Happy Spring – Kaleidoscope March 2019
Happy Spring, everyone. We made it through winter! I am reminded of the line from the Merle Haggard song, “If we make it through December, everything’s going to be all right.” The thing is, I always wondered why Merle doesn’t mention January and February. With the darkest months now past, our students seemed to have sailed through the winter with great success. Around Rainbow, wintertime is rich with learning.
Flu season was fortunately mild this year. We are also grateful the chicken pox virus (varicella) never spread beyond three students. Some in our community might be under the impression that Rainbow’s immunization rate is low. Incidentally, Rainbow families choose to immunize their children at a rate higher than some of the charter schools and other alternative private schools in Asheville.
It might be helpful to know that some of the families who are exempt from the immunization requirements do get some immunizations. We are relieved that the number of cases of varicella in our community did not reach outbreak status, forcing many children to unnecessarily miss school. We are glad the three children who contracted it recovered well. I am grateful for all you do to be mindful of the health and well-being of our whole community.
New season, new life
As I write this, spring has just begun. New life is emerging everywhere. Our campus is no exception. Have you seen the baby hawks that have taken up residence here? If not, I suggest taking a stroll over to the red oak tree that is near the pavilion and wetlands on the Omega campus. A pair of big red-shouldered hawks are nesting there. It’s been a thrill for the children to watch these hawks fly around campus. It’s a great opportunity to listen to them squeak and squawk. You may know that our campus is a designated wildlife habit, an honor we received because of the many factors that make our campus amenable to wildlife in the city, including over 75 trees on campus of more than 20 varieties. Many of these are old-growth.
Exploration through the Seven Domains
Spring is a great time for outdoor exploration through the lens of the seven domains. The natural domain is often central to our spring activities. Starting in 3^rd grade, all classes go on end-of-year trips, most of which are wilderness experiences. Of course, May Day is our most well-known celebration of the natural domain, in which Rainbow students have a chance to dance around the maypole.
We recently had our annual Domain Day. As an administrator, it’s always a special treat to get to spend an entire school day with students. I helped lead a group in the creative domain and shared my candle-making craft with the children. It was exciting at the end of the day to reveal what the candles looked like as we took them out of their molds and sent them home, a metaphor for discovering the hidden creative potential within all of us.
Creative Opportunities – Imagine!
Still, there are other creative opportunities happening around campus. These include preparation for the Imagine performance on May 17. If you are new to Rainbow, you are in for a treat. It’s a little hard to describe Imagine. Kindergarten through sixth grade students, as well as Omega electives students, perform various vignettes of their choosing. These often include original music and dance. The result is a performance in which faculty and students weave together an original play with an important message and nuanced layers. It’s an explosion of creativity. Some have called it “psychedelic.” Others say it is “brilliant” and “well-coordinated.” This begs the question: is Rainbow a school of the arts? The answer is yes…and so much more.
We have a new member of the family: a bus! We came across a good deal on a 15-passenger gasoline bus and purchased it from the YWCA who was selling off the fleet from their after school program which just closed. We have found that our existing white gasoline bus is easier to maintain, and that faculty prefer this shorter, easier-to-drive bus to the larger diesel yellow one we also own. With the purchase of this new bus, we now have two matching, short, white buses, which will proudly display our Rainbow logo. To that end, are selling our yellow diesel bus. If you know anyone who would be interested, it is for sale at $15,000, obo. It’s a 2006 with 89,000 miles. You can contact Max at 828-258-9264, ext. 145.
Do you sometimes find that you have general questions about the school? My office hours are Mondays from 2 -3 pm. This is a time that anyone is welcome to visit either the division heads or me to ask a question, express an idea, or just to talk. One question that someone asked recently was What happens on early release Wednesdays and staff training days? Many high quality schools around the country have an early release day once per week so teachers can meet, train, and work on planning.
Professional Development and Teaching
There is a direct correlation between the quality of teaching and the amount of professional development a teacher receives, the amount of time a teacher has to plan fantastic lesson plans, and how much time they have to collaborate with their colleagues and administration. Wednesday meetings as well as staff training days address this need. These meeting/training times help keep the school running smoothly, so that every minute spent with the children is of the highest quality possible.
A closer look at testing and data
An example of one of our recent training days centered around student data. We made a long list of all the types of data that inform our instruction and how we work with children and families. Next, we drilled into some of our CTP test data. Throughout the year teachers create dynamic lessons driven by by data and personal knowledge of each student that every teacher has derived over the school year.
This particular training was more of a bird’s eye view of data. In groups, teachers worked together to understand trends of data to help guide our curriculum goals. We posed questions, hypothesized about the data, and bounced ideas off each other. Every year in June, after graduation, the faculty meet for two or three days. During these meetings we reflect on the school year and analyze and adjust the scope and the sequence of our curriculum. Our data discussions are one important part of that reflection and planning.
Looking to next year
Our administrative team is in the process of vetting new candidates for next year’s faculty. Although we typically have very low teacher turn-over, there is always a little bit of change. This year, our fourth grade teacher, Molly Sawyer, is choosing to take a few years off to start a family. Molly is a vibrant teacher who is very well loved. We hope she returns to us as soon as possible!
In the meantime, Susie, Sandra, and I are enjoying our teacher search. We have narrowed the pool of applicants down to a few finalists. These folks will come in to do demonstrations in the classroom, as well as in-person interviews. We already know it’s going to be difficult to make a final decision, but we also look forward to announcing our new-hire in about a month.
Your authentic self
I’d like to close with an excerpt from a letter that really touched me. It was a cover letter from a teacher applying for the fourth grade position, and I found myself tearing up as it read it. Just as I believe every child should be able to express their authentic self, so should every teacher. Rainbow brings hope and inspiration to teachers. The author of this excerpt illustrates this. This candidate also gave me permission to share it with you.
When I clicked on the job listing for the Rainbow Community School the most amazing thing happened, I felt hope. I felt a spark. As the camera moved through the different rooms of your school during the “Life is Better With You” video I cried because I felt incredibly moved and inspired and happy! I am a public school teacher of 20 years who has been considering leaving teaching because of what I believe standardized testing and forced curriculum and pacing have done to the minds and will of my students. I don’t want to give up teaching – I understand children. But I can’t teach any more in a setting I very much consider to be stifling and limited for children’s emotional and intellectual needs. Your school inspired me to hope that the next 15 years of my teaching career can be different…I’ve never seen anything even close to what your school offers children (and educators.) I’m willing and interested to completely change my life to each in a school that honors the whole child.
Rainbow is a special place
We receive letters from teachers similar to this every year, but this one in particular reminded me of the special school we have. I am grateful every day for how lucky we are to be in a place where we – whether children, staff, or parents – can express our authentic selves.
This letter prompted me to remember how my greatest vision isn’t for Rainbow to be special, but for all schools to honor the whole child, and for children to have access to a meaningful education that celebrates the human soul, and develops their highest potential. When that day comes we will have a world that is well on its way to being socially just, spiritually fulfilling, and environmentally sustainable.
This month’s team highlight: Tracy Hildebrand
We’d like to introduce you to Tracy, Rainbow Community School’s art teacher. We found her in the art room and asked if she’d agree to answer questions for a team highlight. She has some fun answers to our questions. We hope you’ll enjoy!
You’ve taught in Virginia before. Are you originally from there?
I was born in Norfolk, Va , attended college there and taught art in Norfolk Public Schools for 7 years.
I took a break from teaching in 1992 and moved to Western North Carolina to work at Nantahala Outdoor Center where I worked teaching kayaking, guiding river rafting trips and working in the outfitters store.
I realized soon after moving here that this area is my true spiritual home.
How did you find Rainbow?
When my husband and I were looking for a kindergarten for our daughter, a friend recommended we visit Rainbow. We knew right away it was the right fit for her. Emily attended RCS from K through Omega and is now a sophomore in high school.
What do you like to do when you’re not at Rainbow?
Mostly I love to spend time with my family hiking, paddling rivers, and camping. I also enjoy gardening, cooking, yoga, and taking walks with our dog, Teeka.
In addition to teaching art, it looks like you make jewelry. What sorts of art do you like to create?
I don’t make jewelry anymore, actually.
What’s the best way to start the day?
Sitting on our front porch sipping coffee, reading a good book, and watching the birds visit our bird feeder. I love observing them and seeing how they interact with each other.
What book(s) are you reading?
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and I highly recommend it!
What’s the farthest you’ve traveled from home?
I traveled to Rio de Janeiro with my Mom. She was born and raised there until she was 20. I was able to see where she lived as a girl.
If you could talk to any person, living or deceased, for half an hour, who would it be?
I would love to spend time with Georgia O’Keefe. I admire her strength as a woman and that at one point decided to lay aside what she had been taught in art school and developed her own technique and style. In addition, she lived a very unconventional life for a woman in her time. I admire that she lived her life on her own terms.
What is something your friends would consider “so you”?
My husband and daughter consider anything to do with flowers a ‘Tracy thing’. I especially love wildflowers – to find them along a woodland trail brings me great delight. I grow native wildflowers in our yard.
One of my dearest friends shared all kinds of native flowers from her yard with me years ago; mayapples, ferns, soloman seal, columbine, and many more.
One of my favorite quotes is “Earth laughs in flowers” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
We hope you enjoyed Tracy’s team highlight. Don’t forget to tell her that “Earth laughs in flowers” when you see her!
Opening the Heart – Reflection and Centering
At a recent admin meeting, Cynthia shared a centering designed to bring awareness to, and open the heart. Renee asked her to share it on the Director’s Blog for others to enjoy, as well.
Point to yourself
Take a moment to close your eyes and relax into the rhythm of your breath. When you feel more relaxed, go ahead and point to yourself.
Notice where you are pointing. Chances are, you’re pointing toward your heart, or somewhere near your heart chakra.
This is on purpose. We humans point to the heart because we intuitively know our truest selves are not the brain, but the heart. The heart serves as a secondary brain and even has its own magnetic field.
What we do with the heart
We do a lot with the heart. We have heart-to-heart conversations. When we’re happy, our heart swells. When we’re sad, we’re heartbroken.
In the presence of beauty, we say we’re heartened. When we like someone, we say that they have a kind heart. A trustworthy, well-meaning person has a heart of gold. Conversely, a cold, unforgiving person has a heart of stone. When we feel bad for someone, we say, “bless their heart.” When we experience surprise, our heart skips a beat.
When we see someone’s heartfelt actions, we know it’s them expressing their truth. Furthermore, we send heart emojis when we mean to send loving thoughts.
Some of us wear our hearts on our sleeve.
Caring for our “heart self”
Our culture values the relentless pursuit of knowledge. We feed the mind. We feed the brain. We spend decades educating ourselves. But how often do we remember to feed the heart? How often do we remember to care for our heart self?
When we focus on the heart, our communications improve. Our relationships flourish. Still, our hope for the world turns rosier, as if we put on rose-colored glasses.
Pink and green
The color pink is the representation of the heart and a symbol of romantic love. On the other hand, the heart chakra is green. It’s the opposite of rose. Green is a color of expansion, growth, openness and unconditional love – love for self and love for others. The heart chakra sits in the center of the chest, not at the heart as many believe.
As a centering, we can do a little care for the heart – the heart itself, and the heart chakra.
A heart-centered breath
This is a practice that you can do at any time: while going about your day, while meditating, while exercising, or wherever.
Sit with your feet flat on the floor, or in a comfortable position. Hands can rest on your lap.
Relax your body. You can keep your eyes open, capped (open half-way) or closed.
Bring your attention to the breath as you breathe through the nose. Feel the cooler air as you inhale, and warmer air as you exhale. Don’t control or regulate your breath. Just observe.
Focus your attention…
Now bring your gentle attention to the rise and fall of the chest. Gently move your attention to the heart. Visualize your breath moving in and out of your heart space, filling it with soft green light and exhaling that same green light into the air around you.
Move into silence for three or four breaths, with each inhale and exhale taking in the easy green light and filling your heart space. Your exhale fills the air with this same light.
If you notice your thoughts wandering, just bring them back to the heart, and the light. Be kind to yourself.
After a few moments, bring your attention back to the breath. When you’re ready, open your eyes if you had them closed or capped.
First Grade Studies Beautiful Trees
We stepped into first grade recently, into a veritable classroom forest. There were displays of books about trees, nature artifacts that reminded us of our natural roots, and artwork that featured patched trees and their individual parts. First grade is studying beautiful trees in all their splendor.
The first grade “wolves,” as they call themselves, were contentedly reading to each other. They quietly tried out new words and soaked up fun ideas from illustrated books.
The Story of Trees
Their teacher, Rachel, guided them into a circle where they recited a poem about trees. They swayed like leaves, or dropped to the floor like apples. They sang and recited verses from the song, “I’m a Tall, Tall Tree.” At the conclusion, students huddled together to hear a story.
Ms. Rachel read about many different trees that grow. She asked her students about all the different varieties they might have already known: “Apple tree!” one said. “Maple! Peach! Magnolia!” chimed others. First graders are about the same age as it takes for an apple tree to mature: 6-10 years, depending on the species.
The Four Elements to Make a Tree Grow
They arrived to a part in the book that detailed the four elements of what trees need to grow big and strong.
These first graders already knew:
Air. Water. Soil. Sunlight.
A Little Space
But there was just one more thing that trees needed to grow. What was it?
Rachel called up one student. Then another and another until there were four, standing so close together they could hardly breathe….
All these students were “trees that hadn’t fully grown” and they quickly figured out what that last thing was. Trees need space.
These four students spread out and demonstrated how having a little space made it much easier to spread and grow.
So many life lessons in that statement: having a little space makes it much easier to spread and grow.
The Natural and Physical Domains
There was more. Each student became an “element.” Rachel handed out cards of either air, soil, water, or the sun. Students wore them as badges of honor as they imagined they were air, water, soil, or sunlight. They lined up to head toward the outdoor classroom to incorporate two different modalities of learning: the natural and physical domains.
Rachel’s instructions were to run around the outdoor classroom, but when they heard, “1-2-3-GROW!” each person had to find the other elements that would make a tree. When all four students – elements – were joined, they’d make a circle, giving themselves some space. As they successfully “grew into a tree,” they’d exclaim, “I’m a tree! I’m a tree! I’m a tree!”
After several rounds of finding the different elements, students returned to their classroom. This space is a peaceful oasis that peers out to the Gnome Village below, giving the impression that they are, in fact, in a tree house. We knew they were secure in the knowledge that they wouldn’t soon forget what makes a tree grow from a seedling into a sprawling giant.
Rainbow Has Solar Power
Have you seen what’s over on the roof of the auditorium? Getting solar power was one of those far-off dreams until…it became reality!
In 2017, an anonymous donor awarded Rainbow the funds to get solar panels installed. These are located on the east side of the auditorium. This donation will help to reduce the school’s reliance on fossil fuels.
In fact, the installation of these solar panels will provide a benefit of 60+ years. The bulk of Rainbow’s utility bills go toward the auditorium. It’s a big space. Heating and cooling can get expensive.
There’s also the environment to consider. Rainbow will reduce its carbon footprint by huge margins. The solar panels help to reduce the school’s utility expenses while helping the planet. In about 30 years, the panel efficiency will go down some, but will still yield significant energy savings.
Over the course of the process, one of our Rainbow parents had been in touch with representatives from Duke and other organizations to get the interconnections turned on. “Interconnection” means how a “distributed generation system, such as solar photovoltaics (PVs), can connect to the grid.” (Source)
A local solar installation company, Sugar Hollow, installed the solar panels late in 2017. The school had to wait until 2018 to turn on the interconnection. This was due to a rebate from Duke Energy, which also helped with significant savings for the school.
When Sugar Hollow installed the solar panels, they felt really connected to the school and what it stands for. Sugar Hollow is a living wage certified company and their philosophy parallels Rainbow’s mission:
At Sugar Hollow Solar, we care deeply about moving our society towards a more sustainable future – not just in the environmental sense but in how it relates to overall quality of life, now.
The panels they used for installation were manufactured in the US, as well. As a company, they work hard to source everything here in the US.
The Sugar Hollow team installing solar panels on top of the auditorium.
Because this was the first year that Rainbow started the interconnection process, it took awhile to get the power systems connected, approved and ready to go. When it came time to “flip the switch,” the whole school community was so thrilled and the anticipation was palpable. Rainbow elected to have a school-wide celebration to commemorate the event.
Students gathered at the auditorium to view the solar panels and have a “solar song circle” – it was RCS’ first song circle of the year.
Sugar Hollow also joined us for that celebration. Now, students will be able to tell exactly what the solar panels are doing moment by moment that demonstrate power output and usage. Check out the Solar Power Resources section on our website. It has the link to the energy performance of the solar panels.
Since the founding of Sugar Hollow, they have surpassed 1.5 gigawatts hours of energy generation – from the sun! That’s like planting 28,931 trees!! We have so much gratitude for these folks and the work they do!