Rainbow Community School and Omega Middle School has been closely monitoring developing information about the new coronavirus, COVID-19. This letter is to share with you the steps we are taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus; and the steps we are preparing to take if there is an outbreak in our community.
Take a moment to read the letter we have sent to our community:
Fourth graders figure out their favorite Greek deity
We headed over to 4th grade recently where our students were immersed in the world of ancient Greece. They learned about mythology and creative arts. Their teacher, Kurt, said they really loved learning about the Greek gods and doing hands-on activities related to their learning.
Because of that, Kurt let them do a special activity that would further their learning with Greek mythology. They investigated their favorite god by reading a story, and created designs using paper shaped like pottery. These designs were based on what they knew about the deity they studied.
Hercules – probably the most famous Greek deity
They started off their lesson with a short video about Hercules. They talked about how the story of Hercules is from long ago when “chaos reigned.” Students realized there were many references to pottery and design, as well as other historical events.
Fourth graders had a chance to look at examples of ancient Greek pottery. They saw references to Achilles, a centaur, minotaur, war and peace, Hercules and more. Once they had a chance to look at different examples, their teacher explained that stories they were about to read would also inform the designs they’d create on their pottery.
Stories about Greek gods
Each student paired up with another and chose their favorite Greek deity to study. They were allowed to read the story to each other, silently, or alternate between silent reading and reading aloud as they liked. Once finished, each student created their paper pottery. Essentially, they created a stencil using one piece of paper, cut it out, and finally glued it onto paper with a brown background.
After students finished gluing their stenciled piece onto the background, they could begin drawing designs. They worked with pencils and black markers. Some designs were quite eloquent and detailed. One requirement was to reference the story they read within their pottery design.
These pottery designs complemented the rest of their unit on Greek mythology. Intricate and detailed, each pottery piece reflected each student’s drawing style. As students concluded the unit, they did further research on their chosen Greek god. This research led to a one-page report, which they later presented to their class.
This one lesson touched on several different domains: the social and emotional, in which students were able to collaborate with one another, and worked together to complete their stories and pottery projects. They engaged in the mental domain in researching more about Greek deities. They were able to use the creative domain with their pottery designs and even touched on the spiritual domain with regard to Greek beliefs and mythology itself. All teachers at Rainbow create units that incorporate the seven different domains at least once.
We headed to second grade recently to find students doing classification of…shoes! There is a very interesting reason why.
As students started out this lesson, they began with some silent reading time. These quiet moments helped get them ready for what was next.
It was so quiet you could hear their minds “thinking.” Little did they know, they would need their sharp minds and their shoes for the subsequent portion of their lesson.
Their teacher, Eddy, had them take their paired shoes and separate them. They put one on the checkered green rug in their main classroom, and the other on the green rug in the library/centering room.
Classification of shoes in different ways
The kiddos separated into two groups with the following instruction: to group or separate the shoes according to a system they would create. In other words, students could separate shoes by color, brand, size, or some other determining factor. They brainstormed different ideas of how they might classify their shoes within their groups.
Each group chatted and came up with a plan that all could agree with and implement.
Neither group had any idea how the other was classifying their shoes. However, they each came up with very different ways of grouping and organizing their shoes.
In the library room, students grouped shoes by their overall color. In the main room, students grouped them by how they “closed” or secured to the foot, such as with velcro, slip-on, shoestrings, etc.
Once they did that, their teacher asked them to reclassify their shoes and come up with a second way to group them all. Students in the library decided to group by the “purpose of the shoe,” such as hiking or running. The other group classified all the different shoes by size.
Why classify shoes?
Why would students do this?
They brainstormed about labeling and classifying things to make sense of the world and understand it better. Eddy asked them, “aren’t there lots of different kinds of trees?” All students agreed that there were. He asked them about animals, plants, and seeds. Everyone agreed that, yes, there are many different varieties of each of these. It is in classifying and grouping plants, animals, and seeds, humans can identify what they are and understand what they do and their role in the world ecosystem.
Learning about the animal kingdom
After everyone got their shoes back, they began talking about the scientific system of classification. They learned about the five main kingdoms of living things: plants, animals, fungi, bacteria (monera), and one-celled organisms (protists). Later, they went more in-depth with the animal kingdom. Eddy gave each student a piece of paper with the name of an animal on it. Each student had to determine if the animal they had was a mammal, reptile, amphibian, fish, or a type of bird. Some of them were tricky! Did you know that a whale is a mammal? Or that a skink is a type of reptile?
Students walked away with a broader understanding of why people classify the world around them. They explored a number of ways in which it’s possible to do so. What a fun way to use methods of scientific thinking to reason, deduce, classify, as well as integrate other skills such as collaboration, discussion and reaching a consensus.
We love how Eddy integrated elements of the 7 Domains. Students were able to move around the classroom. They worked together to complete their tasks which reinforced the social domain. This process of reasoning and classification touched on the mental domain. Talking about organisms in nature brought in the natural domain. One lesson with multiple approaches. That is a day in the life of a Rainbow student.
It’s only the beginning of November, yet we have already completed several cycles and symbolic events at Rainbow this school year. We have welcomed new families and new students, who by now are hopefully feeling a sense of community. We completed our student testing cycle for students in third through eighth grade. At this point, most classes have held their first of three parent class meetings. We have welcomed autumn, the harvest, and the coming days of darkness with the Halloween Harvest Hoedown, the Halloween Day celebration, Día de los Muertos, and a fire circle. Some of these events and transitions are marked with ritual and highlighted in this November Kaleidoscope.
Ritual – Being Present
Why ritual? When I am leading a ritual, I sometimes like to explain the reason for having a ritual by asking, “Your body is here, but where is your mind? Your heart?” Even the simplest of rituals, such as taking three breaths together, helps us to become fully present in mind, body, and spirit.
A second purpose of ritual is to help us connect as humans and to recognize our interconnectivity with all of humanity and nature. For example, in addition to centering, almost every meeting at Rainbow begins with a brief opening round where each person in a circle is invited to share a word, a phrase, or a short anecdote about how they are doing or something significant in their life. This simple ritual helps every person to name what is going on in their life so that they can be more present with the group. Often in opening round we learn that someone is in mourning or they are in physical pain, helping others to be more empathetic. Most of all, ritual helps to connect us, reminding us of our common humanity and creating a spirit of togetherness, which is especially important when we are about to engage in making decisions together.
A third reason for ritual is to honor and aid in transitions. Ritual helps humans to move through change with dignity – giving up and letting go of the past, and moving bravely into the future. For growing children, rites of passage can help children move into adolescence and then into adulthood. In ancient and indigenous societies, rites of passage were/are central to the culture. In America’s current mass culture, the lack of rites of passage often leaves adolescents feeling empty and confused about growing up. Saying goodbye to childhood isn’t easy for adolescents, yet they also desire the trappings of adulthood. When we don’t provide a rite of passage, teens find other rites, that can be risky or unhealthy, such as drinking or sexual activity. Meaningful ritual can help our children and teens to develop a deep sense of connection and purpose in their lives.
Rites of Passage in Omega Middle School
This is partly why the Omega Middle School program is structured to be a multi-year rite of passage. From the ritual around the beginning-of-the-year Omega honor code to the final rituals of eighth grade, Omega students see themselves as important members of their community. They are honored for what they contribute to their community and for who they are and will become. Embracing one’s purpose is the heart of Omega.
I invite you to attend our Omega Middle School Open house coming up on Thursday, November 21. Even if your children are much younger, the Open House will help you understand the whole arc of development at Rainbow and why Omega Middle School students have such a healthy self-image and the confidence and character to succeed in high school and beyond.
The White Pine Tree
The Mourning Ritual
You may have noticed that our large white pine tree in the middle of the playground died over the summer as a result of a native pine beetle infestation. This is a sad loss. When the faculty discussed it, we knew ritual would help our children to say goodbye to the white pine and find meaning in its death. Sue Ford and Susie Fahrer composed a song for the tree, and for one of our Tuesday song circles, we all gathered around it and sang:
Bless this tree for giving us life Bless this tree morning noon and night Bless this tree flower fruit and cone Bless this tree oh see how we’ve grown.
You are a sacred sight You are nature’s light Rest you, return to the Earth Rest you, and bring rebirth.
This beautiful ritual helped us to reverently grieve with one another and to remember the beautiful cycle of death and rebirth. In the coming weeks, Tim Slatton (partner of West Wilmore) will be taking down the white pine with the help of our facilities keepers, Max Mraz and Shawn Fain. We trust they will respectfully put it to rest. Niki Gilbert, Omega Middle School science teacher, is creating a team of staff and students to make a thoughtful plan for the planting several new trees on campus. Rest ye and bring rebirth.
Video credit: Tracy Hildebrand
Authenticity and Wholeness Training
Teachers who love…themselves
Over the past few weeks, the teachers and I have continued our series of training on developing authenticity and wholeness in students through teacher development. For one of our Wednesday afternoon trainings I led a training on Mindfulness. Our theme for the day-long training on November 1, was Openness. In this training we acknowledge that teaching is a challenging profession. Teachers have to make hundreds, if not thousands of decisions a day, knowing that every decision they make could have profound effects on the lives of the children they love and for whom they are responsible. Teachers have to perform with empathy, creativity, and dynamism while under tremendous stress and without being thrown off by their own emotional triggers. Teaching is a messy, complex job that is impossible to do perfectly. Teachers are often very hard on themselves. Yet, if teachers are going to be compassionate toward students they also need to be compassionate with themselves.
Invoking the Sages
The Buddha, said “I have two things to teach. Suffering and the relief of suffering.” Deep within the Puritan roots of American society, there is a tacit belief that self-compassion is the same as selfishness. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Through the new field of positive psychology and with advances in neuroscience research, we now understand that self-compassion, or empathy for ourselves, is the key to empathizing with others. It doesn’t mean we give up or let ourselves off the hook for changes we need to make. It simply means we acknowledge that we are only human. Part of being human is sharing the suffering all of humanity has experienced since the beginning of time.
In addition to learning the science behind self-compassion, I engaged teachers in a simple 3-step exercise that I highly recommend for parents and children, too.
Step 1: When experiencing a challenging moment or being critical of yourself, acknowledge your situation and pain. You may simply say to yourself something like, “Ouch. That hurts.” Or, “this is stress.”
Step 2: Have compassion for yourself by recognizing that suffering is part of life. All of humanity shares a similar experience. You may say to yourself, “I am not alone.”
Step 3: Place your hands over your heart. Say to yourself, “May I be kind to myself,” and offer yourself a gift. It may be patience. It may be strength, or forgiveness.
A few days ago you received an email from Sandra McCassim, P-3 Division Head, that after 20 years at Rainbow, she is leaving at the end of this school year. I cannot possibly convey what this means to me personally. Sandra lifts up others in love as teacher, administrator, and friend. Her gentle wisdom has helped shape the loving culture here at Rainbow. Sandra was here many years before I came to Rainbow, and we have been through so much together. I am going to soak up every minute I have with her for the rest of this year.
Sandra will be instrumental in helping with the hiring of her replacement. Sandra and I have worked together to hire most of the excellent faculty we have on campus, and she reminds me that every time someone leaves the faculty, a new magical person brings new gifts. We are beginning our search for a new Division Head – a process which we are still defining, a process in which faculty will also be involved. Please feel free to contact me if you have any thoughts about the search. If you know a talented educational leader who is interested in joining the Rainbow team in the coming years, you can refer them to the employment page on our website where there will soon be information on how to apply.
Bringing Light to the Spirit of Education
I write this Kaleidoscope while sitting in the library at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York. West Willmore, Eddy Webb, and I presented at the Spirituality in Education Conference there.
Since the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2002, our nation has moved in the direction of “teaching to the test,” or only teaching what can be quantifiably measured. Of course what can be measured is only the smallest aspect of education – the most material aspect. Our politicians, most of whom were not educators, did not understand that such an emphasis on the material would gut our schools of the spiritual – that which is immeasurable and unseen in the literal sense of the word. Nor did they realize that when you gut the spiritual aspects of education, nothing can thrive, certainly not academics, because without spirit there is no life and no motivation to learn. Not surprisingly, 19 years after NCLB, academic achievement is lower than ever and the opportunity gap wider. Furthermore, as a nation, both children and adults are in the midst of a mental health crisis.
Spirituality in Education
The good news is that the pendulum is beginning to swing in the other direction. When one of the highest ranked educational schools in the country hosts a Spirituality in Education conference, it legitimizes a movement. Even the President of Teachers College spoke at the conference, stating that the conference represented the direction education needs to go. As Timothy Shriver (nephew of John Kennedy and an influential educational leader) said at the conference, “It isn’t a fad, it’s a field.”
In this now blossoming field of spirituality in education, Rainbow is a beacon for the world. Let our line shine. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” There is no greater light that the pure light of children. Thank you for sharing the bright light of your child with the world.
First graders have been studying the rock cycle, and they’re learning it through the seven domains: the mental domain, creative, and natural, among others.
The story of Piedra
Have you heard of Piedra? She’s the main character in the story their teacher, Rachel, told. Students gathered around while they heard the tale of Piedra, whose journey spanned MILLIONS of years.
Rachel told of how Piedra lived in Appalachia, then made her way to a nearby river where she stayed for hundreds of thousands of years. Over the course of that time, she witnessed turtles, ducks and river otters going about their lives. Little by little, Piedra rolled and rolled downriver, eventually finding herself out at sea. Piedra saw sea animals that she’d never seen before swimming all around her.
Millions of years in the making…
Gradually sand and silt from the sea bottom began to cover her up until she was completely buried, taking about 20,000 years to happen. Piedra stayed there for another million years until she felt a warmth coming from the earth. She felt a whoosh and before she knew what happened, she erupted through a volcano as hot lava, and immediately cooled once she hit the air. She emerged once again as a rock upon a mountain. Only this time, she was a rock who had changed.
Through this compelling story, students learned about how a rock might go through the entire rock cycle. They talked about other cycles they might be familiar with: the lava cycle, the water cycle, and the butterfly cycle.
Illustrating the Rock Cycle
After students heard the story, they had an opportunity to create an illustration of the rock cycle. Miss Rachel led them through a guided drawing.
They began with a line.
Followed by a volcano.
Next they erased the left part of the line and replaced it with a wavy ocean line.
They followed that with a “lava ball”…
…that grew into a lava chute.
They erased the top of the volcano to allow the lava to exit the earth, and had some fun drawing globs of lava “splashing out and spilling over the side”.
Next came creative layers that represented millions of years of creation.
The final steps were to go over their pencil lines in marker…
…and fill in their drawings with watercolors.
Our first graders now can tell you all about the rock cycle, starting with a tiny little rock on the side of a mountain.
In summer 2019, Rainbow Community School had the Words Have Power summer camp. April Fox taught this camp with such incredible results! This camp was for ages 10-13, with a total of 10 students attending for the week. The students who participated published an anthology of their work. April, their teacher, compiled all their writings and it’s now available on Amazon.
Anthology cover. We have a copy in the Main Office!
We interviewed April who told us the whole idea of the camp was to allow kids to explore writing “without all the rules.” She showed her students that there’s “school writing” and there’s also “fun writing.” April wanted her students to know that there is a world of writing outside of grammar, spelling and following conventional rules.
This was a camp that gave students a chance to explore writing in a creative way – possibly in ways they had never done before. They used words for nothing but the “pure expression of what was in their heads,” which allowed them to truly connect with the idea of writing on a different level.
Each morning, April would put up quotes from different writers or inspirational figures that had something to do with writing or succeeding. Students would pick their favorite quote and write in their journals, reflecting about how they felt, or scribbled other musings related to the quote they chose. These quotes came from different artists and writers, such as Maya Angelou, Tupac, Elvis Costello and many others.
How the anthology came about
Students studied different types of writing throughout the week. One activity they did was to use pictures to inspire their writing. If they saw a photo of a butterfly that inspired them, for example, they could write a poem in response, and perhaps “shape it” in the form of butterfly wings.
They did a lot of free writing, haikus and had the freedom to explore whatever type of writing style that interested them, from short stories to graphic novel layouts. They even explored writing a screenplay and all that went with it: writing, directing, rehearsing and performing their written words. Students were allowed to edit their work or not, depending on how they felt about it.
At the end of each day students could elect to turn their work in to be part of an anthology that April would put together later in the summer. After the camp ended, she spent time compiling and typing out each of the writings her students submitted. She remarked that some poems were funny, some were more serious, some explored serious issues and other poems touched on lighter subjects, such as smelly socks. In effect, these poems were a snapshot of this particular age group, and allowed their individual selves to come out. They had no filters. Their work reflects what was in their heads at that moment.
April considers the most successful part of the week to be when she witnessed an increase in student confidence with regard to their writing. They produced some insightful, heartfelt, and well-written work. They learned that even though they might struggle with specific aspects of writing academically, they can still be incredible storytellers, and write pretty remarkable content.
All photos courtesy of April Fox. We have a copy of the anthology in the Main Office!