September 26, 2013

How Full Is Your Bucket?

Friends' preschoolers with teacher Katelynn Regan

On Thursday afternoon, our 5th grade candidates for Student Council President and Vice-President gave passionate speeches to the elementary school.  Filled with rich campaign promises, and the occasional political cliché, the speeches were a great testament to the power of our program.  The candidates were confident and used great voice in delivering their message to the audience.

As impressive as they were, I was more moved by the short presentation that preceded the campaign speeches.  A group of fifth grade students (and one 4th grader) made a direct appeal to their peers about playground responsibility and care of the equipment.

It turns out that several items of playground equipment, shovels, wheelbarrows and the like, have been left out of the shed at the end of recess.  It has been this group of student leaders who have taken it upon themselves to make sure the equipment is stowed away, safe and dry at the end of the day.  Their message was simple:  take care of our stuff, and clean up after yourself. 

What was striking to me was that this was no prepared speech.  It was a simple message for the common good, incorporating our key values of respect and responsibility.

Mandy Stepanovsky read the book How Full Is Your Bucket? to our Kindergarten and first grade classes this week.  The preschool teachers read this book to their classes each year . I know Mary Pearsall and teachers of older students have also used the book and incorporated the language into their classroom dialogues.

Many of you know the book, but if you don’t, the message is a wonderful one. Through the story of a boy named Felix, the book explains how being kind not only helps others, it helps us too. As he goes about his day, Felix interacts with different people: some are happy, but others are grumpy or sad. Using the metaphor of a bucket and dipper, Felix’s grandfather explains why the happy people make
First grade: TC Eileen Clancy and teacher
Beth Huennekens with students
Felix feel good (filling his bucket), while the others leave him feeling bad — and how Felix himself is affecting others, whether he means to or not.

My bucket was certainly filled by listening to students at our school ask their friends to vote for them, and to help them make the school a better place.

Each week Mandy asks students and teachers to share with her what she is calling  “awesomeness”.  She is asking people around the school to tell her stories of someone helping someone else, of someone giving a compliment, or of a kind deed.  Mandy shares these tales of awesomeness at our Friday gathering – anonymously.  We think it’s important to share when our collective or individual buckets are getting filled.

Parents are also invited to share the “awesomeness” with Mandy.  Please catch her in the hallways or zip her an email.

While these stories are not the cornerstones of our social/emotional curriculum that I shared with elementary parents at Back-To-School Night (which is available on our website), they are just the small everyday things that make belonging to our community so wonderful.

I hope your bucket is filled by someone today and that you have an opportunity to help fill someone else’s.

September 18, 2013

Heroes – From Anonymous to National News

Friends' families and neighbors helping clear mud
in the Mariposa neighborhood on Saturday

Through this blog, I’m sending a massive, heartfelt and genuine thank you hug to everyone in our community.

This has been an extraordinary week, one that I hope none of us ever witness again, not in our lifetimes, not even in a hundred years.

Thank you for your kindness, flexibility, understanding, and offers of support for our school.  More importantly, thank you for the incredible outreach that so many in our school community (and wider Boulder community) have received from each other.

Friends’ School Parent Council is compiling a list of things that people in our community need as a result of the flood including personal items, clothing, pet help, childcare, laundry, food preparation, grocery shopping, cleanup, lodging, appliances, transportation, and anything else that may be helpful. At the same time, we are creating a list of people who would like to help and how they are able to pitch in.  

Please email stating what you need or what you can do.  Our hope is to connect people who need help with people who are best able to meet those needs.

Many of our Friends’ families are using social media to ask for support or to know where help is needed.  The Donate Boulder Facebook page in particular has been successful in getting the right resources and manpower (and womanpower) to the right places.

There are so many heart-warming stories of people helping people.  To highlight a few runs the risk of overlooking countless deserving others.  Many good deeds are done quietly and
anonymously and never reach the attention of the rest of us. 

Some are too good not to share.

When word went out that certain neighborhoods where our families live were in dire need of help, many other families raced right over. One of our teachers stayed in Lyons a day longer than advised, partly to be able to bring with her the baby stuff needed by her colleagues and neighbors who both have babies nine months old or younger.

Our teachers who have been displaced in Lyons have received several offers of housing from parents and others.  When our preschool was declared inhabitable for children, one family offered for the kids, teachers and parents to re-connect at their farm.

Staff and parents have spent their free time, even after a long day of work, responding to the needs of strangers.  Our preschool team, unable to be with kids, volunteered their time with flood relief organizations. Students have donated their allowance money to flood-related causes.

I am very grateful to several of our staff members, particularly those who live in close proximity to the school, who were on campus every day early in the morning and late at night checking on the facility and the floodwaters, and providing us all with the information we needed to make good decisions.  They also ventured out in their cars checking on nearby road conditions before we decided to open the elementary school on Monday.

One of my heroes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once said, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.” We have plenty of heroes in Boulder this week.

And if you haven’t heard of Mandy Stepanovsky’s dramatic 2 mile hike out of Lyons, baby in tow, only to be faced with a mudslide through the house they arrived at safely in Boulder, check out this link to the live CNN interview.  You can watch it here.

This community is already stronger from the events of the last week.  Thank you all.

September 12, 2013

The Noah Principle

Wellman ditch on the north side of our campus, Thursday morning
For all of us in Boulder County, it’s been a tough few days.  Rain that started falling on Monday afternoon has continued almost incessantly throughout the week. 

At Friends’, we were able to host a successful Back to School night for our elementary parents on Wednesday evening.  Yet when it was time for us to leave school at around 8:00 p.m., the rain was coming down in torrents. Water levels in the two irrigation ditches that run on the north and east side of our campus rose above their banks, flooding the school parking lot. Two of our teachers were unable to get their cars out and were driven home by others.  Several of our parents and staff went barefoot to get to their cars and they got out without too much trouble.  The intersection of 55th and Pennsylvania Ave. was flooded and I passed several large garbage cans floating past our school’s entrance.

It was an easy decision early on Thursday morning to close school, and again on Friday, to follow the recommendation of the Boulder County Sheriff, and to keep our families and staff off the roads. On Thursday morning, one parent emailed me to say that his rain gauge had collected 10.86” since Monday. More rain is in the forecast.

All day on Thursday, I received updates from teachers, staff and parents alike.  We’ve had a few flooded basements, but nothing life-threatening.  Mandy Stepanovsky texted me at 3:21 a.m. saying her family had been evacuated to the high school in Lyons where she lives, but by 4:05 a.m. they were home.  Our two other teachers who live in Lyons, Caroline Long and Tyler Voorhees, are both doing well. They are safe and dry, but we are told that it might be 72 hours before the road to Boulder re-opens and we see them again.

A view of Friends' parking lot entrance
 at about 6:00 p.m. Thursday
I hope and trust that your family is doing well and you are staying dry.

On Monday evening, the Friends’ Community Board met for the first time this year. At that meeting, with the rain falling heavily outside, I highlighted for our Trustees the many changes that we’ve instituted for this school year. I gave a similar talk to the one you heard if you were at our elementary Back To School Night on Wednesday.  Highlights include:
            - introduction of our amazing new teachers
            - increased student and teacher support
            - focus on academics, including enhancements in our elementary science, spelling, reading, writing, math, and Spanish programs
            - focus on social emotional learning (if you missed our latest curriculum update, you can find it here)
            - improvements in our instructional spaces, especially for art, music and P.E.
            - clear and consistent discipline policy
            -increased, weekly art time

At that Board meeting, I quoted what is known as the Noah principle:

“No more prizes for predicting rain; prizes only for building arks.”

These well-researched, intentional, and significant changes to our elementary school program outlined above are among our arks at Friends’ School. These are the things, combined with the fabulous community of people, students, parents, teachers, and staff, that will take our students’ educational experience to the next level.

Little did I know that the rain coming down in sheets outside the Board room on Monday would not let up and would force us to close school three days later. Calling a “rain day” is a first for me. The city and county of Boulder is in need of a few arks right now.

At Friends’ we’re not giving out prizes for predicting rain. We’re quietly building arks.

We hope and pray to see the sunshine soon that will allow us all to dry out. Have a wonderful weekend.

September 5, 2013

Sagan, Seltzer and Synesthesia!

2nd grader Cameron's film canister volcano

The late great Carl Sagan co-created the PBS series Cosmos, the Emmy-winning show that became the most watched series in public television history. He was an astronomer, an educator and an author, as well as a TV presenter. Sagan was known as the world's greatest popularizer of science, reaching millions of people through newspapers, magazines and television broadcasts. In short, he knew his stuff.

When asked about the nature of science, Sagan said, Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.”

It is Sagan’s kind of scientists that we are all about at Friends’ School.

If you had found yourself strolling along the bike path near our school this week, you would have come across a group of 2nd graders, and their teachers, messing with soda and Mentos.  You know the exercise. It’s the same one you and I did as kids. Fun, exciting, surprising, messy, dare I say, volcanic!

Tyler and Becky’s class had been working back in the classroom hypothesizing about which brand of soda would produce the tallest eruption.  They had learned about variables, how it’s important to keep all factors constant but one. They had their science notebooks at the ready, all set to record their data and prove their hypotheses right or wrong.

For Tyler Voorhees, who taught science full-time at Bixby School last year following his Teacher Preparation year at Friends’, science projects are a dynamic way to engage his students while teaching them to think like scientists.  He loves to witness his students’ innate curiosity, their powers of
2nd grader Stephanie showing off her powers of observation
observation, and their eagerness to discover, to experiment, and to learn. 

He’s teaching them about chemical reactions (by the way it’s the numerous small pores on the surface of the Mentos that catalyze the release of carbon dioxide from the soda, resulting in the rapid expulsion of copious quantities of foam), but he’s also teaching them to wonder and to question.

His class tried similar experiments with Alka Seltzer, water and film canisters (remember those?!).  After the experiments, his students wanted to know if it would work the same with different amounts of water, with different liquids, with different temperatures. One boy found out the fun way the importance of his safety goggles!

Carl Sagan
The second graders are not alone.  In 5th grade, students have been experimenting with motion, air pressure and discovering Bernoulli’s principle. They’ve also been ‘egg-sperimenting’ with the strength and design of egg shells. In 4th grade, students are getting ready to discover the causes and results of erosion. In 3rd grade, students have been exploring color & light in a wonderful integrated unit that helps the kids make the connection between light and music, learning about the artist Kandinsky who had synesthesia - a harmless condition that allows a person to appreciate sounds, colors or words with two or more senses simultaneously. The 3rd graders have been using prisms, looking at the color spectrum and the color wheel, and making connections between science, music and art.

Over the course of our students’ time here at Friends’ they will be exposed to a full range of knowledge in physical science, earth science, and life science. 

More importantly, as Carl Sagan indicated, we’re teaching science as a way of thinking.  This will set children up for a lifetime of wondering, asking, hypothesizing, experimenting, analyzing, drawing conclusions, and communicating results. Great skills, not just for science, but for life.

(Oh, and if you were wondering, Diet Pepsi beat out six other soda brands for the title of tallest eruption. Seltzer water was a bust. A video of the 2nd grade experiments is showing on the 2nd grade web page and will be on our elementary TV monitor soon.)