Jenny Armocida – Team Highlight
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!
Academic Achievement of Rainbow Learners: Alumni Performance After Rainbow
We wanted to track our alumni performance after Rainbow and share just how well our students perform.
Finding data that accurately reflects how our holistic learners perform academically is complex.
Standardized tests certainly don’t reflect our curriculum or our beliefs about developmentally
appropriate education. Our curriculum emphasizes critical thinking and innovation.
In looking at facts and figures in math, Rainbow students score highest on quantitative reasoning and sometimes lower in rote computation. Language arts and reading scores commonly reflect slightly lower numbers on mechanics (spelling, punctuation, etc.), but high on reasoning, analysis, and organizing ideas.
Our Students Are Prepared to Lead
As we move into the age of artificial intelligence, our graduating students are prepared to be leaders. They know how to truly think, design, plan, and act. For a child who progresses sequentially through the grade levels at Rainbow, the early years allow ample time to explore, think, and learn content – especially science and social studies. Students explore their world, ponder it, organize, and eventually learn how to re-create it, with unique ideas.
In later years, students learn mechanics and perfect their computational skills. This allows them to learn those skills quickly and easily. This frees up time in the younger years so that they have every opportunity to “light up all areas of the brain.” They don’t have to overly drill on these few, narrow skills. By the end of 8th grade, our students are ready for high school and beyond. They often test out of introductory courses into more advanced levels of Math, English language and reading, as well as more advanced world language classes.
How Do Rainbow Graduates Do In High School?
One of the most common questions parents ask during the admissions process is “How well do Rainbow graduates perform in high school?” While the majority of our graduates attend SILSA – an all honors science inquiry-based program at Asheville High – RCS students attend a variety of schools.
Recently we asked SILSA and Asheville High to disaggregate the GPA data of Rainbow students attending high school there. They analyzed all 29 RCS graduates, from freshmen to seniors, and compared their GPA averages with the rest of the SILSA student population overall:
We’re grateful to SILSA for compiling this data for us! SILSA often compliments us on our Rainbow graduates. We get news of the many awards they win, and this numerical GPA data is very helpful in helping us track how well our students are doing.
The second most common school our graduates attend is Carolina Day School. We will be sure to collect a list of the many awards they will be garnering at the end of this year. Last year, a Rainbow graduate won the Faculty Prize at the Carolina Day graduation. This is a terrific honor. This prize is prestigious: all the faculty vote for a student based on character, academics, and service.
We are so very proud to send Rainbow students into the world who are accomplished, confident, and creative learners. They are prepared to be compassionate leaders in a changing world. They think out of the box and are poised to innovate.
In fact, our current 4th grade teacher, Susie, shared a funny story recently. In her first year at Rainbow, she was administering a standardized test to her students. She knew she was at a different kind of school when her students started coming up to her saying, “We don’t like any of these answers. Can we just write them in?” This is not unusual for an RCS student, and it’s what sets Rainbow Community School apart.
An altar is commonly associated with a religious purpose. It is often a structure or space, considered sacred, on which offerings are placed and used in a rite or ritual. However, we often create altars to honor various things that aren’t necessarily associated with a religious purpose.
We make altars all the time, some intentionally, some unintentionally and others out of habit. Consider how you may arrange your collectibles, how you may display your family photos or art, or how you may plan your garden. Think about the forts or fairy homes that your kids make in the backyard or how they arrange their special artifacts or favorite toys. With these “altars” we aim to elevate, focus energy and/or bring special attention to something.
Altar creation can be a very powerful process. It provides a space to slow down and reconnect to something very personal or meaningful to you. Creating a spiritual altar can also be a physical and visible representation of an intention you may have. It may also serve as a sacred way to invite spiritual energies and questions into your life . Ultimately, altars become focal points or reminders of our inner spirit and our connection to the divine.
Altars are very much a part of the culture of Rainbow
They are found in every classroom, used each day in centering practices and are often created by the students. The elements used in each altar vary but are often reflective of the season, the theme that the class may be studying, or the message the centering practice intends to convey. Below are some classroom altars.
In an effort to raise money for their end of year trip, some of our students recently designed, created and sold traveling altars. Each altar provides various resources and tools that may help others to bring a centering practice into the home.
- The tablecloth serves a way to transport the altar as well as an aesthetically pleasing foundation to set up the altar.
- The candle, when lit, sets the tone for the practice and invites spirit into the room. It is also a visible reminder to celebrate the light in ourselves, others and the world around us.
- The shell demonstrates our connection to the natural world. Displaying nature artifacts bring forth the wonder and magic of the natural world and reminds us that time in nature can yield deep connection and contemplation.
- The painted rock displays a word of intention and reminds us to aim to bring positive emotions into our lives.
The blue cards share three different breathing techniques that help the mind and body achieve awareness, presence and peace. The orange quote card is intended to engage the reader’s mental domain by encouraging them to reflect on words of wisdom. The yellow cards highlight social conversation questions posed by the students. These cards encourage the readers to ponder big questions such as, “When and how was the universe born?” and “What happens after death?” or ask the reader to personally reflect on things like, “What type of personal do you hope/aim to be?” or What helps you to feel calm and grounded?”
How might these inform your practice?
The creators of these traveling altars were hoping that the altars would prompt centering practices within the home. The elements of each altar are simply starting points out of which family ritual, contemplative practice and spiritual development can grow.
Consider what your family or classroom altar could look like. Where might it live? What elements would you include? What question cards or breathing techniques could be added to this package? What inspirational quotes might serve your family or classroom?
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.
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.
We live in a time of uncertainty, in a world that is unpredictable and in a society that is, in some cases, changing rapidly and in others stuck. Nevertheless, our work as educators is more important now than ever.
As an organization, we aim to live our mission everyday. Some days we do so effortlessly and seamlessly. Other days we detour, stumble and struggle. Many days yield cheer and celebration, yet many yield mistakes and misunderstanding. Regardless of the outcomes, we see them ALL as an opportunity to deeply reflect, adapt and grow.
We are an organization on a transformational journey informed by these opportunities, guided by our hearts and our spirits and fueled by our mission.
We develop accomplished, confident, and creative learners who are prepared to be compassionate leaders in building a socially just, spiritually connected, and environmentally sustainable world.
As a teacher, to live this mission means that you are intentional about circling back to it and that you are willing to hold a mirror up to your classroom culture and programming. These opportunities often show up in unexpected ways but, if you are waiting with that mirror, some amazing learning can happen.
Spirit Week at RCS
Next week is Spirit Week at RCS. This week fills our school classrooms, campus and culture with fellowship and fun. It invites costumes, and creativity while building community. As Student Council began to flesh out the daily Spirit Week themes, they stumbled on an opportunity- a real teachable moment. In an effort to give this teachable moment greater context, our Equity Director wrote a letter to our families.
“In the interest of our ongoing efforts to be more mindful of equity, we are eliminating ‘Crazy Hair Day’ from our Spirit Week schedule. There are a couple of concerns about this practice. To begin with, the regular and loose use of the term ‘crazy’ is disrespectful to those who live and struggle with mental illness. Even if we are innocently using the term to refer to something that is different and/or weird, we need to ask ourselves if that’s really the message we want to send about hair. While there are some really cute and elaborate ideas out there for ‘Crazy Hair Day’, all too often, the expressions that come out of this Spirit Week practice are styles that closely resemble (intentionally or not) actual cultural and ethnic hairstyles. The suggestion that those styles are crazy or weird is offensive. Would it be ‘crazy hair’ if a child with curly hair came to school with their hair straightened for the day?
Here at Rainbow, equity is a practice. So we’re using this as a teachable moment for our students. Some of your teachers are taking this time to talk about culture and cultural practices, and concepts of ‘different’ vs. ‘weird’. If you want to continue these discussions at home and feel like you could use some supportive material, please reach out to our Equity Director. In addition, HERE is a link to a very thoughtful post from a parent about ‘Crazy Hair Day’.
This topic became inspiration for a 4th grade centering practice. Centering began when the class found stillness and silence. The candle was then lit for “safety” and the teacher began, “Yesterday we talked about physical safety and today we will talk about emotional safety.”
Susie, the teacher, followed by asking for a volunteer to read Rainbow’s mission statement. She then asked, “Where does this come from?” The kids responded, “The School!” She explained that this was our mission statement and ultimately our hope for each action, every day.
Around the altar were the words Ethnic and Culture. The teacher asked the students what these words meant to them. As a group, the kids built collaborative definitions and came to some common understandings of each word. Susie then revealed a final sheet of paper with the phrase ‘Crazy Hair Day’ written on it and began touching on some of the concepts that were explained in the above letter. Finally, she began showing the group images of hairstyles that were based on the cultural or ethnic backgrounds of the people pictured.
These images were passed around the circle in silence. The students were asked to simply use their powers of observation, acknowledge any reactions, consider the terms ‘ethnic’ and ‘culture’ while making mental notes as they cycled through each image.
In closing, Susie asked to kids to try to weave all the centering elements together and identify the message that she was trying to share with them. One child responded,”By saying something or someone is crazy, you are judging them.” Another student said, “The things that may be fun for me, like crazy hair day, could really hurt someone else. This might be the way they do things and if you make fun of them, it could hurt their feelings.” Another child said, “What you might consider crazy hair for you may be they way that others wear their hair everyday.” One noted that, “Yesterday we talked about how some cultures greet people in different ways we should think about how some people wear their hair in different ways.” Susie ended with a simple statement about how we, for the last several years have been hosting Crazy Hair Day and upon reflection and insight we have realized that this choice does not fit within our mission statement. As a community, we decided to let go of it because we strive for emotional safety for all.
Consider your personal mission statement or that of your school or organization. Reflect…
What are you doing to successfully achieve this mission? Celebrate that!
Now consider, how can those mission statement words be better represented with action?
What changes to your direct practice can open up pathways of learning for you, your family and/or your students?
Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. –Martin Luther King Jr.
Rainbow Community School is governed by light and founded on love.
Connection to oneself, others, the natural world and the spiritual is at the heart of what we do. We are a school founded on the holistic development of each child. The essence of each child is seen, heard, celebrated and challenged. There is always a circle of light and of love around each child.
We educate for non-violence. We aim to equip children with compassion, empathy, resilience and respect. We teach compassionate communication, positive discipline and healthy conflict resolution. We provide a therapeutic response to education. We are trauma informed. We do this because we see every child, we hear each child, we celebrate and challenge every child. We love each child.
We do this because the world needs schools founded on love, the world needs teachers who see and can support the whole child, the world needs empathetic and compassionate children, the world needs love- now more than ever.
Valentine’s Day is a symbolic day of love but unfortunately, was tragic day for many last week. The events that happened in Parkland, Florida are sobering; it is the 18th school shooting already this year. We mourn for those families and that community, and strive to protect our own, perhaps turning inward to consider how we got to this point and where to go from here.
Keeping all children safe is always the highest priority and most important job of each employee at Rainbow.
This is our first focus- from informing and advising the community of school-wide health concerns to implementing things such as a safe school plan, lock downs and evacuations. These measures are put in to place out of love.
Even still, Rainbow Community School strives to provide an additional layer of protection. This layer is not necessarily visible, but is one that stays with each child well after they graduate. Our school aims to foster healthy relationships, nourish emotional health and well-being, make learning meaningful, support ritual and rites of passage and most of all, cultivate a spiritual identity rooted in purpose.
Contemplation, reflection, deep discussion, heart centered connection, healthy risk taking, simple play, time in nature, communal support and celebration are among the many elements that are woven together to provide these protections.
As we wade through the pain, anger and confusion of each moment of crises, we are left with many questions and become increasingly conscious about protecting all children.
The NRA says, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” but have the members of the NRA or the politicians engineering policy ever stopped and asked…why? Yes- changing gun regulation, policy and law is certainly a step towards ensuring our safety, however, it does not get at the root of the issue. It does not consider how these children end up choosing violence or what society has done or not done to fail them. This is where educational policy, programming, school culture and support come into play. This is where love can make the biggest impact.
How do we support children on their educational journey so they don’t turn to violence?
The answer lies in developing in not only the social, emotional but the spiritual domain. The healthier they are in these affective areas that more protection they have. In The Spiritual Child, psychologist Lisa Miller illustrates a clear link between spirituality and mental health. Her research shows that children who have a positive, active relationship to spirituality are 40% less likely to use and abuse substances, 60% less likely to be depressed as teenagers and are 80% less likely to have dangerous or unprotected sex. Ultimately children are more protected against risky behavior when their education, growth and development is rooted in their own spirituality. The research speaks for itself. This is what we offer kids. This is how we support them. This is how we protect them. This is how we love them.