Over the holiday break, I read the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat During Difficult Times by Katherine May. It is a beautiful exploration of the natural world during this season of shorter days, retreat, and regeneration. Katherine encourages a slower, thoughtful, and restorative posture during this time of year, and embraces the term “wintering” for any season of life that calls upon this contemplative energy to thrive.
I was struck by the wisdom in this approach for our current stage of pandemic living. In our third year, we have learned a lot about navigating the physical and emotional impacts of Covid-19, but the trauma of the past several years remains ever-present. Beginning the process of healing is a critical next step and I welcome the opportunity to pause and begin this dialogue with you.
School-wide Parent Meeting
More Than Mindfulness: A Conversation For Healing
Date: Jan 24th, 2023 Time: 5:00-6:15pm on Zoom
Typically, Rainbow hosts a mid-year annual parent engagement meeting. This year, we will use Zoom to support maximum participation and access. Our time together will focus on initiating the healing of our disrupted society over the past several years, and the impacts on our children and school community. We will engage the Spiritual Domain to nurture our connection and resilience moving forward.
This meeting will encourage vulnerability and diverse perspectives. It will rely on deep and empathic listening. It will reflect the founding principles in our mission and vision and grow our shared understanding.
In the spirit of offering time for folks to prepare for this type of sacred gathering, below are the questions we plan to use for dialogue in small groups.
Small Triad share- Your story of pandemic education
– Think of a time during the pandemic when your expectations of schooling changed? How did this impact you, your child, your family in the immediate experience? What reflections do you have about it now? – What lessons, strengths, fears, silver linings, have emerged for you, your child, or your family during the pandemic? – What will help you, your child, your family, move forward with healing from this global trauma?
As we tell the students, there is no “right way” to respond to these questions. They are a guide and meant to stimulate conversation in small groups to help us grow compassion and trust within our community. RSVP with this link that will also provide the zoom information: Eventbrite Link
Winter Events and Info
Annual Ski Trip
While wintering provides space for hibernation, it can also inspire play! We are working on the return of our annual ski trip for 4th-8th grade students. Last week, Susie shared a survey with 4th-8th grade families to determine interest and participation rates. It is exciting to bring back this beloved community gathering. Details will be released soon.
School Snow Days
One of the most magical moments in the school year is waking up to a Snow Day! Our temperatures have been mild to date, but please remember that in these mountains things can change quickly. Families should receive an alert through Rediker, and can also consult the WLOS closures website and listen to the message on our school phone. We do our best to make the call early, however if conditions are changing or hard to decipher we could post a decision as late as 7:30am. Our area is notorious for having different conditions across the county. If Rainbow remains open, and you personally are experiencing unsafe driving conditions, we trust each family to make the best decision for their needs. If a delayed start is necessary, Rainbow will announce a specific opening time. All families will be able to report to Rainbow at the announced time regardless of their child’s grade level. Before school will not be open in the event of a delayed start.
This midway point in the year is also a great time for reflection and celebration. Parents often ask for ways they can support Rainbow that do not require additional resources such as time during the work day or financial expense. Offering a personal testimonial highlighting your experience at Rainbow is a great way to celebrate and share the experience of a Rainbow education.
Moving ahead, each month we will be featuring a specific set of platforms in Rainbow Reminders that we hope a small group of Rainbow families will contribute to. Each website cannot accept more than 2 reviews in a month. Any new reviews we receive will be added to a raffle monthly for a prize. For the month of January we will be featuring:
Furthermore, if you feel called to offer a video testimonial that could be featured on our website, we will give you a free t-shirt! Here is an example from the past: Whitehead Family. Reach out to me if you are interested to learn more about that opportunity.
Racial Equity Institute
Another way parents can get involved is through attending the Racial Equity Institute. With the new year we often experience a renewed sense of energy and passion. Let’s send some of this energy and passion into cultivating a socially just world for our children and ourselves. As we enter the 2023 year, we want to remind our community about learning opportunities in the broader community. Rainbow has a history of encouraging our staff and community members to dive deeply into their personal equity journey through two organizations, Building Bridges and Racial Equity Institute (REI). Building Bridges is a 9-week commitment focusing on Black racial justice and history in Asheville using both large and small groups. REI is a 2-day commitment that focuses on the racial history of the United States. Here are some upcoming opportunities to broaden knowledge around racial justice:
This time of year also marks the beginning of our enrollment season for 2023-24. We are excited to welcome you to our Open House on February 2nd, 2023. Drop in between 4:00pm and 6:00pm to tour the campus, meet the teachers, explore the classrooms, and learn all about your child’s future experience at Rainbow!
Even with winter outside our windows, some families are thinking ahead to summer plans. Rainbow will be releasing our K-8 Summer Camp opportunities and finalizing Preschool Summer Enrollment later this month. Details for programming and enrollment will be shared in upcoming Rainbow Reminders.
Holism and Connection
As we contemplate the cycle of the seasons, I am reminded of our theme for the year: Embracing Holism and Connection. The natural world is such a beautiful exemplar of this concept, modeling systems and cycles that encourage an interconnected and holistic understanding of the world. In the words of Katherine May, “Wintering brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments of our human experience, and wisdom resides in those who have wintered.” May we all find the wisdom waiting for us in winter’s unfolding.
My deepest gratitude for the energy, orchestration, donation, and collaboration that went into realizing the successful return of the beloved Harvest Hoedown. The day was filled with joy, laughter, entertainment, and plenty of sweet treats. It was a beautiful representation of our community in action.
Community is not only built through our gatherings and events, but also through our programming and curriculum. There is care and time put into the models of Compassionate and Nonviolent communication in the classrooms. The students are participants in their own learning through self-reflection, and governance through things like class meetings. They are learning the balance of autonomy and personal needs with community and collective consent. They are taught the difference between intent and impact. The teachers model and teach concepts of empathy, active listening, systems thinking, valuing diverse perspectives, and more. All of these are essential elements of a “community mindset” that supports healthy classrooms and fosters strong relationships beyond our doors with family, community organizations, and new schools.
Omega Open House
One of the most powerful ways to explore the impact of our programming is through the experience of our oldest learners and Alumni. Families and students of all ages are encouraged to join us on November 3rd from 4:00-6:00pm for the Omega Open House and Alumni Panel. Learn more, and RSVP for the event here.
At Rainbow, we believe in the power of adult learning and engagement to support a meaningful and transformative community experience for all. Our dynamic governance model provides monthly circle gatherings that are regularly published in Rainbow Reminders. These circles are open, and anyone is welcome. Additionally, your class meetings provide a more intimate classroom connection experience. Two additional upcoming events critical to supporting a shared understanding of our core values include:
Talking to Kids About Race– This is an annual event that surfaces new and relevant learning every time we come together. This year, participants can expect lots of opportunities to share ideas, ask questions, and practice scenarios that further their own and their child’s understanding of race. These conversations foster our efforts to become a more equitable, inclusive, and reflective community for all.
General Circle– This circle meets three times a year to discuss elements of our school and organizational values and programming. It is a “meeting of the minds” where every circle (parent, staff, admin, board, equity, etc.) has representation in the conversation. This year I would love to broaden the scope with more participation. The first General Circle of the year will be held on November 7th from 4:00-6:00pm in sixth grade. The topic will be Community and Family Engagement. This is a time to document celebrations, areas of growth, and strategic and visionary thinking as we plan for a thriving future. Reach out to Susie if you would like to attend.
Partnerships and Community
The word community at Rainbow extends far beyond our doors. We have long term partnerships with many local organizations such as Riverlink, Open Doors, Sunshine Project, ACS, First Step Farms, to name a few. Two community partnerships we love promoting to parents and caregivers include Building Bridges and REI, since we have seen the profound impact of their work on participants from our community. I am also coordinating and participating in a monthly fellowship group with local Heads of School. We met this week, and hope to have a rotating monthly meeting at each participating campus. This will include time for strategic conversations, collaborative thinking, and fellowship.
Children are the heart of our school and the community is the life force. We opened the school year with a theme of Embracing Holism and Connection. We flourish when the whole of our school is engaged in the work of achieving our mission. I hope you have found a place of connection and belonging within your classroom and that you continue to explore the many ways we manifest community at Rainbow.
Yours In Partnership and Gratitude, Susie Fahrer Executive Director
Communication is central to the success of our community. In collaboration with weekly publications like Rainbow Reminders and regular classroom newsletters, Kaleidoscope captures the bigger picture of what is happening on campus and exciting news for Rainbow’s future.
Approaching the final week of the 21-22 school year, we embrace reflection and gratitude. Your children prepare Student Led Conferences and share a portfolio of carefully selected work that speaks to their story of growth. The teachers complete Learner Profiles, comprehensive narratives of your child’s growth and development. Additionally, our graduating 8th graders complete a Domains Walk across the campus moving ever closer to the culminating ritual of graduation. Our Preschool and K-8 Graduation ceremonies center collective celebration, and provide a wonderful send off for the year.
Preschool will gather in the Outdoor Classroom on June 1st at 10:30am for a brief ceremony and fellowship to commemorate their year as Turtles and Dragonflies.
The K-8 graduation will be held on June 2nd beginning at 6:15pm. It has been a few years since we have been able to offer this school-wide ceremony, and it is a sacred experience to hear the highlights from the children and the speeches from the graduates. We will finish the evening with cake served by the Board of Directors. The entire ceremony will take place under a tent on the Omega Athletic Field.
Parking will be available on our campus, and we typically engage with a few local businesses to offer additional parking in the neighborhood. Stay tuned for more details about this in Rainbow Reminders.
Finally, this time of year is opportune to collect feedback from all our stakeholders in support of strategic planning this summer. We are hoping all parents can complete the following SURVEY knowing that your voice and perspective provide critical data for shaping our future. In addition, we ask all of our staff to complete a survey evaluating the leadership and their experience as employees. Finally, we have a student survey for 4th-8th grade that helps frame their perspectives on topics such as educational approach, belonging, and social connection.
We are in a season of hiring as staff retire and transition to new roles within and beyond Rainbow. Below are the most recent updates and hires for the 22-23 school year.
4th-8th Grade Division Head: Trey Thompson (He/Him)
Trey is an experienced educator and valued administrator at his current and previous schools. He will be leaving his most recent position at Earhart Environmental Magnet School in Wichita as the 4th/5th grade teacher and administrative “Teacher in Charge.” Prior to that, Trey was working in Chicago at The Academy for Global Citizenship as the School Culture and Middle Years Program Coordinator. Spending time with Trey you quickly learn that he embodies the Seven Domains personally and professionally. We are thrilled to have him as part of the leadership team.
Omega 7/8 Language Arts Teacher: Zoe Balaconis (She/Her)
Zoe is an innovative educator with experience bonding groups and crafting engaging, interdisciplinary English and Writing courses at the lower, secondary, and post secondary level. She has been at the Buckingham Browne and Nichols School in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the past six years and holds a myriad of expertise and experience prior to that school placement. She is sure to bring a wealth of knowledge, energy and heart to Omega Middle School.
First Grade Lead Teacher: Katherine Ayachi (She/Her)
Katherine has taught in elementary school for the past 29 years the majority of which was teaching in the primary years programming at the American Cooperative School of Tunis in Tunisia, Africa. Over her tenure she has developed mastery in several curriculum areas including gaining a certification as a math specialist. She believes in designing instruction through inquiry and child centered programming. We are happy to welcome her back to the states and to her roots in North Carolina.
Counseling: Kriya Lendzoin (She/Her)
Kriya has worked with Rainbow for years as our Addiction Educator in Omega Middle School. Along with continuing this role, she will also be joining our counseling team. She has a rich background in school counseling, substance abuse and wellness programming, and therapy. She has expertise helping families and students navigate adolescence to reinforce healthy and authentic identity development.
Fifth Grade Lead Teacher: Sandra McCassim (She/Her)
Sandra has over 22 years of teaching and administrative experience, and is one of our most tenured staff members at Rainbow. She fosters a classroom community built on student-centered and project based learning. She has a depth of knowledge in supporting the critical needs and opportunities of pre-adolescence, and she cultivates meaningful partnerships with parents and caregivers.
Preschool Green Door: Rose Howley (She/Her)
Rose started working at Rainbow in the Student Support Department, became a full time sub, and most recently helped usher the third grade Tigers through a fabulous year. Starting this summer, our littlest learners will benefit from Rose’s calm demeanor, playful spirit, and ability to foster a supportive environment for all learning styles and needs.
Third Grade Assistant: AJ Jones (She/Her)
AJ began her time with us in preschool and then shifted to a role as a full time substitute. When Jenny announced her maternity leave earlier this year, AJ graciously filled the role of Interim Student Support Advocate for Middle School. AJ’s journey at Rainbow speaks to her diversity of skills and adaptability in applying them with a developmentally appropriate mindset. AJ will be a great support during the bridge year of third grade.
Second Grade Assistant: Evie Jones (They/Them)
Evie has thrived this year in the role of full time substitute for the primary grades. Next year they will be taking their skills to the Second Grade classroom. Evie’s kindness, positive energy, supportive approach, and investment in learning will add to the magical experience of second grade with Eddy.
Lead Art Teacher K-8: Kate Chassner (She/Her)
Kate recently completed her Masters in Art and has been running our Arts Elective program in Omega Middle School this year. Next year she will formally shift from her additional part time role in the office to being the Art teacher for Kindergarten through Eighth Grade. Her passion and creativity are sure to ignite a love of art in our children.
Summer Camp & Rainbow’s End Director: Susan Waddell (She/Her)
Susan has been a part of Rainbow’s growth and evolution over the years, and will be able to bring her full set of experiences as a parent, teacher, summer camp leader, and holistic practitioner to her new role. She is a natural to continue the legacy of adventure, joy, laughter, and memory making in afterschool and summer camp.
Office Manager: Rachel Hagen (She/Her)
For years, Rachel has ushered our first graders through a beautiful journey of learning, growth and discovery. Fortunately, her gifts will be equally valuable as she takes on the role of Office Manager, and becomes a primary resource for staff and families to remain informed and engaged.
P-K Student Support Advocate: Lissadell Greene (She/Her)
Lissadell has been working in preschool this past year as additional support. Fortunately, she will be able to offer her skills more holistically and comprehensively through this new role. She has been working in the educational field for the past 20 years as a music teacher and early childhood teacher. She also has a Masters Degree in Inclusive Education with a focus in Special Education, Infant/Toddler Mental Health, and Constructivism.
Moving on from Rainbow
We are so grateful to each of these staff members for their contributions to our community. We are better because of the time we shared.
Amethyst Buckner (She/Her) Preschool
Desiree Reynolds (She/Her) Preschool
MaryJoyce Wareham (She/Her) Preschool
Jess Alberi (She/Her) Second Grade
Emmaly Rogalski (She/Her) Fifth Grade
Jenn Ryan (She/Her) Sixth Grade
Honoring Their Legacy
We have a few special folks who are retiring from long term roles at Rainbow. We will be honoring each of these folks with a tree and a plaque on campus.
Rainbow’s End Director and LIA Coordinator: Denisa Rullmoss (She/Her)
Lead Art Teacher: Tracy Hildebrand (She/Her)
Tenured RCS Board Member: Stewart Stokes (He/Him)
While the school year is coming to a close, summer is a time of great activity at Rainbow. Preschool and camps will be running all summer and the main office remains open with staff available between 8:00am-3:00pm. In addition, opportunities for equity discussions continue with a parent discussion circle about Ava Duvernay’s documentary 13th. You can express your interest here: 13th Interest Form
Maya Angelou said, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are, and not be questioned.” I hope that you and your children have found a safe place in Rainbow this year where you have felt celebrated for all that you are. Whether you plan to continue your Rainbow journey next year, or you are moving on to something new, may you find “home” in the people and places that surround you.
Many Blessings To You All.
Rainbow Community School/Omega Middle School
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.
The turn of the seasons is in full swing. The morning greets us with crisp autumn air and the afternoon sun provides a welcome warm up for outdoor activities. This time of year is filled with breathtaking beauty. A final burst of bounty before the stillness of winter. The natural flow of the seasons, each having its own turn in time, can be symbolic of our own rhythms for health and wellness.
This month’s Kaleidoscope* brings Rainbow’s focus on Health and Wellness to the forefront. In doing so, we provide an opportunity for reflection, contemplation, and progression.
Rainbow’s holistic approach to learning is at the heart of student wellness, especially as we learn to negotiate the evolving impacts of pandemic education. Our student’s social and emotional needs are nurtured through strategies like providing adequate time for transitions, breaks, and play. Leading with a lens on holistic wellness helps to counterbalance the cultural narrative that schools must “make up for lost time.” Instead, Rainbow is taking the time to attune with our students, and build a responsive and responsible approach focused on growth. This helps us calibrate our learning environment with the children’s current needs preserving their sacred relationship with life long learning.
Gathering benchmarks and data is another way that we are building an approach that is responsive and relevant. Teachers will be releasing progress reports to families in November with Parent Teacher Conferences (November 22-23rd) serving as a tool for individualized discussion and follow up.
Our Wednesday training schedule is a critical resource enabling time to focus on best practices in the classroom. On Wednesday afternoons, teachers collaborate and innovate, cultivating a dynamic experience for our students.
A Rainbow education inspires students to achieve in the present, and prepares them for life long learning. Our engaging Middle School program features rich and meaningful course work, diverse elective experiences, outstanding educators, and a finely crafted curriculum fostering adolescent thriving. Come learn more and hear from our insightful alumni about the transition from Omega Middle School to their High School of choice. This is one of the most powerful ways to understand the value of completing the Rainbow journey through 8th grade. Join us on November 9th from 6:30-8:00pm. RSVP to the event here.
Social and Emotional Domains
The social and emotional domains are integrated in every classroom, and we have a fantastic team of counselors to support the teachers, students, and families when the need for more personal care is present.
The counseling team includes Will Ray, Mark Ackerman, and Jamie Rischitelli. They have coordinated their schedules so that we always have a counselor on campus. The Counseling Program is available for general support in the classrooms, and can provide more personalized sessions for students and families as needed.
Additionally, we are launching Affinity Groups for our BIPOC students in November. Several emails have been shared about the details of this initiative. Most importantly, it furthers our investment in cultivating a diverse community that also experiences a culture of belonging and connection.
In the spirit of inclusion and wellness, Rainbow is in the process of establishing a Pronoun policy. This is currently being reviewed through various Dynamic Governance circles and will be shared with the community as soon as it is finalized. This policy brings visibility and transparency to establishing a culture of safety, sincerity, and allyship.
Culture of Engagement
A culture of engagement creates a community that is connected, collaborative, and compassionate. Since the launch of the school year, there have been several highlights within our community exemplifying this value.
The Rainbow Community School Board put together a video explaining their role in the long term success of our school. The Board is an outstanding group of volunteers that guides the school’s future planning in partnership with the Executive Director. They are an integral part of our governance model and a resounding source of support to Administrative leadership.
Additionally, our Parent council is a governing circle whose primary function is to help community relationships flourish. From teacher lunches to initiating class gatherings, their impact is powerful and appreciated. The meetings are open and anyone is welcome.
Joining a circle is another way to invest in Rainbow. Our circle meetings are published in Rainbow Reminders, and are open for anyone to join.
In the spirit of celebrating community engagement, we are planning to reinvigorate a tracking system for volunteer hours. This will help support efforts directed at outside funding and grant opportunities. More details will be shared in an upcoming Rainbow Reminders.
Health and Safety
Along with emotional wellbeing, our physical safety is a top priority at Rainbow. This includes continued reflection on our Covid Mitigations aligning ourselves with best practices and relevant data.
Our pool testing program has been running for the past two weeks. The students and teachers have quickly adapted to this routine and we move efficiently through the process. So far, the pool reports have been negative. We will only send out notification and next steps if a positive pool is received.
At the start of school, our mitigation strategies were built in alignment with CDC guidance. Additionally, the context of high infection rates, a fully in person model that included our largest cohorts since the beginning of the pandemic (Preschool, K-2, 3-5, and 6-8), and the return of the Rainbow’s End program informed a structured and cautious launch. Despite these significant changes, we have experienced great success to date. As a result, we are reviewing our mitigation guidelines to consider shifting our masking protocols outdoors and exploring more long term adaptations, as vaccination becomes an option for more of our student body.
To help us explore the landscape as it relates to Rainbow Community School and Omega Middle School, we are asking that all families complete THIS SURVEY.
Please have your information completed by November 2, 2021.
Yours In Partnership and Gratitude,
*Communication is central to the success of our community. In collaboration with weekly publications like Rainbow Reminders and regular classroom newsletters, Kaleidoscope captures the bigger picture of what is happening on campus and exciting news for Rainbow’s future.
We are excited to dig into the Pollyanna Racial Literacy Curriculum where every voice counts, particularly those that are least often heard. We are using this curriculum as a supplement to what we already teach and it so naturally fits into our ongoing efforts for a holistic education. We encourage you to review the Pollyanna Parent/Guardian Guide to get a better understanding of what your student will be learning. – Danae Aicher, Equity Director
Dear Rainbow Friends and Families,
I hope that 2021 brings many blessings to you and your family. It marks a new beginning. It is one of many new year cycles that lend itself to reflective and visionary thinking. At the school level this is a midway point. It is a natural fulcrum upon which we balance looking back at what we have accomplished and learned, and looking ahead to the possibilities and intentions for the future.
Looking back, the gravity of 2020 is powerful in both its own right and in the ways it surfaced for some, and reinforced for others, the collective influence of our nation’s history on our modern experience. Our obligation to analyze Rainbow’s equity efforts, and to reckon with our evolution of impact, became exceedingly clear during a thriving pandemic and racial tensions. This work is never done, but the more we centralize it, the more it will be internalized individually and systemically.
Naming a commitment to social justice in our mission statement and establishing ourselves as an Affirmative Action school are foundational efforts. These ideas are continually revisited to ensure their integrity. Additionally, the work of building the structures, systems, and culture of an institution that lives these principles is an active role we all play regularly. This Kaleidoscope is dedicated to surfacing several of the elements that comprise our current progress in offering a humane and decolonized educational experience for our families and children.
Below Danae Aicher, our Equity Director, speaks to the power of embedding our institutional work within the larger context of national events.
There’s an old saying that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. The idea is that the universe will always test our commitment to whatever it is we declare we want to do.
Like so many other organizations, we here at Rainbow, have declared our commitment to equity. Equity is trendy. So much is going on in the world around us that lots of people are getting on board, anxious for some way to affect change. The ideological shift to equity is challenging all by itself. Rainbow has done that. For us, the challenge is (and will continue to be)… How do we live our mission?
The last year has really tested us. COVID put a spotlight on the cracks through which too many of our students and families are getting caught. And even as we work overtime to adapt to the changes we have to make in order to provide the best version of a Rainbow education that we can, we know that our models simply don’t work for those who are most vulnerable. Fortunately, we do not believe that pandemic education will last forever. Inherent in this pause is the obligation that we build back our educational programming with a lens on systemic and institutional norms that are in service to all students, families and staff. For further transparency, our Strategic Plan names benchmarks we are working to achieve in the next five years.
This summer, another series of murders of Black people, The Black Lives Matter protests that swept across the country, and the political rhetoric we witnessed opposing them, shone another spotlight; a spotlight on a deep racial divide of experience in this country. Many of our white parents woke to a calling for new awareness and answered that call by engaging in honest and sometimes painful discussions with each other as well as with some of our parents of color and parents of students of color. Attendance at events like Talking to Kids About Race and White Supremacy and Me Discussion Groups, and participation in Equity Circle are examples of this work. Out of this, we are watching families develop deeper relationships and bringing us more into community with one another. Furthermore, some of you are asking profound questions of us and pushing us to have greater imagination about what it means to “develop accomplished, confident, and creative learners who are prepared to be compassionate leaders in building a socially just, spiritually connected, and environmentally sustainable world.”
That mission feels especially important right now. We witnessed a horrifying scene last week. While we are not a political organization, we are one that collectively seeks to honor the whole body. That is what it means to be holistic. We cannot honor the whole without telling the truth. Terrorism is defined as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” Insurrection is defined as “a violent uprising against an authority or government”. On January 6, we witnessed a terrorist insurrection. While there’s shock and sadness for many of us, let’s keep in mind that for some in our community there was less shock and more expectation- an understanding that this has been part of the duality of our country. And the fear and worry is not esoteric or theoretical or even political; it is an everyday lived experience of having to always be aware of one’s surroundings, who is around, and who can be trusted if they face physical harm. We live in two Americas and none of us wants to continue that.
That is why it is so important that we develop a broader curriculum for our students, one that encourages curiosity, sensitivity, cultural awareness, and critical thinking. Our Omega curriculum, and the required Equity Elective offer students the chance to examine our history and our present, find the inconsistencies in our ideals, and find the moments of great leadership beyond the common “heroes”. What lessons can they take from that and model in their own lives?
We are excited to dig into the Pollyanna Racial Literacy Curriculum where every voice counts, particularly those that are least often heard. We are using this curriculum as a supplement to what we already teach and it so naturally fits into our ongoing efforts for a holistic education. We encourage you to review the Pollyanna Parent/Guardian Guide to get a better understanding of what your student will be learning.
As we approach re-enrollment season, it is an opportune time to consider what it means to commit to Affirmative Action as a school community. One aspect is weighted admission, meaning preference is given to children and families of color that would like to join our school community. Of course, this is just the beginning. We need to ensure that once a family or child of color joins our community, we apply every effort to create a climate of inclusion and belonging. Affirmative Action means we exercise the right to interpret and apply policies differently for children and families of color. As Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, explains, “Treating different things the same can generate as much inequality as treating the same things differently.”A commitment to Affirmative Action implies that when we build a culture of equity, instead of equality, we all benefit because our needs are met in compliance with our individualized experiences.
While not a specific example of Affirmative Action, the 6th grade classroom currently provides a prime example of applying a policy differently to a subset of our population. Grade six has been an anomaly this year because a large number of students enrolled in fully remote education. It has reached a point that we are able to defer the cohort model, and offer fully in person learning for the eleven eligible families, until February 26th when the next round of re-enrollment decisions are made. In addition, we are able to offer fully in person learning to the two siblings of 6th graders that attend Omega ⅞ programming. Unfortunately, we are not able to make this same offer for the siblings at the elementary level, because our resources are different. The 6th grade parents consented to this decision, highlighting a community that understands that we should not prevent optimal learning circumstances for some, simply because we cannot provide them for all. That being said, we all experience indirect benefits of this opportunity that will pave the way for further reintegration to weekly in person learning as it is safe and viable for other parts of our institution.
Kate Brantley and I are participating in Whiteness At Work. It is a four part training series designed to dismantle norms influenced by white dominant culture that impede the success of building a safe diverse working environment. While the Pollyanna curriculum focuses on a ground up approach to equity through educating our children, this type of analysis ensures the equity lens is utilized with a comprehensive, systemic, and long term vision intact. This includes hiring practices, evaluation systems, daily work conditions, and more. Fortunately, this is not the task of administration alone. Our Dynamic Governance structure provides ample opportunity for systemic change to be fostered through collective community action. We are stronger together.
As we look ahead to the 21-22 school year, there is so much hope. Not simply for a comprehensive response to the pandemic and social unrest of 2020, but for the potential of an inspired reimaging of what is possible within and beyond our community and classrooms. Our conversation about equity is ongoing, and we will always be working to create and maintain a more equitable school community.
On January 26th, we will be hosting a school wide meeting to offer a look at Rainbow’s future. I look forward to engaging in a hope-filled conversation with you all at that time. More details about this event will be shared in upcoming Rainbow Reminders and classroom Newsletters.
It is my sincerest pleasure to be entering a new year with each of you. May we continue to build trust, dialogue, and community in the journey ahead.