September 28, 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Eat Soup

Earlier this week a friend sent me this poster to the left. It was no coincidence that it arrived immediately following Friends' School's wonderful elementary Harvest Celebration.  We are looking forward to celebrating Harvest with the preschool families on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday next week.

Taking part in my first Friends’ School Harvest, I was amazed at the sensational family involvement.  Every morning for the last week, students and parents have been bringing in bags of homegrown produce from their own backyards.  At school, the children picked delicious vegetables from our own Friends' garden. It was a wonderful community effort.  I was honored to continue the tradition of telling the story of Stone Soup and I enjoyed the enthusiastic participation of the actors – both kids and the gallant parents who played the part of the cooking pot.  Nice bubbling, people!

Following the storytelling, students, parents, grandparents, and teachers shared lunch together, with each classroom making its own steaming pot of Stone Soup.  What impressed me is that every class made a huge effort to create zero waste, with families bringing in their own bowls and utensils.

As a school we have made massive strides in the last couple of years to increase our recycling and composting programs.  Working with Western Disposal’s commercial programs, we are able to compost not just organic matter from plants – such as vegetables and paper – we can also compost chicken bones and egg shells.   We are recycling all plastics #1-7 including the plastic caps on washed out bottles and jars.

Operations Assistant Dacia Horn and Kindergarten teacher Laurie Nakauchi have been instrumental in moving the school towards a goal of zero waste.  Laurie encourages her students to use the appropriate compost and recycle bins and actively encourages them to use re-usable containers or at least recyclable aluminum foil when they bring in their lunch.  Plastic baggies are strongly discouraged.  Dacia not only cooks mouth-watering nutritious meals for us, she takes pride in “taking the effort to just wash the spoons” (and the forks and the plates and the glasses!) and she replaced our plastic and paperware with stainless steel, pottery and glass. As a result of the school’s communal efforts, we have reduced our trash output by an estimated 75% in the last couple of years.

Yet we can all do better.  If you’re coming to school with an Ozo’s coffee cup or a snack in hand, please take the extra second to toss your waste into the appropriate bin – the compost bins have green liners.  You will continue to reduce the amount of garbage we are shipping off to the landfill, and Laurie’s kindergartners will greatly appreciate it.  

September 22, 2011

Here Comes The Sun

That I can change the world
I would be the sunlight in your universe
You will think my love was really something good
Baby if I could change the world

So sings Eric Clapton, in the Grammy award winning song. Pop quiz of the week: do you know which movie soundtrack this song was recorded for and which year it was released? (answers below)

This week, we made an exciting announcement about our solar project and all of us at school are proud that a whopping 93% of our energy use in the elementary building will be generated by the solar array, a feat that will be unmatched among Boulder County schools. When Clapton shuffled his way onto my iPod last night, it was this step into solar that came to mind.

Friends’ School is not simply interested in tapping into this renewable energy source and calling ourselves done.  We very much see this move as one step, albeit a significant one, on a long and meaningful journey towards environmental sustainability.  There are some in our Friends’ community who are encouraging us to move towards what is called net zero, a term that describes a building with zero net energy consumption and zero carbon emissions annually.  Zero energy buildings can be independent from the energy grid supply.

That may be a lofty goal, but it’s one we should strive towards.  In the process, our little school will begin to change the world.  But we don’t need to wait for the end result for that to happen.  In one response that I received after sending out our solar announcement, one preschool parent wrote:

“Please pass along that I think this project is absolutely fantastic!  I think it's amazing that Friends' is able to set such a wonderful example and make such a great step.  It's inspiring me to take more personal actions, too!”

If the steps we take at school towards environmental sustainability inspire one family, or many of our families, to make small changes, then perhaps we won’t just see the sunlight in our universe, we may just change the world.  Thank you for being on the journey with us.

Pop quiz answers:  Phenomenon, 1996.  How did you do?

September 14, 2011

What Parents Do When Their Kids Are At School

When you were little, did you ever wonder what your mom or dad did when they went off to work?

When I was a young boy, I knew that my dad left the house and came home at the same time every day, his tie a little looser than when he began the day.  I was aware he went to an office but I had no idea what he did there.  Turns out he was an accountant for a firm that drilled holes in the circuit boards you found in the back of your transistor radio. Somebody had to do that, I suppose.

My own kids were lucky (or perhaps unlucky) enough to have had a dad who taught at their own school for many years, so I think that had a pretty good idea of what I did for a living.  It certainly proved useful for them when they forgot their snack or money for a field trip. 

When my younger daughter Leah was in preschool, she did once exclaim that her daddy was a teacher and her mommy (who stayed home at that time) “played shopping”, so you never quite know how our kids view us.

The favorite part of each day for me at Friends’ School is my visits to the classrooms.  I love seeing the children busy at their work and I enjoy connecting with them every day.

I sat in circle with Christie, Sherry and Victoria’s morning preschool class this week and asked the children what their parents did while they were in preschool.  Turns out many Friends’ School parents go to work.  Some go home. Many make phone calls and play on the computer.  One mom drives a jeep and it was pointed out to me in no uncertain terms that it has keys.  One parent works upstairs from the preschool and one downstairs (though we’re not quite sure where that is). 

On one classroom stop this week, I had the privilege of reading a fantasy picture book to one of our younger elementary classes.  The kids and I got talking about make-believe and whether adults have imaginary friends or get to play make-believe games.  One little girl raised her hand and bluntly told me, “Oh, I know my mom does.  When I’m at school, she plays make-believe with my Barbie dolls!”

Thank goodness – I didn’t want to think our Friends’ School parents played on the computer all day.

September 7, 2011

Learning For Grown-Ups Too!

“I’m learning something every second of the day.” 

One of our goals at Friends’ School is that our students are continually learning something new and something about themselves.  Yet this quote did not come from one of our kids.  It was told to me by Yasamin Holland who is a Teacher Candidate (TC) in Beth Huennekens’ 1st grade class.  Grown-ups get to learn here every day too.
We are fortunate that Friends’ is a place that educates the whole child and is also home to an outstanding Teacher Preparation Program.

Yasamin, who previously has taught fashion design at the high school level and worked at the Denver Art Museum, is amazed at the free flow of ideas she sees at our school and the passion that is naturally exhibited everywhere. 

This week, one boy in her class discovered a book on snakes.  He was so excited about it, he soon had a whole group of kids crowding around him to share in his enthusiasm.  The teachers in the room are given complete autonomy to follow the interests of the kids, to meet them at the point of maximum learning.  They were soon reading aloud a book on snakes to the class and encouraging the children to write about snakes. Yasamin calls it “snake-fever”.

When looking to find a graduate program that would lead her to a teaching career that would combine both her love of creativity and her love of kids, Yasamin found the Friends’ School Teacher Training Program (TPP) online.  Our program works in association with the University of Colorado Denver and the Colorado Department of Education to provide teacher candidates with an alternative teaching certificate.  Most of our candidates opt to pursue a Master’s Degree in either Educational Psychology or Early Childhood Education.

The TPP currently trains 30 beginning teachers.  We have 7 here at Friends’ working alongside our students every day Monday-Thursday, and 23 others at our partner schools:  6 in independent schools in Boulder, and 17 in public schools in the Boulder Valley School District.  All the TCs come together on Fridays to learn about the art of teaching.  It is a program that develops caring, diligent and reflective professionals who become part of our community.  It embodies our school’s mission and the Founders’ vision of a model school.

The presence of teacher candidates at our school not only ensures the future of hands-on child-centered education, it also brings to our school wonderful, passionate people who love and teach our kids. When Yasamin graduates from the TPP, she is hoping to teach in an elementary school with a strong focus on the arts.  Just as with our graduating fifth graders, Friends’ School will be proud to have been part of the journey.