January 12, 2017

A Wider Impact

Teacher Candidates ham it up during my
drama workshop in December
Thank you to everyone who came out on a cold night to see the excellent documentary film The Empowerment Project.  It was the first big event that we held in our recently opened middle school building. It was electrifying to have a crowd of nearly 150 people at the movie, filling the halls and gym of our new campus.

A big thank you to Diane Hullet, Mike Fisher, Elizabeth Henna, Shelby Pawlina and Meg Hansen (and others) for their hard work in pulling off such a great event for the Boulder community.

Having so many people from the wider community, who do not attend our school, in our building reminded me of the greater purpose of our small private school.

As our parents well know, our elementary students are not only taught by a full-time professional teacher, we have eager teachers-in-training in each of our classrooms.  Our preschool classrooms welcome a teacher candidate for half a year.

While we host eight teacher candidates from our Teacher Preparation Program in our classrooms at Friends’, the majority of the graduate students in the program are at other schools.  There are 32 of them and they are working and learning in classrooms across the Boulder area, most of them in public schools, some others in private schools.

Math challenges during a TPP Friday seminar
Friends’ School started this alternative licensing program eleven years ago because there wasn't an option for a hands-on, residency teacher preparation program in Boulder for elementary school teachers.  (Teacher candidates in our program have the option of gaining their teacher license in either elementary or early childhood education.)

"It's a very full and rich experience," said program co-director Ed Walent. "We think it's the best way to train new teachers."

Under the residency model, teacher candidates spend four days a week in a classroom with a teacher mentor and the fifth day learning through seminars and workshops.

One of the strongest components of our program is connecting content to a practicum. These are inextricably intertwined. We teach teachers in the same way we teach children. Teacher candidates get the most out of their learning when they get to apply it. We give them hands-on, real-world experiences that help them make sense of what they’re learning.

As I was touring prospective graduate students around our South Campus this week, I asked current Kindergarten TC Annika Nygren her opinion of the program and what she’s learning.  She told the group, “I love it.  I was nervous at first because I had never worked with children in an academic setting.  But I have learned so much.  And watching my mentor Beth (Huennekens) every day, and learning from her, I have gained so much confidence. I know I’ll be ready to teach my own classroom next year.”

Our Teacher Preparation Program, this summer, will have graduated over 300 new teachers, most of whom are currently working in local public school classrooms, affecting the lives of thousands of young people.

It is an amazing opportunity.  The deadline for applications for next year’s class of Teacher Candidates is fast approaching – February 3.  If you, or anyone you know, is interested in learning more about the program, you may visit the TPP page on our website here. 

January 5, 2017

A New Era for Friends’ School!

Collaboration Space in our new Middle School building
Tuesday marked a pivotal day in the history of Friends' School. We opened the doors to our new middle school building on our North Campus at 3800 Kalmia Avenue in Boulder. The dream has finally become a reality.

As our first class of sixth-grade students entered the new building for the very first time, they were so excited that they ran around and jumped from one new space to another!  Some of our administrative staff, who also moved into the new building this week, were only slightly more restrained as they happily showed off their bright and spacious offices, which are a huge improvement over the tight quarters they have had for many years.

The new middle school building features a huge, open and comfortable collaboration space, a state of the art maker space, a fine gymnasium, five separate classrooms, a gorgeous welcoming lobby, and more.  This is all without counting the five other classrooms in the older modular building on the campus, where our sixth grade started in August – a building that will eventually become a permanent home to our Teacher Preparation Program.  All of this is set on 2.4 beautiful acres, with stunning views of the Flatirons.

On Wednesday morning, as Director of Middle School Shelby Pawlina gave a tour to several of the sixth-grade parents, she paused in the middle school’s new collaboration space, with its bank of new lockers, fresh carpet with pops of orange and green, varied seating configurations for working alone or in groups, tables, couches, and a giant bean bag. She looked around at all of this and noted happily that the space looked… just how she imagined it would be.
Maker Space

Before his lesson on physics that day, sixth grade teacher Kevin Nugent designed a challenging scavenger hunt for his students, which allowed them to explore all nooks and crannies of their new home. He shared with me the high level of excitement and energy his students have for being in their new school.

Parents and kids alike entered the doors on the first morning of school – their awe was evident in the “wows” we heard from each family.  Our Facilities Manager Chad Lawrence said, “It felt like Christmas morning!”

Teachers and staff worked late on Monday finalizing preparations for the space after our construction crew worked through the school’s winter break to finish the building. Shelby, who with her colleagues posted wonderful sixth grade art to welcome families back, said, “It feels completely electrifying to be here!” Director of Marketing and Communications Meg Hansen remarked on the incredible feeling among the staff as the ‘Friends’ School vibe’ in the building finally came together.

When I asked the students how they felt about being in their new space, they used words like: “Wow! Cool! Big! Modern! Organized! Impressive!”  Sixth grader Tanner, in the car ride home from school, said, dreamily, how much he loved it all.

6th grade classroom
I am filled with gratitude for the incredible hard work, passion and generosity of all the people who made this possible: staff, trustees, parents, donors, our design team, finance and facilities committee members, the construction and landscape crews, and of course, the children and our pioneering first middle school families.

I cannot name everyone who played a significant role in a project of this magnitude.  However, I would like to extend a very special thank you to these individuals:

Elizabeth Henna, Friends’ board chair, who worked tirelessly on all aspects of the project, and who provided initial inspiration for growth now.

Shelby Pawlina, Director of Middle School, who was our principal point person on innumerable details, curricular and construction-related, who formalized our vision for a new kind of middle school and provided passionate leadership.

Jen Cope, Director of Finance and Operations, and Jen Greene, Board Treasurer, who provided exceptional financial leadership and ushered the school through our financing procedures. Jen Cope was also instrumental in multiple operations and facilities related decisions.

Lobby/Art Gallery
Lou Bendrick, Caroline Landry and Jana Bledsoe, in our Development/Advancement office, along with Advancement Committee chair Diane Hullet, who have been and continue to be dynamic, innovative, and indefatigable fund-raisers in support of this project.

Carol Hampf, Friends’ long-time trustee, who spent countless hours advising and shepherding the project through the planning, financial, and permitting processes.

Mike Folwell of Folwell Studios Architecture, who designed a learning environment that is a light, happy, and engaging space that maintains the Friends’ feeling that Mike knows very well having been a parent and trustee for so many years.

Meg Hansen, Director of Marketing and Communications , who gave such inspiration to the design of the interior and landscape, and who documented the process with her great photos.

Stephen Butler, Director of Technology, whose skills and expertise brought state of the art technology into the building and whose behind-the-scenes work allows our staff to keep our two campuses virtually connected.

Kevin Nugent, 6th grade teacher, and the entire middle school faculty:  Diane Bramble, Erika Norman, Kelly Cramer, Rachel Relin, Cory Potash (as well as the aforementioned Stephen Butler and Shelby Pawlina) for their ongoing passion, vision and hard work on behalf of the students.
Foursquare in the gym on a snowy day outside
John Crittenden of Apex Builders, and his entire crew of skilled employees and sub-contractors, for their stellar work and for completing the building on time and under budget.

Chad Lawrence, Facilities Manager, for whom no task is too small, who supported the re-model in its final months, as well as the move into the new building.

Tami Wakeman, who created inspirational interior design for the building and selected beautiful finishes that are appreciated the second you walk in the doors.

Becky Hammond, our landscape designer, and Tom Sunderland, from Native Edge Associates Landscapes, who not only designed a superior landscape plan, but also challenged the students to create their own in a fabulous integrated unit of study.

 I would also like to thank the entire staff and Community Board of Friends’, especially Associate Head Mandy Stepanovsky, who understood and allowed me to spend time on this project, which naturally took time away from other duties.  

This has been a huge and dynamic project that has taken huge amounts of energy to bring about during the best part of two years – energy from our staff and amazing volunteers. 

It was made possible by our staff pitching in extra time and effort to maintain our wonderful preschool and elementary programs while allowing us to grow for the benefit of our entire community. In Friends’ School fashion, we all grew our brains and gained new skills the last two years. It could not have been done without the support of our entire staff and board.

In the words of Board Chair Elizabeth Henna, “the voices and faces today made it all worthwhile.”

I could not be more proud! 

Please let us know when you would like to tour!

December 14, 2016

The Actor, the Boss, and the Shortest Day

One of my favorite places in the whole world is Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstore. In the past week or so, two of my heroes have performed readings there.

One was my good friend Jamie Horton, a long-time actor with the Denver Center Theatre Company, who is now an associate professor of theatre at Dartmouth College. Jamie is in town playing the role of George Bailey in a local production of It’s a Wonderful Life. Almost every year, for the last eighteen years, Jamie has presented the annual Holiday Reading at the Tattered Cover.  It’s a firm favorite in the Denver holiday calendar.

My other hero who stopped by the bookstore is a brand new author who just published his first book.  However, you might know him for his rock and roll: Bruce Springsteen.  The Boss was in the same event space a few days earlier reading from his new autobiography, Born To Run.

I have learned a lot from these two men over the years: one I’ve never met, one I meet for breakfast every time he’s in town.
Jamie Horton

Springsteen gave me the soundtrack of my high school and college years. He gave me lyrics that taught me the rhythms of my adopted country. He suffuses his songs with an understanding that life’s a tough road to travel, but hope is real, and redemption is available for everybody. I listen to his music regularly on my commute to Friends’ School.

Horton gave me my first glance behind the scenes of professional theatre. In the few short comedy skits that we performed on stage together, he gave me confidence in my ability as an actor and a director that inspired me to found a children’s theatre program.  I have now directed hundreds of children over the years in over forty full-scale productions – and I know that theatre will always play an important role in my life.

Bruce Springsteen at the Tattered Cover book store last week
At the Tattered Cover on Monday night, Jamie read a couple of children’s favorites: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and The Polar Express.  He read a story by Pearl S. Buck and poems by Maya Angelou and Howard Thurman. There was one poem in particular that truly caught my ear.

This poem, The Shortest Day, by English author Susan Cooper, is a moving commentary on the winter solstice.  As all of our classes, preschool through middle school, observe our Winter Celebrations this week, it reminded me of why we honor the cycles of the seasons at Friends’ through our rituals and celebrations.

The Shortest Day
by Susan Cooper

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

Developing personal spirituality is a lifelong journey and a natural aspect of childhood. At Friends’ School, we encourage children to have open hearts and minds as they grow, explore, and share traditions, developing self-awareness and understanding of themselves as part of the bigger world.

As we break from school today, and gather with family and friends during these short days and long nights, I wish for you and your family that you:

dearly love your friends,
and hope for peace.
here, now,
this year and every year.

Wherever, whatever, and with whomever you are celebrating at this time of year, may you enjoy!

December 7, 2016

“Beyond Expectations”

Allison and Tori
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yes, the holidays are upon us and there is much to be grateful for.  There is also another season that takes place in independent schools in December and into the New Year.

Friends’ School is immersed in admissions season.  Every day, our classrooms are hosting visiting parents and students.  We are holding several information sessions for entry into preschool, Kindergarten and sixth grade.  We have lots of interest from families in Boulder and those who are moving here.  It is an exciting time.

While strong interest from outside families is of course very welcome, what is most gratifying to me is hearing from current families when our programs exceed expectations. This past week, for example, I received an email from one of our sixth grade parents, Carol Hoeffler. I read: “The experience the students are having and the quality of their middle school experience - socially, emotionally and academically - is beyond my expectations.”

 She added, “The education my daughter is getting at Friends is not only ample for high school preparation, it excels in life preparation, inspiring independent thought and motivated, interested students.”

Over the years in Boulder, Carol has seen her niece go to Casey, her nephew at Platt Choice and her own son at both Southern Hills and Watershed School. She has a good sense of many different middle schools in Boulder. However, from her direct observation of Friends’ new middle school, she knows her daughter Allison is well on the way to being extremely well prepared for high school and for life.

Our 6th graders worked collaboratively to create
proposals for the landscaping of our new North Campus
Allison told her: “There is more work and more responsibility than Friends’ Elementary, but it’s in a way where if you’re having trouble, the teachers will understand what’s going on. I’m learning a lot this year. The teachers are pushing us but are still really kind. There are more expectations but the teachers are interested in your life and where you’re coming from.”

With such a positive experience for her family at Friends’ North Campus, Carol was inspired to ask other families their opinions of Friends’ Middle School.

These first two paragraphs are from families who are brand new to Friends’ in middle school – their sons attended BVSD elementary schools. The last two quotes are from families who continued from Friends’ Elementary School.

“We feel fortunate to be a part of the ‘pioneer group’ at Friends’ Middle School. It’s been exciting and dynamic to work with such a dedicated team of educators. To us, the most important aspect is that our son comes home genuinely excited about school.  He is inspired by his teachers and is obviously enjoying learning. Since the middle school is new and relatively small, we were pleasantly surprised to learn the students have several teachers. Friends’ students contribute significantly to the direction their coursework takes. Their interests are explored in meaningful ways which are applicable in their everyday lives. As Friends’ continues to develop a rich middle school experience, they do so in a way that is consistent with their mission of teaching to the whole child creatively and with integrity.” – Mignon, mom of 6th grader Tanner.

Middle School science lab
“Friends' sixth grade has been a completely different middle school experience. The creative, open learning experience of flipped classrooms; use of technology and Schoology; the attention to community and relationships, together with inner growth; and many inspired learning avenues create a unique and open learning environment where really being yourself is at the root of learning. My pre-teen is finding is that there is enough room to explore himself and be very excited by the joy of learning.”
- Caron, mom of 6th grader Beck

“I never would have imagined that I would enroll my child in a brand-new, small middle school program! I think of this experience as being an incredibly empowering one for my daughter and her classmates. They are, every day, helping create the kind of school and community they want to be in, and it’s impressive to witness how they are carrying that out. These kids are some of the kindest, most selfless, inspiring, and thoughtful kids (or people!) I’ve ever met, and it is such a privilege for my daughter to be with them every day. The community may be small, but it is boundless in heart….

….it really is ridiculously amazing how many incredibly professional, experienced, and thoughtful teachers these kids have. Many are favorites from the elementary school - Diane, Rachel, Kelly, Stephen, and Erika. Then there is the terrific lead teacher, Kevin, who is inspiring my daughter more about learning, especially in science, than I’ve ever seen and stepping up expectations to an appropriate middle school level. Friends’ Middle School is a unique place and an experience I feel so grateful to be able to give my daughter in this critical time in her life.” – Elizabeth, mom of 6th grader Charlotte

“Going into 5th grade at Friends' School we had a terrible sadness when we thought about leaving
Our pioneering 6th grade class at Community Cycles
our community there. In this day, our sense of community is disparate as we become more global citizens. Our families often live a great distance, we move from our home states and neighborhoods are less community driven than ever. The decision to stay at Friends' for middle school was so much more than an academic one. The real-world learning platform is wonderful, it evolves with them and I see the impact it's making daily. For us, Friends' is more than a school, it's a community. We grow and learn and feel safe to fail there, our friends are there, our family is there... it's home.”
- Cinder, mom of 6th grader Tori

Our first sixth grade class, and some of our administrative team, move into the beautiful, newly renovated North Campus main building in January.  Our construction crew is wrapping up their outstanding work this week.

We invite you to come and see it for yourselves - whether your students are moving on to middle school in the next couple of years or still have several more years in our elementary school. Give us a call.

Please click here for details on all of our upcoming admissions events and feel free to pass on this information to your friends and share on social media.

December 1, 2016

Pint-sized Meditation Guides

Brooks & Grayson
Meet Grayson and Brooks, two Kindergartners in Beth Huennekens’ class at Friends’.

It has been a while since I was a Kindergarten boy.  What I remember from those days is digging in the sand, playing chase, and kicking a ball around.  I’m pretty sure that Grayson and Brooks like to do those things too.  But this week, they were up to something a little different.

They made an announcement to their teachers and to their classmates that they were eager and prepared to lead them in a guided meditation, something they had learned by practicing it themselves.  They asked their Kindergarten friends and teachers to sit in a circle, close their eyes, and place their hands either together in front of their chests or on their knees in a lotus pose.

Brooks took the lead, telling a story, inviting the class to imagine that they were listening to waves, seeing a golden sand castle, and in a quiet clear voice, asked them to visualize a huge rainbow-colored dot that came down from the sky and turned into a hot air balloon carrying a friend. While Brooks created the story, Grayson quietly circled the room, gently correcting the meditation poses for maximum effect. Grayson then picked up the story, asking his peers to imagine walking into a meadow and to think about someone they love.

The guided meditation lasted for four or five minutes, according to our Teacher Candidate Annika Nygren.  That’s a pretty long time for Kindergartners to sit in silence with such focus.  Yet everyone did.

Brooks and Grayson told Beth that, during a different class activity where they were thinking about energy zones, they noticed that meditation was something that put them both in the blue (rest) zone level of energy. They thought it was cool that they had some similarities and differences.

When Beth asked the boys how they thought it went, they initially said, "It went pretty good.  Excellent actually.  The kids' faces looked happy, so that means they liked it.”

Then they said, "Actually, we're not sure it went so well because some friends said it was boring.  That probably means it was hard and something we need to work on."

And that is what a growth mindset is all about – something we focus on at Friends’ School a lot.

Brooks explained, "We want more friends to like it!  We want them to be able to do harder mediation, like when you're totally silent and don't even tell a story."

Grayson added, "Yeah, for like 30 minutes!  That would take a lot of practice."

"Meditation" corner in Kindergarten
The boys created a corner of their classroom to be a meditation center.  They made this sign for it especially. They also told their teacher about how some friends were already showing moreinterest because they worked with them at choice time.  Brooks said, "Maybe they can help teach others!"

There is a great deal of research today about how using meditation in schools is effective in supporting learning. Meditation also brings excellent health benefits and positively affects brain activity. Mindfulness education programs improved students’ self-control, attentiveness and respect for other classmates, enhanced the school climate, and improved teachers’ moods.  This is a link to several studies collated by Friends’ former partners at the Great Good Science Center if you would like to learn more.

I’m pretty sure that Grayson and Brooks are not aware of these studies.  I’m equally certain that they know what feels good – in their bodies, in their brains, and in their classroom.

I’m proud of these Kindergarten leaders for sharing their passion with their class.  And I’m grateful for the experience and skill of Beth and Annika for giving them the respectful space to let this happen.