Monday, September 30, 2013

Grand Friends Experience High Meadows Magic

Friday was one of those days you just want to wrap up and keep forever. 
Our morning with grandparents and special friends focused on engaging them meaningfully with High Meadows' vision and history, as shared by alumnae and former teachers Sarah Bobbitt, Annie Kimball, and alumna and current teacher Anne Lovatt. Classroom visits were described as "magical" and "truly remarkable." Grand friends finished the morning by sharing their reflections on their time at High Meadows. As a culminating activity, we asked grandparents and friends to write their thoughts on pennants which will be hung for display at our 40th anniversary gala in the spring.  
Kindergartner Davis Schmitz and his grandfather
I could wax on and on about how deeply meaningful the day was, but I think it's better to let grandparents speak for themselves. Here is what they had to say:

"I will never forget the smile on our grandson's face when we walked into his classroom this morning. He is so very happy here--what a wonderful school and we are so thankful he is a student at High Meadows! Thank you for inviting us--what a wonderful experience."

"I can only imagine how different the world would be if every child could experience this kind of schooling."
"Children learn through play and exploration...High Meadows exemplifies the world of a child, the world of their dreams."
"Freedom to learn in depth, freedom to learn at individual speeds, freedom to learn by experience.
"I have never seen our grandson HAPPIER than he was today."
Emmi McCoy with her grandmother
We are extremely grateful for our grandparents and special friends and all they do to strengthen the inter-generational bond our children enjoy. And we are so happy they enjoyed themselves and their grandkids as they visited High Meadows. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Wonder" lives up to its name

I usually don't read too many young adult novels, but I heard so many good things about R.J. Palacio's Wonder, I decided to pick it up and give it a try. Wow, am I glad I did.

Wonder is about a ten-year-old boy, Auggie, who was born with a severe facial deformity. The story begins as Auggie and his parents are contemplating sending him to school for the first time in his life (he had been home schooled up to that point). They are conflicted about the decision, as Auggie is uncertain about how he will be received in his new (independent) school. Somewhat predictably, school life isn't exactly easy for Auggie. But it's not exactly terrible either; he experiences some profound moments and empathetic people that have a lasting, positive effect on him.

What keeps this story from being a hokey cliche is the strength--and imperfection--of its main characters. Auggie's story is told by several people, including his sister, her boyfriend, a classmate, and Auggie himself. These perspectives honor the true complexity of life and the difficult realities it presents.

The pacing is fast, the chapters are short. I would recommend it to fourth graders and above--though there is nothing objectionable for younger readers, the book's themes are pretty sophisticated. And it is very emotional--laughter and tears alternate from paragraph to paragraph. And for you grown-ups, you are missing out if you don't read this book.

Wonder is ultimately about acceptance, empathy, compassion, and courage--the same values we teach explicitly at High Meadows. Our Positive Discipline program focuses on children finding belonging and significance, which is really what Auggie's journey is about. In fact, we are all on that same path.

Monday, September 23, 2013

More Than the Eye Can See

"What does Mr. Underwood do at High Meadows?" preschooler Ryder Karaba asked his mom, Christina. "He runs the school," she replied. "Seriously?" he exclaimed. "I mean, SERIOUSLY???" 

Yes, Ryder, mystifying as it may seem, I'm more than the guy who waves at cars in the morning. 
Ryder's incredulity got me thinking. From a preschooler's perspective, reality is right in front of the eyes, in the moment. And that's not too different from the way the rest of us think, at least some of the time. We are more than the eye can see. We may immediately appear to each other as students, teachers, administrators, parents. But we are also dancers, athletes, philosophers, jokesters. Behind the artifice of our "school" selves, we are people who feel joy and pain, experience love and fear.

Sue Amacker and I took on this topic at this morning's Community Gathering. At High Meadows, we teach our students to look beyond the surface of a person and understand that we are complex beings. Instead of jumping to conclusions or judging someone based on what that person presents publicly, pause, breathe and think instead. Remember that when we see his anger, we are not seeing his fear. When we see her "misbehaving" in class, we are not seeing her desire for belonging and significance.

We are all connected by our humanness. As hard it is to believe sometimes, we all feel the same emotions and desire the same things. So let's take a page from our own book. Let's pause and look beyond when we are affronted or irritated by another. Let's teach our children that building community is about believing, as they sing in High School Musical, that "we are all in this together." Thank you, Ryder, for giving me this opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a good citizen in the High Meadows Community and beyond. Seriously!