Summer is a breeding ground for travel, adventure, and memory making. Its long days, breaks from school and work, flexible schedules also yield down time, rest, and a chance to turn inward and reflect. Having said this, I share with you an inspiring centering activity that you may wish to add to your summer contemplations.
6th grade coins this centering “Return with the Elixir” and it is often used at the close of a thematic unit, calendar year or school year. It invites students to reflect upon and share their knowledge, strengths and gifts with each other and the larger community. The centering also has an intended purpose to inspire empathy, encourage connectedness and recognize the archetypical human experiences across time and cultures.
It begins by asking the students to examine the hero’s journey map paying special attention to the end of the map, where the hero returns home with the elixir. It continues by explaining that in mythology, this is often literally a magic potion or object. Symbolically, it represents a special knowledge or wisdom to share. Review examples from well-known stories such as Wizard of Oz or Star Wars as well as real-life examples such as Buddha or Jesus Christ.
Students are then led in a guided meditation. Asking questions such as…
After the meditation, explain that each student will receive a glass vial in which they will put their elixir. This can be a written word, phrase, or image placed on a piece of paper and sealed in the bottle. They may use colored sand, glitter, small pebbles or shells in the bottle to “activate” the magic of their special elixir. Explain that students will work in silence to create space for reflection, but that they will have a chance to share their elixir with their classmates once everyone has completed the task. Hand each student a bottle or vial. As students receive their bottles, they may find a table set up with art supplies and begin working on their elixir bottles. Allow 15-20 minutes for individual work. One by one, have students place their elixir on a windowsill or other central location to symbolize sharing their elixir with the classroom community. Invite students to share a word, phrase or short anecdote that represents their elixir.
Think about your own quests over the summer. You may be on some sort of Hero’s Journey that was met with challenge, obstacle, success, or joy.
How will you overcome them or savor them?
What lessons, skills or knowledge have you gained along the way?
What elixir will you bring into the world?
A culture that is permeated by a materialist philosophy sees the Earth as a commodity- a resource to bought, sold, quantified and controlled. In this view- humans are separate from nature instead of interdependent. Many of the educational methods at Rainbow aim to shift this paradigm by paying homage to the sacred bond between nature and humanity and connecting children to nature on heart and soul level.
Our model and methods have been inspired by educators such as David Sobel. Sobel an educational theorist and author, is most known for his theories on placed based education- in which the local community, culture, landscape, and environment not only become the classroom but also the teachers.
In Sobel’s educational philosophies the natural world plays a central as a teacher. In one of his most famous works, Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education, he explores the learning needs and characteristics of three primary child development stages and likewise, proposes three nature engagement methods. In early childhood, the focus should be on nurturing an empathetic connection towards nature. In middle childhood, nature exploration is emphasized and in early adolescence, stewardship and environmental action takes precedence.
He suggests that this progression not only supports a child’s “biological tendency” to bond with the Earth but fosters “environmentally aware, empowered students” He goes on to state, “if we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the Earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.”
Sobel’s work aims to connect children on that heart and SOUL level.
At RCS, Nature is not only a classroom for every student but also plays a central role as a teacher. The Natural World is highlighted in RCS’s mission, vision, guiding principles, and our Rainbow Seven Domains educational method. However, school’s out for summer…BUT we invite you to consider nature as a classroom and a teacher.
Summertime for many children means being outside. Summertime often yields many opportunities to deepen our nature connection- longer days, warmer temperatures, trips to new places, nature hikes, water play, gardening, summer camp, the list goes on. In what ways have you and your family engaged with nature? In what ways has it become a classroom or been your teacher? What have you learned in it and from it?
Now consider your own childhood, how did summertime offer opportunities for a nature connection? Through play, adventure, inquiry and expression? What about deep observation, a cultivation of awe and wonder, what about meaningful relationship and veneration? Most importantly, can you remember a spiritual moment that occurred while in the natural world? These moments in nature can have profound and lasting effects on a child. This connection if nurtured, has the capacity to become intimate, empathetic and sacred. Children can begin to see the natural world as a divine teacher. Therefore it becomes our role as parents, friends, family members, and mentors to hold space- to nurture- to foster that intimate, empathetic and sacred bond.
As you and your family make summer plans for time in nature, consider how you may invite “Nature as divine teacher” along. Embark on your adventures, but pack these considerations with you:
- How can you approach nature with a robust wonder and awe?
- How can you bring a heightened mindful presence to your activities?
- How can you make time for deep contemplation and reflection?
- How can you show gratitude?
This Tuesday’s #teamhighlight features, Sheila Mraz, Rainbow Community School’s passionate, loving, and incredibly enthusiastic Admissions Director. Long before she arrived at Rainbow, Sheila was a committed student to the art of education. After growing up in Ohio and graduating from the University of Dayton, she took the bold step of moving to North Carolina on her own. She taught everywhere, from an inner city school in Charlotte, to a Hendersonville public school, to a local prep school. Her experiences, while fulfilling, left her questioning what her true purpose was exactly. Within each of the three very different environments in which she taught, she found restriction after restriction. She felt limited as a teacher and asked herself what effect she was truly having on her students. Not only that, she began seeking something more for children everywhere.
It was at this time that she brought two of her own children into the world and the issue became more pressing than ever. Sheila says, “I loved this child like nothing else. I saw perfection in him and wanted, needed a school that was different”. She homeschooled for a few years before stumbling upon Rainbow Community School. She had heard about it previously, but had been turned off by rumors from the past. When she visited the school herself, however, what she found astounded her. While she had experience with multi-disciplinary learning and broad thematic units, the depths of “holistic education” were totally unknown to her and yet resonated on profoundly personal and spiritual levels.
Having attended catholic school for all of her education, Sheila was used to having spirituality be part of her school culture. While she didn’t want catholic school for her kids, she did want them to have a safe space in which to explore and openly talk about their spiritualities. She was relieved to see that here was this school that neither shied away from integrating the spiritual into the pedagogical, nor held onto religiously dogmatic beliefs in the classroom. She both enrolled her sons and applied to work at Rainbow immediately. While she had always taught Middle School math and sciences, she was offered the special challenge of being the new 3rd grade teacher. Her sons started preschool and kindergarten and so began the epic saga of the Mraz family at Rainbow. Three years later Max Mrax, Sheila’s husband, joined the facilities department and soon thereafter Sheila transitioned from being a full time Rainbow teacher, to being a full time Rainbow cheerleader and Admissions Director.
It’s clear to anyone who has ever interacted with Sheila why she makes such a great Admissions Director. Not only is she insanely passionate about Rainbow and holistic education as both a teacher and a parent, not only can she bring her experiences as a teacher at other schools into the conversation, not only is she charismatic, emotionally intelligent, and socially adept, but she also has a sparkling authenticity that flows through her every interaction. When asked if she ever gets tired of giving the same tour to prospective families she responds, “Not at all. Every tour is going to be completely different. The first thing I ask is, ‘What question do you want to make sure is answered by the time you leave today?’ and always that first question that’s on the top of their heart helps me navigate the conversation because I know that that’s what’s most important to them.” In many ways Sheila sees her role as reaching far beyond Rainbow. She is both a gatekeeper to our community as well as a beacon of light to so many families who are looking for something different, something profound. When she welcomes prospective families into her magnificent sunlit, plant-filled office she takes the time, energy, and heart-space to create a safe environment. She explains it this way, “I know that when they’re talking about their most precious person in their world, their child, many emotions come up and I want to be able to let them know this is a comfortable place. It’s ok to be vulnerable, to open up. I want them to know that not only will you be accepted and loved but your child will be too”.
Sheila acknowledges that not everyone can attend Rainbow and when asked what the hardest part of her job was she immediately replied, “Telling families no. That we don’t have space. Time and time again. That to me, rips my heart out.” Just because a family doesn’t end up attending Rainbow doesn’t mean their relationship with Rainbow is over or that their time and emotional investment in the school was a waste. In fact Sheila thinks that it’s more important than ever before that families, no matter if they end up attending Rainbow or not, come to witness what is truly possible. She says, “I want them to know that this is what education can look like… and should look like. I want them to have this type of model to envision for their child. If they can come here, awesome, but in reality so few can, and I want them all to see education from a different angle. I see that as one one my most important roles.”
At heart Sheila is a changemaker, a feeler, and a doer. She is highly tuned into the emotional and social domains and is constantly considering her place within her community and how best to support all those around her. Plus, she is an absolute dynamo of a self-starter. A true live wire. Something you might not know about Sheila is that when her kids were little and she had stopped teaching for five years, she and her husband Max, started not one but two businesses: a white water rafting business and an event planning business. Now that she’s been in the groove of admissions for six years, she’s finally started the photography business she’s fantasized about for years. You can look her up at http://sheilamraz.com/photography/. This woman just does not stop.
And this featurette on Sheila would be utterly incomplete without an explicit shout out to Rainbow Community School Admissions, so… if you’d like to find out more about the school (especially Omega Middle School 😉 check out our website to request a private tour with Sheila! She’ll be so happy to welcome you into her loving office, ready to hear what’s at the very top of your heart.
Happy end of year, everyone! You did it!
If you are a parent, you did it all. Through sickness, crankiness, bad weather, and whatever particular trials your family endured, you got your precious ones to school…and most of you got them here on time, with lunch in hand. You made huge financial sacrifices to pay tuition. And on top of all that, you donated and volunteered in order to sustain Rainbow as a healthy community.
If you are a grandparent reading this, you are probably highly involved. According to our information, you have probably paid some tuition, and have most likely donated to keep this school thriving. You understand the value of an extended family – not just the value of providing your grandchild with an intergenerational family, but also the value of surrounding your grandchild with a vibrant community.
If you are a faculty member, a teacher, you are completing another rotation in the grand theme of life – transformation. In your own way you have birthed, nurtured, and raised a new crop of loved ones, only to watch them move away from you. Once again, you remember that when you truly love someone, you set them free.
If you are a student, you are probably not reading this. But whether you are 4 or 14, you will have had the opportunity to reflect upon your growth this year. Who were you nine months ago? Who are you today? So much about you has changed, yet you – the thing about you that makes you indescribably unique, your soul – remains eternal.
And so it is, that each of us with our own perspectives and our own inner lives came together for a year and became as one – one community growing, morphing – each of us unique pieces of something greater than ourselves, something that would have been different were any one of us not a part of it.
Coming and Going
This is also the time of year that we bid adieu to students who are graduating or not returning next year as well as to faculty members who are moving on. Our wish is to send each of you onward full of beautiful memories and feeling prepared for your next adventure. Faculty members who are moving on are Ange Moore who is moving to California, but will be back to help with our More Than Mindfulness Conference on October 6 and 7; Bryan Gillette (preschool), Micah Gardner (preschool), Dave Leflar (5th grade), Gloria Ray-Sheberle (5th grade), Danny Peters (3rd grade), and Itiyopiya Ewart (1st grade) who is having a baby!
Most of you have probably heard that Doreen Dvorscak, one of our revered kindergarten teachers, is retiring from Rainbow this year. Doreen has been here for 12 years. She has taught every current Rainbow student who has been here since kindergarten. For twelve years she has brought the magic of childhood to young Rainbow children with her theatrical passion, clever wit, compassionate spirit, and clear insight. A butterfly garden is being planted in her honor near Max’s Gazebo so that Doreen’s magic can stay with us long after her time here has come to a close. As Doreen always says, “Once a Mariposa, always a Mariposa”! Doreen leaves behind a powerful legacy, one we will cherish and hold dear as we move forward into a new era for the Kindergarten Mariposas.
Looking beyond the 16-17 School year
There is nothing more important than having the right people working with your children.
Someone once asked me what I look for when hiring faculty, and I replied, “I look for inspired educators who are both highly developed in all seven domains as well as master teachers.” Sandra and I truly invest so much of our emotional energy into the hiring process, which can be very intense. So we are very happy to announce that we have completed the hiring process for the 17-18 school year! We hired six new assistant teachers, almost all of whom have lead teaching experience. Because they share and embrace our holistic educational philosophy, they are each extremely excited to be working at Rainbow. Besides our fresh crew of new assistant teachers, we have also hired a new lead after school teacher in preschool – Lauren Levine.
We had one lead elementary teacher to hire this year, and we were flabbergasted when someone who we consider to be a famous teacher applied to teach at Rainbow. Rainbow Community School is incredibly fortunate to welcome Paula Denton as our fifth grade lead teacher. Paula taught grades 3rd – 6th for eleven years in Massachusetts at The Greenfield Center School. As a “demonstration school” that trains teachers in best practices, the Greenfield Center School only hires and retains the finest teachers. Paula holds a PhD in education from Amherst and was on the faculty at Antioch for six years. Paula has trained thousands of educators across the country. She is author of two award-winning books on education, “The First Six Weeks of School” and “The Power of Our Words.” You will find “The First Six Week of School” on many Rainbow teachers’ bookshelves with covers falling off and dozens of dog-eared pages, as it is considered by many holistic educators to be the most important book about teaching ever written. Paula created “The Responsive Classroom” teacher training programs, which have been required for all Rainbow teachers in the past. She is a foremost expert in positive discipline and holistic, integrated teaching. Paula is a “superstar” educator, but most importantly, she is compassionate, loves children, and is very passionate about being a classroom teacher. We are extremely honored that Paula has decided to work at Rainbow Community School.
What goes on during the summer?
By this time of year, the administration has one foot in completing this year, and one foot in the 2017-18 school year. This summer the administration and the board will be doing our own versions of soul-searching. The board immerses itself into a multi-day retreat. They look back on our progress and take a deep dive into divining Rainbow’s future. They recraft the strategic plan and prepare the vision.
Meanwhile the administration pours over data – financial, academic, and performance data. We reflect on the end of year survey that you, our dedicated parents, provide to help us understand what your experience was like as a family, what we need to do differently, and what we need to treasure. (If you haven’t filled out that survey quite yet, go ahead and complete it HERE.) We re-design systems in an ongoing effort to continuously improve. Operations go into full gear, getting everything prepared for the school year – materials ordered, new staff readied, technology repaired and upgraded, and so much more. With the end of the fiscal year on June 30th, the business office calculates our financial standing and prepares for our financial review and annual report, while Max and Shaun give the facilities a makeover. Teachers spend three days together working on curriculum in June, and then they are in and out all summer long, preparing their classrooms, preparing for the children, getting lesson plans ready, and doing professional development. Our biggest push begins around August 1st, as we prepare for the teachers to return on August 14th. Then the whole staff and faculty meets and trains for about 10 days, preparing for your children. Thank goodness preschool is in session all summer long, because those precious preschoolers bring such joy to those of us on administration. We can get lonely on an empty summer campus. After all, we work here because we love children!
The Poignancy of Endings
At the close of the year, when reviewing all we have gained, all the ways we have changed that we could never have predicted, it becomes startlingly clear that the only thing left to say is… thank you. Thank you for raising children we can’t help but love from the moment they enter the classroom to the moment they step up to the microphone to deliver their 8th grade speech at graduation. Thank you for creating these creatures that inspire us with purpose and passion every day. I can speak for each of us who work here at Rainbow when I say that your children are the ones we owe our transformation to this year, and next year, and the year after that. They move us beyond what we could have ever imagined. So now that we’ve arrived at yet another ending, let’s take the time to celebrate, to express our gratitude, to foster our connections, and to bask in each poignant moment as it comes and as it goes.
A rite of passage is an important, sacred ceremony that highlights a transitional period in a person’s life- often marking the departure from one group in order to enter another. Graduation is one of those rites of passage and is also known as commencement, convocation or invocation.
At Rainbow, it takes on all of these forms but at its core is an invocation- this sacred ceremony serves as an invitation of the spirit, a reverence for deep connection, reflection and transformation. Our RCS graduation is one of many shared celebrations, ceremonies and rites of passage that empower students to turn both inward and outward in order to realize that they are part of an integral community as well as something greater than themselves.
As the ceremony opened, we were welcomed by the Executive Director, Renee Owen. She took a moment to acknowledge some of the RCS commencement traditions that make the ceremony sacred. She first explained that every graduating child speaks at commencement- that each child has an opportunity to share with the community a memory that they want to hold in their hearts as they move through this important transition. Their voices are heard, their memories are honored and their growth and transformation are celebrated by the entire community.
Renee went on to explain another important ritual of this rite of passage- centering. As all things at Rainbow begin with centering- from school days, to meetings, to shared celebrations- so does graduation. Renee noted that the purpose of centering is to help each of us bring a mindful awareness to the present moment. She acknowledged the profound importance of the evening’s events and reminded us that…”there will never be another moment like it ever again.”
Graduation centerings are led by the graduates. Last week at preschool graduation, four eager preschoolers lead the whole community in acts of mindful listening, deep breathing, and a blessing of compassion. Last night, seven confident 8th graders lead centering. It began with the song of the singing bowl to gather everyone’s attention. Jackson, one of our graduates who has been here since first grade, stepped up to the microphone and invited each member of the community to turn to their neighbors to greet one another. Gaby, another graduate, then followed with an invitation to close eyes and reflect on the greeting. The reflection was prompted by these questions-
“Did they look happy?”
“What color were their eyes?”
“How long was their hair?”
“What was their name?”
Lena, then approached the microphone and followed with this quote…”Life is a dance, mindfulness is witnessing that dance.” Jackson furthered explained that, “No one in life will guide you to notice the space you are in, so it is up to you to be mindful of your space and body. Now… reintroduce yourself in a centered space, pay close attention to the entire picture, and ask mindful questions.” Another student reflected, “How did that greeting make you feel this time? What more did you noticed?” Finally Harmony, another student closed the centering by leading the group in a deep, communal breath.
RCS closes this rite of passage each year with a song that has held space in this community- as a gift of appreciation- for decades. Last night, this song was meant as an enduring reminder for all the graduates that they are held, supported and deeply loved by their RCS community. Below are the simple but profound lyrics.
Dear Ones we love you, Dear Ones you helped us to grow,
There’s a circle of light around you, there’s a circle of light in your heart.
There’s a circle of love around you, there’s a circle of love in your heart.
Education is a sacred calling.
Bridging sacred and school is spiritual work.
A strong spiritual identity among teacher and student is the catalyst for this meaningful work.
At Rainbow, we feel that a spiritually nourished child is a child ready to learn. We know, just as students come to school with social and emotional learning needs they also show up with spirits- that are waiting to be nourished. When we intentionally invite the soul into the classroom, then we truly educate for “wholeness” by nurturing the mind, the body and the SPIRIT.
Our daily centering practices serve as one way in which we invite the “soul” in to the classroom. These spirit-honoring centerings begin in preschool and at this stage, these little learners are immersed in a world that is still very magical, mysterious and awe-inspiring. The magic is fed through community centered rituals, mindfulness practices, storytelling, art, drama, music, yoga, dance, and multicultural celebrations.The daily centering practices also provide ample opportunities to nurture empowered learners, foster independence and leadership, and celebrate community.
Recently I joined Lucy and the preschool Dragonflies for centering. On this particular morning Thomas, one of the preschoolers, served as the leader for the centering rituals. He began by asking his class to put on their mindful bodies and their mindful listening ears. He then told them that he would ring the singing bowl and wanted every person to actively and mindfully listen until they could no longer hear the song of the bell and then to raise their hand when its song was gone. He then used a breathing ball and guided his classmates in three deep inhales and exhales. As the ball expanded he said aloud “inhale” and as it contracted he said “exhale.”
Lucy, then invited the preschoolers to join her in a self-affirming morning verse that was paired with sign language. The kids spoke the words with confidence and enthusiasm… “May I be healthy, may I be strong, may I be happy, may I be peaceful.” These affirmations served as inspiration for the rest of centering.
She explained that each person would have the opportunity to choose a kind wish they have for themselves. She showed and read the kind wish cards aloud and asked to kids to be thinking about which one they wanted for themselves today. When the kids were ready to share, they signaled to Lucy by placing their thumbs on their knees. She invited each them to approach the altar which was filled with the kind wish cards, candles and the wishing water. The kids were asked to speak their kind wish and illuminate their “love light” or personal candles.
Much like plants need our care to thrive, our intentions and affirmations need that attention too. To that end, at the close of centering the Lucy explained that she would take the wishing water (filled with their wishes) and send the kind wishes in to the world by watering the plants.
If we feed our body, it can grow. If we feed our mind, it can be stimulated. If we nurture our spirit, it can flourish. What will your spirit honoring practice be today?
Your daily intention or well wish has the capacity to ripple through every aspect of your daily life. What intention or well wish do you have for yourself today?