May 23, 2013

Silver and Gold

Today our four Preschool classes celebrate with separate Silver and Gold ceremonies. Some pre-Kindergarten students are continuing onto Kindergarten at Friends’, others to public schools.  Next Thursday evening, our Elementary families gather to help us graduate our fifth grade class as they move on to eight different middle schools. It’s a time for us all to remember the past with fondness, to understand who we are in the present, and to look forward to the future with anticipation.

At Friends’, we do this for our graduates and we do the same for ourselves as an organization. This is the time of year I like to take a look back at some of our accomplishments and look forward with great excitement.

Please join me as I share just a few of the accomplishments achieved at our school this year.  Some of them you likely know about.  Others may surprise you.  In one way or another we were all involved, as we like to say at Friends’ School, in “growing our brains”.

  • We celebrated our school’s 25th Anniversary with the Gratitude Project.  Highlights included integrating curriculum on gratitude into our classrooms, hosting a citywide community event with Dr. Christine Carter speaking on Raising Happiness, celebrating what we are grateful for on Special Friends’ Day, creating a 25th Anniversary film on the history of Friends’ School, and bringing our Founding Parents together at Winter Celebration.  Friends’ teachers are working in collaboration with Dr. Carter’s Greater Good Science Center to create a formalized gratitude curriculum to be shared with other schools nationwide. The language and culture of gratitude have been permeating our school. I often hear from parents how children are bringing gratitude home in meaningful ways.

  • This year our Teacher Preparation Program was re-authorized as a designated agency of the State of Colorado for alternative teacher preparation. Following the Department of Education’s visit, we received a letter from them stating, “Across contexts, Friends’ has strong evidence that their preparation work is of high-quality with long-term impact. It is clear from the site-visit that Friends’ is rooted in relationships of trust and transparency…the foundation on which a high quality teacher preparation program has been built.” Our TPP has added High Peaks Elementary (Boulder) and Sanchez Elementary (Lafayette) as partner schools, and increased the Teacher Candidate presence at Alexander Dawson School. We now have over thirty TCs in ten schools in Boulder County.

  • The Community Board has been very invested this year in exploring the question of sustainability, ensuring that the school will continue to be strong for the next 25 years and beyond.  Our Trustees as well as members of our Strategic Planning Committee, Finance Committee, and staff have been hard at work exploring several options, which will guide the school to an excellent and sustainable future.

  • We introduced a scheduled math block four days a week for grades 2-5.  By using the resources of all of our teachers, we were able to deliver more individualized instruction for our math learners that challenged them at the perfect level. Improved math scores on the ERB for our upper grades reflected this greater emphasis on our math program.

  • We instituted a new theater program for our fifth grade.  In October the class staged Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to rave reviews.  Our fifth grade class also enjoyed a fabulous and educational week at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center near Cortez, including a day at Mesa Verde National Park.  Both of these events represented new annual traditions for our fifth grade class at Friends’.

  • We launched a formal Alumni Association, spearheaded by Jana Bledsoe, which has made huge strides in connecting with all of our Alumni students over the past 25 years.  If you are interested in learning about some of the remarkable, and I mean remarkable, achievements of our former students, please visit the Alumni Association’s Facebook page

  • The Rocky Mountains πrates team, comprised of Friends’ School students, competed in the VEX Robotics World Championships.   After three days of competition, where 71 elementary and middle school teams from all around the country controlled their hand crafted robots through a series of challenges, the team won three awards, including 1st place in the overall Excellence Award – the highest award of the competition.  

  • Over the year, we turned our full attention to our Emergency Management plan and systems. The school adopted the Standard Response Protocol that was devised by the I Love U Guys Foundation.  We conducted full staff trainings on our new protocols and conducted a complete overview of our campus, making significant improvements to campus security.

  • 2012-13, our 25th Anniversary Year, has been our most successful to date with our annual fundraising campaigns. Our school Auction raised a record amount (gross revenue was $137,000, compared to $113,000 a year ago) and the Annual Fund is also at record levels this year ($170,000 and counting over a goal of $145,000).  We are very grateful to all of our generous supporters and to former parents and teacher Bill Spencer and Patti Bruck for creating the 25th Anniversary film we showed at the Auction.

  • We created a new position for next year, Associate Head of School, and asked current fifth grade teacher Mandy Stepanovsky to fill that role. Mandy will bring direct support to children, parents and teachers in both the Preschool and Elementary Schools.

  • The school initiated a Friday morning enrichment program for pre-K students, lead by Preschool teacher Caroline Long, which proved to be a great success.

  • We brought in air-conditioning to all of our elementary school classrooms, the music room, and kitchen.  Everyone in the Elementary building is happier as a result during warm weather!

  • Even though several faculty members experienced difficult and unexpected personal situations with the loss of family members or serious illness, I have been fortunate to be part of a community that has rallied around and supported each other.  I feel blessed to be a part of this wonderful school.

Above and beyond all the different things we have been working on this year at Friends’, our number one focus is always the children. Silver and Gold celebrations are a chance for the children look back, look at themselves now, and look ahead.

Our graduates are an amazing and talented group of kids who have grown closer to each other over the years. They have had an exceptional year in 5th grade and I feel very confident that we are going to hear great things from them in the future.  We will miss them – and their parents who have given so much to our school community in so many ways. We wish our graduates all the very best in middle school and for all their years ahead. They are forever part of this Friends’ School family, each of them an integral part of our history.

As we say goodbye to our graduates, we also bid a fond farewell to several beloved teachers and Trustees.

Priscilla Adams, our Elementary music teacher, is heading off into what we hope will be a blissful
retirement – for the second time!  Priscilla retired from teaching in the Aurora Public Schools in 2006, but thankfully decided to return to her teaching career here at Friends’.  She has been with us for five years and she has inspired all of our students to stretch themselves musically. The Elementary Silver and Gold celebration will be Priscilla’s final student performance at Friends’.

Jennifer Shouse, our current 3rd grade teacher, is leaving Friends’ after two years with her fortunate students.  Jenn has done a masterful job of teaching 2nd and 3rd grade, introducing a strong literacy program based on her two decades of passion and training in teaching reading.  Jenn has inspired her kids to ‘grow their brains’ in countless ways across all areas of the curriculum. Her classroom runs like a well-oiled machine and she has served as an exemplary mentor to two Teacher Candidates.

Meg Harlow is leaving us after two wonderful years in the Preschool.  Meg has taught in both the afternoon and the morning West classroom and has always been a huge favorite with our preschoolers and her colleagues alike. Meg is a fabulous educator for young children, and we fully anticipate her continued relationship with the school in a substitute role, where she excelled before we hired her to teach in the Preschool. 

Samantha Squires, our Elementary Spanish teacher, is leaving Friends’ after one year to pursue new opportunities in the business world, which is her background. Sami joined Friends’ initially as a parent (her son Darian just completed Kindergarten) and then as our Spanish teacher.  Sami has brought energy and passion to the position and a love for the Spanish language and culture.

And of course each year, we honor and say goodbye to our amazing Teacher Candidates. We congratulate them on their graduation from Friends’ Teacher Preparation Program as recipients of a Colorado Alternative Teacher License.  Thank you to Katy Hollenbach (PS), Lu Walters (K), Natalie Sattler (1st), Andrew Banks (2nd), Britt Alstad (3rd), Mary Pearsall (4th - who will be joining our faculty next year) and Natalie Burgard (5th).

Last and certainly not least, a huge and profound thank you to our three Trustees who will be leaving the Board next week when their three-year terms expire: Ryan Martens, Christine Springer, and Stephanie Cenedella.  They have all led by example as amazing supporters and stewards of the school. Through their efforts in strategic and generative thinking, through their expertise in business and marketing, and through their extremely generous donation of their time, treasure, and talent, our school is in a stronger place.

In this 25th Anniversary year of The Gratitude Project, we are extremely grateful for all of our departing students, parents, families, Teacher Candidates, teachers, and Trustees.  Thank you for all that you have given us.  Wherever your journeys take you, I hope you stay in touch with this Friends’ School family of yours.

To all our families, and to everyone who is connected to our school and our students, I wish for you a fabulous, delightful, carefree, fun, and safe summer.  We will see you in August.

Enjoy Silver and Gold.

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