January 30, 2014

You Had Us At “Hello!” - Announcing the Retirement of Mari Engle Friedman

Mari Engle Friedman
The first time I visited Friends’ as a candidate for Head of School, I was guided on a delightful tour of the campus by our wonderful Director of Admissions, Mari Engle Friedman. Every one of our families who is currently at the school has enjoyed a similar experience.  In fact, all prospective families for the past sixteen years have been introduced to the sights and sounds of Friends’ School by this kind and gentle soul.

This past August, Mari came into my office to let me know that this 2013-14 school year will be her last.  I am saddened to announce that Mari will be retiring this summer.

I am however also extremely happy for her that she is choosing this path and will be enjoying the next stage of her life without the long hours that her position at Friends’ demands, with multiple exciting opportunities ahead of her.

Mari came to Friends’ in 1998 with great experience in independent schools.  For sixteen years, she has been the first impression for those interested in our school. And what a first impression she makes!

For most of us, Mari’s sweet soothing voice, her articulate explanations of the Friends’ School philosophy and the application process, her incredible attention to detail, her extraordinary listening skills, and her friendly vivacious nature are all we needed.  She had us at “Hello!’

Mari grew up in rural southern Ohio, the daughter of a high school creative writing teacher and a librarian.  She did her first work in private schools in Coral Gables, Florida, at the Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart where she was assistant to the Head of School and where she was introduced into the world of admissions.

After several years, and a move back to Colorado, Mari landed a great job at Colorado Academy as assistant to the Upper School Head, where she also worked closely with the Admissions Department, as well as the college counselors. Mari loved being at CA and was there eight years. However the commute from Boulder eventually became too taxing. She began helping a friend with his acupuncture business here in Boulder. Meanwhile Friends’ School was growing and finding itself in need of an Admissions Director.

My predecessor, Polly Donald, called up her friends at CA to enquire if they knew someone who might be a good fit for Friends’.  They recommended Mari and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mari’s first work at Friends’ was not only in Admissions, she was also in charge of the summer program, enrollment contracts, financial aid, record retention, and marketing. At the time, Friends’ did not have a full-time business manager so Mari also supported Polly with some of the school’s business and administrative work. At the time, the elementary school was under-enrolled.  With Mari aboard, the admissions numbers climbed very quickly.

In the time that she has been with the school, Mari has seen significant changes.  She has never forgotten that parents always have a choice when it comes to schools. Over the years, she has seen parents become more knowledgeable and inquisitive when they are learning about our school. In the information age, she knows that parents who tour with her have already done their homework in a multitude of online venues: our website, social media, and websites like greatschools.org and the Yahoo group ‘Boulder Rockn Moms’.

While Mari no longer runs the summer program (she handed that off to Kathy Sherwood years ago!), and the business office has grown to take other tasks off her plate, she is still heavily involved in all aspects of school life.  She still knows everyone who has been a part of the Admissions process with her.  And if you have recently been on one of her tours, you know how she still keeps the tours fresh and alive – even after hundreds and hundreds of tours over sixteen years.

All of us at Friends’ are exceedingly grateful for all that Mari has done for the people of Friends’ School since 1998. As she heads off into the sunrise (her home is exactly due east of the campus!), we wish her all the very best.

Markiah and Mari at a Friends' School auction
Mari is planning on doing plenty of gardening in retirement, and spending lots and lots of time with her beloved husband, Markiah – they married in 2006.  Markiah and Mari own a small poetry publishing press, Liquid Light Press, and are planning on building on their portfolio of published books.  She will be spending more time volunteering with an organization that she’s been involved with since 1977, Words of Peace Global. Mari is also interested in supporting caregivers who have family members with Alzheimers’ and working with baby boomers to help them understand the importance of health and preventative care. That all sounds to me like an extremely busy and fulfilling retirement!

Mari has also promised to be available to her successor here at Friends’. We will be advertising for this position in the next couple of weeks and will appreciate your support in spreading the word.

In the coming months, we will all have several opportunities to express our gratitude to Mari and all that she has meant to our children, our families, and our school.  We still have a few months in which to enjoy her exceptional company.

Thank you, Mari, for everything.  You had us at “Hello!” 

January 23, 2014

Politicians Deliver on Campaign Promise!

James and Zach learning about different pizza options
A few months back I reported on our elementary Student Council elections. The winning team of 5th graders, President Zach and Vice President James made several campaign promises in order to secure votes.  One of the issues that clearly resonated with our student electorate focused on the pizza we serve at Friends’ on Fridays.  Understanding the mood of the voters, the boys campaigned during election time that they would help to change the pizza vendor.

Keeping true to their platform, once elected, our student leaders met with school chef, Dacia Horn, to talk about the possibilities.  Dacia listened to their concerns and, like all great teachers, worked with the boys to see what could be done to bring about positive change.

She took them to visit and tour our local Blackjack pizza store. The boys met with the manager and asked many questions about the ingredients, the packaging, and how much recycling the company did.  They inquired about the various options for gluten-free crust, pizza toppings, and so forth.  

Armed with all this new information, Zach and James did what smart politicians do: they brought it to the voting public.

They created a survey that asked their fellow students questions about the current Pizza Hut pizza we were serving as well as Blackjack pizza.

Dacia Horn with 5th graders Jack and Ian
With Dacia’s help, they organized a day for the students to taste the new pizza and gave the survey to each student who ordered pizza. Anyone who had not previously ordered had an opportunity to sample the pizza and submit a survey as well.  James and Zach even designed the survey so that our youngest readers and writers could give their opinions.

The results came in strongly that our students preferred Blackjack’s pizza.  Not only did kids think it tasted better, but we now have more options at no extra cost.

Dacia was very proud of how the boys worked together to make it happen. Fifth grade teacher, Liz Richards, commented on how empowered James and Zach felt to have been able to create positive change for their school. While unable to run for re-election (they’re off to middle school next year!), this could be the start of two new careers in politics.

I am very grateful to Zach and James – and also to Dacia for giving the boys the tools and the opportunity to make a difference.  There are so many ways that Dacia makes a difference for our school community. Good, healthy food is such an important way that our community comes together.  Yet, more than that, this story is one of many examples of the many things that Dacia does behind the scenes to keep our school such a positive place to learn and work.

January 16, 2014

Tyler Octavian Augustus Caesar

'Tyler Octavian Augustus Caesar'
Our second and third grade classes had an unusual visitor this week.  It’s not every day that a Roman emperor drops by our little corner of Boulder.

But if you happened to be wandering through our hallways on Monday, or out on our elementary playground on Wednesday, you too could have caught up with a time traveling visitor, ‘Tyler Octavian Augustus Caesar’.

As second and third graders started their integrated curriculum unit on Ancient Rome, second grade teacher Tyler Voorhees donned a toga and laurel wreath, and some pretty spectacular homemade Roman sandals, to bring learning to life. Tyler’s homegrown beard added a certain authentic touch.

In his role as Augustus Caesar, Tyler helped the students think of questions they might have been wondering about Ancient Rome. He challenged them to write down what they knew before beginning the unit of study.  After the kids jotted down their thoughts, he conducted a Forum where the children had a chance to share their ideas and ask questions.  To participate at the Forum, students were regally asked to “Rise!” so they could speak.

In Tyler’s own words, “It was a hoot.”  He returned two days later in full regalia to tell a ‘block story’ of the founding of Rome, the tale of Romulus and Remus.  A block story is a fabulous tool that many of our teachers use to bring stories to life, using wooden blocks as props that help different kinds of learners relate to the lesson.
Augustus was arguably the single most important figure in Roman history. He ruled the Roman world alone for almost half a century. In the course of his long and spectacular career, he put an end to the advancing decay of the Republic and established a new basis for Roman government that was to stand for three centuries.

In the course of their integrated unit, the two classes will study Ancient Rome in multiple ways.  They will read books, conduct research, create art, and study math and science concepts through the lens of Ancient Rome.  They will think and write about what they are learning, while at the same time incorporating music, movement, technology, and drama.

An integrated curriculum allows children to pursue learning in a holistic way, without the restrictions often imposed by more traditional subject boundaries.

Integration acknowledges and builds on the relationships that exist among all things. An integrated curriculum implies learning experiences that are designed to be mutually reinforcing. This approach develops each child’s ability to transfer their learning to other settings.

Research suggests that an integrated approach to learning is brain compatible. “The brain learns best in real-life, immersion-style, multi-path learning...fragmented, piecemeal presenting can forever kill the joy and love of learning” (Jensen, 1996). The more connections made by the brain, the greater the opportunity for making high level inferences. Integrating the curriculum is also reflective of developmentally appropriate practice. Our curriculum here at Friends’ is integrated so that children’s learning occurs primarily through projects, themes, or topics that reflect the students’ interests and

Ancient Rome in our middle elementary grades is a fabulous example.  Combine our philosophy that believes in the power of integrated curriculum, with the passion and charisma of an outstanding teacher who’s prepared to don a plastic laurel wreath and some cardboard footwear, and you’ve got a winning combination.

Thanks, Oh Caesar, for gracing us with your presence.

January 9, 2014

Private School with a Public Purpose

Happy New Year to you all! Welcome back to school.

Shelby Pawlina and Ed Walent, the  Co-Directors of our Teacher Preparation Program, received a call out of the blue the other day.  It was the Daily Camera calling. Specifically, the education beat reporter, Amy Bounds.  Amy visits and writes about many schools in Boulder Valley.  In the course of her travels, she had heard again and again about the Friends’ School Teacher Preparation Program.

Teacher Candidates in our TPP learning by doing
Although we are fortunate to have six of the Teacher Candidates from the Teacher Preparation Program in our classrooms at Friends’, the majority of the graduate students in the program are at in other schools.  There are 33 of them and they are working and learning in classrooms across the Boulder area, most of them in public schools, some others in private schools. Amy was curious about our program. In particular she was interested in this unusual relationship that exists between us, as an independent school, and Boulder Valley School District.

So she called up Ed and Shelby to interview them.  The resulting article appeared in the Daily Camera earlier this week.  You can read it here.

I like what Shelby Pawlina said in the article: "One of the strongest components of our program is connecting content to a practicum.”  We teach teachers in the same way we teach children.  We give them hands-on, real-world experiences that help them make sense of what they’re learning.

Our Teacher Preparation Program, this summer, will have graduated more than 230 new teachers, most of whom are currently working in local public school classrooms, affecting the lives of thousands of young people.

It is an amazing opportunity.  The deadline for applications for next year’s class of Teacher Candidates is fast approaching – February 3.  If you, or anyone you know, is interested in learning more about the program, you may visit the TPP page on our website here.