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.
The autumn equinox ushers in the final harvest season and delights with warm hues painting the leaves and landscape.
We watch as the creatures of the natural world busy themselves with preparations for the winter months. I find that the pace of our school community often mirrors this vibrant energy with routines giving way to a lively learning culture. Fall reminds us to surrender to the natural cycle of the seasons knowing that rebirth is just around the corner. As we settle into a rhythm for the school year, acceptance for what needs to be released will help us in birthing something new.
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.
Our opening weeks have created a foundation worth celebrating.
This first month of school has manifested a community rising to its full potential. Teachers are designing innovative and dynamic programming while engaging in person and remote learners, coordinating outdoor education, and crafting meaningful content. Parents are fostering social gatherings through video platforms, collaborating with carpooling, and sharing resources and ideas for navigating learning at home. Rainbow’s Board is engaged in critical visioning to help ensure a thriving school in and beyond these unprecedented times. Eckhart Tolle said, “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” Thank you all for continually surfacing the beauty of this Rainbow community. I am ever grateful and empowered to witness a community aligned in service to our children.
Moving beyond our foundation leads us to a new layer in our programming.
This time of year we are typically preparing to formally assess our students in grade 3-8 with the CTP (Comprehensive Testing Program) standardized assessment. This year, our initial focus needs to be on establishing healthy and robust learning environments for our students. Implementing testing now would unnecessarily disrupt this process. As a result, we have moved the assessments to a more desirable timeframe. Testing is scheduled to take place from November 30th- December 17th to ensure both cohorts have ample time to complete this experience. In addition, we anticipate offering individualized testing sessions for fully remote learners. We will provide more explicit information about testing protocols and processes in the coming weeks.
We have also discovered the need to more explicitly define guidelines for attendance and participation in remote programming. Teachers will begin working on their narrative reports at the end of October, and it will be important for families and students to understand the frame of evaluation for attendance and participation. An addendum to our COVID-19 Mitigation plan will be released within the week detailing these specific expectations.
Finally, we are exploring the potential for our first on campus community-wide event. Halloween has served as a long standing invitation for festive costuming, family engagement, and joyful gathering. A team of teachers and administrators are working out the details to design an experience that can safely welcome all learners to campus for some aspect of celebration throughout the day. Details will be shared through your classroom newsletters and in collaboration with the parent council, as the specifics are established.
Fostering depth within our mission is a key aspect of our school’s evolution.
In my welcome letter, I introduced our intention to make our curriculum for racial and environmental justice more visible to our families supporting a partnership in learning. Teachers are exploring the Pollyanna Curriculum this year along with the Teaching Tolerance Anti-Bias Framework as tools for surfacing a more explicit curriculum and approach. Families are encouraged to be a part of this work in collaboration with the school. An upcoming opportunity to engage in conversation and contemplation with our community is the Talking to Kids About Race event, on October 18th from 3:30-5:30pm. This event will include a panel of parents of color and parents of children of color from Rainbow, along with an exploration of the Racial Identity Benchmarks sourced from the City and Country School in New York. We look forward to the rich discussions that abound at this annual event.
Our environmental efforts are best captured in the multitude of student-led projects on campus. Preschool has created a viewing station for a Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar found on campus. This will metamorphose into a Regal Moth. Preschool has also established a connection with the Roots Foundation to plan for edible gardens on campus. In partnership with Max and Shaun, our facilities team, Fourth grade is working on relocating their garden beds to the hill by Omega. Fifth grade has reworked their compost stations for maximum efficiency and will have school-wide composting underway soon. The Omega sixth graders are creating invitational spaces for squirrel observation and the seventh and eighth graders are in the process of designing and constructing a pathway to their outdoor learning center, and so much more. The campus has clearly become an enriching tool for investment in the natural domain.
Even with all of the energy focused on the present, it remains critical for us to look ahead.
In the short term, this involves looking beyond October 22nd, when families will reevaluate their remote learning status. Administration will be reaching out soon with a simple survey to collect data about our communities’ intention for the winter months. There has been some buzz from families that the opening of the school year has given them a sense of comfort and they look forward to continuing or transitioning to in person learning. Other families may have a reason to consider or continue with the remote model. A look at our community data will help us determine the most effective path that takes diverse family needs into consideration At this time, we do not imagine a big shift in our approach unless the family data suggests this is advantageous. We will be sharing this survey with you all very soon.
Another part of visioning is ensuring that we are always taking into account the larger, longer term goals of the school. During the 18-19 school year, Rainbow hosted a community-wide summit using the process of Appreciative Inquiry to gather data from our critical stakeholders about the direction of the institution. This led to our most recent Strategic Plan. This document guides the administration in evaluating decisions with a long-term lens on impact and alignment with our community values and vision. I look forward to advancing our progress on these strategic goals in the coming months and years.
May the beauty of fall surround you. May the crisp air refresh you. May the season of harvest be a reminder of the great abundance we share when community is ignited and fellowship is at the heart of our experience.
As I sit to write my very first Kaleidoscope to you all, I can’t help but pause to reflect on the very nature and context evoked by the name of this publication. The etymology of the word Kaleidoscope comes from the Greek kalos, meaning beauty; eidos, meaning that which is seen in form or shape; and skepeo meaning to examine. So through my words today and into the future, I hope this communication will serve to explore the evolutionary shape of Rainbow. May it surface the potential and realized beauty that exists within, between, and beyond us all.
Our Reopening Plan
Our Reopening Plan has been shared widely and your feedback has been greatly appreciated. We intend to revise the hybrid model proposed for remote learning. Several families shared that this model would create a burden on transportation, and thus become significantly less viable for them. We are working on a revision and will share this with families soon, along with any additional details to the plan. Of course, it was disappointing that the Governor was not yet able to share more specific direction for schools; however, we are feeling confident that we will respond accordingly when guidance is released.
What will school and campus look like?
In the observance of transparency, many families have been wondering about Rainbow’s decision making process as we define what school and campus will look like in 20-21. Specifically, there is curiosity regarding our obligation to follow governmental guidance. While we do have some liberties as a private institution, all of our decisions are being weighed against best practices, health and safety (both physical and emotional), and the ability to achieve our mission. For example, we contextualize how these recommendations will be experienced by Rainbow’s students, families, and staff. Furthermore, we are a small institution with over 5 acres on our campus. This affords us opportunities to realize physical distancing protocols that can be implemented with developmentally appropriate expectations still intact. In fact, we are building covered outdoor classrooms and by creating these spaces we are advancing the health benefits of being outdoors. In addition, we are supporting our teacher’s capacity to engage inquiry-based discovery and experiential learning. This is a point of grace that we are grateful for as we continue to develop creative and student-centered approaches to our return.
Calling in our spiritual grounding and resilience, is possibly our most important work right now. We are being required to process radical shifts in societal “norms” as conversations are centered around public health and racial trauma, and in response to both, the transformation of community systems and agencies. At the root of it all is the question: What does it mean to be in community? The depth and breadth of processing necessary to reimagine our world is visceral, powerful, and personal. Rainbow has been criticized in the past for being political in the ways we interpret our mission, and yet as a school we are a central element in offering expertise, safety, and leadership to our children and families who deserve support in unpacking these complexities. Our world continues to offer polarizing narratives that our children need to be able to analyze and think critically about. Rainbow seeks to offer this guidance to our students so that they can engage in healthy identity development and citizenship that embraces their family values, personal perspectives, and empathy for others. As a school, we cannot ignore these realities, but rather we must teach them through developmentally appropriate means.
In order for this type of education to thrive, we must be in partnership with you, and each other, to ensure that every family system is honored and valued. A community education takes into account the fact that we will not all agree, but that we will be able to communicate with compassion, listen with intent to understand, and work together in harmony. I can not overstate the value of being in authentic relationships with one another, that allow us to be vulnerable without fear, so that we may truly realize the power of a united community. Please let this stand as an open invitation to speak with me at any time should you feel tension about Rainbow’s plans moving forward.
May we begin this year, with building connections among us that will realize the beauty that comes from each turn of the Kaleidoscope, adapting and reshaping to find the magic in every moment.
Time, during isolation, has taken on a new dimension. It seems to have life of its own, sometimes dragging us along on its adventures, other times dragging us down into the abyss.
April lasted for months, and suddenly, now it is time to graduate!
Since the beginning of time, humans have marked its passage with ritual. Ritual helps us to set the rest of our life aside and honor the present moment as the most important time. Although we cannot conduct our beloved graduation rituals together this year, my wish is that your family set time aside during graduation day so your child can feel how important this time in their life is. Every child experienced this time of learning in isolation differently. Some resisted, some suffered, some thrived. Your child, in their own special way, accomplished something challenging during this unique time in history, and they will be recognized.
I, too, am ready to graduate. I have been at Rainbow for 13 years, coincidentally, the same amount of time as a K-12 education. Rainbow has been the best education of my life, and it’s time for me to take what I have learned and serve in a new way: I will be a professor of educational leadership at Southern Oregon University.
While it turned out to be an odd time to transition Rainbow’s leadership, I hope you have found the process to be seamless. During these last two months I have been functioning in a consulting/advising role, while Susie Fahrer guides Rainbow through the complex decisions of our time. I am in awe of her ability to attend to every detail, graciously and patiently caring for everyone’s needs, while never losing sight of the larger picture. Susie’s vision is powerful, her intellect supreme, and her integrity is impeccable. She is my hero. The Spirit of Rainbow celebrates her as the new Head of School.
The Spirit of Rainbow
Our Board President, Stewart Stokes, sometimes makes a reference to “The Spirit of Rainbow.” This could mean the personality of Rainbow, or what is special about Rainbow; but Stewart is referring to an actual living entity, a soul. Rainbow is many things. Rainbow is you and me, the teachers, and all the children. It is a holistic philosophy and curriculum. It has a mission and a purpose. It is a physical place with buildings, gardens, and beauty. It is a community. Rainbow is all these things combined into a magical alchemical mixture that is transformed into so much more than the sum of its parts. The Spirit of Rainbow is a living, loving force.
Rainbow’s Heart Beats Strong
A Rainbow education is truly an education of the heart…and certainly not just for the children, but for each of us. Many times, in my tenure as executive director, I have acknowledged that I was learning at least as much as the children. Lessons of the heart. Part of the beauty of Rainbow as a living force, is the reciprocal nature of learning. The more the adults—teachers, parents, staff—are learning, the more the children are learning. We shine a light on one another (sometimes on the places we don’t want anyone to look). We support one another in allowing our hearts and minds to grow.
Dr. Arrien is an indigenous anthropologist who describes the heart as having four chambers: full, open, clear, and strong. Below I use the four-chambered heart as a metaphor to describe the most important lessons I have learned at Rainbow, and what I believe every child learns when they receive a Rainbow education.
This first chamber of the heart concerns “fullness.” When my heart is full, I am giving all of myself to the task at hand. I am present to whomever I am with—fully listening and caring for those who need me. Energetically, I am not holding back, or meting out what I have to give, for there is an abundance, a well-spring of brilliance, labor, and care that flows through me when I give fully. At Rainbow, I learned to recognize when I am being half-hearted, the opposite of full-hearted, a sign that I need to change or refuel until the spirit can freely flow through me again.
Thank you, Rainbow. My heart is full.
When I am closed-hearted, either my heart has shrunken, being too focused on the material world and all of its distractions and demands. Or, I am defensive, hoping no one sees my shadow. Thich Nhat Hahn calls it the illusion of separation: when I am closed-hearted I forget that I am intricately interconnected with all of nature and all beings—and what is good for all is also good for me. Rainbow has taught me that when I am most fearful, most striving, most worried about me—that is when I most need to open my heart—to be love and to allow myself to be loved.
Thank you, Rainbow. My heart is open.
Sometimes life is overwhelming and chaotic. When I forget about the magic and magnificence of life, I try to control it. I think I have the power to accomplish all of my goals as if life is a big machine that needs me, its master, to run it. But it goes faster and faster, and soon it becomes impossible to keep up; fear tells me I can’t let go. However, when I listen to my heart, I have faith that when I let go, my true direction will become clear, creative solutions will arise, and I will move forward with ease. When life is uncertain (like these current times) and when I am confused, I have learned to be patient. Dr. Dan Siegel says that “a synonym for uncertainty is possibility.” Therefore, I wait for clear direction.
Thank you, Rainbow. My heart is clear.
The final lesson of the heart is the most important. I believe that each of us is born with the capacity to be in harmony with the world around us. When we are strong-hearted what we are experiencing on the inside—our values, beliefs, thoughts, and emotions—is in alignment with what we say and how we behave on the outside. But from the day we are born, our physical needs and our social conditioning leads us away from our strong heart. When we are weak-hearted, we say one thing, but mean another. We make commitments that we don’t agree with—sometimes taking our life down a path that is further and further from the sacred. But when we are strong-hearted we have the courage to be our authentic selves. We speak Truth. We act with Integrity. The theme of Omega Middle School is, “Know thyself.” Indeed, your courageous, heart-centered Omega adolescents have often shown me what it means to be real.
Thank you, Rainbow. My heart is strong.
To our parents:
In a world that has gone wrong in so many ways, your children are blessed to be in a learning community where the lessons of the heart are taught—where love is the central component of their education, where they learn to pay attention to what their heart is saying so they “know themselves” before going out into the world. My parting advice is to do everything you can to make sure they complete that journey. As I often point out, heart, whole, and to heal all have the same root meaning. An education of the heart makes the human whole. It is an education of wellbeing. Teach your children well. Give them an education of the heart.
June 5 is my last day as Executive Director at Rainbow Community School, but my connection to the Spirit of Rainbow, like all things of the heart, is timeless and beyond the limitations of physical space. I believe that any spark I have added to Rainbow will continue to be kindled and kept alive after I am gone. Reciprocally, Rainbow, and the lessons I have learned here, will live on in my heart.
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.