February 23, 2017

Don’t Look Now! They’re Everywhere!

You might see them in the great room, in the halls, in the classrooms… sometimes they’re invisible but their presence is tangible.

Volunteers. They’re everywhere!

At Friends’ School we are truly lucky to have an amazingly accomplished and community-minded group of parents who keep our community strong. We could not do all that we do at Friends’ without our wonderful and enthusiastic parent (and sometimes grandparent, aunt, uncle, and caregiver) volunteers.

On any given week you’ll find volunteers hard at work on art projects for the auction, shelving books and helping guide computer instruction in the library, driving on a field trip, helping in the classrooms with reading groups and math lessons and spelling tests, working towards the future of the school on our committees and board. 

What’s always astonishing and inspiring is that despite the fact that parents are understandably busy and tired, they roll up their sleeves on a Saturday morning for Parent Work Day, tote bagels and coffee to Parent Council breakfasts, collect money for Teacher Thanksgiving, champion the Annual Fund as class captains, take precious time to help students in their Area of Expertise (AOE) projects or set up chairs at a parent education event.

The list of ways they support the school is endless. 

Some tasks, like helping in classrooms, are very visible. Others happen a little more behind the scenes. Working parents, and others whose schedules don’t mesh with ours, can be busy at home preparing materials for classrooms, writing thank you notes for the Annual Fund, or working on tasks on behalf of the school Auction.

Friends’, like all independent schools, has a Board of Trustees that works in collaboration with me to guide the direction our school is taking.  Devoted volunteers on our board and its committees —current and past parents— meet monthly during the school year, and also put in countless, selfless hours to keep the school running and ensure its bright future. Their energy and ability to give is humbling.

I’d like to give a shout out to a few volunteers who have been especially tireless: Jenny McGuire, Mindy Mullins, Jenny Donovan, Karen Donohue, Maureen Espinoza, Diane Hullet, Shel Gerding, Catherine Meng, Erin Picone, Aarin Holmes, Joe Baran and Mignon Macias, Chris Wirth, Christine Case, Elizabeth Henna, Laura Farrelly, Herb Blecher, Kasey Lohman, Deb and Howard Rubin, Mary Anne Zacek, Carol Hoeffler, Alex Teller, Cinder Trout, Tami Wakeman, Dana Myers, Rob Wright, Chelsea and Bill Flagg, Julie Pelaez, Adam Kimberly, Robyn Manley, Mike Fisher, Wendy Michael, Andy Boyd; and alumni parents: Carol Hampf, Jen Greene, and Anne Hunter.

Is this list complete? No, and I apologize that I’m not listing each and every valuable volunteer here. If I left you out of the list, I'm sorry, and please know how grateful we are for all that our parents do. Thank you to ALL our parents who are willing and able to support their child’s education through hands-on volunteerism.  Our community is stronger because of the willingness of everyone to make it so, and we are truly grateful.

Thank you, volunteers, for all that you do.

February 15, 2017

Getting Preschool Right

Getting Preschool Right: this is the title of a just-released article in the March/April 2017 edition of Scientific American Mind.  The author, Melinda Wenner Moyer, looks into the latest research and public policy on preschools and arrives at some conclusions that we already know something about at Friends’ preschool.

It has long been known that a quality preschool education sets up children for success in elementary school and beyond.  But what makes “quality”?

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, children succeed best in child-centered preschools that encourage children to learn via hands-on activities and play that are, for the most, part self-directed.

Our Friends’ School preschool teachers know that scaffolding play is essential. Our teachers skillfully guide – or “scaffold” – play and hands-on, child-led activities, which help children learn concepts more deeply.
Research tells us, and I see this every morning, that good teachers set up a variety of play experiences.  Through scaffolding children’s play, our teachers allow children to play and explore, but also guide them with suggestions, ideas, and discussions to support their growth.

The article highlights several recent studies that demonstrate the effectiveness and value of

There are alarming numbers from around the country on how little the U.S. invests in preschool programs. Sadly, we fall behind most other developed nations.  And this is not only in funding, but also in philosophy.  Our country has had such push from politicians and others to create rigor and accountability, that preparation and readiness have become a national priority.

At Friends’, we believe the opposite.  We believe in meeting children where they are at and supporting their growth in a way that is natural, not forced.

According to the author, high quality preschool programs require a lot of money, experience, and planning to create; and they take a tremendous a amount of skill to implement.

We believe in investing in our teachers.  In a profession that is traditionally low-paid and where preschool teachers earn considerably less than their K-12 colleagues, our Friends’ preschool teachers are paid on par with our elementary and middle school teachers.  And we support their professional development interests 100% (see my Among Friends’ article highlighting our entire preschool team’s trip to LA for several days of professional development).

I particularly enjoyed the following language that appeared in Ms. Moyer’s article:

What Makes A Good Preschool

  • Children have ample time to explore, play and be creative using a variety of materials.

  • Teachers are warm and responsive and encourage conversation and participation.

  • Kids feel safe and secure.

  • Teachers set limits about acceptable behavior but also work with students to help them label, understand and cope with emotions.

  • Teachers read to the children regularly – not just as a class but individually and in small groups.
These are things that I see every day in our quality preschool classrooms.

If your child has experienced all of these qualities at Friends’ Preschool, please recommend us to your friends and acquaintances.  We still have a few spots left for the fall of 2017 in our morning preschool and afternoon pre-Kindergarten classes. More information is available here. 

February 8, 2017

Ed, the Mets, and the TPP

At the end of this semester, Friends’ School will say goodbye to an extraordinary educator who has been integral to us fulfilling our mission for the last six years.

Ed Walent, the director of our Teacher Preparation Program (TPP), joined the Friends’ staff during the same summer that I did, in 2011. During Ed’s time with us, he has served as both director and co-director of the TPP, and has personally guided almost 200 new teachers into the profession. That is a remarkable legacy.

Most of our parents and students are most familiar with the Teacher Preparation Program through their classroom interactions with Teacher Candidates.  Many don’t realize the dynamic operation and professional guidance that occurs behind the scenes.

For some, Ed is that guy in the New York hat guiding cars in the parking lot on Wednesday mornings.  To say that Ed is a fan of the New York Giants and the New York Mets is an understatement.  If you ever have a chance to attend a New York game with Ed, as I have on a few occasions, you would understand the meaning of the words over-crazed zealot!

Ed came to Friends’ from the Richmond, Virginia area, where he was a public school principal and district-wide Director of Instructional Support for many years. Ed also served for two years as head of the American School of Kuwait.  It was important for Friends’, as an independent school, to bring in Ed’s crucial public school experience into our Teacher Preparation Program, which partners with so many public and charter schools. Ed has been the perfect fit.

Steve and Ed at an early season Mets game.
Ed, of course, is wearing a Giants hat.
In a recent letter to our teachers and staff, Ed wrote: Today, I shared that I will not be returning to Friends’ School next year. It wasn’t easy to share. I am forever grateful for my time here and to be able to work with such an amazing staff has been so meaningful! What I love about Friends’ is how everyone is supported, everyone matters, and everyone cares deeply about kids, and sees the best in any situation!

Unfortunately, I have some health issues that have been challenging for me. This has made it difficult for me to function at the level that I am accustomed to. I take great pride in helping grow high quality teachers! What a gift to be a part of that. I am so privileged to be a part of this high functioning team. Thank you. With love to you all, Ed.”

Beginning in August, the new Director of the TPP will be Julie Hart.  Julie currently works alongside Ed as the Program Manager of the TPP.  Julie has earned an EdD in Leadership for Educational Equity - with a specialization in Instructional Leadership - and an M.A. in Educational Psychology, both from the University of Colorado Denver.  She has been a part of the Friends’ family for many years, as a graduate of our TPP, as a teacher in our elementary and preschool, and as an adviser in the TPP.  She knows our TPP inside and out and is uniquely qualified to take over the helm as the Director later this year.

Julie Hart, EdD
Julie will be hiring a new Program Manager for the TPP.  If you know of anyone who may be a good fit for this position, please direct them to this link.

In the meantime, we will enjoy Ed’s company and expertise for a few more months.

On a personal note, I will enjoy the passion and laughter that Ed brings to Friends’ School each and every day.  I will enjoy the high spirits, the stories from the front lines of the TPP, and, of course, once baseball spring training starts in a few days, Ed’s wildly optimistic predictions for how his beloved Mets will do this year.

This is certainly not adieu, but simply au revoir, to a first-class educator, a passionate teacher of teachers, and an even better man.

Go Mets! 

February 2, 2017

The Little Thunders Come to Friends’

Sun Bear Little Thunder and her daughters shaking
hands with our 4th and 5th grade students 
Last week, our 4th and 5th grade classes hosted some visitors from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in South and North Dakota.

Originally from Colorado Springs, the Little Thunder family stopped by Friends’ School to express their appreciation for the money that several of our students raised in a bake sale to support the Oceti Sakowin Camp.  The camp is a gathering of tribes, and other supporters, whose mission is to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Friends’ parent Ciska Moore invited the family to meet with our students to share some stories and songs from their Lakota traditions. The parents, Sun Bear and Donny, and their children Little Tornado, Sun Woman, and Eagle Girl, sang powerful songs for us.  They spoke Lakota, articulating common everyday expressions that all parents say to their children, which amused our English speakers.

Donny Little Thunder talked about how all of us, as human beings, are what he described as “two-leggeds”.  Whether our hair is brown, blond, red, or black, we are all of the same race. He discussed the importance, to his people, of protecting the water on the reservation and encouraged our students to learn more about renewable energy.

The Little Thunders first moved to the camp in September last year. They expected to be there for a month or two, but have now lived in a tipi on the reservation for five months. They described living conditions, the need to gather wood, and how the temperature has occasionally fallen to negative 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Through it all, their family believes it is important to remain. The Oceti Sakowin Camp once held 14,000 people, but is now, in the dark days of winter, down to 500 residents.

The children now attend Cannonball Elementary School on the reservation – and arrive at school each morning after doing all their chores around the tipi.

The family shook hands with all of our students in appreciation for the bake sale donation and left us in Boulder on their way back to North Dakota.

Thank you, Ciska, for making this connection for our students.

January 25, 2017

If Blogs Were Super Bowls

If blogs were Super Bowls, this one would be number CC. I can’t call it a bicentennial, because that would mean that I started writing Among Friends’ in the year 1817.  That was the year the New York Stock Exchange opened, and Henry David Thoreau was born. It was a little early for me!

This week does mark a minor milestone: this is the 200th essay written for Among Friends’. 

When I began as Head of School in July 2011, I told my staff that I was setting a new intention: to write a story every week that we would share with the Friends’ community.  The idea was that the stories would give everyone in our community a glimpse of many of the good things that happen at this wonderful school every week.

“Every week?!!” a few of them exclaimed. “Are you nuts?” (Or words to that effect.)

As a rookie Head of School, I perhaps didn’t quite know all that I was getting myself into, and the extensive demands on my time. Sometimes I find myself writing late into night to meet my deadline. However, I have persevered.

A small handful of these blog entries have been written by guest authors:  teachers, staff, parents, trustees. But the vast majority is my own original work. Something that I incorporate into my schedule each and every week.

Some of you only get a chance to read the blog from time to time, when your own time allows, or when a topic is of particular interest.  Some of you have told me that you are dedicated fans who read it religiously every Friday morning with your morning coffee. I thank you all.

The blog, for me, has become a labor of love.  I’m passionate about this school.  I’m passionate about writing.  It’s a perfect match.

As I reflect back on many of the essays (and you can do that by date or by topic by scrolling down the right hand column of the website), I am reminded of so many amazing highlights that the people of this school have accomplished:

            - the day we turned on the solar panels on our roof
            - personal and heartfelt stories of many of our teachers and staff
            - the Boulder flood of 2013 and how it affected our families
            - award-winning students and teachers
            - the school’s 25th anniversary and gratitude project
            - incredible project presentations or theatrical productions
            - a new middle school for Boulder

And, most importantly, the everyday stories of the amazing people and essential learning that happen here every day.
Over six and a half years, almost 64,000 people have visited this page.  I write between 35-38 essays a year, with summers off.  The most popular blogs have been shared extensively on social media, spreading the good word about Friends’ School far and wide, and often feature a touching personal story.  By far the most read entry this year was the essay titled Who We Are written immediately after the election.

Meg Hansen
I am honored to take this opportunity to give a celebratory shout-out to Friends’ Director of Marketing and Communications Meg Hansen, who has been an eagle-eyed, tough editor for me on every one of these 200 posts.

Some weeks I get my draft to her with a couple of days to spare before she posts it in the weekly Happenings newsletters.  More likely, I’m texting her late on a Thursday night letting her know that my 600-750 words are complete.  She is always good-natured toward my tardiness. I know I’ve written a good piece if I can make Meg, as my first reader, laugh or cry.  She’s a tough nut to crack!

Mostly, I hope that, each week, I have met the goals that I initially set for myself 200 posts ago:  to tell the story of Friends’ School; to inform readers of something that they may have missed; to welcome everyone into our Friends’ School experience; or to share some inside information to complete a story.  If I can make you smile, or chuckle, or even wipe away a small tear, that’s a bonus.

Thank you for being my reader for all or part of the journey.

On to the next 200…. 

January 19, 2017

Tying It All Together

On Wednesday this week, I enjoyed a rare opportunity to do something that I used to do every day – for twenty years.  I got to be a classroom teacher for a whole morning….and I loved every minute of it.

Our middle school faculty presented me with this welcome opportunity.  They had planned a morning for the whole team to meet and to map out their integrated curriculum for the rest of the semester and invited me to cover their classes. Three and a half hours of uninterrupted kid time! For an educator who spends more time in meetings, and not enough time with children, I jumped at the chance.

In homeroom, the 6th graders talked with me about the ways they keep track of assignments – in paper planners and on their online Schoology calendars.  We spent time discussing the upcoming inauguration of the new president – these kids have opinions and aren’t afraid to express them!  And then I taught them a dying art.

Unintentionally, my tie collection has become a talking point as I connect with students in all our buildings.  At the front door of the elementary school, kids are often curious about which tie I chose to wear that day. It’s a fun way for us to connect on something simple and not directly related to school.

Our 6th graders, in particular, have been slightly obsessed with my ties.  In last year’s Silver and Gold ceremony, when they were graduating 5th graders, I think my ties got more shout-outs than I did! 

So, as a surprise this Wednesday, I brought them my entire tie collection.  Each student picked out their favorite and I taught them all the fine skills of tie tying. Not just any old tie knot, mind you, but my knot of choice: the Full Windsor. 

The Full Windsor knot, according to the website tie-a-tie.net “is a thick, wide and triangular tie knot that projects confidence. It would therefore be your knot of choice for presentations, job interviews, courtroom appearances.” This is not kid stuff.  A serious knot for serious business!

Most of our 6th graders grasped it pretty quickly and they even picked out a narrow sparkling black tie for their lead teacher Kevin Nugent.

Tying knots is a perfect metaphor for the integrated curriculum that features so prominently in our middle school.  Integrated curriculum is the concept that connects different areas of study by cutting across subject-matter lines and emphasizing unifying concepts. Integration focuses on making connections for students, allowing them to engage in relevant, meaningful activities that can be connected to real life.

After our tie tying exercise, and an engaging math activity, these kids demonstrated to me how well they embrace integrated curriculum.  They have been studying rocks: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks; the different stages of the rock cycle; and the forces (such as weather and pressure) that affect the rock cycle. Kevin had given them various options for how to present their recently acquired knowledge.  This class jumped at the chance to produce a play. 

In my almost 27 years in education, I have never seen a group come together around a central idea so cohesively.  They planned, they mapped out a story, they made sure there were parts for everyone and, most importantly, they reviewed the concepts they had learned and verified that they had covered all the material.  It was an impressive thing to behold.  I was there for just the initial brainstorming and drafting of their play.  I can’t wait to see where they take it and to be invited for the final performance.

As Kevin Nugent told me later: “They are a remarkable bunch! Just get them going and get out of their way. I am excited to see what they can do with this!”

Everyone contributed. It was fantastic to see our students connect science and the arts so readily. Certainly they were “engaging in relevant, meaningful activities that can be connected to real life.”

All of our teachers at Friends’, preschool, elementary, and middle school, skillfully encourage students to make connections in different areas of study by cutting across subject-matter lines and emphasizing unifying concepts.  I thoroughly enjoyed a close-up view this week, seeing integrated curriculum in action. 

These kids know how to tie it all together.