May 17, 2018

So Long Friends School! Thank You For Everything!

This entry marks the end of this particular road.  This week I tender my 250th and final weekly blog for our school community. It’s time to share one more reflection, a few final thoughts, before taking the next few days to say farewell and move along.

There are so many things that this amazing school does well.  Transitions are just one of them.  Our teachers implicitly understand that we all need to walk with care through life’s transitions.  Leaving one place behind and walking through a new door is not always easy.

And now the moment is here for my own transition from Friends School. My younger daughter Leah graduates from high school tomorrow in Denver and will soon fly from the nest. Steph and I are off on a new adventure of our own in the Pacific Northwest, where we will call West Seattle home.

Graduation is always a bittersweet moment for all of us – for kids, for educators, and for parents.  We knew that this day would come when we have to let our children go a little bit more and they have to step away from us into something new.  

As I consider our Friends graduates – the Pre-K kids who crossed their bridge yesterday into Kindergarten, the 5thgraders who ring the bell next week as they journey into middle school, and our first ever class of 7thgraders who will become high schoolers a year from now – I know that this school and my colleagues here have taught them well.  

We have taught them the value of growing up in a community that supports and loves them. We have taught them how to make and keep friends, and if that friendship runs its course, how to continue to be kind. We have taught them to be sensitive and caring of our environment. We have taught them that learning is for life and there are ten different ways to do a math problem. We have taught them to respect each of our differences and to understand that diversity makes our community a healthier place. We have taught them that messy is ok. We have taught them that education is a journey.

Now, as I consider my own ‘graduation’ from Friends School after seven magical years, I know in my heart that this school and the people here have taught me a thing or two as well.

You have taught me what a joyful place school can be.  You have shown me that the process is more important than the product.  You have reminded me of the importance of play. You have helped me continue to understand what it means to be a lifelong learner. You have surrounded me with color and creativity, laughter and friendships.  

And I’ve got to know one other thing here. One truly important, remarkable thing.
            
Twenty-eight years in progressive education including seven years at Friends, and I think I’ve finally got that one thing figured out.  

I know myself.  

This school does an inspirational job of helping people know who they are.  

The schools I attended when I was a kid taught me what to think, where to stand, and how to fit into the crowd.  I’m thrilled that the children here have been given this opportunity to know themselves and take their own place in their ever-widening world.
            
As I head away from Friends, I encourage every one of us to keep with us everything we’ve learned at this school.  

I challenge you, when it’s your turn to leave this place, to be kind and stand up for yourself and others. I challenge you to self-advocate and be a great team-builder. I challenge you to be an outstanding contributor to your community. I challenge you to see the beauty in our world and to use your talents and skills to add to it. Whatever your passion, I challenge you to pursue it with energy and spirit and enthusiasm. 
 
Go out there and be the best that you can be.  And do it with love.
            
I know that we all go forward with the love and light of this community surrounding and embracing us, as we sing:

“Make new friends and keep the old
One is silver and the other gold
A circle is round
It has no end
That’s how long I will be your friend”

Thank you to my colleagues, to the parents, and of course to the children - for everything!



Steve has been Head of School at Friends from July 2011 to June 2018. He will become Head of School at Westside School in Seattle, Washington on July 1. He can continue to be reached at stevegdebeer@gmail.com or through his website stevedebeer.com

May 10, 2018

Memory Lane

My first week at Friends School, August 2011
Each week our elementary school comes together for our weekly Gathering.  On occasion, our Pre-K and middle school students join in the fun.

Last week, Dacia invited me to ‘be’ the Gathering.  I chose to use the time for some storytelling and to share a collection of photos from my seven years at Friends School. Apart from mild alarm at how less grey I was on top in 2011, it was a fun trip down memory lane! And it was even more fun to share it with the kids.

I invited fifth graders who began in preschool the same year as me to stand and be acknowledged. We have shared a lot of events together over the years. Showing photos of upper elementary kids from back when they were in preschool drew some big smiles!

Zombie Steve
I enjoyed sharing with our elementary students photos and stories of the solar panels we put on the elementary building seven years ago, that at the time provided over 90% of the energy for the building.

I showed photos of early changes we created in our upper elementary grades that have now become long-standing traditions, such as the fifth grade play and the Crow Canyon trip – a trip from which our current fifth graders return today!

I reminisced with a few snapshots of various elementary celebrations over the years, including, Harvest and the telling of Stone Soup, with a group of parents acting as the pot, lovingly holding their children in bounds. I shared pictures of Halloween and my love for dressing up. I told the story of my first Friends School Halloween when I overdid it, arriving as a zombie in full theatre makeup, and was admonished by the Kindergarten teacher for being too scary.  This year’s Swedish Chef had just as much makeup but was a little less frightening!
Pancake Steve

I showed pictures of some of the South Campus improvements we have done over the years, and the development of the North Campus and the beginnings of our middle school.

I highlighted a few wonderful achievements including a 2ndgrade film that made it all the way to an award at the White House Student Film Festival, and Friends students on the stage at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

I included a number of fun slides featuring our introduction of our Friends Fox mascot, the head of school created in pancake batter, Diane Bramble inspiring reading dressed as Roald Dahl’s BFG, and the fifth graders defeating their teachers at dodgeball.

Friends student Sadie M. meets the President, 2015
I featured our now year-old Friends School logo and brand.

Pictures. Stories. Changes.

How do you capture seven years of learning, laughing, living and loving in a few slides?

The short answer is, you don’t.

You give a glimpse and hope to highlight a few moments. Moments that are brief pausing places along memory lane.  

Diane Bramble as the BFG
As I was preparing the presentation, I spent hours strolling down memory lane, revisiting the thousands of photographs that still only catch a glimpse of hundreds of individual journeys. Some of these journeys are just beginning.  Some our wrapping up their third grade, or fifth grade, or seventh grade journeys.  Some have passed through our school’s doors several years ago and are now flying in high school and beyond.

As a head of school, it has been and continues to be a privilege to walk alongside our students as they travel the road.  Not in the ways I used to when I was a classroom teacher, but in small ways when I share a quick connection, or in broader ways when I help shape the strategic vision for what’s to come.

Memory lane is a wonderful place to stroll. Thank you for letting me walk alongside you.

May 3, 2018

Look Out – May Is Here!

5th grader delivering May Day flowers to one
of our neighbors (and a preschool family!)
You’re a parent.  You get it.  May is nuts! Some people in schools call it Mayhem.  There is so much going on!

At Friends, we are no exception.  We encourage you to keep a close eye on your teachers’ newsletters and our school online calendar, as well as the weekly Happenings to make sure you are clued in to what’s going on.

As a school that believes in the importance of tradition and ritual, and of truly honoring transitions, we do a lot around here.  We celebrate the year that is ending, and we help children look ahead to the future. It’s important to pay attention that many children find transitions difficult and some are saying goodbye to beloved teachers and friends.  

Thank you, parents, in advance for all the time and energy you give to our celebrations.

Thank you also to everyone who came to Parent Work Day last week.  Unfortunately I could not attend because I was out of town for a friend’s wedding, but I returned to our South Campus on Monday to find it sparkling. All of us are greatly indebted to everyone who gave up a Saturday morning to help, and to our Facilities and AfterCare staff who worked so hard.

Mayhem has already started. 
Thank you to everyone who attended Parent Work Day

I received a lovely phone call and a few emails this week from grateful neighbors who found beautiful flowers in May Day baskets delivered by our students on Tuesday.  

Congratulations to our 5thgrade class whose annual soccer game with the staff was rained out, but who rallied to overcome some hard-throwing teachers and beat them 2-1 in a competitive dodgeball game!

Our middle schoolers spent Thursday at the Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary, owned by a former Friends family who brought two of their mustangs to our preschool and elementary playground a couple of weeks ago.  Middle schoolers also hosted Kindergarten buddies at the North Campus this week, and visited 1stgrade buddies at South.

High fives after the dodge ball game
Our fourth graders are hard at work in rehearsal for Love’s Labor Lostfor the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and many of our classes are wrapping up or have already presented their AOE (area of expertise) projects.

As I write, I hear the enthusiastic voices of preschoolers singing their hearts out in music class as they prepare for their upcoming Silver and Gold ceremonies.

Spring fling is upon us, kicking off at 1:30 this afternoon.  Rumor has it there’s a bounty on my seat in the dunk tank.  I’m prepared to get soaked!

Behind the scenes, we are already planning for next year’s admissions season, and we are finalizing the school’s budget for next year. Our hiring committees have been hard at work. We’ve created new
Friends School logo wear. We have planned out our summer facilities projects, and our administrative team has been in training this week for the new and improved database that you will hear more about. Finally, a new website will be ready by the start of school.

Through it all, Honor Taft, our new head of school, was here on our campuses for three full days as she continued to meet and connect with everyone and to learn more about the many aspects of our school.  She is doing an amazing job of getting up to speed and will be ready to hit the ground running when she officially takes the reins on July 1.

As I try to soak in all I can of the Friends School experience in my remaining weeks here, my calendar is full!  I know yours is too – thanks for coming to so much!  I’ll see you at a celebration soon.