April 30, 2015

Getting Down to Motown

Friends' parents Lisa and Konoy getting down to Motown!
Last Saturday, 180 of us came together at the St. Julien Hotel to celebrate this amazing school community. Thank you to everyone who volunteered and to all of you who came to have a good time and support the school.

We will be able to let you know final numbers raised next week, after the accounting is complete. While the annual Auction is a critical fundraiser for our school – the money we raise is necessary to support the children, teachers, and programs at the school - it is just as importantly, a very special community-building event.   Year after year, the auction brings together so many of our parents, teachers, staff, and trustees to get better acquainted. Whether volunteering with fellow parents in the months leading up to the auction or while socializing, bidding, dining and getting groovy to the music the night of the event, the Auction is an opportunity for us to become closer and to celebrate our community.

Damon & Chris
Among my remarks that night, I shared that I had received a letter recently from a preschool parent, singing the praises of her child’s teachers.  One of the great joys in my work as a school leader is knowing the enormous difference that is being made in the lives of our students and their families every day. When I get to hear about it firsthand in a letter or a conversation, it’s icing on the cake.

Following our school auction, I received another letter from a parent, this time a 4th grade parent who wrote the following:

Bret, Corinne, Christina & Jim
“I just wanted to send a quick note to tell you I was truly touched with a moment that occurred during the financial aid portion of the live auction as MANY of the Friends' staff and teachers raised their arms to donate their own personal money to the fund.  What an honor it is to have my child at such a place, full of love, generosity, encouragement and a genuine sense of community.  
With a warm and grateful heart,

Mary Ann and Marv
She was talking about the direct appeal paddle raiser portion of the Auction. Donations go directly to fund financial aid to students whose families are unable to pay full tuition.  Financial aid is an essential part of our school culture and allows many kids to come to Friends’ who could not afford to otherwise.  Approximately 25% of the families in our community receive financial aid and many, many families gave generously to this cause on Saturday, including 19 of our teachers and staff.

Like almost all independent schools, Friends’ does not charge in tuition what it costs to run the school.  We try to minimize our tuition increases from year to year.  We raise funds through our Annual Fund, the Auction, and other means to fund our great programming – and financial aid.  The additional funds raised annually allow us to keep our enviable student:teacher ratio of 8:1, and bring us our exceptional programs like music, art & Spanish which are hard to find in public schools.
"Heads or Tails"

In his authentic and thoughtful speech on Saturday, Friends’ School graduate, and CU Boulder freshman, Michael Hansen said:

"I was a Friends’ student for eight years, both in the preschool and elementary school. I think it’s safe to say that spending eight years doing anything will make a pretty big impact on you, and Friends’ created the entire foundation of my education. At Friends’, my success sure wasn’t measured on an ABC scale, but something became instilled in me that made me eager about actually learning, excited about trying new things, and ambitious to find out my passions. Some of my success is due to what I learned during my early childhood, and I know I’ve taken a bit of what Friends’ gave me in every step of my educational journey."
Alumni student Michael Hansen

Some of Michael’s success includes being the lead developer of the app Finish which won the Apple Design Award and sold 250,000 units worldwide, captaining the Boulder High Swim and Dive team, and being selected as a Leeds Scholar, a selective business leadership and honors program for the top students in CU's Leeds School of Business.  Even Michael, at age eighteen, raised his paddle with the intention of supporting a Friends’ School student.

Thank you to everyone who made the evening such a success!

April 23, 2015

Resilience, or How to Make Lemonade

The Rocky Mountain πRates (Quinn, Cameron & Jack)
Regular readers of Among Friends’ know about the Rocky Mountain πRates (Pirates). The robotics team, comprised of current and former Friends’ School students, is a two-time world champion.

They entered this year’s national VEX competition last weekend as a firm favorite, one of the teams to beat.

Sometimes, things don’t always go according to plan.

The πRates, 4th grader Quinn Kiefer and 7th graders Cameron Hoeffler and Jack Kiefer, were prepared.  Their robot was performing perfectly in practice, their programming was first class, and the kids were well trained. They knew exactly what they needed to do.

There was only one snag. The robot, named "Stack-a-mole", didn’t cooperate. 

Quinn talking to a VEX judge
During each practice session, it performed perfectly.  Every time the boys took the robot out onto the competition floor, it failed somehow.

Again and again and again.

In ten out of eleven competition rounds, "Stack-a-mole" didn’t come through.  There was a different type of mechanical failure each time.  After every failure, the πRates took the robot backstage, got it going, ran it through its paces successfully, and each time, back in competition, something went wrong.

It was maddening.  And heart-breaking.  A year of design work, computer programming, practice, and flawless execution was going down the tubes. Not only that, but each competition stage involves cooperating with another team.  Time and time again, Quinn, Jack and Cameron felt they were letting down other teams as well.
If this had happened to me, especially at age 9 and 12, I would have kicked the robot down the stairs. “To heck with it!”  Not these Rocky Mountain πRates.

They stuck with it. Their parents, Carol and Jennifer, reported to me that, throughout the whole ordeal, they kept their confidence and continued to work in practice to try and make things right.  They believed in all of the hard work they had put in to create their robot.  They kept a positive attitude when it became clear that they weren’t going to “three-peat” as world champs, and they cheered on their rivals.

Paul Tough is the author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character and a leading national expert on resilience. He writes:

“What matters most in a child's development, they say, is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence.”

It appears that these boys have developed these qualities in abundance.  Jennifer and Carol tell me that they were more proud of the team at this year’s competition than in the previous two victorious years.  This is the stuff that success is built from.

The πRates celebrating with
coach Jason Kiefer
Jennifer directly contributes the boys’ increased grit to the education they are receiving (or have received) at Friends’ School. “Lord knows they didn’t get it from me!” she exclaimed. She sees the emotional maturity and growth her sons have seen here at Friends’. These kids understand that the learning experience is more important than the product or the win. She and Carol were extremely impressed by the grace and sportsmanship their sons displayed, and the resilience they showed.

At the end of the contest, when asked if he had any regrets, Jack responded “Yes – I wish we had spent more time on the design process.”

That is the true mark of a winner.

Post-script: Despite not winning on the competition floor, the Pirates did come home with the THINK award, judged independently for Excellence in Programming.  Despite the mechanical failures, they were deemed to have designed an incredible robot.  Congratulations to them all! 

April 16, 2015

Long Live Recess

Chances are you live here in Boulder because you love being outside and getting exercise – and these are values you instill in your children.

Chances are you send your kids to Friends’ partly because of our deeply held value that it is essential to educate the whole child – not just the minds of our students, but also their hearts and bodies.  We focus on the social/emotional and physical development of the children in addition to academics.

We like to get kids moving. We believe that exercise and fresh air is good for everyone. And this is not just a belief.  It is scientifically proven that getting outside and running around is essential for growing bodies and brains.

Recess is great for kids.

At Friends’, our kids are outside and moving their bodies a bunch.  In preschool, the children spend about half of their time here outside.  One of my great joys is watching our preschoolers running around, climbing, riding bikes, and digging in the sand.

At the elementary level, classes have recess twice a day (mid-morning and lunchtime) and some are outside three times a day.  Liz Richards has her 4th graders moving their bodies outside every single day before school starts.  They come back into class invigorated and ready for the day’s lessons and activities.  P.E. teacher Lindsey Hilliard runs her P.E. classes outside as often as she can in our up and down Colorado weather.

In a recent The Atlantic magazine article that one of our parents sent to me this week, an American teacher who is teaching in Helsinki, Finland writes about How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play.  Finland makes the education newsbeat frequently in the U.S.
mainstream press for their outstanding results in schools. While Finland surely doesn’t face some of the issues facing the American education system, they are clearly onto something.

In this article, teacher Tim Walker describes how his students in Helsinki have 15 minutes of recess for every 45 minutes they are in class. He writes: “I didn’t see the point of these frequent pit stops. As a teacher in the United States, I’d spent several consecutive hours with my students in the classroom. The Finnish way seemed soft and I was convinced that kids learned better with longer stretches of instructional time.”

But he learned and goes on to state: “What I realized in Finland…is that once I started to see a break as a strategy to maximize learning, I stopped feeling guilty about shortening classroom instruction. Pellegrini’s findings confirm that frequent breaks boost attentiveness in class. With this in mind, we no longer need to fear that students won’t learn what they need to learn if we let them disconnect from their work for 10 or 15-minute periods, several times throughout the school day.”

The Pellegrini that he mentions is Robert Pellegrini, emeritus professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota and the author of Recess: Its Role in Education and Development.  He has been advocating this approach of more recess for years.

In his research, Pellegrini writes: Children “experience greater benefit from a drastic change in activity, such as is afforded by recess. This is consistent with the evidence that younger children may require a greater change in activity or stimulus materials before they experience a release from interference. This should make school learning particularly difficult for young elementary school children, and opportunities to engage in non-focused, nonintellectual activities should afford them the needed respite to re-energize their nervous systems so that they can continue to learn in school. Consistent with this reasoning, recess periods across the school day should minimize cognitive interference.”

This is something our Friends’ School teachers know – both instinctively and through their training.

In a different study, published this year by researchers from Stanford, including Dr. Milbrey McLaughlin, the David Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford University, the case is made that recess helps students to feel more engaged, safer and positive about the school day. “In fact, recess can yield numerous benefits to an elementary school's overall climate….because recess offers opportunities for both positive play and experience in learning how to resolve conflicts, it can have powerful implications for a child's education.”

In this day and age, when pressure to perform on standardized tests is pushing schools and school districts to limit recess and movement in schools, we are glad to have our students outside as much as we do. We love recess at Friends’. Now please excuse me while I head out to play….

April 9, 2015

Strutting Their Stuff

This time last week, many of you joined me in the Great Room for the 18th Annual Elementary Talent Show.

This is one of my favorite days of the whole school calendar. What I love about it is there are no auditions or ‘minimum standards’. The Talent Show is a throng of willing participants, a shrine to the attitude of “I can.”  In fact, for some the attitude is more than “I can;” it’s “I don’t really know if I can, but I really want to, I’m as sure as heck going to give it a shot and I don’t care what anyone thinks.” 

I call this opportunity. 

A chance for anyone to strut their stuff, to wave their banner and claim their place among the artists.  Kids of all ages sing, dance, tell jokes, play intruments, do magic tricks, and more.  I continue to be amazed each year as brave souls steal the spotlight for a minute or two and show us what they are made of: young Kindergartners or first graders appearing on stage for the very first time; seasoned fifth graders performing in a band at the time of life when they are “supposed” to be conforming to  
their peers.

No matter the act, the Talent Show gives our students a place to unfurl their wings and feel success in public.  Our gracious audience meets each performer with support, appreciation and tenderness. Thank you for your part in that. Thank you to Kathy Sherwood and Monica Benko, and many others, for all their hard work putting on the show!

Please enjoy these photographs, taken by Meg Hansen, of some of last week’s performers.  For more pictures, please visit our Facebook page.

April 2, 2015

Friends’ Teachers Win Back To Back Educator of the Year Awards

Jessie Vanden Hogen, Educator of the Year
Congratulations Jessie!

We learned this week that preschool teacher Jessie Vanden Hogen has been selected as Educator of the Year by the Boulder chapter of the Colorado Association for the Education of Young Children.

Jessie follows her colleague Christie Stanford who won the award last year.  It is the first time in the history of the award that one school has received the Educator of the Year award in back to back years.  We are extremely proud of them both.

CAEYC-Boulder sends out requests for nominations to the greater Boulder early childhood education community. This includes all licensed preschools and family childcare centers as well as all members of the organization. Nominations are submitted to Annette Crawford, Recruitment & Training Program Manager with the City of Boulder Family Services. Annette collects all of the nominations and then a committee that is composed of past award winners reviews the nominations and votes to determine the new winner.

This year there was a tie for Educator of the Year. Both Jessie and Michael Knuckey, from Children’s House Preschool, will receive the award. The award ceremony will be held next week on April 9th at Boulder Country Day School. A number of Jessie’s colleagues will be in attendance.

As part of Jessie’s nomination, one of her colleagues wrote:

“Jessie ignites the love of learning and the beginning understanding of the concept of school. Imbedded in her classroom are rich opportunities where children can develop a vast toolbox of social-emotional skills that will be necessary for their entire lives both in and out of school.

Jessie is a strong resource for parents. They trust her advice that she shares without judgment.

Jessie’s classroom is an active and alive place for children. Her expectations are age-appropriate and the heart and soul of each child is valued and supported in each individual learning journey. In her classroom children thrive!”

True to who Jessie is, she feels that there are other equally deserving educators in Boulder.  She is happy to accept what she calls this great honor because it will bring attention to the importance of early childhood education.

Upon hearing of her award, Jessie shared the news with her family: her two brothers who both live in Australia, her parents back home in Wisconsin, and her sister in Lafayette.  Simultaneously, the whole family raised a glass to celebrate across the miles.

Jessie also shared the news with her godmother who in turn sent it on to Lucy Jentz.  Lucy was Jessie’s own preschool teacher at the Peace Nursery School in Wisconsin, a school that belonged to the organization ECHO (Early CHildhood Organization) with the creed “ECHO: Each Child Happens Once.”  Jessie’s favorite memory of her own preschool experience was being out in the parking lot with a paintbrush and a bucket of water, painting the stripes so they would shine!

Jessie credits the co-teachers she has had over her 17 years at Friends’ School.  She and Christie were hired on the same day (a really good day for Friends’!)  From her colleagues, she has learned so much, including storytelling.  If you have ever heard Jessie tell stories to children (or adults for that matter) you know how gifted she is.

Jessie says she began her teaching career as a way to support her music career.  She plays violin
and used to play with various bands all around the Boulder area. One of her ‘gigs’ was playing at a Friends’ School elementary Silver and Gold celebration.  It was the first time she ever heard of the school.  She listened to the speeches that the graduating fifth graders were giving and realized that this school was a magical place. She heard the kids’ reflective words and wished she had gone to school here!

Later, when a preschool teaching position opened up, she jumped at the chance to apply.  Now she says her music supports her teaching. She is thrilled to be at a school that places so much emphasis on play, on social-emotional intelligence, on community, on humor, on teaching empathy and resilience, and on supporting children through both their successes and their disappointments. She loves being at a place that supports her own growth as a learner and an educator.

Hundreds of children have benefitted from the magic and the love that Jessie brings to her classroom. She still loves coming to school every day and we are thrilled that she has been honored as Educator of the Year. 

As her sister texted to her last night: Congrats Jessie. What an amazing honor that you so deserve. That is so special. You should be so proud of yourself. Ha. I'm damn proud of you!!!”

All of us at Friends’ are proud of her too!