August 30, 2012

Got A Problem? Need Some Help? Call a 5th Grader!

5th graders Jack and Sally show off
Friends' mediation process

Our elementary students were treated to some fine dramatics this week.  At the start of school the lead teachers presented short skits that highlighted Friends’ values of being Responsible, Safe, and Respectful. 

Jennifer and Beth demonstrated how to (and how not to!) put away playground equipment after using it.  Diane and Liz showed us the best and worst ways of telling a friend that her work needs improvement.  Laurie and Mandy acted out how to play a physical game together without hurting each other.  As they showed us the ‘wrong’ way of playing horse and Laurie shouted out, “Ow, that hurts!”, we were all caught by surprise at the natural ease with which Mandy quipped, “It’s just part of the game!” 

A few days later, our new 5th grade class presented some skits on how our students can use Friends’ mediation technique to help them solve problems and come to agreements out on the playground or in any area of their lives.  Our process asks kids to use agreements, to be truthful and respectful, to state their own needs, and to be creative in finding solutions that work for all.

Pause here for a second and think of the last time that you had a falling out with someone. A co-worker, your spouse, the less-than-helpful woman behind the counter at the DMV?  I have a 15 year old in my house so disagreements are never too few and far between.  How did you handle it?  How was the person with whom you were arguing?  Chances are that someone was not following the Friends’ mediation process. 

I know that when I come home after a long day, I am not always at my most patient when my kids are bickering. Using my teacher voice to tell them to knock it off is often far easier and more effective in the short term than getting to the root of the issue.  My short-term goal is peace and quiet.  But I notice that when I take three breaths and come back to the issue and let everyone be heard, figure out my own needs as well as theirs, and we all talk truthfully and respectfully, there is a far better peace. Not only is it a more genuine peace, but it’s a peace that lasts longer and has much greater long-term effect.
At Friends’, we teach all of our students, from three year old preschoolers to 5th graders, and grown-ups, to not only use their words, but to use this tried and trusted mediation process.  Our PE teacher, Kathy Sherwood, tells me of her daughter Jenny, a Friends' alumna student. Jenny is at grad school at Johns Hopkins studying public health. She works with middle and high school kids on issues of domestic violence and leans heavily on the mediation process she learned at Friends’ in her work.

Part of our mission is that Our students acquire a strong academic foundation while developing creative expression, social responsibility, and respect for diversity and the individual.” In the words of one of our founding parents, Larry Gold, “We’re teaching our kids to be good people.”

We train our 5th graders specifically so they can support our younger students in our mediation process. They’re on call on the playground at all times.  And if you need support, we might even let you take one of them to the DMV.

August 23, 2012

Welcome to the Experience

Welcome to the 2012-13 school year. We are proud to be celebrating our 25th year! Our elementary school students have completed their first few days of school and we are ready and excited to welcome our preschoolers back on Monday.

Each week you will find this column in the Happenings and on the Among Friends’ website – a place where I share stories from in and around Friends’ and among friends.

The start of school is always an invigorating time, for students, parents, teachers and school heads alike. New beginnings: the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, blank bulletin boards and notebooks awaiting the creative touch, new clothes that reflect our maturing personalities, the possibilities that lie ahead to make new friends and go on new learning adventures.  This year, we’re excited to have added air conditioning to all of our K-5 classrooms, the elementary music room, and the kitchen.  Our elementary students and staff will be as cool this late summer as their preschool counterparts.

At our elementary school gathering on the first day of school this week, I shared some images from the recent London Olympics.  Like quite a few of our students, I enjoyed watching great Olympic competition this summer.

When I flashed the image on the screen of Colorado high school student Missy Franklin (and her four gold medals), many of our students recognized her immediately.  I also showed pictures of other athletes from Colorado, some of whom had won medals, most of whom had not, including Boulder’s Taylor Phinney (cycling) and Emma Coburn (steeplechase).  Of our state’s 39 Olympians, we saw pictures of Lance Brooks (discus) from Denver and David Herman (BMX) of Arvada, and others.

Many of these world-class athletes had, in the not too distant past, been elementary students in schools across our state.  Kids with big dreams, growing talent, a desire to work hard, and a will to succeed.  None of them grabbed the headlines like Missy Franklin.  Almost all had fulfilled their lifelong dreams of being in the Olympics.  Just getting to London and doing their best was enough.  I shared with our students the famous words of the father of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Courbetin:“The important thing is not to win but to take part.”

And that is one of our major goals for our students here at Friends’. Life is not always about winning the gold medal.  It is about experience.  Getting out there and participating fully.  We are thrilled to play a part in our students’, in your child’s, experiences of life. We are grateful you are here.  Happy new year!