Kaleidoscope – May 2019
I am the earth and the earth is me. Each blade of grass, each honey bee / each bit of mud, and stick and stone / is blood and muscle, skin and bone. I am the earth and the earth is me!
~One of Rainbow’s May Day songs
The song “I Am the Earth and the Earth is Me” captures the heart of Rainbow’s underlying philosophy: We are all interconnected. I recently heard about a satellite video where one can “see” the earth breathing. We are all a part of one giant organism, and that is the underlying message we hope to convey to every child. It’s a very different message from an educational paradigm that assumes that we are all competing with each other.
The hidden curriculum
The term “hidden” curriculum refers to everything children are learning outside of the stated curriculum. The hidden curriculum includes how the classroom and campus look and feel, how people treat one another, how the teachers speak to the children and so on. Some experts believe that children learn far more from the hidden curriculum than anything else. Our beliefs and values are shaped by the hidden curriculum. In short, we become our environment.
Personally, I grew up in a traditional educational space where we were told to “treat one another as you would want to be treated,” but the hidden curriculum had a different message. The hidden curriculum taught us to primarily “watch out for number one,” which may seem like a simple self-preservation technique; but ironically, when humans try to out-compete one another we end up putting the whole world, including ourselves, in jeopardy. Thus we have racism, global warming, extreme economic injustice, and a host of other human-caused maladies.
How does this understanding of interconnection affect our educational model on a day-to-day basis? One simple example is the three breaths every class takes together at the beginning of morning centering. Many schools that are still operating in the “competition paradigm” are adopting mindfulness practices, which is great. However, often these practices are intended to make kids behave better, or perform better, which is fine, but so much more is possible. Instead of having a group of 20 children individually close their eyes and meditate, we begin the day with students taking three breaths together, at the same time. In the simple act they become as one organism – like one giant set of lungs. This helps set the tone for the whole day. The hidden curriculum is one of being connected.
Sue and Hobey Ford on May Day
Another aspect of the hidden curriculum is the underlying meaning and message in things as simple as the games we play, the songs we sing, and the things we celebrate. May Day is a celebration of Life and all its glory, which includes celebrating glorious you, glorious me, and all of the glorious children. Were you able to attend the May Day celebration? Did you wear wings or a crown of leaves? Sit on the grass? Did you dance to Jai Ma? Eat strawberries and cream? Hug a friend as tightly as possible? I hope you made the most of every minute. May Day also marks the school year coming to an end. We are so grateful for this wonderful year and are looking forward to some new additions for next year.
It’s that time of year when we get ready to say goodbye to friends who are moving on to new adventures and welcome new staff. Over all, we again have very little turn-over, but here are a few of the changes for the 2019-20 school year:
Kurt Campbell is hired to teach fourth grade next year, as Molly Sawyer is leaving that position. Kurt is pretty well known around town as a popular elementary teacher for Asheville City Schools, as well as for the local volunteer work he does. One parent who found out about him coming to Rainbow sent me an email:
“I am so happy for him and for Rainbow, he is such a multi-talented person with so much heart, I’m excited for his future students!…Just wanted to say, great choice. 😀 I know Kurt primarily through Asheville Performing Arts Academy where he does *amazing* work with musical direction and encouragement for the kids, but I’ve also witnessed him as a soccer coach when [my son] played a couple years ago…Whenever we were on the same field, I was so impressed with his ability to really connect with each kid and find both goals and encouragement for them all. So happy to hear this has worked out!”
We look forward to having him on staff next year. He is already busy with our “onboarding” process, which includes trainings, mentoring, meetings, classes to take, and observations. His two boys will also be joining Rainbow.
In Omega, we have some shifting around. Omega’s structure is changing slightly, and 6th grade will be more deeply incorporated with 7th and 8th grade, particularly for elective classes in the afternoon. Therefore, Omega will have two assistant teachers who will also lead elective classes. Justin Pilla will still spend some time in 6th grade, where he is currently Assistant Teacher, but he will more often be in 7/8, and he will teach humanities and art electives.
On a lucky lark we had the opportunity to hire Christa Flores as the other assistant teacher (primarily in 6th grade) and as a STEM educator. Christa has a degree in science education from Columbia University. She is an author and educator who specializes in the “maker movement,” teaching kids how to invent and engineer. Some of you may know her from the “How to Invent Anything” after school club, which she taught here through the Asheville Museum of Science.
Mark Hanf & Kate Folkman
We wish Mark Hanf and Kate Folkman well. Both have held part-time positions in Omega, and both have decided that their position and/or part-time work was no longer a fit for their next phases in life. Mark has been at Rainbow in several different capacities for 11 years. Kate was new to the staff this year, and we hope she will continue here as a parent or in another capacity.
Paris Sigler & Marisa Capablo
Another change is in the preschool after school program. We wish Marisa Capalbo, After School Lead Teacher, many blessings as she moves to Hawaii this summer! Taking her place will be Paris Sigler. Paris is a Rainbow alumnus who first discovered she loved working with preschool children when she was a counselor in training – an Omega Middle School program where students work in the preschool during the summer. Paris is graduating with her early childhood degree this spring, so we finally get to have Paris, the “child whisperer,” full time at Rainbow!
Finally, Shawna Grasty is going to graduate school, and she will not work in after school next year. In addition to being a caring and grounded after school teacher, Shawna has done an incredible job working with Love in Action, particularly with our food bank, which distributes healthy food to over 30 Rainbow families, serving about 100 people weekly. Shawna has a huge heart. I hope you have a chance to wish her well before the end of the school year.
A New Formula for Math
For over a decade Rainbow has instituted “school-wide math,” where all students, 2nd – 8th grade have math at the same time, which allows students who are extremely gifted the opportunity to go to a math class at a higher level. Our “normal” math track has our 8th grade students completing their first year of high school math and receiving high school credit before they leave Rainbow. Advanced students will have already completed two years of high school math by the time they leave Rainbow!
After many months of analysis the faculty and administration have decided to curtail the program back, so that students in 2nd – 5th grade who are advanced in math can stay in their classroom with their peers. (No more missing part of centering while transitioning between classes!) Once students start in Omega (6th grade), they will have many levels of math, including the more advanced classes they can travel to. We decided this adjustment was in the best interest of all students, and the healthiest for the culture of each class.
Our world has become such an anxiety-producing society that almost all of us have more anxiety than we are even aware of. Stress is normal, and according to psychologists, even necessary, but anxiety can be debilitating. If you listen to the news you are probably aware that anxiety in children and young adults has become a national epidemic, a mental health crisis. But there is hope. My recent blog post talks about this and a solution being researched at the Yale Child Study Center.
Screen Free Week
Screen Free week has ended, but feel free to be free! I LOVE this piece of art Mark Hanf did for Screen Free week. The message is clear. There’s a whole world out there.
On a personal note, it feels like I am starting a “new life!” I will still be executive director at Rainbow next year, but I am so excited to have more time. You may know that I have been working on a doctorate degree from Teachers College at Columbia University. Last month I finished my dissertation. The title is, “Learning That Meets Life: The Lived Experience of Teaching with Secular Spiritual Pedagogy.” The dissertation journey was incredibly rewarding, and I learned a lot from the research, which I will be sharing with the faculty. But, as you can imagine, it feels great to be done. However, I will be missing almost a full week of school from May 21-24, to travel to New York with my family and participate in graduation and the 250 year old “hooding ceremony” at St. John’s Cathedral. I promise to share pictures.
Stand Against Racism
For Stand Against Racism Month, Rainbow participated in two events. We hosted the “How to Talk to Children about Race” workshop for parents and educators. The event was so well-attended; we had to slightly adjust our plans for the evening. Participants were divided into the age group they were interested in, age 2 to 13. Each circle learned about stages in children’s development and racial identity, and we discussed how they play out on a day-to-day basis. Rainbow faculty has been using these stages to do a racial equity curriculum audit all year, and it was rewarding to expand the discussion to parents and other educators.
The other event was the Westside Walk for Peace with Hall Fletcher, Asheville Primary, Vance Elementary, and Francine Delaney. Children made signs, marched along Haywood Road; and they gave speeches on the lawn of Trinity Methodist. Several Rainbow students, including children as young as first grade, spoke to the crowd. My husband attended (as a reporter for Asheville FM) and he said, with tears in his eyes, it was “The best thing I’d ever seen!” I was so proud of all the kids who spoke. As always, children are so heartfelt. Their simple wisdom and truthful words cut through any confusion, declaring things like, “Sometimes people are treated different because of the color of their skin. And that’s just not fair!”
The Green New Deal
Also inspired by young people, I attended the Sunrise Movement’s event about the Green New Deal, which was hosted at Rainbow last weekend. The young people and adults at this event helped me understand what the Green New Deal is, and I felt so much hope. I highly recommend you watch this very short animated video to really understand the vision. It’s brilliant.
“A miracle worker is not geared toward fighting the world that is, but creating the world that could be.”
~Marianne Williamson (A Return to Love.)
I chose to be an educator so I could help create “the world that could be.” Just as every child is a miracle – the potential for the world that could be, so is every teacher a miracle worker. We only have a few precious weeks left in the 2018-2019 school year. I hope your family makes the most of it; and I hope you have the opportunity to share you appreciation for all the miracle workers in your life.
When your child is anxious
In the two decades I have been in education, it has been alarming to watch the levels of anxiety increase in children. Child anxiety has become widespread, often crippling youngsters of the self-assuredness they need to be happy and successful in life. But there is good news. Doctors at Yale Child Study Center think they might have a “cure,” and it begins with parents.
Take a look at this NPR article:
For Kids With Anxiety, Parents Learn to Let Them Face Their Fears
This story from NPR provides a brief look into this new program at Yale that is having demonstrable success by working with the parents of anxious children, rather than with the children themselves. The story investigates one particular family who was struggling with anxiety. The family’s son learned that he can tolerate anxiety through facing his fears. Alternatively, the typical method would have been for the child to attend therapy. Not only can this add a layer of discomfort for any child, but if they are coming home to anxious parents or parents who continue to try to shield their children from discomfort, that would negate the positive effects of therapy. The Yale program has a completely different approach: to only counsel the parents. Parents learn how to ensure their child feels heard and loved, but also learns resilience.
Everyone wants their child to be happy. Rainbow Community School is truly a place of joy, but it is also a very REAL place. As much as we would love to protect every child from hearing hurtful words, being excluded from friendships, engaging in work that feels too challenging, dealing with grief, or sustaining physical injuries – all those things happen here. For example, almost every child hits a point in their education where they don’t want to come to school. Sometimes they are experiencing anxiety that they may not be able to fully articulate. It could be that another student was unkind to them. Perhaps they were absent one day and when they returned to school they felt behind and lost, creating discomfort and dread. Whether this lasts for a few days for a few years, it is heartbreaking for parents, especially at a school like Rainbow. It can be difficult for well-meaning parents to imagine anything other than joy.
The secret is to remember that true joy goes much deeper than emotions. Feelings of happiness, sadness, anger and bliss go up and down with our life’s circumstances. We have good days and bad days; but true joy is a way of being. True joy lies in the ability for us to move toward conflict with compassion, knowing we have the strength and wisdom to flourish. For children with anxiety, moving toward conflict is especially challenging, but ultimately prove successful.
Anxious child, anxious parent
In the two decades I have been a school leader, I have seen many trends. One positive trend is the decrease I have witnessed in autocratic parenting. Simultaneously, there has been an increase in parents using connection and compassion instead of fear, guilt, and other punitive measures. However, many parents find that balancing a desire to be compassionate while building responsibility and resiliency in their children can be a challenge. One way to address this is to draw clear boundaries and require children to do things they are afraid of or that they find uncomfortable. This is in line with what the Yale Child Study Center has found. Shielding children from discomfort is fueling an epidemic of anxiety.
When we protect our children too much, or when we jump in to defend them, or to solve their discomforts or issues we can inadvertently send the message that they are not capable. This can cause tremendous anxiety, as the child’s world feels out of control if they don’t sense they have the capacity to move through problems on their own. When a child comes home upset, they can sense if their parent is anxious about their unhappiness. Like a contagion, this anxiety can grow for each family member. However, if the parent is calm and caring, using statements such as, “I’m sorry, that must be so scary. What did you do to get through that?”, it builds the child’s sense of self-efficacy. These can be challenges that last for many months, and can feel like a lifetime to a child, or even to parents. But every time a problem improves – however gradually – or goes away, children learn they are able to endure. They learn through experience that this, too, shall pass. They begin to understand that joy is something inside them, and rely less on their external circumstances.
We live in an anxiety-producing world, and we all land somewhere on the spectrum of anxiety. Some have high anxiety and some have lower levels. What’s important is that parents recognize anxiety in themselves and their children for what it is – without judgment, without shame – so that they can move toward finding balance.
Ivy League Universities are naming anxiety and mental health issues as the biggest problems they now face with students. Admissions processes are changing to look for students who have a secure sense of social and emotional well-being.
At Rainbow, we want every child to be truly prepared for their future. That’s why social and emotional learning are integral to our 7 Domains program. If you think your child is anxious, we are also here to meet you with love, care, and comfort. You can always speak with your child’s teacher(s) and ask for honest practical advice on how to approach your parenting. Also, Will Ray and our counseling team are trained in best practices and here to help. All you have to do is ask, and remember you are not alone.
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.