Happy Spring – Kaleidoscope March 2019
Happy Spring, everyone. We made it through winter! I am reminded of the line from the Merle Haggard song, “If we make it through December, everything’s going to be all right.” The thing is, I always wondered why Merle doesn’t mention January and February. With the darkest months now past, our students seemed to have sailed through the winter with great success. Around Rainbow, wintertime is rich with learning.
Flu season was fortunately mild this year. We are also grateful the chicken pox virus (varicella) never spread beyond three students. Some in our community might be under the impression that Rainbow’s immunization rate is low. Incidentally, Rainbow families choose to immunize their children at a rate higher than some of the charter schools and other alternative private schools in Asheville.
It might be helpful to know that some of the families who are exempt from the immunization requirements do get some immunizations. We are relieved that the number of cases of varicella in our community did not reach outbreak status, forcing many children to unnecessarily miss school. We are glad the three children who contracted it recovered well. I am grateful for all you do to be mindful of the health and well-being of our whole community.
New season, new life
As I write this, spring has just begun. New life is emerging everywhere. Our campus is no exception. Have you seen the baby hawks that have taken up residence here? If not, I suggest taking a stroll over to the red oak tree that is near the pavilion and wetlands on the Omega campus. A pair of big red-shouldered hawks are nesting there. It’s been a thrill for the children to watch these hawks fly around campus. It’s a great opportunity to listen to them squeak and squawk. You may know that our campus is a designated wildlife habit, an honor we received because of the many factors that make our campus amenable to wildlife in the city, including over 75 trees on campus of more than 20 varieties. Many of these are old-growth.
Exploration through the Seven Domains
Spring is a great time for outdoor exploration through the lens of the seven domains. The natural domain is often central to our spring activities. Starting in 3^rd grade, all classes go on end-of-year trips, most of which are wilderness experiences. Of course, May Day is our most well-known celebration of the natural domain, in which Rainbow students have a chance to dance around the maypole.
We recently had our annual Domain Day. As an administrator, it’s always a special treat to get to spend an entire school day with students. I helped lead a group in the creative domain and shared my candle-making craft with the children. It was exciting at the end of the day to reveal what the candles looked like as we took them out of their molds and sent them home, a metaphor for discovering the hidden creative potential within all of us.
Creative Opportunities – Imagine!
Still, there are other creative opportunities happening around campus. These include preparation for the Imagine performance on May 17. If you are new to Rainbow, you are in for a treat. It’s a little hard to describe Imagine. Kindergarten through sixth grade students, as well as Omega electives students, perform various vignettes of their choosing. These often include original music and dance. The result is a performance in which faculty and students weave together an original play with an important message and nuanced layers. It’s an explosion of creativity. Some have called it “psychedelic.” Others say it is “brilliant” and “well-coordinated.” This begs the question: is Rainbow a school of the arts? The answer is yes…and so much more.
We have a new member of the family: a bus! We came across a good deal on a 15-passenger gasoline bus and purchased it from the YWCA who was selling off the fleet from their after school program which just closed. We have found that our existing white gasoline bus is easier to maintain, and that faculty prefer this shorter, easier-to-drive bus to the larger diesel yellow one we also own. With the purchase of this new bus, we now have two matching, short, white buses, which will proudly display our Rainbow logo. To that end, are selling our yellow diesel bus. If you know anyone who would be interested, it is for sale at $15,000, obo. It’s a 2006 with 89,000 miles. You can contact Max at 828-258-9264, ext. 145.
Do you sometimes find that you have general questions about the school? My office hours are Mondays from 2 -3 pm. This is a time that anyone is welcome to visit either the division heads or me to ask a question, express an idea, or just to talk. One question that someone asked recently was What happens on early release Wednesdays and staff training days? Many high quality schools around the country have an early release day once per week so teachers can meet, train, and work on planning.
Professional Development and Teaching
There is a direct correlation between the quality of teaching and the amount of professional development a teacher receives, the amount of time a teacher has to plan fantastic lesson plans, and how much time they have to collaborate with their colleagues and administration. Wednesday meetings as well as staff training days address this need. These meeting/training times help keep the school running smoothly, so that every minute spent with the children is of the highest quality possible.
A closer look at testing and data
An example of one of our recent training days centered around student data. We made a long list of all the types of data that inform our instruction and how we work with children and families. Next, we drilled into some of our CTP test data. Throughout the year teachers create dynamic lessons driven by by data and personal knowledge of each student that every teacher has derived over the school year.
This particular training was more of a bird’s eye view of data. In groups, teachers worked together to understand trends of data to help guide our curriculum goals. We posed questions, hypothesized about the data, and bounced ideas off each other. Every year in June, after graduation, the faculty meet for two or three days. During these meetings we reflect on the school year and analyze and adjust the scope and the sequence of our curriculum. Our data discussions are one important part of that reflection and planning.
Looking to next year
Our administrative team is in the process of vetting new candidates for next year’s faculty. Although we typically have very low teacher turn-over, there is always a little bit of change. This year, our fourth grade teacher, Molly Sawyer, is choosing to take a few years off to start a family. Molly is a vibrant teacher who is very well loved. We hope she returns to us as soon as possible!
In the meantime, Susie, Sandra, and I are enjoying our teacher search. We have narrowed the pool of applicants down to a few finalists. These folks will come in to do demonstrations in the classroom, as well as in-person interviews. We already know it’s going to be difficult to make a final decision, but we also look forward to announcing our new-hire in about a month.
Your authentic self
I’d like to close with an excerpt from a letter that really touched me. It was a cover letter from a teacher applying for the fourth grade position, and I found myself tearing up as it read it. Just as I believe every child should be able to express their authentic self, so should every teacher. Rainbow brings hope and inspiration to teachers. The author of this excerpt illustrates this. This candidate also gave me permission to share it with you.
When I clicked on the job listing for the Rainbow Community School the most amazing thing happened, I felt hope. I felt a spark. As the camera moved through the different rooms of your school during the “Life is Better With You” video I cried because I felt incredibly moved and inspired and happy! I am a public school teacher of 20 years who has been considering leaving teaching because of what I believe standardized testing and forced curriculum and pacing have done to the minds and will of my students. I don’t want to give up teaching – I understand children. But I can’t teach any more in a setting I very much consider to be stifling and limited for children’s emotional and intellectual needs. Your school inspired me to hope that the next 15 years of my teaching career can be different…I’ve never seen anything even close to what your school offers children (and educators.) I’m willing and interested to completely change my life to each in a school that honors the whole child.
Rainbow is a special place
We receive letters from teachers similar to this every year, but this one in particular reminded me of the special school we have. I am grateful every day for how lucky we are to be in a place where we – whether children, staff, or parents – can express our authentic selves.
This letter prompted me to remember how my greatest vision isn’t for Rainbow to be special, but for all schools to honor the whole child, and for children to have access to a meaningful education that celebrates the human soul, and develops their highest potential. When that day comes we will have a world that is well on its way to being socially just, spiritually fulfilling, and environmentally sustainable.
Kaleidoscope, October 2018
I wrote this Kaleidoscope before we had another national tragedy occur: The Tree of Life Synagogue massacre. It is with a broken heart that I add this “introduction” to Kaleidoscope.
Collaborative for Spirituality in Education
As I write, I am nestled safely indoors at the beautiful old Rockefeller home in New York, where 12 heads of schools are meeting to discuss how spiritually supportive schools can help to heal our world. This is the work of the Collaborative for Spirituality in Education (CSE) – an organization started by Dr. Lisa Miller of Columbia University Teachers College (Author of The Spiritual Child).
Through funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Fetzer Foundation, the Rainbow Institute and several other schools are being paid generously to share our best practices in spiritual pedagogy. The CSE seeks to influence American education, at large, to honor the whole child and to create a more just and peaceful democracy.
It’s an honor to be invited to do this important work, and I am developing relationships with these other heads of schools and faculty who are a part of the CSE. Some of these heads of schools are from Jewish Schools, who were here when the news of the tragedy hit, rather than home with their school community.
Together, we have been helping them bear the pain of this tragedy…and they have been helping us all remember the message of the Jewish people. “We are the people who were commanded by Moses to ‘Choose life’ and ever since, despite the tragedies of our history, past and present, have always striven to choose life and sanctify life.” (Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks).
Meeting hate with love
The continual message from these school leaders has been one of meeting hate with love. We chose life. We chose love. Though we are weary, we yet love. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
This is the message we will always share at Rainbow Community School with our children and with the world at large.
It is harvest season, a time when the earth sheds its green and the light begins to shift, but the strength of life is ever apparent in nature’s cycles of renewal. This is the time of year for getting cozy and settling in. The children have become comfortable with the rituals and routines of the classroom. Their relationships with their teachers are becoming well-established.
Thanks to the intentional work of all RCS faculty, students should feel comfortable to take risks in all domains, including testing their boundaries. Along with comfort comes developmentally appropriate challenges.
The shadow self
In many traditions, this is the time of year the “shadow” starts to reveal itself; and for Rainbow students, this is no different. The shadow is both a mystical concept and a psychological theory. Simply put, our shadow is the part of our being that we may consider inferior, or our “dark side” that we may repress or deny. However, the shadow need not be negative. Some consider the shadow to be the seat of human creativity.
How is your child exploring their shadow self? Perhaps they are toying with their mischievous side. Maybe they are discovering how they can avoid challenges, such as going to school or completing homework. They might be taking on new social personas, learning how they can “control” other children in positive or negative ways. Some children may be experiencing their first social rejection by a childhood friend.
All of these examples are normal, and even expected. The important thing is that we, as caring adults, provide a loving environment that doesn’t judge or shame them (or each other). We adults try to hold a balance between guiding them, while also allowing them to learn from the natural consequences of their mistakes.
Feel free to reach out to your child’s teacher or the counseling office for a check-in if your child’s behavior is particularly puzzling or if they are starting to have negative experiences at school. Will Ray, Director of Counseling, can be reached at extension 430. As director, Will works part time on campus; but someone in the counseling department is almost always on site. Katie Ford specializes in middle school. Elise Drexler is a play therapist. Kasie Caswell is an intern from Eastern Tennessee State University this year. Together, they make up a holistic team of caring providers.
Día de los muertos
To honor and recognize the changing season–a time of unveiling our inner selves—we will hold a community fire on Friday, November 2 from 9am until the end of the day in the outdoor classroom. Some classes may incorporate the fire with their Día de los Muertos celebration. The space is open to all families, students, and staff. Please come and allow yourself to just be. Click here for the poem teacher Jason Cannoncro attached with the invite to the fire.
Making Learning Visible
You may have noticed a new section in Rainbow Reminders. Each week, at the end of the email, there is a new section called “Making Learning Visible” that describes various aspects of our curriculum and academic program. Making Learning Visible provides a peek into a different classroom each week, with a description of how various classroom activities help students learn and succeed.
Another marker of fall at Rainbow is standardized testing. We have nearly completed all testing, except for make-up sessions. In case you missed Making Learning Visible in the last Rainbow Reminders, click here to read about why we test and how we use test scores to help inform instruction. Last year’s scores are linked in the article with an easy-to-read graph.
What the heck goes on in Omega?!
Our middle school program is unique, and changes greatly from the elementary program. Middle school children become developmentally ready for demanding cognitive and executive function challenges. Our middle school students are given a lot of responsibility. “Know Thyself” is the theme of the Omega Middle School. Students are on a personal journey to discover their purpose and potential. They learn through community and through communing with nature.
The Omega Open House
The very BEST way to learn about Omega? Attend the Omega Open House and the alumni panel. You can ask alumni any question you want. It’s never too early to start doing your homework. Even if your child is in kindergarten, it will help you understand what is ahead. The panel discussion is November 13, from 7-8pm.
It’s Campaign Time
I felt so good after making my pledge to the annual campaign! I love Rainbow. I love what a Rainbow education did for my kids. They are innovators in a changing world, and thriving. I know my contribution helps our vibrant programs.
I hope you will join me in pledging as soon as possible. The earlier you pledge, the less time we spend fundraising. That gives us more time to focus on what we do best – educating children! Click here to make your pledge. It’s easy to donate now, or you can pledge and RCS can bill you later.
Your financial support also provides moral support! Every time a pledge arrives for the annual campaign, a cheer goes up! Donations are a vote of confidence for our hard-working staff and volunteers.
Voluntary Equitable Tuition
Some people have asked about the difference between the Voluntary Equitable Tuition (VET) program and the Annual Campaign. The V in VET stands for “voluntary” — it is designed for people to voluntarily pay a higher tuition. The E stands for Equitable — parents who feel they can afford to pay a higher tuition do so out of the generosity of their hearts in an effort to make tuition more equitably distributed in our community (meaning those who can pay more do to help those who cannot). The VET specifically provides funding for those who cannot afford tuition, and it helps with teacher salaries.
Donating to the annual campaign
The annual campaign, on the other hand, is much wider. The hope is that everyone will donate to the annual campaign. The funds go broadly into operations. (If you want your annual campaign funds designated to a specific area or program, you can check that on your pledge envelope.)
We hope that people paying into VET truly think of VET as part of their tuition payment (albeit a tax-deductible portion), and still make their regular annual campaign donation.
While we wish fundraising were optional, as a non-profit, it is a necessity. Thanks for making it as fun and easy as possible. In this way, we build a stronger community.
What happened to the Parent Education Program (PEP)?
Last year, we asked parents to come to three required PEP meetings/trainings. The program is now different. This year, instead, we ask that parents attend at least two out of three of their class parent meetings. These meetings are the best way for parents to be engaged, to understand their teacher’s methods, to learn about their child’s developmental stage, and more. An administrator attends these meetings to answer questions and provide information.
By now, every class has had at least one meeting. Thank you for participating in this most important aspect of parenting at Rainbow.
The biggest complaint about Rainbow?
One person just told me their biggest grumble is the amount of email and communication they get. Indeed, it’s A LOT! Like, a crazy-beans amount of communication! In general, as a community school, parents have many things to focus on, give of their time and talent, and participate in many activities.
Some people are fortunate enough to be able keep up with most of it, while others are overworked and overwhelmed. But it’s a community. We just ask that each person does their best to support one another, even though we all have different circumstances.
Sometimes Rainbow can seem magical – and it is! But behind all that magic is a lot of work and cooperation. The real magic is community, support, and collaboration.
Reach out and thank a board member
The new Rainbow Community School Board has been diligently working. Over the summer they attended trainings and began the process of revising a number of board policies.
This is a monumental undertaking that involves carefully analyzing each policy, discussing what it means, its ramifications, and making any needed revisions. These meetings are rich and thought-provoking. The board is truly committed to what is most important: the students! You will be able to identify board members at various campus events. They will have a button that lets you know who they are. If you see them, please thank them for their wisdom and hard work.
As a friendly reminder, don’t forget to VOTE! Early voting goes until November 3.
The world may seem pretty wobbly and often disturbing these days. But when all of us just do the simple things within our control, it makes a difference.
There is so much hope. Everything can change in an instant! I leave you with an excerpt from a poem my husband recently shared with me. (My favorite line is in bold.)
Someone is dreaming of adoring you
Someone is writing a book that you will read in the next two years that will change how you look at life.
Nuns in the Alps are in endless vigil, praying for the Holy Spirit to alight the hearts of all of God’s children.
There are Tibetan Buddhist monks in a temple in the Himalayas endlessly reciting mantras for the cessation of your suffering and for the flourishing of your happiness.
A farmer is looking at his organic crops and whispering, “nourish them.”
Someone wants to kiss you, to hold you, to make tea for you.
Someone in your orbit has something immensely valuable to give you — for free.
Something is being invented this year that will change how your generation lives, communicates, heals and passes on.
The next great song is being rehearsed.
Thousands of people are in yoga classes right now intentionally sending light out from their heart chakras and wrapping it around the earth.
Millions of children are assuming that everything is amazing and will always be that way.
Someone just this second wished for world peace, in earnest.
Someone is fighting the fight so that you don’t have to.
Some civil servant is making sure that you get your mail, and your garbage is picked up, that the trains are running on time, and that you are generally safe.
Someone is dedicating their days to protecting your civil liberties and clean drinking water.
Someone is regaining their sanity.
Someone is coming back from the dead.
Someone is genuinely forgiving the seemingly unforgivable.
Someone is curing the incurable.
Someone loves you more than you can ever know.
Me. You. Some. One. Now.
In 2012 Rainbow Community School (RCS) was selected as an Ashoka Changemaker School, a network of schools that empower students as changemakers by prioritizing empathy, leadership, and collaborative problem-solving as student outcomes. They recognize the capacities of young people to make a BIG difference and highlight empathy as the centerpiece for all changemaking efforts. RCS was nominated as a changemaker School because of its belief that educating for the wholechild directly impacts humanity’s collective awareness and capacity for growth.
The Journey from I to We:
Gandhi’s wise words remind us that it all begins with our inner selves: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” At RCS, we believe that real change originates out of an individuals’ commitment to their own evolution. As a result, we strive to support all learners in becoming whole, finding purpose and then making change. Our educational model nurtures the holistic development of the child and by doing so, these whole humans are better equipped and more empowered to serve the needs of humanity and the planet through their positive change making efforts.
It is not uncommon for our learners to acknowledge that before they can show up for others they must show up for themselves and it is the emphasis on self-discovery and personal well-being that opens the doors to connection, collaboration and thus meaningful work. Our students explore, at a very young age, what it means to “know thyself” by recognizing their unique gifts and exploring practices that highlight self-empathy and self-gratitude.
By inviting a child’s inner life into the classroom we are awakening their spirit. A spiritually nourished child is not only ready to learn but it’s the child’s strong spiritual identity that is the catalyst for meaningful work. The catalyst for change!
There are certain stand out elements of the Rainbow Seven Domains Learning Model that help to create favorable conditions for spiritual identity development and the daily centering practice is one of them. This morning ritual serves to awaken the spiritual center of each child, opening pathways to learning. As a centering begins, the classroom is filled with ritual and reverence. These rituals vary from classroom to classroom but the essence of centering is such that the students gather in a circle on a rug, the space is set with intention, the lights are dimmed, a chime or bell invites silence, reverence fills the room, a pause is taken for audible breath work, the invitation of fire through candlelight is summoned- this begins the sacred work of the day. The results are often a harmonious learning environment in which focused thinking come naturally, trust among the group yield effortless work and innovative solutions are manifested.
Recently I joined Lucy and the preschool Dragonflies for centering. The preschool centering ritual leader began by asking his class to put on their mindful bodies and their mindful listening ears. He then told them that he would ring the singing bowl and wanted every person to actively and mindfully listen until they could no longer hear the song of the bell and then to raise their hand when its song was gone. He then used a breathing ball and guided his classmates in three deep inhales and exhales. As the ball expanded he said aloud “inhale” and as it contracted he said “exhale.”
Lucy, then invited the preschoolers to join her in a self-affirming morning verse that was paired with sign language. The kids spoke the words with confidence and enthusiasm… “May I be healthy, may I be strong, may I be happy, may I be peaceful.” I was happy to witness the use of self-affirmations with such young learners. Positive affirmations or positive self-talk are great motivators for self-reflection and self-change. Statements such as these can easily become identity statements. Thus, benefiting not only oneself but those that you interact with.
Lucy deepened the experience by extending the lesson. She went on to explain that each person would have the opportunity to choose a kind wish they have for themselves. She showed and read the kind wish cards aloud and asked to kids to be thinking about which kind wish they wanted for themselves today. When the kids were ready to share, they signaled to Lucy by placing their thumbs on their knees.
She invited each them to approach the altar which was filled with the kind wish cards, candles and the wishing water. The kids were asked to speak their kind wish aloud and in the direction of the wishing water. It was obvious that Lucy had worked hard to create a supportive and safe yet vulnerable space for the Dragonflies as each child spoke, the rest of the group held a quiet space.
Finally, Lucy reminded the children that much like plants need our care to thrive, our intentions and affirmations need that attention too. As the centering practice came to a close, she explained, that she would take the wishing water (filled with their wishes) and send the kind wishes in to the world by watering the plants and that the plant’s health and growth will be a visual reminder of our own personal growth.
If we feed our body, it can grow. If we feed our mind, it can be stimulated. If we nurture our spirit, it can flourish. What daily affirmations will help you flourish?
Connection and community at Rainbow is often nurtured through rituals, traditions or celebrations that mark the passage of time. We begin the school year with an opening ceremony during which the entire school comes together to offer blessings and intentions for the coming year. On that same day we also host a Rose Ceremony. This ceremony happens twice each year; on the first day of school and on the last day of school.
The ceremony on the 1st day of school is designed for the oldest students (8th graders) in the school to welcome the 1st graders into elementary school. Each 8th grader gives a 1st grader a rose to symbolize their support as they transition. This important rite of passage is replicated on the last day of school as the 8th graders graduate. The 1st graders offer them a rose to mark their transition.
Also during the first week of school, each class chooses a mascot. Choosing a class mascot has been a community building tradition at Rainbow for years. This tradition yields many benefits. Students are using the mental domain to formulate logical arguments about their mascot choice, the social domain to share their ideas and participate in a democratic voting process, the spiritual domain by learning about symbolism of the mascot and/or striving to embody the qualities of those animals. The mascot provides the class a shared identity and deepens group cohesion.
We also gather for a weekly song circle. This is a simple and joyful way to engage in the universal language of music while also offering a special bonding experience across the age groups.
Additionally, throughout the course of the year, we hold fire circles that help us honor the seasonal cycles and our own inner cycles. The circles foster a support system for deep reflection, invite gratitude and, nurture the well being of all community members who attend. As we gear up for the Fall equinox, a fire burns on campus, extending the invitation to sit, to breathe and to connect.
These are a few of the community connection opportunities offered in the first few weeks of school. We invite you to find ways that integrate modified rituals such as these in your home, classroom or organization.