Centering practices aim to strengthen our learning community by inviting spirit and sacredness into each space and each day. At RCS, we see this daily practice as a meaningful ritual that is integral to a child’s healthy spiritual development.
We also host school-wide, annual celebrations and ceremonies that are also rooted in the sacred and serve to deepen the connections we have to ourselves, our community and a higher power. These shared celebrations, ceremonies and rites of passage empower all involved to turn both inward and outward so as to realize their part in an integral community and their connection to something greater than themselves.
The annual winter program is one of those sacred ceremonies. During this time, the staff and students celebrate the true meaning of the holidays by sharing original songs that embrace the human values that unite us. Each year the theme of the program is inspired by one of the universally held virtues and serves as a guide for the students as they collaborate with Sue Ford, our music director, to draft lyrics for each performance.
For example, a few years ago the theme was LOVE. The students were asked to ponder the power of love and the many ways to give and receive love. This reflection yielded various interpretations and heart-felt lyrics rooted in “Love.” Follow the link below to hear one of the many songs from the love feast.
The following year, the theme “Unity through Music” invited the students to create songs in cultural styles from around the world as a way of honoring our connection to local and global communities. Follow the link below to experience the 2nd grade song, “One Human Family.”
This year, Sue Ford has invited students on a sacred circle journey. The circle is a symbol of wholeness. Sacred Circles, Medicine Wheels, Mandalas, Hoops and Rings are found all over the world in history, art, architecture and ceremony. Carl Jung says, “I saw that everything, all paths I had been following, all steps I had taken, were leading back to a single point — namely, to the mid-point. It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the center. It is the exponent of all paths. … I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate.”
This year the theme “Journey Through the Sacred Circle” is an exploration of how we as individuals and as communities relate to the seven directions and elements within the circle. We begin with our Roots (Below), ascending into Fire and Air, grounding with the Earth, flowing with the Water, floating into the infinity of Space (Above) and finally back home in the center, Spirit. The songs in this journey are original collaborations between students, Sue Ford our music teacher and many of the RCS teachers.
I am sure many of you have experienced the joy and celebration that comes with holiday programs. At each RCS winter program, these feelings are echoed and then bolstered by the invitation of spirit, the emphasis on the sacred and the purposeful connection present at these programs.
As you enter into each holiday season and embark on learning adventures with your students, memory making with your family, and connections with your friends and acquaintances… I ask you to consider the ways that you can invite the true spirit of the holidays along on your journey?
We have some pretty amazing staff here at Rainbow Community School.
We have so many folks with myriad talents.
This month’s team highlight is Katie Wilson, our 5th grade teaching assistant. You’ll never guess what Katie was able to do last summer.
It all starts with a story about how she found Rainbow in the first place.
How did Katie become a part of the staff at Rainbow?
Katie’s life has been serendipitous! She temporarily relocated to Boone, NC after living abroad. She’d been teaching English in Mexico and returned to the US to continue her teaching career here.
While up in Boone, she found out about an opening in the after school program at Rainbow and decided to take it. Right then, she was working as a nanny part-time.
She loved Rainbow so much, that when the opportunity came to be able to work with Susie in fourth grade as a full-time employee, she jumped at the chance.
Later, she was able to move up with the same students to fifth grade this year.
Earlier in the year, the director from a summer camp where Katie used to work contacted her.
He was leaving his company to focus on retirement and asked if she would be willing to take on directing the summer camp for international students who wanted to learn English.
Katie’s former director worked the business side of the camp while she worked the educational and development side, including overseeing staff.
Knowing that she always wanted to develop her own educational programs, it was a great opportunity.
This past summer, she developed the entire ESL curriculum for the summer camp, as well as all the programming. She also had the pleasure of locating it at Rainbow!
The Summer Camp: Visions USA
The camp operated by recruiting students from Germany, Spain, and Italy who were interested in learning English. It provided an authentic setting in which to learn English as a Second or Other Language, as well as give students an incredible international cultural experience.
Students stayed with local host families and attended English classes in the morning at Rainbow for four days per week, and then engaged in more fun activities in the afternoons.
They spent time volunteering one day per week as part of the program. Volunteer work is an important component of camp programming.
This gave international students a chance to see what the Asheville community was all about, the struggles people faced and provided visiting students with opportunities to give back to the community in which they were living and learning.
Similar to what Rainbow students do during the school year, campers went to Manna, Black Mountain Home for Kids to help with events, volunteered at local high schools, helped to paint a mural, and more.
Fridays were reserved as field days where they would go rafting, to Carrowinds, go on an overnight to see the Atlanta Braves, or other similar activities.
The camp also offered language courses for the host families’ siblings, as well.
What were some things Katie learned about running a summer camp?
The summer camp session of 2017 was incredibly successful.
Students from different countries experienced US culture, and experienced each others’ culture in a supportive environment.
In only three weeks, they became best friends and formed deep friendships that will last well beyond their time at camp.
Katie loved the fact that she was affiliated with Rainbow and how she was able to share the attitudes that Rainbow cultivates, including its teaching styles, with all the international students.
Activities included centering, teaching to the domains, and incorporating positive discipline techniques to students who hadn’t experienced that before.
Rainbow’s centering curriculum aims to support the spiritual identity development of each learner through various contemplative, mindfulness and meditative practices. It also serves to cultivate a strong class coherence and foster a collective wisdom through team-building initiatives and collaborative learning opportunities.
Omega Middle School students often take on the incredible responsibility of leading a centering for their peers. The student chooses a quote that resonates with them, shares it, asks for reflections, and then facilitates an extension activity. In a recent Omega Middle School centering, class coherence was nurtured through a team-building initiative rooted in the wise words of the poet Rumi. Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, was a Sufi mystic and an Islamic dervish, and is often regarded as a spiritual master and one of the world’s most popular poets. Interestingly, Rainbow founders, in addition to being innovative educators, were also spiritual Sufis with strong beliefs in universal peace and acceptance of all spiritual traditions. To that end, Rainbow’s 40-year lineage of spiritual curriculum is founded in Sufi mysticism, an arm of the Muslim faith in which the practitioners believe that a personal experience with a higher power can be achieved through mindfulness and meditation.
The Rumi quote below served as inspiration for this particular centering:
We can all acknowledge that judgments of right or wrong permeate our society and that societal pressures often yield citizens motivated by competition, achievement, success, winning and losing. Even the mission statement of the U.S. Department of Education emphasizes these. It states, “Our mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”
All of us, I am sure, acknowledge the importance of setting and achieving goals. But do we always ask ourselves who or what loses if we win, or does my success come at the expense of who or what? As parents, educators and mentors, we absolutely want our children to experience goal setting, success and personal growth; but do we do everything we can to teach them to consider the bigger picture by reflecting in this way? Team building, if scaffolded properly has the power to do just that.
Rainbow recognizes the positive impacts that team building experiences have on classroom culture and morale and also on the development of the whole child. Team building is about working together to achieve a shared goal– one in which everyone succeeds. Team-building initiatives encourage perspective taking, empathy and trust. Team building is about connection.
Team building anchored in spirituality or inspired by contemplation asks each person to turn inward first so that they can show up outwardly in a positive way. What if, before we launched a team-building initiative or worked towards any common goal, we were reminded of the things that bind us? What if we were reminded of the greater good?
The Omegans spent some time reflecting on the quote. Then the group was tasked to cross a field, arms joined and with their feet touching their neighbors (a symbolic bond). The collective goal was to stay connected throughout the entire journey.
Ultimately, they were asked to enter Rumi’s field of consciousness and to move beyond right and wrong, success and failure, and to focus on what is truly important– the things that bind each of them.
We at Rainbow make it a habit to practice gratitude – not just around Thanksgiving – but all during the school year.
It happens in centerings, and teachers work to instill the two words, “thank you” into every student.
As Renee mentioned in her November Kaleidoscope, the practice of gratitude can boost happiness, optimism, overall life satisfaction, and more. So much more.
Around Rainbow, we speak a lot about the 7 Domains and how each teacher carefully plans lessons that integrate each one. Like a puzzle piece, gratitude fits beautifully into each domain, making it easy for students to become mindful of the power of gratitude.
In the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving break, students engaged in centerings and activities to help drive home the idea of a solid practice of giving thanks.
All over campus, students participated in centerings, song circles, and wrote things they were thankful for on leaves to create a gratitude tree.
Indeed, students have a powerful sense of appreciation. We went to the After School to ask students what they were thankful for. They all instantly came up with life’s most precious and priceless gifts: family, friends, animals, nature.
Take a look for yourself:
Activities Around Campus
Gratitude is about connection.
In Preschool (Blue Door), they asked “What are you connected to?” This led to a discussion about how we’re all connected to the elements of the earth, how we feel love, and that gratitude is part of that.
The first grade Cheetahs made turkeys with feathers of gratitude. Fourth grade culminated their archaeology unit with a centering that incorporated appreciation for studying archeological discoveries.
Song circle this week incorporated songs about family, spending time in the woods, and the “Best Day of My Life.”
We invite all students to lead their families in a centering with a focus on gratitude over break. They will know what to do.
However, if you would like some ideas, here are some ways to incorporate a centering with your child.
Gather in a circle. Take three deep breaths. You can optionally light a candle.
Have everyone in your circle write down something for which they are thankful and put it into a jar. When everyone’s finished, each person can randomly take out a slip of paper and read it aloud. Younger students who are learning to write will need help with this activity.
A variation of this could be to go outside, or to write down thoughts of gratitude on a ball and have people in the circle catch it and read off a line of gratitude nearest their right or left thumb. This activity can have so many variations!
Have your child say a blessing over your food.
Close with three more deep breaths.
For more ideas, a quick check on a search engine will give you many to choose from.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. — Melody Beattie
In closing, we hope that all Rainbow families, friends, staff, and students have a wonderful holiday break!
We are grateful for all the love you give, the hope, the inspiration, the peace, mindfulness, and how you give back to the earth.
Hallowed Eve. All Souls. Day of the Dead. Halloween. The various cultural traditions of mid-autumn have much in common. In general, the veil between the living and the dead is considered to be at its thinnest this time of year when the plants are dying and all is growing darker.
How do we talk about death with children?
What does it mean to be dead? What happens when I die? Can I communicate with my ancestors who have passed? Children are naturally curious about death and need healthy ways to process it.
They need loving adults around them who can authentically talk about death and even celebrate it, such as we do this time of year. As a secular school, we do not promote the beliefs of any one particular religion, but we do learn from various cultures and traditions.
Day of the Dead, or in Mexico, Día de los muertos, was honored at Rainbow on November 2.
One of our families from Mexico, Tona’s mom and dad, worked a whole day with Spanish teacher, Lisa Saraceno, and art teacher, Tracy Hildebrand, to build a stunning traditional altar.
Parents and students also helped, along with a community friend named Yaran.
On November 2nd, throughout the day, children, parents, teachers, and even neighborhood guests, brought photos and artifacts of loved ones to the altar where they could pray, meditate, mourn, sing, or commune.
We are glad Rainbow can be a safe place and a sacred place for children and people of all ages and backgrounds to celebrate the lives of those who have passed.
From Halloween to the Hoedown, with Love
When we “borrow” from various cultures, it is important that we appreciate those cultures and borrow with due respect, rather than appropriate their culture in a way that commercializes it.
Of course, Halloween has become highly commercialized (something that is also increasingly happening to Day of the Dead), but we like to celebrate Halloween whole-heartedly at Rainbow.
I love the creativity and joy that our students, families, and faculty put into it!
The annual Halloween Harvest Hoedown (which was simply the Harvest Hoedown this year since it was rained out and rescheduled for after Halloween) is SO MUCH FUN! It is a great fundraiser. This year, it raised $5,500! Thank you, Hoedown leaders and volunteers. You are the best!
A Love in Action Story
Some of the funds raised from the Hoedown will go toward Rainbow’s Love in Action Committee. Love in Action works to provide services, goods, and food for families within Rainbow who need a helping hand.
Everyone makes sacrifices to send their child to Rainbow, but for some it’s a very different kind of sacrifice than you may think. Imagine living at, or close to, the poverty level and joining a private school where everyone else has a totally different economic reality and privilege.
People can feel very out of place, which can be embarrassing, intimidating, and also can involve giving up a lot. For those who get scholarships, they are giving up free breakfast and lunches and the transportation that public schools provide. For some scholarship families, this makes attending Rainbow impossible or very difficult.
I remember one single mom who didn’t have a car and had three children all under the age of 5. As a recipient of federal aid, she was required to have steady work. She would drop off the first of her children at Rainbow at 7:45 in the morning, get her baby and toddler to two different daycare centers, take the bus to the end of its route, and then walk along a highway to get to the fast food restaurant where she worked.
At the end of the day she would pick up each of her children from all three places, still using the bus as her main source of transportation. She would barely get to Rainbow when afterschool was closing in the evening. Somehow, she would have to go grocery shopping and carry groceries with three little ones (one not yet walking and one barely walking) using the bus!
It would have been so much easier for her to send her preschooler to the public school where the child would have been picked up with a school bus and receive free breakfast and lunch. But she dreamed of her children being able to receive a high quality, holistic education. She didn’t want the obstacle of poverty to obscure that dream.
She, like all of us, made the sacrifice to send her child to Rainbow, even though it seemed impossible. Isn’t humanity incredible? We all have our unique struggles.
Love in Action is headed by Denisa, our after-school director. She works tirelessly to bring in food donations and other help to families who need it. The story I just mentioned was from before we had Love in Action.
Imagine if this mom’s preschooler could have had her snack and lunch already at school when she arrived – one less lunch box for this incredibly busy mom to prepare, and of course less food for her to purchase with her finite food stamp budget to cart home without a car. Imagine if someone would have been able to give her child a ride home and leave a box of food from Manna with them. What a huge difference this would have made for this mother.
Thank you, Denisa, for your loving work with Love in Action. Thank you Love in Action Committee volunteers. We are also grateful to Manna for their food donations. Still, more gratitude goes to the Hoedown committee!! You are changing lives. If you want to donate to or volunteer with Love in Action, please contact Denisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So much to be grateful for!
This next thank you goes to the Gathering Church who rents the Omega campus on Sundays. Instead of having church on November 4, they had a volunteer day. They worked with Max to fix up the community area by the entrance to the middle school (where two picnic tables are). It’s no longer a mud-pit. It’s lovely, and be sure to check it out!
More and more thank yous!
The Pollinator’s Volunteer Fundraising Committee is blown away by how generous early donors have been to the annual campaign. (Note that those who have donated to the annual campaign have their names written on little pennants on the deck.)
If you have not donated yet, please make the hard-working pollinator volunteers happy by making your donation today. They have put in countless hours to improve our school “bee hive,” and they can rest as soon as everyone has participated in the annual campaign. Truly, any amount is SO welcome. A donation of any size creates a buzz! And that makes people happy! It takes everyone to make a hive.
Hope is alive at Rainbow.
One month ago we held the 2nd Annual More Than Mindfulness Conference. I honestly cannot put into words an adequate description of how positive and inspirational the conference was. The phrase “high vibrations” comes to mind. Over 100 people attended –mostly teachers. Emotions were strong as teachers from around the country experienced the Rainbow Seven Domains Model of Education. Some became deeply emotional as they discovered what a truly holistic education looks and feels like.
Many said that all children should be developed as whole people. All children should get to do centering every day. All children should be recognized for who they really are. Seeing education done the Rainbow way was incredibly empowering and brought tears of hope (and at the same time sadness as many teachers doubted they would ever be allowed to teach holistically in their school).
The more teachers and parents see what is possible, the more people’s expectations for education will be higher, and the more our paradigms for education will shift. When paradigms change, we truly have hope of changing the world. “The betterment of the world mostly depends up the development of the coming generation.” ~Hazrat Inayat Kahn.
Did you know?
Rainbow was founded by Sufis who based their educational philosophy on the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Kahn. Our keynote speaker at the More Than Mindfulness Conference was Nura Laird (formerly Ashrita Laird), one of Rainbow’s founders.
Nura has dedicated her life to helping children and adults become whole, healthy human beings by developing their spirituality. After leaving Rainbow, she and her husband founded a Sufi university of healing in California, which she still runs today.
Nura is an incredibly loving and peaceful person, and her keynote reflected her hope for education and the world. She also shared some of Rainbow’s history. Her speech is located on Rainbow’s website, entitled, “Establishing a Heart-Centered School.”
Rainbow alumni are some of the most interesting people!
The same weekend as the conference, we had a very special alumni reunion, and about 130 people attended! There were many people from the original 15 families that founded Rainbow back in 1978! As you know, being a part of a school really bonds people.
We go through times of sorrow, immense joy, and conflict – together – all for the sake of our children. These people had countless experiences together, and many hadn’t seen each other in years, maybe even decades. It was so joyous to see people reuniting and staying until the tables were being cleared and cleaned up.
Omega teachers Jason Cannoncro, Mark Hanf, and Justin Pilla worked on it over the summer, and I helped West write the narrative on the overall philosophy and culture of Rainbow.
Melissa Henry (Mom of Calvin, Sharissa, Dallas, and Melody) did the professional editing to get it ready for press. We started selling the book at the conference, and it can be purchased online under “A Seven Domains School.”
Omega Middle School is the crown jewel of Rainbow.
Over and over, specialists, such as speech therapists, who go to all the private and public schools in town, say they are most impressed with our middle school – the rigor, the joy of learning, not to mention the expertise of the teachers.
At our Omega Open House this month, we featured a Rainbow alumni panel.
Most of them are in high school at Carolina Day School or SILSA (the all honors alternative high school), and remarked how often they hear their teachers and high school administrators publically, loudly, proclaim how much they love Rainbow students for their intellect, maturity, hard work, and character.
You are all invited my 50th and Margaret Gerleve’s 60th birthday party!
It is on December 8 at 8pm (that makes it easy to remember) at The Block off Biltmore at 39 S Market St (the YMI Building downtown.) The Block is a wonderful venue, and I am grateful that they are opening their doors for our party.
DJ Whitney will be spinning tunes that will make you want to dance. For those of you who know past faculty and families, it’s also Judith Beer’s 65th and Wendy Sause’s 50th. We are women celebrating landmark birthdays late at night – mature people having a mature gathering where we get to act like kids.
(Sorry, children are not allowed in the venue. Get yourself a babysitter and come join in the fun!) It is free! On me! If you want to bring some food or snacks to share, some people are doing this, but be sure it is vegan because The Block is a vegan establishment.
Gratitude: The Magic Potion
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday – not because of the inaccurate account of the Thanksgiving story I got when I was growing up in Minnesota, and not even because of the food. It’s because gratitude is my favorite thing to celebrate.
Positive Psychologist, Robert Emmons, defines gratitude as a recognition of a source of goodness that lies at least partially outside of the “self.” His book Thanks! provides robust empirical evidence about the benefits of being grateful.
In general, research participants who engaged in intentional practices of gratitude demonstrated greater levels of happiness. They expressed more optimism about the future, including feeling greater satisfaction with life as a whole and more vitality. They reported fewer symptoms of physical illness, and, interestingly, they also reported a large increase in time exercising.
They even reported sleeping better. Researchers who work with people in trying times found gratitude to be perhaps the single most effective remedy for improving psychological and physical circumstance – and the benefits are lasting.
Gratitude is an ongoing theme at Rainbow, with the idea that gratitude should become a lifelong habit.
Thanks to daily centerings, blessings at mealtimes, and other Rainbow traditions, your child practices gratitude fully and skillfully here at school. It’s one of the reasons Rainbow is such a joyful place!
So this Thanksgiving, I hope you have the opportunity to ask your child to lead the family in a gratitude centering. Looking one another in the eye and openly expressing gratitude for each other is truly something to celebrate. Blessings to you!
The centering rituals, although all rooted in mindfulness and in sacred spirit, vary from Rainbow classroom to Rainbow classroom. For example, the middle school, known as Omega, opens each centering with a reflection on a quote, a lyric, or a blessing. As centering opens, the students turn inward by recording the quote, which is displayed on a whiteboard, in their centering journals and connect with it through silent reflection.
This daily “food for thought,” sets a reverent tone, encourages contemplative thinking, nourishes class coherence while reminding us that learning is scared. A volunteer is asked to recite the quote and then the facilitator fishes for any reflections, questions, insight or comments. Students are encouraged to offer their own wisdom, tweeze out meaning, make connections, share personal stories, and/or give an emotional reaction to the quote.
On one particular morning, Freddie, an eighth grade student lead a centering inspired by the words of spiritual teacher, Eckhardt Tolle,
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.”
Freddie paused after the quote and waited for responses. One student offered, “that we are often caught up in our past memories and mistakes or are thinking about what will happen next, that we dont realize the important things that are happening right in front of us.” Another student responded with “the past is full of memories, the future of hopes or dreams and the present- the present is where the two collide. It is important to savor that.”
Interacting with students in this way, keeps me in constant awe of the wisdom that is alive within them. What if every child had the opportunity to be contemplative, like this, each day? How would their inner potential and their inner wisdom reveal itself?
After a round of sharing, Freddie attempted to put the quote’s wisdom into practice. He asked that we each find a comfortable position somewhere in the classroom, close our eyes, and begin to focus on our breath. He began to ring a bell and noted that the bell would serve to anchor the breath. He said that if our thoughts wandered or drifted, each time he rang it, it would remind us to come back to our breath and to the present moment.The students seemed to relax into the meditation with ease and Freddie held space for this practice for about five minutes. Each individual student emerged from the practice relaxed, calm and focused and the group’s energy seemed more bonded or in a higher state of flow.
Overall, I feel that the mediation succeeded in supporting the transition from home to school, supporting class coherence and in opening up additional pathways to learning.
Meditation is one crucial tool that our children access…it allows them to focus on their breath, their bodily sensations, or on a word or phrase. In today’s fast paced society, it has become increasingly challenging to direct attention or efforts to a single point of reference or action. Alarms, meetings, deadlines, chores, commitments and to do lists can make it hard to embrace a mindfulness practice, a mediation or any deep relfection. A mediative practice, like the one described above has the power to turn attention away from distracting thoughts, past memories, mistakes or regrets, or future obligations and into the present moment. It is not only empowering but powerful.
What if alarms were used to remind us to be present, to pause, to notice- instead of to wake us up or get us somewhere on time? What if our to do lists became to be lists? What if every child was equipped with these tools and resources? What if…