February 22, 2018


Tragically, here we are again.

Debates rage on  - in mainstream and social media - about gun rights, mental health, and the safety of our children. On Wednesday, the President weighed in, calling for more teachers to be armed.

At Friends School, we will not take that step. However, there are multiple proven safety measures we are taking because your children’s safety, and the safety of our staff, come first.

I am using this space this week to remind our entire community of the effective training we conduct regularly, and the physical improvements we have made to our campuses.

As a school, we are committed to keeping students safe at all times, and we take active measures to prevent a tragic event from happening in the first place.

It is our firm belief that every school’s staff should be trained in ALiCE emergency response training.  ALiCE stands for Alert, Lockdown, inform, Counter, Evacuate.  Three years ago Friends sent Mandy Stepanovsky and Meg Hansen to become trainers in ALiCE. Mandy and Meg lead our Emergency Management Team and they have trained our teachers and staff to follow protocol to assess any situation and decide on the best course of action to have a greater chance of survival in the potential event of an intruder on campus.

Since Meg and Mandy took the ALiCE training in May 2015, there have been 169 school shootings in our country. ALiCE empowers teachers, staff and students in the event of an active shooter. Research clearly shows that empowered teachers who know about countering, barricading, and evacuating have given their students far higher odds of survival than those who simply hide and wait.

As far as we are aware, Friends is the only school in Boulder County to be fully trained in ALiCE protocol. Friends School has been commended by the Boulder Police Department on our proactive engagement on school safety. Meg and Mandy want to get this same essential training into other Colorado schools. This spring they will meet with the administration of Boulder High School to discuss how Friends trains our staff and students and to hopefully convince other schools to adopt the ALiCE protocol. .

ALiCE is a proactive, highly-effective standard of care adopted by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, FEMA, the Department of Education, the FBI, the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services as well as all 50 states.

Friends staff are fully trained annually, we conduct regular drills, and our staff receive monthly reminders and updates about procedures and protocol, as well as a mid-year refresher course. We conduct real, age-appropriate scenario training for students that allows them to feel confident, safe and empowered.

At each campus, and at each building, Friends has a number of measures in place. We are constantly auditing our campus to make improvements.  

Our safety features include:

  • locked doors with secured keypad entry systems on all buildings
  • protective window film to create shatterproof glass at all entrances
  • only one point of entry for guests in each building
  • other exterior doors are locked and need a keyed entry
  • front desk presence in all buildings
  • emergency lockdown security system with mushroom buttons in the elementary building

Other essential parts of our emergency planning include:

·      training staff and students not to let anyone unrecognizable in the building 
·      training staff and students not to prop doors at any time
·      ongoing training for our dedicated Emergency Management Team in most current protocol
·      in-depth staff training with scenario work twice each year
·      monthly reminder emails to staff to keep protocol in everyone's minds
·      staff-manned parking lot duty at morning drop-off ensures students are safely led into the buildings
·      clear evacuation and re-unification plan
·      School Resource Officer assigned by the Boulder Police Department conducts regular walk-throughs of our campus and provides us with essential safety recommendations. 
·      Boulder Police Department has reviewed and recognizes that our safety policies and practices, facility safety measures, and staff training are advanced compared to most schools. 
·      emergency notification system alerts families to school closures and emergencies in a timely fashion.

Mandy and Meg have conducted two parent information sessions this school year which cover all of the above as well as many more details of our emergency practices, protocols, safety features and the important reasons why we take this work so seriously. They also discuss the school’s expectations of parents on these topics.

We want to make sure that all parents receive this information.  If you were unable to attend an earlier information session, please let us know because we will gladly host another event this spring.  We want you to be informed.

When I first became a teacher in 1990, I never imagined that I would be thinking about and planning school safety as I do today. I don’t know of another educator who entered the profession with the thought that they may have to protect his or her students from an armed intruder. Yet, this is our reality.

I am grateful to Meg and Mandy for their unbridled passion for school safety, and to everyone on our staff who take the safety of our students so seriously. The ever-changing landscape of our world has, tragically, made safety preparedness an essential part of school life. Our foremost goal is always the safety of our students. Friends School prides itself not only on a secure campus, but also on a staff and student body that is very well trained in the event of a dangerous event.

Please let any of us know if you want to know more. 

February 15, 2018

Teacher’s Poem is “Most Creative”

Preschool teacher Christie Stanford
Simplicity Parenting is an online community and resource which supports parents to have a simpler, more connected family life. 

I’m pretty sure we all want that!

The organization also offers trainings around the country to support parents at different stages of the parenting journey.

Friends preschool teacher, Hetta Towler has qualified to become a trainer for Simplicity Parenting and her colleague, Katy Hollenbach is in the process of becoming qualified. Long-time preschool teacher, Christie Stanford recently applied to train to become a qualified coach for Simplicity Parenting’s Family Life course.

In combination with her application, Christie entered Simplicity Parenting’s essay writing contest – and her entry was selected as “most creative”.  It is a poem that Christie used to define what discipline and guidance mean to her.

Her entry also qualified her for a substantial discount off the training.  Christie will learn a proven system for supporting parents in doing the important work of bringing new rhythms to bear on the lifelong art of raising children.

Christie tells me that she is “super excited” about becoming a coach, in part because she will be taking a training associated with the Simplicity Parenting book that our entire preschool team  read this past summer.

Over the years, parents have shared with me again and again how our talented preschool teachers have helped them to become better parents.  A healthy number of our parents have attended a formal presentation given by our teachers on subjects such as growth mindset or executive function. Others have simply asked their teacher for pointers on a new thing to try at home with their child, or a way to change their language for better results. 

Our Director of Marketing and Communications Meg Hansen, whose office was above the preschool for years, tells me our preschool teachers helped her raise her two sons by learning from their daily lessons below.  It’s amazing what you can learn by listening downstairs! Meg’s sons Michael and Jack also attended our preschool.

Our preschool educators are an amazing resource for our parent community and, through the Simplicity Parenting training, they are only getting better.

Christie’s poem is reproduced below. Congratulations to her!

February 8, 2018

Take Me Out to the Science Fair

Our 7th grade scientists
One of the great joys of continuing to expand our school and build towards a stellar 8th grade program is presenting our middle school students with ever-increasing opportunities to spread their academic wings.

Under the guidance of science teacher extraordinaire Kevin Nugent, six of our 7th grade scientists were selected to present their projects at the CordenPharma Boulder Regional Science Fair which will be held on the CU campus on February 22. The theme at this year’s fair is “Stormy with a Chance of Science!” The regional fair is open to both middle and high school students. Friends is one of only two independent schools in Boulder County to have student representatives at the fair.

Later this year, Kevin is also taking the middle school girls to the GESTEM (Girls Exploring Science Technology Engineering and Math) conference in Denver, where he has presented workshops annually. GESTEM is a conference for 7th grade girls in the Denver-metro area geared towards introducing girls to career opportunities in STEM fields. Participants engage with local STEM professionals through hands-on workshops designed to widen their horizons and introduce STEM careers in a fun and active environment. 

Kevin Nugent with 6th grade scientists
In preparation for the science fair, our 7th graders have been exploring research methodology and experimental design as they created their own experiments. Elementary students and parents will get a sneak peek of their amazing projects in the South Campus Great Room next week on Wednesday February 14 at 9:30 a.m., with the official Friends School Science Fair kicking off later the same day from 6-7:30 p.m. at the North Campus (3800 Kalmia Ave.)

For a list of the fascinating projects that our students have been working on, scroll down….

Kevin is no stranger to middle school science fairs.  He has been preparing students for these events for many years and in 2016 he won the Outstanding Teacher Award at the Front Range Regional Science Fair in Denver.

Just this week, our middle school director Shelby Pawlina received a note from a parent: “I know you know what a truly talented teacher Kevin is - you all are so lucky to have him. The community at Friends middle school is thriving! I continue to recommend it as a life changing positive experience.”

One of the founding principles of our middle school is the importance of integrating different skills and school subjects together into multi-dimensional projects – because this is how life works and what students need to be prepared for high school and beyond.

In creating a science fair project, our students must learn how to apply their existing abilities to new areas, as well as learn many new skills. A science fair project involves reading, logic and thinking, writing, grammar and spelling, math, statistics and data analysis, computer science, and graphic arts and artistic expression, peer editing and review, as well as scientific methodology. When our students participate in formal competition, they also practice public speaking, and learn how to explain and defend their work in front of a panel of judges.

Projects involve scientific questions that each individual student is interested in, and a specific topic they have chosen for themselves. Participants must research their question, learn and apply the scientific method to create a valid experiment, and think about the meaning of their results. Science fairs are also a way for students to demonstrate motivation, self-learning, critical thinking, ethics, and other important 21st century skills and traits.

For Kevin, challenging his students to create well-researched, well-presented projects is a labor of love.

We are exceptionally lucky to have a teacher with Kevin’s passion for science at our middle school.  He is making a difference for our students that will impact them for a lifetime.

(For more background information on Kevin and his extraordinary journey to becoming a science teacher, read this earlier blog entry.)

February 1, 2018

How Mindfulness at Friends School Can Save You Money

Guest blogger: Lou Bendrick
Please welcome a guest blogger this week: Lou Bendrick is our Director of Development and a long-time Friends School parent. She is the mother of 5th grader Coulter.

When I’m signing the check for my next tuition bill, here’s what I hope to remember: I’m saving money!

The savings will come down the road— in a not-too-distant future—when my son, now in 5th grade , won’t need a lot of pricey therapy.

I’m not saying that sending kids to another school will set them on a criminal path. And there’s no guarantee that Friends School leads to canonization or Nobel Prizes. I will assert that the social-emotional skills that kids learn here will give them a serious leg up in life. Academic skills are important. But academic skills won’t help children cope with stress. Only social emotional skills can help humans know themselves, love themselves and make healthy choices. It is the so-called “soft” skills that make people strong in a complicated world.

All of this was sharply affirmed for me during the recent parent workshop: “Mindfulness in Education: Head, Hand and Heart” taught by third grade teacher, Krysten Fort-Catanese who was the founding director of Social Emotional Learning and Mindfulness at an international school in Thailand for seven years before she landed here.

2nd grade teacher
Krysten Fort-Catanese
Her workshop gave me goose bumps.

What Krysten was teaching—meditation and mindfulness practices grounded by neuroscience—wasn’t completely new to me.  I have a daily meditation and gratitude practice that has been transformative for my peace of mind, clarity and effectiveness. But this practice came to me in mid-
life, after lots of soul-searching —and pricey therapy.

The goose bumps came with the realization that lucky Friends School kids are getting these incredible skills in elementary school. Look out, world!

One of things that Krysten teaches is that when we emotionally “flip our lid,” we literally get stuck in the primitive flight-or-fight part of the brain called the amygdala, where no reasoning occurs. Mindfulness practices that incorporate breathing bring us back to the present moment and into the frontal lobe of our brain, where our reasoning skills reside.

A mom in the workshop, whose son happens to be in Krysten’s class, shared that he overheard a conversation about a toddler throwing tantrums. 

“She’s in her amygdala,” her son observed.

This boy is in third grade.  Third grade! He went on to suggest belly breathing for the toddler. So that she could get her back into her frontal lobe.

Can you imagine a world in which all kids have these life skills?  What if even half of all adults could, as Krysten suggests, “season” their day with mindfulness? My frontal lobe reels with the possibility of a more peaceful and just planet.

As a parent, I know that we can’t insulate our children from life’s challenges and tribulations, nor do we want to. But I do want my kids to have a fully stocked toolbox of skills to navigate what life will inevitably throw at them.  I want my kids to know what an amygdala is, and how to know when it’s holding them hostage.  

Needless to say, my gratitude practice these days includes Friends School.

And Krysten Fort-Cantanese.

And the money I’ll save because of Friends School!