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!
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?
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.
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…