The return to school in 2022 unfolded at a brisk pace reinforced by pandemic stress, student narratives and conferences, re-enrollment planning, and more. My recent conversations with staff, parents, and students have shared a theme of “emotional erosion” describing the continued mental health impacts of pandemic living. This fragility reminds us all to tread gently, offering ourselves and others grace as we strive for coherence and harmony in our daily experience. Additionally, there seems to be a collective anticipation of spring gifting renewal and new life. In this moment, I invite you to focus on the return of light spiritually and emotionally for ourselves, our children, and our school.
This month’s Kaleidoscope focuses on time where we look back at our past, pause for our present, and vision our future. Intentionally contemplating our time together can help us slow down and counterbalance the urge to simply “push ahead,” reminding us that we always have the power to reframe our perspective from a mindset of doing to being.
Looking Back At Our Past:
It is hard to believe I am nearing the end of a second year as the Executive Director of Rainbow Community School. While the pandemic has certainly impacted our shared experience over the past 2 years, I am so proud of the many accomplishments we have achieved together within and beyond COVID. Our 2020-21 Annual Report is a capstone document that highlights several of these celebrations. I hope you will take the time to read it and recognize the collaborative efforts it showcases. This document is a testament to our holistic approach and community mindset that is at the very heart of our mission and vision.
Pausing For Our Present:
As noted above this present moment has many of us feeling full. I can’t help but return to our theme for this year; Collective Enrichment and Continual Evolution, for an opportune frame. Recently, the teachers completed Learner Profiles, offering a beautiful and holistic view of each child’s educational journey. This artifact is a great example of the rich curriculum and individualized approach at Rainbow, and it is also a tool for capturing a child’s evolution over time. Hopefully, the conferences provided ample time for each family to digest these narratives and look ahead to goals for your child in the remaining months of school.
Similarly, our institution has been designing opportunities for enriched conversation and collective wisdom to source our individual and organizational evolution. Our Primary Division continues to implement Fundations, and recently gathered for a formal training and reflection opportunity. Upper grades teachers took this time to dive deep into the data provided by our standardized testing. Additionally, teachers gathered earlier this month for a fire circle with feedback and fellowship. This listening session resulted in adapting our Wednesday training schedule to offer more breath and space for organic and relevant meetings to take place, bringing a little of spring’s renewal to our professional development calendar.
If we truly center ourselves in this present moment, it feels critical to also discuss COVID. Governor Cooper recently endorsed returning to a more typical school experience. The school toolkit is evolving, and the Safety team will be meeting this Friday (2/25/22) to outline Rainbow’s next steps in alignment with this updated guidance. Throughout this journey, we have been asked by many families how they can support community wellness. It is clear that everyone continues to take steps to monitor physical health and keep students home when ill. We are grateful for this partnership. It feels equally important to commit to a healthy dialogue around COVID. Vaccination status, infection level, and mask choices, are just a few of the potentially divisive topics surrounding this pandemic. We are all susceptible, including our children, to the polarizing impacts of debate versus dialogue. At Rainbow, we have the power and ability to center our humanness and model conscious communication. The teachers and staff are committed to this practice daily, as we facilitate healthy processing of pandemic impacts with our children.
Visioning Our Future:
Visioning further ahead brings a sense of joy and play as we consider all the possibilities yet to manifest. Rainbow Summer Camps are soon to be released to the public, and the line up is exciting! From crafting to adventuring to ESL, there is sure to be a week of exploration your child can’t resist. Reach out to our Camp Director, Susan Waddell with questions.
The much awaited 2022-23 School Calendar outlines our instructional flow for next year. This calendar has been reviewed by the administration, faculty, parent council, and board in an effort to create a rhythm that supports optimal learning for our children and a balanced experience for our stakeholders.
Looking forward, there is so much to be inspired by. I am hopeful that we will find time to commune together and be nurtured by the beauty and breath of spring.
Rainbow Community School and Omega Middle School has been closely monitoring developing information about the new coronavirus, COVID-19. This letter is to share with you the steps we are taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus; and the steps we are preparing to take if there is an outbreak in our community.
Take a moment to read the letter we have sent to our community:
It’s not always so easy to come up with something that is both interesting and challenging. But, we have a sneak peek of our Omega 7/8 students doing just that.
We visited their classroom recently to see them testing and working diligently on their science projects to get ready for the upcoming science fair. In the Omega classroom, students were working in four different groups on a specific science experiment they chose.
Proving that gases have weight
This particular group set out to prove that gases have weight by using combustion. They weighed out pieces of wood and magnesium before burning. Next, they put each one to flame and tested their weight after the burning process.
Their prediction was that the wood would weigh less, and the magnesium would weigh more.
Omega students set out to prove that gases have weight by burning wood and magnesium, while comparing the weight of each before and after the burn process.
Engineering a Reptile Egg Incubator
The idea behind this science project was to engineer how to transport a reptile egg from site A to site B while using heat chemistry. The goal was to keep the egg stable and warm, as it could not shift position or roll over, nor could it endure temperature fluctuation.
The incubator required calcium chloride, baking soda and water. Students needed to measure whether they could detect temperature changes after they dissolved calcium chloride, and baking soda into water. The eggs needed a constant temperature of 28 – 32C during transport and being able to maintain temperature for a certain amount of time was an important consideration in this investigation.
Two of our Omegan students work on their project: Engineering a Reptile Egg Incubator (with heat chemistry).
The Digestion of Minerals in the Stomach
This group began their science class by heating up small glass pipes and bending them to simulate the “pipes” in human digestive systems. Once complete, they would then mix hydrochloric acid and marble to observe the reaction (much as it would happen in the stomach). The last step was to measure the resulting water and carbon dioxide from the process.
Above: Two Omegans heat and bend glass pipes to simulate “pipes” of the digestive system.
Below: All the materials needed to complete their investigation.
Testing for Vitamin C Content by Titration
Are you curious about how much vitamin C is actually in the things you buy? This group set out to answer those questions by testing how much vitamin C is present in various common beverages through a titration technique. Students used an indophenol solution to determine the presence of vitamin C by how much the color changed. The various beverages they tested included freshly squeezed lemons, limes, and oranges. They also tried orange juice found in the grocery store, and sodas that claimed to have Vitamin C.
This Omega group is checking the presence (and amount) of Vitamin C in common beverages using titration.
The results from each of these experiments is the subject of the upcoming science fair. You’ll have to check out the Omega 7/8 classroom to find the conclusions to burning magnesium and wood, how to maintain temperature in an egg incubator using chemical reactions, what happens to calcium carbonate when it reacts with hydrochloric acid in the stomach, and how much vitamin C is really in our common drinks. Check Rainbow Reminders for science fair details!
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.
Recently, Omega 7/8 students gathered in a circle in the Social Studies room to talk about their character strengths, how all that ties in with learning, and being a changemaker. In a previous class, they watched a short video about the Science of Character. In this class, they looked at their own character strengths as a way to look at themselves as they are now, and who they want to become. They completed a “periodic table of character strengths.”
As students gathered in circle, their teacher, Jason, asked them for a willingness to be a little vulnerable as they embarked upon a conversation that would certainly involve sharing personal information about one’s character – not a task that’s so easy to do. Our Omega 7/8 students, however, were up for the challenge.
Omega 7/8 students ponder questions about character strengths and about being changemakers.
Jason posed quite a few questions that made students really look at how or why they do the things they do. “Why explore character strengths?” was one question he asked, to which students answered, “Many current changemakers have these strengths and that can help others become changemakers themselves and live out their truth.”
Character Strengths at School and in US Culture
Another question: What character strengths do you think are valued at our school? They answered with a number of terms:
kindness (especially in wanting everyone to feel welcome)
spirituality (through centering and other activities)
love of learning
Jason followed up with, Are these the same character strengths that are valued in our culture? For a few quiet moments, students pondered their responses. Several offered their insights: “these are supposed to be values in our culture, but it doesn’t always happen that way. We’re supposed to be kind but you don’t always see that, and through some of the language and actions were seeing, kindness is not always there.”
A few student examples of the “Periodic Table of Character Strengths”
J: Does that make it hard to value certain character strengths? S: If you believe in these values, sometimes it’s not always easy to stand by them.
J: Which strengths are important to have or develop in a digital world? S: Creativity, social responsibility, and gratitude. With social responsibility comes the idea that one must think critically in response to what’s online. It’s also important not to take for granted everything that comes to us as “easy.”
Fixed vs. Growth Mindset
Jason invited the Omegans to reflect on the idea of a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset the video covered as a topic. A fixed mindset is the belief that you cannot change who you are. A growth mindset is the belief that you can. This was a segue into the next probing question:
J: Is there an area where you have a fixed mindset about something? S: Yes. When you don’t feel like you’re good at math or reading, that you can’t draw, or that you always procrastinate to get things done.
J: Is there any character strength that might help you shift out of a fixed mindset? S: Yes: perseverance in which you keep trying to do something. There’s acceptance, where you accept that perhaps a subject isn’t your favorite but you can keep working at it. It’s an opportunity to be gentle with yourself and accept that this is where you are. Still, there’s curiosity. If you have a certain belief about something, such as “I’m not good at math,” you can adopt an attitude of curiosity.
J: When you’ve failed at something, how did you feel? S: Anger, directed at the self, or it’s possible to even feel like a failure. Feelings of discouragement, being scared, or being fearful can happen, too. Being mad at yourself, however, won’t get you anywhere.
Learning from Failure
At this, everyone paused. Jason offered words of wisdom, as well as encouragement: These emotions can and do arise. It’s even possible to let fear get in the way of you trying again. This can be a great opportunity for self-reflection in which you ask, “what could I have done differently? What can I learn from this?”
J: Is it okay to fail? S: Yes. We can learn from it. But it can also be hard.
J: What is it that you want to achieve? S: That is a hard question: it makes you think about the future. Perhaps write a book. Be the smartest person that ever lived. Maybe doing a job that you “like to do” instead of something that is forced. You can make goals for yourself.
A small poster hangs in the Social Studies room – a relevant question when determining character strengths.
Again, Jason offered his wisdom as their teacher. It’s up to you to find your truth. You also need to determine what lights you up. The way to grow your strengths is to be around others who have strengths that you would like to develop.
As students concluded this portion of their lesson, they pensively began other projects. They demonstrated such wisdom and a complex understanding of life and its lessons. This is something we’ve come to expect of our Omegans: they embrace the journey and take charge of their learning in all Seven Domains. It is in that spirit they use their internal wisdom to guide their decisions as they navigate academics, the adolescent years, friendships, and so much more.
You can learn so much at the Omega Middle School Open House
Our Omega Middle School Open House is right around the corner. We hope you will take some time to be part of this event, no matter your child’s grade in elementary school or middle school. It gives you an opportunity to see a Rainbow / Omega education across the grades, culminating with the 7th and 8th grade years in which students engage in larger projects, presentations, and leadership opportunities.
What made me a supporter of Rainbow, was the kids’ strong sense of self. They knew who they were and were not. They knew their strengths and weaknesses. And even though high school and college brings its own set of social and educational challenges, the students I met were at peace with themselves, ready to take on the challenges of young adulthood with confidence and determination. —Bill Drew, parent of a current 5th grader
Here is this year’s schedule:
Morning Session 8:30 – 10 am
8:30 – 8:45 coffee/tea/chocolate in the auditorium foyer
8:45 – 9:00 short presentation about Omega Middle School
9:00 – 9:30 tour classes in progress
9:30 – 10 Q & A with current teachers & students back in the auditorium
Evening Session 6:30 – 8:00 pm
6:30 – 6:45 – pizza and salad in the auditorium foyer
6:45 – 7:00 – short presentation about Omega Middle School
7:00 – 7:15 – tour classrooms
7:15 – 8:00 – meet recent graduates and ask questions with our alumni panel
The five big reasons you should come to the Omega Open House:
1. Meet teachers
During the school year, it’s not always so easy to speak with a teacher who is not attending to other tasks – students, planning, teaching, training, in a meeting, etc. Having their undivided attention to answer all your questions about what they teach and how becomes such a gift! The open house provides you this opportunity. Meet all the teachers in our Omega Middle School: Susie (division head), Susan, Jason, Niki, Justin, Lisa, Jenny, and some of our specialists.
2. Meet students
We love opening up our campus so that you can meet students and see how incredible they all are. The programs and curriculum in the Omega program allows them to explore their interests more in-depth through our regular academic program and through our electives classes. We have extensive electives courses and our students can tell you about them.
3. Meet recent graduates
You also have an opportunity to hear from recent graduates who can give you candid answers about how prepared they felt for high school. They can share about their Rainbow experiences, the transition to high school, and tell you much more about their academic and extracurricular careers as a result of their Rainbow / Omega experience.
You can get a great feel for how this works with our past alumni panels who have spoken at other Open Houses:
4. Visit classes
On the morning of the Open House, you can see classes in progress. On any given day, students engage in different experiential activities involving collaboration, problem solving, math, language arts and social studies.
5. Get all your questions answered
We cannot stress enough the value in being part of an event like this. You get to see the “whole Rainbow story” and how proud we are of our young students and who they grow to be.
Last year, one parent attended and felt so moved by the event, he wrote a long letter of how this event alone helped him decide on a middle school for his child. Take a look! at Bill Drew’s Testimonial Letter.
We hope you will join us for an evening of connection, information, and fun! We’ll have door prizes and other giveaways, too!