This week, many of our staff, Upper School students and teachers set off on trips to far-flung places all over the globe. They're carrying supplies contributed by all of you, as well as others purchased at Dollar Tree (my new favorite store... right after Home Depot and ANY bike store) with funds raised in bake and hot chocolate sales over the last few months.
Interestingly, the idea for helping students on the other campus (and thus many people overseas) came from our own students in a student council meeting. In the last few years, I've found them to be more empathic, looking beyond their own needs to those of others, often seeking new ways to be helpful and charitable.
With empathy in mind, we jumped into design thinking last year, and this year a new schedule, a new classroom arrangement and some significant personnel assignments have added fuel to the inspirational fire. More and more, and particularly at the upper grade levels, we're seeing integrated projects which bring together students' learning from all of their classes.
The most sophisticated effort so far has involved our fifth graders whose teachers have all jumped into the mix , encouraged as they have been by the students' remarkable engagement, perseverance, collaboration and learning.
For a true insider's peek at the process, I asked fifth-grade teacher, David Ries, if I might borrow his description of their latest project:
"We are immersed in the production of Ocean Commotion, our fifth grade environmental play. The process is our most ambitious application of the Design Thinking principles that we engage in here at Francis Parker.
The class started with a bit of research and discussion about what environmental issues are important to us in 5R. Students then decided how they wanted to contribute to the process, from writing to acting to set design and costumes. And once the script was finished, we broke up into our groups and began the arduous task of bringing our ideas to fruition. The Design Team and Special Teachers (Mr. Belsha, Coach Crone, Mr. Campbell, Mrs. Brae, Mrs. Sharpe, Mr. Heilman, Miss Deely) are providing the structure and support for students to help us collaborate on a daily basis. It is wonderfully messy.
Sending a fifth grader to design a set or start rehearsing lines can be tricky. Sometimes even chaotic. Still, we map out our daily plans, we work our way through differences of ideas, and we reflect on how things are going well and how they are not. Then we adjust our course.
We have ten working days until rehearsals begin. I guarantee struggles and setbacks along the way, but we will get there. We will put on an environmental play that may or may not save the world. But students will walk away with valuable skills that will help them to be independent thinkers and workers. They will have produced a substantial piece of work as a member of a collaborative team. That is significant."
Our hope is, of course, that students immersed in this kind of learning will one day transfer their understandings and discoveries and truly make a meaningful difference in the world.
Parents' Association Parent Education
Looking for advice on how to parent in this digital age? Be sure to attend the next PA General Meeting this Monday, February 8 at 8:30a.m. in the Lower School Szekely Auditorium. Our Parent Education guest speaker is Dr. Yalda T. Uhls, author of MEDIA MOMS AND DIGITAL DADS: A Fact-Not-Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age. Dr. Uhls will discuss the most common challenges and misconceptions around kids’ media use. Drawing on her years of experience as a Hollywood film executive, child psychologist, research scientist, and media expert for the national non-profit Common Sense Media, she pulls together the most current research to put parents’ fears to rest.
Chinese New Year Celebration
Join us at flagraising for a Chinese New Year's celebration featuring a Lion Dance performed by our very own fifth-grade Mandarin students.
This Monday afternoon, Mandarin students will be performing for their parents in the Szekely Auditorium beginning at 1:30 p.m., showcasing all that they've learned.
This coming Friday will feature a hot chocolate sale to raise funds for the protection of birds in the estuary the third-grade students visited earlier this year as the inspiration for their design showcase projects. The day will be a dress-down day with a Valentine's theme, and we will have a barbeque to which all parents are invited during their children's regular lunch rotation times.
The school will be closed the week of February 15-19, and it will reopen for classes beginning on Monday, February 22.
As we wrap up the admissions season, with the last admissions testing date this coming Saturday, I find myself reflecting on the kind of community we've become...
Visitors will often remark that they feel so welcomed, also commenting on how happy everybody seems to be. Our greatest ambassadors, our students, welcome adults and children with open arms, and when we're away from campus, perfect strangers will often remark how well-behaved the students are.
When soliciting parent help for various student activities, we often have more responses than we can handle. On Friday morning, we had arranged a trip to the Dollar Store for our first and second sessions of the student council, to purchase supplies for global trips with funds they had raised. Fearing a lack of seats for transportaion, I had solicited a few staff members. As it turned out, so many parents showed up that I didn't even have to drive.
Student events, such as the first-grade play last Friday, are so well-attended by family members and friends that they are almost always standing-room-only. The love and adoration in the Szekely Auditorium were palpable.
When I face a group of people hoping to enroll their children in our school these days, the group is frequently sprinkled with faces I know from many years before, often students I taught over a quarter century or more ago, but it is also replete with parents who know more about us, what we do, and what we hope to accomplish... and they're so eager to join us.
It's a privilege to be a part of this community and to see it grow and thrive, and we're very excited at the prospect of inviting others to share the experience.
Third-Grade Design Showcase
The Lower School Design Team is excited to present the fruits of their first interdisciplinary effort this coming Tuesday from 8:30-9:30 a.m. in the Szekely Auditorium. Students have been learning about the design thinking approach as they've studied the unique characteristics of San Diego’s various habitats with the goal of developing empathy for endangered wildlife. The showcase will feature the unique solutions the students have created.
Middle School Coffee for Fifth-Grade Parents
Fifth-grade parents are invited to an informative coffee this coming Thursday from 8:30-10:00 a.m. in the Nicholas Commons on the Linda Vista campus to hear about the wonderful middle school adventure that will soon happen for their children. Head of Middle School Dan Lang and Assistant Head of Middle School Christi Cole will lead a discussion framing up what parents need to know about the sixth-grade year. Following the coffee, tours will be offered.
Pet Day will take place this coming Friday from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. Those planning to bring pets should make sure they are registered (forms are available in the office) no later than Monday, Feb. 1.
The Lancer Orchestra will perform in Crivello Hall this coming Wednesday evening beginning at 6 p.m. Admission is free.
The last admissions testing session will take place this coming Saturday from 8:30 to noon for prospective students from grades JK-4.
Truth be told, in the early days of being the Head of Lower School, coming in for our Saturday admissions testing sessions was not among my favorite aspects of the job. Getting up early to come in on what is typically a day off seemed a bit cumbersome. However, over time, I began to relish these opportunities because of the changes I observed in the groups of people who sought to enroll their children.
Years ago, what can best be described as casual passing interest among the applicant pool gave way over time to earnest moms and dads who had studied up on our school, its purpose, its track record and community. The dedication and determination typical of our more contemporary applicants stand in stark contrast to the way it once was.
I attribute this change to the remarkable Parker community who collectively and thoughtfully have transformed the School to its current standing as one of the top independent schools in the country. Parker has come of age and its life-changing effects on the lives of students fortunate enough to attend have become a part of the story that transcends our school community.
I still relish my Saturdays and digging into my many projects and athletic pursuits, but I also take great pride in talking to current or prospective parents (or anyone else for that matter) about Parker, and I truly believe the school and community will take all of us "... as far as the mind can see."
The first-grade play, "Fairy Tale Forest" will be presented to Lower School students on Thursday and to parents on Friday, at 1:30 p.m. in the Szekely Auditorium.
End of First Semester
Friday marks the end of the first semester, and progress reports will be emailed either Friday or the beginning of the following week.
Fifth-Grade Travels to the Middle School
Fifth graders will begin their transition to the Middle School this Tuesday when they travel to Linda Vista to take tours, have lunch, visit classes and even hear from current sixth graders. This is a very exciting time for them, as they catch a glimpse of the next 7 years of their academic lives.
Student Council Trip to Dollar Tree
First and second-sessions of the Student Council will travel to the Dollar Tree store this coming Friday to spend funds they've raised on materials that will travel overseas with our Middle and Upper School students on their global trips.
Lower School teacher Debbi Butler has always been great about helping us to celebrate and commemorate Dr. Martin Luther, Jr., each year. In the past, and through her enthusiastic organization, we've enjoyed assemblies which have featured Dr. King's stirring words, songs that have elicited the ideas he promoted and cherished, and even videos which captured some of his most memorable speeches.
This year, Mrs. Butler approached our new music teacher, Shenelle Williams, to ask her if she'd be interested in having the chorus perform a song at flagraising which would honor Dr. King. Mrs. Williams agreed, and the two parted.
A couple of weeks later, I looked in on the music room as the kids were practicing the song that will be featured, and what I learned astounded (and thrilled) me. Mrs. Williams and the kids had researched Dr. King, jointly selected some of his inspirational phrases, worked together to compose a song, and finally inserted lyrics they had decided upon.
Debbi Butler was invited to hear the song last Thursday, and she was clearly overwhelmed with a range of emotions, but mostly joy. Everything about the song, how and why it was created, and the students' complete engagment in the process was a beautiful thing... and dare I say, an outcome of the Design Thinking process being embraced by our teachers and students.
If you've never been to a flagraising, you might want to consider the upcoming one on Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. It promises to be a wonderful opportunity to honor a man, his vision and our mission.
Progress REports: "4-3-2-1" explained
We're hoping to distribute first semester narrative reports via email in the last week of January. Even as I write this to you, the teachers are working diligently to give you a clear understanding of your children's progress to this point in the year, socially and academically, and to point out strengths and weaknesses.
For the past several years, we have used the numbers “4-3-2-1” to communicate how students are doing with respect to their work habits as well as their academic and social progress. Following is the language associated with each numeral: 1- Needs support; 2- Approaching expectations; 3- Meeting expectations; 4- Exceeding expectations.
A “1” would indicate that a student wasn’t keeping pace with an academic or behavioral expectation, and an extraordinary level of teacher intervention and parent communication was taking place.
A “2” would signal that a student was working steadily toward an individual goal or expectation with teacher support.
A “3” would mean that a student was understanding and doing everything that they were supposed to be doing to that point in time. It would not mean that they were receiving the equivalent of a “B,” a common misunderstanding. Truly, if thought of as an approximate percentage range, a 3 might represent everything from 75-100%... a range within which a student could be meeting expectations for a given assignment, test or class.
Finally, a “4” would mean that a given student was going above and beyond expectations by applying or extending skills or concepts in an extraordinary fashion.
Thus, a predominance of 3’s on a report card will mean that a student is right on track, and doing all that is expected of him or her. The occasional “4” will signal truly extraordinary accomplishments characterized not by doing or accomplishing 100% of what was expected, but by taking what was learned and applying it to something extra (e.g., writing an original play, asking for and solving extra math challenges, reading more deeply about an historical figure or event, etc.).
The move away from letter grades has been transformative for us, and it has encouraged students to focus on the learning process rather than on what grade they might earn from it. They are taking more risks, persevering for greater lengths of time when something is difficult, and engaging more authentically.
The student council has found a source of funds that might otherwise go right into recycling or the trash. Boxtop labels on thousands of products can be cut off and brought right into school, and even our first-grade Daisies have offered to help us organize this easily-accessible source of student council funds, most of which will be used to further their community service and charitable work. Each boxtop is worth ten cents, and beginning immediately, they can be brought directly to your child's classroom.
The students have challenged each other to see which class can collect the most, and the payoff for the first couple of weeks will be a "one-day lap pass," for the entire class, their way of avoiding the laps routinely run at the beginning of p.e. classes.
Thanks in advance for supporting this effort!
The junior-kindergarten coffee hosted by Dr. G. and Mrs. Gray will be held this Thursday, Jan. 21, in the Considine Library beginning at 8:20 a.m. This is a great opportunity for parents to learn about students at this level, the program, what's coming up in SK, and the long view at Parker. Come have a cup of coffee, bring your questions and enjoy the company of other parents at your child's grade level.
First-Grade Parent Mixer
The first-grade parent mixer will held on the Linda Vista campus in the Lawrence Commons this coming Friday, Jan. 22, from 6-7:30 p.m. These mixers are a great way for parents to meet others at the grade level in a delightful agenda-free environment, to see the Linda Vista campus, and to unwind a bit with drinks and appetizers. Come on by and enjoy the event!
The second admissions testing event for prospective JK-4th grade students will be held this coming Saturday, Jan. 23, beginning at 8:00 a.m. on the Lower School campus. Those interested in attending should be encouraged to contact Kelly Tedrow, the Lower School Admissions Associate, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At last week's senior-kindergarten parent coffee, I shared that last Friday I had witnessed a most wonderful educational moment... and a wonderful window into what we hope to accomplish in 2016.
I had been peeking into classrooms throughout the campus, taking the pulse of everything that was going on that day, when I happened upon the Design Lab. I noticed through the glass on the door that the kids had linked the work tables with rudimentary bridges made up of a variety of materials. As I entered the room, I noted that the two groups of kids had engineered circuits to bring power to little engines that were producing wind through mini propellers. The wind was supposed to help them meet the challenge that had been proposed by their teachers: to move three ping pong balls across a perfectly level bridge from one table to another without physically touching the spheres.
After struggling a bit through various adjustments, repairs and corrections, the groups eagerly competed to be the first to achieve the task... and in a perfectly choreographed scenario, both finished at the same time. Instantly, a joyous cheer arose around the room, not only from the students, but also from the teachers... and a tingle of excitement shot up my spine.
This pure learning and discovery, so aptly facilitated by the teachers, completely engaged every child in the room in a stunning display of 21st century learning. The students' brains were in full gear as they iterated their way to solutions; they worked collaboratively and persistently through numerous failures; they harnessed their creativity to develop unique approaches; and they communicated so very effectively.
This small moment made me smile for the rest of the day, particularly because I knew that this same type of learning was occuring in so many different classrooms around our campus. Our students are learning to take risks, to persevere on difficult tasks, to work together productively in all kinds of groups, and to hold themselves accountable.
From all indications, t's going to be a very fulfilling, remarkable 2016!
Lower School Admissions Open House
This coming Thursday, Jan. 14, the Lower School will hold its second admissions open house of the year beginning at 3:15 p.m. Prospective families will be visiting to see the school and to learn about its people and program. Please feel free to invite friends and family by having them contact Lower School Admissions Associate Kelly Tedrow at email@example.com.
Parker Professional Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Students have the day off this Friday as teachers meet to share information and to prepare student narrative progress reports to be sent at the end of January. The following Monday, Jan. 18, everyone will have the day off in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.
Attention Parker Parents--- Don’t forget to order your copy of the fabulous 2nd & 3rd Grade Showstoppers DVD, as well as the unbelievably cute JK Holiday Program DVD.
As Head of the Lower School and member of the Parker administrative team, Dr. Gillingham is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Mission Hills campus. In addition to overseeing curriculum and instruction, Bob also works closely with the school's Parents' Association in coordinating parent volunteers and campus activities. He also... Read more.