On Monday, March 12, the BWS faculty engaged in a day-long workshop with Rosetta Lee, a local diversity workshop leader. Ms. Lee’s work was tailored to our school and was based on the workshop she presented as a part of the Pacific Northwest Association for Independent Schools’ similarly-themed professional development workshop in October, which was attended by four-fifths of our Social Inclusion Committee. Ms. Lee has posted materials from the workshop here. Her presentation included some small-group work with case-studies with student/teacher scenarios. The practice in working on these case studies and the discussions that arose out of them were energizing.
Our faculty continues to work monthly on diversity, and the Social Inclusion Committee will form a proposal for diversity work in the BWS parent community next year. We know that Ms. Lee will be a part of our proposal, and we will ask her to conduct one workshop with our community next year.
$20,000 was our Fund-A-Dream goal at last Saturday’s Gala Auction and Dinner. We met that goal easily, with much enthusiasm on the part of our guests, who raised their bid cards to enhance our science program. It’s exciting to see so much support for our school’s continued growth. Over the last two years, our auction guests have contributed to renovating our grade school and kindergarten playgrounds, and we’ve created playgrounds that keep all of our students involved in healthy play and movement during recess or outdoor time.
This year, the focus of our auction was science. We have extensive plans to renovate a large classroom space and build a custom-designed science room. Architectural plans are being drawn up as of this writing, and boxes of science equipment have been ordered. But our science enhancement isn’t just about a room and some equipment. It’s a commitment to continual professional development, and to widening our students’ experiences. As a result of this funding, several of our grade school faculty will take part in science training this summer at Sound Circle Teacher Training. Our faculty are committed not only to the training this summer, but to engaging in science trainings, both locally and nationally, as a regular and continual part of professional development. In other words, our commitment to building our science program is ongoing, and not just a theme that is featured for this year. One of our goals is to host a regional science fair for area schools, not exclusively Waldorf schools.
If you contributed to our auction this year in any way, thank you! If you’d like to contribute to our school or specifically to our science endeavor, it’s easy to do so by clicking on the ‘support our school’ button to the right.
On Tuesday, March 6, Deb Abrahams-Dematte, Associate Director of Admissions at High Mowing School, took a tour of BWS. Ms. Abrahams-Dematte was visiting Waldorf schools in Washington State and in British Columbia to become acquainted with our schools and to talk about High Mowing School’s program. High Mowing School is the oldest Waldorf high school in the country, in operation for over 70 years. It is both a day and boarding school, with students from all over the country and some international students. BWS graduate Sydney O is currently a junior there. We get regular updates from Syd and her family about her progress at the school and we know she loves it there.
I was impressed with the school’s naturalist program, which is offered both as an indroduction to natural history and field ecology and as an intensive program. Four levels of study–beginning, intermediate, advanced, and full immersion–are available. The high school operates on a block schedule and also offers projects blocks in subjects as varied as ornithology, Japanese culture and traditions, filmmaking, and metalsmithing.
Roughly half of the 120 students are day students, with the other half boarding. Dorm counselors are also teachers; this helps to create the warm community that Ms. Abrahams-Dematte says is a hallmark of High Mowing School. About ten percent of students are international, with almost half of all students coming from a non-Waldorf background. Please contact High Mowing about their program. If you’d like more information about Sydney’s experience at the school, contact me at 206.624.6176.
Twice a week Mr. Tiny comes along with me when I go into the second grade for Song and Story. He sits at the front of he room on a stool and goes for a run in his wheel when things get particularly exciting. Second graders have the care and feeding of Mr. Tiny as a chore, and two students come in daily to give him some attention, clean his living quarters, and top up his food and water. The chore shift rotates monthly. Chore time takes place in the last ten minutes of the school day, and these moments are a highlight of my day. It is a joy to see the students care for such a small creature, and to watch their delight in what he does. Each pair of students develops their own system of care. Some pairs have had distinct duties that never deviated (one student always fills the water, one always fills the bedding), others have traded duties, and still others have spent a good deal of time arguing over who gets to do what. I like to let each pair work out how to agree on tasks, and haven’t had to intervene in negotiations yet. I enjoy seeing how the children work things out and how they each bring their own style to the task.
I had the opportunity to visit the Waldorf school in Cuernavaca, Mexico over our professional development week. The school is located at the North end of the city of Cuernavaca in the state of Morelos. It was an inviting outdoor space, with tropical gardens, (both edible and decorative), fountains, and impressive child-built wooden sculptures. It had an elaborate outdoor composting and recycling system, as well as a biodynamic cafe for students, parents, and faculty. The school’s most recent addition is a beautiful straw bale kindergarten built collectively by parents, students, and faculty over the summer.
In addition to a tour and conversations with the school’s admissions director, I attended a main lesson and watercolor class in the third grade, as well as an English Language class in the second grade. The children were thriving, and the teachers passionate, patient, and welcoming. The Waldorf pedagogy is like a global values passport. Although Bright Water School and Cuernavaca Waldorf have distinct geographical and cultural differences, there was an inviting familiarity to their school: a common way of teaching, knowing, and doing things, that made the experience all the more magical.
I connected with the school’s English teacher (of Mexican origin), and we have begun a pen pal correspondence between our seventh graders. We were both enthusiastic to collaborate, and provide our students the opportunity to take part in these cross-cultural conversations.
Recently the Leadership Team and kindergarten faculty received a letter that gave feedback and asked questions about our extended care program and school calendar. Some of the points raised were new, some have been raised before; all of them will be useful for future planning. I appreciated this family’s perspective; in particular the reasons that a staggered start to the school year can be difficult for some parents. The authors expressed a general sense of appreciation for the extended care program, as regards quality, affordability, and evening operations. I’ve written the other points raised by the letter’s authors in a question/answer format. This blog is, in part, a venue for communicating some of the questions that parents ask about our school and our answers to those questions.
Can the school offer 8am to 6pm care during school breaks?
The school tries to balance the needs of working parents with school resources. Were we to offer break care, it would be run by our current extended care staff. This means they would then be unable to participate in professional development or take a needed break. An 8 am to 6 pm camp would need a minimum of three staff members to ensure appropriate, safe coverage for students and 8 hour work days with breaks for staff. This would require a minimum enrollment of 10 students for the duration of the break care offered. BWS has offered both spring break care and summer camps in the past. The school has stopped offering break care due lack of interest/need. Should that need level increase, and should our staffing levels increase, we would consider offering break care. However, space limitations currently hamper our extended care program and those limitations are a problem with break care as well. Our spaces are ideal for school operations, but they do not lend themselves to an 8 am to 6 pm non-academic program. Ideally, the school should have two to three dedicated rooms for extended care programs. This summer we will offer a four week camp for kindergarteners, from 8am to 2pm.
Why doesn’t the school offer care for preschool students?
Despite being in a large building, we do not have enough space for a preschool extended care program. While having a full-day program for preschoolers could help attract a wider range of families, our current single-room preschool is neither big enough for a full-day program nor for a half-day program with extended care. If the school were to mix the kindergarten and preschool extended care programs, that would require using both of our kindergarten rooms for extended care in the afternoon. In years past, the kindergarten extended day program has been held in one kindergarten classroom. This makes daily classroom prep and cleaning for the kindergarten program difficult, but is for the most part manageable. To have both kindergarten rooms occupied by extended care until 6 pm is not possible. Our ability to offer extended care for preschool is largely an issue of space limitations.
Has the school considered offering before school care?
BWS has not identified a great enough need for a before school program. Again space limitations factor into this, and we have neither a dedicated space for morning care nor a suitable room for this purpose available in the morning. There are also staffing issues with before school care, which could possibly be surmounted if the need for such a program arose and the school did not have space limitations.
Can the school change kindergarten drop-off time so it aligns with the grade school start?Some years ago, the school adjusted the start time of preschool and parent and child classes to better align with kindergarten start times. At that time, both Kindergartens changed their ‘door open’ time from 8.30 to 8.15, in an effort to better align with the 8.15 grade school start times. Kindergarten students may be dropped off in either of the kindergarten classrooms at 8.15, which is the published start time of grade school. The published start time for kindergarten is 8.30.
Could the school have all classes start the year on the same day in September? Having kindergarten and preschool start the week after grade school starts makes it hard for working parents to find care.
The faculty reviewed the start and end of the school year a couple of years ago and, based on that review, the school changed the end of year schedule and eradicated a half-day in the middle of the school year. The former schedule meant that the kindergarten and preschool year ended earlier than grade school year; the school changed the schedule so that all classes end on the same day. The start of the year was reviewed as well, but the faculty were in agreement that having a Friday ‘open day’ for kindergarten and preschool was a good way to get the children acquainted with school again before diving in with both feet. With over 135 students in the grade school and 60 in early childhood, the first days of school are quite hectic. We find there are a number of benefits to having a staggered start. This does not mean that our schedule is not open to change, and this will be considered in any upcoming reviews of the calendar.
On Friday, February 17, representatives of three leadership groups in the school met to begin the conversation about how our groups–board, faculty, and Parent Association–can further our work together. Among the topics discussed were the creation of Parent Association mandate, adult education events, calendar year of BWS events, diversity work in the faculty and the community plan for coming years, and areas of responsibility and accountability. We plan to continue this conversation with the PACT members and expect to bring an overview of linkage with and interaction between our groups to a Parent Association meeting this year.
One of the things we seek to establish is regular communication between our groups. An example of that is that the Board of Trustees is looking to schedule time in 3-4 of the meetings in their annual meeting cycle at which PACT members will attend. The board and I wish to establish communication on a regular basis between our groups to help us all work effectively with our ultimate goal in mind: a fruitful school experience for our students. In past years, a member of the PACT has visited full faculty meetings on a monthly basis. We hope to re-establish that connection next year when the Parent Association mandate has been completed. This year and last, the Director and the PACT have met to form PA agendas together and to identify future discussion topics in the school. This has been a beneficial link, and one we will continue. At this time, we believe our whole school would benefit from more regular communication between all three of our leadership groups. The Board and I look forward to establishing and developing these links, and are grateful to all Parent Association members who have dedicated their time and energy to the school in general, and to the formation of the Parent Association mandate and communication links in particular.
Emperor Equal joined Grade One this week to complete the arithmetic story that was begun earlier this month. To further assist them in their work, Grade One teacher Cindy Weinberg introduced an inspired way of traveling through numbers, ‘The Times-O-Meter’.
On Saturday, February 11, the Bright Water School Board of Trustees met as a part of their regular annual meeting schedule. At each regularly scheduled meeting, Pedagogical Chair, Trish Bondurant; a member of the school’s Leadership Team; and I join the meeting. This month, two Leadership Team members, Mia Fioravanti and Bryan McGriff,joined us, as Ms. Bondurant was unable to attend. This month, the Board included some movement activity into the meeting by inviting Coach McGriff to teach javelin. We all spent half an hour on the front lawn of St. Mark’s Cathedral developing our skills. St. Mark’s gardeners commented that they appreciated our unique way of aerating the lawn. We thought it might be nice to share some pictures of our attempts.