There are some incredible things going on in 6th grade right now. Students are preparing to present on their businesses they created as part of our Rainbow Marketplace on April 27. Recently, 6th had Peace Awards Ceremonies, and have done other incredible things this year such as Pi Day, and a Mayan bartering marketplace, to name a few. We thought we’d take a moment to highlight Jenny Armocida for our Team Highlight this month. She’s our 6th grade teacher who will also be leading a “Staying Sharp Summer Camp” here at Rainbow. Cynthia recently sat down with her for a teacher interview.
You’re originally from Ohio. How did you end up at Rainbow?
It’s true – I’m originally from Ohio. I went to school in Sarasota, Floria but it was too hot. So I moved to Nyack, New York. But that was too cold. So I came “to the middle” to Asheville and it was just right! I had learned about this amazing school called Rainbow and I knew that wanted to teach there. In order to teach there, I had to move to Asheville. So yes, I moved here specifically to teach at Rainbow!
What made you decide to become a teacher? How long have you been a teacher?
I have been a teacher for nearly 12 years, specifically as a classroom teacher. I chose it as a profession because my favorite things are learning, asking questions, being curious, exploring the world around me, and I also like being with young people. They’re also really curious and creative. The best job I could have that would allow me to do all these things was to be a teacher. An added bonus is that you get to learn right alongside your students.
What’s the hardest part of your job? The easiest?
The hardest part of my job is knowing that you’re never really finished with it. So if I’m at my house or on vacation, I’m always thinking about my job: ideas for lessons, new things to try, that sort of thing. That can be really fun, but sometimes it’s challenging to take a break from my “teacher self.”
The easiest part is, well, what’s most enjoyable, is definitely the relationships I develop with my students. I get to know them and enjoy being with them. I get to try so many new things.
You recently had Brother Wolf come to your classroom, as well as held a Peace Awards Day. In addition, students will be tackling their small business enterprises that are also socially beneficial. Where do you get all your creative ideas for lessons and units?
I think that I am really inspired by working with all my colleagues who are so innovative and inventive. I see them pursuing their interests, sharing the best of themselves, their ideas, and passions. That compels me to look inside myself to see what’s important. Then I think about how I’d like to share all that with my students. I also enjoy doing whatever small things I can to make the world a better place. The result is that I naturally incorporate those ideas into the curriculum.
You were also recognized in 2015 with the Leavey Award for leadership in entrepreneurship education. Can you tell us more about that?
The award came from the Leavey Foundation. They recognize teachers who develop entrepreneurship curricula. I shared with them the small business projects my Rainbow students created. I also let them know that our students present their businesses at the Rainbow Marketplace. The requirement is that these businesses are also socially beneficial. The Leavey Foundation liked that because I found out I had won their award.
As an award recipient, I got a chance to go to New Orleans where they held a social studies conference. I learned about other people who were teaching entrepreneurship programs. However, I was the only middle school teacher there – the rest were high school teachers. I was happy that I could share that it’s not just something that older kids can do. Middle school students can create businesses, too.
What is your favorite subject to teach?
That is hard! We’re fortunate here at Rainbow that we have integrated lessons that incorporate so many subjects – so it’s varied. But, my personal passion is literature. I’m a big reader – I love fiction and I like to write for fun. I also really love doing the entrepreneurship projects. I enjoy history and one of my favorite lessons is when we turn the classroom into a “middle ages feudal system.” There are so many things that I enjoy teaching. I can’t pick, so I’d have to say them I enjoy them all!
What book are you reading? (Or, what is your favorite book?)
I just got back from Cuba (over spring break). Because of that, I’ve been reading a lot of Cuban writers lately. Right now, I’m reading Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia. The other awesome book I’ve read lately is called, Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. It was really compelling and a humorous read.
What is something that you’re interested in that most people don’t know?
I had a month where I was briefly interested in “tiny cooking.” That has since passed. But really, I love needlefelting. This is an art form where you use a “wad of wool” and a needle. You basically sculpt the wood and make forms out of it. I’ve made birds, tiny people, tiny hamburgers – they’re all very small. I love to make little creatures on a tiny scale. I once made a terrarium with tiny needlefelted animals inside and gave it away as a gift.
What’s the farthest you’ve traveled from home?
I would have to say that one of the farthest placed I’ve traveled was when I went to Iceland. I also went to Germany another time. Iceland, however, convinced me that I should only do beach vacations, though.
What is something that everyone should do at least once in their lives?
People should spend the day with a group of sixth graders. You will learn many interesting things and ponder questions you never thought of before. You will also laugh A LOT.
What are two items on your bucket list?
I’ve never done karaoke. Someday I’d like to try that. I’d also entertain the idea of owning a pet goat – just for the pure joy of it. I’d like a pygmy goat specifically.
If you could talk to any person, living or deceased, for half an hour, who would it be?
I would talk to the Dalai Lama. I feel like he’s very wise and seems to have a joyful sense of humor. I think it would be fun and enlightening.
What advice would you give to your 6th grade self?
I would definitely tell myself just to be authentic and true to who I am. I’d also say to follow my interests and passions and not to worry so much about what other people think.
Well there you have it, friends. A great interview with Jenny. We’re thankful she took the time to have this interview and share with our Rainbow family!
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.
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.
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 1: The Introduction: students put food, waste and recycling into the pitchers and weighed them at the end of the day.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Willow and Sandra, our Director of Operations, all dressed up for Halloween!
Another favorite is May Day each year.
May Day celebrations with Willow!
She also doesn’t mind an impromptu “long lost cousin” costume, either.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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 well.
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.