Happy Spring – Kaleidoscope March 2019
Happy Spring, everyone. We made it through winter! I am reminded of the line from the Merle Haggard song, “If we make it through December, everything’s going to be all right.” The thing is, I always wondered why Merle doesn’t mention January and February. With the darkest months now past, our students seemed to have sailed through the winter with great success. Around Rainbow, wintertime is rich with learning.
Flu season was fortunately mild this year. We are also grateful the chicken pox virus (varicella) never spread beyond three students. Some in our community might be under the impression that Rainbow’s immunization rate is low. Incidentally, Rainbow families choose to immunize their children at a rate higher than some of the charter schools and other alternative private schools in Asheville.
It might be helpful to know that some of the families who are exempt from the immunization requirements do get some immunizations. We are relieved that the number of cases of varicella in our community did not reach outbreak status, forcing many children to unnecessarily miss school. We are glad the three children who contracted it recovered well. I am grateful for all you do to be mindful of the health and well-being of our whole community.
New season, new life
As I write this, spring has just begun. New life is emerging everywhere. Our campus is no exception. Have you seen the baby hawks that have taken up residence here? If not, I suggest taking a stroll over to the red oak tree that is near the pavilion and wetlands on the Omega campus. A pair of big red-shouldered hawks are nesting there. It’s been a thrill for the children to watch these hawks fly around campus. It’s a great opportunity to listen to them squeak and squawk. You may know that our campus is a designated wildlife habit, an honor we received because of the many factors that make our campus amenable to wildlife in the city, including over 75 trees on campus of more than 20 varieties. Many of these are old-growth.
Exploration through the Seven Domains
Spring is a great time for outdoor exploration through the lens of the seven domains. The natural domain is often central to our spring activities. Starting in 3^rd grade, all classes go on end-of-year trips, most of which are wilderness experiences. Of course, May Day is our most well-known celebration of the natural domain, in which Rainbow students have a chance to dance around the maypole.
We recently had our annual Domain Day. As an administrator, it’s always a special treat to get to spend an entire school day with students. I helped lead a group in the creative domain and shared my candle-making craft with the children. It was exciting at the end of the day to reveal what the candles looked like as we took them out of their molds and sent them home, a metaphor for discovering the hidden creative potential within all of us.
Creative Opportunities – Imagine!
Still, there are other creative opportunities happening around campus. These include preparation for the Imagine performance on May 17. If you are new to Rainbow, you are in for a treat. It’s a little hard to describe Imagine. Kindergarten through sixth grade students, as well as Omega electives students, perform various vignettes of their choosing. These often include original music and dance. The result is a performance in which faculty and students weave together an original play with an important message and nuanced layers. It’s an explosion of creativity. Some have called it “psychedelic.” Others say it is “brilliant” and “well-coordinated.” This begs the question: is Rainbow a school of the arts? The answer is yes…and so much more.
We have a new member of the family: a bus! We came across a good deal on a 15-passenger gasoline bus and purchased it from the YWCA who was selling off the fleet from their after school program which just closed. We have found that our existing white gasoline bus is easier to maintain, and that faculty prefer this shorter, easier-to-drive bus to the larger diesel yellow one we also own. With the purchase of this new bus, we now have two matching, short, white buses, which will proudly display our Rainbow logo. To that end, are selling our yellow diesel bus. If you know anyone who would be interested, it is for sale at $15,000, obo. It’s a 2006 with 89,000 miles. You can contact Max at 828-258-9264, ext. 145.
Do you sometimes find that you have general questions about the school? My office hours are Mondays from 2 -3 pm. This is a time that anyone is welcome to visit either the division heads or me to ask a question, express an idea, or just to talk. One question that someone asked recently was What happens on early release Wednesdays and staff training days? Many high quality schools around the country have an early release day once per week so teachers can meet, train, and work on planning.
Professional Development and Teaching
There is a direct correlation between the quality of teaching and the amount of professional development a teacher receives, the amount of time a teacher has to plan fantastic lesson plans, and how much time they have to collaborate with their colleagues and administration. Wednesday meetings as well as staff training days address this need. These meeting/training times help keep the school running smoothly, so that every minute spent with the children is of the highest quality possible.
A closer look at testing and data
An example of one of our recent training days centered around student data. We made a long list of all the types of data that inform our instruction and how we work with children and families. Next, we drilled into some of our CTP test data. Throughout the year teachers create dynamic lessons driven by by data and personal knowledge of each student that every teacher has derived over the school year.
This particular training was more of a bird’s eye view of data. In groups, teachers worked together to understand trends of data to help guide our curriculum goals. We posed questions, hypothesized about the data, and bounced ideas off each other. Every year in June, after graduation, the faculty meet for two or three days. During these meetings we reflect on the school year and analyze and adjust the scope and the sequence of our curriculum. Our data discussions are one important part of that reflection and planning.
Looking to next year
Our administrative team is in the process of vetting new candidates for next year’s faculty. Although we typically have very low teacher turn-over, there is always a little bit of change. This year, our fourth grade teacher, Molly Sawyer, is choosing to take a few years off to start a family. Molly is a vibrant teacher who is very well loved. We hope she returns to us as soon as possible!
In the meantime, Susie, Sandra, and I are enjoying our teacher search. We have narrowed the pool of applicants down to a few finalists. These folks will come in to do demonstrations in the classroom, as well as in-person interviews. We already know it’s going to be difficult to make a final decision, but we also look forward to announcing our new-hire in about a month.
Your authentic self
I’d like to close with an excerpt from a letter that really touched me. It was a cover letter from a teacher applying for the fourth grade position, and I found myself tearing up as it read it. Just as I believe every child should be able to express their authentic self, so should every teacher. Rainbow brings hope and inspiration to teachers. The author of this excerpt illustrates this. This candidate also gave me permission to share it with you.
When I clicked on the job listing for the Rainbow Community School the most amazing thing happened, I felt hope. I felt a spark. As the camera moved through the different rooms of your school during the “Life is Better With You” video I cried because I felt incredibly moved and inspired and happy! I am a public school teacher of 20 years who has been considering leaving teaching because of what I believe standardized testing and forced curriculum and pacing have done to the minds and will of my students. I don’t want to give up teaching – I understand children. But I can’t teach any more in a setting I very much consider to be stifling and limited for children’s emotional and intellectual needs. Your school inspired me to hope that the next 15 years of my teaching career can be different…I’ve never seen anything even close to what your school offers children (and educators.) I’m willing and interested to completely change my life to each in a school that honors the whole child.
Rainbow is a special place
We receive letters from teachers similar to this every year, but this one in particular reminded me of the special school we have. I am grateful every day for how lucky we are to be in a place where we – whether children, staff, or parents – can express our authentic selves.
This letter prompted me to remember how my greatest vision isn’t for Rainbow to be special, but for all schools to honor the whole child, and for children to have access to a meaningful education that celebrates the human soul, and develops their highest potential. When that day comes we will have a world that is well on its way to being socially just, spiritually fulfilling, and environmentally sustainable.
Rainbow Community School is a resource for students, families, and Asheville community members that provides a safe, educational, and social environment. RCS stimulates compassion and empathy between and among these stakeholders.
Ends Policy #3: Community Resource
This the third in a series for Heart of the Matter based on our board Ends Policies. Ends Policies are written by the Board as the guiding light for our school. They point the way toward who we want to be and where we want to go. Ends Policies may seem lofty because they are meant to be grand goals that we may never fully reach but we are always working toward.
As Executive Director, I am responsible for implementing systems and programming at Rainbow Community School that work toward our Ends. For this series of Heart of the Matter, I am sharing my interpretation of each Board Ends Policy so we all know what our intentions are as a community.
This issue focuses on Ends Policy 3, which addresses the Board’s intention that Rainbow Community School serves as a community resource.
Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it. –Marian Wright Edelman
What is community and what does it mean to be a community resource for our school?
“Community” is the middle name of our school. Why did we choose this as part of our name?
An individual or a community can each exist as a discrete entity. They can also exist along a continuum, with individualism and communalism at opposite ends, and with a range of merged characteristics along that line.
At Rainbow Community School we seek a balance between the two. We live in a Western nation founded on individualism, which our culture promotes over communal values. Embracing both of these elements is quite unconventional. What’s more, RCS doesn’t seek a balance between individualism and communalism through compromise, but with a both/and approach. The result is a school that lovingly embraces and nurtures a strong communal culture, while also courageously promoting the identity development of each individual. Each student receives individualized attention that, in turn, strengthens the community as a whole.
Empathy is the starting point for creating a community and taking action. It is the impetus for creating change. –Max Carver
How is a community strengthened by individuals?
At RCS, when a student takes a stand on an issue, or achieves a goal, these actions do not take away from the community. Rather, they enrich it. In addition, by bringing in different lived experiences and perspectives, we also know that diverse individuals make us stronger. This is in contrast to traditional communalism where homogeneity is the norm. Still, the community is strengthened when an individual may have exceptional needs or accommodations, and the community rallies to support that need.
How are individuals strengthened by our communal values and by our culture of community support?
First, students know they have the backing of their peers. Because of the emotional safety at Rainbow, students can use their failures to learn, and ultimately triumph. Students can take risks and perhaps not succeed the first time because they know they have the support of teachers, as well. In addition, when bad luck befalls an individual, our loving community can act supportively to help that person. Our students can dare to be unique, because they will be recognized and appreciated for their distinctive efforts and contributions.
Students who have grown up in the RCS model become accustomed to taking risks and can accomplish many things. They do this within the positive framework of our holistic system, and support of our community. Therefore, they develop strong personal identities, while also having a communal consciousness. This awareness extends beyond their immediate community to concern for the city in which they live, as well as the state, nation, and world. The outcome is that Rainbow sends out students who apply their individual strengths and talents toward the greater good.
Our students participate in a curriculum that integrates learning about communal cultures and values. Students create and agree to adhere to classroom rules, work on group projects, and engage in group play and planning time. They develop a sound understanding of what it means to collaborate with each other, care about one another, as well as develop their sense of morals and ethics. This occurs all within our holistic curriculum. In addition, students learn effective communication skills, including “compassionate communication.” Rainbow teachers instruct students on using practical common skills as well as help them develop empathetic ways to communicate and to contribute to the community.
A true community is not just about being geographically close to someone or part of the same social web network. It’s about feeling conncted and responsible for what happens. Humanity is our ultimate community, and everyone plays a crucial role. –Yehuda Berg
With the above-named beliefs, social norms, and the method of education, the culture at Rainbow Community School is one where students feel loved and supported by their peers and the larger school community.
It’s not just students who benefit from this culture, however. Faculty, parents, and other adult members of our community also value their membership. They experience enjoyable community interaction, they learn about the world and themselves through participation in the community. Because of support and encouragement they feel, adult community members feel comfortable to seek advice or assistance when they are enduring tragedy or hard times. This sense of community means that families don’t feel they need to compete with one another, or that they must “keep up with the Joneses.” Instead, they can be vulnerable with one another in a community of mutual support, with acceptance for their weaknesses and flaws, as well as their strengths.
The goal is for all community members feel a sense of inclusion, belonging, and purpose. In other words, every community member feels recognized and also recognizes their role in the community. Everyone feels like they have something to contribute. When community members feel a sense of commitment to their community, they naturally give of themselves through doing their best work, providing a service, or contributing through donations.
A strong culture has symbols, rituals, and routines that create an identifying culture. Informal and formal interactions (such as celebrations) help make up the fiber of community. These occasions allow our community to celebrate together, as well as grow closer through shared experiences.
Systems and policy
At the classroom level, behavior policies reflect community values in several ways:
- By creating class rules and decisions collectively as a group.
- By encouraging students to consider their impact on their classroom community when they are not abiding by the agreed-upon behaviors, rather than simply being rule-oriented.
- Using restorative practices for students who may need redirection.
At the larger level, policies and decisions are made with community values in mind. (Some of this overlaps with the Social Justice Ends interpretation, See Ends Policy 7.) Our style of governance includes the voices of all individuals (who are willing to participate), and uses a flattened hierarchy – a sociocratic system – for consent decisions designed to include multiple perspectives.
Rainbow Community School Ends Policies
E-1 School Mission
E-2 Beauty, Truth, and Goodness
E-3 Community Resource
E-4 Influencing Education
E-5 Spiritual Growth
E-6 Environmental Sustainability
E-7 Social Justice and Equity
In general, the need, strength, or power of an individual does not supersede the consideration of the community and vice versa. Individual needs are seen and met because our sense of empathy. Our community has systems and facilities to foster community interaction and health, rather than individual efficiency. For example, we ask that parents walk their child to class. These systems ensure that bureaucracy does not weigh down communal values. Still, we can honor the individual as they go through their unique life circumstances and provide support as needed.
RCS will be viewed as a model community-oriented organization
Rainbow is a private school with a public purpose. These means that while we take care of ourselves as an organization, we strive to do so with the larger community in mind. We do this because it is the right thing to do. Equally important, we understand that when we take care of the community, it reciprocates.
We care for the larger community in several ways:
We directly serve the larger Asheville Community in as many ways as feasible and appropriate. (Providing financial aid and loaning out our facilities are two examples.)
We are a model school that can be emulated by other schools and educators, and/or we directly provide training and education to other organizations and for the field of education at large.
We promote integrity and ethical actions in order to be a model organization with a positive reputation.
In general, we seek to model the ideals for a world in which we wish to live – both for the sake of the world and as a teaching mechanism for our students.
Kaleidoscope January, 2019
From the age of six to fourteen I took violin lessons but had no luck with my teachers, for whom music did not transcend mechanical practicing. I really began to learn only after I had fallen in love with Mozart’s sonatas. The attempt to reproduce their singular grace compelled me to improve my technique. I believe, on the whole, that love is a better teacher than sense of duty. ~Albert Einstein.
Love is the best teacher
Love is the best teacher, and I love Rainbow! I love the wonderment of the children and the sincerity of the adults here. I love my job for so many reasons – mostly because I am always learning so much.
Last night you should have received an email announcing the leadership structure for next year. One of the best aspects of my job is the people I work with. The teachers and the staff here are the people I most respect in the whole world. In addition, our current board is an honor and a pleasure to work with. My heart is thrilled to be ED and working with Susie Fahrer and Sandra McCassim as Division Heads again next year. Susie will also be Assistant Executive Director, which I am really looking forward this. Working with Susie is an incredible experience. Her intelligence, integrity, and huge heart inspire me every day.
Rainbow is the best place to learn
Rainbow is the best place to learn – for children and adults – and I often remark that I think I get to learn more than anyone at Rainbow! Of course, leadership in any context is a fabulous learning opportunity, but because of Rainbow’s contemplative aspect and our supportive environment I am always looking deeply inside and reflecting on how I can best serve this community. “Know thyself” is the theme of Omega Middle School, and it’s a lifelong journey. Thank you, to all of you, for being on this learning journey with me.
I am thankful for the children, the families, and the opportunity to be working in such an amazing place. I envision our students growing up to have work experiences that are meaningful and fulfilling. I want love to be their teacher for the rest of their lives.
We also learn through struggle and sometimes tragedy. Only one week ago Haywood Lounge patron, Ramon Clark, lost his life in the Haywood parking lot in the middle of the night. I have since learned that Ramon was a father to two children and native of Asheville.
We would like to honor Ramon and his family with an interfaith gathering within the next week or two. We will reach out to his family to find out if they would want this sort of gathering and, if so, if they would like to attend. If this occurs, we will let you know through the Rainbow Connector or Rainbow Reminders. Community is crucial in times of tragedy. Gratitude goes out to the RCS Community for the feedback and support I received in navigating our response plan last week. Our leadership is always working in partnership with the families and teachers to keep our children’s safety and security at the heart of our communications and actions. Just as we learn from love, it can also provide the guidance we need to rise out of darkness.
Please remember that my office is open to all members of our RCS Community on Mondays from 2pm to 3pm each week. You are invited to stop in without an appointment with any questions, comments, or just to talk. I am also open to suggestions on topics you would like to explore further. Once a month, during open office hours, I am open to hosting a discussion on a topic of parent choice if there is enough interest.
This is a short Kaleidoscope – the first of 2019.
Our campus is buzzing with activity: Shine talent show, the ski trip, science fair, and more. Be sure to stay in touch through Rainbow Reminders.
In particular, I want to encourage you to attend the Open House on February 7 from 4-6pm, which is right before re-enrollment contracts are due on February 15. The Open House is a great opportunity to meet your child’s teacher for next year, and to learn more about why Rainbow is a journey that goes through 8th grade. During the Open House there will be tours of Omega Middle School.
There is so much to look forward to in 2019 and beyond. May it be a year of hope.
Kaleidoscope, October 2018
I wrote this Kaleidoscope before we had another national tragedy occur: The Tree of Life Synagogue massacre. It is with a broken heart that I add this “introduction” to Kaleidoscope.
Collaborative for Spirituality in Education
As I write, I am nestled safely indoors at the beautiful old Rockefeller home in New York, where 12 heads of schools are meeting to discuss how spiritually supportive schools can help to heal our world. This is the work of the Collaborative for Spirituality in Education (CSE) – an organization started by Dr. Lisa Miller of Columbia University Teachers College (Author of The Spiritual Child).
Through funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Fetzer Foundation, the Rainbow Institute and several other schools are being paid generously to share our best practices in spiritual pedagogy. The CSE seeks to influence American education, at large, to honor the whole child and to create a more just and peaceful democracy.
It’s an honor to be invited to do this important work, and I am developing relationships with these other heads of schools and faculty who are a part of the CSE. Some of these heads of schools are from Jewish Schools, who were here when the news of the tragedy hit, rather than home with their school community.
Together, we have been helping them bear the pain of this tragedy…and they have been helping us all remember the message of the Jewish people. “We are the people who were commanded by Moses to ‘Choose life’ and ever since, despite the tragedies of our history, past and present, have always striven to choose life and sanctify life.” (Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks).
Meeting hate with love
The continual message from these school leaders has been one of meeting hate with love. We chose life. We chose love. Though we are weary, we yet love. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
This is the message we will always share at Rainbow Community School with our children and with the world at large.
It is harvest season, a time when the earth sheds its green and the light begins to shift, but the strength of life is ever apparent in nature’s cycles of renewal. This is the time of year for getting cozy and settling in. The children have become comfortable with the rituals and routines of the classroom. Their relationships with their teachers are becoming well-established.
[bctt tweet=”It is harvest season, a time when the earth sheds its green and the light begins to shift, but the strength of life is ever apparent in nature’s cycles of renewal. This is the time of year for getting cozy and settling in. ” username=”@rainbowcomsch”]
Thanks to the intentional work of all RCS faculty, students should feel comfortable to take risks in all domains, including testing their boundaries. Along with comfort comes developmentally appropriate challenges.
The shadow self
In many traditions, this is the time of year the “shadow” starts to reveal itself; and for Rainbow students, this is no different. The shadow is both a mystical concept and a psychological theory. Simply put, our shadow is the part of our being that we may consider inferior, or our “dark side” that we may repress or deny. However, the shadow need not be negative. Some consider the shadow to be the seat of human creativity.
How is your child exploring their shadow self? Perhaps they are toying with their mischievous side. Maybe they are discovering how they can avoid challenges, such as going to school or completing homework. They might be taking on new social personas, learning how they can “control” other children in positive or negative ways. Some children may be experiencing their first social rejection by a childhood friend.
All of these examples are normal, and even expected. The important thing is that we, as caring adults, provide a loving environment that doesn’t judge or shame them (or each other). We adults try to hold a balance between guiding them, while also allowing them to learn from the natural consequences of their mistakes.
Feel free to reach out to your child’s teacher or the counseling office for a check-in if your child’s behavior is particularly puzzling or if they are starting to have negative experiences at school. Will Ray, Director of Counseling, can be reached at extension 430. As director, Will works part time on campus; but someone in the counseling department is almost always on site. Katie Ford specializes in middle school. Elise Drexler is a play therapist. Kasie Caswell is an intern from Eastern Tennessee State University this year. Together, they make up a holistic team of caring providers.
Día de los muertos
To honor and recognize the changing season–a time of unveiling our inner selves—we will hold a community fire on Friday, November 2 from 9am until the end of the day in the outdoor classroom. Some classes may incorporate the fire with their Día de los Muertos celebration. The space is open to all families, students, and staff. Please come and allow yourself to just be. Click here for the poem teacher Jason Cannoncro attached with the invite to the fire.
Making Learning Visible
You may have noticed a new section in Rainbow Reminders. Each week, at the end of the email, there is a new section called “Making Learning Visible” that describes various aspects of our curriculum and academic program. Making Learning Visible provides a peek into a different classroom each week, with a description of how various classroom activities help students learn and succeed.
Another marker of fall at Rainbow is standardized testing. We have nearly completed all testing, except for make-up sessions. In case you missed Making Learning Visible in the last Rainbow Reminders, click here to read about why we test and how we use test scores to help inform instruction. Last year’s scores are linked in the article with an easy-to-read graph.
What the heck goes on in Omega?!
Our middle school program is unique, and changes greatly from the elementary program. Middle school children become developmentally ready for demanding cognitive and executive function challenges. Our middle school students are given a lot of responsibility. “Know Thyself” is the theme of the Omega Middle School. Students are on a personal journey to discover their purpose and potential. They learn through community and through communing with nature.
The Omega Open House
The very BEST way to learn about Omega? Attend the Omega Open House and the alumni panel. You can ask alumni any question you want. It’s never too early to start doing your homework. Even if your child is in kindergarten, it will help you understand what is ahead. The panel discussion is November 13, from 7-8pm.
It’s Campaign Time
I felt so good after making my pledge to the annual campaign! I love Rainbow. I love what a Rainbow education did for my kids. They are innovators in a changing world, and thriving. I know my contribution helps our vibrant programs.
I hope you will join me in pledging as soon as possible. The earlier you pledge, the less time we spend fundraising. That gives us more time to focus on what we do best – educating children! Click here to make your pledge. It’s easy to donate now, or you can pledge and RCS can bill you later.
Your financial support also provides moral support! Every time a pledge arrives for the annual campaign, a cheer goes up! Donations are a vote of confidence for our hard-working staff and volunteers.
Voluntary Equitable Tuition
Some people have asked about the difference between the Voluntary Equitable Tuition (VET) program and the Annual Campaign. The V in VET stands for “voluntary” — it is designed for people to voluntarily pay a higher tuition. The E stands for Equitable — parents who feel they can afford to pay a higher tuition do so out of the generosity of their hearts in an effort to make tuition more equitably distributed in our community (meaning those who can pay more do to help those who cannot). The VET specifically provides funding for those who cannot afford tuition, and it helps with teacher salaries.
Donating to the annual campaign
The annual campaign, on the other hand, is much wider. The hope is that everyone will donate to the annual campaign. The funds go broadly into operations. (If you want your annual campaign funds designated to a specific area or program, you can check that on your pledge envelope.)
We hope that people paying into VET truly think of VET as part of their tuition payment (albeit a tax-deductible portion), and still make their regular annual campaign donation.
While we wish fundraising were optional, as a non-profit, it is a necessity. Thanks for making it as fun and easy as possible. In this way, we build a stronger community.
What happened to the Parent Education Program (PEP)?
Last year, we asked parents to come to three required PEP meetings/trainings. The program is now different. This year, instead, we ask that parents attend at least two out of three of their class parent meetings. These meetings are the best way for parents to be engaged, to understand their teacher’s methods, to learn about their child’s developmental stage, and more. An administrator attends these meetings to answer questions and provide information.
By now, every class has had at least one meeting. Thank you for participating in this most important aspect of parenting at Rainbow.
The biggest complaint about Rainbow?
One person just told me their biggest grumble is the amount of email and communication they get. Indeed, it’s A LOT! Like, a crazy-beans amount of communication! In general, as a community school, parents have many things to focus on, give of their time and talent, and participate in many activities.
Some people are fortunate enough to be able keep up with most of it, while others are overworked and overwhelmed. But it’s a community. We just ask that each person does their best to support one another, even though we all have different circumstances.
Sometimes Rainbow can seem magical – and it is! But behind all that magic is a lot of work and cooperation. The real magic is community, support, and collaboration.
Reach out and thank a board member
The new Rainbow Community School Board has been diligently working. Over the summer they attended trainings and began the process of revising a number of board policies.
This is a monumental undertaking that involves carefully analyzing each policy, discussing what it means, its ramifications, and making any needed revisions. These meetings are rich and thought-provoking. The board is truly committed to what is most important: the students! You will be able to identify board members at various campus events. They will have a button that lets you know who they are. If you see them, please thank them for their wisdom and hard work.
As a friendly reminder, don’t forget to VOTE! Early voting goes until November 3.
The world may seem pretty wobbly and often disturbing these days. But when all of us just do the simple things within our control, it makes a difference.
There is so much hope. Everything can change in an instant! I leave you with an excerpt from a poem my husband recently shared with me. (My favorite line is in bold.)
Someone is dreaming of adoring you
Someone is writing a book that you will read in the next two years that will change how you look at life.
Nuns in the Alps are in endless vigil, praying for the Holy Spirit to alight the hearts of all of God’s children.
There are Tibetan Buddhist monks in a temple in the Himalayas endlessly reciting mantras for the cessation of your suffering and for the flourishing of your happiness.
A farmer is looking at his organic crops and whispering, “nourish them.”
Someone wants to kiss you, to hold you, to make tea for you.
Someone in your orbit has something immensely valuable to give you — for free.
Something is being invented this year that will change how your generation lives, communicates, heals and passes on.
The next great song is being rehearsed.
Thousands of people are in yoga classes right now intentionally sending light out from their heart chakras and wrapping it around the earth.
Millions of children are assuming that everything is amazing and will always be that way.
Someone just this second wished for world peace, in earnest.
Someone is fighting the fight so that you don’t have to.
Some civil servant is making sure that you get your mail, and your garbage is picked up, that the trains are running on time, and that you are generally safe.
Someone is dedicating their days to protecting your civil liberties and clean drinking water.
Someone is regaining their sanity.
Someone is coming back from the dead.
Someone is genuinely forgiving the seemingly unforgivable.
Someone is curing the incurable.
Someone loves you more than you can ever know.
Me. You. Some. One. Now.
What’s in a mission?
This school year I will be writing a series for Heart of the Matter based on our board Ends Policies. Ends Policies are written by the board as the guiding light for our school.
They point the way toward who we want to be and where we want to go. Ends Policies may seem lofty because they are meant to be grand goals that we may never fully reach but we are always working toward.
The Executive Director is responsible for implementing systems and programming at Rainbow Community School that work toward our Ends. For this series of Heart of the Matter, I will be sharing my interpretation of each Board Ends Policy so we all know what our intentions are as a community.
The first and most important Ends Policy is our mission. What follows is an interpretation of our mission that is broken down, phrase by phrase. I hope that this feels as alive in you as it feels alive in me.
Reneé Owen, Executive Director
This first verb in our mission is very important. As we often state, an education at RCS is more about development than mere achievement. Learning is the core of education. However, if learning is only instrumental, technical, or social conditioning, it is not sufficient to create humans who will become their highest selves — humans who will help society to evolve to reach its highest potential.
Stages of Development
Human development is a complex matter that, according to science, comes in stages. Children will remain at one stage for many years, but while they are in that stage, we are preparing them to successfully and beautifully transition into the next stage of development when they are developmentally ready.
Additionally, we are helping them lay a foundation for successful development throughout adulthood by teaching them how to think critically, have strong character with positive values, and be integrated “whole” human beings. Achievement comes naturally when humans have been educated to understand and utilize their whole selves.
Note that the term “developmentally appropriate” is often heard at Rainbow. As pedagogical scientists, we understand the appropriate abilities of learners at various ages.
We know, for example, that you can teach a child to mimic advanced academic behavior at an age that is premature for them to truly understand it deeply, therefore stunting their ability to be more advanced at older ages. Likewise, we know that when only one aspect of development is overemphasized at stages of development, it stunts holistic development in other domains.
The most common example in our society is the advanced “false” development many schools try to force onto children before they are ready. Because the children are not ready, forcing such advanced academic work on them requires cutting out other activities that would develop their whole selves such as play, creative activities, and unstructured social time.
When one area of the brain is overemphasized, developmental “windows” of opportunity are missed in other areas. These missed developmental opportunities can never be fully recovered, and can result in a host of maladies, notably mental health issues.
Accomplished, confident, and creative:
Beauty, Truth, and Goodness
In general, this triad is meant to evoke the triad of beauty, truth, and goodness. Although accomplished, confident, and creative don’t match up one-to-one with beauty, truth, and goodness, the concept of health and wholeness coming in triads is important.
Triads create balance that a duality can never achieve. Triads create a dialectic where two aspects of a triad may be working together or in tension with one another, and then the third element is a catalyst for change or evolution/development to a higher level.
Although it is not exact, or one-to-one, as I say above, this triad of accomplished, confident, and creative loosely relates to beauty, truth, and goodness as such:
RCS is not just a learning lab where students will devour knowledge provided by a teacher; it is real life. We want students to have authentic experiences in the world including opportunities to see problems in the world, and to act out of goodness to alleviate them, either through service, service- learning, or creating inventions and design plans that have the potential to help.
“Accomplished” also means that students need to be productive. They need to leave RCS having literal, material accomplishments such as awards and achievements; and they also (or more so) have to establish productive and positive work habits and manners of being, so they are set up for success for the rest of their lives.
“Confident” has to do with the way learners approach the world. We want learners to see themselves confidently as forces of good in the world.
To have this sense of confidence, they need to have worked to find their own personal truth, including understanding that truth is a flowing concept and they will forever be changing and adapting their truth as they confront new realities in life and in their being.
This means they have to be robust critical thinkers who don’t merely consume information, but evaluate and apply it. This means they need to have developed an epistemological stance in life where they can understand complexity, think in systems, and later in life visualize and mentally manipulate systems within systems.
The creative learner has developed their heart. In the triad of head, heart, and hands, they have learned that the heart – not the head – is truly the best “boss;” and when the triad is in balance, the head and the hands are in service to the heart.
Creative learners have had the immense privilege of being allowed to “follow their heart” and have discovered those results experientially. Through taking such risks they have learned wisdom through mistakes, including the wisdom to know that mistakes are necessary, forgivable, and often lead to brilliance. Partly, through their own experience with mistakes, they have developed true compassion for the human-ness of others.
Creative learners are in touch with their intuition. They are inspired by ideas that come from beyond… beyond somewhere anyone can explain. They have access to such inspiration because their conduit to creativity has not been criticized or cut off, but nurtured and encouraged. They have rich experiences of working on the right side of their brain and getting into “the zone.”
“Prepared” looks different for every student, for
every learner has different gifts and challenges.
Therefore, prepared means making sure each student has developed essential learning skills that have prepared them to continue learning throughout life.
Part of this preparedness means being able
to meet the world with one’s authentic self – so by the end of eighth grade students will have prepared themselves through deep personal analysis and inner reflection.
In part, “compassionate” is in contrast to “competitive.” Although there is solid scientific evidence that some humans have the competition gene and need healthy opportunities to compete for proper development, the idea of having competition as the bedrock of society is, according to anthropological evidence, completely misguided.
Humans would not have survived thus far if they were not naturally collaborative – working together and pooling the greater mind of the group to overcome nature. Unfortunately, we became so good at overcoming nature that we have completely dominated it to the point that our very survival now depends on us collaborating in ways that span vast and complex systems.
Now, instead of overcoming nature, we need to overcome greed, misguided individuality, and paradigms of injustice. In short, we need to overcome our compulsion and deep-seated cultural habits to exploit the earth and one another.
Learners who are compassionate have learned from a very early age to sit still and go inward to reflect on their emotions and notice how emotions affect their thoughts and actions (and more emotions).
They have learned how to articulate these emotions, and therefore, recognize emotions in others. They have learned empathy – the ability to relate to the feelings of others and to be connected human beings. This helps learners communicate in a manner that breaks barriers and frees the mind and heart to learn and to learn even more by collaborating and working with others. Compassionate learners don’t just feel, they act out of this compassion.
Note that compassion does not stand alone in the mission, but as a descriptor of the word “leaders.” Compassionate leaders have learned, as mentioned above, that the heart is actually the most appropriate personal “leader.”
They are considerate of others in their decisions. After all, that is what leaders do – they consider others.
The word “leaders” – like all words in our mission – was considered carefully. In this case, the concern was whether or not the term implies forced leadership, or the expectation that every student be a dominant person, when the world has enough dominate people. In the end, it was decided that anyone who is a good role model is a leader, and good role models are what we expect a Rainbow graduate to be.
Whether we are still designing, excavating, or have moved onto laying the foundation or even construction, the point is that Rainbow graduates will be helping the world make positive progress toward becoming a socially just, spiritually connected, and environmentally sustainable world.
They will not take, they will give. They will not rest (except to the degree resting is healthy), they will work. They will not give up because it’s hard, or it’s painfully slow, or because sometimes it seems like we are moving backwards. They will not give up because they cannot do it all by themselves. They will wake each morning with a purpose in life.
This phrase is expounded upon in the interpretation of Ends-4. Here it is enough to say that the world a Rainbow graduate is working toward is one where every human has the opportunity to have not only their basic needs met, but also to become a self-actualized person, to use Maslow’s language.
Every person, no matter what their circumstances or how rare (or common) their perceived differences may be, deserves to be included and cared for by a loving, communal, societal force.
The interpretation for Ends-5 provides an exploration of Rainbow’s spiritual end. We envision a world where human spirituality is recognized as a core aspect of being human, if not the very thing that makes us human – that breathes life into our souls.
In such a world, spiritual development would be understood as an important aspect of education, work life, and family life. It would not be relegated to those who choose to be a part of an organized religion, but instead it would flow through the veins of our civil life.
Rainbow graduates will help create a world where we recognize, honor, enrich, and utilize our spirituality to create greater well-being for all people.
This is expounded upon in the Ends-6 report. Fritz Capra defines a sustainable society as one that “satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations” (From the Web of Life, page 4.)
To accomplish this means shifting out of the paradigm that became firmly established during the industrial revolution of linear thinking to one that thinks and operates in systems, cycles, and webbed networks.
This also means shifting out of the current American paradigm where the economic sphere is the most important, or dominating, social sphere — where virtually everything is “commoditized” and economic growth (typically for the few) and competition is the underlying mandate from whence most political and social (and individual) decisions and actions are made.
The new, sustainable paradigm would move us out of our current anthropocentric attitude (where humans are viewed as the center of the world), and put humans in relation to all of nature and as stewards of the natural world. Harmony.
Bringing it to Life
In general, as practitioners of holistic education, we know that the whole is always much greater than the parts added together. For the sake of analysis and greater understanding I have broken our mission statement into parts and pieces, but our mission comes to life when it is whole.
Our mission comes to life every day when we live it — every morning when our teachers arise in thought and meditation for their students; every moment a child expresses wonderment and is embraced in love; every year when we, as a community, come together with awe and appreciation for our human qualities – including (and perhaps especially) our faults; in order to lift one another up so that our children can be better than us.
February 2018 Kaleidoscope
This is the time of year to find cheer. As I write this, it is dark and rainy outside. I’ve been inside for a long while with the flu, and I’m really looking forward to getting back to our beloved school and seeing bright and shiny faces again. We have had many students and teachers out this flu season, and I hope your family has either avoided it or come back onto the healthy side of life.
Health and Safety
I would like to give a shout out to Jessy Tickle, our administrative assistant in the office who also acts as our health and safety coordinator. It is Jessy who sends out information about what illnesses need to be on our radar and suggestions about what to do. She makes sure that our staff gets all required first aid and CPR training. She keeps first aid kits well-stocked. She also diligently keeps track of the latest research regarding health and safety and makes sure we are following protocol. She is very good at applying ointment, gauze, and planting gentle kisses on those cuts and bruises. She is our protector and nurturer. Thank you, Jessy.
A Special Announcement
[bctt tweet=”“Keeping the main thing the main thing.” ” username=” @rainbowcomsch”]
A lot of you have probably heard this simple mantra that Howard Hanger has made famous around Asheville. The most important thing at Rainbow Community School is the learning experience of your child. That’s what we are here for! With all the things that go on at Rainbow, such as the Rainbow Institute, the More than Mindfulness conference, our equity goals, and parent education, there is nothing more important to us than what goes on in the classroom.
That’s one of the reasons we are going to a two-division-head structure next year. Only a handful of years ago, Sandra and I had about half as many students and families that we cared for, and much fewer staff. As we’ve grown, we recognize that it has been more difficult to forge relationships with all 220 students and their families to the degree that we prefer for Rainbow. Next year, each division will be about the size Rainbow used to be — approximately 110 students.
The head of school position will still preside over the whole school, but Susie Fahrer will become the division head for intermediate/middle school grades, and Sandra McCassim will be the division head for the preschool/primary grades. We hope this will make for seamless, open-hearted communication between parents and administration. All of us who work here are life-long learners and the organization itself is a learning organism committed to constant improvement.
A Very Special Guest
Lisa Miller, author of The Spiritual Child, is doing a two-day visit to Rainbow Community School on Tuesday, March 6 and Wednesday, March 7. She is observing our school and 11 other schools around the country that she considers to be excellent examples of schools that nurture the spiritual development of children.
If you haven’t read Lisa’s book, I consider it a must read for Rainbow parents. It’s inspiring and easy to digest. Lisa is the head of clinical psychology at Columbia University Teachers College, and she has conducted and compiled decades of research on spiritual development in children and teens. Her research at Rainbow will work towards developing resources for educators from a wide demographic on nurturing spiritual development in the classroom.
We have some copies here in the office if you’d like to purchase one at a great discount, or you can even borrow one!
The Annual Ski Trip
Yes, it’s been a very cold and snowy winter. That means great snowboarding and skiing! Every year the 4th -8th grade goes skiing at nearby Cataloochee. It’s a big family event with parents, students, siblings, and teachers all hitting the slopes, and nurturers keeping the hot chocolate warm in the chalet. This trip had the best conditions possible in North Carolina, and a lot of kiddos took lessons and had a great time learning how to snowboard or ski for the first time. In the long tradition of Rainbow ski trips – this one definitely goes down in history as the best ski trip EVER!
A couple weeks ago Sheila Mraz, our admissions director, and I sent out information about re-enrolling for the 2018-19 school year. All currently enrolled rising 1st through 8th grade students are guaranteed a spot as long as you return your contract in time. Also, siblings of currently enrolled children are given any spots before anyone from outside the school. There are times that we have had multiple siblings apply for one spot, but that is rare. We always have some spots open up, and typically, every class enrolls a couple new students each year.
Do you need tuition assistance? This year we had 46 students receiving various levels of assistance. The VET (Voluntary Equitable Tuition) program, the annual campaign, and operating expenses all help pay for this program. For several years we greatly increased the number of tuition assistance awards we gave out and the size of those awards. This helped make Rainbow more economically and racially diverse. We won’t be actively growing the program anymore, so we don’t plan to increase the number and size of awards. However, we will be maintaining the program, so that Rainbow families who need help can get it. If you are one of the people who contributes to VET or the annual campaign, thank you for keeping this important program alive. If you are one of the people who benefit from it, we are so glad that you are here!
The Omega Dance
Everybody dance, now! I have to tell you that if you never chaperone an Omega middle school dance, you are missing out. I chaperoned the Omega dance on February 2, and it was so much fun! If you think of a middle school dance as a bunch of kids awkwardly standing around the edges with a few girls dancing every once in awhile, you have not been to an Omega dance.
Everyone dances, and everyone is included! Acting silly is expected! In Omega you can totally be yourself and act as silly, or as cool, as you want. And the teachers dance with the kids – the kids actually like it! I am so proud to be head of a school with such wonderful middle school kids – their experience is so completely different from the middle school experience I had. After the dance the kids were asking me when the next dance is. It’s not scheduled yet, but we’ll keep you posted.
Substance Abuse Prevention
Last week I started teaching my substance abuse prevention class to 6th grade. I have so much fun teaching this class every year! I know it doesn’t sound like a fun subject, but it’s the kids that make it fun.
Sixth graders are old enough that they certainly have heard about drugs and alcohol, but they don’t know much about the facts or the reality of what temptations may come their way. Typically, they’ve heard a lot of myths. The main point of the class is to help inform students to think about this before they are confronted with these things, so they know how to react and how to stay healthy, while still being true to themselves.
Please come visit me! I now have open office hours every Wednesday from 9am to 10am.
An Open Invitation
We’re in the heart of the school year when teachers can really study a unit in depth with their classes. Students, in turn, create profound work and portfolios. The upcoming Science Fair is evidence of this, adding to the incredible body of work students have already accomplished over the course of the school year. There’s so much learning and collaboration, along with personal growth that characterize where we are at this point in the school year. All parents are welcome to observe any class to see the amazing things Rainbow educators do with students each day. In particular, I recommend visiting and observing the middle school. All you have to do is schedule an observation time through Kate in the office. We welcome you!