December 14, 2017

Gifts To The World

4th grade and Pre-K students working together
to build a block structure in our preschool
Each December our preschool and elementary classes end the calendar year with a long-standing Friends School tradition: a beading ceremony that includes teachers recognizing each student for his or her “gifts to the world”.

Parents who are new to Friends often ask what this is about and why we do it. 

Our school is a place where everyone is nurtured and respected for his or her individuality and contributions to the good of the whole. We hold in high esteem rituals and traditions that help children develop self-awareness and understanding of themselves as part of the bigger world.

In reflection of this philosophy, each class hosts a short ceremony where every child is celebrated for her or his own unique gifts.  Teachers read a short message from a card that highlights how each of their students show up in the world and the good they bring to the wider community.

In addition, each child is presented with a bead that is lovingly made by members of our community.  Students receive two beads a year so by the end of 5th grade, if the child started at Friends in our preschool, they have a necklace of 16 beads. Each bead tells a story of who the child has been through several developmental stages.

Our Gifts To The World ceremony is a connected and moving time that parents strive to attend.  In a recent faculty meeting, I asked our elementary teachers why they believe it is essential to continue these traditions that were started so many years ago. Each of the teachers spoke of the importance of honoring each child, of walking the walk that our students are known and loved, and of recognizing the diversity and uniqueness of everyone.

It is a wonderful way, along with our Winter Celebrations, of wrapping up the year.

There will be no Happenings or Among Friends blog next Friday, the first day of winter break.  Whether you stay home, or wander afar this winter, I wish for you and your family a safe, restful and peaceful couple of weeks.  May your very own gifts to the world shine bright! 

December 7, 2017

Lessons from Denmark

Emma and I at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen over Thanksgiving
Over the Thanksgiving break, I was fortunate to be in Denmark to visit my daughter Emma.  A college junior, Emma is studying in Copenhagen for the semester.

Coincidentally, Director of Middle School Shelby Pawlina’s daughter Emery is also studying in Copenhagen this term and it was fun to run into her on the street during my visit!

Emma is an education major at Denison University in Ohio and she is studying education overseas.  Not only is she learning about the Danish way of educating children, she has traveled to Helsinki, Finland as well as Norway and Sweden in order to gain a bigger picture of education across Scandinavia.

As her father, and someone who has been passionate about learning and education since before she was born, I am quite envious.  I want to know more!

I am grateful for the few days I had seeing the sites of the Danish capital with my daughter as tour guide, but I would love to have the hands-on opportunity to learn about Scandinavian schools for a few months.

There have been a number of articles in the American press in recent years extolling the virtues of education in Finland, Denmark and other countries.  Their kids consistently rank at the top of the international test scores and their people are always at the top of the happiness charts.

In American Kindergartens, in recent years, particularly in public education, there have been huge shifts towards a heightened focus on academics, especially literacy.  Most American schools are teaching hard skills earlier and in a more structured way than ever before, and often before children are developmentally ready. And while time spent on literacy in American Kindergarten classrooms has gone up, time spent on arts, music, and child-selected activities (like choice time) has significantly dropped.

In Finland, kids start school at age 6 and Finland’s Kindergartners spend a sizable chunk of each day playing.

When children play, they are developing their language, math, and social-interaction skills. Play benefits cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development.  When play is fun and child-directed, children are motivated to engage in opportunities to learn.

Emma with the boys of her homestay family in NivÄ, Denmark
In Denmark, the intentional teaching of empathy is considered as important as teaching math and literacy, and it is woven into the school’s curriculum from pre-school through high school.

The Danes’ highly developed sense of empathy is one of the main reasons that Denmark is consistently voted one of the happiest countries in the world (this year it is once again number one). Empathy plays a key role in improving our social connections, which is a major factor in our overall happiness.

Teaching empathy has not only been proven to make kids more emotionally and socially competent and greatly reduce bullying, it can also help them be more successful and high-functioning adults in the future.

In all Scandinavian countries, the concept of joy is woven into the school day. Early-childhood education programs place a heavy emphasis on joy, which along with play is explicitly written into curriculum as a learning concept.  There is an old Finnish saying: “Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily.”

Choice. Empathy. Play. Joy.

The Scandinavians have figured out the recipe for success. At Friends, we focus on these concepts every day too.

November 30, 2017

You’re Invited to the Friends School Birthday Party!

Not many of us are ecstatic about a birthday that moves us onward and upward into our next decade. Do you remember leaving behind your twenties and turning the “big three-oh”?

At Friends School, we are over the moon about our 30th birthday! We have so much to be proud of and celebrate: three decades of passionate, soulful teaching and hundreds of thriving graduates who make this world a better place.

If you haven’t seen this video about our humble beginnings, please take two minutes to see what 1987 at Friends School looked like. Back then we were Friends British Primary School. The original logo is on the flags in the photo at the top of this article.

As many of you may have heard, our auction is on hold this year so that we can focus our resources on making gifts to our Annual Fund a priority. My wife Steph and I have decided to triple our Annual Fund gift this year, bearing in mind what we would have given to the auction. 

During this break year our staff is exploring alternative fundraising events, such as benefit concerts and farm-to-table dinners. Please keep your eye out for an upcoming survey so that you can weigh in on the discussion. 

In the meantime, we know the importance of coming together as a community is critical to who we are. Here at Friends, we believe in the importance of celebrations. We know that honoring momentous events, holidays and traditions as a group confers a sense of belonging and deep human fulfillment.  Check out this May Day celebration photo from our early days. Does anyone see a familiar face in that group?

Parties of course, are also just plain fun. We are having a fun 30th Birthday Party at Rayback Collective on January 19th. If you didn’t see the Save-the-Date, I’m including it below. This family-friendly party will include a credit toward dinner and cake (gluten-free). Our in-coming Head of School, Honor Taft, will be there with her family. (I think this makes this event a double-header). 

A little background on Rayback Collective: it’s a community park in the heart of Boulder with local food trucks and craft beer. It began with a dream and a kickstarter campaign and is deeply rooted in community. We think its philosophy and laid-back authenticity make it the perfect venue to celebrate our 30 years of teaching to the head, hand and heart.

Please save the date and join us. Come as you are and bring nothing but your appetite and love of celebration.

November 15, 2017

Honoring the Human Side

1st grade teacher Beth Huennekens
With an undergraduate degree in human development and family studies, our 1st grade teacher Beth Huennekens is uniquely qualified to recognize the human-ness in our Friends School classrooms and culture.

Beth is in her ninth year at Friends School, eight of them as the lead teacher in the Kindergarten-1st grade loop. She has been an integral part of our community for so long because she is inspired daily by her teaching colleagues, who challenge her to become a better teacher in a completely supportive environment.  Her colleagues are her friends, her peers, her mentors, and her family. She is energized by knowing the human side of her colleagues, as well as respecting them as outstanding professionals.

In addition to her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin Madison, Beth has a Masters in Educational Psychology from University of Colorado Denver and is a graduate of our own Friends School Teacher Preparation Program.

She believes that her role as an educator is to guide and honor her students' natural curiosities, individuality, and passions for the world around them. This is something she realized in her own educational experiences and is also what drew her to the field of education.

Beth was drawn to Colorado from Wisconsin because of the like-minded people that she met from here.  So determined to move to Boulder after college, she first took jobs here as a nanny, before serving as the registrar at Bear Creek Elementary School.  Drawn to teaching, she entered a teacher training program at CU, but withdrew after realizing she would be spending almost all her time in graduate classrooms and not learning through and alongside children.

Beth and a friend during the Lead King Loop
Beth heard about Friends’ unique TPP and how the program immediately puts our TCs into a co-teaching role with direct student interaction. One visit to our school and she was hooked!  The delicious smell of Dacia’s lunches helped!  Beth completed the TPP, with her Masters degree and a Colorado teaching license, was hired at Friends in the K-1 loop and the rest, as they say, is history.

In her free time, Beth’s curiosity and love for new adventures are fulfilled through trail running, snowshoeing, seeing live music, reading, and travelling. She loves the balance and meditative nurture that running brings to her. Just this fall, Beth completed the Lead King Loop 25K race in Marble, CO. She loves being outdoors!

Beth tells me that she is inspired on a daily basis by the supportive, passionate, deep thinking, and unique learning environment that the Friends School families and teachers help her create. Like her first graders, she learns a little something every day and she knows that she will still be learning as long as she is teaching. And likely far beyond that.

As one of our staff members told me this week, when I mentioned I was writing this piece about Beth, “I love Beth. The few times I get to be in her classroom, there’s a vibe of pure joy! Those kids are happy, Beth is happy, it feels good in there. Yay, Beth!”

We are lucky to have this amazing human being teaching at our school.

I wish you and your family a happy Thanksgiving with time to celebrate, relax, laugh together, and express gratitude for the gifts we enjoy in our lives.  I feel truly blessed to be part of a school community where every day we are surrounded by kindness and human-ness. 

November 9, 2017

Like Shark Tank, Only Nicer!

5th grader Levi explaining his invention
“Like Shark Tank, only nicer!” This was the headline over several photos that our Director of Advancement, Lou Bendrick, posted on our school’s Facebook page earlier this week.

I’ll be honest, I had to Google “Shark Tank”.  Call me a philistine because I don’t watch television (ok, I lie, I do enjoy the occasional English Premier League football game!) It turns out that it is the name of a reality TV program, now in its 9th season (who knew?!) According to Wikipedia, “Shark Tank” shows aspiring entrepreneur-contestants as they make business presentations to a panel of "shark" investors, who then choose whether to invest.

This was the concept behind the Invention Expo that 4th and 5th grade teachers Leigh Houser and Liz Richards dreamed up for their lucky students.

Parents, other teachers, and several of our administrative staff were invited to attend and play the role of investors at our upper elementary Invention Expo /Shark Tank.  Our instructions were to listen carefully to students' presentations or sales pitches and to focus on their ideas and thinking behind their inventions. 

The students were challenged to think about common everyday problems and to create a device to help solve a problem. Their inventions were prototypes made out of recycled materials, so they had to use a lot of imagination to fulfill their ideas. 

As ‘investors’ we had to use a bit of imagination of our own in playing the role of venture capitalists, deciding whom we thought had marketable ideas. Our job was to offer feedback and a financial proposal to at least 3 entrepreneurs on investor proposal sheets.

The recycled innovations wowed the big crowd of would-be investors. The inventions ranged from bunny cage-cleaners to skyscraper construction safety devices, from automatic pet bird feeders to a vacuuming system that encourages you to get off the couch and exercise!

Liz and Leigh, along with their teacher candidates Pepper and Callie, have been inspiring their classes jointly in this integrated unit of study that combines science, entrepreneurism, art, travel, language arts, history, and an inventive spirit!

They have taken field trips to factories in the area, and hosted a panel of experts who discussed the role of inventiveness in business, as well as the patent process. 4th and 5th graders had to work collaboratively in teams.

At press time, I have not heard which students or which project attracted the most shark investments.  I did hear however many words of admiration from all of our investors who were in attendance. 

November 2, 2017


This week, our middle and elementary students and families celebrated our annual Halloween parade.  Our preschoolers had a blast carving and exploring pumpkins.

If you missed all of the fun photos,you can see them here. Preschool photos are here. Or if you haven’t had a chance to watch the video of our teachers and staff dancing to Weird Al Yankovic’s Eat It, you can see it here. 

We have another amazing video of a giant tub of popcorn dancing its way through the preschool playground.  

I love that our middle school students come to our elementary/preschool campus to join in the festivities.  They were back the very next day connecting with their buddy classes in Kindergarten and 1st grade.  And they had been over to South last week supporting our fifth graders in their production of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Fourth and fifth graders have recently visited the North middle school campus to  use our fantastic maker space and to utilize all that our expanding school has to offer.

Teacher and staff dancing to Eat It!
We love that our two campuses are becoming ever increasingly connected, and that our sixth and seventh graders have these important connections with the lower school.

In an NPR article from last week , researchers continue to claim that that students who go to a stand-alone middle school fare worse academically, socially and emotionally, compared to the kids who get to be the oldest students at K-8 schools.

A new paper in the Journal of Early Adolescence reinforces this message. The study found that starting a new school in either sixth or seventh grade hurts students' perceptions of their own reading ability and motivation to work hard in English language arts.

The study tracks nearly 6,000 students from Kindergarten through eighth grade. The authors compared the performance of students who attended a K-8 school to those who left for a middle school in sixth grade or seventh grade. They focused on outcomes by eighth grade to rule out the negative impact that may have come merely from making the transition to a new school itself.

One of our parents told me an interesting story this week from when she was driving seventh graders between campuses. The students were moaning about an assignment.  When the parent asked them how their first grade buddies were, instantly the mood changed. They exclaimed “Oh! They are so cute!” and, “I’m so happy. My buddy likes me.” They shared stories of first graders asking seventh graders to come play with them at recess and the seventh graders having to explain gently that they couldn’t today.

The parent observed that the middle school students “are so kind when they are with the little kids and they have a chance to step up in a leadership role.”

Now about that giant popcorn….

…this is must-see-TV!  School chef and events coordinator Dacia Horn made herself a fabulous homemade costume out of foam core and house insulating foam.  Watch the excitement of the preschoolers (and their teachers!) as she comes dancing across the playground.  Legendary! 

October 26, 2017

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Yesterday, in two performances, our fifth grade class shined in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

It has been a pleasure for me to direct our extremely talented fifth grade class in this production.

With several rehearsals a week over many weeks, it’s a fabulous time for me to connect with this class.  I have enjoyed their creativity and sense of humour.  We are laughing a lot, and learning that sometimes the best moments in theatre come from gaffes.

Kids involvement in theatre improves their communication skills, gives them an opportunity to express themselves, helps develop the ability to think critically, prompts them to cooperate with others in achieving a huge joint goal, and fosters peer acceptance and self-worth.

The theatre provides a wonderful opportunity to teach the importance of hard work, perseverance through difficulty, a sense of accomplishment, and of course provides plenty of opportunities to laugh.

Through theatre, all children are equal and free to explore. There are no wrong answers to fear and no competition to fall short of - only the chance to try on being someone else and, by doing so, to discover a little more of themselves.

Please enjoy these photos, taken by Meg Hansen, our Director of Marketing and Communications, of the Wonderful cast!



October 19, 2017

Traditions: In with the Old, In with the New

Preschool families enjoying Harvest Celebration 
In the past two weeks, our preschool, elementary, and middle school students all honored a 30-year Friends School tradition of celebrating Harvest and the change of the seasons.

Many of our school’s traditions, that are still such an essential part of our program, began three decades ago in a house on Marine Street just a few blocks west of the Boulder Public Library. It was there in 170 square feet that the first eight children went to school. Our Founders hired a teacher and the magic began.

Our Harvest Celebration was born there, along with our Silver and Gold graduation ceremony, Winter Celebration, and many of the other traditions that are still at the heart of who we are as a school.

Elementary students acting out 'Stone Soup'
In the preschool, teachers told and acted out the story of the Giant Pumpkin and families celebrated together with cider and school-made pumpkin bread.  In the elementary school, I told and helped others act out the story of Stone Soup, and families sat down together to share soup and other foods that all had contributed to.  In the middle school, our newest program, we love taking the best of the old traditions and also creating new:  our 6th and 7th grade students participated in community service, planting garlic and harvesting vegetables at Cure Organic Farm. They used some of the vegetables from the farm to create soup and other dishes to share with their senior partners at the  Brookdale Senior Living Community.

Middle Schoolers sharing a meal together
At all our Harvest Celebrations, we emphasize the importance of community and sharing.

As our school continues to evolve and grow, we keep many of our important traditions initiate new ones, and reshape old ones, just as we always have.

This year, our teachers have made the choice to reshape our traditional Elementary Movin’ & Boppin’ event.  A couple of years ago, we changed this tradition from a fund-raiser to a fitness-and-fun event only.  This year, teachers decided that instead of doing a one day Movin’ and Boppin’ event, they would make each of their team lunches a "Mini Boppin’ ".  Each month PE teacher (and Friends parent) Lindsey Hilliard gives our teachers a fitness-and-fun challenge for their team.   This way, our students will Move & Bop each and every month, rather than just once.  We think it’s an important enhancement!

At Friends School, we believe that a great education is founded in the myriad of life’s meaningful personal experiences and connections. Being part of a community where everyone feels connected significantly enhances learning. Our school is a place where everyone is nurtured and respected for his or her individuality and contributions to the good of the whole. We hold in high esteem rituals and traditions that help children develop self-awareness and understanding of themselves as part of the bigger world.

In our new Middle School, traditions are important and evolving. Our oldest students participate in some of our most cherished traditions, such as Winter Celebration, buddy classes, and the upcoming Halloween costume parade. Traditions help us feel a sense of belonging to our larger community. At a time when middle school students may face pressures to grow up quickly and to think of school as less than a joyful and exciting place, these connections provide a different, more nurturing perspective.

We love our Friends School traditions and celebrations. As Tevye says, “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as... as a fiddler on the roof!" 

October 12, 2017

Building Resilience through an Inventive Process

Our North campus was alive with students from four different grades on Tuesday of this week: the sixth and seventh graders who call the campus home and our fourth and fifth grade classes as well.

The fifth grade class spent the morning at our annual Step Up Day, which gives our oldest elementary students a taste of the middle school experience that will soon be upon them.

Leigh Houser’s fourth grade class joined the fifth graders for the afternoon, as the students took over our amazing middle school Maker Space and our dedicated Teacher Preparation Program classroom to work on their fantastic inventions.

Leigh, and fifth grade teacher Liz Richards, have been inspiring their classes jointly in an integrated unit of study that combines science, entrepreneurism, art, field trips, language arts, history, and an inventive spirit!

They’ve taken field trips to factories in the area, and hosted a panel of experts last week who discussed the role of inventiveness in business, as well as the patent process.

Liz and Leigh have designed an energizing course, which will culminate in an Invention Convention, which challenges their students through a generative and creative thinking process called S.C.A.M.P.E.R. 

SCAMPER was first introduced by educational administrator and author Bob Eberle to address targeted questions that help solve problems or ignite creativity during brainstorming meetings. The name SCAMPER is an acronym for seven techniques: (S) substitute, (C) combine, (A) adapt, (M) modify, (P) put to another use, (E) eliminate and (R)

Liz and Leigh have challenged their students to think about common everyday problems and to create a devise to help solve the problem. They shared stories of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, and how often they failed before succeeding.

Our fourth and fifth graders came up with a long list of irksome everyday problems.  A few of my favorites include inventions that:

- help you not run out of snacks at parties
- provide a safe for your school locker
- retract bristles on a hairbrush to avoid entanglement
- combine your toothbrush and flosser
- reduce waste at the water fountain
- help Leigh remember where her keys are
- reduce the stink in your cat’s litterbox
 - prevent Callie’s rabbit of dragging straw around the house

Using the tools available in our Maker Space, and materials gathered by teachers and families, our students spent the afternoon building and testing and re-building their prototypes.  Creativity was everywhere!

On the car ride back to the South campus, three fourth grade boys excitedly shared with me numerous details about their inventions, their process, their need to be resilient, their teamwork with fifth graders, and their hopes for success.

Extensions of the invention work include logo design, creating ad campaigns, persuasive writing, and mini research projects on different inventors.

When I asked Liz what the biggest take-away that she thought her students would get from this process, she didn’t hesitate to say resilience, or what she called stick-to-it-ness!  There have been ideas, and revised ideas, and attempts, and failures and success.

I am grateful to these two master teachers, Leigh and Liz, for the amazing learning experience they provide for their students every day.