This year our theme was “Follow your Spark” and when I was reflecting on that, I realized that before you can follow your spark you have to be given a chance to find it. So I want to talk about opportunities that we give our students to begin to examine who they are and what they want from life.
We go outdoors every day.
I love watching our children from pre-school to middle school on the playground. To a casual observer, it looks like random activity; however there is lots of brain work going on. In fact, there are many kinds of play, including associative, constructive, fantasy, and cooperative. Each activity teaches children a skill. They learn to communicate, to share, to problem-solve, to analyze, to build, to experiment with language and emotions, and to understand social contracts and rules. Some schools have gotten rid of recess because they felt it was wasted time. I apologize for the mud that goes home with your children every day, but please know that running, jumping, swinging and playing in the mud are important parts of learning. The skills practiced outside are crucial to success in the classroom.
We let them try new things and also share their interests.
It amazes me how excited students are on the day they have “Show and Share”. Sometimes, it is a Lego construction, a recent gift or a valuable treasure. As students get older, our teachers look for other ways for students to shine. They ask children to read to younger students, cook a favorite recipe for a class or teach them about a topic they have studied. At different levels they have electives on Fridays that expose them to new subjects and force them to think about new ideas. We give them a reason to learn about their world and discuss current issues with each other, with visiting speakers, and with students across the state and across the country.
At all levels we let them dig deep into a subject and let their enthusiasm direct their learning. The Arts Festival and the upper elementary invention projects are wonderful examples of our students’ creativity and talent, and their willingness to take a risk.
We let them take on leadership roles.
Our students are mentors to class mates and buddies with younger students. They have designed lessons, taught Friday groups (or electives), orchestrated an award ceremony for local heroes and independently spearheaded service projects. They plan events like dinners for families, clubs for younger students, talent shows, and welcome luncheons.
We make sure that students know they are part of a larger community.
We take them to plays, museums and musical performances. We meet community helpers at a local fire station or invite parents and friends to share their interests and careers with classes. They find pen pals in other states and other countries and make connections across the miles. Just like Flat Stanley, some students created flat versions of themselves to travel with family and friends and were rewarded with exciting stories of their adventures. With Fall Festival, Spring trips and the Bolivian exchange we send our students to nearby cities, other states and even to other continents.
We also ask them to give back to their community by participating in clothing and food drives, sending letters and care packages to US troops, creating Period Kits for homeless young women, shipping solar lamps to Puerto Rico, or providing clean water for a family through Heifer International. They work with local organizations to protect the environment by learning about how to monitor our creek and assist with trail and river clean-up at local parks. In addition to raising monarchs and trout, we hatched chickens this spring and hope that the snapping turtles will emerge when we return in the fall.
We often find creative ways to fundraise that put our students at the center of the process. At present, I am wearing a bracelet that I made at a word market set up by the 6-8 yea- old group. This was part of their class study of “The Phantom Tollbooth” and also raised money to support a local literacy project. My bracelet says “Be Extraordinary”. This is a reminder to me about why we are here — which is to help our students and your children be the best they can be. Thank you to all the parents and families for lettings us share this part of their journey as your children explore their true selves.
Have a great summer! See you in September!
Linda P. Roth