February 23, 2012

What's Cooking at Graft’s Groovy Grill

Learning the restaurant business as part of
Allie Graft's integrated curriculum
At this time of year Friends’ School asks the Teacher Candidates in our Teacher Preparation Program to teach a curriculum unit.  The best units are those that combine the passions of our TCs with the natural curiosity of our students.  Allie Graft is the TC in Mandy Stepanovsky’s 4th grade class and the first guest author at Among Friends’.  Allie, who came to Friends’ after working with at-risk youth in a wilderness residential setting in Vermont, shares the following about the grand adventures the 4th graders are having at the Walnut Café in Boulder and the surprising star attraction.

Over the past few months, the Friends’ School fourth grade class has been learning the basic concepts of small business operation.  The goal of this project is for students to learn how a small business operates and to have an opportunity to practice their learning in a relevant, hands-on situation.  The 4th graders are achieving this goal through active involvement in creating and running their own restaurant. Students are growing their awareness of how the skills they learn in school are relevant to the workplace, and they’re learning that the hospitality industry and small business ownership are viable career choices for individuals in our world. 

Throughout the thematic unit, our students are developing a restaurant theme and logo, designing uniforms, selecting and pricing menus, preparing food and learning about sanitation, advertising and publicity.  They are discovering about loans and finances, job applications and interviews, and they are practicing restaurant roles and responsibilities.

Allie working with a Friends' 4th grader
After completing the lessons, the students are getting an opportunity to put their knowledge and learning into action, by running a restaurant for two nights.  Our class is collaborating with Dana Derichsweiler, the owner of the Walnut Café, who is graciously letting us use her restaurant. 

Friends’ School students are gaining experience waiting on tables, using the cash register, making delicious hot beverages, and interacting with customers.  Most memorable, however, has been the appreciation for the commercial conveyor toaster. Every kid has been fascinated by this mechanical marvel as it continually turns, churning out toast.

With the help of the Walnut Café staff, as well as parent volunteers, the restaurant, to be known temporarily as “Graft’s Groovy Grill,” will be open for dinner on March 13 and March 14, from 5:00pm-8:00pm.  During these nights, our students will act as servers, hosts/hostesses, beverage servers, and cashiers.  The money we earn through tips and our net profit will be used to buy groceries, which will then be donated to Community Food Share. 

I’m very impressed by the richness of the experience Allie is bringing to her class. Her kids are learning so much more than a traditional school curriculum offers.  If you plan on heading down to the Walnut Café, consider leaving a huge tip.  I’ll see you there.

February 15, 2012

The Best Kept Secret at Friends' School

Friends' School librarian deana harragarra
waters and her daughter Regina at the
end of the Tinker Bell 1/2 Marathon
Before I arrived at Friends' School last summer, I had heard it referred to as ‘the best kept secret in Boulder’.  Our plan is that, through our increased marketing and web presence, this is no longer the case.  However, I have a story to tell you about ‘the best kept secret at Friends' School’.

deana harragarra waters does not often arrive at or leave school during the hustle and bustle of the start and end of the school day.  As our school librarian and elementary technology teacher, she spends a great deal of time with all our elementary students.  She is also the driving force behind the school’s spelling and geography bees.  One fifth grade parent just told me how thrilled she is that her son has learned so much world geography with deana.

In December 2010, deana underwent major back surgery to halt the deterioration of cartilage between her spinal discs.  One year ago this week, she was in such pain that one of our students found her lying flat under her desk.  I have her permission to pass on that deana is in her later fifties.  Major back surgery is not easy to recover from.

Major back surgery had not met anyone like deana.

Raised in her Kiowa culture across Oklahoma, deana grew up in a close-knit family. She was strongly influenced by her grandparents, both born in the 1890s, who loved books and reading.  As a child, many of deana’s friends’ parents were illiterate.  At home, her family saved money to buy books which were their prized possession. deana grew up to become an attorney practicing Federal Indian Law and was appointed as a judge to the federal courts in Oklahoma.  She later became director of the National Indian Law Library here in Boulder.

After her back surgery, deana wanted to prove to herself that she could be active again.  She likens her outlook on recovery to her belief about reading. “If you know how to read and you don’t read, it’s the same as not being able to read.”  She says it’s the same thing about her body.  “No matter what age you are, it’s important to be active and use your body.” 

So she did.

Despite her hardship and ongoing pain, deana began training for a half-marathon in July of 2011.  She entered this January’s inaugural Tinker Bell Half Marathon at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, which is geared toward women runners.

Her oldest daughter, Regina, ran with her.  Regina has arthritis in her right knee and deana has arthritis in her lower spine. Together, she says, they made up Team Arthritis.  She’s adamant about keeping her family as active as possible for as long as possible.

deana and Regina donated their entire entry fee, as well as additional funds the pair raised, to Special Olympics, because her nephew was a participant in it for many years.  Special Olympics provided Disneyland tickets and racing singlets and support along the route.  deana enjoyed meeting some of their athletes and taking group pictures with them.  

Thirteen members of deana’s family accompanied them to Anaheim for the race. For some, it was the first time they ever flew in an airplane or visited Disneyland.  Two days prior to the trip, her 82 years old Mother was diagnosed with cancer.  She made the trip anyway.  

deana and her daughter cut 27 minutes from their previous half marathon time.  She high-fived (or, as she says, high-foured!) Mickey Mouse as she crossed the finish line and proceeded directly to the medical tent for ice.  She says her sister and her niece are now determined to run in a half marathon. She’s so proud to be encouraging others to be active.

deana has been at Friends’ School for twelve years.  She contributes much of her success in the run to support and encouragement from her colleagues at school. She says Meg Hansen encouraged her to set a goal of running a half marathon and Ann Reid held her accountable every day for her training. She made the choice to be a children’s librarian because of her love of kids and her grandparents’ enormous influence on her reading as a child.  We are lucky to have her and all of us at Friends’ are so very proud of her accomplishments.

February 9, 2012

Welcome to the Conversation


In a column I wrote for the Happenings in mid-January, I highlighted the great benefits of being at an independent school, particularly in relation to our flexibility.  As a small organization, we pride ourselves on how nimble we are to be able to react quickly and well to changing conditions.  This was in great evidence for me this week in many conversations I’ve been having regarding the teaching of math at our school.

Over the course of the year, the elementary school teachers and I have received all kinds of wonderful feedback from our parents regarding the math program Investigations that we invested in last summer, the teaching of math in our classrooms, and how well we challenge all of our math learners in every grade.  What has become clear is that we can make some improvements in how we deliver our math content to maximize the math experience of all our students.

Our fabulous math specialist Erika Norman, who used to be a lead classroom teacher at Friends’, the elementary teachers, and I have been putting our heads together and working on a proposal to bring some changes to our math programming next year.  We have some great ideas.

Because of our high value on community input at our school, we brought our ideas to the Parent Council meeting on Monday morning, and I made a presentation to our Community Board on Monday night.  Details of our proposal can be found in Parent Council Chair, Elizabeth Henna’s notes in this week’s Happenings.  Since Monday, I have been delightfully engaged in important conversations with parents in the hallways, on the phone and in my office, and on email.

I do not have the space in Among Friends’ to go into all the details of the proposed changes. I’m glad you can find those elsewhere.  What’s important is that the dialogue is alive.  When we think about making changes to our school, it’s imperative that we share with, and listen to, all our constituents.  It’s essential that teachers, parents, kids, and trustees all get in on the conversation. 

As a school, we plan on continuing thinking and talking for a while about math for next year. Once you’ve had an opportunity to read Elizabeth’s report, feel free to drop me a line.  The teachers are meeting again on this at the end of the month and we will provide more opportunity for parent feedback.

Thanks for being part of the conversation.

February 2, 2012

A Warm Glow on a Snowy Morning


About a year ago, my family and I moved to a new neighborhood in Denver. Two of us were changing schools – me to Friends’ and my daughter Emma to an all-girls high school in Englewood, south of the city.  We plotted strategically to find a place that suited our very different morning trips to school.  We found a great house, but it meant moving out of our old neighborhood where we had so many dear friends and fond memories.

It was tough to leave the old block.  Because of our schedules, it hasn’t been easy to get to know new neighbors and to feel a part of our new surroundings.  It has brought home to me the importance of community.

Thankfully, we have both found community in our schools.  ‘Community’ – it’s a word that is sometimes overused in our society, but which has deep roots and, for me, carries great significance in how I want to live my life.  Community is defined as a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. 

Community is what Friends’ School is all about.  We are here, I am here, to educate your children and to challenge them to be the best they can be through academic excellence, creative expression, and social responsibility.  I was attracted to Friends’ in part because of the incredible feeling of community:  warmth; acceptance; common goals; an entire organization of people who believe in our kids and our desire to guide them to grow up into caring, curious, kind, smart, and accomplished adults. 

There is nothing better than the warm glow of the elementary or preschool hallways and doorways at the beginning and end of each school day, and the happy smiles and greetings that are exchanged.  I love it!  Thank you for the part you play in making our school the wonderful community that it is.