Alumni Tsunami

sc000157602,207.  That’s the number of Facebook reaches for my blog last week.  It’s more than my last five or six combined.  What’s up with that?  I realize it could have been my catchy title, or the Facebook teaser about big news over spring break.  I’m certain a big part of it was the topic, alumni successes.  I’ve thought about it all week as the reaches and comments continued piling up.   On Monday I was reading a blog about blogging and learned that just because someone is reached with a blog post doesn’t mean they’ve read it.  Nevertheless, with more people receiving the link, I would think that means at least some increase in readership over all.

I don’t know who all my blog reached or why it was reached by so many more than usual.  What I do know, or at least strongly suspect, is that alumni news is important to my readers and the Seed alumni population is alive and well.  And interested.  Which encourages an idea I’ve been mulling around in my head for most of this school year.  Early in the year I met with two Seed parents who have an expertise in marketing and social media.  They have inspired much of the Facebook activity that has occurred on the Seed page and also introduced me to a website I totally love,  Humans of New York (http://www.humansofnewyork.com).  When I first saw it, I thought it would be a great way to feature our alumni Seeds.  I haven’t stopped thinking about it all year.

So when the tsunami of Facebook reaches happened in response to my blog about recent alumni news, I decided it’s time to get going on this idea.  I will need your help, my friends.  And your stories with a photo.  I’m still working out the details, which I’ll send you once I have it all in place.  Basically, I will want to know what you’re doing with your life, what your passions are, what makes you happy and how the Seed has influenced your life.

In addition to the enjoyment of hearing how you’re faring in the world, it’s important to remember that your stories are a significant part of the Seed history.  Furthermore, your stories are also a part of the Seed’s future.  What you are doing with your lives is living proof of what the Seed is all about.  Your passion for living in a way that sustains our planet is an inspiration to current students and families.  The acts of your generation will most certainly bring along those that will follow.  It will be an honor to help share your stories with the rest of the world.

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Hit by a Wave

waves on the shoreI didn’t make it to the ocean over spring break.  Nevertheless, I was hit by a wave.  Not the kind of wave that pounds the shoreline; it was a wave of good news.  It started with an email from  alumni parent Colleen Jennings Roggensack that included part of an announcement sent to her daughter, Kelsey, a Seed grad:  “I am delighted to inform you that you have been selected for a 2015-16 Fulbright U.S. Student Award to Indonesia. The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program of the United States.  You will represent the country as a cultural ambassador while you are overseas, helping to enhance mutual understanding between Americans and the people in Indonesia.”  Colleen went on to say, “With the great educational start Kelsey got at The Awakening Seed, all things are possible.”

I was still processing Kelsey’s news, when I learned that another one of our Seeds, 25-year-old Teagan Wall, just completed a PhD in neuroscience at Caltech.  Interestingly, this week as I was going through some previous students’ writing, I came across one of Teagan’s second grade journal entries:  “Today I became a scientist.  Mikey, Jesse and I were setting traps to try and get the bees out of the garden.  It was a dangerous job but someone’s got to do it.”  Like Kelsey, where Teagan is today has roots back to her days of expressing her curiosity at the Seed.

Within a day or so, one of Teagan’s classmates, Chelsey Wright, announced that she has been accepted to the University of Oregon’s PhD program in Music Theory with a Graduate Teaching Fellowship.   Chelsea’s musical talents were already emerging in this poem she wrote when she was just about to turn eight:

“I am sitting on a rock
Peacefully writing my
thoughts with the wind
blowing in my face in the
fall with two days in the
middle of today and
my birthday thinking what
fun I’ll have on that day.
I love just sitting on a
rock not talking to anybody
writing my thoughts on a
nice fall day in a spot
that’s mine.”

Later that week, I read that Indra Ekmanis, a 1999 Seed grad and now student at the University of Washington, has reached a milestone of PhD candidacy in Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies.  Her ease with multiple languages as a young child continues to serve her well.

The list of alumni stories keeps growing, stories of playwrights, artists, urban farmers, photographers, eagle scouts and young mothers with beautiful babies.  I am overwhelmed…and delighted to know that our Seeds are doing exactly what we’ve prepared them to do—follow their dreams, serve others and make the planet the kind of place where all humans can thrive and realize their highest potential.  I know this is just the beginning of the Seed’s impact on the world.  I look forward with great anticipation to what the next waves will bring forth upon the shoreline.

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Inside a Dinosaur Egg

dinosaur eggsToday is my dad’s 90th birthday.  I’ve been thinking about the full life he’s had and is still having.  On the phone this morning he described his recent project of clearing out several dead trees in the town where he lives.  It involved a ladder.  It’s ladders and trees that keep him young.  On the other end of the age spectrum are our Seed toddlers.  In the early months of their school lives, their days are full of invitations to explore and experience the world around them.   As I walked past the Toddler 1s Monday morning, lively Spanish music filled the room.  Singing and dancing followed.  Later, I caught a quick conversation in the kitchen with Jenny, the Toddler 2s teacher, who was scooping flour and salt into a bin to take back to the classroom.  “We’re making dinosaur eggs today,” she said casually.  I made a mental note to drop by their class later to check out the developing dinosaur eggs.

Ever since our Invention Convention, the toddlers have been on my mind.  During the event, several parents commented how impressed they were that even the toddlers were a part of our STEAM curriculum.  Around the Seed, it’s not “even the toddlers”; the toddlers are an integral part of the whole program.  We uphold the same standards and integrity for our toddler classes as we do for the preschool and elementary groups.    Toddler teachers are dedicated, reflective practitioners who spend considerable time each week planning activities and lessons that will extend their students in all directions.  They utilize the STEAM curriculum and other dimensions of their students’ school experience  to help them step into their highest potential.  Their work sets the foundation upon which the rest of the curriculum resides.  The toddlers’ studies of what hands do, how air moves in and through our lives and how primary colors come together to become a rainbow of possibilities open the door to everything else they will learn as they grow older.  These experiences, and the curiosity they inspire, set the stage for the children to become lifelong learners.

When I returned to the Toddler 2s for an update on the dinosaur eggs, a group of children was called to the art table to make their “eggs.”  Each child sat down to a plastic dinosaur and a small mound of a dirt-sand-flour-salt-and-water mixture.  The idea was to form an “egg” around the dinosaur, which would be baked and later cracked open by the future archeologist.  Another brilliant idea from a creative teacher who understands the importance of adventure in toddler learning.  Like the small plastic dinosaurs eventually emerging from inside their protective coverings, our toddlers’ minds are opening with curiosity to the wonders of the world that awaits them.  Their teachers are simultaneously witnesses and instigators of the process.

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Writers Alive and Well

boywritersWe write, too.  With all the recent buzz over STEAM, it  could be easy to overlook the excellent writing going on here at the Seed.  We have first and second graders writing persuasive letters.  One of the second graders wrote a letter to Bill requesting a zip line at the Seed:  “I think we should have zip lines in our outside area.  If we install zip lines, more kids will want to come to our school.  I believe this because a lot of kids I know like zip lines.  It would give us more to do outside and you wouldn’t have to buy so many supplies.  I know you worry about safety so in order to keep everyone safe, the zip lines can have seats and we will put mats under us.  I know a lot of kids would agree that we should have zip lines.”  After signing her name, she added, “P. S.  Pretty please, at least one?”

This week during a lesson about simile and metaphor, one of the third graders shared his metaphor about night:  “Night is a version of light but instead is all out.  The sky turns dark.  And the whole world goes black.  No one can see because it’s so dark.  People look for their families.  Some are lost, gone in the dark.”  My jaw dropped on this one.  In the last couple weeks I’ve seen signs of significant growth in this group that started out as fledgling poets.   They are among many young poets I’ve taught during my teaching career.

Two of those young poets, one in high school, the other a graduate of Duke University, have resurfaced through messages from their parents.  The high school student, Shelby Weathers, was chosen to represent her school in a weekend regional Poetry Out Loud spoken word competition.  The college graduate, Alyssa Wong, is a writer and editor living in New York.  Her short story, “The Fisher Queen,” was just announced by The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as a nominee for the 2014 Nebula Awards (http://www.sfwa.org/2015/02/2014-nebula-awards-nominees-announced/).  It’s quite a story (FYI, it contains adult themes and language, not for kids).  In the email from her dad, he added, “Isn’t it amazing that the creativity that the Seed inspired a short time ago has come to fruition?”  I couldn’t agree more.

While searching through my Seed poetry archives, I found a poem Alyssa wrote in second grade.  Already, at age seven, she had the touch.  I’m certain she will not be alone among future writers from our school whose Seed roots travel far and deep.  Here is her poem, “The Secret Partners”:

The Secret Partners
Alyssa Wong, age 7

The Wind Lady
you can’t see her
but when the wind blows
you know that she is there
right behind you
blowing your hair
sending soft winds
and stormy winds
to all of the earth

The Lily Lady
is the one
who brings the sweet
fragrant smelling flowers
each spring day
and the one who
brings the seeds
to the Wind Lady
saying these need to be
spread for all will learn
a lesson from them
and that lesson
has remained a secret
to our lives

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In Celebration of Scientists

convention visitorsThere are few moments in my career as the Seed director that I‘ve felt prouder of our staff and students than I did on Wednesday.  We tried something new and the response was overwhelmingly favorable.  For nearly a whole school year, we’ve worked together to make the STEAM curriculum our own.  From the tiniest hands of our Toddler 1s to researched inventors creatively displayed by the 3rd/4th graders, our Invention Convention was a celebration of much more than a science curriculum.

Each teacher thoughtfully created a display of STEAM projects and studies conducted thus far this year.  All of the iPads were put to use with videos and slideshows of other classroom activities.  Our Wednesday morning Lego Club, taught by a volunteer parent, even had a table full of excellent construction projects.  We also had a classroom set up, designated as the “exploratorium,” full of building equipment for budding engineers to demonstrate their skills.  Each teacher was stationed near  her display table as children and parents filed by, taking in the significance of each class’s learning.  There was a sense of respect for and honoring of the work, with families taking their time to soak it all in.

The work itself and how it was documented was impressive, as well as the parents’ appreciation of it.  The children’s pride in telling about what they’d done also filled the room.  What I found myself drawn to as the event unfolded, however, was the teachers themselves.  I noticed how they leaned in to conversations with children, how they squatted down to a child’s level to interact and listen.  I saw enthusiasm for rocks, gardening, games and colors.  Some stood back slightly, thoughtfully answering questions or inserting bits of wisdom.  Others actively engaged with children as they tested catapults, tried out marble runs and excavated specimens from rocks.  It was a beautiful combination of kindness, creativity and deep thoughtfulness.

As the event came to a close and we all commented what a success it was, I reflected on the process that brought us to this day.  In many respects, it seemed easy to put together the Invention Convention.  It was a culmination of work that has been going on all year.  Everyone has been diligent about photographing their work and we’ve been talking about STEAM since the first week of school.  The sense of ease rested on a foundation of critical thinking, creative expression and thoughtful problem solving.  These are all qualities we strive to pass on to our students, qualities that will prepare them significantly for their future lives.  There is power in this kind of authenticity and I’m delighted that so many were able to experience it through our first Invention Convention.

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Fearless Creativity

fearless paintersThe Seed is bursting with creativity these days, fearless creativity.  The 1st/2nd graders have been honing their skills as makers of marble runs and the PreK students are cooking up all kinds of new concoctions in their recently renovated outdoor kitchen.  The Toddler 1s, in their study of hands, have produced watercolor replicas of their own hands that are breathtaking.  Teachers are enthusiastically preparing for next week’s Invention Convention.  The arrival of this quote from Seth Godin couldn’t have been more timely:   “The enemy of creativity…is fear.  We’re all born creative, it takes a little while to become afraid.  A surprising insight: an enemy of fear is creativity. Acting in a creative way generates action, and action persuades the fear to lighten up.”

I’ve said for many years that we work in possibilities at the Seed.  Working this way requires fearlessness, because often there is no well traveled path ahead.  We are constantly observing and listening to children, inviting them to guide us in the direction our work is calling us.  We pay attention to their academic and cognitive needs, developing materials and lessons to teach necessary skills.  We teach them to read and write, to care about doing their best.  Our practice is not just to prepare them to do well on tests; instead, we teach them to love learning.  Someone once said that this kind of teaching is preparing children for the marathon of life, not a series of short sprints.  We are in it for the long run, which includes much more than academics.  Children at the Seed are encouraged to express themselves verbally, physically and creatively.  They learn how to be with each other in ways that promote healthy relationships.  Learning how to make good choices is high on our priority list.  We want them to see how they fit into the big picture of life and that their presence on Planet Earth makes a difference.

A parent sent me an article this week that describes truths about education that keep getting ignored (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/01/20/ten-obvious-truths-about-educating-kids-that-keep-getting-ignored/).  The original article was written by Alfie Kohn, in my opinion one of our greatest contemporary pedagogical thinkers.  Among the ten truths, he mentions these points:

• we want children to develop in many ways, not just academically
• just knowing a lot of facts doesn’t mean you’re smart
• students are more likely to learn what they find interesting
• students are less interested in whatever they’re forced to do and more
enthusiastic when they have some say
• students are more likely to succeed in a place where they feel known and
cared about

Of all his truths, the last one stands out the most.  I know we do this well and it’s how we help children learn to be fearlessly creative.  If you want a glimpse of how it happens, check this out:  http://vimeo.com/119309548

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Gallery under Construction

IMG_3358The Seed has a gallery in the making.  It was an idea born in August before school started.  It’s weathered several transitions and is finally taking shape.  If you look closely, you’ll see some of the shelves backdropped by splattery paintings.  Lined up side by side are handmade “snow globes” with a photo of a child in each one.  Shake them, and the glitter flutters to the bottom.  On the next shelf over are artifacts from “Candy Village,” a pre-holiday project made from Halloween candy leftovers.  The candy projects were made by groups of kids, all of whom drew blueprints prior to constructing their masterpieces.  Photographs of the artists, as well as the constructions themselves, are proudly displayed.

Moving to the next shelf, a collection of small clay sculptures, all painted white, attracts onlookers’ eyes.  Some resemble snowmen and others are more abstract.  A few have thin wooden sticks poking up from them.  One solitary sign that says “anonymous” lets us know that these were most likely the unclaimed remaining works of art nobody took home.  On the back of the leftover sculpture shelf is a collection of photos of children using PVC pipes connected to make indoor hockey sticks.  One child’s construction resembled a push broom.  I expect there will be more such photos of the many items created that fall in the “ephemeral art” category.  Marble runs, block ramps, Lincoln log buildings and railroad tracks will be among the groups photographed and not displayed.  They make up the bulk of constructed works in the multi, projects that are more process than product.   Cardboard bases will soon be available to showcase some of these “process” projects for temporary display.

What I love about the gallery (named KIOS, Kids in After School), and the approach to art the after school staff is taking this year, is that it’s an evolving project.  It’s challenging to meet the needs of children ages 3-10 through one daily project, so many of the projects have multiple stages.  Younger students can keep theirs simple and older ones have the freedom to add complexity to theirs over time.  There is also a strong effort to embed qualities of STEAM lessons into after school art.  In the days ahead a tree house project is on the drawing board, which will be another group project that will require a child-generated plan before diving into the materials.  Having been a tree house kid as a child, I can’t wait to see what they come up with.  I’m guessing you’ll hear about this project again before the year is over.

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Invention Convention

Kinder KarsOne of the best parts of working at the Seed is curriculum planning.  It’s been especially enjoyable this year with the addition of STEAM to our already creative approach to education.  We’ve always had a good handle on the arts, so integrating science, technology, engineering and math in a more intentional way wasn’t all that much of a stretch.  What I love about this year is how the staff has embraced the approach wholeheartedly, beginning with the toddlers all the way through the 3rd/4th graders.  Each class has its own expression, all with equal passion.  There’s so much enthusiasm for this work that we also decided to make it the focus of our summer arts camp, which we’re calling “Gathering STEAM.”

The summer program, from an arts perspective, will offer six weeks of science, technology, engineering and math.  Here are the weekly topics the teachers brainstormed a few weeks ago:
• Shapes, Colors and Patterns
• Potions and Mixtures
• Skyscrapers and Habitats
• Water Ways
• Tinker Thinkers
• Shadows and Light

My favorite aspect of the process is the way the general structure emerges, yet leaving plenty of space and freedom for individual teachers to express their specific interests and/or grade level needs.  We work from a solid foundation of best practices for children, then allow it to come forth organically.  When one teacher shares an idea, others offer encouragement and additional ideas from which to spin off.  As ideas are generated, teachers have strong ownership of the process.  This is the way we’ve worked on the STEAM curriculum, and will continue to in the future.

All year we’ve created hallway displays, written blogs and shared images of this work on the Seed’s Facebook page.  It’s important to us that you see and know what we’re doing.  We want you to witness STEAM in action.  On Wednesday, February 18, from 3:15 to 5 P. M. we’re hosting our first annual Invention Convention.  Each class will have a table display of individual classroom projects.  We’ll have the 3rd/4th grade classroom open as our “exploratorium” where children will have access to materials and equipment to demonstrate their skills as scientists, engineers and mathematicians.  The event will be set up so children ages three and older can be tour guides for their parents.  We invite you to check it out and catch a first-hand glimpse of STEAM at the Seed.  I’m certain you’ll be impressed.

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Tag, You’re It!

tagsOn January 1st, I started a yearlong art course.  Once a week, for 52 weeks, I will receive an online lesson to play around with and practice.  The second week I learned how to make altered tags, which has turned out to be a whole lot of fun.  I keep thinking of different ways to use my previous art and blend it into something new.  I also ask myself, what do the tags have to do with anything related to school?

Wednesday morning our dear friend, Elsie Moore, came to the Seed to tell her stories of growing up in rural Virginia during the Civil Rights Movement.  For an hour we heard recollections of her experiences, both as a young child and as a teenager, how she lived through and came to understand the complexities of racial issues of the times.  Her life required considerable courage.  With the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, her father spoke to her about which child in the family might be the best one to begin integrating the schools.  Elsie, about to begin high school, volunteered to go.  It was a “tag, you’re it” kind of moment.  Changes in the law required follow-up action.  Elsie, with encouragement from her father, tagged herself to be one of the many children who changed the course of American history.

Listening to Elsie speak and gracefully field questions from her young audience (even the ones about how old she is), I felt another moment of being “tagged.”  This time it was all of us at the Seed, both teachers and students.  We were given the gift of her stories, and now it’s our turn to make them life lessons and pass on the wisdom to the next generation.  It  is simultaneously an honor and a daunting task.  Yes, we’ve made progress with human rights, and there’s still so much more to do.

Later in the day, after Elsie left the Seed to return to her ASU job, I read a blog post written by my friend, Rebecca Masterson (http://sincerelybecca.com/2015/01/21/whats-up-time-wanna-race/).  She has a young son with autism.  In her post she wrote about the race with time she and other parents face, helping their children cope with anxiety in healthy ways before they are too big to manage.  She described a scene at her son’s school with a larger student during drop-off who had reached that stage.  She wrote that she waved at the father afterwards, letting him know she understood.  I shared her post and soon heartfelt messages appeared saying they would wave, too, and continue to wave.  My daughter wrote:  “Our family will always wave.  We don’t only wave. We stop to chat, lend a hand, love on your kids…because we love you and all the kids we come in contact with.”  Sounds like another round of “tag, you’re it,” and I feel privileged to be a part of the action.

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Each In Our Own Time

golden leavesAbout five years ago, unbeknownst to me, my granddaughter planted a seed from her apple in our garden.  When it sprouted, I wasn’t sure what it was until I noticed the leaf on an apple I was about to eat.  As it grew bigger, I transplanted it to a safer place.  The first time it lost its leaves, I thought it had died.  We left it in the ground just in case and in the spring buds formed on the thin branches.  Her apple tree continues to thrive in our yard, each spring growing a new crop of leaves.  It has yet to produce an apple, though.

Nevertheless, I don’t mind that it hasn’t grown any apples.  It’s provided other fruits, mostly in the form of non-edible bits of wisdom.  I noticed a few weeks ago that all the leaves on her tree were still a dark green, even though many of the surrounding ones were already losing theirs.  I even commented to Bill that her tree seems to be on its own timeline, and the timeline has changed over the years.  As everything else around it transitioned from autumn to Arizona’s version of winter, Grace’s tree seemed to be living in an almost timeless dimension.   Its greenery looked like it might last forever.

Then, on Sunday morning as I stepped out to check the garden, my eyes received quite a surprise.  The lovely green leaves were miraculously golden.  The apple tree, in its own time, had joined the rest of us in the grand cycle of life.  It made me think how each of us has our own timing as we move through life.  Some parts move slowly and others speed up.  We aren’t always on the same schedule as others around us and if we’re true to ourselves, it’s a process that is uniquely our own.

During this first month of a new calendar year, as a school we are preparing for our summer program and the coming school year.  We have to think ahead as we are also in the present cycle.  It’s a time of year when beginnings and endings have more meaning than usual.  The late Irish poet, John O’Donohue, said this of beginnings:  “Beginnings often frighten us because they seem like lonely voyages into the unknown. Yet, in truth, no beginning is empty or isolated. We seem to think that beginning is setting out from a lonely point along some line of direction into the unknown. This is not the case. Shelter and energy come alive when a beginning is embraced…We are never as alone in our beginnings as it might seem at the time. A beginning is ultimately an invitation to open toward the gifts and growth that are stored up for us.”  What seemed like an ending for Grace’s tree was, in fact, the beginning of a whole new cycle.  This is true for all of us as we go forth into our days, each in our own time.

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