Community Meeting

from Anna Padgett - 4/5's Teacher and Community Meeting Leader

Community meeting is one of my favorite whole-school rituals; this will come as no surprise to people who have known me the past few years!  Even for a committed anti-morning person such as myself, the practice of children, teachers, and families gathering to start their week together in song and movement is one I love.  The counterpoint of structure and freedom is both grounding and freeing:  we sit in the same location, we start at the same time, we mostly follow the same rules.  We hold one another accountable for paying attention, listening, and respecting each other’s presence and contributions.

Within that consistent shape, we have the physical, emotional and creative space to tell our most ridiculous jokes, share our most sincere gratitudes and present our proudest work. Having worked in a variety of school settings, I am particularly aware of how lucky Blue School children are to have the weekly opportunity to get on the microphone and share their ideas and humor with a playful and accepting audience of friends, teachers, caregivers.  It is one I am so glad my daughter had as a younger Blue Schooler and one I so wish I had had as a child!

In preparation for a new year of Monday Community Meetings, second graders, as the oldest and (for the longtime Blue Schoolers) most experienced meeting-goers, have worked with me to brainstorm norms that they will share with us this coming Monday.  These will help us work together to have the best Community Meetings possible.  On Monday, we will also meet and greet all the 4/5s through second grade teachers, both new and returning.   We will start to build our repertoire of songs -- starting with some familiar favorites and, in the coming weeks, moving to some new material.  As the weeks progress we will share poetry with one another, join with 3rd through 7th grade for our beloved Joke Day tradition, create opportunities for individual classes and specialist teachers to lead and try out some exciting new structures.  Details coming soon! 

See you Monday.  Come ready to sing.  


Anna

Posted on September 16, 2016 .

Talking With Children About Orlando

 

From Alice Mangan, Ph.D., M.S., School Psychologist and Allison Gaines Pell, Head of School

Dear Community,

Last week our newsletter came out quoting Callum on his wisdom that what is hard now will someday, possibly, seem easy. And yet today, in the wake of learning about the events in Orlando has no doubt made many of us question whether this kind of hard will ever yield to something easier. Personally, today has me feeling quite hopeless.

Hopeless because what is called "senseless violence" by so many seems to make sense to some individuals. Hopeless because there are people in Orlando today without loved ones who were here just moments ago and the depth of this sadness is unimaginable. Hopeless because we seem collectively to be deciding over and over to NOT control gun use in this country in a meaningful way.

I believe very much in our collective power to make good from bad when we choose to do so. We have, after all, worked towards progress on so many fronts. I hope for the people of Orlando, and for all of us who see this as an attack on expressions of sexual and gender identity as well as basic human rights, that this tragedy can be a catalyst so that we can turn back towards hope.

We may all be feeling some measure of anxiety and fear.  As the grown-ups in children's lives, we are charged with the very difficult task of managing our own reactions to this massacre, while also being attuned and appropriately responsive to the reactions our children may be having or demonstrating.  I wanted to offer some words of support, along with some resources attached below to guide you during this difficult time.  

We all naturally reach toward our secure base when our safety feels threatened. You may find yourselves doing this since learning of this tragic event.  And your children may likewise be reaching toward you, their teachers and other important adults in their lives.  Some children, particularly older children, may know details about the shooting and want to talk about it.  Others may not want to talk but still may sense the increase of tension, grief and fear that surrounds us all during times such as these.  It is important that we not leave children alone in these experiences, and that our response be rooted in an underlying message of essential safety--as impossible as this is for us to guarantee.

For older children reviewing the "facts" of the event is helpful and clarifying. Grounding the discussion in various "issues" can help children to defend against feeling too overwhelmed or vulnerable.  For example, discussions might center around hate crimes, Islamophobia, the political response to the tragedy, policies on gun control, or important events in LGBTQ history (Stonewall; same-sex marriage; the movement toward equality and justice for Transgender people and their families).  It is also powerful to help children turn their feelings toward action in these moments.  Actively using their minds and voices to respond increases a sense of power and agency while simultaneously warding off overwhelming fear and vulnerability.  Older (and even some younger) children can be particularly motivated to protest against injustice.  

Tread lightly with younger children. If your younger child has not voiced or demonstrated non-verbally any knowledge or upset, you may wish to not share any details.  Remain observant and attuned and if your child seems more anxious, provide containment through your presence, extra physical contact, words of love and reassurance.  

A few points to keep in mind:   

1.  Tune into your child to notice signs they may be feeling signs of distress.  Watch their play, listen to their words, notice dramatic changes in behavior.  

2.  Talk to them in reassuring and containing ways, avoiding detail that you perceive will elevate their anxiety to an unnecessary degree.  Walk a fine line here: validate feelings, while not exacerbating them unnecessarily.

3.  Take breaks from processing the event and set limits about how long you might engage in talking about it.  

4.  Turn off the TV, the news, and reduce the entire family's access to the Internet. Repeated commentary on, descriptions of and visual images from the massacre will be unnecessarily upsetting and triggering.

5.  Take action. Join with others in finding creative and important ways to resist hatred and increase love.  Go to a vigil, sign a petition, write a letter, or go to Pride events the last weekend of June--whether you are a straight ally or a member of the LGBTQ community.  In the wake of trauma, social supports are vital, and for members of marginalized communities who already feel vulnerable, allies are essential.  

6.  If your child asks you a question to which you don't have an immediate response, tell him or her that you need time to think about the question.  Take that time, and then be sure to come back to it when you are prepared.

7.  Be sure to have your own sources of support as you navigate these troubling and tragically recurring events.  

For more advice and thoughts, please visit the Fred Rogers Company website.  We also recommend this article from Common Sense Media about talking with your children about the news.

As the Mayor of Los Angeles said, "in the face of hatred, hold someone tight."

 

Posted on June 16, 2016 .

Summer Reading 2016

Dear Blue School Families,

This week's post is from Patricia Lynch, Director of the Primary Program

There is nothing more luxurious than summertime reading. When we indulge ourselves in summer reading, there seems to be no calendar or clock that nudges us toward distraction; we have reached a serenity seldom found. The more deeply we become immersed in a book, the more reflective our lives become. Our connection is with the words, ideas, images that eventually enliven the thinking we bring to life.

These beliefs are brought to life in Blue School when I walk into a classroom and a child is laughing out loud about something she has read. When I listen in on the provocative conversations about a story read in a class, when I hear children outraged or mystified because of a character’s behavior, and even empathically near tears. These instances are certain proof that stories and narratives bring about vital emotional connections for everyone. Reading is not solely an academic pursuit, but more importantly, an activity that helps us define our identity, and gives us the strength and understanding to face daily challenges. Afterall, if Alexander can live through a horrible, no good day, so can we.

When parents ask me how they can help their child with reading, my advice is always the same. Read to your child. No matter what the age. Read newspaper articles, food ingredients, great novels you enjoyed as a child and historical accounts. Research has shown that children who are read to fare far better in the long run with reading comprehension and critical thinking. So it’s certainly worth the enjoyment.

The former has all been a bit of a drum roll to announce the Primary Division Summer Read and Reading List. Through perusal of many, many outstanding picture books, the faculty and I have decided upon a summer read. This summer we are asking that all children entering Kindergarten through 5th grade read, Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie. Please make sure that your child reads the book over the summer because s/he will be given an activity based on the book within the first days of school. This book, and all the books on the connected summer reading list can be purchased through Amazon.  You may also want to use the summer as an opportunity to reconnect with your local public library. Libraries are magical places with lots of free programs in the summer.

And finally, a bit about fostering writing over the summer. Why not keep journals together, especially when you visit new or exciting places here or elsewhere? Sketch tiny findings, add some words to describe the drawing, and voila, you’ve got a pithy poem. Make lists together, develop characters based on people you see in the subway and on the streets and write monologues for them. Letters, letters, lots of letters written. Grandparents or other family friends always love to get emails and snail mail from favorite children.

I can’t wait to hear about all your reading experiences. Keep a list of favorites. Enjoy your children and have an adventurous and peaceful summer.

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”

Lemony Snicket, Horseradish

 

Happy reading,

Pat



 

Lift Off

From Allison Gaines Pell, Head of School

In the year 2000, I completed a year at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. When I arrived there in the fall, I felt powerfully alive, more so than I ever had (and I am among the lucky who treasured every moment of my education prior to that). I connected with amazing colleagues who I am still in touch with (and who have gone on to a variety of roles changing education nationally), found my calling, vocation and passion, and felt like I’d died and gone to a heaven just for those who want to talk about everything I do all day and night long. There is much I could say about the experience, and I use what I learned there almost every day, but I wanted to share this video from the weekend’s convocation address. In these five minutes, it forcefully reminds me of the power of educators to improve, change, and infect the world with their inspiration and words. Please take the time to listen and watch (or if you’d rather, just read the words printed there). Dominic Livingston (HGSE ‘16) is one to watch.

-- Allison

Thoughts on 2s and 3s

- Laura Sedlock, Director of Pre-Primary

What I love about working in early childhood is how much we are able to notice of the whole child, before we inevitably starting looking at children through the lens of particular subject matters or skills. Clearly, at Blue School, we strive to keep our focus on the whole child throughout all of their years here, but there is nothing so pure and immediate as those first few years when every moment of what a child does feels equally as important as the next.

This year, in Preprimary,we have been working to ground our conversations about children in specific moments, revisiting these through video, photographs, transcripts of conversations, and discussing what we see in these moments that can lead us to a deeper understanding of children and how they learn and make meaning.

A few weeks ago, I came across a piece by Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the schools and approach in Reggio Emilia, Italy, from a 1993 seminar entitled,  “Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins”  I was especially moved by this one passage about observing and seeing children:

"The child wants to know that she is observed, carefully, with full attention. The child wants to be observed in action. She wants the teacher to see the process of her work, rather than the product. The teacher asks the child to take a bucket of of water from one place to the other. It's not important to the child that the teacher only sees him arrive with the bucket of water at the end. What is important to the child is that the teacher sees the child while the child is working, while the child is putting out the effort to accomplish the task - the processes are important, how much the child is putting into the effort, how heroic the child is doing this work. What children want is to be observed while engaged, they do not want the focus of the observation to be on the final product. When we as adults are able to see the children in the process, it's as if we are opening a window and getting a fresh view of things."

So on Tuesday of this week I set off into our preprimary classrooms to observe some children “in the process.” One of the first classroom I walked into was the 2s during their exploration time. I noticed a child, H., at the water table and settled my eyes and attention on him and what he was doing. When I started watching him, H. had almost finished filling up a pitcher with water, using the rubber top of a baster to fill it up scoop by scoop. When the pitcher was full, he poured the water over the baby’s head. H. continued to do this 1, 2 3 times - scooping the water, filling the pitcher, pouring it over the baby and starting again. He would pause from time to time to look around the room at other children or respond to a particular sound, but would always return to the process of scooping, filling and pouring. After a few minutes, Karen came by and knelt down beside him. H. pointed to the baby’s wet head as he looked up at Karen, then he gently took her hand, placed it on the baby’s head, and poured water over it, allowing Karen to experience the wetness and the pouring.

From the moment I started watching I felt lucky to be witnessing this moment and to learn about H. - to see his method, focus and perseverance, his intention and caring gesture towards the baby in the water table. If I had walked away after that I would have already learned so much, but then I saw the moment when he chose to share his experience with Karen. There was something so touching about the way he took her hand and placed it on the baby, asking her to join him in feeling what he felt. I truly had that sense Loris Malaguzzi mentioned of a window being opened, of “getting a fresh view of things.” It made me think of all of the other moments happening simultaneously throughout the school, with each child demonstrating their own heroic effort, wanting these to be seen and shared with others.

 

Posted on October 23, 2015 .

Blue School Approaches to Problem Solving

We always hope that every day, week and year is problem-free. However, problem solving is a big part of school (and life). It is the foundation on which we build trust. During my time as an educator, I have always felt the way by which we approach and attempt to solve problems is part of the way we create and sustain our culture. Considering all this, problems are really important.
Over the spring and summer, I wrote down some thoughts on this issue.  I shared them with the Families Association and faculty to gather input and feedback. We share it with you here as a statement of philosophy on problem solving and communication. Families Association co-presidents (facopresidents@blueschool.org) Kira Wizner and Natasha James and I invite you to take a look. We welcome your questions and comments. 

Here’s to many problems approached and solved.


Thank you for reading. – Allison

 

Blue School Approaches to Problem Solving

In a school, there are always challenges and dilemmas. This is part of the everyday work. The joy and challenge of working on these problems is part of what brings educators to this career. We believe human beings are complicated and problems require nuanced responses, conversation, empathy and thoughtfulness. To that end, our Families Association and school leadership team support the following guiding parameters for problem solving when issues come up:

— Reach out with questions. All teachers love to talk about their work. They work hard, often in unseen ways, and want you to ask them questions about what they are doing with children because this is their life’s work and our passion. Please ask them!

— Curiosity first. This applies to problems as well; please ask questions first. Teachers and leaders think deeply about their choices in classrooms and within the school. If something is happening that you are uncomfortable about or your child is coming home with worries or anxieties, try to find out more from your child’s teacher, but assume first that there is already some observation and thinking behind it. If the issue doesn’t resolve, please keep talking with us.  If you feel other parents have a growing concern, you should, with the spirit of open conversation and supporting the whole class and community of parents to move forward together, bring that to your teacher, as well. School communities and children are complicated, and our partnership depends on the respect that our shared curiosity about one another’s experiences demands.

— Email communication is okay; face to face is better. When an issue is difficult, please use direct communication in person. Teachers are able to set up meetings with you when you have a difficult conversation. Emails between parents that don’t include teachers can make the problem worse.  It could create worry without including those who can help solve the problem. Let’s all try to be in a problem-solving stance as much as possible. We can all hold one another accountable for this, as we are all guilty of forgetting this sometimes.

 Schools are as imperfect as the humans that work in and attend them. Over the course of your time at Blue School, there will be decisions you question or even dislike. There will be questions you have and things you don’t understand. Please feel free to ask about those things, and understand that we will always hear you and share our thinking as appropriate, even if we do not agree, or cannot speak as openly as you might like.

 Respect for all children and families.  There are times when parents want to discuss other children in the school. Faculty members will of course speak with families about their own child’s experience, and about concerns brought directly to them, but please understand that we cannot speak openly about other people’s children.

— Communication is essential to prevent problems from arising, but with a balance. Please understand that we have to strike a balance of documentation, photos, and blogging and being present with your children. Most of the time, we will expect teachers to prioritize being present with children and planning their instructional next steps, over taking a photo or blogging. Communication is an expectation for all teachers, and we know it can often prevent questions and concerns from arising, but being with and noticing your children is our priority. Please be forgiving if blogs are not as timely as you’d like; we assure you they are coming as quickly as is reasonable.


Thank you for reading and helping us all see problem solving as a positive part of the work of our community.

 

Posted on October 16, 2015 .

Pre-Primary Thinking

- Allison Gaines Pell, Head of School

As you can see in our lobby, this year's big idea for professional learning centers around various ways and types of thinking. While adults may automatically associate ideas like synthesis and reasoning with our upper grades, these ideas are, in fact, at the center of our goals for the preprimary division.  Children are busy building these “muscles” and skills from the moment they arrive here at age 2, 3 and 4.  I wanted to share some thoughts on this with you, and provide lenses with which to look at your preprimary experience here at Blue School.
 
As you know, story, early literacy, and numeracy all happen in various ways in our early childhood program. Our overall approach to early childhood reflects our belief in the intellectual capacities of children, the importance of nurturing specific intellectual building blocks in the early years to facilitate lifelong learning, and meaningful living.

Dr. Peter Gray, in a recent blog post , makes a distinction between ‘academic’ and ‘intellectual’ skills, citing a succinct and wonderful piece on this topic by acclaimed early childhood teacher and thought leader Lilian Katz. Academic skills are, he writes, “means of organizing, manipulating, or responding to specific categories of information to achieve certain ends. Pertaining to reading, for example, academic skills include the abilities to name the letters of the alphabet, to produce the sounds that each letter typically stands for, and to read words aloud, including new ones, based on the relationship of letters to sounds...Academic skills can be and are taught directly in schools, through methods involving demonstration, recitation, memorization, and repeated practice.” In contrast, he writes, “Intellectual skills... have to do with a person’s ways of reasoning, hypothesizing, exploring, understanding, and, in general, making sense of the world.  Every child is, by nature, an intellectual being--a curious, sense-making person, who is continuously seeking to understand his or her physical and social environments.”

Where can you see these skills at work?  When you walk into a preprimary classroom here, consider:

  • How much agency do children have to interact with authentic materials that are flexible to 'become anything else' (including wood, stones, blocks, books, special papers and materials for building)?
  • How are children making decisions about their work and their interactions with others, make believe, reflect on their conversations and endeavors, work through conflict with one another, establish new connections, hear and play out stories?
  • What opportunities for connection and relationship building do children have during the day?
  • What happens when children ask questions? Are the questions elevated and explored?

A great classroom serves intentionally to support the intellectual skill development of each child to build the most effective platform for learning and living as they grow. In our twos classroom this week, we saw children are working with clay, and graphite, exploring how the movements their bodies make affect the impressions on the paper or clay. In threes, we saw children discussing the care for the babies, bringing knowledge from their worlds, negotiating with one another about what materials in the classroom (block, paper, fabric) could represent what supportive item for the baby (bed, table, bottle). In fours/fives, children discussed how to tell a friend they did not want to play a game with them and suggesting another.

We are in a zeitgeist-shifting moment in education. Many minds and pens are turning to early childhood as a foundational time by which thinking skills necessary for a 21st century learner and human are either nurtured or negated. We are proud to be able to be practice and modeling the balance of academic and intellectual skills. We are also proud to be considering these ideas with the many visitors this week and every week at Blue School, and with you, our larger community.

Please be sure to read your classroom blogs to understand all of the varied ways that this work happens. We will be sure to begin linking to all of them weekly by the end of October! 

Allison

Posted on October 9, 2015 .

Welcome Event Remarks, 2015

- Allison Gaines Pell, Head of School

While I am not a religious person, something I enjoy greatly from the holiday of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) is the concept of hineni, which means “here I am.” It is a way of talking about showing up, noticing, taking a pause to remember that we are here, and to figure out how we are participating in our lives, showing up with our children, with one another, and with ourselves. While I’m sure we can each think of ways that we can show up more and more and say “here I am” in our lives, I have found myself thinking about this phrase a great deal as we enter our 10th year.

So tonight, I want to take a moment with you to say: here we are, and to reflect on where we have come from, where we are now, and where we are going.

We come from:

  • From 14 children in a living room with materials, sound, play, good hearts and big idea
  • From a board and founders who have been, from the start, tireless in their efforts to push the school forward
  • From several moves – a roving tour, even! -- all throughout Lower Manhattan, and a lightning fast build out of our beautiful permanent home at 241 Water
  • From growing pains, authentic conversations, openness, and warmth
  • From genuinely wanting parent voices and helping them to give shape to our work
  • From a superstorm that diminished our neighborhood and our school, but made our community stronger
  • From a group of faculty who have committed to working in a more demanding place than is the usual because of the intellectual rewards of this work
  • From parents who, despite being told way back when that they would not know the next year’s location before signing a contract, insisted on staying because they believed so deeply in this journey
  • From parents who met with me over one summer to start a real life Families Association that lives today and supports so many of our efforts
  • From members of our community who, when they heard the call for a small old fish market next door that was yearning to be a school, stood up to be counted on to support us to make it happen
  • From many long discussions, risks, rewards, and creative innovations in the pursuit of being, despite all odds, the school that could

and so much more…

Here we are:

When our founders set out to build a school, they imagined a place that would both practice and model a truly dynamic (even electric) balance between self and social learning, academic mastery, and creative thinking. Today, 10 years in, I have the truly happy news to share that so many of you see this approach in our classrooms and hallways. You tell us in person and through surveys how much you see this balance, the creative ways your children are being challenged, the way they (and you) are seen and known, how much they strive for and discover each day in their intellectual pursuits.

And we, the lucky, who get to spend our days around your children and these classrooms, get to see it first hand. We see joyful struggles, dynamic discussions between young children, joyful romps in the wonder room, forts built and refined by three year olds, and inspiring studio studies of space and nature. We see the deep and thought-filled discussions among faculty members, the late night runs to the bookstore for that book a teacher MUST have for the next day, the conversations that happen in meetings in which they carefully reflect on what they notice in your children. We hear the community board presentations by seven year olds, the buzz of the letter-writing campaigns, the delicious and inventive writing by 9 year olds, the passionate discussions of sentence structure by 10 year olds, energetic and purposeful play by our fours and fives, the careful and thoughtful probing of natural phenomenon, the big stories being drafted, enacted, and revised, and the mathematical mysteries pursued with struggle and joy. We see hugs and laughter and holding hands.

We appreciate every day that we get to be here because of your belief and sustaining support of our work.

So, what happens now? Ever energetic and evolving, with one strategic plan behind us that was focused on building, streamlining, operational steadiness, and communications, we decided that while our big goals remained the same, our strategies were ready for refreshing. We are now finalizing our 2015-2020 strategic plan that will focus on key, critical areas informed by many discussions and input from you. The summary highlights of will include:

  • increasing coherence in teaching and learning practices throughout our three divisions while allowing for natural and developmentally appropriate differentiation to take place between them
  • Increasing the ways and means for recruiting for a more diverse and thus more mission-driven population, including striving to increase giving for tuition assistance across the school
  • Furthering our work on diversity and perspective taking, including a yearlong monthly seminar led by and for teachers trained by SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity)
  • Opening our extended campus at 233 Water Street and building out a master plan that will include more facilities growth for the school, as well as vigilant care of our beautiful home here at 241
  • Maintaining steady and rapid growth while we preserve the warm, connected, authentic ways of doing business that make this such a great place to be
  • Increasing the visibility of the public facing work we are doing with our conference “On Thinking,” our Blue Notes speaker series, and pushing ourselves to build out our public purpose
  • Last, but not at all least, we will also continue to push ourselves to do all of the other good stuff of making Blue School great: daily energy towards the best and most powerful classrooms anywhere, led by the most hungry and dynamic teaching faculty anywhere, ever more efficient, responsive, and effective in its operations, and with your help, a stronger foundation of financial support

It’s going to be a huge undertaking, and this wasn’t even close to a complete list! As it is ready, we will be excited to share the full plan with you.

So tonight, in addition to sharing all of this with you because it is important for you to know, I also want to let you know how important your support is, in all ways, to make this happen.

We know that you pay tuition. We know you work hard to make the gift of Blue School a reality for your child. We know that that is a big commitment for which we are grateful.

I ask you to give to Annual Fund because you know that we, like all independent schools, do not cover the cost of the education of each child with tuition alone. The difference between this number and the number we need to raise each year translates to materials, trips, professional development, compensation for teachers, tuition assistance, and so much more.

I ask you to give because of how fast your children ran to school on the first day, the questions she or he brings home at night,  and their very serious curiosity.

Give in honor of someone in your life whom you wished had had a Blue School education, whose life could have been altered because of the nourishment and intention that Blue school gives each learner.

Give because you see that the neuroscientific research, the industry pleas for people who are problem solvers, collaborators, creative thinkers, and the pushback from parents and authors everywhere when they see the impact of standardized education are converging to a point. Give because you believe that Blue School has a responsibility to amplify these understandings through conferences and speakers and to ensure we reach a tipping point that translates into impact for schools.

Give because this is the hardest working group of teachers and administrators anywhere and they deserve the answer to be yes to any request for supplies, trips, and professional learning that we can make possible.

Give because you want more children who wouldn’t dream of applying to Blue School due to the tuition to get the message that they can, that they should, that we have funds to support them.

Give because it feels good, no matter what the level.

Give because you are saying “here I am” and “here we go,” onto the next ten years, our adolescence, which will be filled (as our middle schoolers lives will be) with wonderful new friends, conversations, ideas, risks, and rewards.

For all those reasons, consider and make your gift and send it in, but before you do, in the spirit of 10 amazing years at Blue School and as a wish into the universe for the 10 years to come, multiply that number by 10.  I’m kidding. Sort of.

Seriously, if you are interested in gift at a higher or more strategic level, perhaps associated with initiatives such as our STEAM program, scholarship support, or our programs focused on impacting schools outside Blue School, contact James or me and we’ll find a time to sit down with you to talk more.

I end tonight with a quote from the letter written by our founders that is on our website.

“Blue Man Group started as an outrageous idea: We wanted to inspire creativity in both our audiences and ourselves. We wanted to speak ‘up’ to the intelligence of our audience members while reaching ‘in’ to their childlike innocence. We wanted to create a special kind of organization, a place where people continually learn and grow and treat each other with just a little more consideration than is usually evident out in the "real world." We wanted to recombine influences to create something new. And we wanted to have a good time doing it.” Having a good time is what tonight is about.

I wish you a great year, in the ideas and new accomplishments your child shares with you, the connections you will make with one another, and in your own lives outside of Blue School. Thank you for your support, for showing up in the big and important ways that you do.

Posted on October 2, 2015 .

Summer Reading

This week's post is from Patricia Lynch, Director of the Primary Program.

Summertime means rest, sun, family and, oh yes, reading, reading, reading. We have attached a selection of books for each grade level to keep you wrapped up in text for a long time. As you know, for better or worse, children demonstrate what we model for them, so show them how much you enjoy reading and select a special time when you are all reading and discussing books together. Help your children get to know authors and identify genres. Dust off those library cards and visit several different public libraries for a little comparison shopping. When we help children establish the reading habit early in life, it lasts a lifetime.

We are pleased to announce the family summer reads to you. We are requesting that if you have a child moving into the 4/5s through 2nd Grade, the children come to school the first day prepared to discuss Atlantic by G. Brian Karas. In 3rd through 5th Grades, we would like the children to read The Can Man by Laura E. Williams. (Middle school families: you'll be getting your assignment from the team next week!) Both books support our belief that children can be moved toward empathy and understanding through literature. The books can be purchased on Amazon* or, of course, your local library could find them for you.

*Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to Blue School whenever you shop on AmazonSmile. Use this link to select Blue School as your designated organization.

A bit about fostering writing over the summer. Why not keep journals together, especially when you visit new or exciting places here or elsewhere? Sketch tiny findings, add some words to describe the drawing, and voila, you’ve got a pithy little poem. Make lists together, develop characters based on people you see in the subway and on the streets and write monologues for them. Letters, letters, lots of letters written. Grandparents or other family friends always love to get emails and snail mail from grandchildren. Remind children about how fun our Blue School post office was and that we have our own big scale postal system in the USA as well.  On the last day, all children will also receive a bag and instructions to collect and describe an object from the summer to bring in and add to our object library display. Great stories to tell can sometimes begin with an object as inspiration!

As E.B. White so wisely wrote: “Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”

Posted on June 9, 2015 .

Messiness is the goal of hard work

Messiness is the goal of hard work. 
– Alice, 4/5 A

 
Earlier this week, someone asked me what Blue School stands for. Of course, this answer can be found in our mission and vision statements, but at my core as an educator and as part of a movement to rethink how we conceive of education – and really, our beliefs about children – I’d like to share some thoughts with you about what I think we stand for, not in the formal sense, but in the ideas and dispositions with which we choose to show up every day.

We stand for the notion that school needs to look like and offer more opportunities to practice what we want for our world – an act of furthering the journey towards a more dynamic and vibrant democracy.

We stand for the rights of all children to be thinking actively – and to be in a thought-FULL environment – all day long. Without thinking, there is no understanding.
 
We stand for a notion of school that begins not with a statement but rather with a question to ponder deeply and joyfully, and a group of people young and less young to do it with.
 
We stand for a definition of a good day that contains both success and failure.
 
We stand for a daily curiosity about the nuance and ambiguity of the human mind, alongside all the science that seeks explain it.
 
We stand for speaking up to the intelligence of children and young adults, challenging them to work together to talk across difference, to argue, to persist, to create, to ask how they know what they know.
 
We stand for question marks first, exclamation points next.
 
We stand for joy that is rooted in the deep satisfaction that comes with effort and mastery. We stand for small moments of joy that come with laughter, friendship, and connection.
 
We stand for teaching that is complex, magical, intellectual, instinctual and ordinary all at once. and the discipline, intensive reflection, flexibility, and time it requires.
 
We stand for learning that is filled with the same joy, satisfaction, creativity, and wondering from infancy all the way into adulthood, even as it changes its look and feel.
 
We stand for an understanding that learning and growth is possible only when people are known, seen, and heard by one another.
 
Working in the parameters of today’s world, which prizes sameness, order, speed, and instantaneous perfection, requires vulnerability and patience. Believe me when I say that we yearn, just like everyone else, to fix, to correct, to answer, to invest in beautifully clean lines rather than shades of grey. I struggle with this every day. In this spirit, a great hope I have is that we can continue to say out loud that education requires this struggle, depends on our intentionality and openness, and a refusal to cling to quick fixes.

Posted on May 21, 2015 .

One classroom at a time

"System wide change is something a lot of people talk about, but I think it happens one classroom at a time. That's where the action is."

-- Doug Reeves, author of On Common Ground: The Power of Professional Learning Communities

Last weekend, I attended a conference for educators. Those of you who attend conferences in your own professions will no doubt recognize the experience of the “Exhibition Hall,” where salespeople call from the left and the right that they have THE solution to some problem that you face. I was reminded of the very keen understanding I've developed and live by that if we knew how to do education perfectly well for every child, we would all be doing it that way by now, and that teaching and learning remains the pursuit of questions and uncertainty, a science and art that is as much about humanity as it is about practice. When Doug Reeves stated the quote I've posted above, it resonated deeply. The action is indeed in the classroom: teacher by teacher, and small teaching move by small teaching move, minute of engaged thinking by minute.

So, here it is. Upon returning to Blue School, I arrived to another 10 letters in my Blue School Mail Spirits box. This culminating work by our first grade has brought our community together in ways we could not have anticipated. By following their questions and curiosities about the postal system, they elevated the art of writing and communication, brought kids and families together, and actually, changed Blue School. Their mail service will end April 1st, but they have actually changed us. They have much to be proud of.

Also this week, we learned that our very own Kindergarten engineers have been invited to build their proposal for a mini golf hole in this summer's FIGMENT Artist Mini Golf Course at the festival on Governor's Island. This class has pursued an extensive study of water, and began their year building water machines after becoming inspired by a local “water wall” installation. They wondered how water moves up and down, where it comes from, and how it can be moved. When invited to submit to FIGMENT on the theme of “Here to There,” they looked at all of the elements of the mini golf hole, drew ideas for designs, and then collaborated as one group to determine which idea would be submitted. Now, they are on to implementation, and plans are in formation.

So there you have it. There is no “buy it now” option in school. The answer is inside our classrooms, and in the questions young people ask and the intelligence and intuition -- and practices -- with which teachers listen.

Posted on March 27, 2015 .

STEAM: Person, Place or Paradigm Shift?

This article was published in The 2015 Parents League Review and most recently, the Huffington Post.

STEM as an acronym was born, as many things are, out of worry. In 2006, President George Bush stated that there was a significant concern about the lack of high quality STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) research and education initiatives, resulting in an urgent concern about our nation's ability to compete. He announced, during his State of the Union address that year, the federal assistance program "American Competitiveness Initiative" which promised millions of dollars to STEM initiatives in education and R&D. As a result, science, engineering and robotics programs have been popping up in schools. Recently, there has been a movement to add the "A" for arts and design into the mix, led by John Maeda, Rhode Island School of Design's former president (and Advisory Board member at our school), among others, and there is now a caucus focused on this at the Federal level. The STEM to STEAM movement is based on the belief that "art and design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century."

At Blue School, we have been exploring the relationship between these five disciplines since 2006. As a school with STEAM in our DNA, we have been pursuing both high quality and deep implementation of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics with children from the aged two through 10. We believe that these ingredients cannot exist outside of their relationship to one another, nor can they exist without a deep and rich understanding of history, literature and the human condition. But contrary to the idea that STEAM is an add on, a place, or a person, the existence of STEAM in our DNA derives from a set of beliefs that define how we think about education to support the unknowable demands of the future.

Begin with a definition of creativity

This may sound like a strange place to begin, but, if the "creativity economy" is where we are headed, we should share a common vision of this goal. For us, a working definition for educators is Sir Ken Robinson's notion of "imaginative processes with outcomes that are original and have value." He posits that describing someone as creative ...

..Suggests that they are actively producing something in a deliberate way. People are not creative in the abstract; they are creative in something: in mathematics, in engineering, in writing, in music, in business, in whatever. Creativity involves putting your imagination to work. In a sense, creativity is applied imagination. (Robinson, Out of Our Minds, 2001)

This definition is important, because while it is natural to say that a four year old is creative when she draws a face in a new way to experiment with unique color choices, true creativity (per this definition) takes place after mastery of a domain when a new intervention is made within it. Beginning with a definition is essential to knowing what kind of learner we are attempting to cultivate with our work, and also what it looks like when we have achieved the goal.

Along with a definition, we create the conditions for creative thought to take place. This is where in-depth attention to insight and metacognition come into play. Dr. David Rock, author of Quiet Leadership and Your Brain at Work, argues that insight requires quiet, internal focus, a slightly positive outlook and, ironically, not focusing on the problem. Because teachers and classrooms cannot always provide all of these conditions at once, Rock and his colleagues wanted to know what the best proxy for these could be, and found that they revolve around metacognition. They asked these simple questions:

1) What are you trying to achieve?
2) How long have you been working on this?
3) What is your best guess about the best way forward? 
4) How many different approaches have you tried?
5) How close to a solution are you?

They found that by asking these five questions during problem solving, subjects increased the amount of insights by 55 percent.

Authentic materials

Children -- at two years old and at 12 -- need to have real materials in their hands. Whether it is at two as they study water and soil, or when they are five and they use masking tape and cardboard, or at 12 when they create robots to solve every day problems, STEAM requires us to put the same tools in the hands of students that are those used by the professionals. If you want the child to be an artist, give him the same materials an artist would use; if you want her to be a scientist, give her the tools and materials she needs as well.

Of course, there are developmental questions about what types of materials to hand to children, but we try not use proximal materials or representations. The technologies and inventions we have in today's world are likely the least advanced our children will ever have in their hands, so we give them the tools to make things better as early as we can. Classrooms should be stocked with materials, and children should know where to find them, how to use them, and how to care for them.

True curriculum integration

Neuroscience tells us that we learn best when ideas and domains are integrated, and when we are following threads of our own interests and motivations. As adults, we know this: When we have a burning question or idea to pursue, the content is extremely engaging, the search is a joy, and the learning we do stays with us. Yet, in schools, many of us still isolate subject areas and break learning down into arbitrary time blocks. To build the skills and understandings necessary for our scientists, mathematicians, technologists and artists, we choose to create full and big studies, framed by unanswerable prompts and provocations, and organized by iterating through problems and designs. To do this -- to truly live up to what the neuroscience tells us -- we need schedules that allow for time to go deep into material and discussion, specialists in the arts or sciences to work within the classroom study rather than as a pull out, and culminating projects that invite learners to dig in, to build up, to enter in multiple ways, and then to engage with authentic audiences.

Redefine technology

Since I became a school leader 10 years ago, I have been asked the following question almost once a week: "How do you integrate technology?" For me, this has always been the wrong question. Technology is a tool, like a pencil, a protractor or pad of paper, and it is also a method for organizing information. Imagine if someone were to ask how we integrate those tools! It is no longer a question that work will be performed online in the future, no longer a question that online collaboration makes for better communication. So, we want to more fully explore what technology enables us to do, and how it can help us explore the full potential of the human mind. If we accept that technology allows us to get most of the world's facts and information more quickly, we are freed up to use our time in school to do the work of understanding the nuances of the human condition, histories, transitions, dilemmas and to then use technologies -- indeed get the tools to build the technologies -- plus our human drive to do something about it.

Culture

This is the most challenging, but most essential, piece. The culture in which STEAM disciplines can be nurtured and strengthened require a culture that begins with leadership, teachers and families. If we want children to experiment, take risks, persevere in the face of disappointment or failure, become flexible and resilient, then we have to try it ourselves. We have to be willing to take the risk of jumping off of the 45 minute period schedule, ask teachers to reflect and take risks themselves, and to truly integrate curriculum. There are mistakes inherent and celebrated in this type of environment, and in this way, it can be a challenge to support a culture that supports risks. Families who can partner with schools and who can believe and see that this is what the brain science really says, know that what they had when they were young is simply not good enough for young people today.

Commitment to content and skill mastery

There is an important underlying assumption that must be said, though for some it goes without saying, which is the critical importance of identifying exactly what skills and understandings young people need to learn within these disciplines. Teachers need to be able to articulate and imbed the skills and content students need, even if timing or entry points change, and they must ensure that students master those skills. It is not enough to create a robot if one doesn't understand electronics. Skills, and skills practice, need to go hand in hand with these ideas. For a kindergartener, building a scaled down neighborhood out of cans is wonderful when the design has been planned, the number of needed cans in different colors, shapes and sizes has been calculated.

At Blue School, our building buzzes with makers, explorers, mathematicians, builders, and artists who are also voracious readers, writers, and worldly thinkers. This comes from the steady belief that children are capable of more than many want to give them credit for. The STEAM movement is popularizing this idea, and giving schools ways to think about language, time and space to make that idea real. In the end, however, the real challenge of implementing deep learning in the disciplines of arts, science, mathematics, technology and engineering, is asking bold questions about time, the integration of curriculum, and culture.

Posted on March 13, 2015 .

An interview with Mary Oliver

This week, I happened upon an interview with Mary Oliver, one of the most important and powerful poets of our time. For the hour that I listened to her through the podcast On Being, I was transported. Hearing Oliver read her own poetry certainly made the experience special, but I was also struck by her musings on the relationship between appreciation, attention and devotion, the life of the mind and the heart. I found her words to be inspiring and intimate reminders of that which is important, and especially soothing to a New Yorker's soul. 

I share the interview with you because Oliver also reflects our shared vision of what the outcome of education should be: empathetic, imaginative people who engage with the world, who question, stay curious and dig in, who notice other people and pay attention to the way a grasshopper lands or the way the mushrooms grow. To get there, the learning we do needs to be feisty but steady, passionate but serious, intellectually expansive and demanding, and all the while patient. 

Oliver shared that sometimes as a poet, she "takes dictation" from the world, and "listens convivially." It was a powerful reminder for me as a parent, an educator and a human. 

Below is one of her poems, a longing summoning of summer. For a treat, read it out load and her how it changes. You can hear Oliver read more of her work below the interview on this page.

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life? 

Posted on February 12, 2015 .

The Wonder of Learning

This week's post is from Laura Sedlock, Director of the Pre-Primary Program

In the fall of 2008 I had the privilege of attending the week-long study tour of preschools and infant-toddler centers in Reggio Emilia, Italy. I already felt that I knew so much about the Reggio Emilia approach from readings and conferences - about the image of the child as capable and full of potential, the strong focus on relationships as essential to learning, the idea of teachers and children as partners in learning, and the pursuit of emergent curriculum that responds to children’s ideas and questions.

To walk into an actual school steeped in these values, however, added a new dimension to my understanding. As I walked through the classrooms of the Ernesto Balducci preschool, I saw children engaged in various forms of “research,” as it was referred to by the teachers: one group of children investigating the physical characteristics of light through a study of rainbows, another group in the atelier drawing a large piece of bark as part of an investigation of the skin of natural materials. What moved me was not the specific topics they were researching or even the quality of their work, but the intense sense of purpose and focus that these children displayed. They had such strong motivation and investment in the work they were doing, even a sense of urgency. In the words of Mara Krechevsky and Ben Mardell of Harvard’s Project Zero, these schools “do not simply prepare children for adult or later life; they are seen as essential to life.”

Here at Blue School, where we seek a balance of academic mastery driven by student inquiry and enthusiasm, self and social learning, and creative thinking, the schools of Reggio Emilia provide an inspiring example of how a strong educational community built on relationships and the curiosity of children can lead to deep and meaningful learning experiences. While we do not aspire to be a “Reggio” school (as we are in New York City and not in Reggio Emilia), we are inspired by the approach, and we can learn so much from their example about what is possible when a school is built on respect, careful listening, and thoughtful responses to children’s ideas.

Fortunately for all of us, an opportunity to learn directly from the work of the Reggio Emilia schools is coming to our city! From January 15 - May 15, 2015, “The Wonder of Learning" exhibit will be at the Williamsburg Northside School in Brooklyn. This international traveling exhibition provides a comprehensive view into the world-renowned Reggio Emilia educational approach, and aims to expand visitors’ understanding of a child’s thinking and their approach to collaboration and relationship-based learning. Broken into six multimedia-equipped sections, among the exhibition highlights are:

  • Dialogues with Material: A display of Reggio children’s artwork created from a variety of artistic, natural, and recycled materials, with an emphasis on the processes that unfold during creative acts;
  • The Enchantment of Writing: Examples of ways in which Reggio children experiment with writing for the first time, and how they make it their own;
  • A Ray of Light: Explorations of how Reggio Emilia centers encourage children to encounter light and other natural phenomena

The exhibition is managed by the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance (NAREA), which is also holding its national winter conference in NYC in March 2015 in connection with the exhibition. Blue School will play an important role in this conference, as we are one of four schools that conference participants will visit as part of the program. This is a very exciting opportunity for us to share our school and work with others in the context of a meaningful educational moment.

We hope that everyone in our community will travel to Williamsburg to see the exhibit and learn for yourself what it means to be “Reggio inspired.”

For more information about the Wonder of Learning in NYC, go to newyorkcitywol.org.

Posted on October 30, 2014 .

Blue School's balanced approach to homework

Last week, I sat with a group of parents for an open dialogue, and the conversation turned quickly to homework. It's no surprise, given that it is a hot topic these days, and that homework can be a window through which parents view their child's daily life in school. Many have asked about our perspectives on homework. So, with the understanding that opinions about homework exist on a spectrum, and the knowledge that your child will likely have a wide range of experiences at Blue School (or at any school for that matter), here are some thoughts: 

As we do with so many other aspects of our teaching and learning practices, we take a balanced approach to homework at Blue School.

1) Homework is not a proxy for expectations or the rigor of thinking that takes place during the school day. While it is of course understandable to see it that way, and many schools will talk about the many hours of homework children have as a way to describe the level of rigor in the school, it's important to know that we do not, as a general rule, expect that new learning should happen at home. Work at home is for practice, for fluency with reading or with numbers, or for further self-directed exploration. (Mostly, it is for reading for pleasure, stamina and enjoyment.) Additionally, there may be times that work time at home is used to complete work not completed in school. In general, we hope that our teachers will be present with children as they learn something new, to surface and to teach into and beyond the content presented by the learning materials.

2) We believe in a balanced life for young people. We hope that children's lives are filled with connections, explorations, play, and personal interests and investigations. These experiences, which often happen in the hours after school ends, are important for the soul and the mind. Studies have shown that play and open ended time supports executive function, problem-solving, and relationship building. 

3) Homework supports time management, practice, and independent persistence. These personal skills are the building blocks for middle school and high school scholarship, not to mention the lives we live as learners beyond school walls. We want these habits to form early. So, when there is homework, we hope that you will support your children with finding a good place to work and focus, managing their time, independently reviewing their work, and packing their bags up for the next day. These experiences are as important as the work itself. And, keep in mind that parent involvement in the academic aspects of homework, i.e. doing it with or for children, does not enhance their academic achievements over the long term, so you can feel good about supporting their individual habits, and letting teachers see what they were able to accomplish independently. This is important information for teachers to collect. 

4) Homework is connected to ongoing learning goals. When teachers assign homework, which they do beginning in first grade, the homework they assign is intentionally chosen to balance the academics we expect your child to master within the year and the teachers' daily goals for learning. Additional practice writing assigned for homework can be geared toward editing, or it can be geared towards writing for expression. It is important for parents to know what the goals are, and our teachers will always strive to make them clear to children when the homework is assigned. The level of self-correcting children can and should do changes as they get older, so please ask your teachers how you can best support homework goals, and what to do if you aren't clear. 

In short, homework is nuanced; it has developmental and academic goals, and it changes over time. As with so many things in education and in life, the answer is rarely black and white. We hope that tonight, you'll curl up with a great book, whether it's a picture, chapter, board board, or novel, and enjoy how the pleasure of connecting through words and through work can contribute to a balanced life for everyone.

Posted on October 9, 2014 .

Building big ideas through co-curriculars

The other day in front of our building, a 3rd grade parent stopped our incredible movement teacher, Mariangela Lopez, to relay how moved she was by the video that Mari posted to her blog. She spoke almost tearfully about how present and "in their bodies" the children were as they interpreted lines and shapes through movement. I am so appreciative to have witnessed this moment, as our extremely hardworking co-curricular teachers are too often under sung, and their work goes a long way to amplify classroom studies and make your children's work visible.

We have a robust team of co-curricular teachers at Blue School. They are experts and specialists who work intimately with each teaching team to guide students in building skills, vocabularies and concepts in their areas, and also to follow threads of interest that weave in and out of big classroom studies. This year, we have welcomed specialists in Mathematics and STEAM to add to the already strong combination of Studio Arts, Music, Science and Sustainability, Spanish, Physical Education, Dramatic Arts, and Movement and Dance.

In the first month of school, the co-curricular work is already budding in our commons spaces. Here are a few highlights.

Mathematics: Check out this incredibly rich math problem from 5th grade (image below) and stay tuned for more on math in a future blog post. Mathematics Specialist, Meredith Lorber, is also more than happy to talk about math at any time! You can stop by her office on the 3rd floor or email her meredithl@blueschool.org.

photo (24).JPG

STEAM: Have you seen our newly renovated 4th floor space for making and idea-building? Here's a sneak peak (image below). Special thanks to Maureen Reilly, our STEAM Integrator, and to our friends from ConstructionKids, who spent last Thursday and Friday reconstructing this space.

Several of our co-curriculars also maintain blogs rich with images, anecdotes and details from the work they are doing with your children. Please have a look at these blogs, which you can find at the bottom of our newsletter each week, and follow them as you do your child's classroom blog.

In order to facilitate responsive, varied, dynamic, and challenging work, our co-curriculars take time each week with teachers to meet and to brainstorm. They check in, persist, help one another out, and make their talents evident at every moment. Their roles demand flexibility, creativity, adaptability, and phenomenal interpersonal skills, in addition to being exceptionally skilled with children!

We continue to be amazed by their talents, and stronger for their presence here. THANK YOU, co-curriculars!

Posted on October 1, 2014 .

Families learning together

Next Tuesday's Pre-Primary Program Curriculum Night marks the beginning of a robust program of opportunities for grown-ups (that's you!) to participate in the conversation about our school, what happens here, and your child(ren). This program includes:

  • Curriculum Night: 9/30 for Pre-Primary and 10/6 for Primary
  • Open Classroom for Age 4/5-Grade 5 students and families
  • Age/grade level Roundtables with Program Directors Laura Sedlock and Pat Lynch
  • A series of topical discussions with Dr. Bruce Arnold, School Psychologist and Harriet Richards, Child Development Counselor
  • Discussion Groups with Allison
  • November 4 Teaching Innovation Conference, designed for educators, parents welcome!
  • Blue Notes Speaker Series, 2014-15 dates and speakers to be announced
  • Last but not least, the ongoing dialogue about our Middle School, which began in earnest with current parents at Tuesday's Middle School Info Night

If you have not already, please take a moment to subscribe to the Parent Calendar so that you can save these dates and take part in these opportunities to connect with Blue School faculty, staff, and fellow parents, and deepen your experience of the Blue School community.

As a parent, we encourage you to attend these events to learn more about your child's experience, and as an adult learner, we hope that you will attend to contribute to sustaining our strong educational community. As faculty and staff members, we are all looking forward to another year of learning together at Blue School.

Posted on September 25, 2014 .

Middle School: part one of many more to come

What if we spoke up to the intellects of our young people? What if we centered our educational approach on ways of thinking, and focused on the types of thinkers and doers we want to graduate, rather than on the lists of discrete knowledge they will accumulate? What if we embedded what we know about our students, their minds, and their brains in the foundation of our school, and built a program to elevate those capacities? The past eight years of work at Blue School have been grounded in these provocative questions, and for the past few months, I've been working with Laurie Kardos, our new Director of Middle School, and with our faculty and leadership staff to frame answers to these questions for the middle-school-aged learner. In this Huffington Post piece published this summer, I shared some of our initial thinking.

This fall, we invite our current parent community to a special "first look" on the evening of September 23rd. (Current parents, please RSVP by this Sunday.) We will also share this info later in the fall, in Open Houses for prospective parents, and we're looking forward to sharing the results of our work with all of you! Our purpose is to combine best practices and the knowledge that educators, scientists and other thought leaders have about the middle school years with our core mission, vision and values, animated as always by our unwavering optimism in humanity's creative potential and in the intellectual capacity of young people. 

So, we invite you to learn more about the influencers who have shaped the program (Sir Ken Robinson, Dr. Daniel Siegel, Dr. David Rock, Ron Berger, Carol Dweck, Big History, The Cloud Institute, Project Zero, and the STEAM movement, among others). On the 23rd (for current parents) and on October 29th (for prospective parents), we will also cover the core elements of the program itself, and answer some of your questions. We can assure you that while we are proud of what we have established thus far, we know that our work will continue to evolve and strengthen throughout this year, and be truly elevated when the works meets your children, as is always the case at Blue School.

Posted on September 17, 2014 .

September 11th

The below is excerpted from an email that Allison sent to Blue School faculty and staff before the day started this morning.

On this day in 2001, I was working in Chelsea in a nonprofit serving schools, and after hours of watching the horrors of that day unfold, I found myself at Whole Foods buying food and carrying it to Manhattan's District 2 offices. Many teachers were there, some of whom were covered in dust, and all of whom had come to a place where they knew other educators would be after releasing their students to their parents that day. They were there huddled in corners, some silent, some crying, some conversing as if it was a normal day, each one with a different reaction to the trauma. I remember walking into that room with food and leaving it there, leaving quickly because I knew it was a sacred space that needed its own boundaries. I know that for me and for so many others, that day is with me every day.

Being an educator on September 11th, and on other days that memorialize horrific events, is challenging. We hold the opportunity and the responsibility to try and bring more peace and understanding into the world through our work, and after a summer like this one, during which unchecked and unmitigated hatred seem to define so much of the activity on the world's stage, this responsibility feels significantly more urgent. Depending on the age of the young people we work with, discussions may or may not be necessary or warranted. But for all of us at Blue School, I hope we can find a moment today with children to breathe, to find a center of peace, to teach a song of struggle and hope, to open our ears and hearts to someone we don't yet understand, to use a conflict between children as a way to teach that people have different ideas; and whether any of the events of that morning or the dynamics around it are mentioned, I hope we find a way to honor those who were lost by teaching for the future.

In the art studio, 4th and 5th graders have been considering what inspires them in the everyday. One student drew the WTC Freedom Tower. Its form and height also inspire our Kindergartners. One Kindergarten student called it "the building where the two buildings used to be." This drawing is now hanging on the 6th floor amongst other thoughts and drawings that inspire us.

In the art studio, 4th and 5th graders have been considering what inspires them in the everyday. One student drew the WTC Freedom Tower. Its form and height also inspire our Kindergartners. One Kindergarten student called it "the building where the two buildings used to be." This drawing is now hanging on the 6th floor amongst other thoughts and drawings that inspire us.

Posted on September 11, 2014 .

Sense of Wonder

This summer, Laura Sedlock, the new Director of our Pre-Primary Program, opened our Summer Institute with this quote from Rachel Carson's The Sense of Wonder: 

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.
— Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

Today, our twos began their year at Blue School, and our teachers began to build companionship with them in partnership with the parents and caregivers in their lives. We are lucky and grateful to offer a program that allows our parents and caregivers the chance to spend this time with their children in school. In so many ways, entering school can mark a moment or threshold in development in which children trot off to become social and question the world with greater independence. But here in the twos program, we intentionally build the foundation for this threshold over time, and this allows our grown-ups precious moments, days and hours to watch that transition take place, to see the child they share their days with connecting and working things out with other kids, and observing what kind of learner he or she will be. 

In parallel, we are working on grown-up routines in the twos program, i.e. what do we notice about the children's conversations? How do they connect? What fills them with delight? Which materials afford the most agency for children to think through ideas? How do they learn to take turns, share, explore? Our twos program demonstrates how Blue School values the ideas and choices of our young people from the beginning -- by allowing children to explore a rich environment and experiences carefully designed by their teachers, and to discover answers to questions alongside the adults in their lives. 

We encourage you to take a peek into the twos room on the 3rd floor now and again this year, where you will see our youngest learners engaged in deep investigations, and our grown-ups working hard to show the twos that school is a place you can be joyous and excited, a place where you are encouraged to explore and to find mystery in our world, a place where your sense of wonder is your most powerful tool.

Posted on September 10, 2014 .