March 21, 2013

in time of daffodils - e.e. cummings

Do you recognize that building?
It’s the last morning of school before spring break.  For our preschool families, spring break has already started.  Even though the weather forecast in Boulder calls for snow tonight and into the weekend, we can feel confident that the cold is only temporary.  The days are already longer. We’ve felt the warmth of the March sun on our faces this week, and we know that the days will only get warmer from here on out.

I love this time of year.  For students and teachers and I’m sure parents alike, we’re ready for a few days away from school, a time to recharge.  For some, a time to get in a few last runs on the slopes.  For others, a time to walk in the neighborhood and notice the crocuses already blooming and the tulips on their way.

Near my house, there’s an old crabapple tree.  Twisted and worn, it’s seen change come again and again.  Once upon a time some now unknown person planted dozens of daffodil bulbs at its base.  Each spring, new flowers push through the fertile earth, a new dawning.  Standing in proud clusters, the yellow heads are the surest signs to me that winter is past and a new energy has arrived.

The poem ‘in time of daffodils’ by e.e. cummings is among my favorites.  If you don’t know it, it goes something like this….

in time of daffodils (who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why,remember how

in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so (forgetting seem)

in time of roses (who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if,remember yes

in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek(forgetting find)

and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me,remember me

To me, this poem is a reminder about the simple things in life, about finding humility, and that our purpose is to grow and change.

At Friends’ School, as we celebrate our 25th Anniversary this year and look back at all the ways the school has changed over time, we are grateful.  And stronger for all who have been part of our history and all who are part of our present.

This week we announced a number of changes ahead as we plan for next school year.  Long-time teachers are switching roles, we prepare to say goodbye to some beloved teachers, and we welcome fresh faces. 

Change. New energy. Springtime. Part of who we are.

I wish all of our families, and all readers of this column, a delightful spring break. I hope you find daffodils. May you return to school refreshed, recharged, and ready for spring.

March 14, 2013

Path to Purpose

2nd graders at Friends'
Our Director of the Elementary School, Diane Bramble, is the curious type. She embodies lifelong learning.  When I am in her classroom, I marvel at the questions she asks children, challenging their thinking and encouraging them to ‘grow their brains’. I also admire the ways she questions adults too.  There’s one question I’ve heard her throw out to adults on several occasions that always elicits fascinating results. It’s a great conversation starter.

Simply, “What are you reading right now?” 

In the past weeks I’ve devoured Through My Eyes, a memoir by Friends’ School’s former Teacher Preparation Program Director John Paull, and Great By Choice, the latest book by Boulder’s Jim Collins on organizational leadership. But the book I’m talking about most is William Damon’s Path To Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling In Life.

Bill Damon is the author of 18 books and a leading scholar of human development. He is a Professor of Education at Stanford University. I recently had the opportunity to hear him speak at Kent Denver School. I was intrigued by what he had to say which lead me to his book.

He started his talk with a note of sympathy to parents: how much sage advice can we give to our kids? The world is changing so fast that good advice from even ten years ago is becoming less relevant: get a college degree, choose a good career, become perhaps a journalist or a lawyer, rise through the ranks, settle down, stick with it for decades…. Little of this advice is particularly applicable in 2013.

We’ve all heard the statistics that somewhere between 60% and 80% of jobs, that our preschool and elementary students will have in the future, don’t even exist yet. Colleges are changing so fast, with online and global learning, that our kids won’t spend nearly as much time on campus as we did. The world is a different place.

The media is full of stories of how young people today are struggling to find a sense of direction, a sense of purpose. In his book, Damon describes purpose as “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self.”

The Path To Purpose presents research which shows that about one fifth of American teenagers today are thriving. These kids are are highly engaged in activities they love and they are developing a clear sense of what they want to do with their lives. The book contains wonderful stories of kids who have found their purpose, such as the 12-year-old boy who, in six years, raised enough money to build 319 drinking wells in 14 different countries. He was inspired in first grade after learning that children in Africa were dying for lack of clean water. He raised his first $70 on his own by doing chores around the house. When he learned this wasn’t enough to build a new well, he didn’t get discouraged; instead, he redoubled his efforts by seeking donations from the people around him, including building a website to further his project.

Yet approximately one fourth of teens today are aimless, at serious risk of never fulfilling their potential. The largest portion are teetering on the brink, in need of guidance to help them move forward.

How can we, as their parents, support them?

Damon encourages us to embrace our children’s interests, to express confidence in what our children are trying to do, and to introduce our kids to adults and activities outside the home who might trigger sparks of interest.

We need to talk more about the things that inspire us. As parents, we cannot accomplish the task of identifying a purpose for a child, nor can we write a script for our children’s lives, but we can introduce options and help our kids sort through choices.

Damon urges us to steer clear of what he calls “short-horizon thinking,” the kind of mentality from which we encourage kids to pursue short term victories at the expense of enduring aspirations.

Instead, he suggests that we cultivate an environment that fires children’s imaginations, that encourages their higher aspirations, and that instills in young people the confidence to pursue a life of purpose.

This is something that Diane and all our teachers at Friends’ do every day.  If you visit our Alumni Association Facebook page, you will read stories of dozens of Friends’ School alumni who have found their purpose and are making a difference in the world.  Most of them spent a couple of years in Diane’s class. 

Many of these same alumni came back to Friends’ School last weekend to share their stories for a film we’re making for our 25th Anniversary. We are in full production right now and we plan on showing it to you at our school Auction on April 20th.

We’re proud of the meaningful work we do with children every day and we’re thankful for the parents at our school who lead inspired lives and model lives of purpose. 

March 7, 2013

Report from the Regional Spelling Bee

Friends at the Boulder Regional Spelling Bee
A few times a year, I invite a guest columnist to write in this space.  This week, our school librarian, deana harragarra waters, reports on the Boulder Regional Spelling Bee, featuring Friends’ School 3rd grader Hayden Miller and recent Friends’ graduate, 6th grader Teddy Schoenfeld.  Following deana’s story, please make sure you scroll down to learn about all the positive changes we’re making at school in our spelling and writing mechanics programs.

Here’s deana:

My husband, Rick and I attended the 2013 Boulder Regional Spelling Bee at Monarch High School.  As parents of two daughters we spent a fair amount of our time attending various academic, musical and athletic competitions locally and nationally.  It was just so nice to be there without the intense nerves that come with watching your child compete.  I particularly remember the first statewide basketball free throw shooting competition that Kelly participated in and Rick said, “I’m so nervous, if I could shoot for her she would win this thing.”  (My husband was a NCAA Division I basketball player and baseball pitcher during his college days.)  On this day Rick said, “These spelling bees are almost like basketball free throw competitions,” and we smiled.

Hayden admirably represented Friends’ School at the Spelling Bee.  This competition, as all competitions, requires more of the individual than just spelling of words. 

First there are nerves with which to contend, and Hayden revealed to me he was “so nervous, more nervous than I’ve ever been.”  Second, there is trusting in one’s own study and preparation.  His participation in the Boulder Regional Spelling Bee is evidence of Hayden’s own diligent studying. 

Third, there is poise.  Hayden is one of a handful of 3rd grade spellers to reach the Regional Spelling Bee on their very first effort and his poise was simply incredible.   Fourth, endurance is required when competing against 52 spellers representing both elementary and middle schools from Boulder County.  Hayden is a 3rd grader competing against 8th graders.

There were 213 words proffered and Hayden exited on the 127th word, “samurai.”  When I first heard this word I thought, Hayden is a reader and I hoped he read Jon Scieszka’s Time Warp Trio series and remembered Sam Samurai. He spelled it with a “n” instead of a “m.”  After the event I asked Hayden if he read the book and his grandmother said, “He will now!” and Hayden smiled. 

deana harragarra waters
Fifth is goal setting.  Hayden’s goal for his first time at the Regional Spelling Bee was getting through the first round successfully and he did.  Last but certainly not the least is sportsmanship.  Hayden left the stage reflecting a confidence and happiness for doing all that he could in the day’s event, to rejoin his proud Dad, sister and grandparents.  He remained to the very end of the event to support and congratulate Friends’ School alum, Teddy Schoenfeld.  

Teddy’s mother, Julie, asked if I would support Teddy because she didn’t think any of his middle school teachers even knew he was at the Spelling Bee.  Why yes, of course, we’re all Friends’ family.  Rick and I gladly stayed until the end of the spelling bee.  We sat in the back and I wrote down every word proffered, including the incorrect spellings.  Toward the end of the spelling bee the Daily Camera reporter (sitting behind me) asked me twice to look at my list of spelling words.  So I was glad to be of assistance for his Sunday story. 

Teddy finished second in the entire district and we were so proud of him and Friends’ School.

What a joy it was to support Hayden and Teddy.  They are truly young gentlemen who possess that “grit” that we educators so desire to instill in our students.  On a sunny February afternoon, as I closed my car’s door, I heard Hayden’s grandfather say to him, “You’re the hero of the day”, and Hayden smiled.

I was especially touched by the fact Hayden’s grandparents were part of his big day.  There’s a saying among Indian people that goes like this, “You know you’re Indian if you think your grandparents are the greatest people in the world.”  My Grandpa loved reading and shared that love with his children and grandchildren.  I thank his teachers at Rainy Mountain Kiowa Indian Boarding School who taught him, in 1897, how to read, play every instrument in the band and allowed him to play baseball (he wanted to be a New York Yankee one day).  

deana, thank you for sharing your story from the Spelling Bee. Congratulations to both Hayden and Teddy.  For more on Teddy’s second place finish, you can read the Daily Camera’s story, complete with pictures, here.

At a staff meeting this week, the teachers informed me that the spelling ability and skills among the current third, fourth, and fifth graders is higher than it’s ever been at Friends’.  This is because five years ago, Friends’ adopted new spelling programs.  Our students practice and get lessons on spelling several times a week.  We are now seeing the fruits of those efforts, yet we want to raise the bar even higher.  While not all of our students are natural spellers (no matter how much I practice my tennis game, I fear I will never make it to Wimbledon), we want them to graduate from Friends’ with all the skills they will need to succeed in middle school and beyond.

Our Kindergarten and 1st grade classes continue to use the successful Primary Spelling by Pattern program and pay attention to their word walls.  In second grade and up, we have made significant enhancements to our programs on spelling, punctuation, writing mechanics and capitalization.  Leading up to January, I asked the teachers to examine their schedules and their time with our literacy specialist, Tricia Callahan, to incorporate more time to focus on these skills.  The second grade now has more time to work in smaller groups to focus on their spelling program, learning sight words, alphabetizing, dictionary skills, and punctuation.

In third grade and up, students use the more advanced Spellography spelling.  Third graders also build vocabulary using Wordly Wise.  The fourth grade class spends more time on writing mechanics and the teachers have raised their expectations for correct spelling and usage in every day writing.  In fifth grade, several students have graduated from the Spellography program and are working on classical roots.  Across all grades 2-5, students now take spelling tests and teachers are holding students more accountable for the conventions of writing.

Our plan, as always, is that an increased focus on academic skills and accountability in the upper grades will mean that our students have all they need to be successful while at Friends' and once they leave Friends’.  Spelling is only one small part of our academic program where we’re proud to be finding success.