What’s in a mission?
This school year I will be writing a series for Heart of the Matter based on our board Ends Policies. Ends Policies are written by the board as the guiding light for our school.
They point the way toward who we want to be and where we want to go. Ends Policies may seem lofty because they are meant to be grand goals that we may never fully reach but we are always working toward.
The Executive Director is responsible for implementing systems and programming at Rainbow Community School that work toward our Ends. For this series of Heart of the Matter, I will be sharing my interpretation of each Board Ends Policy so we all know what our intentions are as a community.
The first and most important Ends Policy is our mission. What follows is an interpretation of our mission that is broken down, phrase by phrase. I hope that this feels as alive in you as it feels alive in me.
Reneé Owen, Executive Director
This first verb in our mission is very important. As we often state, an education at RCS is more about development than mere achievement. Learning is the core of education. However, if learning is only instrumental, technical, or social conditioning, it is not sufficient to create humans who will become their highest selves — humans who will help society to evolve to reach its highest potential.
Stages of Development
Human development is a complex matter that, according to science, comes in stages. Children will remain at one stage for many years, but while they are in that stage, we are preparing them to successfully and beautifully transition into the next stage of development when they are developmentally ready.
Additionally, we are helping them lay a foundation for successful development throughout adulthood by teaching them how to think critically, have strong character with positive values, and be integrated “whole” human beings. Achievement comes naturally when humans have been educated to understand and utilize their whole selves.
Note that the term “developmentally appropriate” is often heard at Rainbow. As pedagogical scientists, we understand the appropriate abilities of learners at various ages.
We know, for example, that you can teach a child to mimic advanced academic behavior at an age that is premature for them to truly understand it deeply, therefore stunting their ability to be more advanced at older ages. Likewise, we know that when only one aspect of development is overemphasized at stages of development, it stunts holistic development in other domains.
The most common example in our society is the advanced “false” development many schools try to force onto children before they are ready. Because the children are not ready, forcing such advanced academic work on them requires cutting out other activities that would develop their whole selves such as play, creative activities, and unstructured social time.
When one area of the brain is overemphasized, developmental “windows” of opportunity are missed in other areas. These missed developmental opportunities can never be fully recovered, and can result in a host of maladies, notably mental health issues.
Accomplished, confident, and creative:
Beauty, Truth, and Goodness
In general, this triad is meant to evoke the triad of beauty, truth, and goodness. Although accomplished, confident, and creative don’t match up one-to-one with beauty, truth, and goodness, the concept of health and wholeness coming in triads is important.
Triads create balance that a duality can never achieve. Triads create a dialectic where two aspects of a triad may be working together or in tension with one another, and then the third element is a catalyst for change or evolution/development to a higher level.
Although it is not exact, or one-to-one, as I say above, this triad of accomplished, confident, and creative loosely relates to beauty, truth, and goodness as such:
RCS is not just a learning lab where students will devour knowledge provided by a teacher; it is real life. We want students to have authentic experiences in the world including opportunities to see problems in the world, and to act out of goodness to alleviate them, either through service, service- learning, or creating inventions and design plans that have the potential to help.
“Accomplished” also means that students need to be productive. They need to leave RCS having literal, material accomplishments such as awards and achievements; and they also (or more so) have to establish productive and positive work habits and manners of being, so they are set up for success for the rest of their lives.
“Confident” has to do with the way learners approach the world. We want learners to see themselves confidently as forces of good in the world.
To have this sense of confidence, they need to have worked to find their own personal truth, including understanding that truth is a flowing concept and they will forever be changing and adapting their truth as they confront new realities in life and in their being.
This means they have to be robust critical thinkers who don’t merely consume information, but evaluate and apply it. This means they need to have developed an epistemological stance in life where they can understand complexity, think in systems, and later in life visualize and mentally manipulate systems within systems.
The creative learner has developed their heart. In the triad of head, heart, and hands, they have learned that the heart – not the head – is truly the best “boss;” and when the triad is in balance, the head and the hands are in service to the heart.
Creative learners have had the immense privilege of being allowed to “follow their heart” and have discovered those results experientially. Through taking such risks they have learned wisdom through mistakes, including the wisdom to know that mistakes are necessary, forgivable, and often lead to brilliance. Partly, through their own experience with mistakes, they have developed true compassion for the human-ness of others.
Creative learners are in touch with their intuition. They are inspired by ideas that come from beyond… beyond somewhere anyone can explain. They have access to such inspiration because their conduit to creativity has not been criticized or cut off, but nurtured and encouraged. They have rich experiences of working on the right side of their brain and getting into “the zone.”
“Prepared” looks different for every student, for
every learner has different gifts and challenges.
Therefore, prepared means making sure each student has developed essential learning skills that have prepared them to continue learning throughout life.
Part of this preparedness means being able
to meet the world with one’s authentic self – so by the end of eighth grade students will have prepared themselves through deep personal analysis and inner reflection.
In part, “compassionate” is in contrast to “competitive.” Although there is solid scientific evidence that some humans have the competition gene and need healthy opportunities to compete for proper development, the idea of having competition as the bedrock of society is, according to anthropological evidence, completely misguided.
Humans would not have survived thus far if they were not naturally collaborative – working together and pooling the greater mind of the group to overcome nature. Unfortunately, we became so good at overcoming nature that we have completely dominated it to the point that our very survival now depends on us collaborating in ways that span vast and complex systems.
Now, instead of overcoming nature, we need to overcome greed, misguided individuality, and paradigms of injustice. In short, we need to overcome our compulsion and deep-seated cultural habits to exploit the earth and one another.
Learners who are compassionate have learned from a very early age to sit still and go inward to reflect on their emotions and notice how emotions affect their thoughts and actions (and more emotions).
They have learned how to articulate these emotions, and therefore, recognize emotions in others. They have learned empathy – the ability to relate to the feelings of others and to be connected human beings. This helps learners communicate in a manner that breaks barriers and frees the mind and heart to learn and to learn even more by collaborating and working with others. Compassionate learners don’t just feel, they act out of this compassion.
Note that compassion does not stand alone in the mission, but as a descriptor of the word “leaders.” Compassionate leaders have learned, as mentioned above, that the heart is actually the most appropriate personal “leader.”
They are considerate of others in their decisions. After all, that is what leaders do – they consider others.
The word “leaders” – like all words in our mission – was considered carefully. In this case, the concern was whether or not the term implies forced leadership, or the expectation that every student be a dominant person, when the world has enough dominate people. In the end, it was decided that anyone who is a good role model is a leader, and good role models are what we expect a Rainbow graduate to be.
Whether we are still designing, excavating, or have moved onto laying the foundation or even construction, the point is that Rainbow graduates will be helping the world make positive progress toward becoming a socially just, spiritually connected, and environmentally sustainable world.
They will not take, they will give. They will not rest (except to the degree resting is healthy), they will work. They will not give up because it’s hard, or it’s painfully slow, or because sometimes it seems like we are moving backwards. They will not give up because they cannot do it all by themselves. They will wake each morning with a purpose in life.
This phrase is expounded upon in the interpretation of Ends-4. Here it is enough to say that the world a Rainbow graduate is working toward is one where every human has the opportunity to have not only their basic needs met, but also to become a self-actualized person, to use Maslow’s language.
Every person, no matter what their circumstances or how rare (or common) their perceived differences may be, deserves to be included and cared for by a loving, communal, societal force.
The interpretation for Ends-5 provides an exploration of Rainbow’s spiritual end. We envision a world where human spirituality is recognized as a core aspect of being human, if not the very thing that makes us human – that breathes life into our souls.
In such a world, spiritual development would be understood as an important aspect of education, work life, and family life. It would not be relegated to those who choose to be a part of an organized religion, but instead it would flow through the veins of our civil life.
Rainbow graduates will help create a world where we recognize, honor, enrich, and utilize our spirituality to create greater well-being for all people.
This is expounded upon in the Ends-6 report. Fritz Capra defines a sustainable society as one that “satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations” (From the Web of Life, page 4.)
To accomplish this means shifting out of the paradigm that became firmly established during the industrial revolution of linear thinking to one that thinks and operates in systems, cycles, and webbed networks.
This also means shifting out of the current American paradigm where the economic sphere is the most important, or dominating, social sphere — where virtually everything is “commoditized” and economic growth (typically for the few) and competition is the underlying mandate from whence most political and social (and individual) decisions and actions are made.
The new, sustainable paradigm would move us out of our current anthropocentric attitude (where humans are viewed as the center of the world), and put humans in relation to all of nature and as stewards of the natural world. Harmony.
Bringing it to Life
In general, as practitioners of holistic education, we know that the whole is always much greater than the parts added together. For the sake of analysis and greater understanding I have broken our mission statement into parts and pieces, but our mission comes to life when it is whole.
Our mission comes to life every day when we live it — every morning when our teachers arise in thought and meditation for their students; every moment a child expresses wonderment and is embraced in love; every year when we, as a community, come together with awe and appreciation for our human qualities – including (and perhaps especially) our faults; in order to lift one another up so that our children can be better than us.
This month’s team highlight: Tracy Hildebrand
We’d like to introduce you to Tracy, Rainbow Community School’s art teacher. We found her in the art room and asked if she’d agree to answer questions for a team highlight. She has some fun answers to our questions. We hope you’ll enjoy!
You’ve taught in Virginia before. Are you originally from there?
I was born in Norfolk, Va , attended college there and taught art in Norfolk Public Schools for 7 years.
I took a break from teaching in 1992 and moved to Western North Carolina to work at Nantahala Outdoor Center where I worked teaching kayaking, guiding river rafting trips and working in the outfitters store.
I realized soon after moving here that this area is my true spiritual home.
How did you find Rainbow?
When my husband and I were looking for a kindergarten for our daughter, a friend recommended we visit Rainbow. We knew right away it was the right fit for her. Emily attended RCS from K through Omega and is now a sophomore in high school.
What do you like to do when you’re not at Rainbow?
Mostly I love to spend time with my family hiking, paddling rivers, and camping. I also enjoy gardening, cooking, yoga, and taking walks with our dog, Teeka.
In addition to teaching art, it looks like you make jewelry. What sorts of art do you like to create?
I don’t make jewelry anymore, actually.
What’s the best way to start the day?
Sitting on our front porch sipping coffee, reading a good book, and watching the birds visit our bird feeder. I love observing them and seeing how they interact with each other.
What book(s) are you reading?
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and I highly recommend it!
What’s the farthest you’ve traveled from home?
I traveled to Rio de Janeiro with my Mom. She was born and raised there until she was 20. I was able to see where she lived as a girl.
If you could talk to any person, living or deceased, for half an hour, who would it be?
I would love to spend time with Georgia O’Keefe. I admire her strength as a woman and that at one point decided to lay aside what she had been taught in art school and developed her own technique and style. In addition, she lived a very unconventional life for a woman in her time. I admire that she lived her life on her own terms.
What is something your friends would consider “so you”?
My husband and daughter consider anything to do with flowers a ‘Tracy thing’. I especially love wildflowers – to find them along a woodland trail brings me great delight. I grow native wildflowers in our yard.
One of my dearest friends shared all kinds of native flowers from her yard with me years ago; mayapples, ferns, soloman seal, columbine, and many more.
One of my favorite quotes is “Earth laughs in flowers” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
We hope you enjoyed Tracy’s team highlight. Don’t forget to tell her that “Earth laughs in flowers” when you see her!
Opening the Heart – Reflection and Centering
At a recent admin meeting, Cynthia shared a centering designed to bring awareness to, and open the heart. Renee asked her to share it on the Director’s Blog for others to enjoy, as well.
Point to yourself
Take a moment to close your eyes and relax into the rhythm of your breath. When you feel more relaxed, go ahead and point to yourself.
Notice where you are pointing. Chances are, you’re pointing toward your heart, or somewhere near your heart chakra.
This is on purpose. We humans point to the heart because we intuitively know our truest selves are not the brain, but the heart. The heart serves as a secondary brain and even has its own magnetic field.
What we do with the heart
We do a lot with the heart. We have heart-to-heart conversations. When we’re happy, our heart swells. When we’re sad, we’re heartbroken.
In the presence of beauty, we say we’re heartened. When we like someone, we say that they have a kind heart. A trustworthy, well-meaning person has a heart of gold. Conversely, a cold, unforgiving person has a heart of stone. When we feel bad for someone, we say, “bless their heart.” When we experience surprise, our heart skips a beat.
When we see someone’s heartfelt actions, we know it’s them expressing their truth. Furthermore, we send heart emojis when we mean to send loving thoughts.
Some of us wear our hearts on our sleeve.
Caring for our “heart self”
Our culture values the relentless pursuit of knowledge. We feed the mind. We feed the brain. We spend decades educating ourselves. But how often do we remember to feed the heart? How often do we remember to care for our heart self?
When we focus on the heart, our communications improve. Our relationships flourish. Still, our hope for the world turns rosier, as if we put on rose-colored glasses.
Pink and green
The color pink is the representation of the heart and a symbol of romantic love. On the other hand, the heart chakra is green. It’s the opposite of rose. Green is a color of expansion, growth, openness and unconditional love – love for self and love for others. The heart chakra sits in the center of the chest, not at the heart as many believe.
As a centering, we can do a little care for the heart – the heart itself, and the heart chakra.
A heart-centered breath
This is a practice that you can do at any time: while going about your day, while meditating, while exercising, or wherever.
Sit with your feet flat on the floor, or in a comfortable position. Hands can rest on your lap.
Relax your body. You can keep your eyes open, capped (open half-way) or closed.
Bring your attention to the breath as you breathe through the nose. Feel the cooler air as you inhale, and warmer air as you exhale. Don’t control or regulate your breath. Just observe.
Focus your attention…
Now bring your gentle attention to the rise and fall of the chest. Gently move your attention to the heart. Visualize your breath moving in and out of your heart space, filling it with soft green light and exhaling that same green light into the air around you.
Move into silence for three or four breaths, with each inhale and exhale taking in the easy green light and filling your heart space. Your exhale fills the air with this same light.
If you notice your thoughts wandering, just bring them back to the heart, and the light. Be kind to yourself.
After a few moments, bring your attention back to the breath. When you’re ready, open your eyes if you had them closed or capped.
First Grade Studies Beautiful Trees
We stepped into first grade recently, into a veritable classroom forest. There were displays of books about trees, nature artifacts that reminded us of our natural roots, and artwork that featured patched trees and their individual parts. First grade is studying beautiful trees in all their splendor.
The first grade “wolves,” as they call themselves, were contentedly reading to each other. They quietly tried out new words and soaked up fun ideas from illustrated books.
The Story of Trees
Their teacher, Rachel, guided them into a circle where they recited a poem about trees. They swayed like leaves, or dropped to the floor like apples. They sang and recited verses from the song, “I’m a Tall, Tall Tree.” At the conclusion, students huddled together to hear a story.
Ms. Rachel read about many different trees that grow. She asked her students about all the different varieties they might have already known: “Apple tree!” one said. “Maple! Peach! Magnolia!” chimed others. First graders are about the same age as it takes for an apple tree to mature: 6-10 years, depending on the species.
The Four Elements to Make a Tree Grow
They arrived to a part in the book that detailed the four elements of what trees need to grow big and strong.
These first graders already knew:
Air. Water. Soil. Sunlight.
A Little Space
But there was just one more thing that trees needed to grow. What was it?
Rachel called up one student. Then another and another until there were four, standing so close together they could hardly breathe….
All these students were “trees that hadn’t fully grown” and they quickly figured out what that last thing was. Trees need space.
These four students spread out and demonstrated how having a little space made it much easier to spread and grow.
So many life lessons in that statement: having a little space makes it much easier to spread and grow.
The Natural and Physical Domains
There was more. Each student became an “element.” Rachel handed out cards of either air, soil, water, or the sun. Students wore them as badges of honor as they imagined they were air, water, soil, or sunlight. They lined up to head toward the outdoor classroom to incorporate two different modalities of learning: the natural and physical domains.
Rachel’s instructions were to run around the outdoor classroom, but when they heard, “1-2-3-GROW!” each person had to find the other elements that would make a tree. When all four students – elements – were joined, they’d make a circle, giving themselves some space. As they successfully “grew into a tree,” they’d exclaim, “I’m a tree! I’m a tree! I’m a tree!”
After several rounds of finding the different elements, students returned to their classroom. This space is a peaceful oasis that peers out to the Gnome Village below, giving the impression that they are, in fact, in a tree house. We knew they were secure in the knowledge that they wouldn’t soon forget what makes a tree grow from a seedling into a sprawling giant.
Rainbow Has Solar Power
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!
As we gear up for the school year, we thought it would be fun to highlight one of the first faces you’ll see on campus: Kate Chassner! She is Rainbow’s Office Manager.
She seemingly knows the answers to everything. Need keys? She’s got ’em. Need to know the schedule? She can tell you. Need to find someone on campus? Kate will know. Need to locate a form? Kate’s got you covered.
We gave her a set of questions to answer, interview style. It’s so fun to read the answers of these team highlights.
You’re originally from Florida, right? How did you end up at Rainbow?
After I graduated from Florida State University, I moved to New Orleans with my sister. On a trip back home to Florida one Thanksgiving I ran into a friend from college and we started dating soon after. He lived in Asheville. I then decided that I should move here, too. We have been together for 10 years and have two kids. I’m glad I moved.
How long have you been in Asheville? At Rainbow?
I have been in Asheville since January 2010, and I have been at Rainbow since August 2011.
Why did you decide to do the work you’re doing now?
I was teaching preschool when I first started at Rainbow (and I taught preschool for years before coming to RCS). After I had my first child, coming back as a full-time preschool teacher was very challenging. I knew I did not want to leave Rainbow but I needed a change. At that time, the current Office Manager was transitioning out and I was able to begin helping part-time in the office. I was thrilled to train for the position.
What is the favorite part of your job?
I love getting to know everyone in the school and make connections with teachers, staff, parents and students.
What do you like to do when you’re not at Rainbow?
I love my family time! Going on hikes, bike rides, swimming, making forts, dance parties, cooking, painting and really anything with my family is what I look forward to most.
I am making more time for art lately, too. In addition, I have been taking marimba with Sue Ford.
I also try to run a few times a week and get into a good book.
You’re taking an art class on campus. What sorts of art do you like to create?
I am currently taking a drawing class, and I every time I take an art class I find out a new style or medium I love. Currently I create a lot of mixed media pieces (collage with my drawings layered in). Most of my art has a message about something I am passionate about. (You can see my art on my Instagram page @k8couture.)
What’s the best way to start the day?
My 2 year old wakes me up most mornings, earlier than I would like. But ideally I would like to wake up (after the sun has come up) and sit on the porch with a cup of coffee or go for an early run. Still, I know I will miss my sweet early mornings with my kiddos as they get older.
What irrational fear do you have?
As a parent I have all sorts of irrational fears for my kids. To that end, I have to find a balance between letting them be adventurous and keeping them safe.
What book(s) are you reading?
Right now I am reading, The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro and Conversations Worth Having by Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres.
I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche earlier in the year. I loved it and really enjoy anything by her.
What’s the farthest you’ve traveled from home?
I lived in Tokyo, Japan for 2 years when I was young (6 years old).
My family lived in Geneva, Switzerland when I was in college, so I visited there often. I also studied Art History in Paris, France. All were super interesting and wonderful. Traveling is such an amazing experience and I can’t wait to travel more as my kids get older.
What is something that everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Travel to another country.
What is an item on your bucket list?
A long overdue honeymoon with my husband
If you could talk to any person, living or deceased, for half an hour, who would it be?
Martin Luther King, Jr.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Take risks. Stay true to yourself. Tell the people you love how wonderful they are… as often as possible.
You have been granted one wish that WILL come true. What do you wish for?
I would wish for a greater understanding throughout the human race to treat people with respect and to celebrate our differences.