Creating “Zero Waste” and Electricity

Creating “Zero Waste” and Electricity

The Zero Waste Project

4th graders in Susie’s class embarked upon a special project recently: charting how much food, recycling, and trash that students produce as their “Zero Waste Project.” As students embarked upon this endeavor, they looked at the school’s mission statement. Students held discussions and made connections between their project and Rainbow’s mission.

Zero Waste was part of a larger unit on electricity. Students explored energy use and human impact across the domains.

electricity unit

At the beginning of the unit, Darrah, a Rainbow parent, came to speak about solar panels and energy use. She shared with 4th grade how solar panels have a negative charge and those negatively charged electrons run off the side of the panels to a conductor. Relatively big batteries fuel the panels and are “better than ever” at holding electricity for longer periods of time, such as when there are cloudy days.

electricity usage

After talking about solar panels, 4th grade moved on to talking about Zero Waste. For about two and a half weeks, students calculated in ounces how much food waste, trash, and recycling the class collectively generated each day. They recorded that data into a graph.

day one

Day 1: The Introduction: students put food, waste and recycling into the pitchers and weighed them at the end of the day.


electricity unit

After 11 class days, students had the graph filled out and made some great observations.

Charting this kind of data had an assortment of learning opportunities, as you can imagine. Students learned about decimals, taring the scale, how to accurately graph data and interpret the results. They understood that certain food waste went into the pitcher, but things like banana peels and apple cores did not. Those could be composted and were things that people normally didn’t eat.

Any bits of sandwiches from lunch or leftover snacks (that students wouldn’t eat later) all went into the pitchers for measuring. For paper recycling, students were able to rip up pieces so they could fit into the pitchers. Since the school has pizza on Thursdays, they also started to brainstorm about how to use a pizza box in different ways.

Part of the idea behind this project was to allow students to just become aware and more mindful of their actions and their impact with regard to food, recycling and trash.

How It All Ties Together

In their electricity unit, students saw how the consumption of resources was related to electricity, to water, and to the planet. They saw how they could take advantage of opportunities to reduce, reuse, and recycle. They talked about the use of reusable bottles, how they might decline the plastic straw at restaurants, turn the faucet off while brushing, turn lights on only when necessary, eat all their food off dinner plates (and store the rest), and more.

An Electricity Feast

The end of this special unit was marked with an “electricity feast.” Students and their families brought in food to enjoy together, but only after 4th graders demonstrated their learning at different stations.

demonstrating electricity

All around the classroom were signs of learning about electricity.

The creative and mental domains were an integral part of this unit. Students created electric game boards. If you answered a question correctly, the circuit would connect and light up (with the help of a knowledgeable 4th grader).

lighting up

Closing the circuit resulted in the light bulb glowing.

Themes for morning centering during the unit allowed students to reflect on how their own light shines in the world. Students also reflected on world leaders and what light they bring to the world community.

how can you be a light to the world?

Students reflected on the idea of personal enlightenment and leaders who changed the world with their light. This touches upon the spiritual domain.

The 4th grade classroom was “alight” with the energy of community, learning, light and love as families came to see all the students present their portfolios.

electricity feast

After everything was finished, everyone joined together for a blessing. There was a lot of gratitude for the feast. They understood that what we eat ultimately comes from our beautiful planet.

food from our planet

At least several students in 4th grade reported on how they wanted to keep trying to measure their food, recycling and trash to stay mindful of their consumption of resources. Beyond the unit, others have mentioned changing habits at home and being more mindful of their impact on the planet and on the world’s resources.

Willow – Team Highlight

Willow – Team Highlight

Willow the Welcome Dog – Highlighting a Special Friend!

For this month’s team highlight, we have something sweet to share. You may have noticed a sweet dog greeting you when you come to Rainbow. She’s the official “Welcome Dog,” a self-imposed designation by our four-pawed friend. In fact, she’s so adept at being a greeter and interacting with humans, we think Willow doesn’t know that she’s a canine and not, in fact, a homo sapiens.

Willow claims West Willmore as “her human” – the Curriculum Director and Development Coordinator, as well as the Director of Operations for Rainbow Institute.

But Willow has come into her own as the Welcome Dog. She’s quite at home in our community and loves it when people come up and pet her.

welcome dog team highlight

Willow is happy to welcome you to Rainbow!

During the course of the day at Rainbow, she loves being part of centering. In fact, she hopes that her presence will be perfect for “therapeutic student interactions.” She loves how she can help students calm down – just when they would want some time to take a few breaths.

calm dog

Willow loves being pet and finds that this calms students, too!

She attends faculty circle from time to time and likes to keep tabs on what’s going on in the community. It’s hard to sit perfectly next to other staff members in the circle, so she doesn’t mind going into the center. She figures if she just listens really well, no one will mind.

center of circle

Sitting in the center of the circle.

Willow sees to it that she’s present for all school celebrations. One of her favorites is Halloween.

dressed up for halloween

Willow and Sandra, our Director of Operations, all dressed up for Halloween!

Another favorite is May Day each year.

willow dog dressed as a fairy

May Day celebrations with Willow!

She also doesn’t mind an impromptu “long lost cousin” costume, either.

wooly costume

We think that perhaps that extra layer should be sheared…

She even likes to hear the graduation songs and speeches at the end of the year.

willow posing at graduation

Graduations are reasons for everyone to gather around…

She doesn’t mind crowds or having them look at her. That’s funny because although she doesn’t bark, West reports that she’s kind of afraid of everything.

Willow doesn’t mind helping students out with their science projects. She gives them lots of ideas.

willow nature awareness

Willow just doing her part for science.

Willow On History, Science and Sports

When she’s not helping students out with centering or science, she likes to sunbathe on Rainbow’s main deck – as long as it’s warm enough to do so. She figures what would be the point of sunbathing if the sun doesn’t bathe you in some warmth?

During history lessons, Willow is great at illustrating the idea of “hunting and gathering.” She hunts and gathers bits of food from snack time and is really good at keeping the floors clean.

She can be a comedian, too. One of the funniest things she does is stand in her water bowl. When she does that, we think she’s trying to tell us that it’s time to get out and play. Preferably in the water.

Indeed, she loves to swim! Not only does she go with her human to the lake quite often, she also goes on rock climbing trips, hiking, trail running, and more. Even though she likes to hunt, she’s content with the thrill of the game and accepts the fact that she doesn’t catch much.

Travels All Over

She also accompanies West on plenty of road trips. She’s been all over the U.S. and has her sights set on international travel. For now, she can boast that the farthest she’s ever been outside of North Carolina is California.

Willow has made quite a life for herself in the world of humans. When she was born, she was the runt of her litter-mates. As soon as she met West, however, it was loyalty at first sight.

If you see a light-colored fluffy dog around the campus of Rainbow, just say, “Willow!” and she’ll come right over to you and make sure you feel welcome. Don’t worry if you’re allergic to dogs: Willow is hypoallergenic.

willow in director's office

You might find Willow in an office, ready to offer her insights, but she can’t promise complete seriousness all the time…

You can find Willow in Instagram under her owner’s account with the hashtag, #willowthewaterdog.

Sue Ford – Our Marimba Master – Team Highlight

Sue Ford – Our Marimba Master – Team Highlight

You probably know that music changes lives. It brings people together. For this month’s team highlight, we wanted to share about Sue Ford, our longtime music teacher who is heavily involved in the Asheville community with Village Marimba.

music classes


A Brief History About Sue Ford

Sue Ford has been a part of Rainbow Community School as the music teacher since 2003. She left Rainbow for a little while to work at Evergreen Community Charter School in 2006. While there, she started a marimba band. Along her musical journey, she’d spent time studying with folks trained in playing marimba. In fact, she’s dabbled with marimba for a long time, even participating in a band called “Chikomo.”

After leaving Evergreen in 2016, Sue felt that she had the confidence to move ahead with the marimba business she’d started. At Rainbow, as part of that business, she offered to teach marimba after school. In that time, she’s had students from the 5th grade all the way through 12th grade join her marimba classes.

Due to demand, she began an adult marimba class last summer. It proved to be so popular that she added a second class. Many RCS staff have participated in these classes. Those who have taken Sue’s marimba class report that it feels so empowering and that it is a lot of fun.

During her tenure as a teacher, Sue has worked with students ranging in age from preschool through middle school. Mountain Express and the Asheville Community selected Sue Ford as the “Best Music Teacher” for four years in a row.

What Students Learn in Marimba Classes

Students in Village Marimba learn music that interests them, including popular music. They also incorporate multicultural music, work on their general marimba technique, and work in tandem with each other, as well as other musically-minded folks.

Take a look at one of her Village Marimba videos:

Expanding The Marimba Horizons

The historic significance of the marimba is important to Sue. The marimba instrument itself originated in Zimbabwe (a country that used to be known as Rhodesia).

Influenced by the equity work that Rainbow is doing, Sue thought about how the marimba has had such an impact on her life and influenced her music. She began thinking about how she could give back to the people who made the instrument possible.

Last fall, Sue got in touch with Peter Swing, a fellow marimba teacher and friend who lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He had connections with marimba musicians in Zimbabwe. Sue asked him if he knew anyone in Zimbabwe that would benefit from a donation from her company, as a way to give back.

Indeed he did! Peter put her in touch with a teacher in Zimbabwe. Shortly after, Sue launched a campaign to support the work of Barnabas Ngalande by raising over $1000 in two different fundraisers. Barnabas was a “mbira” teacher and with the proceeds from Sue’s campaign, he was able to build several of these instruments. Barnabas also sponsored three orphaned girls to send them to a high school with a music curriculum as a result of this funding.

In the weeks after the most recent benefit fundraiser, Sue received a letter from one of Barnabas’ students:

sue ford marimba

The three girls are part of Barnabas’ mbira group, “Mbirautare.” The student above, who wrote the thank-you letter to Sue, just enrolled in her school in January 2018.

We are so glad that Sue is part of Rainbow and that she is offering these classes to our community!



Katie Wilson – Team Highlight

Katie Wilson – Team Highlight

We have some pretty amazing staff here at Rainbow Community School.

We have so many folks with myriad talents.

This month’s team highlight is Katie Wilson, our 5th grade teaching assistant. You’ll never guess what Katie was able to do last summer.

It all starts with a story about how she found Rainbow in the first place.

Katie Wilson staff

How did Katie become a part of the staff at Rainbow?

Katie’s life has been serendipitous! She temporarily relocated to Boone, NC after living abroad. She’d been teaching English in Mexico and returned to the US to continue her teaching career here.

While up in Boone, she found out about an opening in the after school program at Rainbow and decided to take it. Right then, she was working as a nanny part-time.

She loved Rainbow so much, that when the opportunity came to be able to work with Susie in fourth grade as a full-time employee, she jumped at the chance.

Later, she was able to move up with the same students to fifth grade this year.

Earlier in the year, the director from a summer camp where Katie used to work contacted her.

He was leaving his company to focus on retirement and asked if she would be willing to take on directing the summer camp for international students who wanted to learn English.

Katie’s former director worked the business side of the camp while she worked the educational and development side, including overseeing staff.

Knowing that she always wanted to develop her own educational programs, it was a great opportunity.

This past summer, she developed the entire ESL curriculum for the summer camp, as well as all the programming. She also had the pleasure of locating it at Rainbow!

The Summer Camp: Visions USA

The camp operated by recruiting students from Germany, Spain, and Italy who were interested in learning English. It provided an authentic setting in which to learn English as a Second or Other Language, as well as give students an incredible international cultural experience.

Students stayed with local host families and attended English classes in the morning at Rainbow for four days per week, and then engaged in more fun activities in the afternoons.

They spent time volunteering one day per week as part of the program. Volunteer work is an important component of camp programming.

This gave international students a chance to see what the Asheville community was all about, the struggles people faced and provided visiting students with opportunities to give back to the community in which they were living and learning.

Similar to what Rainbow students do during the school year, campers went to Manna, Black Mountain Home for Kids to help with events, volunteered at local high schools, helped to paint a mural, and more.

Fridays were reserved as field days where they would go rafting, to Carrowinds, go on an overnight to see the Atlanta Braves, or other similar activities.

The camp also offered language courses for the host families’ siblings, as students

What were some things Katie learned about running a summer camp?

The summer camp session of 2017 was incredibly successful.

Students from different countries experienced US culture, and experienced each others’ culture in a supportive environment.

In only three weeks, they became best friends and formed deep friendships that will last well beyond their time at camp.

Katie loved the fact that she was affiliated with Rainbow and how she was able to share the attitudes that Rainbow cultivates, including its teaching styles, with all the international students.

Activities included centering, teaching to the domains, and incorporating positive discipline techniques to students who hadn’t experienced that before.

Students can tell that Rainbow Community School is different: they value the whole child. Click To Tweet

The international students could really tell that life at Rainbow was different.

They were accustomed to a more regimented school setting and often remarked about the freedom and support they had.

Were there any challenges you faced as you ran the camp?

Katie reported how it’s interesting that every country and municipality has stereotypes and attitudes that they form about other cultures and people.

She found it necessary to look for ways to get past those preconceived ideas and really reach students to show them that we humans are more alike than we are different.

Overall, however, she had a successful first year as the director of a summer camp right here at Rainbow! She’s already gearing up for the 2018 session.

If you’d like more information about summer camp and even possibly hosting students, check out Visions USA.

In Thanksgiving

In Thanksgiving

The Power of Gratitude

We at Rainbow make it a habit to practice gratitude – not just around Thanksgiving – but all during the school year.

It happens in centerings, and teachers work to instill the two words, “thank you” into every student.

As Renee mentioned in her November Kaleidoscope, the practice of gratitude can boost happiness, optimism, overall life satisfaction, and more. So much more.

Around Rainbow, we speak a lot about the 7 Domains and how each teacher carefully plans lessons that integrate each one. Like a puzzle piece, gratitude fits beautifully into each domain, making it easy for students to become mindful of the power of gratitude.

In the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving break, students engaged in centerings and activities to help drive home the idea of a solid practice of giving thanks.

All over campus, students participated in centerings, song circles, and wrote things they were thankful for on leaves to create a gratitude tree.

gratitude tree

Indeed, students have a powerful sense of appreciation. We went to the After School to ask students what they were thankful for. They all instantly came up with life’s most precious and priceless gifts: family, friends, animals, nature.

Take a look for yourself:

Activities Around Campus

Gratitude is about connection.

In Preschool (Blue Door), they asked “What are you connected to?” This led to a discussion about how we’re all connected to the elements of the earth, how we feel love, and that gratitude is part of that.

The first grade Cheetahs made turkeys with feathers of gratitude. Fourth grade culminated their archaeology unit with a centering that incorporated appreciation for studying archeological discoveries.

Song circle this week incorporated songs about family, spending time in the woods, and the “Best Day of My Life.”

gratitude activity

We invite all students to lead their families in a centering with a focus on gratitude over break. They will know what to do.

However, if you would like some ideas, here are some ways to incorporate a centering with your child.

Gratitude Centering

  1. Gather in a circle. Take three deep breaths. You can optionally light a candle.
  2. Have everyone in your circle write down something for which they are thankful and put it into a jar. When everyone’s finished, each person can randomly take out a slip of paper and read it aloud. Younger students who are learning to write will need help with this activity.
  3. A variation of this could be to go outside, or to write down thoughts of gratitude on a ball and have people in the circle catch it and read off a line of gratitude nearest their right or left thumb. This activity can have so many variations!
  4. Have your child say a blessing over your food.
  5. Close with three more deep breaths.

For more ideas, a quick check on a search engine will give you many to choose from.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. — Melody Beattie

In closing, we hope that all Rainbow families, friends, staff, and students have a wonderful holiday break!

We are grateful for all the love you give, the hope, the inspiration, the peace, mindfulness, and how you give back to the earth.

love and gratitude