November 30, 2011

Free Money!

Pre-K and first grade students join together this week to watch a
shadow puppet show, written and performed by fourth graders

Welcome back to that wonderfully busy time in the life of a school that we call December.  I hope you all had a refreshing Thanksgiving break.  I enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving meal around my table with good friends and a couple of people I did not know, one of whom had traveled from Poland and who spoke no English.  It’s amazing how we can all communicate the spirit of the season even with those with whom we cannot converse.

One of the themes of conversation that arose at my table was a common love for this particular holiday because it has not been subjected to the vast consumerism and commercialism of other holidays.  How great it is to be able to sit down and simply enjoy good food, good wine, and good company without all the trappings and trimmings of endless decorations and gifts.

I don’t know about you, but I’m reaching that annual stress-point in my calendar when all the holiday gifts I need to buy start interrupting my sleep.  In my house, we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, and both my daughters’ birthdays at this time of year.  I want to get gifts for some friends, my neighbors, my co-workers, and my family in England whose gifts I should have put on a trans-Atlantic freight ship about two months ago.  It can be a little overwhelming. I try to be thoughtful.  I promise never to buy anyone an ugly sweater, but sometimes writing a check would be so much easier.

If your e-mail inbox looks anything like mine, you’re getting several solicitations a day from non-profit organizations to whom you’ve given in the past, asking you to take advantage of Colorado Gives Day next Tuesday.  You’ve likely heard from Friends' School as this is the first year that we, as a school, have participated in this sensational opportunity.  Any donations given to our school on Tuesday will be automatically increased through the generosity of the First Bank Incentive Fund. 100% of your donation, plus the incentive, goes directly to Friends’ School (you don’t even have to pass “GO”) when you donate online through Giving First, with no fees charged.  

Fourth grade shadow puppets, created under
the direction of art teacher Rachel Relin
Free money!

We are in the midst of our Annual Fund campaign, which we rely on each year to help provide this wonderful education to our students.  We have a lofty goal that we have not yet reached.  We respectfully ask that, if you appreciate what this school does for our children, you choose to make Friends' School one of your top philanthropic priorities at this time of year.  And what better time to do it than with the added incentive of free money?

So as you look over the list of gifts you need to buy this holiday season, and after you check it twice, please consider an online gift to Friends’.  It’s got to be better than an ugly sweater!

November 17, 2011

Giving Thanks

As we prepare to take a week’s break from school for the Thanksgiving holiday, it is a good time to reflect on what we have to be thankful for.  As a brand new American citizen (my first U.S. passport arrived in April) it will be especially meaningful for me this year to celebrate this uniquely American tradition, one that all of us of every stripe and creed can share together.

For me, my family and my health top the list. But not too far behind is my absolute joy and gratitude for being welcomed into this Friends' School community.  You have all been so very generous and warm in making my first few months here as wonderful as they have been. 

I am grateful for being at a school where parents and teachers alike are so invested in a shared educational philosophy of integrated learning.  From preschool through fifth grade, students learn best when the subjects they are learning can be blended together in a way that allows students to apply their strengths and build on their challenges. 

This was never more evident than in the celebration I attended this week in Beth Huennekens’ first grade classroom.  For weeks her students have been studying birds and all of their hard work was on display.  The children sang Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds and they showed off their immense knowledge on large science fair boards.  They shared their research and their poetry, their paintings and their sewing projects, their masks and their wingspan calculations.  The kids showed me photos from their birdwatching field trip, the discoveries from the owl pellets they dissected, and the books they have been reading and writing.  It was a wonderful avian celebration of integrated learning.  And similar in so many ways to the spectacular units of integrated study going on across the school.

I believe we are all blessed to be at a school where teaching is completely based on the vast knowledge our teachers possess about how children learn.  I am thankful every day to be able to see master teachers in action and the happy buzz of engaged children.

Thank you to everyone who attended our Flip The Switch Solar Celebration this morning.  Wherever your travels take you this Thanksgiving, or if you are staying home, I wish you a peaceful and fun-filled week away from school.  Or, in the words of Bob Marley that I heard in first grade:
            Rise up this mornin', smiled with the risin' sun,
Three little birds pitch by my doorstep
Singin' sweet songs of melodies pure and true,
Sayin', "This is my message to you-ou-ou:"
Singin': "Don't worry 'bout a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right."

November 10, 2011

In The Middle Of It All

Solar panel math in the 1st grade
Earlier this week, Friends’ School hosted its first ever Annual Trustee Day, when members of our Community Board spent time in classrooms and in discussion with our staff and faculty imagining a bright future for our school.  This is the first of two reflections exploring this great opportunity.

The favorite part of my day is always spending time with the children in classrooms – seeing what they’re working on, talking to them about their ideas, listening to them explain their thinking.  I’m a big guy in a nice shirt and a tie and I imagine I must look a little funny sometimes crouching down by a five year old.

So you can imagine my delight at wandering through the classrooms on Trustee Day finding business people in their pressed suits doing the same thing.  Many of our Trustees were in casual clothing, but there were a few in nice shirts and ties, getting down on the floor with the kids learning alongside them.  One of my favorite scenes was entering Jenn Shouse’s 2nd grade class, hearing the squeals of delight as children designed teeter totters, using the principles of levers, adjusting the position of the fulcrum, and seeing one of our Board members, in a suit, right in the middle of the action! 

By the way, did you know that that it’s possible for a slight 2nd grader, weighing in at approximately 50 lbs, to raise all 6’2” of me off the ground with a simple machine? A moment of triumph – and levitation for me!

Another favorite scene was seeing Trustees engage with Erika Norman’s math lesson in 1st grade, where students were using geometric attributes to design their own solar panels.  All our elementary classes are using the excitement of next week’s Flip The Switch ceremony to think about renewable energy and to connect with the concept of solar energy.

As Trustees later reflected on their day, they remarked on how fantastic an experience it was to be in classrooms, on the diversity of our teachers’ teaching styles, on the exceptional classroom management they witnessed, on the deep engagement and passion of the kids, on the quality of the children’s work.

Another time, I will share with you the wonderful dialogue that staff and Board members shared about the essential skills that kids need to be successful in the 21st century.  We are very lucky to have such engaged, engaging, curious, and brave stewards for our school.

November 3, 2011

Have You Heard The News?

We are very fortunate to have had several new families join our Friends' School community in the past few weeks.  Each new student brings new passions, new ways of learning, and new relationships to our classrooms. 

Mari Friedman tells me that it’s unusual that we have had some places available at this time of year.  Mari, who has been at Friends’ for fourteen years, is our first and only Director of Admissions. It is a sign of our tougher economic times that many independent schools across the country have seen falling enrollment numbers or are working extra hard to raise financial aid dollars to keep the families they have. It is wonderful that Friends’ School again has full enrollment, is financially strong, and continues to provide financial aid to approximately one third of our families each year.

At Friends’ we have made some significant changes in recent months in how we are getting the word out about the great learning and wonderful community that we have here.  We no longer want to be the best kept secret in Boulder.

We have re-directed a significant portion of our budget that was allocated to print advertising towards the marketing efforts that you see around the school today.  Our research tells us that almost everyone who inquires about our school has heard about us, from parents, through word of mouth, or by way of online searches. 

Our current families are our best advocates. Our bright new signs, both inside and outside the buildings, designed by the creative talents at Thinking Davis, are attracting lots of attention.  We have beefed up our internet presence – this Among Friends’ website is just one example.  We are posting photos and news from around the school on our Facebook page several times a week.  We’re on Twitter and LinkedIn.  We’re in the process of creating fabulous videos for our website.

We have an excellent marketing committee of the Board, led by Trustee Christine Springer.  Spearheaded by Director of Communications, Meg Hansen, we have completely re-tooled the way we connect with our families, through the new Happenings and the classroom web pages.  Working with Monique Davis and her team, we continue to explore ways to tell our story.

As a result, there is a buzz out there about Friends’ School again.  Our parent education events and preschool information meetings have enjoyed record attendance this fall.  Interest and applications for next year’s enrollment have risen over a year ago - for the Preschool, Kindergarten, and the Teacher Preparation Program.

So thank you for spreading the word among your neighbors and friends.  Please continue to do so. Like us, follow us, re-post, share, comment, upload, download, talk us up, link in, tweet, blog, give away a brochure, subscribe, connect.

To all our families, new and old, we are glad that you are here.  How did you hear about  us?