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A Letter from Tim
May's month of activities - here and afarPosted by Tim Barrier on 5/9/2019
In the midst of yet more school violence this week, I couldn’t help but be reminded, wistfully, of a southern Africa concept, “Ubuntu,” which translates roughly to “I am, because of us.” We continue to get jarring notices that the fabric of our society, and the human bonds that hold us together, are fraying and fragile. I hope that in moments like these that we all remember that the care we have for one another, and therefore ourselves, matters more than anything else in the end. It’s yet another reason why I value and love our school community so much.
On behalf our entire staff, I’d like to thank you for the incredible luncheon last Friday. We feel well appreciated! As always, the food was outstanding and bountiful. Your kindness is a blessing, especially at the start of the mania of May. A meal together as a staff is good for the soul.
Each year, we pair the lunch with a recognition ceremony for our 10- and 20-year teachers. The longevity of these educators truly symbolizes the care and dedication that all our teachers and staff put into their lives at school. This year, we were happy to honor our “10-year leaf” recipients Stephanie Bender, Stacey Levy, and Katie Boston. You can see their leaves along with all other past recipients on the beautiful tree sculpture in the community space created by middle school teacher Nat Oliver.
We recognize our twenty-year teachers with a beautifully designed wooden Stanley chair. This year’s cohort included our indomitable school registrar, Barb Lesnoski, the incomparably imaginative and creative Jane Hile, and the faculty member that many kids call simply “the kindness teacher,” Allison Neckers. It’s an honor to work alongside these kinds of people who have spent a good part of their lives serving Stanley children and families.
We are well into a May full of activity, here and afar. It’s the time of year when we send Stanley students to various parts of the state, country and even world to make the outdoors our classroom.
Our middle school Constitutional Law team, comprised of 7th and 8th graders, got back from the national competition in Washington, D.C., this week. The trip is a culmination of a year’s worth of study of the meaning and application of the Constitution, led by middle school teachers Susan Cleveland and Mike Waysylenky. Our scholars placed fourth out of the twelve teams participating – congratulations!
Tomorrow, our 8th graders travel to England. Now in its twenty-first year, this Stanley tradition is the culmination of curriculum, of 8th-grade community, and of the relationships that have meant so much to our students over many years. It’s not uncommon parents remark that their children seem changed after this trip – through some combination of growing independence and heightened interest in exploring all the world has to offer. Among the many expected outcomes of the England trip, perhaps the most important is its impact on students’ confidence as they prepare for the next phase of their education and lives.
Auction was a great success thanks to youPosted by Tim Barrier on 5/2/2019
I’m still coming off the high from last weekend’s Stanley Shindig. If you enjoyed the night half as much as I did, I know you had a great evening. After years of being in the gym, a tent or off campus, I loved being back in the Officer’s Club. It felt like coming home. For those who were able to attend, thank you for coming, and if you weren’t able to make it this year, I know you contributed through your donations, sponsorships and bids. A huge thank you to the auction committee who worked tirelessly alongside our Community Engagement team to create a truly unforgettable Stanley event.
The total raised is still being calculated, but it’s clear that we were able to far exceed our goal for the night, and we far outpaced any previous auction. Thanks to you, we reached the realm of “beyond all hopes and dreams” – raising somewhere north of $200,000. The focal point of the night was of course our paddle raise for Stanley’s new playground. One of the things I love about our community is that it never fails to respond to a call for support, particularly with anything related to the experience of Stanley children. Boy was that in evidence Saturday night. We had set a goal of providing the first $50,000 of what will be a $250,000 project. Thanks to the overwhelming response – both in levels of commitment and overall number of paddles lifted – we raised over $106,000 in support of new outdoor playspace. This total includes an incredibly generous $25,000 match through the Wege Family Foundation, courtesy of Andrew and Catherine Goodwillie.
It’s going to be one heck of a playground.We’re still in the design phase of the project, and the firm we’re working with, Urban Play, has no shortage of ideas to work with, thanks to Stanley students. A couple weeks ago, we dedicated our family group session to collecting data on what students wanted most out of their new playground. We asked them to “vote” on eight different priorities – everything from playhouse concepts to sports opportunities to quiet, reflective zones. Faculty at various age groups are also providing input into how they see children in their divisions using outdoor play space, and how that space could further meet development needs. As I would expect, individual students have hardly been shy about giving their ideas directly to me. Among the suggestions that have appeared on my desk just in the last week include a treehouse, a trampoline, a Stanley Lake, and a “peting” zoo.
Stay tuned the rest of the school year as our plans for the playground continue to take shape. And, on behalf of our school community and especially our students, please accept my greatest expression of gratitude and appreciation for what you do for our school – at the auction for sure, and always. Your support makes Stanley what it is.
Supporting all our studentsPosted by Tim Barrier on 4/25/2019
I can’t wait to see you this weekend at The Stanley Shindig. After years of holding the event in our gym, in a tent, and even off campus, I am delighted we’re moving the evening’s festivities back into the Officer’s Club, where we held many an auction back in the day. This facility was designed, after all, to be the entertainment center for top Lowry Air Force personnel. It will be exciting to put the Pub Room back in service as it was intended!
A highlight of the proceedings will be a community-wide paddle raise to support a new Stanley playground for all our K-8 students. We’ve begun working with a design firm, Urban Play, to capture the ideas, hopes, and aspirations from our community about what a refreshed playground can mean for us. Why is this project so full of opportunity? We know that play, broadly defined, is the foundation of learning, and not just for our youngest children. Play is the way children of all ages make meaning of the world around them, experiment with their strength and physical abilities, and practice essential skills for navigating their social lives.
Unstructured yet inspired play is needed for optimum brain development -- creating the neural pathways that promote the capacity for lifelong learning we promote. A playground is also just a lot of fun. The inherent imaginative realm that exists in every child comes to life in ways we as adults can only marvel at. I truly hope you’ll join me, when the time comes Saturday night, to raise your paddle generously in support of this new Stanley venture.
The State of our SchoolPosted by Tim Barrier on 4/11/2019
I hope you may be able to attend Monday night’s rescheduled State of the School address. (A childcare hook-up might boost your likelihood?) I had intended the following as a summary, though with the new date, you may consider it a preview…
The “state of the school” sounds like a fairly auspicious thing to describe. Schools are wonderfully complex, ours certainly no exception. It is important, however, to take stock now and then, to reflect on how we’re meeting our mission, and to think about where we’re going.
On many objective measures, the state of the school is strong. Our financial position and forecasting remain solid, with the school carrying no debt on the campus and holding over seven million dollars in endowment funds. Our market demand has also remained consistently high, and enrollment is of course the lifeblood of our school. Parent engagement as measured by percentage of families participating in our annual giving opportunities also remains very strong relative to many peer schools.
While finances are essential, and as they say, “no money, no mission,” the heart of what we care about lies in each child’s experience at Stanley. How do we measure the outcome of that experience? It’s a great question. While we have quantitative data like test scores, and high school and college placement that provide one indicator of “success,” we value the humanistic outcomes more. What kind of people do our student become? What choices do they make for themselves and the lives they lead?
We started a program four years ago, called “Stan Talks,” to provide answers to those very questions. Each year, three alumni are invited to share 10-minute Ted-talk-like presentations on what they’re up to, and how Stanley shaped their life paths. It’s one of my favorite events of the year. We’ve had architects, entrepreneurs, engineers, artists – alumni – following all kinds of career and personal paths. The diversity of outcomes is exactly what we’d expect from an educational grounding in the power of choice, personal agency, and the opportunity to learn about one’s passions.
The State of the School presentation provides an opportunity to reflect on the broader purpose of a Stanley education. Our mission guides our program, which allows children to explore both their own identities and potential and also their role in a greater community (a mixed-age classroom, a school). It’s an essential preparation for life, and a balance our society desperately needs. How do I find personal fulfillment and also engage actively in the welfare of others? Of course, at Stanley we believe the two are interrelated. When students confidently pursue what interests and motivates them, the resulting contributions are inevitably good for society.
The arts are integral to educational excellencePosted by Tim Barrier on 4/4/2019
I hope you found the week of spring break relaxing and restorative! Given the flurry of activity that defines the last couple months of school, we’ll all need it. Just before break, we had the opportunity to witness the raw creativity of our students during our annual Arts Festival. A long-standing tradition inspired by our “Director of Creativity” Chris Lewis, the show is a pure example of student-initiated, student-led work. In my office, we had everything from a Beethoven sonata to a puppet show.
And continuing with the arts theme, congratulations to the 8th-grade cast of “The Little Mermaid” for bringing such an engaging and uplifting show to our community a few weeks ago. Directors Laura Gibson, Jill Teas, and Angie Martyn led a months-long process in which students truly owned and were responsible for all aspects of the production- from acting to set construction to sound and lighting to costumes and props. The show highlighted both individual and collective talent within the class of 2019 and most demonstrated the positive results of a collaborative and inclusive effort.
Springtime at Stanley is filled with artistic performance opportunities, such as the above-mentioned events, the 2nd-Grade Show (April 17), 7th-grade rollercoaster demonstrations, the 8th-Grade Cabaret (April 14), and the 5th-Grade Musical (May 14 and 16), as well as many individual class productions. The arts are an integral part of how we define educational excellence, interwoven with traditional academic skills and social-emotional competencies. We know that regular opportunities to think creatively, to express one’s ideas through a variety of mediums, and to develop an appreciation for aesthetic value are critical to the learning process. So often arts programs are devalued or prioritized, officially or unofficially, behind other disciplines seen to be more important. As Ken Robinson describes, “The arts are fundamental to education. We think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually, through sound, kinesthetically, abstractly, and through movement.”
We know that an education that doesn’t feature and value artistic endeavor limits the capacity of all students, and particularly those with strengths in the arts – strengths that children need to develop and the world will need. Often at Stanley, the lines between academic and artistic endeavors are intentionally blurred (K-1-2 thematic unit projects, 3-4-5 social studies presentations, 8th-grade literary journals… the examples are endless). Our goal is to provide arts programming as well as multi-disciplinary learning experiences that allow students to draw on many academic, analytic and creative skills.
Goodbye to Joan Setchfield
At the conclusion of the school year, we will be saying goodbye to our fearless front desk face of the school, Joan Setchfield. After eleven years of service at Stanley, she has announced her well-deserved retirement. We will miss so many things about Joan, most of all the care she demonstrated for all in our community, from our youngest to our oldest. There have been many days over those eleven years when Joan’s singing, dancing, or latest outrageous outfit has put a smile on my face, and done the same for so many. She wrote a beautiful reflection on her time at Stanley, and with her permission I share some of it with you:
“I have learned that imagination and enthusiasm are the spark that ignites so many wonders in our inner child, and hopefully I helped in firing up our student body. Not just dressing in crazy costumes for the holidays and Halloween, but in sharing conversation, applauding student achievements, service to our parents, supporting the faculty and staff… I have learned that the way to a Monday morning parent’s soul is through many pots of coffee or tea. I have mastered the art of keeping coffee flowing through the veins of our parent and staff community. Starbucks, eat your heart out… What else could I have asked for but an adventurous journey in life that taught me so many lessons on how to be a better me. Thank you for the memories. I will treasure them always.”
And thank you, Joan – we will miss you!
All the best,
Finding life paths that have resonancePosted by Tim Barrier on 3/7/2019
Last week I had the opportunity to attend the National Association of Independent Schools’ annual conference. The conference brings together school leaders and teachers from across the association’s 1,800 school members and includes workshops on all sorts of governance, classroom, and school operations topics. The opening keynote speaker this year was Oscar-, Tony- and Emmy-winning actress Viola Davis. She shared her personal life’s story, drawing on the archetypal hero’s journey to put her own experience in context of a greater, human striving to find oneself and rise above one’s circumstance. Her story was powerful and moving, with lessons for all of us, educators and parents alike, about how we can help our children find their own authentic path.
Ms. Davis talked about growing up in poverty in a Rhode Island neighborhood in which hers was the only African-American family. She described relentless racial bullying from schoolmates and frequent domestic violence in her home. She was one of the youngest of six children, and she described a pivotal moment in her life when she was reunited with her oldest sister after some time apart, and her sister asked her a simple question that changed her life: “What are you going to do to get out of this?” Her sister, playing the role of the mentor/guide in the hero’s journey, had planted a seed in her that grew and nurtured the drive to think about who it was that she wanted to be. Ms. Davis described seeing another mentor, Cicely Tyson, on the screen some years later and being transfixed. She found herself determined to become “an actress and an educated black woman who overcame poverty.” She did well in school, attended Julliard, found great success on the stage, and became one of the great actors of our time.
Ms. Davis described a critical moment in her late twenties when she “hit a wall” as she described it. By that point, she was well on the way to success, but she felt she couldn’t shake the negative self-messages that had been cast upon her by others throughout her childhood. She shared her own journey of overcoming these messages to make the point that so many people growing up suffer from the “need to belong, to sell somebody a lie in order to fit in, to become a messed-up avatar of yourself which gets in the way of your joy.”
She also talked about hitting another kind of wall later in her career, a “ceiling called greatness and success.” Our society, she noted, is obsessed with awards and competition. If anyone has experienced success, Viola Davis certainly has, yet she reflected that once she reached the pinnacle of her craft she had to “take the last step, one of significance and legacy.” Her realization has propelled her to dedicate her work to addressing issues of rights for women and people of color.
Her story inspired me to think about our opportunity and responsibility to create an environment in which our children can find what motivates them, what has meaning, and what they care about. Ms. Davis described our society’s “assault on individuality” that keeps perhaps all of us from being the best selves we can. She said, “the sooner you know you are divinely made, the more beautiful your life will be.” I think many of us may intuitively support this notion, and the question is what we’re willing to do about it. When someone asks us about our kids, do we describe what they do and what they have achieved, or do we try to describe who they are and how they are doing? How do we resist the temptation to overvalue the award-competition-achievement mindset? What are we willing to do to affirm the life paths that have resonance with our children as they grow, even if those paths are different from ones we might have imagined?
All the best,
Tenuous hero status restored, drama ensuesPosted by Tim Barrier on 2/14/2019
Many of you are, or will be at some point relatively soon, the parent of a seventh grader. When you are the parent of a seventh grader, your fortunes (as a parent) tend to rise and fall dramatically each day. I was reminded of this truth last week on the occasion of our first snow day in quite a while. The two weeks prior, my stock had been somewhat low, as I apparently had missed a couple of prime opportunities to call a snow day. When I failed in my duties, my seventh grader was left feeling like she’d somehow failed hers, because her friends assumed she had some pull in the decision; they were not spare in expressing their disappointment in my performance and hers. Fortunately, last week provided a chance for me to redeem myself, and my tenuous hero status was restored.
This week, our seventh graders took the stage to present their Drama Showcase, a series of comedic skits directed by drama teacher Laura Gibson. Students became all kinds of characters, from an internet cat to zombies to superheroes, and some of the skits were written by the performers themselves. The demands of playing a role much different from oneself draw on many talents – empathy, listening, creative expression – and also provide a break from the world of being a young adolescent. At a time when so much of one’s energy, by design, is focused on self, having the opportunity to step outside oneself and take on another perspective and persona can be a benefit indeed. Congratulations and thank you to our seventh graders for a most entertaining evening!
100 days and ways to make 100Posted by Tim Barrier on 2/7/2019
It was a busy week for our K-1-2 students! Tuesday morning was K-12 Dance Day; each homeroom had the opportunity to share performances led by director Angie Martyn. The dances were expressive, uplifting and joyful, and I can’t imagine a more direct embodiment of our value of creativity, joy and the celebration of childhood.
This week also brought one of our great K-1-2 traditions, the annual “hundreds day” celebrations. In typical creative fashion, our students displayed individual representations of what one hundred looks like. This year's variety included everything from one hundred melting crayons to one hundred popsicle sticks to one hundred fingers (well, twenty handprints). The imaginative projects integrate math, art and presentation skills, and at the heart lies a key element of our approach to teaching mathematical concepts.
We give students many ways to experience what numbers mean. Instead of simply talking about a number like one hundred, which for K-1-2s is a substantial number indeed, we give them hands-on opportunities to build their understanding of what the number 100 represents. One student chose to create one hundred ways to make one hundred with addition and subtraction – with equations such as: 63 + 37 = 100 and 1,900 - 900 = 100. Once the concept of a hundred is firmly in place, students can expand their personal number sense to larger numbers; in other words, "If one hundred looks like this, what would a thousand look like?" “What about a million?”
Active Care for the Whole PersonPosted by Tim Barrier on 1/31/2019
At Stanley, we often reflect on the essential role that social-emotional development plays in student learning. We respect that learning is at root a social endeavor, and we know that it’s important to build a healthy social-emotional context for academic learning to thrive.
Columnist David Brooks, in a recent NY Times opinion piece, offers his own perspective on the human element of teaching and learning. Emotions, cognitive scientists have shown, play a critical role in learning by helping us determine what’s important and what we care about, and therefore how to make good decisions.
Neuroscience is increasingly interested not so much in where learning happens in the brain but how complex neural pathways in the brain are activated. Full engagement of those pathways relies heavily on a social context. Brooks references a study from the University of Washington that showed that the social brain pervades every learning process. Infants were given Chinese lessons, some in person with a tutor and some through a video screen. Those taking in-person lessons activated the social brain and learned sounds quickly. Those watching the video screen “paid rapt attention, but learned nothing.”
Brooks offers that neuroscience affirms that “a key job of a school is to give students new things to love — an exciting field of study, new friends. It reminds us that what teachers really teach is themselves, their contagious passion for their subjects and students. It reminds us that children learn from people they love, and that love in this context means willing the good of another, and offering active care for the whole person.” He references schools that understand that “social and emotional learning is not an add-on curriculum,” and he points to some that do little or no academic instruction the first week, instead providing time for everybody to get to know one another.
I think of our teachers at Stanley, and I reflect upon how well they understand the meaning of “offering active care for the whole person.” I think of the upcoming Stan Talks, on February 7th, in which we’ll be honoring another teacher, David Marais, with our annual “Spirit of Stanley” award. He’ll join past recipients Betsy Lewis and Lynne Forstot as teachers who have embodied Brooks’ reminder that “children learn from people they love.”
The Goals of True EducationPosted by Tim Barrier on 1/24/2019
At the end of last week and the beginning of this one, we took some time to reflect on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We choose to honor Dr. King in intentional ways, out of respect for the legacy he left and in recognition that his vision for our greater community is one that Stanley BPS shares.
At last Friday’s assembly, Jeremy Michael Vasquez, a visiting artist and activist from the Bay area, joined our student presenters on the stage and shared some of his original poetry as well as reflections on the importance of believing in yourself and in your ability to truly make a difference.
On Monday, perhaps bolstered by the beautiful weather, the Stanley contingent at the MLK Marade was stronger than ever. I'm proud that our school makes the event one of our annual traditions, joining many civic organizations and people of every background in a peaceful display of celebration and hope for what could be in our society.
Both our school celebration and our civic participation support Dr. King's observations about the role of schools: "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education." On that note, take a minute to read Donna Meallet's blog post on the Middle School's new Students of Color Affiliation group to learn more about another way Stanley's support all students and voices in our community.
Please note that on February 12, our Parent Multicultural Affairs Committee, in collaboration with our Parent Association, is holding an evening meeting featuring Dr. Nita Mosby-Tyler. Dr. Mosby-Tyler led a couple of parent workshops last year on the topic of implicit bias, and we are excited to bring her back to Stanley BPS. She is the founder of The Equity Project, an organization that “exists to provide comprehensive tools for businesses, local governments, nonprofits and community organizations to explore equity ineffective and transformative ways.” The meeting on the 12th will re-introduce Dr. Mosby-Tyler to the Stanley community and also set the stage for a more extensive parent workshop she will lead on the evening of March 20.
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