April 26, 2018

A New Math Teacher for Friends Middle School

I am happy to announce to our community that we have hired Michelle Merz Hoffmeister as the newest member of our middle school faculty.  Michelle will teach math and homeroom at our North Campus next year.

Michelle is currently a teacher of math, science, engineering and AP Chemistry at Basis International School in Shenzhen, China. She has been a middle school math and science teacher since 2010.  In addition to her time in China, Michelle has taught in the Roaring Fork School District in Colorado and in Hawaii.

Michelle’s deep experience in teaching middle school math and beyond, as well as her obvious passion for inspiring middle schoolers, impressed our hiring committee. Michelle understands how to connect with kids aged 11-14.  We feel confident that our middle school students will be more than ready for high school math classes under Michelle’s guidance. She has a delightful sense of humor and she is excited to teach in a small school where every child is known and honored.

Michelle has a B.A. in Zoology from Michigan State University, an M.Ed. in Math & Environmental Science from Concordia University, and a Juris Doctorate from Northern Illinois University. As a private tutor, she has provided support in all science and math subjects including AP Physics, AP Chemistry, Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, SAT, ACT, LSAT, and GMAT test prep. 

Her references describe her as an outstanding educator who finds the best in every individual student.  She is 100% committed and takes the time to explain difficult concepts in ways that all students can understand.  She is a wonderful motivator.

A huge thank you to our middle school hiring committee of Middle School Director Shelby Pawlina, teachers Erika Norman, Kevin Nugent and Diane Bramble, and parents Dawn Brady and Carol Hoeffler, as well as Honor Taft who was involved in the final decision process. We interviewed many candidates, brought four finalists on campus to observe, and feel excited to have found such a passionate and experienced new member of our team.  Thank you also to Jana Bledsoe who does so much to support all of our applicants and our hiring committees.

Erika Norman, who has taught both elementary and middle school math since we opened our middle school two years ago, will focus all of her time next year in our elementary program, K-5. Michelle will teach all 6-8 math classes.

Please take a moment to read Michelle’s letter to our community:

Hello Everyone!!!

My name is Michelle Merz Hoffmeister and I am beyond excited to be joining the staff at Friends School in the fall.  My desire to be back with my family in  Colorado led to  a lot of research about the kind of school where I wanted to work.  I found Friends School, and your mission and values statements really spoke to me.

I am a sometimes overly enthusiastic educator who firmly believes in lifelong learning.  My teaching philosophy is to help all students to achieve and succeed and to have fun while doing it.  I try to make my lessons very hands-on, cross-curricular, project-based, and tailored to individuals as much as possible.  Every student is unique and I need to be flexible as an educator to reach all of my students.  The more I read, the more I knew that Friends School was the place where I wanted to teach.  After each interview and step in the selection process, it just cemented that belief.

A little about me: I am a proud self-proclaimed nerd.  I hold three college degrees and want a fourth. My five-year plan includes starting on a Ph.D. in Environmental Biology.  I have my thesis already picked out (see - overly enthusiastic!)  My road to teaching has been a journey, but oh the places I have gone!  I have taught on two continents in three states.  I get really excited about doing math for fun although my major in college was science.  I can talk for hours about either subject.  

I am a wife and mother of four kids ranging in age from 12 to almost 21 years old.  They are my joy!  For fun, I LOVE to ski, and I am a ski instructor when I am somewhere with snow.  I can't wait to get back on the slopes.  I also like to coach soccer, gymnastics and All Star Cheerleading.  I am a HUGE Star Wars and Disney fan, and I have even worked for Disneyland in California for a year. It was an amazing experience.  

I am so looking forward to meeting you all and bringing my love of math to your students.


April 19, 2018

Get Out of Town!

3rd graders at snowy Cal-Wood recently
Last Thursday evening, our Great Room at the South Campus was filled with laughter and excitement as our 2ndgrade class pitched tents and spent the night at school.  Their teacher Bryn Pennington and a handful of gallant parent volunteers got a little sleep as they watched over their flock by night.

The week before, our 3rdgraders arrived at school weighed down by backpacks, hiking boots, and water bottles, prepared to spend a couple of days in the great outdoors. They spent the night up at Cal-Wood Education Centerabove Jamestown. Each year, two of our classes make the trek into the foothills north of Boulder to participate in a wide variety of outdoor learning opportunities.

3rdgrade teacher Krysten Fort-Catanese shared, “It was an awesome bonding experience. (The third graders) had two very special days in the outdoors. They challenged themselves, saw some beautiful vistas, played fun games, explored rock science, and had a great time around the campfire at night.”Krysten, who is a renowned expert in social and emotional learning, knows so well the importance of getting children out of the classroom environment and seeing a new side of her students.

These excursions are just part of Friends School’s extensive age-appropriate trips program that takes our students and teachers both close to and far from home.

The trips program starts in 2ndgrade with the overnight experience at school, progresses to the Cal-Wood trips in 3rdand 4thgrades, and proceeds to get longer and more adventurous as children get older.

Each year, our 5thgrade class embarks on a five-day, four-night, trip to the Four Corners region of Colorado.  They have a week-long educational experience at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Centerwhich is dedicated to understanding, teaching, and helping to preserve the rich history of the ancestral Pueblo people (the Anasazi) of the American Southwest. There, they spend three
Previous 5th graders at Mesa Verde
full days 
learning the basics of Pueblo Indian history, excavating at a site that represents different time periods, and participating in a variety of "ancient lifestyle" activities at Crow Canyon’s pithouse and pueblo learning centers. Their program wraps up with a day-long tour of Mesa Verde National Park, where our students explore the spectacular cliff dwellings and other archaeological sites for which the park is famous.
Our middle school students leave for a week in May on their spring trip to Moab, Utah, where they will visit Arches National Park and spend a day river rafting with Adrift Adventures. Last year, they went to the Black Hills of South Dakota for five days and four nights. And each fall, they go on a two-night camping trip. During the spring trips, students combine active opportunities that take advantage of the local terrain with educational offerings that highlight the natural and cultural history of the area. They also take time to reflect on their middle school years and consider the leadership roles they will play as 7thand 8thgraders next fall.

Our middle school team is busy planning our culminating 8thgrade trip for next spring.  We don’t know exactly where they will be going yet, but we know a plane trip will be involved!  It’s an exciting time in the development of our middle school program.

There is a whole body of research that supports the huge advantages for students who take trips as part of their school experience.

2nd graders camping in the Great Room last week
A recent study by the U.S. Travel Association, found that, regardless of gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, children who take educational trips have better grades, higher graduation rates from high school and college, and greater income. In fact, 89 percent said educational trips had a positive, lasting impact on their education and career because the trips
made them more engaged, intellectually curious and interested in and out of school.

On our Friends trips program, students are able to access tools and environments that are not available at school. Our communities are rich learning laboratories. Field trips make it possible to take students to see an underwater ecosystem at an aquarium, participate in citizen science in a river, use high powered microscopes, see and touch historical artifacts in person and present on a public stage among hundreds of other things. Each experience solidifies learning and supports important academic concepts. 
Students who go on field trips become more empathetic and tolerant. A study conducted by the University of Arkansas found that students that participate in trips show increased empathy, tolerance and critical thinking skills. Studying off campus gives students a chance to think about a topic or theme from a different perspective.

Helen Keller famously said, “Life is either an adventure or nothing.”All of us at Friends are very excited for our students and their adventures.  We love presenting them with opportunities to bond as a class, to give them lessons they might not learn back at school, and to recognize their desire and need to spread their wings as they grow. 
Bon voyage to all our field trippers!

April 12, 2018

Inside Scoop: Here’s What’s Really Happening At Recess

When we learned that we needed to take down our beloved old play structure, we knew that a big, physical space would open up. What we didn’t know is that a fabulous side effect would emerge: this new space sparked creativity, innovation and connection.

When I was out on the elementary playground earlier this week, I witnessed a dynamic game of tag that involved a large group of children in several grades, including Kindergartners and 5thgraders.  Everyone was in high spirits!

Our kids have also been deeply involved in creating amazing structures out of cardboard on the raised section of our playground, aka “Cardboard City.”  According to 4thgrade teacher Leigh Houser, the creativity and engagement has been outstanding. Dozens of children have worked together and there hasn’t been any need to deal with behavior issues. Everyone has been determined to be helpful and build together.

When our space opened up, a group of teachers saw an opportunity and met to “hack the playground.”  Their goal was to generate new and different ideas to enrich and enhance the children’s outside experience. Not coincidentally, the task force that has been working for months to design a new playground for us has come to the same conclusion. 

Our teachers know well the importance of open-ended, creative play. Our preschool teachers model this every day.  In a 2017 article that preschool teacher Katy Hollenbach sent to me, author and ‘play practitioner’ Caileigh Flannigan writes:

“When children are engaged in free play in the outdoors, they are provided opportunities for freedom, choice, and fewer routines...When children are given such freedom to play, they are more likely to engage in higher levels of social interaction, cognitive skills such as decision-making and reasoning, empathy, and physical activity. In turn, they are less likely to become inattentive, anxious, or depressed and unhealthy.This is how children learn – through experience: by seeing, feeling, touching, and hearing. The outdoor environment is a blank canvas on which children are able to place their own thoughts, wonders, and creations.”

She continues to explain the huge benefits of playing with loose parts:

Loose parts are play objects and materials that are open-ended, manipulative, moveable, and non-dictated. This means that children can use the materials in a variety of ways and there is no suggested way or “story” behind these materials. Loose parts allow children to act upon their environment the way that they want, rather than their imaginations and creativity being predetermined by the materials.”

And that is exactly what has happened with Cardboard City. Next week, the cardboard will disappear and our teachers will bring out woodworking materials:  a bench, tools, and a huge variety of wood scraps. Other creative mini programs will be rolled out as part of our outdoor play in the coming weeks:

April 16: woodworking 
April 23: knitting 
April 30: sidewalk chalk, bubbles, and a slackline
May 7: face painting and “tattoos”
May 14: yard games
May 21: water games

Author Flannigan adds: It is a disappointing thing to see new playgrounds, developed in city spaces, sit there empty each day, or to walk in the park and hear no laughter. What is missing here is not the children per se, but materials and environments that create challenge, imagination, and creativity that make children want to play outdoors. The absence of such play environments is not only influencing the quantity and quality of children’s play, but also affecting children’s health and well-being. As adults, we need to support children in learning to enjoy what free play in the outdoors has to offer. We need to inspire imaginations, creative minds, and capable bodies.”

Our playground task force has thought long and hard about what makes an outdoor play space that will be full of laughter and open-ended play. They have been hard at work designing a playground and a playground-specific program that comprise “materials and environments that create challenge, imagination, and creativity that make children want to play.” 

We can’t wait for you to hear about and see what we’re about to create here at Friends School.  

Please plan on attending our Project Playground Town Hall & Big Revealnext Thursday, April 19 at 7:00pmat the Elementary School Great Room.  This will be your chance to see the design, ask the architect questions, hear from task force members on the project plans, and enter to win a prize or two. Please plan to attend and enjoy wine (this is an adults-only event) and dessert.  You may RSVP here.

April 5, 2018

Friends School Names Bryn Pennington as our New Art Teacher

Friends new art teacher Bryn Pennington
The following photos are examples of
the work Bryn's previous students have created.
It is with great pride and pleasure that I let you know that we have hired Bryn Pennington as our next art teacher at Friends School.  Bryn is a parent at our school, has been our long-time sub in 2nd grade since January and had already been named interim art teacher for late April until the end of the school year. Now she will be here teaching K-8 art permanently beginning in August.

Although we knew and loved Bryn’s work, we cast a wide search for a new art teacher so that we could be confident in bringing the very best teacher to our students. Our hiring committee read more than a dozen complete applications, met eight semi-finalists, many of whom were very strong candidates, and brought finalists on campus for demo lessons and in-depth interviews.  Bryn’s interview, portfolio and student lesson far surpassed all other candidates and exceeded our expectations with her richness of experience, her passion for teaching art, her connection to Friends School’s teaching philosophy, and her desire to integrate art into all aspects of school life.

Bryn is a credentialed, experienced elementary classroom teacher with several years experience teaching K-5 art. She holds an M.A. in curriculum and instruction from San Jose State University.

The rest of this article showcases Bryn’s own words, which will give you a better sense of who she is as an art teacher and why she is such a great fit for our school.  Congratulations to Bryn, and thank you to our hiring committee for their excellent work: Mandy Stepanovsky, Shelby Pawlina, Erika Norman and parents Thom Teten and Kaelin Kelly. Honor Taft was also included in our process.

Here’s Bryn…

Dear Friends,

I am thrilled to become part of the Friends School faculty as Art Teacher for next school year. When I toured Friends' School in the Spring of 2016, both Harper and I LOVED what we saw in the Art Room -- vibrant, lovingly created works of art, the utilization of diverse media, culturally rich and relevant work, the intense focus and happiness of students at their work.  

I feel the potential for the Art Studio program at Friends School is limitless. So many families are passionate about the arts at our school. Parent involvement and new community arts opportunities are two of my goals to develop for next school year.

I bring lessons developed over years of teaching in both the elementary and arts setting, lessons that echo the mission of Friends School. Here are two examples of what to expect next year. First, 
Peace Angels are a project inspired by artist Lin Evola, who melts down guns and weapons of war, recasting them as huge sculptural angels who carry messages of peace. As my 5th graders learned about her work, they decided peace may begin with self-forgiveness. So, while sculpting their peace figure, they wrote messages about something they needed forgiveness for, and placed them inside their figure. These messages burned away in the kiln, an invitation to personal transformation. 
In a second project called Storyboxes, student partners shared a powerful personal story. After learning about the art of Joseph Cornell, students created a mixed media “storybox” that represented their partner’s story in non-literal ways. Students then exchanged their storyboxes, and shared how they interpreted important elements of each story. Such deep listening and creating a gift of art to give to a friend invited trust, respect and care into the class communities. 
From these two examples, I hope you can see my three main art studio goals. First, to teach students the skills and techniques of diverse media; second, to use the arts as a medium for social emotional learning and community building; and third to offer children opportunities to communicate their important ideas about the world in a creative way.
The art studio offers a venue to realize the Friends School mission of head, hand and heart. I can't wait to be part of each student's journey into the arts. What an incredible honor to be part of this flourishing school community.