May 22, 2014

“Well, that was different.”

Yesterday, our preschool held four separate Silver and Gold ceremonies for the four different classes.  

Despite a little noise from the wood chipper next door, the trash truck rumbling through, and thunder rolling in the distance, all four ceremonies proceeded smoothly. Rain clouds darkened and lightened, we had a Plan B in place in case it poured, but it stayed dry all day and we had a wonderful time with our preschoolers and their families.

Our Silver and Gold ceremonies are markers of an important transition in every preschooler’s time at Friends – as well as for our graduating fifth graders and other elementary students next week.  It is a time to walk over the bridge from the year past into the adventures ahead, and for our teachers to acknowledge some of the unique characteristics of each of their students. The Silver and Gold ceremony has been part of Friends’ School tradition since our school’s founding in 1987.

Each preschooler walked over an actual bridge decorated in fabric of silver and gold. Many paused for a moment at the highest point so that eager parents could snap a picture.  Our teachers put a bead necklace around each child, sprinkled him or her with a little fairy glitter, presented a memory book of photographs from the year, and read each student’s naming.

Namings, as many of you know, are brief poems that encapsulate special qualities of each child.  Examples of names are “Proud Prince of the Block Structure” or “Daring Duke of New Adventures” – a catchy and meaningful phrase that epitomizes a particular strength or interest of each child.  All namings end with the words “….and Friend” because friendship, social competence, and mutual respect and empathy are some of the founding cornerstones of our school.

Most of the preschoolers yesterday took their short time in the spotlight in stride.  They paused on the bridge; many waved. They were gladly sprinkled with glitter, listened to their naming, picked up their photo book and ran proudly back to mom and dad, and sometimes grandparents, in the audience. Parents and teachers beamed with happiness, kids often smirked with pride at making it through.

My favorite moment came when one 4 year old boy returned to his parents and exclaimed, loud enough for the rest of us to hear, “Well, that was different.” 

We laughed, but it was. It was different. He was right.

The whole thing was a true celebration of individuals honored for who they are, a recognition of the significance of upcoming change and transition, a time for every child to be honored by amazing teachers who know them each so very well, a moment for parents to capture on film a watershed moment in their child’s growth, and an occasion for a community to focus on its smallest members.

These moments are few and far between in each of our lives. They must be cherished.

Events like our Silver and Gold ceremony do not happen everywhere.  At Friends’, it’s a little bit different and a lot a bit wonderful.

May 15, 2014

A View from the Top

The Head of School for a day - checking out our rooftop solar panels
Each year at the auction, parents eagerly bid on outings and opportunities with the staff.  The most expensive experiences this year, like every year, are a ski day with our virtuoso of the slopes, Ann Reid, and a day in the kitchen with our master chef, Dacia Horn.

Coming in a distant third is the opportunity for a student to join me as Head of School for a day.  This year, I am lucky enough to have two winning bids on my time.  This past week, 4th grader Quinn joined me for the day.  Next week, 1st grader Sloane will accompany on my duties.

There appears to be some sort of slight misunderstanding among some at Friends’ that hanging with the boss for a day might involve some glamorous concoction of power and glory. How I wish it were so!

There is a chunk of each of my days that I spend in meetings with parents, staff or others.  Another part of my time is spent on writing and responding to emails.  Writing this blog is a weekly activity.  None of it is exactly fun stuff for an elementary school student to view over my shoulder!

So when Quinn joined me on Monday, it was a nice change of pace to vary my day.  After greeting everyone in the parking lot, we set to knocking heavy snow off the branches around campus in an
effort to prevent breakages.

After Ann Reid managed to persuade Quinn that the Head for a Day should give her a raise, he and I met with some prospective parents who were visiting the school.  The parents asked me specific questions about how teachers at Friends’ School challenge students who are performing above grade level. After listening to my answers, Quinn was able to share his perspective of how his teachers keep him challenged at school.

We spent considerable time in classrooms.  Quinn decided to survey all the elementary students about their favorite school subject.  Kathy Sherwood will be pleased to know that P.E. was the clear winner.  Quinn and I also spent time in our preschool classrooms, where he helped the teachers out by distributing dry ice at the sensory table in Jessie and Katelynn’s class.

Quinn had even baked muffins, which he shared with the elementary students and staff. This, of course, cast me in a poor light: what a kind and thoughtful Head of School he was!

Later, we climbed up on the school roof to inspect the solar panels.  Quinn was curious as to how many we have up there (answer: 144), although they were mostly covered in snow on Monday and unfortunately were not generating much power.

After heading out to a nearby restaurant for lunch with a couple of his friends, Quinn and I returned to school for our regular Monday math class.  He ended his day without seeming to have abused his power (as his mother had warned him earlier – except for that part about Ann’s raise!).

Next week, I’m looking forward to having Sloane join me.  We are going to attend the Silver and Gold ceremonies in the preschool, check out the 5th grade science fair, and perhaps restore order to Ann’s paycheck! I’ll let you know how that goes.

(For more pictures of Head of School for a day, take a peak at our Facebook page.)

May 8, 2014

Friends' Announces New Director of Admissions

Melanie Leggett, Friends' new
Director of Admissions
Friends’ School is very pleased to announce the appointment of a new Director of Admissions.

We are thrilled to welcome Melanie Leggett to our school community and entrust her with introducing the next generation of Friends’ School students and families to our school.

Mel is a dedicated and passionate leader.  We feel extremely confident that our future and incoming families will be in great hands.  The hiring committee, for whom Mel was the unanimous choice, was very impressed by Mel’s kind and thoughtful manner, her professionalism and strong organizational skills, and her ability to connect with and explain our school culture and educational philosophy. Mel is an outstanding communicator who has gained tremendous respect and admiration in her previous positions.

Mel is currently the Youth Education Program Director at Colorado Mountain Club in Golden.  Previously, she was with both The Odyssey School and The Logan School in Denver, and the Women’s Wilderness Institute here in Boulder. She has extensive background in program design, logistics, and evaluation, supervision and volunteer management, marketing, event planning, and financial aid. In her time at Colorado Mountain Club, she oversaw growth of the Youth Education Program by 1,500 students.

Mel and her husband Roy, along with their cat Penny, recently bought a house in Louisville.  Mel is an enthusiastic rock climber and also enjoys yoga, reading, gardening, and travel. Roy is a firefighter with Rocky Mountain Fire District, based at the fire station at 76th and Baseline.

Mel is very excited to continue her professional journey at Friends’.  She began her career as a field instructor in outdoor education and has a passion for schools and the outdoors. She loves working with both parents and students and is looking forward to using her skills and talents to help prospective families decide if Friends’ School is the best place for their children.

Mel won the job over an extremely well qualified and capable group of applicants. We received many excellent applications for this position, which we narrowed down to four final candidates who each spent several hours on campus over the last weeks.  They toured the school, spent time in classrooms, and were interviewed at length by the hiring committee.

I am grateful to everyone who has been involved in our search: staff members Meg Hansen, Caroline Landry, Mandy Stepanovsky, and Christie Stanford, as well as Friends’ School parents Hilary Sodha, Adam Kimberly, and Aarin Holmes, who all gave thoughtful and heartfelt input to our process. Thank you also to Christine Lipson from HR Concierge who served as a search consultant on our behalf, and to retiring Director of Admissions Mari Engle Friedman, who shared her wealth of knowledge and experience with our finalists.

You will begin to see Mel on campus for a few days in May as she shadows Mari on her tours of the school. She will attend our new families lemonade on May 19th. Mel will start in earnest in late June.  We are very excited to welcome Mel to our school.

May 1, 2014

On the Cutting Edge of Brain Research

Friends' 1st graders working with under-
graduate students from CU's Institute of
Cognitive Science
At Friends’, our teachers pride themselves on being lifelong learners. They are forever learning and constantly on the cutting edge of the latest educational research. One of our professional educators, elementary literacy specialist teacher Tricia Callahan, has been instrumental in bringing the very latest in brain research directly into our classrooms. Tricia invited some of their undergraduate students from the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Colorado to Friends’ to work with our students.

Tricia explains:

“Over the last few weeks, Friends’ younger elementary students were fortunate to participate in a new program offered through the CU Institute of Cognitive Science. Small groups of neuroscience undergraduates came to our K-3 classes to teach interactive lessons that focused on the brain. They taught our students how the brain works and how to enhance its growth and development. The lessons were developed by CU neuroscientists and focused on teaching students about cutting-edge neuroscience research.”

Nicole Speer, Director of Operations, Intermountain Neuroimaging Consortium, states that “one of the primary hopes we have for the program is that, in sharing the results of current neuroscience research with young students, we will be teaching them how to make good choices regarding sleep, nutrition, and safety, helping them to build a strong healthy brain.”

Tricia Callahan
The Intermountain Neuroimaging Consortium is a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, New Mexico that brings together internationally recognized neuroscientists from the Rocky Mountain region who study complex psychological processes such as emotion, attention, sleep, learning and memory.

Tricia continues:

Our teachers were impressed with the hands-on nature and variety of age-appropriate activities and demonstrations. Students built neurons out of pipe cleaners solidifying their understanding of how neurons work. Students then joined their neurons together while learning about how neurons transmit information to the brain. The demonstrations provided tangible evidence regarding nutrition and safety.

CU students proved how much sugar there is in common foods such as apple juice, peanut butter, and soda by showing baggies filled with equal amounts of sugar for all of the foods. Teachers noticed that snack time conversations after the CU lessons were frequently about sugar content in food. Students were even checking food labels for sugar! This lesson complimented the second grade unit on nutrition.

Another demonstration regarding safety was very effective. CU students put an egg in a baggie and dropped it. You can imagine the result! They did the demonstration again, but this time they padded the egg. A lively discussion about helmet safety ensued.

We are grateful to the CU Institute of Cognitive Science for bringing this program to Friends’ School. The CU students’ passion for the material was evident in their teaching. We also appreciate the very positive and warm interactions they had with our students.”

And we are grateful to dedicated teachers at Friends’, like Tricia, who model our mission of lifelong learning for their colleagues and students.