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.
A few years ago, I wrote a piece for the Mountain Express. It was after the Sandy Hook tragedy. I explore that why we as educators cannot resort to arming ourselves, but instead, embrace a hope for the future without arms. The article shows how this is still relevant in 2018.
This is the time of year to find cheer. As I write this, it is dark and rainy outside. I’ve been inside for a long while with the flu, and I’m really looking forward to getting back to our beloved school and seeing bright and shiny faces again. We have had many students and teachers out this flu season, and I hope your family has either avoided it or come back onto the healthy side of life.
Health and Safety
I would like to give a shout out to Jessy Tickle, our administrative assistant in the office who also acts as our health and safety coordinator. It is Jessy who sends out information about what illnesses need to be on our radar and suggestions about what to do. She makes sure that our staff gets all required first aid and CPR training. She keeps first aid kits well-stocked. She also diligently keeps track of the latest research regarding health and safety and makes sure we are following protocol. She is very good at applying ointment, gauze, and planting gentle kisses on those cuts and bruises. She is our protector and nurturer. Thank you, Jessy.
A lot of you have probably heard this simple mantra that Howard Hanger has made famous around Asheville. The most important thing at Rainbow Community School is the learning experience of your child. That’s what we are here for! With all the things that go on at Rainbow, such as the Rainbow Institute, the More than Mindfulness conference, our equity goals, and parent education, there is nothing more important to us than what goes on in the classroom.
That’s one of the reasons we are going to a two-division-head structure next year. Only a handful of years ago, Sandra and I had about half as many students and families that we cared for, and much fewer staff. As we’ve grown, we recognize that it has been more difficult to forge relationships with all 220 students and their families to the degree that we prefer for Rainbow. Next year, each division will be about the size Rainbow used to be — approximately 110 students.
The head of school position will still preside over the whole school, but Susie Fahrer will become the division head for intermediate/middle school grades, and Sandra McCassim will be the division head for the preschool/primary grades. We hope this will make for seamless, open-hearted communication between parents and administration. All of us who work here are life-long learners and the organization itself is a learning organism committed to constant improvement.
A Very Special Guest
Lisa Miller, author of The Spiritual Child, is doing a two-day visit to Rainbow Community School on Tuesday, March 6 and Wednesday, March 7. She is observing our school and 11 other schools around the country that she considers to be excellent examples of schools that nurture the spiritual development of children.
If you haven’t read Lisa’s book, I consider it a must read for Rainbow parents. It’s inspiring and easy to digest. Lisa is the head of clinical psychology at Columbia University Teachers College, and she has conducted and compiled decades of research on spiritual development in children and teens. Her research at Rainbow will work towards developing resources for educators from a wide demographic on nurturing spiritual development in the classroom.
We have some copies here in the office if you’d like to purchase one at a great discount, or you can even borrow one!
The Annual Ski Trip
Yes, it’s been a very cold and snowy winter. That means great snowboarding and skiing! Every year the 4th -8th grade goes skiing at nearby Cataloochee. It’s a big family event with parents, students, siblings, and teachers all hitting the slopes, and nurturers keeping the hot chocolate warm in the chalet. This trip had the best conditions possible in North Carolina, and a lot of kiddos took lessons and had a great time learning how to snowboard or ski for the first time. In the long tradition of Rainbow ski trips – this one definitely goes down in history as the best ski trip EVER!
A couple weeks ago Sheila Mraz, our admissions director, and I sent out information about re-enrolling for the 2018-19 school year. All currently enrolled rising 1st through 8th grade students are guaranteed a spot as long as you return your contract in time. Also, siblings of currently enrolled children are given any spots before anyone from outside the school. There are times that we have had multiple siblings apply for one spot, but that is rare. We always have some spots open up, and typically, every class enrolls a couple new students each year.
Do you need tuition assistance? This year we had 46 students receiving various levels of assistance. The VET (Voluntary Equitable Tuition) program, the annual campaign, and operating expenses all help pay for this program. For several years we greatly increased the number of tuition assistance awards we gave out and the size of those awards. This helped make Rainbow more economically and racially diverse. We won’t be actively growing the program anymore, so we don’t plan to increase the number and size of awards. However, we will be maintaining the program, so that Rainbow families who need help can get it. If you are one of the people who contributes to VET or the annual campaign, thank you for keeping this important program alive. If you are one of the people who benefit from it, we are so glad that you are here!
The Omega Dance
Everybody dance, now! I have to tell you that if you never chaperone an Omega middle school dance, you are missing out. I chaperoned the Omega dance on February 2, and it was so much fun! If you think of a middle school dance as a bunch of kids awkwardly standing around the edges with a few girls dancing every once in awhile, you have not been to an Omega dance.
Everyone dances, and everyone is included! Acting silly is expected! In Omega you can totally be yourself and act as silly, or as cool, as you want. And the teachers dance with the kids – the kids actually like it! I am so proud to be head of a school with such wonderful middle school kids – their experience is so completely different from the middle school experience I had. After the dance the kids were asking me when the next dance is. It’s not scheduled yet, but we’ll keep you posted.
Substance Abuse Prevention
Last week I started teaching my substance abuse prevention class to 6th grade. I have so much fun teaching this class every year! I know it doesn’t sound like a fun subject, but it’s the kids that make it fun.
Sixth graders are old enough that they certainly have heard about drugs and alcohol, but they don’t know much about the facts or the reality of what temptations may come their way. Typically, they’ve heard a lot of myths. The main point of the class is to help inform students to think about this before they are confronted with these things, so they know how to react and how to stay healthy, while still being true to themselves.
Please come visit me! I now have open office hours every Wednesday from 9am to 10am.
An Open Invitation
We’re in the heart of the school year when teachers can really study a unit in depth with their classes. Students, in turn, create profound work and portfolios. The upcoming Science Fair is evidence of this, adding to the incredible body of work students have already accomplished over the course of the school year. There’s so much learning and collaboration, along with personal growth that characterize where we are at this point in the school year. All parents are welcome to observe any class to see the amazing things Rainbow educators do with students each day. In particular, I recommend visiting and observing the middle school. All you have to do is schedule an observation time through Kate in the office. We welcome you!
Integrated thematic units are considered best practice at Rainbow. Thematic lessons are layered in both discipline and in learning domain. Layering in this way encourages theme engagement from many angles and through many lenses. This allows a student to connect with the material through their preferred learning domain while nurturing a lasting relationship with the material. For example, what is taught in science may be incorporated into the social studies topic, written about in language arts, or read through literature. This method nurtures learning that is both circular and interconnected.
First grade is currently studying Africa. A recent centering lesson was layered in mindfulness and contemplative ritual, kinesthetic learning, teamwork and critical thinking. It was also rooted in the geography, natural history and culture of Africa.
The centering begins, like all RCS centerings, with a prompt to, “still your minds, bodies and voices and at the sound of each chime, take three audible deep breaths.” Josie, the teacher, then asked the class Mindful Mediation Leader to offer a word or intention that we can hold in our hearts. “African animals” was offered and Josie struck a match and said, “may we honor African animals as our teachers.”
These rituals served to shift the class energy inward resulting in a moment of silence and stillness. Josie then showed a picture of the Efé children of the Zaire, Ituri Forest and asked contemplative questions.
“What do you see, think and wonder about this picture?”
The Osani Circle Game
Josie explained that these children were playing a game called The Osani Circle Game. This prompted a conversation about circles. She stated that circles and cycles are seen everywhere. They are symbols of connection and wholeness. They are considered incredibly strong. Josie asked, “Can we name some circles or cycles?”
She went on to describe that the players of the game harness the strength of the circle by physically creating a circle with their feet and bodies. Each person then takes a turn naming a circular object, concepts or cycles such as apples, belly buttons, pies, time, the water cycle, butterfly cycle, the seasons. The goal being to hold the circle throughout the game while, without hesitation, naming circular objects.
In an effort to anchor the kids in teamwork, set the tone for the game and harness the power of the circle, Josie started by sending a “squeeze around the circle.” She then led them to create a human mandala. Finally, she guided them through a closed-eyed medication that allowed them to picture the circles all around us.
The kids named things like the butterfly cycle, the Sun, the belly of a bear, our noses, etc… More importantly they had fun while learning in a rich and integrated way- from learning about Efé children, to physically and collaboratively recreating the circle, to thinking fast and maintaining concentration throughout the game.
However, it was the unwritten curriculum that spoke volumes- the wisdom of the circle. The circle as a powerful symbol has been referred to since the beginning of time. It is celebrated in many religions and cultures as divine. It holds archetypal influence in story and myth and is represented by so many natural phenomena. Consider the Tibetan mandala, the Native American medicine wheel, the wedding ring, the Hero’s Journey, the Sun or Moon cycle. This centering ended with a closing verse that integrated some important circular objects found in our lives.
Informing your practice
If children are deeply and comprehensively connecting to the Circle, then they are more likely to return to it later in life as a teacher or guide, a tool, a strategy, an anchor or a healing source. I ask you to consider how circles show up in your life, to pay attention to their influence, and to invite them in as teachers.
You probably know that music changes lives. It brings people together. For this month’s team highlight, we wanted to share about Sue Ford, our longtime music teacher who is heavily involved in the Asheville community with Village Marimba.
A Brief History About Sue Ford
Sue Ford has been a part of Rainbow Community School as the music teacher since 2003. She left Rainbow for a little while to work at Evergreen Community Charter School in 2006. While there, she started a marimba band. Along her musical journey, she’d spent time studying with folks trained in playing marimba. In fact, she’s dabbled with marimba for a long time, even participating in a band called “Chikomo.”
After leaving Evergreen in 2016, Sue felt that she had the confidence to move ahead with the marimba business she’d started. At Rainbow, as part of that business, she offered to teach marimba after school. In that time, she’s had students from the 5th grade all the way through 12th grade join her marimba classes.
Due to demand, she began an adult marimba class last summer. It proved to be so popular that she added a second class. Many RCS staff have participated in these classes. Those who have taken Sue’s marimba class report that it feels so empowering and that it is a lot of fun.
During her tenure as a teacher, Sue has worked with students ranging in age from preschool through middle school. Mountain Express and the Asheville Community selected Sue Ford as the “Best Music Teacher” for four years in a row.
What Students Learn in Marimba Classes
Students in Village Marimba learn music that interests them, including popular music. They also incorporate multicultural music, work on their general marimba technique, and work in tandem with each other, as well as other musically-minded folks.
Take a look at one of her Village Marimba videos:
Expanding The Marimba Horizons
The historic significance of the marimba is important to Sue. The marimba instrument itself originated in Zimbabwe (a country that used to be known as Rhodesia).
Influenced by the equity work that Rainbow is doing, Sue thought about how the marimba has had such an impact on her life and influenced her music. She began thinking about how she could give back to the people who made the instrument possible.
Last fall, Sue got in touch with Peter Swing, a fellow marimba teacher and friend who lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He had connections with marimba musicians in Zimbabwe. Sue asked him if he knew anyone in Zimbabwe that would benefit from a donation from her company, as a way to give back.
Indeed he did! Peter put her in touch with a teacher in Zimbabwe. Shortly after, Sue launched a campaign to support the work of Barnabas Ngalande by raising over $1000 in two different fundraisers. Barnabas was a “mbira” teacher and with the proceeds from Sue’s campaign, he was able to build several of these instruments. Barnabas also sponsored three orphaned girls to send them to a high school with a music curriculum as a result of this funding.
In the weeks after the most recent benefit fundraiser, Sue received a letter from one of Barnabas’ students:
The three girls are part of Barnabas’ mbira group, “Mbirautare.” The student above, who wrote the thank-you letter to Sue, just enrolled in her school in January 2018.
We are so glad that Sue is part of Rainbow and that she is offering these classes to our community!