October 25, 2012

The Word Is Out

Back when I was in high school, the long since forgotten Jermaine Stewart had his biggest hit, “The Word is Out”, featuring these memorable lyrics:

“You had to be the one to say it,
You couldn’t keep it,
Our secret, oh no,
All over town,
Everybody’s talking,
It ain’t no secret any more.”

Here at Friends’ School, we are feeling the same way. 

Announcements for our big Gratitude Project event last week with Dr. Christine Carter not only ran in Sunday’s Daily Camera, but were picked up by the news service Reuters, Business Wire and others.  It was re-tweeted by Book Worm News, Students Cloud and many outlets.  I received a phone call from a woman in Virginia Beach who runs a gratitude website called Thanking of You who would like to explore a working partnership with our school. The Greater Good Science Center of UC Berkeley has recently received a grant to create a gratitude curriculum for schools and is interested in the work we are doing at Friends'.

The Daily Camera is so intrigued by The Gratitude Project that they visited campus on Thursday of this week to talk to us about the Project.  We timed it so the reporter and photographer were here for our elementary Harvest Celebration. Friends’ has been celebrating harvest and making stone soup for each of our twenty-five years.  Clear evidence of the importance of gratitude to our school culture.  Look for the story to run in the Camera soon.

Following Dr. Carter’s presentation, the Gratitude Project story was picked up by a local blogger and featured in Boulder Families and re-blogged by others from there.  The story has been making the rounds on Facebook, including shout-outs on Dr. Carter’s own Facebook page which has a wide audience. The Raising Happiness website has created this special page entitled Thank You Boulder which includes “a big, warm thank you the Friends’ School for inviting me to speak in Boulder” and includes all sorts of great links and resources for our community.  If you attended the event (or even if you didn’t) and missed out on buying Carter’s book, there are links to buy signed or unsigned copies on this page.

It seems like the message behind The Gratitude Project is beginning to resonate to a wider audience. Before Dr. Carter graced the Unity stage last week to talk to a full house on raising happy and successful kids, she spent an hour with our faculty.  She encouraged them to help our students create a growth mind-set for themselves, rather than a fixed mind-set. 

It’s important for children to understand that intelligence is not innate.  It can be changed.  Intelligence can grow. It can be developed through clear instruction, hard work, and perseverance over time.  We should be expecting our children to expend effort and to achieve more and to learn. No matter who we are, we can become a great deal smarter.  One easy thing that teachers and parents can do is to praise our kids for the efforts they make, more than the results they achieve.  Our teachers encourage children’s efforts every day.

Friends' parents and students help me tell the story of Stone Soup
During the Harvest Celebration, students in Jennifer Shouse’s 3rd grade class created place mats for the tables where they ate a soup lunch with their parents.  The children had written a favorite quotation about gratitude on each place mat.  Layne’s mat read, “Some people grumble that roses have thorns, but I am grateful that thorns have roses.”  Layne explained to me that we can find something wrong with any situation, but there will always be something good about it and that’s what we should focus on.

In Liz Richards’ 4th grade class, students created a beautiful centerpiece, a paper vine with leaves where students had written what they are grateful for.  Michelle wrote “I’m grateful for an amazing life because life is really important to share and have fun while you can.”

Christine Carter echoes that sentiment.  Our children, and our Friends’ School community, are getting the message.  And word is spreading.

October 18, 2012

Buddying Up In Gratitude

Mercy Knuppel and Jim Madrid enjoy the letters they
received from preschool and 5th grade buddies
A huge thank you to everyone who attended Friends’ event with Christine Carter last night.  As you might imagine, for a writer with a regular column like this one, I have a pretty tough editor.  An Englishman.  Wears a tie most days. A real stickler, he adheres to strict deadlines and wouldn’t let me hold the presses until after Dr. Carter’s talk last night.  You’ll get my reflections on this inspirational and educational evening a week from now.

In the meantime, all kinds of great things continue to inspire me every day in the classrooms of our school.

On Tuesday, Jessie and Katelynn invited me into their pre-K afternoon class.  The preschoolers had just finished spending time with their fifth grade buddy class, creating thank you notes to our wonderful custodial staff, Jim Madrid and Mercy Knuppel.  Another sign of our increased focus this year on not taking anyone for granted, as part of The Gratitude Project.

All of our classes have a younger or older buddy class. At Friends’ we believe it’s vital to expand our horizons beyond our immediate peers.  Preschoolers in particular receive a huge boost to their social learning by spending time with older students.  They are learning about social interactions, how to converse, to make connections, and so on.  For older kids, most just love participating in meaningful activities with younger buddies. Older students gain confidence in themselves which helps them, in turn, improve social situations with their own peers.

At Friends’ School, buddy classes join together for various activities and celebrations. For example, cleaning the Wellman Ditch on Earth Day, delivering May Day baskets, reading together, doing craft projects, or simply joining together to say thank you, as we experienced this week.

In the letters to Mercy and Jim, our students wrote some of these delightful sentiments.

Thank you for making my room look spotless.

Thank you for taking our trash, compost and recycling out, because it keeps our school healthy and clean.

Thank you for cleaning all the stuff in the whole school.  We appreciate you very much.

Thank you for cleaning up my room, so when I get here in the morning it’s nice and clean!

I like how you have a huge vacuum backpack.

And my favorite…

Dear Jim and Mercy, here are a few questions from magical Mollie.  Do you ride horseback?  Do you do gymnastics? How do you do it?

I’m looking forward to hearing their answers to those questions!

A close up view
Jim and Mercy often arrive to work at school after the children go home. Even though they are a big part of our community, many of our students and parents have not had the opportunity to meet them.  To some, the classrooms and hallways may appear to be cleaned by magic.  However, as I’m sure you are aware, it takes a lot of work and time to keep our school looking good and shining bright. The school’s pristine appearance reflects Jim and Mercy’s deep care for our school, its students, parents and staff.

Mercy and Jim have been keeping Friends’ School spotless for almost nine years.  Jim worked for forty years (yes, 40!) as a pipe fitter in the construction business.  Mercy had a career in real estate and then managed a jewelry store in her hometown of Brighton, Colorado.  When they both got laid off, they were offered work by Mercy’s daughter Carol Sandoval. Carol owns Baker Sandoval Cleaning with whom Friends’ contracts for our custodial services.

Cleaning our school after hours is the start of Mercy and Jim’s day.  After leaving our buildings spick and span, they head out to clean several other office buildings, often getting home around midnight.

If you see them around, please join our students in saying thanks. Thank you, Jim and Mercy, we are all very grateful for what you do for our school.

October 11, 2012

Harry Potter – in pictures

On Tuesday of this week our school was treated to two dazzling productions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, performed by the fifth grade.  All 21 students did an amazing job of portraying their character, sometimes several characters with multiple costume changes.  Even our youngest Kindergartners sat enthralled for an hour watching the show.  Parents and staff alike raved at the kids' great  performances.

This school year, we are making a conscious choice to give our graduating class even more important and meaningful educational experiences.  This impressive theater production is one.  In April, they will embark on a five-day, four-night educational trip to the Mesa Verde area, at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

For this week's Among Friends' column, I am writing less - so that the photographs of the Harry Potter play may speak for themselves. All of these pictures were taken by Meg Hansen. You can see even more photos of the show on our school’s Facebook page.  Enjoy.

The entire Harry Potter cast - the panoramic shot
The Dursleys disapprove of Harry
Hagrid delivers baby Harry to
Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore

Magical mail from Hogwarts

Diagon Alley

A matching pair of narrators
The Sorting Hat's thinking

Hermione buys an owl

Harry finds his way to the Hogwarts Express
Neville, Ron, Hermione & Harry figure out who's
guarding the Sorcerer's Stone

Neville's worried about Harry's fate
Lord Voldemort: He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named

October 4, 2012

Government Of The People, By The People, For The People

Big decision in the voting booth
This past summer, Friends’ was proud to provide some sabbatical funding so that 4th grade teacher Liz Richards could take a trip to Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.  Little did we know that this trip would have such a dramatic return on our investment and such a rapid effect on our lives here at school.

While visiting the seat of our nation’s government, including the Lincoln Memorial where the line from the Gettysburg address (quoted in the title of this column) is inscribed, and exploring other important sites such as the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Liz was inspired to bring history and government to life at Friends’.

Her strong personal interest in government, combined with the significance of the current election season, provided the perfect opportunity for Liz to do what all great teachers do:  make learning real, relevant, and exciting. With the support of her colleagues in the elementary school, Liz re-designed the structure for our Student Council, integrated it with the 4th and 5th grade social studies curriculum on elections and government, and got the whole school chattering with anticipation and intrigue.

Liz created a new Student Council with an executive branch (President and Veep), legislative branch (split into two chambers – Senate and House), and judicial branch (the teachers). Candidates were chosen by means of in-class primaries.  4th and 5th grade pairs ran for office. Posters adorned our hallways. T-shirts and buttons adorned our students.  Each set of candidates was backed by a political party, complete with speechwriters and policy wonks. Campaign rules were established. Special interest groups had their spending curtailed.  Only positive advertising was allowed.

Last Friday our entire elementary school, and many parents, gathered in the Great Room to hear stump speeches.  They were received with great respect and thunderous applause. Presidential and vice-presidential speeches contained these choice lines:

“I’m running for president because I’m a strong leader and even though Friends’ is a great place, I’d like us to work together to make it even better. I’d like to continue the spirit of friendship, encourage everyone to have a “voice,” and help them share ideas. Making this a safe community, I’d like to continue a great school.” – Charlotte

Kindergartners lining up at their local polling place
“I love Friends because of its unique traditions and how it runs. But the most important thing to me about Friends is its people. I have made so many great friends and the teachers are so friendly and forgiving. I hope to bring a larger voice to the student body and make this school even better.  I believe in Friends’ School.” - Will

“When I was writing this speech I was trying to think of things to change about the school and couldn’t think of anything. I like Friends’ School the way it is! I think the school is perfect. It has great teachers and great friends. We have a lot of fun! We learn a lot! We even have Ann!” - Jack

Our students created our own Friends’ School ballot boxes. Voting was conducted this week – on the first Tuesday in October. One Kindergartner told her teacher that she was scared to vote because she didn’t know how to do it.  She was gently encouraged to participate and soon discovered that the process is not so bad after all.  All day on Tuesday, the air was thick with suspense as votes were cast and counted.

At the end of the day, the elementary school body returned to the Great Room.  Director of Student Activities, Kathy Sherwood, announced all of the students’ names who were to represent their peers in the legislative branch of Student Council. 

It was then time to announce the winners of the presidential election.  All of the candidates who had run – three pairs of girls and three pairs of boys – stood and received a standing ovation from the assembled masses.  All had prepared acceptance speeches – just in case. When 5th graders Will and Tucker were announced as the winners, they shook hands with all of their opponents and gave gracious, humble, and mature speeches.

4th grade teacher Liz Richards,
who inspired and designed our
school election
The teachers and I are looking forward to working with Will and Tucker and a new tradition as they report to our faculty meetings once a month.  While these two students received the most votes at the ballot box, they were not the only winners here.

The true winners are all of our elementary students.  They have had an opportunity to get a jumpstart on one of their most important responsibilities as citizens: voting.  At a time when fewer and fewer women are running for office, as many of our girls as boys experienced campaigning and having their voices heard. We all got a taste of what it’s like to hear positive ideas set forth by candidates, instead of the negative messages with which we are currently bombarded.  And it was all done in a supportive educational atmosphere ripe with respect and courtesy. 

A huge thank you to Liz and Kathy, and to our Teacher Candidates in 4th and 5th grade, Mary Pearsall and Natalie Burgard, who all worked so hard, often in their own time, to make this process such a success.

This nation shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” - President Abraham Lincoln

I’ll vote for that every time.