September 23, 2015

This Is How To Run For Office

Candidates Pixie and Ali
There is still more than a year to go until the presidential election of 2016. As the first candidates begin to drop out of the race before a primary vote has even been cast, there are already members of the electorate who are tired of the whole process.  Too much insincerity, too much money raised and spent, and dare I say, simply too much hot air!

The student council at Friends’ offers a different kind of campaign.

Only fifth graders are eligible to run for President and Vice-President of student council. Of our seventeen fifth graders, twelve have thrown their names in the ring. We have six pairs of students ‘on a ticket’ who wish to lead our student-led group that plans events and spirit days and brings the students’ voice to our school leadership.

Three years ago, following a trip to Washington D.C., 5th grade teacher Liz Richards re-designed the structure for our student council, integrated it with the 4th and 5th grade social studies curriculum on elections and government, and got the whole school chattering with anticipation and intrigue.

Liz Richards and all the candidates
While in D.C., Liz visited the Lincoln Memorial where she read the famous line from the Gettysburg address “This nation shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” She was inspired to bring history and government to life at Friends’.

Her strong personal interest in government, combined with the significance of the current election season, provided the perfect opportunity for Liz to do what all great teachers do:  make learning real, relevant, and exciting. With the support of her colleagues in the elementary school, Liz created a new student council. Candidates are being voted on this week by all our students. Posters adorn our hallways. Strict campaign rules are being followed. There are no privately funded special interest groups here. Only positive advertising is allowed.

Cameron & Mark
Last Wednesday our entire elementary school, and many parents, gathered in the Great Room to hear stump speeches. One even took the form of a song, set to We Will Rock You! The candidates were received with great respect and thunderous applause. Presidential and vice-presidential candidates promised everything from new recess equipment, class pets for every class, an all school stuffed animal swap, more gatherings, even “all fun, all the time!”

Today, Friday at 12:45, the winners will be announced. I don’t know who will win – I’m not privy to the results ahead of time – but there is something I feel very confident about. Whoever wins, the other ten candidates will be happy for them.  Each one of them can be proud of running a positive and upbeat campaign and I know that they will support their friends and classmates in their success.

Finn and Quinn
As Head of School, I am looking forward to working with our new President and Vice-President to help to improve our school.  I am eager to hear their ideas and have them report to me on what all the students are thinking.  While only two students will receive the most votes at the ballot box, they will not be the only winners.

The real winners are all of our elementary students.  They have an opportunity to get a jumpstart on one of their most important responsibilities as citizens: voting. We all got a taste of what it’s like to hear positive ideas set forth by candidates, instead of the negative messages.  And it was all done in a supportive educational atmosphere ripe with respect and courtesy. 

Thanks to Liz and all our candidates for a race well run.

September 17, 2015

“ Pick me! Pick me!”

4th graders on the Friends' School playground
From time to time, I invite a guest blogger to contribute in this space.  This week, Caroline Landry, Friends’ Director of Development, shares a story that you might not expect.  It’s not about the work she does in the Development Department, but about a completely different aspect of her job here at Friends’.  We ask that all of our administrative staff spend time each week on the playground with the children.  It’s part of our emphasis that we want all the adults here to know all of the children.  After returning from the playground on Tuesday of this week, Caroline was moved to pen these words:

Many of us, especially those who were typically last to be picked for a team (any team), in our elementary school years, remember this phrase all too well. We waited nervously as one by one, seemingly everyone else’s names were called. We waited, hoping we were not the last one chosen to play. “Dead weight” was essentially what it meant to be last.  All of our other attributes were forgotten when it came to picking teams.

On a typical recess day at Friends’, you will see students of all ages participating in an active and fairly competitive game of soccer or football on the grass field.  Today, I couldn’t help but notice a student, who has been here since Kindergarten. He is now one of the older, taller boys. In his earlier years, he had a tendency to become “animated” when the game didn’t go his way. He’s the kid who would definitely get “picked” to be on any team at any school. Over the past few years, I’ve watched him develop into a leader on the field, both athletically and in his positive influence over others. He is now one of the kids whom the younger ones come up to and ask if they can join in the game. Today, I watch as he puts his arm around them and alternates assigning them to one team and then the other. 

A few minutes later, someone else runs up and says “Which team?” A few of the older kids who are tracking the numbers indicate which team she should join. No one seems to really attribute athleticism, gender, or size, to the assignments. Even a Kindergartner can be goalie if he or she asks.

Guest blogger Caroline Landry
A few minutes later, I see a few of the players huddled around a little boy. I jog over to investigate. One of the boys was accidentally hit by the soccer ball. The game stops, a few kids crouch down beside him and ask if he’s ok. He soon brushes it off and gets back up, ready to play. Again, a couple of kids throw their arms around him for moral support and they all pick up where they left off.

There is a place for competitive sports. But in the brief 15-minute morning recess at Friends’, isn’t it great to see the skills and values that we hope students are learning in the classroom, played out on the field? Kids are inclusive, cooperative, empathetic, fair, caring and they are having fun.  

As the Development Director at Friends’, my role is to raise funds for the school. Why is Friends’ worthy of philanthropic support? How is Friends’ different from other schools? What will the students who attend Friends’ be like? Will a child who benefits from a Friends’ School education change the world? Many schools talk about the importance of social/emotional learning. At Friends’, the students, teachers and staff practice and embody these qualities, on and off the field every day.

September 10, 2015

A New Middle School for Boulder – behind the scenes

Many regular readers of this blog have received our announcement that Friends’ will be opening a new middle school, beginning with our first 6th grade class, just eleven short months from now.

We are over-the-moon excited at this new development for our students and school. Not only will this be an important step for all of us in the Friends’ School community, this is a giant stride forward in giving Boulder families a much-needed new choice for middle school education.

A number of people have asked me how this came to be.  What have the steps been that have gotten us to this place? Allow me to take you behind the scenes….

Friends’ School was founded by a small group of families who were looking for something different.  We began as a preschool, soon expanded to Kindergarten and the early elementary years, and then up to 5th grade. Change is in our nature.

Since 1987, we have been pioneering a model of education that has at its core the inherent understanding that children learn best through positive relationships and hands-on learning experiences. We have done this well for preschoolers through 5th graders for a long time.  For almost as long, parents have been asking us if (when!) we would expand to middle school.

Our new Middle School Director, Shelby Pawlina, has been at Friends’ for twenty years.  She recalls school leadership having these conversations in her early years. When I was hired as Head of School almost five years ago, middle school expansion was an important topic of conversation during the

During my tenure, the conversation has generally centered on the big idea that Friends’ needs to purchase and develop a whole new campus, large enough for us to adequately house our preschool, elementary school, Teacher Preparation Program AND a new middle school. If you’ve been following real estate prices in our area, you know that was a tall order!

Newly appointed Middle School Director
Shelby Pawlina toasts our new
opportunity with Friends' Board
Chair Elizabeth Henna
This June, our new co-board chairs Elizabeth Henna and Fred Marienthal, invited me to lunch, along with Shelby and Jen Cope, our Director of Finance. Elizabeth had done some out of the box thinking.
What if we rent a second campus? One big enough to launch a new middle school, and also house the TPP (who currently rents off-site space in the East Boulder Rec Center) and ease some of our crowded office space above the preschool?

Lower risk.  Affordable.  Doable.

We loved the idea!

Since June, a dedicated team of Board members, Finance Committee members, and school administrative staff have been hard at work, seeing if we could make this vision a reality.

We rolled out financial models. We engaged a commercial realtor. We searched for viable spaces in a ten-mile radius of our existing campus. We researched outstanding middle schools across the country who share our philosophy. We began to design our ideal.  We envisioned.We imagined. We dreamed.

As Shelby wrote recently: “The opportunity, and dare we say obligation, to offer a similar approach for middle school learners is upon us.”

Friends’ School will open a second campus in the fall of 2016 in rented commercial space (to be determined, though we have our eye on somewhere fabulous!) The new location will house our first sixth grade class, our Teacher Preparation Program, and some offices for our administrative staff. The middle school will then grow over a three-year period, adding a seventh and an eighth grade in consecutive years.

I believe very strongly in the educational mission and vision of our school. I am incredibly excited by the thought that we don’t have to wait for the ideal land or building, because those have never been the essence of a Friends’ education. Instead, we can begin now to apply what really is that essence - Friends’ unique philosophy on developing children’s social-emotional skills and teaching in ways that take advantage of how children actually learn - to a new and important age group.

We envision a middle school that embodies Friends’ philosophy and culture.  Our new school will have a safe climate, where respect, compassion, understanding and belonging are unwavering; we will have small learning communities and challenging academic experiences through emotionally meaningful curriculum and real-world learning experiences; we will support the development of metacognitive strategies and facilitate social and emotional growth; we will hire experienced, caring
Our elementary students learning about the new middle school
teachers, good people, who will serve as excellent role models; we will integrate all subjects, particularly the arts and technology, and focus on emotional and physical wellness; and we will honor and respect student voices: as we always have.

Our school has been destined to take this step since our inception. We are excited that the real journey has begun. We are grateful for all the teachers, trustees and families who have come before us who have brought us to this juncture; and we are grateful for everyone who is working so hard currently to bring this to reality.

It is the children who will benefit. 

We will keep you informed all year of how this wonderful project is developing.  Friends’ first ever 6th grade class will be open to our current 5th grade students and students who have never attended Friends’.  Please help us spread the word and join us at an information evening on Monday September 21st at 6:30 p.m. on our existing campus.

September 3, 2015

School Wide Theme: The Impact of Giving Back

Each year, Friends’ School picks a year-long theme which focuses our intention on our goals in social and emotional learning.

As well as setting goals for our students to exceed academically, we are invested in partnering with parents to ‘grow good people’. 

Last year our school-wide theme was mindfulness.  In the past we have chosen gratitude and other character traits.

Cultivating skills of emotional awareness, communication, resiliency, empathy and gratitude provide our students with assets for dealing with the inevitable challenges of life. Great care is taken by our teachers 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 seeing through others’ eyes. Ultimately, having effective strategies for connecting meaningfully with others develops an ability to problem-solve in all kinds of situations, often leading to inspired conclusions and stronger interpersonal relationships.

This year our theme is “The Impact of Giving Back.” 

You may recall that this was also the theme of last year’s White House Film Festival, in which our second grade class was an official selection and award winner.

The Film Festival and the message imparted in Diane Bramble’s class film ‘We Starts With Me’ resonated so powerfully with our staff and faculty that we selected the theme for our 2015-16 school year.

All year, our teachers will be exploring with their students ways that they can give back to our community.  What that looks like in a preschool class of three year olds will be different from what that looks in Liz Richards’ fifth grade class.

In our staff’s initial brainstorming session, multiple ideas were generated.  Everything from shoveling snow in our neighborhood to our whole staff volunteering together at a local non-profit; from helping at an animal shelter to volunteering at a residential home for seniors.  For our littlest community members, it may be something as simple as helping to clean up our campus.

Our teachers are interested in the concept of paying it forward and in the impact that giving back has on learning and developing brains.

Community service or volunteerism enables students to acquire skills and knowledge as well as provide a service to others who need it in some way. There are multiple benefits and gains from community service. Some of these benefits are:

psychological benefits: life satisfaction, feeling good about oneself, and decreasing stress

social benefits: students engaging with the community, creating special bonds with the population served, as well as increasing social responsibility

cognitive benefits: helping students to enhance their knowledge, earn new experiences, and develop new skills

Doing community service not only makes a difference to the organization being served, but also makes a difference on the individual students.

Our teachers are eager to get our kids involved and to hear their ideas.  We would love to hear from you.  We are excited for our school community to give back to the greater community in all the ways we see fit.