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.
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!
Have you seen what’s over on the roof of the auditorium? Getting solar power was one of those far-off dreams until…it became reality!
In 2017, an anonymous donor awarded Rainbow the funds to get solar panels installed. These are located on the east side of the auditorium. This donation will help to reduce the school’s reliance on fossil fuels.
In fact, the installation of these solar panels will provide a benefit of 60+ years. The bulk of Rainbow’s utility bills go toward the auditorium. It’s a big space. Heating and cooling can get expensive.
There’s also the environment to consider. Rainbow will reduce its carbon footprint by huge margins. The solar panels help to reduce the school’s utility expenses while helping the planet. In about 30 years, the panel efficiency will go down some, but will still yield significant energy savings.
Over the course of the process, one of our Rainbow parents had been in touch with representatives from Duke and other organizations to get the interconnections turned on. “Interconnection” means how a “distributed generation system, such as solar photovoltaics (PVs), can connect to the grid.” (Source)
A local solar installation company, Sugar Hollow, installed the solar panels late in 2017. The school had to wait until 2018 to turn on the interconnection. This was due to a rebate from Duke Energy, which also helped with significant savings for the school.
When Sugar Hollow installed the solar panels, they felt really connected to the school and what it stands for. Sugar Hollow is a living wage certified company and their philosophy parallels Rainbow’s mission:
At Sugar Hollow Solar, we care deeply about moving our society towards a more sustainable future – not just in the environmental sense but in how it relates to overall quality of life, now.
The panels they used for installation were manufactured in the US, as well. As a company, they work hard to source everything here in the US.
The Sugar Hollow team installing solar panels on top of the auditorium.
Because this was the first year that Rainbow started the interconnection process, it took awhile to get the power systems connected, approved and ready to go. When it came time to “flip the switch,” the whole school community was so thrilled and the anticipation was palpable. Rainbow elected to have a school-wide celebration to commemorate the event.
Students gathered at the auditorium to view the solar panels and have a “solar song circle” – it was RCS’ first song circle of the year.
Sugar Hollow also joined us for that celebration. Now, students will be able to tell exactly what the solar panels are doing moment by moment that demonstrate power output and usage. Check out the Solar Power Resources section on our website. It has the link to the energy performance of the solar panels.
Since the founding of Sugar Hollow, they have surpassed 1.5 gigawatts hours of energy generation – from the sun! That’s like planting 28,931 trees!! We have so much gratitude for these folks and the work they do!
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.
The week back to school after a long winter break is often buzzing with excitement and anticipation. During these days, children will share stories of their time apart, celebrate coming back together and show enthusiasm for what is to come. Time is also set aside for deep reflection, individual and collaborative goal setting and for the renewal of commitments to oneself and to others.
This last week yielded particularly frigid temperatures and harsh weather conditions, embedded within the season of darkness. These winter circumstances provided a perfect context for a centering led by 4th-grade teachers, Susie and Molly.
As the centering began, Susie picked one of several snake skins that were decorating the classroom altar. She explained that the snake skin was a symbol of renewal and that by being able to let go of or shed that which no longer serves us, we make room for a renewal of those things that do.
She then invited all her students to collect a meditation mat and cushion, to remove their shoes, and to lie down and stretch out their bodies. She asked them to begin to settle in by allowing their bodies to become still, to notice their breath and to quiet their minds. She played some soothing music while she and Molly applied warm compresses to the eyes of those students who had requested them. She explained that the compresses served as a tool that helps you to relax, tune out the things around you and help you to send your focus inward.
Susie then led the students in a meditation that began with a body scan; a mindfulness technique that allows you to focus your attention on your physical being in an effort to achieve deep relaxation.
Susie proceeded with a guided meditation. She stated, “now that the work of your body is settled, lets gently enter the mind. Even in the state of easy rest, your thoughts have great power.”
“You have the power to build light inside of yourself each day. So as we settle into winter, a time of darkness and rest, take these next few breaths to speak kind thoughts to yourself. Allow yourself to imagine that with each thought, your body fills with light.”
“Now that you have built your fire, keep it burning. Remember that this time of renewal does not only come once a year, but every day, and with every moment. Continue to stoke your fire”
“You also have the power to share your light with others.”
“Imagine that your light streams out through your ears, use this to listen for opportunities to compliment a friend.”
“Imagine that your light streams out through your hands, use this to create beauty and offer a gentle touch to friends or family.”
“Imagine that your light streams out through your eyes, use this to observe others from a place of integrity and empathy so that you do not judge just based on what you see.”
“Imagine that your light streams out through your mouth, use this to speak with intention and compassion because words are so deeply powerful.”
“Imagine that your light streams out of the top of your head, use this to share your brilliance and uplifting thoughts with others.”
Susie closed centering by inviting an awareness back to the room, the present moment and one another.
I am sure many of you have already engaged in your own reflective practice for the new year. I am sure many of you have worked to let go of the things that don’t serve you. I am sure many of you are already rich with goals and intentions for a new year filled with joy and happiness.
In order to better achieve those goals or live those intentions, I invite you, during this time of darkness, to claim your personal power and to embrace the tools and techniques that help you to turn your light and share it with others.
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.” ~ Dumbledore
The words of American spiritual teacher and author Ram Dass encourage us to live FULLY, in the present moment, without judgement. How do you achieve this? What practices do you embrace?
“Be Here Now” for example, calls on mindfulness practice. “The quieter you become, the more you can hear” invites stillness. “The heart surrenders everything to the moment. The mind judges and holds back” summons your love.
As individuals on our own unique spiritual journeys, we are always looking for inspiration that may guide our inner work. Ram Dass’s wisdom offers insight and intention that may aid in cultivating a heightened self-awareness. We know that an elevated self-awareness has the capacity to lead to meaningful and enduring relationships.
RCS is founded on meaningful relationships.
The relationship between the teacher and the learner is the heart of education and a parent is a child’s first teacher. Rainbow honors that and strives to communicate with parents compassionately and empathetically, learn from the parent, see the child from through many lenses, support the child holistically and bridge home life and school life. One of the many ways these relationships are nurtured is through meaningful and intentional conferencing. Rainbow sets aside a conference time in early September called Listening Conference. During this conference the faculty calls upon self awareness by practicing the skills of deep listening.
Deep Listening is a way of hearing in which we are fully present in the moment without judgement or control. Deep listening asks us to let go of our inner dialogue, pre-formed opinions and assumptions, challenges us to abstain from crafting a response and simply listen in a mindful and respectful way to what is be shared. This is a time to be attentive not reactive, to listening actively not passively, to embrace compassion and empathy, AND to bring a great self-awareness to the act of listening.
To do this effectively requires that our mind takes a backseat to our heart.
Each conference embraces these powerful questions: Can we develop a practice of listening that allows another person to find their next step? Can we become the birthplace of understanding for someone else? Can we learn to carry in our hearts the destinies of others?
Each conference opens with a sacred ritual. Teachers may light a candle, read a reflective quote, hold space for silence, lead a guided mediation and/or offer a prompt with the purpose of inviting the child’s spirit to the conversation.
How can what we do at RCS inspire your own personal or professional work? What if we practiced deep and mindful listening in our everyday lives, what if we always invited spirit in to the conversation?