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The April 15 week was a challenge for all of us. I was gratified to hear from a third grader on that Friday that it had been a great week to be at Applewild. He had particularly enjoyed AppleWILD About Arts and Earth Day activities. When I mentioned this to his mom, she told me that she was grateful that her kids were coming to Applewild during the week, where she knew they would be safe and cared for.
Thanks to those of you who shared such thoughts with teachers, administrators or me in the past week. We know that the healing has just begun and that for some it will be a long and at times difficult process. If we continue to care for each other and hold all affected close to our hearts, we will all help indeed be “Boston Strong.” For us at Applewild, being able to see the energy and enthusiasm for learning that your children bring with them to school every day is an antidote to just about anything. It is such a responsibility and honor to have your children in our care every day. Even on those days when the work of teaching or parenting is hard or on the occasions when the partnership may fray a bit, we can all trust in our common shared goal of raising healthy, productive children who are confident that they can find their own way and make a difference in their world.
Thinking about Applewild About Arts and our just concluded Board of Visitors morning reminded me of the power of having clearly articulated Core Competencies “that strengthen and guide” our “rigorous academic work.” I received a call the other day from the Middle School Head at Rye Country Day in New York. They are looking to create a more meaningful way to express the skills that students will most need to be successful in this still new century. They had heard about our Core Competencies, and she wondered how we had developed them, how we had been able to arrive at the same ones across two divisions, and particularly how we infuse them with meaning in our everyday teaching and learning. When Fitchburg’s Mayor Wong joined us for Community Reading Day in the blur of last week, she had noticed the same Core Competencies and remarked not only on how valuable they are as a guide for what matters but also that our Lower School students could articulately explain what the concepts meant and how they related to their learning.
Mayor Wong’s observation helped me confidently affirm in my conversation with the Middle School Head that these concepts are being internalized. We take for granted at Applewild that we can develop an inclusive approach K – 8, that teachers will respect the work of their colleagues and will engage in it, and that over time we will bring these concepts to life so they will inform our daily work with students. We then develop a plan that assures progress.
We are humble and understated at Applewild. We do not think of ourselves as doing ground breaking work or providing educational leadership, yet we are sought out by other schools for advice. We have contributed to NAIS work on change and to a book on the subject, have presented at conferences, have received awards for how our approach to service is integrated into the curriculum and tied to our Core Values. Last year we were identified by NAIS among the leaders in developing an intentional, integrated approach to skill development – to what are sometimes called “twenty-first century skills.”
We also know that this is a process and that it evolves. That is why we now include consideration of the Core Competencies as we do each of our curricular reviews. That is why we identified them as our Lower School theme this year, with each grade level presenting one of the competencies at Common Time (in the process definitely reinforcing “Communicate,” “Collaborate” and also “Create”!). That is why we are referring to them in our Upper School reports and building conversation about them into our Advising program (“Be reflective”). That is why we ask students to “Persevere” in “Thinking Critically” about problem solving, whether in math, art, English, on the athletic field, or in social situations. Interestingly, our fifth graders recently considered whether it was appropriate to name the concept “Think Critically” because of the potential implication that the goal was to “be critical” – to criticize. The class rejected that notion, understanding that “thinking critically” is not the same thing at all as ‘criticizing.”
Perseverance, Partnership and Parenting . . .
Parenting is complicated, and despite all the self-help books there really is not an owners’ manual. Perseverance is key, along with listening, time, and love. The perseverance comes into play as we adults do the complicated dance of supporting and affirming while also setting limits, providing the (actually welcome) structure, providing standards. When home and school are on the same page, this helps students. That sometimes requires work and trust as we work together. – and listen to each other.
. . . and Technology
Among the important reasons for partnership is around the notion of student use of technology. It is also one of the essential reasons students need to “Think Critically,” particularly as they interact with the web and social media. What should they post? What is a legitimate source? Who is part of this expanded universe of “friends” and “connections”? What is the digital footprint that each of us leaves behind? What are reasonable limits? How much advertising and marketing is embedded in children’s games? There is developing evidence, for example, that use can be addictive, leading to large bills from purchasing gaming points if children have at some point been given access to a credit card. There is strong evidence that screen time close to bedtime makes it harder to get to sleep. There is evidence that users can lose the ability to read faces or social situations in real time.
My thanks to Amelia Herring and Mike Grant for providing an outstanding presentation this past Monday evening – and to Jeff Palmieri for providing dinner and the Parents Association for delicious desserts! Not only did Mike and Amelia provide the presentation, they have also taken the time to upload a voice thread summary of what those of us who attended found to be very enlightening. Click here for the link to the slideshow. Also included will be follow up resources for further parent guidance.
The fundamental message was that we should engage our children/students in their technology use and learn from them about their use so we can fulfill our teacher/parent roles. We do not have to be “digital natives” or experts in order to effectively set limits, teach safety, and help understand the value of technology. Upper School Head Erica Hager urged the same message at the close of our Board of Visitors panel last Wednesday, after four of our students, Alumnus Ryan Ansin ’02, and guest presenter Sherri Kauffman provided a comprehensive look at media use and the near future (The ubiquity of mobile devices and screens is the short version.). Erica urged us as adults to maintain our traditional roles as teachers of values, establishers of structure and boundaries, providers of a moral compass, and encouragers of appropriate decision making. At the same time, without being in dialogue with our children about their knowledge and use, she noted that we cannot be as effective in our roles as teachers and parents. Rather than feel scared or powerless, we can engage them, learn from them, and assure that they learn from us.
Reasons for Pride
There are daily moments when I am proud of our students and faculty, among them listening to our Jazz Band or excerpts from Rats! at Board of Visitors, hearing the enthusiasm swelling from down the hall in the Crocker Wing after school for S’More Math, or watching our students connect across divisions during Earth Day in learning activities, led by our older students and eagerly entered into by our younger ones. Four eighth graders whose speech topics had focused on technology spoke with assurance about the positives and pitfalls of being connected to about 80 attendees at Board of Visitors, and I knew that it could have been any of our eighth graders comfortably explaining their views about technology, how much they use it, how concerned they are about privacy, and whether or not there are negatives attached to using it so much (Two in particular warned about over use.). With each of these daily reminders, there is also much to be proud of in terms of the lasting long term work that our faculty does to plan for and support student growth.
As we look ahead to May, we await the thrill of the spring concerts and the Sixth Grade Play. We look forward to Field Day and some special field trips. The second grade Living Wax Museum will be another highlight. We have another of my favorite Applewild days, Grandparent & Special Persons’ Day, which is a half day again this year and will begin this year in the Stone Family Dining Hall. The Fay Club will again offer any of our visitors on May 10 lunch at the Club that afternoon. It will accept cash or credit card payment – make a reservation by Wednesday, May 8 and mention Applewild (business casual dress). I am also looking forward to the Golf Tournament on May 13. I gather that we still have twelve spots available, and people are welcome to come just for lunch or dinner (see the PA Golf Tournament link on our web site or click on http://www.applewild.org/Portals/4/docs_pdfs/Golf%20Registration%20Form%202013.pdf). If you are interested in playing but aren’t much of a golfer, you can play with me!
While looking forward to the spring events, we also begin preparing for the transition to next year. We have our annual secondary school counseling meeting for seventh grade families and their students on May 7 to help them begin to think about options after Applewild. We provide a Step Up Day for our Lower School students as part of our careful preparation of what each new year will bring. We also invite Eighth Grade parents to watch with their students their PSAs on May 29 prior to the Winter/Spring Sports Dinner. This is a great opportunity to gather as a group prior to the blur that is graduation week.
After a reminder of winter last Tuesday, spring finally appears to be here. Students are out in the garden preparing for planting. The campus looks terrific. And the wind breakers and jackets brought to school are left to decorate banisters, walls, porches, and the ground as further evidence of the flowering of spring. Enjoy it and the continuing growth of your children!
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