April 26, 2012

Making A World of Difference


Guests gather at the BigWig Shindig

A couple of hundred guests gathered at the Boulder Country Club last weekend for the BigWig Shindig, Friends’ School’s annual auction. The event was a huge success on many levels. 

It was a fabulous party that brought together many different segments of this wonderful community: elementary school parents, preschool parents, teachers, trustees, staff, alumni parents, teacher candidates, grandparents, generous sponsors and all of our friends and partners.  Guests were invited to dress as a big wig, or in a big wig, and the majority chose the latter. 

We saw our friends in shiny metallic wigs, giant foam, large afros, sexy silky blue wigs, huge pink hair, bald caps, curly redheads, mullets, the list is endless.  For a great selection of pictures from the auction, check out the slideshow.

The auction is an extremely important fundraiser for the school.  Our guests on Saturday bid high and bid often.  As a result, the school raised over $111,000 in a single evening.  We are very grateful to our auction-goers, our sponsors, everyone who donated items and services, and our numerous volunteers who gave so much of their precious time and energy to the event.

Each year at the auction, we ask you to raise your paddle to support a particular program or project at the school.  This year, we asked our auction goers to support the school’s tuition assistance program.

What attracted me to Friends' School more than any other single thing was the people – you and your children.  This is an extraordinary community. Children who have a strong sense of belonging to their school feel safe and connected. Being part of a positive environment supports children’s growth into healthy, contributing members of society and their adult communities. Our teachers strive to create an atmosphere of wholeness in our classrooms and in our school.

Who doesn’t deserve an education like that? Not everyone can afford to pay the full tuition at Friends’.  We want all kinds of kids at Friends’ School from all kinds of families.  We are very purposeful in having a tuition assistance program that directly benefits families who otherwise could not afford to send their children to receive this outstanding education.

For the current school year, approximately 11% of the school’s gross tuition (or $215,000) in financial assistance was awarded in tier discounts and financial aid. That’s sixty of our students, or one third of enrollment.  This is important stuff.  We could not have the kind of school that we have without this tuition assistance program.

Letting their hair down for a great cause
When my kids were entering Kindergarten, I knew that I wanted them to be in a caring, nurturing, safe environment.  I wanted them to be in an independent school like this one.  At the time, I was a teacher making less than $35,000 a year.  My wife was a full-time graduate student.  We had two kids, a mortgage, car payments, the usual stuff.  Private school tuition was a stretch for us. Yet, we understood the importance of an independent school education for our daughters and we wanted to make it work. We made sacrifices but it was also through the generosity of the greater school community, in particular the big-hearted families at the school who chose to pay a little more, that my kids were able to go to a school like this. 

And they’re thriving. 

They were both shy little girls whom I was afraid might have gotten lost in a bigger school.  Now they have confidence.  They’re thoughtful, they act, they speak in public, they think outside the box, they’re great team players, and I have utmost faith that they’re going to go on and do great things. I am so eternally grateful to that school and the generosity of others who made that happen for my family.

I am equally grateful for the enormous generosity of our families who, through the paddle raiser on Saturday, donated a record $29,000 to support other families, other parents who are working hard to make ends meet and want nothing more than a Friends' School education for their children. 

You have made the world of difference to someone. Thank you for being part of such an incredible community.

April 19, 2012

Celebrating Our Moms and Dads (and Grandparents too!)

Flower pots and quotes made by our preschoolers
for their parents.
Friends’ School’s calendar is filled with traditions.  Our founding families believed in the importance of ritual and celebration.  From our Harvest Celebration, to Movin’ and Boppin’, from our Gifts to the World, to our culminating Silver and Gold graduations, our year is filled with ways to celebrate our children, our families, and our community.

A couple of weeks from now, our elementary school students will deliver hand-made May Day baskets to our neighbors.  Earlier this week, as part of Friends’ Earth Day Celebration, all of our elementary students and teachers spent an hour cleaning up the Wellman Ditch, which runs behind the school and along the bike trail. We are grateful for our place in the Eisenhower residential neighborhood and we are lucky to have great relationships with our neighbors.

This week, I was lucky enough to attend all four preschool classes’ Parent Day Celebrations. All week my office above the preschool was filled with the delicious aroma of bread baking in anticipation.  Prior to the events, our preschool teachers asked each child what they love about their parents.  They typed up the quotes onto cards, which then became part of a gift from the children to their parents, along with a beautiful flower pot.

I was touched by many of the children’s words.  I share a select few with you here:

I love my Mom and Dad because they tuck me in at nighttime.

I love my Daddy because sometimes he lets me do the coffee with him.

I love my Mom and Dad because they take me to the park.

I love my dada because he puts me to bed and he builds things with me.

I love my Mom and Dad because they teach me.
They teach me don’t go up the stairs loud.

I love my Mom and Dad because they fill my bucket.  They give me a lot of hugs.

I love my dad because he tells me about history, no not history, but like when my brother brings books home, he knows lots of things about lots of people.

I love my Mom and Dad because I think they’re cool.

I love my Mom and Dad because they give me food a lot when I say please.

I love my mom because I sleep in her bed and I snuggle with her.

I love my dad because he puts me in bed and tickles my feet and neck.

I love my mom because she lets me have chocolate.

I love my dad because he says, “I’m going to tickle you to death.”

I love my mom because she gives me hugs and kisses.

I love my dad because he comes back at night after work (I hope he has a fun time at work), 
he takes me to the lunch spot that I want, we make pancakes.

I love my mom because I like playing with her all day.

I love my Mom and Dad because they love me and take care of me,
they hold me, and they help me get ready for bed.

I love my mom because she takes me places and I get treats like
a sample of meat or like a balloon that got twisted.

And a special category for grandparents who play such an important role in many of our students’ lives:

I love my nana because she takes me to the airport, takes me on special rides in the car, 
gets me dressed for school and takes me to Whole Foods.

I love my Grandma because she drives me in the car, tells my mom she loves her, 
and gives my mom kisses.
Preschool teacher Jessie Vanden Hogen leads her
class and their parents in a musical celebration

As an aside, my own mother will be visiting Friends’ School in mid-May.  Living in southern England, she rarely makes it over the pond to visit with me and her granddaughters.  She was last in Colorado in 2009.  Here’s my own quote:

I love my mum because she understands me, even though we’re different, 
and she’s traveling 7,000 miles to see me.

Here’s to celebrating all our parents and all of us as parents.  What would your own quote be? See you at the auction!

April 12, 2012

You Too Can Be Like Ed

This is my friend, Ed Walent. Ed is a terrific guy and the co-director of Friends’ School’s Teacher Preparation Program. He spends his days training our teacher candidates, getting them ready to go out into the world of education and run classrooms of their own. In my eyes that makes him a pretty important guy, a big wig.

Ed is also follically challenged.  Ed has what you might call a generously wide center parting.  (I have his permission to use his likeness to make my point…!)  He is a man in need of a big wig.

Thankfully, I have just the thing.  Throughout my dozen years or so of directing kids’ theater in Denver, I have amassed quite a collection of wigs.  Over the years, my costume designer and I have used metallic green wigs on Oompa Loompas, flowing blonde wigs on femmes fatales, black wigs on rock stars, and purple wigs with curlers on little old ladies.  I keep them all in a friend’s basement and this weekend I will be heading over there to load up my car with boxes of wigs.

For next weekend is our annual Friends' School auction (Saturday April 21st at 6:00 p.m.) The theme of which, as you know, is the BigWig Shindig.  You are invited to come as a big wig (like Ed), or in a big wig (like Ed).  It’s exciting to hear the chatter among parents in the hallways about what kind of wig they’re coming in.  You’d be surprised at what I’ve heard.  I’ve even heard a parent say that he has the best wig ever, but the style is too top secret to share. I’m intrigued.

Somehow, news of my wig collection has leaked.  Staff members have been pestering me for weeks about giving them first dibs at the boxes. I’ve already awarded that honor to my partner Stephanie, who’s excited to disguise her beautiful dark Italian locks in a long blonde wig.  I’m not sure yet what I’m going to choose.  I’m uncertain how I’m going to handle the gathered masses of teachers and staff when I begin unloading the boxes.  Something tells me that Ed might have to get priority.

The auction is a fun-filled way to help support our school.  My attendance last year was one of my first introductions to the Friends’ School community.  Steph and I had a blast.  The food and wine were delicious.  The company was even better. And we enjoyed purchasing some wonderful items and experiences, knowing we were also supporting a great cause.

I’m looking forward to seeing you all there.  Please consider bringing friends. If you have yet to purchase your tickets, you can do so at the auction tables in both our preschool and elementary school buildings.  It will be worth the price just to check out Ed’s (and my) new look.

April 5, 2012

Are We Raising Teacups?

Welcome back from spring break.  Today is one of my favorite days of the year, the first day of Rockies baseball.  There’s nothing like the crack of the bat, and the smell of freshly mowed grass, leather mitts, and hot dogs to let you know that spring is truly here.  As Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental -- the other half is physical."

You can probably tell, if you’re a regular reader of this site, that I’m partial to catchy titles.  How about this one: How To Land Your Kid in Therapy. 

Our Director of Development, Caroline Landry, sent me a wonderful article with this title, published in last summer’s The Atlantic magazine.  As an educator and a parent I was hooked immediately. The article is long but well worth sitting down for 20 minutes and absorbing, and discussing with your spouse or a similarly minded group of parents.  And don’t be put off by the f-bomb dropped in the opening lines.  As I mentioned, it goes for the early hook.

Written by renowned author, therapist, and mother, Lori Gottlieb, the article’s central tenet is this:  we want to raise our children to be productive, happy adults.  It’s what parenting has always been about – what our parents wanted for us, what our grandparents wanted for them, and back into eternity.  But how we are going about it may be different.  According to psychologists, many parents will do anything to avoid having their kids experience even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment - “anything less than pleasant” - with the result that when, as adults, they experience the normal frustrations of life, they think something must be terribly wrong.

From the article: “Consider a toddler who’s running in the park and trips on a rock. Some parents swoop in immediately, pick up the toddler, and comfort her in that moment of shock, before she even starts crying. But this actually prevents her from feeling secure—not just on the playground, but in life. If you don’t let her experience that momentary confusion, give her the space to figure out what just happened (Oh, I tripped), and then briefly let her grapple with the frustration of having fallen and perhaps even try to pick herself up, she has no idea what discomfort feels like, and will have no framework for how to recover when she feels discomfort later in life. These toddlers become the college kids who text their parents with an SOS if the slightest thing goes wrong, instead of attempting to figure out how to deal with it themselves. If, on the other hand, the child trips on the rock, and the parents let her try to reorient for a second before going over to comfort her, the child learns: That was scary for a second, but I’m okay now. If something unpleasant happens, I can get through it. In many cases the child recovers fine on her own—but parents never learn this, because they’re too busy protecting their kid when she doesn’t need protection.”

As a parent, this is hard stuff to consider, because every ounce of our being wants to go and scoop up our child and not have him suffer.   Those same toddlers grow up and go to college where a growing number of college deans have dubbed them  “teacups” because they’re so fragile that they break down anytime things don’t go their way.  According to parenting expert Wendy Mogel, who spoke in Colorado recently (see my recent blog entry), “Well-intentioned parents have been metabolizing their anxiety for them their entire childhoods so they don’t know how to deal with it when they grow up,”

The good news is that most of us are doing a great job of parenting.  We don’t have to be perfect, just good enough not to screw up our kids.  We should give them confidence, but not over-praise; protect them from real danger, but allow them to fall and to fail; or in the words of Wendy Mogel, “Please let them be devastated at age 6 and not have their first devastation be in college!” Sounds reasonable enough to me.