard at work in rehearsal for Love’s Labor Lostfor the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and many of our classes are wrapping up or have already presented their AOE (area of expertise) projects.

As I write, I hear the enthusiastic voices of preschoolers singing their hearts out in music class as they prepare for their upcoming Silver and Gold ceremonies.

Spring fling is upon us, kicking off at 1:30 this afternoon.  Rumor has it there’s a bounty on my seat in the dunk tank.  I’m prepared to get soaked!

Behind the scenes, we are already planning for next year’s admissions season, and we are finalizing the school’s budget for next year. Our hiring committees have been hard at work. We’ve created new
Friends School logo wear. We have planned out our summer facilities projects, and our administrative team has been in training this week for the new and improved database that you will hear more about. Finally, a new website will be ready by the start of school.

Through it all, Honor Taft, our new head of school, was here on our campuses for three full days as she continued to meet and connect with everyone and to learn more about the many aspects of our school.  She is doing an amazing job of getting up to speed and will be ready to hit the ground running when she officially takes the reins on July 1.

As I try to soak in all I can of the Friends School experience in my remaining weeks here, my calendar is full!  I know yours is too – thanks for coming to so much!  I’ll see you at a celebration soon.

April 26, 2018

A New Math Teacher for Friends Middle School

I am happy to announce to our community that we have hired Michelle Merz Hoffmeister as the newest member of our middle school faculty.  Michelle will teach math and homeroom at our North Campus next year.

Michelle is currently a teacher of math, science, engineering and AP Chemistry at Basis International School in Shenzhen, China. She has been a middle school math and science teacher since 2010.  In addition to her time in China, Michelle has taught in the Roaring Fork School District in Colorado and in Hawaii.

Michelle’s deep experience in teaching middle school math and beyond, as well as her obvious passion for inspiring middle schoolers, impressed our hiring committee. Michelle understands how to connect with kids aged 11-14.  We feel confident that our middle school students will be more than ready for high school math classes under Michelle’s guidance. She has a delightful sense of humor and she is excited to teach in a small school where every child is known and honored.

Michelle has a B.A. in Zoology from Michigan State University, an M.Ed. in Math & Environmental Science from Concordia University, and a Juris Doctorate from Northern Illinois University. As a private tutor, she has provided support in all science and math subjects including AP Physics, AP Chemistry, Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, SAT, ACT, LSAT, and GMAT test prep. 

Her references describe her as an outstanding educator who finds the best in every individual student.  She is 100% committed and takes the time to explain difficult concepts in ways that all students can understand.  She is a wonderful motivator.

A huge thank you to our middle school hiring committee of Middle School Director Shelby Pawlina, teachers Erika Norman, Kevin Nugent and Diane Bramble, and parents Dawn Brady and Carol Hoeffler, as well as Honor Taft who was involved in the final decision process. We interviewed many candidates, brought four finalists on campus to observe, and feel excited to have found such a passionate and experienced new member of our team.  Thank you also to Jana Bledsoe who does so much to support all of our applicants and our hiring committees.

Erika Norman, who has taught both elementary and middle school math since we opened our middle school two years ago, will focus all of her time next year in our elementary program, K-5. Michelle will teach all 6-8 math classes.

Please take a moment to read Michelle’s letter to our community:

Hello Everyone!!!

My name is Michelle Merz Hoffmeister and I am beyond excited to be joining the staff at Friends School in the fall.  My desire to be back with my family in  Colorado led to  a lot of research about the kind of school where I wanted to work.  I found Friends School, and your mission and values statements really spoke to me.

I am a sometimes overly enthusiastic educator who firmly believes in lifelong learning.  My teaching philosophy is to help all students to achieve and succeed and to have fun while doing it.  I try to make my lessons very hands-on, cross-curricular, project-based, and tailored to individuals as much as possible.  Every student is unique and I need to be flexible as an educator to reach all of my students.  The more I read, the more I knew that Friends School was the place where I wanted to teach.  After each interview and step in the selection process, it just cemented that belief.

A little about me: I am a proud self-proclaimed nerd.  I hold three college degrees and want a fourth. My five-year plan includes starting on a Ph.D. in Environmental Biology.  I have my thesis already picked out (see - overly enthusiastic!)  My road to teaching has been a journey, but oh the places I have gone!  I have taught on two continents in three states.  I get really excited about doing math for fun although my major in college was science.  I can talk for hours about either subject.  

I am a wife and mother of four kids ranging in age from 12 to almost 21 years old.  They are my joy!  For fun, I LOVE to ski, and I am a ski instructor when I am somewhere with snow.  I can't wait to get back on the slopes.  I also like to coach soccer, gymnastics and All Star Cheerleading.  I am a HUGE Star Wars and Disney fan, and I have even worked for Disneyland in California for a year. It was an amazing experience.  

I am so looking forward to meeting you all and bringing my love of math to your students.

Michelle 

April 19, 2018

Get Out of Town!

3rd graders at snowy Cal-Wood recently
Last Thursday evening, our Great Room at the South Campus was filled with laughter and excitement as our 2ndgrade class pitched tents and spent the night at school.  Their teacher Bryn Pennington and a handful of gallant parent volunteers got a little sleep as they watched over their flock by night.

The week before, our 3rdgraders arrived at school weighed down by backpacks, hiking boots, and water bottles, prepared to spend a couple of days in the great outdoors. They spent the night up at Cal-Wood Education Centerabove Jamestown. Each year, two of our classes make the trek into the foothills north of Boulder to participate in a wide variety of outdoor learning opportunities.

3rdgrade teacher Krysten Fort-Catanese shared, “It was an awesome bonding experience. (The third graders) had two very special days in the outdoors. They challenged themselves, saw some beautiful vistas, played fun games, explored rock science, and had a great time around the campfire at night.”Krysten, who is a renowned expert in social and emotional learning, knows so well the importance of getting children out of the classroom environment and seeing a new side of her students.

These excursions are just part of Friends School’s extensive age-appropriate trips program that takes our students and teachers both close to and far from home.

The trips program starts in 2ndgrade with the overnight experience at school, progresses to the Cal-Wood trips in 3rdand 4thgrades, and proceeds to get longer and more adventurous as children get older.

Each year, our 5thgrade class embarks on a five-day, four-night, trip to the Four Corners region of Colorado.  They have a week-long educational experience at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Centerwhich is dedicated to understanding, teaching, and helping to preserve the rich history of the ancestral Pueblo people (the Anasazi) of the American Southwest. There, they spend three
Previous 5th graders at Mesa Verde
full days 
learning the basics of Pueblo Indian history, excavating at a site that represents different time periods, and participating in a variety of "ancient lifestyle" activities at Crow Canyon’s pithouse and pueblo learning centers. Their program wraps up with a day-long tour of Mesa Verde National Park, where our students explore the spectacular cliff dwellings and other archaeological sites for which the park is famous.
Our middle school students leave for a week in May on their spring trip to Moab, Utah, where they will visit Arches National Park and spend a day river rafting with Adrift Adventures. Last year, they went to the Black Hills of South Dakota for five days and four nights. And each fall, they go on a two-night camping trip. During the spring trips, students combine active opportunities that take advantage of the local terrain with educational offerings that highlight the natural and cultural history of the area. They also take time to reflect on their middle school years and consider the leadership roles they will play as 7thand 8thgraders next fall.

Our middle school team is busy planning our culminating 8thgrade trip for next spring.  We don’t know exactly where they will be going yet, but we know a plane trip will be involved!  It’s an exciting time in the development of our middle school program.

There is a whole body of research that supports the huge advantages for students who take trips as part of their school experience.

2nd graders camping in the Great Room last week
A recent study by the U.S. Travel Association, found that, regardless of gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, children who take educational trips have better grades, higher graduation rates from high school and college, and greater income. In fact, 89 percent said educational trips had a positive, lasting impact on their education and career because the trips
made them more engaged, intellectually curious and interested in and out of school.

On our Friends trips program, students are able to access tools and environments that are not available at school. Our communities are rich learning laboratories. Field trips make it possible to take students to see an underwater ecosystem at an aquarium, participate in citizen science in a river, use high powered microscopes, see and touch historical artifacts in person and present on a public stage among hundreds of other things. Each experience solidifies learning and supports important academic concepts. 
Students who go on field trips become more empathetic and tolerant. A study conducted by the University of Arkansas found that students that participate in trips show increased empathy, tolerance and critical thinking skills. Studying off campus gives students a chance to think about a topic or theme from a different perspective.

Helen Keller famously said, “Life is either an adventure or nothing.”All of us at Friends are very excited for our students and their adventures.  We love presenting them with opportunities to bond as a class, to give them lessons they might not learn back at school, and to recognize their desire and need to spread their wings as they grow. 
Bon voyage to all our field trippers!

April 12, 2018

Inside Scoop: Here’s What’s Really Happening At Recess

When we learned that we needed to take down our beloved old play structure, we knew that a big, physical space would open up. What we didn’t know is that a fabulous side effect would emerge: this new space sparked creativity, innovation and connection.

When I was out on the elementary playground earlier this week, I witnessed a dynamic game of tag that involved a large group of children in several grades, including Kindergartners and 5thgraders.  Everyone was in high spirits!

Our kids have also been deeply involved in creating amazing structures out of cardboard on the raised section of our playground, aka “Cardboard City.”  According to 4thgrade teacher Leigh Houser, the creativity and engagement has been outstanding. Dozens of children have worked together and there hasn’t been any need to deal with behavior issues. Everyone has been determined to be helpful and build together.

When our space opened up, a group of teachers saw an opportunity and met to “hack the playground.”  Their goal was to generate new and different ideas to enrich and enhance the children’s outside experience. Not coincidentally, the task force that has been working for months to design a new playground for us has come to the same conclusion. 

Our teachers know well the importance of open-ended, creative play. Our preschool teachers model this every day.  In a 2017 article that preschool teacher Katy Hollenbach sent to me, author and ‘play practitioner’ Caileigh Flannigan writes:

“When children are engaged in free play in the outdoors, they are provided opportunities for freedom, choice, and fewer routines...When children are given such freedom to play, they are more likely to engage in higher levels of social interaction, cognitive skills such as decision-making and reasoning, empathy, and physical activity. In turn, they are less likely to become inattentive, anxious, or depressed and unhealthy.This is how children learn – through experience: by seeing, feeling, touching, and hearing. The outdoor environment is a blank canvas on which children are able to place their own thoughts, wonders, and creations.”

She continues to explain the huge benefits of playing with loose parts:

Loose parts are play objects and materials that are open-ended, manipulative, moveable, and non-dictated. This means that children can use the materials in a variety of ways and there is no suggested way or “story” behind these materials. Loose parts allow children to act upon their environment the way that they want, rather than their imaginations and creativity being predetermined by the materials.”

And that is exactly what has happened with Cardboard City. Next week, the cardboard will disappear and our teachers will bring out woodworking materials:  a bench, tools, and a huge variety of wood scraps. Other creative mini programs will be rolled out as part of our outdoor play in the coming weeks:

April 16: woodworking 
April 23: knitting 
April 30: sidewalk chalk, bubbles, and a slackline
May 7: face painting and “tattoos”
May 14: yard games
May 21: water games

Author Flannigan adds: It is a disappointing thing to see new playgrounds, developed in city spaces, sit there empty each day, or to walk in the park and hear no laughter. What is missing here is not the children per se, but materials and environments that create challenge, imagination, and creativity that make children want to play outdoors. The absence of such play environments is not only influencing the quantity and quality of children’s play, but also affecting children’s health and well-being. As adults, we need to support children in learning to enjoy what free play in the outdoors has to offer. We need to inspire imaginations, creative minds, and capable bodies.”

Our playground task force has thought long and hard about what makes an outdoor play space that will be full of laughter and open-ended play. They have been hard at work designing a playground and a playground-specific program that comprise “materials and environments that create challenge, imagination, and creativity that make children want to play.” 

We can’t wait for you to hear about and see what we’re about to create here at Friends School.  

Please plan on attending our Project Playground Town Hall & Big Revealnext Thursday, April 19 at 7:00pmat the Elementary School Great Room.  This will be your chance to see the design, ask the architect questions, hear from task force members on the project plans, and enter to win a prize or two. Please plan to attend and enjoy wine (this is an adults-only event) and dessert.  You may RSVP here.

April 5, 2018

Friends School Names Bryn Pennington as our New Art Teacher

Friends new art teacher Bryn Pennington
The following photos are examples of
the work Bryn's previous students have created.
It is with great pride and pleasure that I let you know that we have hired Bryn Pennington as our next art teacher at Friends School.  Bryn is a parent at our school, has been our long-time sub in 2nd grade since January and had already been named interim art teacher for late April until the end of the school year. Now she will be here teaching K-8 art permanently beginning in August.

Although we knew and loved Bryn’s work, we cast a wide search for a new art teacher so that we could be confident in bringing the very best teacher to our students. Our hiring committee read more than a dozen complete applications, met eight semi-finalists, many of whom were very strong candidates, and brought finalists on campus for demo lessons and in-depth interviews.  Bryn’s interview, portfolio and student lesson far surpassed all other candidates and exceeded our expectations with her richness of experience, her passion for teaching art, her connection to Friends School’s teaching philosophy, and her desire to integrate art into all aspects of school life.

Bryn is a credentialed, experienced elementary classroom teacher with several years experience teaching K-5 art. She holds an M.A. in curriculum and instruction from San Jose State University.

The rest of this article showcases Bryn’s own words, which will give you a better sense of who she is as an art teacher and why she is such a great fit for our school.  Congratulations to Bryn, and thank you to our hiring committee for their excellent work: Mandy Stepanovsky, Shelby Pawlina, Erika Norman and parents Thom Teten and Kaelin Kelly. Honor Taft was also included in our process.


Here’s Bryn…

Dear Friends,

I am thrilled to become part of the Friends School faculty as Art Teacher for next school year. When I toured Friends' School in the Spring of 2016, both Harper and I LOVED what we saw in the Art Room -- vibrant, lovingly created works of art, the utilization of diverse media, culturally rich and relevant work, the intense focus and happiness of students at their work.  

I feel the potential for the Art Studio program at Friends School is limitless. So many families are passionate about the arts at our school. Parent involvement and new community arts opportunities are two of my goals to develop for next school year.

I bring lessons developed over years of teaching in both the elementary and arts setting, lessons that echo the mission of Friends School. Here are two examples of what to expect next year. First, 
Peace Angels are a project inspired by artist Lin Evola, who melts down guns and weapons of war, recasting them as huge sculptural angels who carry messages of peace. As my 5th graders learned about her work, they decided peace may begin with self-forgiveness. So, while sculpting their peace figure, they wrote messages about something they needed forgiveness for, and placed them inside their figure. These messages burned away in the kiln, an invitation to personal transformation. 
In a second project called Storyboxes, student partners shared a powerful personal story. After learning about the art of Joseph Cornell, students created a mixed media “storybox” that represented their partner’s story in non-literal ways. Students then exchanged their storyboxes, and shared how they interpreted important elements of each story. Such deep listening and creating a gift of art to give to a friend invited trust, respect and care into the class communities. 
From these two examples, I hope you can see my three main art studio goals. First, to teach students the skills and techniques of diverse media; second, to use the arts as a medium for social emotional learning and community building; and third to offer children opportunities to communicate their important ideas about the world in a creative way.
The art studio offers a venue to realize the Friends School mission of head, hand and heart. I can't wait to be part of each student's journey into the arts. What an incredible honor to be part of this flourishing school community. 
Warmly,
Bryn

March 22, 2018

Spring Has Sprung, The Grass Is Ris

It’s the last morning of school before spring break.  For our preschool families, spring break has already started. 

While our friends on the East Coast have been hit by deep snow from their fourth nor’easter in the last three weeks, it sure feels like summer is on its way here in Boulder.

The clocks have sprung forward, the days are already longer, and we have felt the warmth of the late March sun on our faces.

I love this time of year.  For students and teachers and I’m sure parents alike, we’re ready for a few days away from school, a time to recharge.  For some, a time to get in a few last runs on the slopes or to make a quick getaway to the beach.  For others, a time to walk in the neighborhood and notice the crocuses already blooming and the tulips on their way.

Back when I was a wee lad in England, at the first sign of spring’s flowers, my South African father invariably repeated these lines, an anonymously penned English poem:

Spring has sprung, the grass is ris,  
I wonder where the boidies is  
The boid is on the wing,  
But that’s absoid  
From what I hoid  
The wing is on the boid!

The “boids”, of course, are the birds and the poem, for me, is synonymous with the season.

Spring. A time of fresh beginnings, new hope, and warmer times ahead.

At Friends School, as we celebrate our 30th Anniversary this year and look back at all the ways the school has changed over time, we are grateful.  And we are stronger for all who have been part of our history and all who are part of our present.

Change. New energy. Springtime. Part of who we are.

I wish all of our families, and all readers of this column, a delightful spring break. I hope you find the boids. May you return to school refreshed, recharged, and ready for spring. 

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 https://leg.colorado.gov/find-my-legislator. 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.