Rites of passage are important, sacred ceremonies that highlight a transitional period in a person’s life.
In many cultures, tribes and soceities around the world, children engage in various rites of passage. Often these are times when a child is recognized for passing though the threshold toward adulthood. Graduation at Rainbow Community School serves as an integral rite of passage for our graduating Omega Middle Schoolers.
Preparation for this rite officially begins as they join the Omega program. Subtle and more obvious practices support each Omegan’s readiness. For example, each day that middle schoolers pass through a physical threshold. As enter the building, they pass under a wooden panel inscribed with “Know Thyself.” Additionally, their arrival is also marked with a sacred time called Centering; this time is used for grounding, centering, pondering life’s big questions. Lessons, activities and learning experiences throughout the day not only foster a culture of connectedness but support the work of nurturing the child to individuate- to
These opportunities, although grounded in the safety of community, encourage personal identity development, person spirituality and ultimately- wholeness. According to decades of research by Dr. Lisa Miller, head of clinical psychology at Columbia’s Teachers College, teens who have the benefit of developing a personal spirituality are 80% less likely to suffer from ongoing and recurring depression and 60% less likely to become substance abusers. To that end, it is reasonable to suggest that spirituality is indeed the cornerstone for mental health and human well-being. Intentional rites of passage are but one way to nourish that health.
To KNOW THYSELF is to answer these questions:
Who am I?
Who are you?
Why am I here?
What is my purpose?
Graduating Omegans write commencement speeches that reflect on their time at Rainbow and acknowledge their gratitude, growth, challenges, hopes and dreams. Each student, as part of the rite, share these speeches publicly. This public sharing is an amazingly brave yet vulnerable challenge.
But more importantly, the words of wisdom spoken by these young adults are nothing less than profound.
They are informed by years of social, emotional and spiritual engagement and learning. They are guided by opportunities to explore life’s big mysteries and ponder personal purpose. They are rooted in a a collective AND personal identity.
If you are curious what happens when soul is invited into the classroom, please click here to listen to Noah Mraz’s graduation speech.
Please also consider:
- What are the implications of integrating rites of passage, existential questioning and the spiritual domain into your own work with children?
- What are you already doing that serves the spiritual development of your students? What more can you do?
For this team highlight feature, we wanted to share about our “Custodial Ninja” as he calls himself: Peter, or Wind Motika.
We asked him some interview questions and the responses are pretty awesome. Next time you see Wind, be sure to give him some gratitude for all the hard work he does in keeping our campus running smoothly.
Where are you originally from? How did you end up at Rainbow? How long have you been at Rainbow?
I’m from a small rural township in northeast Ohio called Newbury. It’s about 40 miles outside of Cleveland. I went to school from Kindergarten thru grade 12 in the same building. I graduated in 1977. I believe I’ve been in the Rainbow community since 1997.
My son Allijah went to Rainbow for Kindergarten thru 5th grade, and then came back in 8th grade and graduated from Rainbow. Allijah had to leave Rainbow in 5th grade because we got behind on tuition. The school had an opening for a custodian and the Director at the time, Jane Stanhope, offered me the job. Half of my salary went to pay off the tuition. After it was paid off I decided to keep the job. So I’ve been the custodian since 2002 – 16 years!
What’s the hardest part of your job? The easiest? What title do you give yourself?
The hardest part of the job is cleaning toilets. Not that it’s hard, but I clean an average of 100 toilets per week while school is in session. Ultimately that’s a few thousand a year for 16 years.
I am also starting to have a problem with my shoulder from repetitive motion from all the vacuuming I have to do now, so that’s probably the true hardest part of the job.
The easiest part is working in a quality community of people. Eddy once called me “The Custodial Ninja” a few years ago. I like that title a lot!
What was the funniest thing you saw a teacher do?
Not sure if this is funny, but we had a past Omega teacher named William Harwood, who used the campus for his personal gym! He had weights in a spare room, (the current 3rd grade room). He would run also around the campus and use the play ground equipment for his workouts.
Who was your favorite teacher?
Hmm, favorite teacher…I’d hate to hurt feelings! I have many for different reasons. Some of the teachers have become my friends over the years. So I choose not to answer this question.
I will say the teacher I respected the most, and those who know her would agree, would be Mary Virginia.
Are you reading any books? (Or, what is your favorite book?)
I read books in waves. Sometimes I might go a year without reading much and then I’ll read 3 books at a time for a year. Overall, I read a lot. My favorite authors are Paulo Coelho, Barbara Kingsolver and Richard Bach who wrote probably my favorite book called Illusions. I identify with the main character.
The last books I read were the Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
What is something that you’re interested in that most people don’t know?
I kinda keep to myself, so there’s probably a lot folks don’t know about me. Most likely that I am a screenwriter and I follow NBA basketball. Go Cavs!
What are some of your hobbies and interests?
I am an avid disc golfer and I love it although I found the sport later in my life. I am a member of several clubs, one of which is WNCDGA, a 501(c3) non-profit. For the past 4 years, I have been a member and served as vice-chairman for a year. We just donated two baskets to rainbow!
I was on Asheville’s Parks and Rec Advisory Board and served as Vice-Chairman for 2 years. “Interspecies Internet” was another organization in which I served on the advisory board. I worked with people like Peter Gabriel, Vint Cerf, Sue Savage Rumbaugh and other interesting folks who focused on creating ways for humans to communicate with animals.
I also spent a number of years volunteering at the Language Research Center at Georgia State University working with Bonobo apes! I mostly played music for and with them.
I love to cook! It’s important to me to make myself a healthy and organic breakfast and dinner everyday! I like to garden as well.
We hear that you published some music. Tell us more about it.
I have been a musician since 8th grade. Even though I was from a tiny school I was a two-time all state vocalist, and I sang with the Cleveland Orchestra. We toured Europe with “America’s Youth In Concert” in 1976.
When I was young, I was part of a band that played at all the Cleveland and Akron venues. Many bands like Devo, Chrissy Hind/Pretenders, Joe Walsh/James Gang, U2 and many others had played there. I have been the front man for a couple of rock bands that played my original music.
I’ve had 2 popular bands in Asheville, as well. We put on multi-media music and dance shows. The recordings that came from some of my solo work, as well as from my Asheville bands, allowed me to make a CD. I released that in conjunction with an article written about me in the July 2003 issue of The New Yorker. I played music with Peter Gabriel and the famous Bonobo Apes from Georgia State University. We made it onto Spotify. It’s called “Connected.”
I’ve also done a lot of busking in Asheville. Native American flute music is another passion of mine, and I have 2 CDs that you can download in a number of places. I have also made about 1500 bamboo flutes and even made the flute that Renee plays at school.
There’s a rumor that you’re writing a screen play? Is that true? Tell us about it.
I just got my IMDb page for a movie I co-wrote called Mercy Kill. We hope to film it in the fall for a 2019 release. I have been co-writing for about 15 years and have written 5 screenplays in the last 3 years. I have 5 other screenplays I’ve written, as well.
What was your favorite subject in school?
My favorite subject in school was music. I liked history, too. English became another favorite once I got that life-changing English teacher in 10th grade.
What’s the best way to start the day?
I start everyday with a shower, a healthy breakfast and a big glass of water.
What is something that everyone should do at least once in their lives?
I think everyone should pursue their dreams and not give up on their Creator-given talents. One particular thing people should try is growing their own food.
What are two items on your bucket list?
The first is to move to southern France and win an Oscar for screenwriting. And, okay, a Sundance award for writing would be cool, too!
Do you have any irrational fears? What are they?
My biggest irrational fear is that I will die alone without being with my soulmate. Ah, melancholy right?
If you could talk to any person, living or deceased, for half an hour, who would it be?
I’ve met and hung out with 2 of my musical idols, Peter Gabriel and Peter Hammill. I’ve also associated with some of the top primate, dolphin and elephant researchers in the world. But if I could have a half hour with John Lennon or Kate Bush, I’d be in heaven!
What advice would you give to yourself as an elementary school student? A middle school student?
My advice to my younger self would be to have a better prosperity conscience, not be shy and take a risk.
I built a geodesic dome home in Madison County from a cardboard model! It’s still standing and a wonderful family is living in it.
I think I was the first Rainbow employee to attend Building Bridges.
Another fun fact is that Renee is the 4th director I’ve worked for at Rainbow.
The integrated RCS curriculum fosters learning in a holistic way.
This approach is void of the restrictions often imposed by teaching discreet subjects. Purposeful integration acknowledges, builds on and reinforces the existing relationships between subject areas and/or topics. The hope is that learning is then more easily transferred into other settings.
Integration is also a “brain compatible strategy” as described by brain researcher, Eric Jenson. Jenson (1996) suggests that, “The brain learns best in real-life, immersion-style, multi-path learning [and] fragmented, piecemeal presenting can forever kill the joy and love of learning.” This immersion style is considered a best practice and is embraced by our teachers. It is, therefore, not uncommon for the theme, topic or unit of study to be woven into the fabric of an entire school day, week, and/or month. For example, the element of water and its states of matter are introduced in kindergarten. First grade elaborates on the water cycle and studies rivers and oceans. During these units, water often becomes a central theme that invites cross curricular learning.
Centering offers cross curricular learning opportunities.
The intended purpose of centering is to awaken the spiritual center of each child, opening pathways to learning. The centering practice activity includes a contemplative experience, but teachers also strive to extend the learning by integrating with the academic curriculum. The Mind Jar centering serves as an excellent example. The Mind Jar begins with a conversation about the various properties of water. Perhaps prompted by photographs of water in various forms or by a book such as, The Water Dance by Thomas Locker. Discussion yields a shared understanding of the ways in which water moves- Water is always moving, flowing, changing, essential to life, found deep in the ocean, under the ground, high in the sky, freezing, melting, etc. The focus being more heavily on the magical and mysterious qualities of the element rather than the scientific descriptions.
The teacher guides students to make connections between their own thoughts and feelings to the movements of water in the natural world
(i.e. a raging river can represent anger, a waterfall- excitement, snowfall- peace) After giving an example or two, the children are then prompted to suggest additional feelings and water movements connections. The teacher explains that The Mind Jar is simply a jar filled with water and glitter. But it is representative a tiny world where we can watch the movements of water and match those movements to our own feelings. The water represents our mind’s natural state and the glitter represents our thoughts, emotions, fears, concerns, and wonderings. When the jar is shaken, our thoughts will whirl around and our mind becomes cloudy and hard to see through. But, as the glitter begins to settle and still, so do our thoughts and feelings. It is in this stillness and calm state that we are able to make good decisions.
The Mind Jar is a simple mason jar containing water, glitter, glitter glue, and food coloring.
Combine warm water with the glitter glue, glitter, and food coloring. Close the Jar tightly. Depending on the amount of glue you use, the glitter will settle more slowly. This tool can be used when a child is feeling stressed, overwhelmed or upset. It can calm and relax them. It can serve as a meditation tool or a self-regulation tool. You can explore many versions of this on the web. If you have an interest in extending the learning from this centering, you may want to try a follow up centering using the picture book, Moody Cow Meditates. Peter the cow is moody after having a rough day. A series of unfortunate circumstances leads Peter’s grandfather to teach him how to settle his mind and let go of his frustration using some mediation tools.
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?