January 25, 2017

If Blogs Were Super Bowls

If blogs were Super Bowls, this one would be number CC. I can’t call it a bicentennial, because that would mean that I started writing Among Friends’ in the year 1817.  That was the year the New York Stock Exchange opened, and Henry David Thoreau was born. It was a little early for me!

This week does mark a minor milestone: this is the 200th essay written for Among Friends’. 

When I began as Head of School in July 2011, I told my staff that I was setting a new intention: to write a story every week that we would share with the Friends’ community.  The idea was that the stories would give everyone in our community a glimpse of many of the good things that happen at this wonderful school every week.

“Every week?!!” a few of them exclaimed. “Are you nuts?” (Or words to that effect.)

As a rookie Head of School, I perhaps didn’t quite know all that I was getting myself into, and the extensive demands on my time. Sometimes I find myself writing late into night to meet my deadline. However, I have persevered.

A small handful of these blog entries have been written by guest authors:  teachers, staff, parents, trustees. But the vast majority is my own original work. Something that I incorporate into my schedule each and every week.

Some of you only get a chance to read the blog from time to time, when your own time allows, or when a topic is of particular interest.  Some of you have told me that you are dedicated fans who read it religiously every Friday morning with your morning coffee. I thank you all.

The blog, for me, has become a labor of love.  I’m passionate about this school.  I’m passionate about writing.  It’s a perfect match.

As I reflect back on many of the essays (and you can do that by date or by topic by scrolling down the right hand column of the website), I am reminded of so many amazing highlights that the people of this school have accomplished:

            - the day we turned on the solar panels on our roof
            - personal and heartfelt stories of many of our teachers and staff
            - the Boulder flood of 2013 and how it affected our families
            - award-winning students and teachers
            - the school’s 25th anniversary and gratitude project
            - incredible project presentations or theatrical productions
            - a new middle school for Boulder

And, most importantly, the everyday stories of the amazing people and essential learning that happen here every day.
                                 
Over six and a half years, almost 64,000 people have visited this page.  I write between 35-38 essays a year, with summers off.  The most popular blogs have been shared extensively on social media, spreading the good word about Friends’ School far and wide, and often feature a touching personal story.  By far the most read entry this year was the essay titled Who We Are written immediately after the election.

Meg Hansen
I am honored to take this opportunity to give a celebratory shout-out to Friends’ Director of Marketing and Communications Meg Hansen, who has been an eagle-eyed, tough editor for me on every one of these 200 posts.

Some weeks I get my draft to her with a couple of days to spare before she posts it in the weekly Happenings newsletters.  More likely, I’m texting her late on a Thursday night letting her know that my 600-750 words are complete.  She is always good-natured toward my tardiness. I know I’ve written a good piece if I can make Meg, as my first reader, laugh or cry.  She’s a tough nut to crack!

Mostly, I hope that, each week, I have met the goals that I initially set for myself 200 posts ago:  to tell the story of Friends’ School; to inform readers of something that they may have missed; to welcome everyone into our Friends’ School experience; or to share some inside information to complete a story.  If I can make you smile, or chuckle, or even wipe away a small tear, that’s a bonus.

Thank you for being my reader for all or part of the journey.

On to the next 200…. 

January 19, 2017

Tying It All Together

On Wednesday this week, I enjoyed a rare opportunity to do something that I used to do every day – for twenty years.  I got to be a classroom teacher for a whole morning….and I loved every minute of it.

Our middle school faculty presented me with this welcome opportunity.  They had planned a morning for the whole team to meet and to map out their integrated curriculum for the rest of the semester and invited me to cover their classes. Three and a half hours of uninterrupted kid time! For an educator who spends more time in meetings, and not enough time with children, I jumped at the chance.

In homeroom, the 6th graders talked with me about the ways they keep track of assignments – in paper planners and on their online Schoology calendars.  We spent time discussing the upcoming inauguration of the new president – these kids have opinions and aren’t afraid to express them!  And then I taught them a dying art.

Unintentionally, my tie collection has become a talking point as I connect with students in all our buildings.  At the front door of the elementary school, kids are often curious about which tie I chose to wear that day. It’s a fun way for us to connect on something simple and not directly related to school.

Our 6th graders, in particular, have been slightly obsessed with my ties.  In last year’s Silver and Gold ceremony, when they were graduating 5th graders, I think my ties got more shout-outs than I did! 

So, as a surprise this Wednesday, I brought them my entire tie collection.  Each student picked out their favorite and I taught them all the fine skills of tie tying. Not just any old tie knot, mind you, but my knot of choice: the Full Windsor. 

The Full Windsor knot, according to the website tie-a-tie.net “is a thick, wide and triangular tie knot that projects confidence. It would therefore be your knot of choice for presentations, job interviews, courtroom appearances.” This is not kid stuff.  A serious knot for serious business!

Most of our 6th graders grasped it pretty quickly and they even picked out a narrow sparkling black tie for their lead teacher Kevin Nugent.

Tying knots is a perfect metaphor for the integrated curriculum that features so prominently in our middle school.  Integrated curriculum is the concept that connects different areas of study by cutting across subject-matter lines and emphasizing unifying concepts. Integration focuses on making connections for students, allowing them to engage in relevant, meaningful activities that can be connected to real life.

After our tie tying exercise, and an engaging math activity, these kids demonstrated to me how well they embrace integrated curriculum.  They have been studying rocks: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks; the different stages of the rock cycle; and the forces (such as weather and pressure) that affect the rock cycle. Kevin had given them various options for how to present their recently acquired knowledge.  This class jumped at the chance to produce a play. 

In my almost 27 years in education, I have never seen a group come together around a central idea so cohesively.  They planned, they mapped out a story, they made sure there were parts for everyone and, most importantly, they reviewed the concepts they had learned and verified that they had covered all the material.  It was an impressive thing to behold.  I was there for just the initial brainstorming and drafting of their play.  I can’t wait to see where they take it and to be invited for the final performance.

As Kevin Nugent told me later: “They are a remarkable bunch! Just get them going and get out of their way. I am excited to see what they can do with this!”

Everyone contributed. It was fantastic to see our students connect science and the arts so readily. Certainly they were “engaging in relevant, meaningful activities that can be connected to real life.”

All of our teachers at Friends’, preschool, elementary, and middle school, skillfully encourage students to make connections in different areas of study by cutting across subject-matter lines and emphasizing unifying concepts.  I thoroughly enjoyed a close-up view this week, seeing integrated curriculum in action. 

These kids know how to tie it all together.

January 12, 2017

A Wider Impact

Teacher Candidates ham it up during my
drama workshop in December
Thank you to everyone who came out on a cold night to see the excellent documentary film The Empowerment Project.  It was the first big event that we held in our recently opened middle school building. It was electrifying to have a crowd of nearly 150 people at the movie, filling the halls and gym of our new campus.

A big thank you to Diane Hullet, Mike Fisher, Elizabeth Henna, Shelby Pawlina and Meg Hansen (and others) for their hard work in pulling off such a great event for the Boulder community.

Having so many people from the wider community, who do not attend our school, in our building reminded me of the greater purpose of our small private school.

As our parents well know, our elementary students are not only taught by a full-time professional teacher, we have eager teachers-in-training in each of our classrooms.  Our preschool classrooms welcome a teacher candidate for half a year.

While we host eight teacher candidates from our Teacher Preparation Program in our classrooms at Friends’, the majority of the graduate students in the program are at other schools.  There are 32 of them and they are working and learning in classrooms across the Boulder area, most of them in public schools, some others in private schools.

Math challenges during a TPP Friday seminar
Friends’ School started this alternative licensing program eleven years ago because there wasn't an option for a hands-on, residency teacher preparation program in Boulder for elementary school teachers.  (Teacher candidates in our program have the option of gaining their teacher license in either elementary or early childhood education.)

"It's a very full and rich experience," said program director Ed Walent. "We think it's the best way to train new teachers."

Under the residency model, teacher candidates spend four days a week in a classroom with a teacher mentor and the fifth day learning through seminars and workshops.

One of the strongest components of our program is connecting content to a practicum. These are inextricably intertwined. We teach teachers in the same way we teach children. Teacher candidates get the most out of their learning when they get to apply it. We give them hands-on, real-world experiences that help them make sense of what they’re learning.

As I was touring prospective graduate students around our South Campus this week, I asked current Kindergarten TC Annika Nygren her opinion of the program and what she’s learning.  She told the group, “I love it.  I was nervous at first because I had never worked with children in an academic setting.  But I have learned so much.  And watching my mentor Beth (Huennekens) every day, and learning from her, I have gained so much confidence. I know I’ll be ready to teach my own classroom next year.”

Our Teacher Preparation Program, this summer, will have graduated over 300 new teachers, most of whom are currently working in local public school classrooms, affecting the lives of thousands of young people.

It is an amazing opportunity.  The deadline for applications for next year’s class of Teacher Candidates is fast approaching – February 3.  If you, or anyone you know, is interested in learning more about the program, you may visit the TPP page on our website here. 

January 5, 2017

A New Era for Friends’ School!

Collaboration Space in our new Middle School building
Tuesday marked a pivotal day in the history of Friends' School. We opened the doors to our new middle school building on our North Campus at 3800 Kalmia Avenue in Boulder. The dream has finally become a reality.

As our first class of sixth-grade students entered the new building for the very first time, they were so excited that they ran around and jumped from one new space to another!  Some of our administrative staff, who also moved into the new building this week, were only slightly more restrained as they happily showed off their bright and spacious offices, which are a huge improvement over the tight quarters they have had for many years.

The new middle school building features a huge, open and comfortable collaboration space, a state of the art maker space, a fine gymnasium, five separate classrooms, a gorgeous welcoming lobby, and more.  This is all without counting the five other classrooms in the older modular building on the campus, where our sixth grade started in August – a building that will eventually become a permanent home to our Teacher Preparation Program.  All of this is set on 2.4 beautiful acres, with stunning views of the Flatirons.


On Wednesday morning, as Director of Middle School Shelby Pawlina gave a tour to several of the sixth-grade parents, she paused in the middle school’s new collaboration space, with its bank of new lockers, fresh carpet with pops of orange and green, varied seating configurations for working alone or in groups, tables, couches, and a giant bean bag. She looked around at all of this and noted happily that the space looked… just how she imagined it would be.
Maker Space

Before his lesson on physics that day, sixth grade teacher Kevin Nugent designed a challenging scavenger hunt for his students, which allowed them to explore all nooks and crannies of their new home. He shared with me the high level of excitement and energy his students have for being in their new school.

Parents and kids alike entered the doors on the first morning of school – their awe was evident in the “wows” we heard from each family.  Our Facilities Manager Chad Lawrence said, “It felt like Christmas morning!”

Teachers and staff worked late on Monday finalizing preparations for the space after our construction crew worked through the school’s winter break to finish the building. Shelby, who with her colleagues posted wonderful sixth grade art to welcome families back, said, “It feels completely electrifying to be here!” Director of Marketing and Communications Meg Hansen remarked on the incredible feeling among the staff as the ‘Friends’ School vibe’ in the building finally came together.

When I asked the students how they felt about being in their new space, they used words like: “Wow! Cool! Big! Modern! Organized! Impressive!”  Sixth grader Tanner, in the car ride home from school, said, dreamily, how much he loved it all.

6th grade classroom
I am filled with gratitude for the incredible hard work, passion and generosity of all the people who made this possible: staff, trustees, parents, donors, our design team, finance and facilities committee members, the construction and landscape crews, and of course, the children and our pioneering first middle school families.

I cannot name everyone who played a significant role in a project of this magnitude.  However, I would like to extend a very special thank you to these individuals:

Elizabeth Henna, Friends’ board chair, who worked tirelessly on all aspects of the project, and who provided initial inspiration for growth now.

Shelby Pawlina, Director of Middle School, who was our principal point person on innumerable details, curricular and construction-related, who formalized our vision for a new kind of middle school and provided passionate leadership.

Jen Cope, Director of Finance and Operations, and Jen Greene, Board Treasurer, who provided exceptional financial leadership and ushered the school through our financing procedures. Jen Cope was also instrumental in multiple operations and facilities related decisions.


Lobby/Art Gallery
Lou Bendrick, Caroline Landry and Jana Bledsoe, in our Development/Advancement office, along with Advancement Committee chair Diane Hullet, who have been and continue to be dynamic, innovative, and indefatigable fund-raisers in support of this project.

Carol Hampf, Friends’ long-time trustee, who spent countless hours advising and shepherding the project through the planning, financial, and permitting processes.

Mike Folwell of Folwell Studios Architecture, who designed a learning environment that is a light, happy, and engaging space that maintains the Friends’ feeling that Mike knows very well having been a parent and trustee for so many years.

Meg Hansen, Director of Marketing and Communications , who gave such inspiration to the design of the interior and landscape, and who documented the process with her great photos.

Stephen Butler, Director of Technology, whose skills and expertise brought state of the art technology into the building and whose behind-the-scenes work allows our staff to keep our two campuses virtually connected.

Kevin Nugent, 6th grade teacher, and the entire middle school faculty:  Diane Bramble, Erika Norman, Kelly Cramer, Rachel Relin, Cory Potash (as well as the aforementioned Stephen Butler and Shelby Pawlina) for their ongoing passion, vision and hard work on behalf of the students.
Foursquare in the gym on a snowy day outside
John Crittenden of Apex Builders, and his entire crew of skilled employees and sub-contractors, for their stellar work and for completing the building on time and under budget.

Chad Lawrence, Facilities Manager, for whom no task is too small, who supported the re-model in its final months, as well as the move into the new building.

Tami Wakeman, who created inspirational interior design for the building and selected beautiful finishes that are appreciated the second you walk in the doors.

Becky Hammond, our landscape designer, and Tom Sunderland, from Native Edge Associates Landscapes, who not only designed a superior landscape plan, but also challenged the students to create their own in a fabulous integrated unit of study.

 I would also like to thank the entire staff and Community Board of Friends’, especially Associate Head Mandy Stepanovsky, who understood and allowed me to spend time on this project, which naturally took time away from other duties.  

This has been a huge and dynamic project that has taken huge amounts of energy to bring about during the best part of two years – energy from our staff and amazing volunteers. 

It was made possible by our staff pitching in extra time and effort to maintain our wonderful preschool and elementary programs while allowing us to grow for the benefit of our entire community. In Friends’ School fashion, we all grew our brains and gained new skills the last two years. It could not have been done without the support of our entire staff and board.

In the words of Board Chair Elizabeth Henna, “the voices and faces today made it all worthwhile.”

I could not be more proud! 

Please let us know when you would like to tour!