February 23, 2017

Don’t Look Now! They’re Everywhere!

You might see them in the great room, in the halls, in the classrooms… sometimes they’re invisible but their presence is tangible.

Volunteers. They’re everywhere!

At Friends’ School we are truly lucky to have an amazingly accomplished and community-minded group of parents who keep our community strong. We could not do all that we do at Friends’ without our wonderful and enthusiastic parent (and sometimes grandparent, aunt, uncle, and caregiver) volunteers.

On any given week you’ll find volunteers hard at work on art projects for the auction, shelving books and helping guide computer instruction in the library, driving on a field trip, helping in the classrooms with reading groups and math lessons and spelling tests, working towards the future of the school on our committees and board. 

What’s always astonishing and inspiring is that despite the fact that parents are understandably busy and tired, they roll up their sleeves on a Saturday morning for Parent Work Day, tote bagels and coffee to Parent Council breakfasts, collect money for Teacher Thanksgiving, champion the Annual Fund as class captains, take precious time to help students in their Area of Expertise (AOE) projects or set up chairs at a parent education event.

The list of ways they support the school is endless. 

Some tasks, like helping in classrooms, are very visible. Others happen a little more behind the scenes. Working parents, and others whose schedules don’t mesh with ours, can be busy at home preparing materials for classrooms, writing thank you notes for the Annual Fund, or working on tasks on behalf of the school Auction.

Friends’, like all independent schools, has a Board of Trustees that works in collaboration with me to guide the direction our school is taking.  Devoted volunteers on our board and its committees —current and past parents— meet monthly during the school year, and also put in countless, selfless hours to keep the school running and ensure its bright future. Their energy and ability to give is humbling.

I’d like to give a shout out to a few volunteers who have been especially tireless: Jenny McGuire, Mindy Mullins, Jenny Donovan, Karen Donohue, Maureen Espinoza, Diane Hullet, Shel Gerding, Catherine Meng, Erin Picone, Aarin Holmes, Joe Baran and Mignon Macias, Chris Wirth, Christine Case, Elizabeth Henna, Laura Farrelly, Herb Blecher, Kasey Lohman, Deb and Howard Rubin, Mary Anne Zacek, Carol Hoeffler, Alex Teller, Cinder Trout, Tami Wakeman, Dana Myers, Rob Wright, Chelsea and Bill Flagg, Julie Pelaez, Adam Kimberly, Robyn Manley, Mike Fisher, Wendy Michael, Andy Boyd; and alumni parents: Carol Hampf, Jen Greene, and Anne Hunter.

Is this list complete? No, and I apologize that I’m not listing each and every valuable volunteer here. If I left you out of the list, I'm sorry, and please know how grateful we are for all that our parents do. Thank you to ALL our parents who are willing and able to support their child’s education through hands-on volunteerism.  Our community is stronger because of the willingness of everyone to make it so, and we are truly grateful.

Thank you, volunteers, for all that you do.

February 15, 2017

Getting Preschool Right

Getting Preschool Right: this is the title of a just-released article in the March/April 2017 edition of Scientific American Mind.  The author, Melinda Wenner Moyer, looks into the latest research and public policy on preschools and arrives at some conclusions that we already know something about at Friends’ preschool.

It has long been known that a quality preschool education sets up children for success in elementary school and beyond.  But what makes “quality”?

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, children succeed best in child-centered preschools that encourage children to learn via hands-on activities and play that are, for the most, part self-directed.

Our Friends’ School preschool teachers know that scaffolding play is essential. Our teachers skillfully guide – or “scaffold” – play and hands-on, child-led activities, which help children learn concepts more deeply.
Research tells us, and I see this every morning, that good teachers set up a variety of play experiences.  Through scaffolding children’s play, our teachers allow children to play and explore, but also guide them with suggestions, ideas, and discussions to support their growth.

The article highlights several recent studies that demonstrate the effectiveness and value of

There are alarming numbers from around the country on how little the U.S. invests in preschool programs. Sadly, we fall behind most other developed nations.  And this is not only in funding, but also in philosophy.  Our country has had such push from politicians and others to create rigor and accountability, that preparation and readiness have become a national priority.

At Friends’, we believe the opposite.  We believe in meeting children where they are at and supporting their growth in a way that is natural, not forced.

According to the author, high quality preschool programs require a lot of money, experience, and planning to create; and they take a tremendous a amount of skill to implement.

We believe in investing in our teachers.  In a profession that is traditionally low-paid and where preschool teachers earn considerably less than their K-12 colleagues, our Friends’ preschool teachers are paid on par with our elementary and middle school teachers.  And we support their professional development interests 100% (see my Among Friends’ article highlighting our entire preschool team’s trip to LA for several days of professional development).

I particularly enjoyed the following language that appeared in Ms. Moyer’s article:

What Makes A Good Preschool

  • Children have ample time to explore, play and be creative using a variety of materials.

  • Teachers are warm and responsive and encourage conversation and participation.

  • Kids feel safe and secure.

  • Teachers set limits about acceptable behavior but also work with students to help them label, understand and cope with emotions.

  • Teachers read to the children regularly – not just as a class but individually and in small groups.
These are things that I see every day in our quality preschool classrooms.

If your child has experienced all of these qualities at Friends’ Preschool, please recommend us to your friends and acquaintances.  We still have a few spots left for the fall of 2017 in our morning preschool and afternoon pre-Kindergarten classes. More information is available here. 

February 8, 2017

Ed, the Mets, and the TPP

At the end of this semester, Friends’ School will say goodbye to an extraordinary educator who has been integral to us fulfilling our mission for the last six years.

Ed Walent, the director of our Teacher Preparation Program (TPP), joined the Friends’ staff during the same summer that I did, in 2011. During Ed’s time with us, he has served as both director and co-director of the TPP, and has personally guided almost 200 new teachers into the profession. That is a remarkable legacy.

Most of our parents and students are most familiar with the Teacher Preparation Program through their classroom interactions with Teacher Candidates.  Many don’t realize the dynamic operation and professional guidance that occurs behind the scenes.

For some, Ed is that guy in the New York hat guiding cars in the parking lot on Wednesday mornings.  To say that Ed is a fan of the New York Giants and the New York Mets is an understatement.  If you ever have a chance to attend a New York game with Ed, as I have on a few occasions, you would understand the meaning of the words over-crazed zealot!

Ed came to Friends’ from the Richmond, Virginia area, where he was a public school principal and district-wide Director of Instructional Support for many years. Ed also served for two years as head of the American School of Kuwait.  It was important for Friends’, as an independent school, to bring in Ed’s crucial public school experience into our Teacher Preparation Program, which partners with so many public and charter schools. Ed has been the perfect fit.

Steve and Ed at an early season Mets game.
Ed, of course, is wearing a Giants hat.
In a recent letter to our teachers and staff, Ed wrote: Today, I shared that I will not be returning to Friends’ School next year. It wasn’t easy to share. I am forever grateful for my time here and to be able to work with such an amazing staff has been so meaningful! What I love about Friends’ is how everyone is supported, everyone matters, and everyone cares deeply about kids, and sees the best in any situation!

Unfortunately, I have some health issues that have been challenging for me. This has made it difficult for me to function at the level that I am accustomed to. I take great pride in helping grow high quality teachers! What a gift to be a part of that. I am so privileged to be a part of this high functioning team. Thank you. With love to you all, Ed.”

Beginning in August, the new Director of the TPP will be Julie Hart.  Julie currently works alongside Ed as the Program Manager of the TPP.  Julie has earned an EdD in Leadership for Educational Equity - with a specialization in Instructional Leadership - and an M.A. in Educational Psychology, both from the University of Colorado Denver.  She has been a part of the Friends’ family for many years, as a graduate of our TPP, as a teacher in our elementary and preschool, and as an adviser in the TPP.  She knows our TPP inside and out and is uniquely qualified to take over the helm as the Director later this year.

Julie Hart, EdD
Julie will be hiring a new Program Manager for the TPP.  If you know of anyone who may be a good fit for this position, please direct them to this link.

In the meantime, we will enjoy Ed’s company and expertise for a few more months.

On a personal note, I will enjoy the passion and laughter that Ed brings to Friends’ School each and every day.  I will enjoy the high spirits, the stories from the front lines of the TPP, and, of course, once baseball spring training starts in a few days, Ed’s wildly optimistic predictions for how his beloved Mets will do this year.

This is certainly not adieu, but simply au revoir, to a first-class educator, a passionate teacher of teachers, and an even better man.

Go Mets! 

February 2, 2017

The Little Thunders Come to Friends’

Sun Bear Little Thunder and her daughters shaking
hands with our 4th and 5th grade students 
Last week, our 4th and 5th grade classes hosted some visitors from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in South and North Dakota.

Originally from Colorado Springs, the Little Thunder family stopped by Friends’ School to express their appreciation for the money that several of our students raised in a bake sale to support the Oceti Sakowin Camp.  The camp is a gathering of tribes, and other supporters, whose mission is to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Friends’ parent Ciska Moore invited the family to meet with our students to share some stories and songs from their Lakota traditions. The parents, Sun Bear and Donny, and their children Little Tornado, Sun Woman, and Eagle Girl, sang powerful songs for us.  They spoke Lakota, articulating common everyday expressions that all parents say to their children, which amused our English speakers.

Donny Little Thunder talked about how all of us, as human beings, are what he described as “two-leggeds”.  Whether our hair is brown, blond, red, or black, we are all of the same race. He discussed the importance, to his people, of protecting the water on the reservation and encouraged our students to learn more about renewable energy.

The Little Thunders first moved to the camp in September last year. They expected to be there for a month or two, but have now lived in a tipi on the reservation for five months. They described living conditions, the need to gather wood, and how the temperature has occasionally fallen to negative 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Through it all, their family believes it is important to remain. The Oceti Sakowin Camp once held 14,000 people, but is now, in the dark days of winter, down to 500 residents.

The children now attend Cannonball Elementary School on the reservation – and arrive at school each morning after doing all their chores around the tipi.

The family shook hands with all of our students in appreciation for the bake sale donation and left us in Boulder on their way back to North Dakota.

Thank you, Ciska, for making this connection for our students.