January 25, 2018

A Community Like No Other

Rayback was rocking with Friends School families on Friday night of last week!

With more than 300 people at our school’s 30th Birthday Party, we all had a fantastic time!  Kids and parents from different classes connected well; parents got to know teachers and staff they often don’t socialize with; several of our alumni students, parents and staff became re-acquainted with old friends; Bev Cole, one of our school’s founding parents enjoyed herself immensely; and we had all three of our Heads of Schools in the same place at the same time.

This really is an extraordinary school community!

Three heads in one: Steve, Polly & Honor
There are dozens of articles online, including one I wrote back in 2014, that highlight the enormous advantages of an independent school education.  One can find many common themes in all our schools: mission-driven education, individual attention, small class sizes, excellent teachers who go the extra mile, whole child education, and more.

In an article on the website of the National Association of Independent Schools, entitled “The Independent School Advantage”, one of the key benefits is listed as this:

“A community of parents who actively participate in their children’s education. Independent schools promote regular communication among students, parents, and teachers to ensure everyone is working toward the same goals. As a parent, you can actively engage in your student’s education, because the staff and teachers want and value your participation.”

When parents connect – with each other, with their child’s teacher, with the wider school community, and when we connect with parents - children feel it.  When parents are involved directly with their child’s educational experiences, children succeed.

Jessie Vanden Hogen, Bev Cole, Meg Hansen
At Friends, we have many ways for you to formally connect with the school – and this week’s

parent-teacher conferences in the elementary and middle schools are a prime example of that.

However, we see our parents connecting in so many other ways. The party at Rayback was one example. A brunch at one family’s home to welcome our incoming head, Honor Taft, this past weekend was another.  But we also see our preschool parents hanging out together, and even reading books to each others’ children, as they wait for the preschool doors to open in the morning.

We see parents talking in the hallways and parking lots after dropping their children off. We have class potlucks and socials sprinkled throughout the year.  Last week, several parents attended a marvelous parent education event on mindfulness with 3rd grade teacher Krysten Fort-Catanese. We host many parent events like that during the year.  Coming up on January 31 is a film we are showing at our North Campus, called Finding Kind, which will help parents and teachers to understand girl-on-girl bullying.

In our middle school, I see how often our administrative staff connect with our 6th and 7th grade students.  Sometimes helping them with a project, sometimes being the subject of their projects, sometimes just eating lunch together, as students, teachers and staff collaborate together.

In a recent online review, one of our middle school parents wrote (among other very positive things)

Several of our teachers and staff getting ready to party!
“For the first time in years, our son enjoys school and learning again. He gets up in the morning excited to go, and says his day was great when we pick him up. You couldn’t ask for a more caring, present, insightful, focused team of teachers! ….There is such a diverse, kind, beautiful group of individuals in the middle school right now and I’ve heard from teachers and kids alike that they jive and work as a team so well…. Given the small size, our son has gotten more attention than ever….He has thrived at Friends this year in large part because he receives the attention that makes him care, try his hardest and feel good.

Community and real connection are more important than ever, in this era which is so divisive nationally, and in which our children can be drawn into online worlds so easily and for such long periods of time. Friends School strives to keep community and connection at the forefront in a changing world where these virtues can easily slip away. 

So thank you for making the connections and for being part of our community.  My wife, daughter and I had a wonderful time at the 30th Birthday Party and it was a lovely occasion for my Denver-based family to get to know many of you on a personal level.

This really is a community like no other. Thank you for being part of it 

January 18, 2018

Birth Days and Celebrations

Welcome to the world, Gresham!
What a week to celebrate at Friends School!  We’ve had a literal ‘birth day’, our new Head of School is on campus, and tonight we celebrate our big 30th birthday bash!

After a day out of school for the celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we woke up to the news of a new baby to welcome into our Friends School family!  2nd grade teacher Caroline Long gave birth to beautiful Gresham Adele on Monday.  All reports are that both moms and baby are doing well. Caroline and her wife Katie Ruiz shared with us that Gresham was born at 8:39 a.m. and is a healthy 7lb 6oz and 19 inches.

With Caroline’s due date not for twelve more days, our staff had only just got started on our baby sweepstakes.  My guess was that baby Long would not arrive until January 30.  Congratulations to our accountant Dawn Peters who guessed the correct early date. (Trust an accountant to get the numbers right!) Thankfully, Caroline and Katie were well prepared for an early delivery.

We are so grateful to Caroline and her long-term substitute, Friends School parent Bryn Pennington, for all the work they have done planning for the transition.  Caroline completed most of her January conferences before we even returned to school.  For many of them, she traveled to her students’ homes.  Caroline and Bryn have been in communication for months planning for Caroline’s absence.  It was just at the end of last week that Caroline and Bryn held a 2nd grade parent meeting to explain and answer questions about the transition and Bryn kindly volunteered in the classroom all of last week.

Caroline will be out of school for twelve full weeks and we are all very confident that the class will continue to run seamlessly.  As one of our 2nd grade students wisely said on Tuesday, “I’m glad to have a new teacher because I can try and learn new things!" Bryn shared with me that she already adores the 2nd grade class and feels so honored to work with them.

On Thursday and today, Friday, we are thrilled to welcome our new Head of School Honor Taft and her family where we have been giving them a warm Friends School welcome!

Our incoming Head of School Honor Taft
Honor is excited to reconnect with many people in our community whom she met on visits to the school in August and September, as well as begin to get to know everyone whom she was unable to spend time with earlier. She is eager to immerse herself in our school community, to listen to our stories and get to know the core of who we are.  I loved what Honor wrote to us earlier in the week about  keeping the children at the center of our decisions. Our school will be in good hands!

As well as visiting classrooms and holding meet-and-greet events with parents and with teachers, Honor is doing the equally important work of meeting with current school leaders on our administrative team and from our Community Board to begin to learn how our school works, the successes we have had, and the challenges that lie ahead.

We are all thrilled to welcome Honor’s family to Boulder, her husband Doug and her children Gwyneth and Wyatt.  Gwyneth and Wyatt, who enter 2nd and 4th grades next year, will join their new classes for a day today, Friday. Her whole family will be at a community potluck brunch and class playdates on Saturday, as well as at our school’s 30th Birthday Party tonight.

And tonight is the night for the big event at Rayback Collective!

More than 300 of our closest friends will be on hand to celebrate 30 years of Friends School. One of our Founders, Bev Cole, and former Head of School, my predecessor Polly Donald, will join in the fun. This is a family affair, with children welcome and food trucks abounding.  We look forward to seeing alumni students and parents and former teachers and staff, all of whom have played such important roles in the school’s history. We welcome many of you, our current families, teachers and staff, and of course Honor who will be such an essential part of our future. My wife Steph, my younger daughter Leah, and I all hope to see you there!

January 11, 2018

Surprises from Google and River at the Bee!

1st grader River competing at the Spelling Bee
Happy New Year and welcome back to school!

My first blog of the new year is inspired by a touching story from our school Spelling Bee this week and by a Washington Post article that was sent to me over the break by a couple of parents in our school:

With Google growing as a presence in our town, and with several Google employees now sending their children to Friends School, there is a message that is particularly relevant to our community. One parent wrote to me that the message in this article “so validates what you all do every day” at Friends.

So what is the big surprise? 

Through a couple of in-depth studies, Google has learned “that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees….the top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills:

  • being a good coach;
  • communicating and listening well;
  • possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view);
  • having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues;
  • being a good critical thinker and problem solver;
  • and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”

For a highly successful high-tech company, which intentionally employs tens of thousands of people trained in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), Google has learned that it is not just the STEM skills that count.

A more recent study that Google conducted and released just in 2017 “further supports the importance of soft skills even in high-tech environments….Project Aristotle shows that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills:

equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying.

To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.”

Every day, any one of our teachers could and do share with me examples of how our kids are learning these skills.

deana harragarra waters celebrating with our
new Spelling Bee champion, 4th grader Francesca
Just this week, our elementary school held its 11th Annual Spelling Bee.  20 students took a leap, a risk that they might succeed or fail in front of the whole elementary school and an audience of parents and staff.  They were nervous, yet they persisted.  They congratulated each other when they got a word correct, and they encouraged and supported each other when they got a word wrong.  They showed resilience and courage and smarts.

I extend my congratulations to the winner, Francesca, who will go on to represent Friends School at the Regional Spelling Bee and who got to sign her name in our library’s big Websters dictionary, along with past 10 Spelling Bee winners.

However, my favorite storyline at the Bee was that of River, a first grader.  

We have always limited participation to the Spelling Bee to students in grades 3-5. Our thinking has been that the Bee is too challenging and too much pressure for younger students. Yet River, at the age of 6, felt confident in his spelling and he wanted to test his skills against those who are much older than himself. 

He talked to his teacher, who suggested he speak with the Spelling Bee’s organizers deana harragarra waters and Leigh Houser.  River stated his case, fearlessly advocating for himself.  The teachers tested him on several words and deemed that he was indeed Bee-worthy!  In the contest, River performed admirably and confidently, spelling words such as “newlyweds” and “improvise” and making it into the final eight spellers.

While the audience was asked to remain as quiet as can be and hold their applause until the end of each round, onlookers couldn’t help but cheer wildly for River after he aced each of his words. Staff and parents caught the eyes of his parents in the room, imploring how on earth this little guy who we all know to be a happy, playful, curious little boy, was also an amazing speller.

With outside-the-box thinking, grit, self-advocacy, strong communication, connection-making, determination, and lots of practice, River created change in his world and in ours.

These are the skills that Google has learned will carry him successfully into the future.  River will be a force not only at our school Spelling Bee for years to come, but at whatever he chooses to pursue.

If you have spent time around Friends School graduates none of this will come as much of a surprise.  Our kids are confident, creative problem-solvers who are changing the world.  They are not only unafraid to stand up and take a risk at the Spelling Bee, they show us year after year that they also bring these skills to high school, college, and their careers.

These are the skills our world needs. Google knows this. We know this.  River knows this.