Rites of passage are important, sacred ceremonies that highlight a transitional period in a person’s life.
In many cultures, tribes and soceities around the world, children engage in various rites of passage. Often these are times when a child is recognized for passing though the threshold toward adulthood. Graduation at Rainbow Community School serves as an integral rite of passage for our graduating Omega Middle Schoolers.
Preparation for this rite officially begins as they join the Omega program. Subtle and more obvious practices support each Omegan’s readiness. For example, each day that middle schoolers pass through a physical threshold. As enter the building, they pass under a wooden panel inscribed with “Know Thyself.” Additionally, their arrival is also marked with a sacred time called Centering; this time is used for grounding, centering, pondering life’s big questions. Lessons, activities and learning experiences throughout the day not only foster a culture of connectedness but support the work of nurturing the child to individuate- to
These opportunities, although grounded in the safety of community, encourage personal identity development, person spirituality and ultimately- wholeness. According to decades of research by Dr. Lisa Miller, head of clinical psychology at Columbia’s Teachers College, teens who have the benefit of developing a personal spirituality are 80% less likely to suffer from ongoing and recurring depression and 60% less likely to become substance abusers. To that end, it is reasonable to suggest that spirituality is indeed the cornerstone for mental health and human well-being. Intentional rites of passage are but one way to nourish that health.
To KNOW THYSELF is to answer these questions:
Who am I?
Who are you?
Why am I here?
What is my purpose?
Graduating Omegans write commencement speeches that reflect on their time at Rainbow and acknowledge their gratitude, growth, challenges, hopes and dreams. Each student, as part of the rite, share these speeches publicly. This public sharing is an amazingly brave yet vulnerable challenge.
But more importantly, the words of wisdom spoken by these young adults are nothing less than profound.
They are informed by years of social, emotional and spiritual engagement and learning. They are guided by opportunities to explore life’s big mysteries and ponder personal purpose. They are rooted in a a collective AND personal identity.
If you are curious what happens when soul is invited into the classroom, please click here to listen to Noah Mraz’s graduation speech.
Please also consider:
- What are the implications of integrating rites of passage, existential questioning and the spiritual domain into your own work with children?
- What are you already doing that serves the spiritual development of your students? What more can you do?
For this team highlight feature, we wanted to share about our “Custodial Ninja” as he calls himself: Peter, or Wind Motika.
We asked him some interview questions and the responses are pretty awesome. Next time you see Wind, be sure to give him some gratitude for all the hard work he does in keeping our campus running smoothly.
Where are you originally from? How did you end up at Rainbow? How long have you been at Rainbow?
I’m from a small rural township in northeast Ohio called Newbury. It’s about 40 miles outside of Cleveland. I went to school from Kindergarten thru grade 12 in the same building. I graduated in 1977. I believe I’ve been in the Rainbow community since 1997.
My son Allijah went to Rainbow for Kindergarten thru 5th grade, and then came back in 8th grade and graduated from Rainbow. Allijah had to leave Rainbow in 5th grade because we got behind on tuition. The school had an opening for a custodian and the Director at the time, Jane Stanhope, offered me the job. Half of my salary went to pay off the tuition. After it was paid off I decided to keep the job. So I’ve been the custodian since 2002 – 16 years!
What’s the hardest part of your job? The easiest? What title do you give yourself?
The hardest part of the job is cleaning toilets. Not that it’s hard, but I clean an average of 100 toilets per week while school is in session. Ultimately that’s a few thousand a year for 16 years.
I am also starting to have a problem with my shoulder from repetitive motion from all the vacuuming I have to do now, so that’s probably the true hardest part of the job.
The easiest part is working in a quality community of people. Eddy once called me “The Custodial Ninja” a few years ago. I like that title a lot!
What was the funniest thing you saw a teacher do?
Not sure if this is funny, but we had a past Omega teacher named William Harwood, who used the campus for his personal gym! He had weights in a spare room, (the current 3rd grade room). He would run also around the campus and use the play ground equipment for his workouts.
Who was your favorite teacher?
Hmm, favorite teacher…I’d hate to hurt feelings! I have many for different reasons. Some of the teachers have become my friends over the years. So I choose not to answer this question.
I will say the teacher I respected the most, and those who know her would agree, would be Mary Virginia.
Are you reading any books? (Or, what is your favorite book?)
I read books in waves. Sometimes I might go a year without reading much and then I’ll read 3 books at a time for a year. Overall, I read a lot. My favorite authors are Paulo Coelho, Barbara Kingsolver and Richard Bach who wrote probably my favorite book called Illusions. I identify with the main character.
The last books I read were the Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
What is something that you’re interested in that most people don’t know?
I kinda keep to myself, so there’s probably a lot folks don’t know about me. Most likely that I am a screenwriter and I follow NBA basketball. Go Cavs!
What are some of your hobbies and interests?
I am an avid disc golfer and I love it although I found the sport later in my life. I am a member of several clubs, one of which is WNCDGA, a 501(c3) non-profit. For the past 4 years, I have been a member and served as vice-chairman for a year. We just donated two baskets to rainbow!
I was on Asheville’s Parks and Rec Advisory Board and served as Vice-Chairman for 2 years. “Interspecies Internet” was another organization in which I served on the advisory board. I worked with people like Peter Gabriel, Vint Cerf, Sue Savage Rumbaugh and other interesting folks who focused on creating ways for humans to communicate with animals.
I also spent a number of years volunteering at the Language Research Center at Georgia State University working with Bonobo apes! I mostly played music for and with them.
I love to cook! It’s important to me to make myself a healthy and organic breakfast and dinner everyday! I like to garden as well.
We hear that you published some music. Tell us more about it.
I have been a musician since 8th grade. Even though I was from a tiny school I was a two-time all state vocalist, and I sang with the Cleveland Orchestra. We toured Europe with “America’s Youth In Concert” in 1976.
When I was young, I was part of a band that played at all the Cleveland and Akron venues. Many bands like Devo, Chrissy Hind/Pretenders, Joe Walsh/James Gang, U2 and many others had played there. I have been the front man for a couple of rock bands that played my original music.
I’ve had 2 popular bands in Asheville, as well. We put on multi-media music and dance shows. The recordings that came from some of my solo work, as well as from my Asheville bands, allowed me to make a CD. I released that in conjunction with an article written about me in the July 2003 issue of The New Yorker. I played music with Peter Gabriel and the famous Bonobo Apes from Georgia State University. We made it onto Spotify. It’s called “Connected.”
I’ve also done a lot of busking in Asheville. Native American flute music is another passion of mine, and I have 2 CDs that you can download in a number of places. I have also made about 1500 bamboo flutes and even made the flute that Renee plays at school.
There’s a rumor that you’re writing a screen play? Is that true? Tell us about it.
I just got my IMDb page for a movie I co-wrote called Mercy Kill. We hope to film it in the fall for a 2019 release. I have been co-writing for about 15 years and have written 5 screenplays in the last 3 years. I have 5 other screenplays I’ve written, as well.
What was your favorite subject in school?
My favorite subject in school was music. I liked history, too. English became another favorite once I got that life-changing English teacher in 10th grade.
What’s the best way to start the day?
I start everyday with a shower, a healthy breakfast and a big glass of water.
What is something that everyone should do at least once in their lives?
I think everyone should pursue their dreams and not give up on their Creator-given talents. One particular thing people should try is growing their own food.
What are two items on your bucket list?
The first is to move to southern France and win an Oscar for screenwriting. And, okay, a Sundance award for writing would be cool, too!
Do you have any irrational fears? What are they?
My biggest irrational fear is that I will die alone without being with my soulmate. Ah, melancholy right?
If you could talk to any person, living or deceased, for half an hour, who would it be?
I’ve met and hung out with 2 of my musical idols, Peter Gabriel and Peter Hammill. I’ve also associated with some of the top primate, dolphin and elephant researchers in the world. But if I could have a half hour with John Lennon or Kate Bush, I’d be in heaven!
What advice would you give to yourself as an elementary school student? A middle school student?
My advice to my younger self would be to have a better prosperity conscience, not be shy and take a risk.
I built a geodesic dome home in Madison County from a cardboard model! It’s still standing and a wonderful family is living in it.
I think I was the first Rainbow employee to attend Building Bridges.
Another fun fact is that Renee is the 4th director I’ve worked for at Rainbow.
The integrated RCS curriculum fosters learning in a holistic way.
This approach is void of the restrictions often imposed by teaching discreet subjects. Purposeful integration acknowledges, builds on and reinforces the existing relationships between subject areas and/or topics. The hope is that learning is then more easily transferred into other settings.
Integration is also a “brain compatible strategy” as described by brain researcher, Eric Jenson. Jenson (1996) suggests that, “The brain learns best in real-life, immersion-style, multi-path learning [and] fragmented, piecemeal presenting can forever kill the joy and love of learning.” This immersion style is considered a best practice and is embraced by our teachers. It is, therefore, not uncommon for the theme, topic or unit of study to be woven into the fabric of an entire school day, week, and/or month. For example, the element of water and its states of matter are introduced in kindergarten. First grade elaborates on the water cycle and studies rivers and oceans. During these units, water often becomes a central theme that invites cross curricular learning.
Centering offers cross curricular learning opportunities.
The intended purpose of centering is to awaken the spiritual center of each child, opening pathways to learning. The centering practice activity includes a contemplative experience, but teachers also strive to extend the learning by integrating with the academic curriculum. The Mind Jar centering serves as an excellent example. The Mind Jar begins with a conversation about the various properties of water. Perhaps prompted by photographs of water in various forms or by a book such as, The Water Dance by Thomas Locker. Discussion yields a shared understanding of the ways in which water moves- Water is always moving, flowing, changing, essential to life, found deep in the ocean, under the ground, high in the sky, freezing, melting, etc. The focus being more heavily on the magical and mysterious qualities of the element rather than the scientific descriptions.
The teacher guides students to make connections between their own thoughts and feelings to the movements of water in the natural world
(i.e. a raging river can represent anger, a waterfall- excitement, snowfall- peace) After giving an example or two, the children are then prompted to suggest additional feelings and water movements connections. The teacher explains that The Mind Jar is simply a jar filled with water and glitter. But it is representative a tiny world where we can watch the movements of water and match those movements to our own feelings. The water represents our mind’s natural state and the glitter represents our thoughts, emotions, fears, concerns, and wonderings. When the jar is shaken, our thoughts will whirl around and our mind becomes cloudy and hard to see through. But, as the glitter begins to settle and still, so do our thoughts and feelings. It is in this stillness and calm state that we are able to make good decisions.
The Mind Jar is a simple mason jar containing water, glitter, glitter glue, and food coloring.
Combine warm water with the glitter glue, glitter, and food coloring. Close the Jar tightly. Depending on the amount of glue you use, the glitter will settle more slowly. This tool can be used when a child is feeling stressed, overwhelmed or upset. It can calm and relax them. It can serve as a meditation tool or a self-regulation tool. You can explore many versions of this on the web. If you have an interest in extending the learning from this centering, you may want to try a follow up centering using the picture book, Moody Cow Meditates. Peter the cow is moody after having a rough day. A series of unfortunate circumstances leads Peter’s grandfather to teach him how to settle his mind and let go of his frustration using some mediation tools.
Rainbow Community School had a special guest this week!
Best-selling author and Ph.D., Lisa Miller, toured our school. Lisa authored The Spiritual Child and is also the head of clinical psychology at Columbia University Teachers College. She has conducted and compiled decades of research on spiritual development in children and teens. Her research specifically quantified the effects of healthy spiritual development on mental health, resilience and thriving and provided empirical evidence that children are naturally spiritual beings. Her book also serves as a resource for parents as they navigate the important work of raising spiritual children.
Lisa is currently heading up a new project called the Collaborative for Spiritual Development. This work is aiming to develop resources for educators who wish to nurture their students’ spiritual capacities. Lisa became aware of Rainbow’s 40-year history of embracing a secular spiritual curriculum and as you learned in our Executive Director’s video, she wanted to find out more about how Rainbow is doing just that! We are hoping that her visit will yield new resources for a wide range of educators working to nurture the spiritual identities of their students.
The commitment to this work is outwardly palpable among Rainbow’s staff and faculty and as a result, the spiritual curriculum is woven into the daily rhythm of each classroom.
The RCS spiritual curriculum has four primary aspects under which all its goals and objectives fall:
- Mystery and Contemplation
- Spiritual Virtues
- Ceremony and Celebration
- World Traditions.
Often, a centering practice is developed with one specific aspect in mind. Many Omega Middle School (OMS) centerings embrace theMystery and Contemplationaspect. These centerings welcome the unknown as a source of inspiration and wonder and are filled with questions, quotes or prompts that invite the students to seek deeper meaning and purpose through reflection. Just this morning, for example, Albert Einstein’s wise words were written on the whiteboard as a welcoming for each OMS student upon arrival.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
One of the OMS classrooms has a special centering called The Philosopher’s Box. The intended purpose of this centering is to encourage this deep questioning.
To introduce this activity, ask the students what they know about the word “philosophy”, and/or if they know what the role of a philosopher is. Then share the etymology of the word “philosophy.” This word is Latin and Greek in origin and means to love knowledge: Philo=love, Sophia=knowledge. Follow by explaining that philosophy is the study of fundamental questions about the nature of existence, big ideas such as love, truth, beauty, and what it means to lead a fulfilling life.
At this point the teacher introduces the Philosopher’s Box. This is a physical box decorated with a bit of magic and whimsy or as you see fit.
Each student then writes down at least two philosophical “wonderings.” These are questions with no right or wrong answers.
Some examples for students may be:
- “Do you believe life exists on other planets?”
- “Is it important to always be 100% honest and truthful at all times (why or why not?)”
- “Do you believe it’s possible to predict the future?”
- “If you could have the abilities of one animal, which animal would you choose and why (i.e. to fly like a bird or to breath underwater like a fish)?
After giving specific examples, the students are asked to take the next few moments to reflect upon the kinds of open-ended questions they wonder about, and then place their questions in the box. From here there are many options for discussion. The teacher can pick a question at random from the box, and have students take turns answering. Or, students can pair up and discuss their answers with each other. Students and teachers can add to the box throughout the year – for example, when a good “wondering” or “what if?” question comes up during class discussion.
This centering is intended to provide a healthy and intentional space where learners can feel safe and supported as they ponder the “big questions.” Centerings like these help to bring a sense of meaning and purpose into their lives. Research suggests that having a stronger sense of purpose can make a significant difference in our lives. In fact, Lisa Miller’s research, link spiritual purpose to improved health, well-being, and a more meaningful and successful life.
Centerings like these connect our students to something greater than themselves- to something deeply spiritual.
Jenny Armocida – Team Highlight
There are some incredible things going on in 6th grade right now. Students are preparing to present on their businesses they created as part of our Rainbow Marketplace on April 27. Recently, 6th had Peace Awards Ceremonies, and have done other incredible things this year such as Pi Day, and a Mayan bartering marketplace, to name a few. We thought we’d take a moment to highlight Jenny Armocida for our Team Highlight this month. She’s our 6th grade teacher who will also be leading a “Staying Sharp Summer Camp” here at Rainbow. Cynthia recently sat down with her for a teacher interview.
You’re originally from Ohio. How did you end up at Rainbow?
It’s true – I’m originally from Ohio. I went to school in Sarasota, Floria but it was too hot. So I moved to Nyack, New York. But that was too cold. So I came “to the middle” to Asheville and it was just right! I had learned about this amazing school called Rainbow and I knew that wanted to teach there. In order to teach there, I had to move to Asheville. So yes, I moved here specifically to teach at Rainbow!
What made you decide to become a teacher? How long have you been a teacher?
I have been a teacher for nearly 12 years, specifically as a classroom teacher. I chose it as a profession because my favorite things are learning, asking questions, being curious, exploring the world around me, and I also like being with young people. They’re also really curious and creative. The best job I could have that would allow me to do all these things was to be a teacher. An added bonus is that you get to learn right alongside your students.
What’s the hardest part of your job? The easiest?
The hardest part of my job is knowing that you’re never really finished with it. So if I’m at my house or on vacation, I’m always thinking about my job: ideas for lessons, new things to try, that sort of thing. That can be really fun, but sometimes it’s challenging to take a break from my “teacher self.”
The easiest part is, well, what’s most enjoyable, is definitely the relationships I develop with my students. I get to know them and enjoy being with them. I get to try so many new things.
You recently had Brother Wolf come to your classroom, as well as held a Peace Awards Day. In addition, students will be tackling their small business enterprises that are also socially beneficial. Where do you get all your creative ideas for lessons and units?
I think that I am really inspired by working with all my colleagues who are so innovative and inventive. I see them pursuing their interests, sharing the best of themselves, their ideas, and passions. That compels me to look inside myself to see what’s important. Then I think about how I’d like to share all that with my students. I also enjoy doing whatever small things I can to make the world a better place. The result is that I naturally incorporate those ideas into the curriculum.
You were also recognized in 2015 with the Leavey Award for leadership in entrepreneurship education. Can you tell us more about that?
The award came from the Leavey Foundation. They recognize teachers who develop entrepreneurship curricula. I shared with them the small business projects my Rainbow students created. I also let them know that our students present their businesses at the Rainbow Marketplace. The requirement is that these businesses are also socially beneficial. The Leavey Foundation liked that because I found out I had won their award.
As an award recipient, I got a chance to go to New Orleans where they held a social studies conference. I learned about other people who were teaching entrepreneurship programs. However, I was the only middle school teacher there – the rest were high school teachers. I was happy that I could share that it’s not just something that older kids can do. Middle school students can create businesses, too.
What is your favorite subject to teach?
That is hard! We’re fortunate here at Rainbow that we have integrated lessons that incorporate so many subjects – so it’s varied. But, my personal passion is literature. I’m a big reader – I love fiction and I like to write for fun. I also really love doing the entrepreneurship projects. I enjoy history and one of my favorite lessons is when we turn the classroom into a “middle ages feudal system.” There are so many things that I enjoy teaching. I can’t pick, so I’d have to say them I enjoy them all!
What book are you reading? (Or, what is your favorite book?)
I just got back from Cuba (over spring break). Because of that, I’ve been reading a lot of Cuban writers lately. Right now, I’m reading Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia. The other awesome book I’ve read lately is called, Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. It was really compelling and a humorous read.
What is something that you’re interested in that most people don’t know?
I had a month where I was briefly interested in “tiny cooking.” That has since passed. But really, I love needlefelting. This is an art form where you use a “wad of wool” and a needle. You basically sculpt the wood and make forms out of it. I’ve made birds, tiny people, tiny hamburgers – they’re all very small. I love to make little creatures on a tiny scale. I once made a terrarium with tiny needlefelted animals inside and gave it away as a gift.
What’s the farthest you’ve traveled from home?
I would have to say that one of the farthest placed I’ve traveled was when I went to Iceland. I also went to Germany another time. Iceland, however, convinced me that I should only do beach vacations, though.
What is something that everyone should do at least once in their lives?
People should spend the day with a group of sixth graders. You will learn many interesting things and ponder questions you never thought of before. You will also laugh A LOT.
What are two items on your bucket list?
I’ve never done karaoke. Someday I’d like to try that. I’d also entertain the idea of owning a pet goat – just for the pure joy of it. I’d like a pygmy goat specifically.
If you could talk to any person, living or deceased, for half an hour, who would it be?
I would talk to the Dalai Lama. I feel like he’s very wise and seems to have a joyful sense of humor. I think it would be fun and enlightening.
What advice would you give to your 6th grade self?
I would definitely tell myself just to be authentic and true to who I am. I’d also say to follow my interests and passions and not to worry so much about what other people think.
Well there you have it, friends. A great interview with Jenny. We’re thankful she took the time to have this interview and share with our Rainbow family!
Academic Achievement of Rainbow Learners: Alumni Performance After Rainbow
We wanted to track our alumni performance after Rainbow and share just how well our students perform.
Finding data that accurately reflects how our holistic learners perform academically is complex.
Standardized tests certainly don’t reflect our curriculum or our beliefs about developmentally
appropriate education. Our curriculum emphasizes critical thinking and innovation.
In looking at facts and figures in math, Rainbow students score highest on quantitative reasoning and sometimes lower in rote computation. Language arts and reading scores commonly reflect slightly lower numbers on mechanics (spelling, punctuation, etc.), but high on reasoning, analysis, and organizing ideas.
Our Students Are Prepared to Lead
As we move into the age of artificial intelligence, our graduating students are prepared to be leaders. They know how to truly think, design, plan, and act. For a child who progresses sequentially through the grade levels at Rainbow, the early years allow ample time to explore, think, and learn content – especially science and social studies. Students explore their world, ponder it, organize, and eventually learn how to re-create it, with unique ideas.
In later years, students learn mechanics and perfect their computational skills. This allows them to learn those skills quickly and easily. This frees up time in the younger years so that they have every opportunity to “light up all areas of the brain.” They don’t have to overly drill on these few, narrow skills. By the end of 8th grade, our students are ready for high school and beyond. They often test out of introductory courses into more advanced levels of Math, English language and reading, as well as more advanced world language classes.
How Do Rainbow Graduates Do In High School?
One of the most common questions parents ask during the admissions process is “How well do Rainbow graduates perform in high school?” While the majority of our graduates attend SILSA – an all honors science inquiry-based program at Asheville High – RCS students attend a variety of schools.
Recently we asked SILSA and Asheville High to disaggregate the GPA data of Rainbow students attending high school there. They analyzed all 29 RCS graduates, from freshmen to seniors, and compared their GPA averages with the rest of the SILSA student population overall:
We’re grateful to SILSA for compiling this data for us! SILSA often compliments us on our Rainbow graduates. We get news of the many awards they win, and this numerical GPA data is very helpful in helping us track how well our students are doing.
The second most common school our graduates attend is Carolina Day School. We will be sure to collect a list of the many awards they will be garnering at the end of this year. Last year, a Rainbow graduate won the Faculty Prize at the Carolina Day graduation. This is a terrific honor. This prize is prestigious: all the faculty vote for a student based on character, academics, and service.
We are so very proud to send Rainbow students into the world who are accomplished, confident, and creative learners. They are prepared to be compassionate leaders in a changing world. They think out of the box and are poised to innovate.
In fact, our current 4th grade teacher, Susie, shared a funny story recently. In her first year at Rainbow, she was administering a standardized test to her students. She knew she was at a different kind of school when her students started coming up to her saying, “We don’t like any of these answers. Can we just write them in?” This is not unusual for an RCS student, and it’s what sets Rainbow Community School apart.