Just About Boys? Girls, Too.

Monday evening I attended an event about boys, body image, identity development, and puberty in the digital age titled: “A Common Sense Conversation with Peggy Orenstein & Dr. Cara Natterson moderated by Steve Goldbloom.” The authors spoke about their new books and provided practical advice regarding navigating these topics with our children – advice that I intend to bring both to The Willows Life Skills Program and to my own parenting.

Sarah Bowman, from Common Sense, summarized well what I found most salient:

The conversations we have with our children are important, and they are, in fact, indelible. What you say counts. At Common Sense, we believe media literacy is a staple of parenting today, and our panelists did an excellent job of describing how to slip these conversations into your family’s daily life. Cara and Peggy urged us to initiate these chats earlier and surface these issues frequently, and to do it with humor. We instinctively teach our kids manners by gently prodding them to say “please” and “thank you” over and over; frank conversations about the body and a consciousness about media literacy likewise must become part of your parenting mindset. This past week provided two oversized examples of topics for conversation: Kobe Bryant’s death (men expressing grief and emotion) and the Super Bowl halftime show (body image).

The best advice of all? Trust your gut and remember to explain why you feel what you feel. This is what is unique to you and what your kids will cherish most.

While this talk and their books focused on boys, much of Orenstein and Natterson’s parenting advice and these conversations can resonate with girls as well.

These strategies may be used by families with both boys and girls.

~ Wendy Amster, Dean of Educational Technology

Poetry Behind The Scenes – 1st through 2nd Grades: A Four-Part Series

1st Grade Poets: Make Word Pictures

In first grade, I invite students to call upon feelings and sense memories to create word pictures. Word pictures with lots of details help our readers see what we saw and feel what we felt.

Creating similes helps first graders tap into memories, organize their thoughts, and differentiate sensory experiences.

Winter is silver like coyotes

It sounds like rushing waterfalls

It tastes like chai tea

It smells like eucalyptus oil

Winter makes me feel like playing in the snow

– 1st grade poet

As usual, first graders warm up to write with movement. Clapping games and other physical activities are designed to encourage whole-brain learning and build confidence.

I work with the classroom teachers to link poetry to their curriculum, and this year students also wrote poems that explored where they come from—not just as a geographical location, but in the sights and sounds and tastes all around them:

I come from rice and Bolognese.

I come from trips to Oklahoma.

I come from a red and white two-story house.

I come from my mom who works hard every day.

(Each line was written by a different 1st Grade Poet.)

2nd Grade Poets: Zoom in on Small Moments

“It’s time for Poetry!” There are excited whispers all around as 2nd graders filter into the classroom after yard time.

I’m greeted with lots of hugs and enthusiasm—I attribute this excitement to the wisdom of Lisa and Terri, who decided that, starting in DK, each Willows student would have Poetry every year.

When it comes time to writing on the first day of class, 2nd graders are primed and ready.

My voice is like a cat walking across a piano.

My imagination is like a soft blanket that just came out of the dryer.

My mind is like people at a meeting, talking, and debating.

My breath is a gargoyle trapped in stone.

Each line was written by a different 2nd grade poet

And soon we get to haiku – the perfect form for this age. As we work on counting syllables, we zoom in on important details that come from observation.

The study of haiku integrates smoothly with 2nd grade curriculum: especially the concept of the watermelon (big idea) and the seed (small moments). Plus, we can tie into their study of the ocean:

Marianna Trench

creepy, round and crescent-shaped

what could be down there?

– 2nd grade poet

Second grade poetry is a blast. It’s always inspiring to hear students’ ideas, and even more gratifying to watch them come up with images, count syllables in the 5-7-5 pattern, and master a form.

Watch for a Poetry Night performance piece based on haiku!

To learn more about what Deb does, feel free to check out her website at: www.debstudebaker.com

You can follow her on Twitter: @mindbodypoetry

Poetry Behind The Scenes – DK through K: A Four-Part Series

People have questions and roses have answers

– 5th grade poet

Poetry at The Willows

Poetry Night arrives every winter at The Willows! It’s an exciting event embraced by the entire school community. Yet long before the poets take the stage in February, poems are popping throughout the school.

My name is Deb; I’m a writer and movement educator who is privileged to teach poetry at The Willows. As I work my way through every grade level in a five-lesson time frame, each student has a chance to imagine, feel, and remember—then paint those pictures in words.

My goal is to make poetry a playful, interactive, relevant experience. Come with me behind the scenes and peek into our creative process. 

DK Poets: Move, Play, Wonder

How to teach poetry in DK? Read to the children, play with them, ask them questions! Questions and games facilitate the flow of words and feelings.  

Here, a crawl tunnel makes expressing creative ideas an engaging experience! First, I ask a question. Then I encourage the children to crawl through the tunnel like an animal. They pop out to share their answers in the voice of that animal!

Crawling is a developmental movement that primes the brain for learning; we’re building learning readiness as we build our poems, a line at a time.

Here, our youngest students are learning to make word pictures by drawing their answers to fill-in-the-blank questions, like sometimes I feel____. 

Kindergarten Poets: Play with Words

Silliness rules in Kindergarten!  I encourage the children to have fun with language, so we first explore poetry through nursery rhymes and books they may already know. 

Then we build on the sounds they’re learning in class, and turn them into silly sentences full of alliteration, like:

Taco’s Tiger taught a pterodactyl to talk too much!

Kindergartners also create individual poems, where I ask them to imagine, remember and add details. As in DK, the children respond to questions after lots of movement and play.

In this example, our “ties that bind” school-wide theme served as inspiration for a poetic form:

When I’m in 3rd grade I will remember

my blue Super Wings plane named “Jerome”

my blue sequined dinosaur shirt

my blue cotton candy

and eating spaghetti at home with my mom and dad.

– Kindergarten poet

It’s a joy to witness the excitement, the honesty and the clarity that these five and six- year-olds bring to their poems. Poetry isn’t some abstract art. We make it concrete as we play with our words.

To learn more about what Deb does, feel free to check out her website at: www.debstudebaker.com

You can follower her on Twitter: @mindbodypoetry

An Expression of Intersession – A Look into this Past Week.

It’s a wrap!

This first week back, the entire school departed from the day-to-day school curriculum and partook in a week-long adventure into Intersession. Intersession is an immersive five-day period, which offers a different approach to project-based, experiential learning, and an opportunity to fully integrate our disciplines in a fresh, illuminating academic experience. During this time, students take a break from regular academics to participate in a variety of classes that tie into the schoolwide theme of “The Ties That Bind Us.” It offers students another path to expand their learning beyond the classroom. While it is just one week out of the year, Intersession is a powerful way to strengthen curiosity, enhance cross grade level relationships with teachers and students, and expand the joyful learning that is central to The Willows’ mission and educational philosophy.

From creating a carnival from scratch to developing street art and street wear (and many things in between), The Willows’ Intersession program features a diverse and exciting line-up of experiential learning opportunities to open minds and hearts to possibilities.

Here are the general skills involved in the Intersession classes:

  • Cooperation and teamwork, planning, problem solving, collaboration, overcoming challenges, physics concepts, cause and effect, trial and error, evaluating and prioritizing, sequencing, interpretation of different possible outcomes, and design thinking.

Take a peek at some of the wonderful projects and learning that went on:

Carnival (DK-K):

Willows City (1-2):

Escape Rooms (3-5):

Create Your Own Sport or Board Game (3-5):

Bridges (3-5):

Become a Storyteller, Write a Radio Play (3-5):

World of Felt: Felted Food Stories (3-5):

Street Art and Street Wear (3-5):

Macrame and Ceramics (3-5):

The T’S That Bind Us (6-8):

Creative Design That Binds (aka Fancy Forts) (6-8):

Catapults: The Tie That Binds Science, Latin, and Math (6-8):

Band Together! (6-8):

Think Biggerer! (6-8):

On Wednesday, January 15 from 6 pm to 7 pm, The Willows will be showcasing many of the creative and technical projects that were created during Intersession at Family Ed Night.

Hope to see you there!

Once an Idea, Now a Reality!

Not only do Willows’ teachers possess the “Can Do” spirit, so does the facilities team.

Over the years, you may have seen some new additions at The Willows like the multi-purpose furniture between Buildings 4 and 6 or the free-standing sand sifter in the sandbox. What you may not know is that these were all made in-house by our talented facilities team.

The Willows’ facilities team consists of Treisha, Rocky, Gonzo, Eladio, Juan G., Juan V., and Daisy who have a combined 50 years at The Willows. They have embraced The Willows spirit, and when something needs to be done, they accomplish it!

Here are a few objects that have been created by the facilities team:

The multi-purpose furniture idea originated when students and staff noticed there weren’t enough outdoor classroom spaces on campus. They researched and found the best solution for The Willows would be a mobile outdoor classroom apparatus. The Middle School students interviewed teachers and students who would be using the space the most and collaborated with a San Francisco architectural firm, Thing One, to construct 2D and 3D models. The blueprint was then given to our facilities team to be constructed as a working product!

These Design Lab tables were made out of necessity–we had a wonderful design lab but no tables. The facilities team built tables to the dimensions that fit perfectly for the space for a fraction of the purchase cost!

It’s amazing to have a hands-on, talented facilities team, but more importantly, it’s beneficial for our students. By modeling the inquiry process and design thinking approach, students are able to see first-hand the ideas they formulated become a reality on campus in front of their eyes. Students then begin to understand that with the right amount of tools and resources, they can bring their own ideas to reality.

This collaboration and “Can Do” spirit is what makes The Willows a special place. As the saying goes, it takes a village, but in our case, it takes a community!

Electronics + Music = Electronic Music

When you think of your music class experience in school, what comes to mind? Many of you might have fond memories of singing or banging on a drum, or maybe you have that memory of playing the recorder that we all learned to love.

Music programs in schools have existed for decades and have been an extremely important foundation of our educational system. But what happens when technology continues to be an integral part of our daily lives? How do we make sure we are preparing our children for the future, specifically in the realm of music?

Simple solution: Electronic Music. Electronic music is the integration of technology with music theory and composition to compose and record music using computers and software like Garage Band or Logic Pro.

Electronic Music started at The Willows way back in 1996 when a parent approached Head of School Lisa Rosenstein to teach a music composition class using a piano keyboard connected to a computer. At that time, technology in music was an extremely new concept. With a forward-thinking mindset, Lisa agreed to this idea. That Willows “can do” spirit sparked what has now become a beautiful, state-of-the art, electronic music lab with 15 Mac computers and piano keyboards, Beats headphones, and a private recording vocal booth.

The first class in 1996 inspired Greg Blum to become an Electronic Music teacher at The Willows. Greg, also an alumni of The Willows, says, “The first time I even wrote a song was in electronic music. It formed a big part of my relationship with music. One thing that’s instrumental about this class is that it’s for everyone.”

At The Willows, Electronic Music starts for students as young as 3rd grade all the way through 8th grade. The curriculum is designed to develop skills in song composition, writing and reading original songs, song structure, and music theory. Each grade comes once a week and spends roughly 50 minutes in the Electronic Music Lab.

Next time you’re on campus, make sure to stop by the Electronic Music lab it will definitely be note-worthy!

Check out a few samples created by past students!

Sample 1

Sample 2

Once a Willows Student, Now a Willows Teacher: From the Perspective of Kendall Gross, Kindergarten Teacher

Contrary to my answer in the ‘99 yearbook, a career as a “ballerina” was never the real goal. In actuality, I have always wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. The Willows has been my happy place since the day I arrived in 1998, and I feel honored and excited to show up to work—every day—in the very classroom where my love of learning began.

I consider myself academically driven, and I largely attribute my time and experiences at The Willows to that descriptor. Never before—and not since—have I been a part of a community where curiosity and exploration are at the forefront of experience every single day. The Willows practices as it preaches; we are allowed to make and learn from our mistakes, we can turn an assignment on its head to suit our needs and style, and we have ample opportunity to form authentic and reciprocal relationships with our co-learners (aka peers, teachers, specialists, etc.). These relationships were the lamp to my metaphorical moth, and the practices I relished as a student still inspire me to grow both as a faculty member and person.

As an alumna working at the school I once attended, I am often asked a lot of questions, which is great, because, thanks to The Willows and their inquiry-based education, I love questions. The question that comes up most frequently is this: How was it coming back to work at the place where you went to school? My short answer is usually: “Surreal!” The long answer has much more flavor…

Many of the faculty that taught me and formed my personhood, are still at The Willows today. So, coming back to the nearly unrecognizable campus in 2016 as their “co-worker” was quite an experience. It took a few months for me to accept that the conversations I had with them were no longer considered part of my year-end written evaluation. It took a few months longer to not feel out of place at faculty meetings–as if I had walked into the wrong room at the wrong time. By the end of my first year, I realized I wasn’t living some strange dream. I actually worked among my mentors at my favorite school doing what brings me great happiness and satisfaction, and I would get do it all over again the following year.

I believe a well-rounded education is the greatest gift a person can receive. The Willows offers that and so much more. It offers a safe space, a place to question and create, a home away from home. So thank you, thank you, to my teachers, who created, packaged, and put the bow on my gift. I hope to empower my own students and guide them toward a love of learning just as you did for me. That is my goal, and that is why I am a teacher at The Willows Community School. Although, I’m sure being a ballerina would have been cool too.

Current teachers that taught (and continue to teach) me:

Kindergarten – Andrea Passarella

First Grade – Jennifer Cunningham

Second Grade – Dakota Smith

Third Grade – Wendy Amster

Fourth Grade – Jill Offer

Fifth Grade – Bobby Hamm, Jane Lewine

Middle School – Stuart Knox, Steve Futterman, Kyle Smith-Laird, Doug Klier, Liz Ganem, Brian Tousey, John Lee, Ann Istrin

Specialists – Marc Weiss, Susannah Funnel, Kristie Toomath, Cathy Leverkus