April HEADlines

Christopher B. Williamson

As we complete Poetry Month, I recommend a few deep breaths this weekend, perhaps similar to the exhalations Ms. Schlesinger asks of her singers before their concerts. Maybe you include some calming selections from your favorite poems!

Every week from now to year end will be packed with events, projects, assessments, athletic contests, and activities. These all provide important ways to recognize progress in skills, self-awareness, growing autonomy, and resilience. Now that I am a grandparent, I know that it is easier to notice this growth from a slight distance. The day-to-day busyness (stress, confusion, survival?) of parenting can prevent us from recognizing the ever-increasing competence of our children, particularly because that growth never scribes an uninterrupted upward line of progress! It is also true that at times of stress children can revert to what is most familiar – in other words to when they were younger, just as they do even into their pre-teens when they are sick and snuggly.

That brings to mind our Core Competency of Be Reflective and the value of metacognition. We generally do our best when we preview what will happen, evaluate and recalibrate while in process, and then consider what we have learned at the end. In that process, we can proactively think about how we think – how we create the highest likelihood for the most success – and can make decisions based on that reflection. For example, the admonition at any particular moment to “Act your age!” probably has little effect because our children are usually doing exactly that, sometimes to our great frustration!

Service Learning

This past Friday Emily Chamas and Breezy Surette led us all in Buddy Earth Day – a mini-service learning activity for our campus and gardens. We celebrated the glorious spring day, our interconnection as a community, our work around campus, and we learned about the environment and various plants. Over the past two weeks seventh graders have begun planning  our second school-wide major Service Learning Project. They identified four topics to investigate and present: insufficient green space, homelessness, hunger, and environmental damage. They practiced their four recommendations with our Board of Visitors on April 24, received feedback in small groups, and present them today (April 26) for school-wide vote.  

This process has helped us all continue to develop our metacognitive skills. Facilitators Norma Harrington and Jake Schrader, joined for year two by Skip Ciccarelli and Katy Niose, took feedback from all participants in the Animal Welfare project, with particular emphasis on the eighth graders. We have modified the process, and the seventh graders are also using their direct experience from the fall to inform their approach. 

Poetry month’s tie in with Earth Day has provided opportunities to notice the poems that sixth and eighth graders posted to various trees on the campus. Thanks to Jen Caldwell for organizing that and the “pocket poems” that we enjoyed picking out of their boxes and sharing. Lower Schoolers read theirs at lunch. Activities such as Buddy Earth Day and “poem in a pocket” day are two examples of how we create a positive, effective learning climate and community.

Questionnaire Feedback

Not surprisingly, the results from our February parent survey made clear that often what parents seek – and what you come to value even more over time – is this combination of intentional, spiraling curriculum within a climate that is positive, safe and affirming for each individual student – a community in which students are known, challenged and supported.

The survey did not lend itself to easy aggregation, since many of the questions were open ended: describe your own reasons for “hiring Applewild,” whether those changed over time, what Applewild strengths you would share with others, and what suggestions you have. My thanks to all of you who responded (29.5% of all families, Preschool – 8, which is well above the statistically significant threshold). Amy Jolly has enjoyed connecting with those of you who expressed an interest in a follow up call. That is helping her know Applewild more deeply as she transitions.

Anecdotal Feedback

Laverack Family Alumni Award recipient Patsy Simonds Taylor ‘65 visited April 11. A career educator of visually impaired children in New York City schools and the mother of two who attended independent schools, she knows schools well. She told Tally, Erica, Kelly, and me at the end of her visit that she was so impressed with the energy, passion, and commitment of every faculty member and administrator she met, then followed up with this email:

Thank you so much for my wonderful day at Applewild.  The school's campus is lovely and emanates a welcoming feeling when walking from building to building with children's art work displayed, plagues and photos of the house and past school photos.

As I said on Thursday, the faculty each expressed their joy as a teacher of Applewild students, and their passion for their subject was very evident in their words and the atmosphere in their classrooms. In all of the classrooms the students were very engaged in activities.   

I also applaud Applewild for all of your efforts to create an atmosphere that includes support to accommodate students with learning differences. The focus on metacognition will certainly benefit the life of every student.  The engagement in that sea change of learning [for faculty] must have been a fascinating process with lots of hard work and ongoing study.  

That joyful commitment to professional development is captured in the way we have embraced Service Learning and metacognition. Those combined in a remarkable way when seventh graders were empowered to take the lead with our more than 60 visitors Wednesday. Our visitors were impressed with the articulate, passionate sense of purpose of the seventh graders (and thought they were hearing a high school Jazz Band!). They were equally impressed by the commitment of faculty to their craft, to knowing their students, and to building community.

We also practiced an ALiCE evacuation drill on Friday, prior to the all school vote on the Service Learning project. These drills continue to be part of our careful preparation of our students. We take them seriously, even as we approach them gently. 

Enjoy all that begins to bloom and come to fruition in May!

Jennifer Raterman