First Grade Studies Beautiful Trees
We stepped into first grade recently, into a veritable classroom forest. There were displays of books about trees, nature artifacts that reminded us of our natural roots, and artwork that featured patched trees and their individual parts. First grade is studying beautiful trees in all their splendor.
The first grade “wolves,” as they call themselves, were contentedly reading to each other. They quietly tried out new words and soaked up fun ideas from illustrated books.
The Story of Trees
Their teacher, Rachel, guided them into a circle where they recited a poem about trees. They swayed like leaves, or dropped to the floor like apples. They sang and recited verses from the song, “I’m a Tall, Tall Tree.” At the conclusion, students huddled together to hear a story.
Ms. Rachel read about many different trees that grow. She asked her students about all the different varieties they might have already known: “Apple tree!” one said. “Maple! Peach! Magnolia!” chimed others. First graders are about the same age as it takes for an apple tree to mature: 6-10 years, depending on the species.
The Four Elements to Make a Tree Grow
They arrived to a part in the book that detailed the four elements of what trees need to grow big and strong.
These first graders already knew:
Air. Water. Soil. Sunlight.
A Little Space
But there was just one more thing that trees needed to grow. What was it?
Rachel called up one student. Then another and another until there were four, standing so close together they could hardly breathe….
All these students were “trees that hadn’t fully grown” and they quickly figured out what that last thing was. Trees need space.
These four students spread out and demonstrated how having a little space made it much easier to spread and grow.
So many life lessons in that statement: having a little space makes it much easier to spread and grow.
The Natural and Physical Domains
There was more. Each student became an “element.” Rachel handed out cards of either air, soil, water, or the sun. Students wore them as badges of honor as they imagined they were air, water, soil, or sunlight. They lined up to head toward the outdoor classroom to incorporate two different modalities of learning: the natural and physical domains.
Rachel’s instructions were to run around the outdoor classroom, but when they heard, “1-2-3-GROW!” each person had to find the other elements that would make a tree. When all four students – elements – were joined, they’d make a circle, giving themselves some space. As they successfully “grew into a tree,” they’d exclaim, “I’m a tree! I’m a tree! I’m a tree!”
After several rounds of finding the different elements, students returned to their classroom. This space is a peaceful oasis that peers out to the Gnome Village below, giving the impression that they are, in fact, in a tree house. We knew they were secure in the knowledge that they wouldn’t soon forget what makes a tree grow from a seedling into a sprawling giant.
Rainbow Has Solar Power
Have you seen what’s over on the roof of the auditorium? Getting solar power was one of those far-off dreams until…it became reality!
In 2017, an anonymous donor awarded Rainbow the funds to get solar panels installed. These are located on the east side of the auditorium. This donation will help to reduce the school’s reliance on fossil fuels.
In fact, the installation of these solar panels will provide a benefit of 60+ years. The bulk of Rainbow’s utility bills go toward the auditorium. It’s a big space. Heating and cooling can get expensive.
There’s also the environment to consider. Rainbow will reduce its carbon footprint by huge margins. The solar panels help to reduce the school’s utility expenses while helping the planet. In about 30 years, the panel efficiency will go down some, but will still yield significant energy savings.
Over the course of the process, one of our Rainbow parents had been in touch with representatives from Duke and other organizations to get the interconnections turned on. “Interconnection” means how a “distributed generation system, such as solar photovoltaics (PVs), can connect to the grid.” (Source)
A local solar installation company, Sugar Hollow, installed the solar panels late in 2017. The school had to wait until 2018 to turn on the interconnection. This was due to a rebate from Duke Energy, which also helped with significant savings for the school.
When Sugar Hollow installed the solar panels, they felt really connected to the school and what it stands for. Sugar Hollow is a living wage certified company and their philosophy parallels Rainbow’s mission:
At Sugar Hollow Solar, we care deeply about moving our society towards a more sustainable future – not just in the environmental sense but in how it relates to overall quality of life, now.
The panels they used for installation were manufactured in the US, as well. As a company, they work hard to source everything here in the US.
The Sugar Hollow team installing solar panels on top of the auditorium.
Because this was the first year that Rainbow started the interconnection process, it took awhile to get the power systems connected, approved and ready to go. When it came time to “flip the switch,” the whole school community was so thrilled and the anticipation was palpable. Rainbow elected to have a school-wide celebration to commemorate the event.
Students gathered at the auditorium to view the solar panels and have a “solar song circle” – it was RCS’ first song circle of the year.
Sugar Hollow also joined us for that celebration. Now, students will be able to tell exactly what the solar panels are doing moment by moment that demonstrate power output and usage. Check out the Solar Power Resources section on our website. It has the link to the energy performance of the solar panels.
Since the founding of Sugar Hollow, they have surpassed 1.5 gigawatts hours of energy generation – from the sun! That’s like planting 28,931 trees!! We have so much gratitude for these folks and the work they do!
As we gear up for the school year, we thought it would be fun to highlight one of the first faces you’ll see on campus: Kate Chassner! She is Rainbow’s Office Manager.
She seemingly knows the answers to everything. Need keys? She’s got ’em. Need to know the schedule? She can tell you. Need to find someone on campus? Kate will know. Need to locate a form? Kate’s got you covered.
We gave her a set of questions to answer, interview style. It’s so fun to read the answers of these team highlights.
You’re originally from Florida, right? How did you end up at Rainbow?
After I graduated from Florida State University, I moved to New Orleans with my sister. On a trip back home to Florida one Thanksgiving I ran into a friend from college and we started dating soon after. He lived in Asheville. I then decided that I should move here, too. We have been together for 10 years and have two kids. I’m glad I moved.
How long have you been in Asheville? At Rainbow?
I have been in Asheville since January 2010, and I have been at Rainbow since August 2011.
Why did you decide to do the work you’re doing now?
I was teaching preschool when I first started at Rainbow (and I taught preschool for years before coming to RCS). After I had my first child, coming back as a full-time preschool teacher was very challenging. I knew I did not want to leave Rainbow but I needed a change. At that time, the current Office Manager was transitioning out and I was able to begin helping part-time in the office. I was thrilled to train for the position.
What is the favorite part of your job?
I love getting to know everyone in the school and make connections with teachers, staff, parents and students.
What do you like to do when you’re not at Rainbow?
I love my family time! Going on hikes, bike rides, swimming, making forts, dance parties, cooking, painting and really anything with my family is what I look forward to most.
I am making more time for art lately, too. In addition, I have been taking marimba with Sue Ford.
I also try to run a few times a week and get into a good book.
You’re taking an art class on campus. What sorts of art do you like to create?
I am currently taking a drawing class, and I every time I take an art class I find out a new style or medium I love. Currently I create a lot of mixed media pieces (collage with my drawings layered in). Most of my art has a message about something I am passionate about. (You can see my art on my Instagram page @k8couture.)
What’s the best way to start the day?
My 2 year old wakes me up most mornings, earlier than I would like. But ideally I would like to wake up (after the sun has come up) and sit on the porch with a cup of coffee or go for an early run. Still, I know I will miss my sweet early mornings with my kiddos as they get older.
What irrational fear do you have?
As a parent I have all sorts of irrational fears for my kids. To that end, I have to find a balance between letting them be adventurous and keeping them safe.
What book(s) are you reading?
Right now I am reading, The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro and Conversations Worth Having by Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres.
I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche earlier in the year. I loved it and really enjoy anything by her.
What’s the farthest you’ve traveled from home?
I lived in Tokyo, Japan for 2 years when I was young (6 years old).
My family lived in Geneva, Switzerland when I was in college, so I visited there often. I also studied Art History in Paris, France. All were super interesting and wonderful. Traveling is such an amazing experience and I can’t wait to travel more as my kids get older.
What is something that everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Travel to another country.
What is an item on your bucket list?
A long overdue honeymoon with my husband
If you could talk to any person, living or deceased, for half an hour, who would it be?
Martin Luther King, Jr.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Take risks. Stay true to yourself. Tell the people you love how wonderful they are… as often as possible.
You have been granted one wish that WILL come true. What do you wish for?
I would wish for a greater understanding throughout the human race to treat people with respect and to celebrate our differences.
Freedom and Creativity
Summer is a time when folks often invite freedom and creativity back into their busy lives. Maybe they pick up a project that has taken a back seat, take a workshop, or reconnect with a lost skill, art or craft. Maybe they learn, read, or try something new. Summer is a great time to nurture the young inventor in each child.
The long days of the season allow more time to drop into open-ended, free and constructivist play. Making time for STEM concepts, for inventing and engineering can tap into imaginations, foster creativity and enhance problem-solving capacities. You can try offering this space to them by spending some time exploring, asking questions, creating and building. Allow for simple invention and engineering projects by providing tools and materials such as items found in a junk drawer, recyclables, or simple office supplies.
Once you have ignited their passion for inventing, try stretching their thinking with various books.
What do you do with an Idea? By Kobi Yamada
This is a great book a child’s brilliant idea to bring it to the world. After reading, you can begin by asking what an animal needs to survive. Then you might ask what more the animals need to grow and thrive. Continue the discussion by likening animal growth to “idea growth.” State that our ideas can grow, thrive, survive, and evolve by nurturing them. Follow up with a discussion about the author’s message: stick with your idea, follow it through, persevere and your idea could change the world.
Not a Box
Next time you read with your child, you can try reading Not a Box by Antoinette Portis. This is a fabulous book about a rabbit with a very BIG imagination. After completing the book, you can discuss with your child how imagination and creativity are magical elements of who they are. Talking about different perspectives allows children to see that showing and sharing are part of what makes them unique and special.
Next, lay out a box of recyclables or knickknacks and let your child choose one or more items to repurpose. Ask your child to reimagine how this ordinary object can become extraordinary. Encourage them to use their artistic skills to reimagine it by creating something new. You may also want to extend their learning by inviting them to use the materials and resources to create a 3-D representation of their new invention. Once they have finished, it’s always quite powerful to spend time reflecting about it together.
Implications of Your Work
Children appreciate “thinking outside of the box.” They thrive off of creation and love to deep dive into their own imaginations. They approach STEM activities, such as this one, in the most authentic way when they know that their learning environment is supportive and safe. Children are most creative when the learning environment highlights many perspectives, emphasizes process over product, and failure as opportunity.
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.