March 19, 2015

Friends' in the News

One of our 4th grade Destination Imagination teams
Spring break is upon us.  Many of our families are staying close to home, some are catching the last days of good snow on the slopes, and several are traveling further afield to warmer climes.  Wherever this spring break takes you next week, I hope you have a marvelous time with your family.

Friends’ School students and alumni students have been in the news a bunch recently.

Friends' Film Goes to The White House On Tuesday of this week, reporter Jennifer Kovaleski from Channel 7 News in Denver was at school to interview several of our students and others associated with the film We Starts With Me which is being screened at the White House Film Festival today. You can watch Jennifer’s report here.  I enjoyed how she made the connection between our school’s street address and the address of the White House – we’re both on Pennsylvania Avenue! The film was also featured on Denver's 9News on Friday morning - you can see that segment here.

Friends' Destination Imagination Team moves on to State Tournament Earlier this month, two Friends’ School fourth grade teams competed at the regional Destination Imagination Tournament. The goal of DI is to inspire and equip students to become the next generation of innovators and leaders as the students work together as a team to prepare a solution to their chosen challenge and present them at the tournament.

The team challenge for one team was to build a creature that used technical methods to perform specific team-selected creature actions. The team also had to create and present a Story of Adventure that has the Creature as a character and is set in a world portrayed by the team. Through 3D printers, creative thinking, performance skills, and artistic set design, the team met the challenge.

The other team’s challenge was to design and carry out a project that addresses a real need in a community. The team had to create a jingle to brand the project. At the tournament, the team had to present to the Appraisers the creative development and success of their project (a device that helps cars sense an upcoming collision with a child cyclist).

We’re proud of both teams for their hard work! Congratulations to The Mustache Musketeers (Finn C, Sam, Teddy, Mark, Ian, and Finn S.) who placed second in Regionals and will compete at the State Tournament on April 25.

Pi-rates Win Colorado State Robotics Competition!
Go Pi-rates! Congratulations to our current and former Friends' School students (Cameron, Quinn and Jack) for their recent big win in the Colorado State Vex Robotics Competition! They are state champions, claiming first place in “Programming” and “Teamwork” and winner of the “Design Award”! They are now off again to the world championships!

Anna goes to World Championship of Irish Dancing
5th grader, Anna H. and her fellow team of the McTaggart Irish Dancers will be going to the World Championships of Irish Dancing in Montreal, Canada at the end of this month. Congratulations, Anna!

Alumna Emery Shae Bradlina's artwork hangs in Denver Art Museum Congratulations to Emery "Shae" Bradlina, Friends' School Graduating Class of 2008, and current Boulder High Senior, whose artwork “Sun and Storms” was chosen to hang in the Denver Art Museum!

Alumna Renee Underhill launches mentorship program for girls
Renee Underhill, Friends’ School Graduating Class of 2006 and currently a sophomore at George Washington University, is participating in launching a mentorship program for local girls in the Southwest D.C. area. Renee is a member of the University’s Women’s Leadership Program which was approached by the national organization “WYSE” (Women and Youth Supporting Each Other) last spring about creating a chapter at GWU.  

Their program matches female college students with middle school girls to discuss topics like sex
education, sexism, female empowerment and bullying.  Renee is currently serving as one of five co-directors of the George Washington University chapter of “WYSE”.

Gabe Kennedy wins "The Taste"
Congratulations to Gabe Kennedy, Friends' School Graduating Class of 2001 for winning ABC's finale of "The Taste"! in January. You can read more about Gabe’s big win in the Denver Post.

We are so proud of all of our students and so many of our alumni who are out in the world putting the Friends’ School philosophy to practice.

Prospective families often ask us how our Friends’ School students are prepared for life after Friends’ and how successful they are in middle school, high school and life.  Our Alumni Association Facebook page is filled with more stories like these.  You are welcome to like or peruse that page.

Thank you to Meg Hansen, our Director of Communications, and to Jana Bledsoe, who oversees our Alumni Association, for their great contributions to these stories – and for making me laugh every day.

Happy spring everyone!  Travel safely.

March 12, 2015

'We Starts With Me': The Story Behind The Film

The Obamas, getting ready to watch 'We Starts With Me'!
By now, you have heard our BIG news: our 2nd grade film We Starts With Me has been chosen as one of fifteen “Official Selections” and will be screened at the White House a week from today.  2nd grade teacher Diane Bramble will attend the screening in Washington D.C., along with one of her students Sadie Melendez, and Sadie’s mom Rachel Lederman.

The trio from Friends’ School will be welcomed by the President and the First Lady into the East Room of the White House, which will have been transformed into a movie theater.

When Diane first heard about the opportunity to enter the second annual White House Student Film Festival, she forwarded the information to Rachel, who is a parent in her class and a filmmaker. With the deadline fast approaching, the pair brainstormed ideas for what they could create quickly on school grounds, and what would illustrate the concept of giving back.

The Film Festival this year serves as an opportunity for K-12 students to produce short films on the idea of service and helping the community. Its theme is “The Impact of Giving Back.”  Diane did what all great teachers do when needing ideas – she asked her students. 

The 2nd graders, of course, had all kinds of ideas.  They talked about the importance of recycling, and of helping each other.  These ideas are clearly represented in the film.  They talked about the world map on the wall of their classroom and how everyone has roots in different places around the world. They feature a giant globe in their film. And they wanted to make it fun.

Rachel originally spent four days with the 2nd graders filming what she called ‘a fun film’.  However, as she spent time in editing her footage on the evening of the fourth day, she realized that the film lacked a certain depth.  Something was missing.

She returned another day and paired the students up, letting them film each other as they answered the questions: “How can you make a difference in the world?” and “What does ‘We Start With Me’ mean to you?” The film is strengthened and holds more meaning now that it includes some of the children’s thoughtful answers to these questions.

We Starts With Me, the song, was co-written by Rachel Lederman and was originally intended for another project for a corporate client.  When it ended up not being used, she kept it in her back pocket, knowing that she would find a great use for it one day. Our 2nd grade video is the perfect vehicle. Friends’ music teacher Monica Waterhouse rehearsed the song with the class. One Saturday, Monica accompanied all the kids, along with Rachel and many other parents, to Coupe Recording Studio in Boulder where the students recorded the song as you hear it on the video.

For Rachel, the making of the film was a fabulous experience.  No one was thinking that it might actually be selected to be screened at the White House. It was enough for Rachel and Diane that the class bonded well around a central project, that the kids got on so well together and cooperated so beautifully, and that most of the central ideas in the film came from the students. Rachel simply had a wonderful time in her daughter’s classroom getting to know Sadie’s friends.

The selection to appear at the White House is purely a bonus. Selections were chosen from more than 1,500 entrants in collaboration with the American Film Institute. Friends’ School was allowed to nominate three people to attend the screening and a reception in their honor afterwards. We were disappointed to limit the number to three – in our estimation, ALL the 2nd graders and Monica too should be in attendance!

Friends' parent Rachel Lederman
According the White House Film Festival website, “the audience will be comprised of students, parents, teachers, Hollywood leaders, and education advocates. In keeping with the President’s vision of giving every child the chance to reach their full potential, President Obama will discuss the ongoing progress towards the goals of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative which aims to close opportunity gaps still faced by young people.” The event in the East Room will streamed live on

We Starts With Me is a timely topic. Just last weekend, President Obama gave a stirring speech in Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’ when civil rights demonstrators were attacked by police as they attempted to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the state capital in Montgomery in 1965. In his speech, the word “we” appears dozens of times. The President stated, “Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person. Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” We The People. We Shall Overcome. Yes We Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.”

Congratulations to our entire 2nd grade class and everyone involved with this amazing project. We will keep you posted with photos and updates from the White House on our school’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

We hope that Diane, Sadie and Rachel can continue the conversation about “We” in person with the President next week. Because we think that “We” is pretty important, and We Starts With Me.

March 5, 2015

The Tide Is Shifting Across The Country

Since the founding of our school 27 years ago, Friends’ teachers have been grounded in our philosophy that social emotional growth is essential for young children.

Friends’ School is driven by the powerful notion that a true education is founded in the myriad of life’s meaningful, personal experiences and connections. At the heart of what Friends’ School has been offering since 1987 are experiences that allow us to create community, follow our passions, solve problems, impact others, ask new questions and see ourselves in a new light. Connections give us purpose for caring about that with which we come in contact; we become more intentional about how we interact with the world when we have reason to care. Meaningful, purposeful connections are motivating and engaging, naturally engendering, and they extend the joy found in the learning process.

More and more, the traditional educational establishment is beginning to catch on.

Last week, I was in Boston presenting to the National Association of Independent Schools. My topic was the role that gratitude can play in school culture, and how the intentional teaching of gratitude in schools can make a huge difference to children’s lives. I wasn’t sure if this would be of interest to the more traditional schools that make up the bulk of NAIS membership.  I was expecting 20 people to show up.  More than 130 educational leaders from across the country came to my talk and exhibited a keen desire to learn about what we have been doing at Friends’. We’re still talking about it on Twitter.

This week a new study was published by Teachers College at Columbia University,which proves not only the human worth, but the financial worth, of teaching social emotional learning in schools.  It’s not only the right thing to do to help children become better people, it pays the bills too!

The study is nicely summed up (and a little more digestable) in this week’s Education Week:

“For many years, growing numbers of scholars and educators have been exploring the ways in which emotions and relationships contribute to learning. Under the broad umbrella of “social and emotional learning,” hundreds of researchers, teachers, administrators, and policymakers around the country have been trying to promote the social and emotional development of children and adults. At the same time, these pioneers are working to improve the culture of schools, the expectations of adults, the ways in which discipline is meted out, the mind-sets of learners, and the opportunities for young people’s expression, service, and aspiration.

Most people, when introduced to these kinds of social and emotional strategies, assume that they’re “nice”—maybe even “important.” But few think that developing healthy emotions and social
Educators from across the country, in Boston,
writing what they're grateful for
connectivity is really a good return on investment.”

The new study’s “findings are striking: Each of the socially and emotionally focused programs showed significant benefits that exceeded costs. In fact, the average among the six interventions showed that for every dollar invested, there is a return of more than 11 dollars.

Social and emotional learning has a powerful combination of evidence and support: teachers on the front lines of learning, research on its power to promote improved test scores, policymakers frustrated with the toxic environment in education today, and now a strong economic case for change.

The tide is finally shifting. The head and the heart are headed for a reunion in the classrooms of America. It can’t come soon enough.”

At Friends’, we have been riding this tide for the whole of our existence.  Great care is taken to teach and practice the skills needed to be a member of a community. This begins with knowing our own emotions and needs, and how to express them appropriately. It includes recognizing and responding to the needs and emotions of others through empathy and perspective-taking. Ultimately, having effective strategies for listening and speaking with one another develops an ability to problem-solve in all kinds of situations, often leading to inspired conclusions and stronger interpersonal relationships.

We are proud to prepare our students to be successful no matter where the road may lead them eventually.

**Thank you to Shelby Pawlina, Co-Director of Friends' Teacher Preparation Program, for portions of this essay.