Tag Archives: community

Join Us In Service – All Together Now

Please join us for All Together Now on Sunday, January 26 from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., an annual event where we come together as a school to share food and then engage in acts of service in our community and on our campus.

The day will begin with a family potluck in the Tapscott MPR at 11:30 a.m. After music and community time, we will head out (or stay in) to take action with some of our community and organizational partners from 12:30-2 p.m.

We invite you to sign up and take part in one of the following projects:

The student arts fundraiser hosted by 5th graders raises money that will benefit refugees living in our country currently. This portion of the event will be held during lunch from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. before service projects begin. Students will create art on campus throughout the month and can also bring art pieces from home; they can be dropped off in the Admissions offices. Bring your dollars and your love for a great student-led cause!

Engaging in community service is integral to our school’s mission, and to the work that we do as a community to care for one another and the world around us. We look forward to working with you at All Together Now on January 26.

Nathan’s Notes

Welcome to Nathan’s Notes, your monthly report from middle school! Each month I’ll share some moments from the classroom, curriculum thoughts from me and/or our amazing teachers, some ideas about education that I’m excited about, and more.

One thing that got me excited this month…

Janis Chun’s 5th-grade science class. The students were using ratio tables in conjunction with Google Maps to discover how eating different foods change the carbon footprint. The students collaborated in pairs as they used math, technology, and science concepts to create a poster that highlighted their findings. I loved how the kids were able to have an application of math to deepen their understanding of a real-world issue about the environment. They were able to work on collaboration skills while using technology in a thoughtful way. Most importantly, the kids were engaged and excited about what they were doing in class!

A curricular question I’m pondering is…

How we can continue to build confident math students? The other day I heard one of our teachers say, “I am not a math person.” Immediately after she said it, she recognized that this statement is something that we have been actively working to vanquish from our language at Prospect Sierra. A growth mindset, especially in math education, is a topic we have discussed regularly by sharing our own personal math stories. Many of the stories that exist within our educational community are of struggle, self-doubt, and external factors that took away our math confidence. We understand that these are the kinds of experiences that lead towards the declaration of believing one is a “math person” or not. For the past few years, the math department has been working hard to unpack not just personal stories of discouragement in someone’s math journey, but also discussing how larger movements of math education in our country have contributed to self-doubt in this subject. How do we continue to foster confident math students? How do our own math journeys as adults impact our children’s experience in math?

One moment that made me think, wow what a special community this is…

When I spoke to the students from the “Be the Change” elective about the climate strike. To be honest, I was worried about this day. How do I support student activism while still upholding the integrity of the middle school? In this case, the activism the kids wanted to take directly impacted school because it required them to miss school. This question rattled in my mind. One day a group of 10 mixed-grade students appeared at my office door. They were from the “Be the Change” elective and were hoping to organize a Prospect Sierra group at the climate march in San Francisco. I wasn’t sure exactly what to say, but as we dove into dialogue it became clear to me that these students truly understood the tough situation that I was in as an administrator. They had empathy for me, and they also made clear that this was an event that they felt very passionate about. The way that these students engaged in discussion showed that they had been given a Prospect Sierra education. They spoke with empathy, respect, organization, and passion. We came to an agreement through thoughtful discussion, and we decided how to move forward. What initially felt like a stressful conundrum ended up being an inspiring moment.

Abby’s Corner

Building Community

It is common for parents to periodically ask me how the year is going. Depending on when you ask me, I might say incredible, busy, or exciting! Recently when asked this question, I shared my amazement at the ways that years of thoughtful work were helping us continue to lead by example in the larger educational landscape, doing what we believe to be best for students while also continuing to reflect, refine, and make changes that will ensure all students thrive.

This kind of thoughtful leadership has taken shape in many different ways this year. Our community of teachers, administrators, and board members worked together to envision our new transitional kindergarten program, for example. We’re also taking steps to build summer opportunities on both campuses for our students, families, and the larger El Cerrito community. Every time I walk into our library and colab spaces, I’m struck by the effectiveness of our summer renovations, led not by outside consultants but by a team of Prospect Sierra employees committed to a new vision and space. And as I walked around campus this week, seeing our native plants beautifully labeled thanks to our All Together Now day of service, and hearing from Melody that our school was recently selected to join the Bring Back the Natives Garden Tour this spring, I had to pause and ask, How do we manage to do all this?

I think the answer is community. It is this community we nurture at Prospect Sierra that allows us to walk our talk, a joint effort that involves our passionate teachers, our engaged students, our committed parents, and a shared vision for what it can and should look like to learn together. I want to thank each and every one of you for the numerous ways you help make us who we are, and for sharing your time, talent, and treasure with us. I remain grateful, daily, for the community I am honored to be a part of.

A Peek Into Program

Last week I interviewed a teacher visiting from the East Coast. While giving her a tour around campus, I was struck with pride and a sense of awe in both our teachers and our students. It was impossible not to see how deeply the kids were engaged, how incredibly authentic the learning was, and how passionate the teachers were about what they were working on with students.

Throughout the tour, the visitor shared that she could see and hear the joyfulness in our spaces. We were bombarded by the fourth grade “welcome wagon,” the kids who have the job to welcome visitors who walk in. They shared about their book groups, bounding with enthusiasm and genuine interest in the books they were reading. In music the kids were watching themselves on video for the first time, getting to see how they looked and sounded in the winter performance. Their excitement and pride was evident as they recalled moments they had forgotten about and remarked on other students and how well they did. The art studio was zen-like, as we walked in to see students deep into their ceramic self portraits, and hear Remi talk about how she and Emily helped them move from 2D to 3D portraits, where they are challenged with a different medium and new techniques to support the creation of hair, realistic looking faces, and more. Next we moved into the library, where students greeted us enthusiastically, sharing that Thomas had created a scavenger hunt. Again, this visiting teacher remarked at just how focused students were in every space and that it was so calm. Next stop was the bustle and noise of kindergarten, where kindergarteners and their third grade buddies were finishing up their learning about Dr. Martin Luther King’s principles of non-violence. It was certainly not quiet, yet the joy and engagement was palpable.  

Equally impressive on our tour were the teachers. As we walked into our Spanish classroom, Maria told us about her successful morning Skype talk with Vivian, a past teacher of ours, and her current class of first graders in Mexico. Our students and Vivian’s had been able to not just say hello to one another but had been able to sing together too!. In our colab space, Kathleen shared some of the iterating that had gone on over the past five years of our program as we worked to figure out what this program really needed. She pointed out the outdoor space and the garage door that in nice weather allows us to have an indoor – outdoor classroom. The visitor asked if we’d taken pictures and documented our process, suggesting that other educators should learn about the work we are doing at our school!

Just like the question of how the year is going, sometimes parents ask me about the “most important times in the year” for students in terms of program and learning, trying to anticipate when to schedule less or avoid missing school, for example. While I truly believe that all points in the year are important, the teacher in me would answer that there is a sweet spot that occurs sometime between the return to school in January and the end of April. During these months, students hit a stride and gain a level of confidence that you can almost see. It’s truly exciting! Kids are more willing to take risks they were not emotionally capable of at the start of the year, and come later spring their stamina and focus wane considerably as they anticipate the fun that summer naturally invites.

Last week on my tour, I was able to see this sweet spot in action. I encourage you to take some time to stop and notice the incredible growth your children have made this year. It is not without considerable effort, and it’s definitely worth noticing and letting them know that you see their hard work and inspiring growth!  

Helpful Parent Information and Resources

It is officially hiring season, which is the time of year when schools begin to post position openings, interview candidates, and also welcome finalists onto campus. At Tapscott, we have posted openings for an elementary librarian, a new colab teacher, and our first ever transitional kindergarten teacher. It is always tough to say goodbye to beloved faculty, and the dynamic duo of Diane in our library and Kathleen in our colab will certainly be missed. Fortunately, both are leaving us to pursue new adventures, as Diane is retiring and Kathleen will be entering a PhD program, and we wish them both the best.

We’re also pleased to announce a new position for us, a full-time, year round Extended Program Director to manage both Tapscott and Avis extended programs, in addition to our transitional kindergarten students after school. We think that this new role will help us best serve our families by allowing us to expand our extended program offerings and develop summer camp opportunities at Prospect Sierra. As a result of this strategic change to our extended program,  our veteran director and teacher Kirk Cooper, who has been holding down the after school fort for 20 years, has decided to focus his energies on his own thriving summer camp, Sees the Day. There’s no doubt that Kirk will be missed, and we hope he visits often!

At Prospect Sierra we are in the fortunate position of often having too many great candidates and too few positions! We do national searches for our positions, using list serves that communicate widely with all independent schools in the NAIS and CAIS networks. Additionally, we have several places we post that draw in a diverse and talented pool of candidates not necessarily linked to independent schools. It is not unusual for us to fly East Coast candidates out to teach on campus or to conduct Skype interviews with international candidates who have heard about Prospect Sierra. One of our highest priorities is to attract and retain the best teachers who share the PS mission and vision. While our process is one that draws national and international candidates, it is also important to note that we appreciate word of mouth through our families, as you know us best and therefore may know teachers who would love to be a part of our community. Some of our most long-term and well-loved faculty have made their way to us through Prospect Sierra parents, so please do not be shy about sending interested candidates our way! Many thanks for all of the ways you promote Prospect Sierra. Please keep an eye on our website, and send interesting candidates our way as we begin to fill positions for next year! 

Worth Reading

I just finished Becoming, by Michelle Obama. It is an interesting peek into her incredible journey, and I loved it from beginning to end. I highly recommend it!

I hope that you all have a great February break. We’ll see you back on campus on the 25th!



Philanthropy Is an Act of Love

When we think about philanthropy at Prospect Sierra, we look to the literal, original Greek translation of the word philanthropy which is the “love of humanity.” We believe that we are all philanthropists, from the youngest to the oldest members of our community. And as we observed Dr. King’s birthday and approach the National Day of Service that has been established to carry on his legacy, we invite you to consider this tradition of philanthropy and how you can support Prospect Sierra and serve the organizations that are closest to our heart and yours.  

One way to think about philanthropy is to notice how you engage with the “three Ts of giving:” time, talent, and treasure. We know that many of you give your time to Prospect Sierra on a regular basis, whether it’s handing out pizza, driving on field trips, or running our all school Field Day. These acts of time are essential to operating our robust programs and creating joy on campus. We also know that so many of you harbor special talents and share them with our school community whether it’s helping us design and build Panther Picnic games, filming an event so that all parents can see their child in action, or lending your career expertise to a school committee. Lastly, a great number of you have made generous donations of treasure to our Annual Fund, a critical source of income that we rely on to help fund things like teacher salaries, professional development, classroom supplies and trips, and flexible tuition. Your gifts directly support our teachers and our children, and ensure academic excellence that is only possible when we bring diverse voices and experiences together.

In addition to participating in the National Day of Service in honor of Dr. King, later this month we will have a wonderful opportunity to come together and engage with time, talents, and treasure at our annual day of service, All Together Now. All families are invited to take part in one of many projects that support our community partnerships and our campus too, as well as participate in a student-led fundraiser. Our community partners include Alameda Point Collaborative, Canyon Trail Park, the Center for Early Intervention on Deafness (CEID), Harbor House, Refugee Transitions, and the East Bay SPCA. Click here to sign up for a specific project.

We often take time to reflect on the big picture work we do here, to build a better world and to help our children do the same. Philanthropy is a natural part of this work and we’ll reach out periodically to provide opportunities for all of us to deepen our love of humanity through philanthropy. Whether it is inviting you to support our fundraising efforts by investing in the Annual Fund, or encouraging participation in Black History Month around our theme of celebrating diverse Black people in our community and beyond, or sharing the inspiring stories of our student philanthropists, we hope you’ll join us in this work. A heartfelt thank you for all of the ways that you give back!

Abby’s Corner – Community, 21st Century Skills, and Parent Resources

Building Community
Well, it only took three years but finally Team Tapscott scored a win at the annual Panther Picnic Tapscott vs. Avis race! It certainly helped that I had the support of some of the Tapscott team, as Rachel and Luis helped bring it home for us! It was once again a super fun time, even for our fearless lead racer Rachel who went head first into the ramp, got up within seconds, and was back on her tricycle in no time. As I told the students, it was a perfect example of what we tell students all the time, which is that we all make mistakes and we have to learn to get up, brush ourselves off, and keep going!

As always, Heather and I were looking ridiculous, and I love that our community embraces this. For me, it speaks to our mission and how authenticity is so important in building community. We have to be real, and this includes sharing in moments of laughter together! Thanks for all of the encouragement. Panther Picnic is always such an incredible event. Thank you to everyone who helped make this year’s event a success.

A Peek into Program
Our 21st Century Learning Framework continues to guide our program and the learning experiences students have daily. Our goal to teach the skills students need to build a better world begins with having empathy, and this is developmentally both a natural thing for young children to feel and yet also quite challenging to practice in real time! Having empathy requires moving beyond your own perspective and making room for other opinions, suggestions, or ways of doing something. This is not easy work for adults, let alone elementary aged students, and yet we try to help them practice so that they gain comfort and familiarity when they realize they can incorporate another’s ideas with their own and land on an idea or end result that is even stronger than what they might produce working on their own.

At Tapscott, we work on building empathy by giving students daily experiences working with others – in partners and in small groups. These learning experiences provide opportunities to build 21st century skills such as communication, collaboration, innovation/creation, and self-knowledge. Below are some examples of our students hard at work this fall. Their joy, engagement, and focus is truly impressive and inspiring to me!

Third graders show their excitement as they work through a project together in science class.

Fourth graders are incredibly focused as they record ideas during group work in class.

First graders doing partner investigative work in our garden.

Helpful Parent Resources
I’ve appreciated the honest dialogue I’ve had with many parents as hateful events have unfolded recently in our country. It is concerning, upsetting, and hard to know what to say to your young child in these moments. Ultimately, we want our kids to be caring, empathetic, accepting humans who love rather than hate. As a school, we want our community to embrace difference as a positive. I wanted to pass along a great resource provided by our new Tapscott counselor, Sophia Genone. We have always shared the messages with students and families that all are welcome here, and that everyone is encouraged to be who they are every day. My hope is that we continue to work at home and school to reinforce these messages. Below is Sophia’s resource, and I appreciate the way it breaks up tips by developmental stage. Teaching Tolerance is one of my go-to resources as both a parent and an educator.

Beyond the Golden Rule: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing and Responding to Prejudice

Checking In at School Events
In order to build community and make sure that everyone on campus is connected to a student, we’re going to begin having parents, guardians, family members, and friends sign in and put on a name tag when visiting campus for a school or class event, such as a grade level play, Halloween, or PSPA hosted coffee. Please set aside some extra time when you arrive on campus to sign in and put on a name tag. Thank you!

Worth Reading
My daughter read Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson in fourth grade and I just finished reading it this year. For students and adults who want to understand just how easy it is to become homeless as well as the very real challenges many in the Bay Area have, this is a great read. It is one of the better kid’s books I’ve read that does a nice job of building empathy for those who are without a permanent home. It also reminds us all that things may not be what they appear, and that sometimes we have no idea what a friend might be going through personally. I loved this book, and I donated it to our library so check it out sometime!

Abby’s Corner – Winter Performance, Technology, and More

Building Community

As 2017 comes to a close, teachers and students are heavily immersed in our preparation for our Winter Performance, Anansi the Spider. During the two weeks prior to our performance, instead of adhering to our typical class schedule, we employ a project based learning focus and have created 90 minute blocks for students to dive deeply into different aspects of the story. Through this new understanding, they’ll recreate the story using song, dance, and art. Our teachers collaborate to bring this together in the same way our students collaborate to create the final product.

A few years back, our faculty discussed the merits of having a winter performance since some schools don’t do this, and many schools do a spring concert or some other event later in the year instead. Our team felt strongly that our winter break is the longest break during the school year, and therefore an important time to bring our community together to celebrate the kind of learning we value. As a school dedicated to deep, meaningful understanding, our hope is that our winter performance is a chance for you, as parents, to see how the power of a simple story can bring community together while deepening learning and developing skills for students. Our commitment to illustrating the importance of giving students windows to see out into the world beyond them and mirrors to reflect back who they are is something we always strive for. My hope is that you have a chance to come to one of the two winter performances this year!

A Peek into Program

Using Technology

One question often asked when prospective parents tour Prospect Sierra is what our approach to technology use is at our elementary campus. Like many other areas of curriculum, I often share that our choices about what technology we use and when is deliberate and reflective. For example, at times we use technology in order to integrate 21st century skill development into what kids are learning at school. Integration of STEM into project work with tech tools can promote creativity, encourage mistake making, help develop a growth mindset, and often require collaboration in real time.

Robotics programming through Dot and Dash, for example, allows our students to work with other students in colab to map routes and then program Dash to actually do something. I’ve watched our second graders this year, and often this work requires them to fail several times, collaborate and share new ideas, and then finally get the robot to do what they want. This type of activity instills in students an understanding that learning requires failing and making mistakes in order to get to a final goal. It also helps them practice using their social emotional tools like the Patience Tool and the Listening Tool, and may require them to regulate their emotions when the first attempt doesn’t work! Tech tools and activities that bring together 21st century skill development with social and emotional skill development are the types of technology tools we find particularly useful as they allow our teachers to demonstrate in a hands-on way why your Patience tool, for example, is a tool that can help you in moments when you are trying to do or make or build something. In learning too, we want to demonstrate that all of these skills come together to help a person do what they set out to do.

Screen Time

We limit how often students are on screens as passive viewers rather than active creators when engaging with technology. For example, a teacher might show a short video clip using Apple TV in science to demonstrate what happens in the brain when new pathways are being created and areas of the brain actually light up on MRIs. This can make a piece of abstract learning extremely concrete, which is necessary for young learners who often need a visual aid or to do something hands-on in order to understand what is being explained. Students could then apply this to an experiment or data collection of their own. The video was a helpful tool to give them enough understanding to connect their next piece of learning to a larger learning objective. In this way, technology can be quite powerful and a good use of class time. Most of the time, we want our students actively engaging in learning, and sometimes a short video clip can illustrate something that a book can’t do as well. Other times, the tech tool itself provides a hands-on way for them to do the learning.

It’s worth noting that most of our class time is spent free of technology, as there is still powerful learning to be had through books, paper, pencils, dry erase boards, turn and talks with partners, and group conversations where ideas are shared and often recorded. Shared reading and writing experiences continue to be the norm at Tapscott, with students engaging with mathematical thinking, mentor author texts, or independent reading literature more often than not.

As a school, we want to support you as you consider technology tool choices at home. For many students, much technology use tends to happen outside of school. To that end, our tech team will offer a parent training in February about general technology use, what kids are interested in doing, and ways parents can best monitor this aspect of development. In the meantime, here are some suggestions we think will help guide you over the next few weeks and especially over the winter break.

  • Ideally, devices live in public spaces within the home (not bedrooms).
  • There is open discussion between parents and children about what each wants and needs, so that agreements and expectations can be made in advance.
  • Your digital footprint must be discussed, as elementary students do not always understand that anything they say or do online lives forever and is connected to them. This must be discussed repeatedly as it is still a developmentally tough concept to grasp for most third and fourth graders. (This is the age at which we are noticing many students now engaged in apps that allow them to communicate within a game, for example, text friends, and other online activity that requires more sophisticated communication skills and awareness than most elementary students have.)
  • All forms of communication with others via text, chat, email, etc., should be closely monitored by an adult or avoided completely at this age. This means that if they aren’t comfortable with you reading or seeing what they are sending, it probably isn’t a good idea to send.
  • Parents should have passwords and access to all devices and accounts so that you can regularly monitor what is going on. (There are also new tools to help parents monitor online activity, and we’ll review some of these at our February parent presentation.)
  • When something comes up that feels like it could be going down a wrong path, it is helpful to reach out to parents of students involved to be sure they know as well. Parents need to work in collaboration so that your children know you are all talking together.

If your schedule allows, please join us on Friday, February 9 from 8:30-9:30 a.m. for a parent presentation at the February PSPA meeting: Prospect Sierra’s Best Practices on Technology and Social Media Use. Mark Basnage, Kathleen Arada, and Sandi Tanaka will present valuable information and suggested guidelines to support you and your children so that they can venture into technology use in a way that is healthy and safe.

Helpful Parent Resources

If you want to research more in the area of developmentally appropriate technology use, Common Sense Media is a great tool for parents and teachers. We use this resource often and feel that it’s a reliable source in terms of identifying appropriate ages for things such as online games, movies, and much more. They have reviews of current books and movies with age suggestions that are not by reading level but rather by content and include information on language, violence, etc. They have a parent concerns tab that has everything from suggestions by age to articles about very specific questions you might have around technology use.

Here are a few articles and resources that I recently found very helpful:

  • This article about a few simple steps to take as a family to consider ways to set up a healthy family media diet, similar to a balanced food diet!
  • Another article with recommendations such as no screens before bedtime and ideas for  co-viewing and co-playing as a way to monitor the creative screen stuff that is available!
  • A guide on Youtube given some of the news that came out about Youtube kids
  • Family Time with Apps – great questions to ask when evaluating an app to download, the three C’s for apps
  • Parent Minecraft guides
  • Parent guides on some popular apps

Worth Reading

Encourage your children to be producers, not just consumers, of technology! I love this message as it really looks at technology as a tool to develop 21st century skills that link technology to creativity and innovation. This is certainly our approach at Prospect Sierra, as we want students to see technology as one of many tools they can use to do something, not just watch something. This is worth a quick read!

And if the upcoming winter break affords you and your family time to travel, consider new devices for your home, or co-view some cool apps, please check out some of the articles below that can guide you in these endeavors. I cannot stress enough the importance of educating yourselves before you allow your kids online. In the same way you might review a product for its age appropriateness and alignment with your values (think movies, books, toys), the same degree of evaluation should occur for every site, app, and activity your child wants to engage in online.

  • Apps for family travel
  • What to know before buying Echo or Google Home
  • New healthy media habits
  • This NY Times article mentions apps to be aware of. While focused on slightly older students, and teenagers, it is worth a read as it highlights what is going on for older students and the complexity of social media use for children growing up today. Starting early with plenty of conversation can be one way to really increase their understanding before they are engaging in social media, owning cell phones (my advice – wait!), and playing games that allow for communication with others online.

Thanks for reading everyone. Wishing you a wonderful winter break!

A Quiet Revolution

Last month we gave everyone on staff a chance to participate in a unique professional development experience–to learn how to “unlock the power of quiet.” Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which the entire Prospect Sierra faculty and staff read together in 2012, is an eye-opening study of how much our work and school worlds are geared towards extroverts. By understanding introverts, all of us can do a much better job of providing spaces, meetings, and programs that are more inclusive of introverts and allow our entire community to benefit more from the creativity and power that introverts possess.

Now, I’m an extrovert. This means I gain energy when I’m with people and I am not worn out by loud spaces and groups. Introverts are the opposite. They gain energy by being alone, and if they’re exposed to many people or stimuli for a period of time, their energy is sucked out of them and they need to recharge. A misconception is that introverts have bad social skills or can’t speak in public. This is not true. There are incredibly effective and successful performers and leaders who are introverts. They simply have a greater need than extroverts to recharge through quiet or alone time after an experience where they have had to be in groups or highly stimulating environments.

After reading Quiet all those years ago, I wanted to ensure that we have spaces for all students to find a little quiet in their day. Each classroom at Tapscott has spaces for reading quietly, and at Avis we reserve one room in our library for quiet reading, as well as a wild space on our upper hillside. Teachers use mindfulness or a few moments of silence in their classes either after recess or whenever the need arises. Julie, our Avis art teacher, gives students opportunities to be in their own zone when they are creating art by listening to music. If we don’t support introverts, who are known for their ability to be highly creative and good listeners, we miss out on so much that introverts can offer.

Yet, we have work to do. In the staff workshop last month, led by Heidi Kasevich, who is the Education Director of Cain’s organization Quiet Revolution, we delved into the typical environments in schools and workplaces that expect people to be more outgoing or outspoken. All of us could relate to the idea that teachers tend to equate student engagement with speaking more in class. Some of us who have taught since “back in the day,” could admit to having made classroom participation part of the overall grade sometime in our career. We also problem-solved around everyday scenarios such as recess and group work. Many felt safe and vulnerable enough to share how it feels to be an introvert in an extroverted world, and how truly exhausting a day at school can be.

And then there was the quiet that pervaded the space and time. Having more or less “done my homework” on Susan Cain’s ideas, I expected to appreciate spending time problem-solving with colleagues, but not necessarily learning new information. What I experienced was much more profound. Because the workshop was led by Kasevich, an introvert, and was attended by almost entirely introverts, the program was different than any other professional development I’ve ever had. It was very quiet–almost uncomfortably so for me, until I recognized how I was benefiting from it. Yet my introverted colleagues were thriving in that setting: feeling productive, comfortable about sharing out, and working in groups. I realized how much we were doing that was not “unlocking” the power of introverts in our staff. What if every meeting were that quiet and deliberate? What if we allowed more room for silence before someone else spoke? What if we waited longer for responses, instead of just calling on the first person we see? What if we gave people time to do “quiet think” on their own before asking for participation? These are just some of the ideas that we realized could move us farther along in making our environment more inclusive of introverts, and thereby unlocking their many hidden talents.

I’m happy to share reflections on the professional development that we will continue to do this year as a school in the Quiet Network. Please reach out if you or your children are introverts and tell us how we can be a more inclusive environment.

Sharing Stories, Building Community

We started the school year with such a burst of joy–from greeting new families and welcoming old friends, to celebrating our community at Panther Picnic. As always, being at Prospect Sierra gives me a tremendous amount of happiness and sense of purpose. This year I made it a goal to spend at least a few hours in every classroom or grade level in the first six weeks of school so that I could get to know the students better, observe our teachers in action, and more selfishly, to participate in all of the rich curriculum and activities that Prospect Sierra students are engaged in every day.

The classroom visits were, in a word, awesome. Besides doing challenging academic work in every subject, from geometry veiled as art in kindergarten, to researching and debating constitutional amendments in 8th grade, I had a chance to play tag, paint, engage in literary discussions, learn a song and dance, do a science experiment, practice improv games, and sit on the rug for quiet story time. Every day that I devoted to classroom visits was enlightening, inspiring, and tons of fun! I witnessed how thoughtful our teachers are in designing their programs, not only for their own students, but also across disciplines and grade levels. I was impressed by how our students embody our school’s values of empathy and inclusion through their classroom collaborations and outdoor play. To experience Prospect Sierra through the eyes of your students provided me with countless moments of appreciation for our school and our community.

In stark contrast to the vibrancy of each school day at Prospect Sierra, the world around us has been through a devastating time. In the last few weeks I have felt overwhelmed by the devastation, violence, and natural disasters that have hit our country and very close to home. We have wanted to do our part to engage students in conversations about the hurricanes, Las Vegas, and fires, while also protecting young students from developmentally inappropriate information and making sure that they feel safe and hopeful. This is not always an easy task. Below are resources that you may find helpful as your children continue to process difficult news. Please remember that feeling sad builds empathy, and empathy leads to action. It is okay for children to feel sad, as long as you remind them that they are safe. Being industrious and taking action can also build students’ agency and hope. 

Finally, one way I process overwhelming emotions is to write. In 2005 I moved to New Orleans, just weeks before Hurricane Katrina. I evacuated to Houston temporarily and three weeks after that had to evacuate again to Dallas because of Hurricane Rita. To say that I experienced loss, confusion, and instability is an understatement. Surprisingly however, as I wrote, I gained a sense of perspective that was profound and continues to support me through difficult times. You are welcome to read the essay that I wrote below, which was originally published in The Houston Chronicle and is now being used in a school writing curriculum and textbook. I believe that stories bring us together as a community, and we are all in need of community in times like these. I hope you will find some connection to my story below, especially if you have experienced loss or instability recently. My heart goes out to all who have been affected by recent disasters and tragedies. If you have been through a trying time, I hope you will feel comfortable sharing stories and being cared for by our community.

Published as “Vietnam Revisited: “I Was a Refugee Long Before Katrina” in The Houston Chronicle, October 16, 2005

Recently, I’ve found myself struggling to describe where I come from. I have lived in Houston for just over a month, since the day my husband and I left New Orleans with our son and dog, two days before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.

As New Orleans was destroyed before our eyes, I wept for all those who lost their homes and their lives. As sympathetic friends and family called me, begging to help, however, I found it difficult to feel too sorry for myself. Losing my home is not the most momentous thing to ever happen to me. I don’t consider myself a victim of Katrina. I lost my home long before the winds and high waters swept over New Orleans.

I am a refugee from Vietnam, not New Orleans. Thirty years ago, my mother left Vietnam with her six children, carrying little else but a valise packed with sepia-toned photographs and a heart full of courage and faith. My father was in prison, and my mother had to make the decision to leave without him in order to save her children from re-education camps or death. She was headed for America, where she didn’t speak the language, didn’t know anything about the culture, and knew no one.

In 1975, when we came to the States, we were refugees. We huddled together at Camp Pendleton in California, until we were sent to Alexandria, Virginia, where a Roman Catholic church had offered us sponsorship.

Shortly after we arrived in America, we learned of my father’s miraculous escape from Vietnam, just hours before the fall of Saigon. With incredible fortune guiding him, my father made the perilous journey from the South China Sea, and eventually to a camp in Pennsylvania, where a U.S. soldier gave him the bus fare to meet his family.

We were very fortunate. Yet, we started with nothing. The church found us housing, but my parents did not have jobs; we had no clothing and no toys. We learned English from scratch, and tried to create a home for ourselves in our new country. We folded paper to make toys and taught ourselves to read. We wore whatever the church parishioners donated to us and had no idea what was fashionable, which in a way gave us some freedom. We were different, but we didn’t try too hard to fit in. And most importantly, we didn’t try to recreate our old lives, the lives we had known in Vietnam.

After their narrow escapes from Vietnam, my parents managed to confront the most daunting task of all—to raise their children in a foreign land.  My parents held full-time jobs, worked overtime and modeled for all of us that perseverance borne out of extreme hardship.  What amazes me most about my parents is that they accepted right away that their stay in America was not temporary. They would never return home.

I, on the other hand, could not help but find my way back to the place where I was born, some 25 years after I had left Saigon. When I arrived, however, I found myself very much a foreigner.  I dressed, walked, and talked differently.

Some locals spoke to me doubtfully in Vietnamese, but I could see on their faces that they didn’t expect me to understand them. I sought out my parents’ former home in Saigon, and snapped some pictures. Later, I found out that I had never actually lived there.  In my search for home, I only found myself to be a stranger.

When I hear from others affected by Hurricane Katrina that they are mourning the loss of their childhood home, or the home that belonged to their family for generations, I feel great sympathy for them. In a strange way, I also feel envious that they have such a clear image of what was their home. After all of these evacuations and refugee experiences, the only thing I’m sure of is that I can’t call any place home. My home no longer exists as a picture in my mind, or as a warm memory embedded in my soul. I don’t have a home.

Yet, I didn’t lose my home to Katrina.  In fact, I have lost nothing. I have only gained. I have gained perspective. I have gained a deep sense of gratitude for all those who have reached out to me and my family 30 years ago and today. I have gained a powerful resiliency and, most importantly, an appreciation for the grace that I have experienced in my life.

My one-year-old son talks a lot, but up until last week, had never completed a coherent full sentence. All of a sudden, a few days ago, he said, “I love you.”

I don’t know how my journey has led me to this place—America, Houston, in a grocery store parking lot with my son and hearing his first full sentence. But I do know that feeling the comfort of home is not what’s most important.

I suppose I will always be searching for my home, but I am also certain that I will never find it. And I hope I never do. The journey, as difficult and tiring as it can be, is worth it.

“How Teachers And Schools Can Help When Bad Stuff Happens,” Anya Kamenetz, KQED Mindshift
“Explaining the News to Our Kids,” Common Sense Media

Abby’s Corner: How We Do Community

Building Community

We are officially entering the second month of school! The first weeks of school for teachers are always about building the classroom community, as this is an essential building block for the learning students will engage in all year long.

Recently I saw Vivian, our Kindergarten Assistant Teacher, looking at one of her class books (she’s in year two of the BATTI program) in the faculty room, Tribes: A New Way of Learning and Being Together by Jeanne Gibbs. The book isn’t new; in fact it’s quite old as Tribes has been around since the 70s. My parents were Tribes trainers and eventually started their own school based on the Tribes group norms. So I had to smile when I saw that this was a book still being used in teacher ed programs, as I know it well and practically lived it at my dining room table with my four siblings! Seeing that book was a good reminder for me that while there is always new research that must be incorporated into the process of teaching and learning, there are also those things which are not new at all but so very important when it comes to building the foundation of a school community. Things like creating safety, building a trusting and inclusive environment, and sharing ideas in such a way that individuals feel they have influence within the group are critical. These things come about in all kinds of ways at Tapscott – partner projects, group shares, class meetings, buddies, presentations to the school, school families, morning meeting sharing, and more!

I thought you’d all appreciate some peeks around campus as kids engage in building community together. It is a beautiful, joyful thing to see!

This year’s school-wide theme is community – something I can say with certainty that we have as a school, and something that we do not take for granted. Community must be nurtured, supported, and developed every year. This is true not just for the kids in their individual classrooms, but for the faculty and the parents as well. For those of you who made it out to Panther Picnic, you know what I mean! It isn’t just about attending, but also working together, that develops community. In these moments, you get to know others more deeply, and more authentically. Whether you were flipping burgers, teeing up music for performances together, helping others with incredible artistic creations, or helping kids build cars for Nerdy Derby track racing, you were most likely getting to know the community more deeply. I hope that your day was filled with moments where you engaged in something joyful and also got to know someone you didn’t previously know. Many thanks to the team parent effort it takes to put on Panther Picnic – it is a true display of our strong and joyful school community!

A Peek into Program

Sometimes being a school administrator means remembering that while I have hundreds of conversations about curriculum, project ideas, and new lessons with teachers, and therefore have a robust understanding what what we do and why we do it, parents understandably only know what we tell them in the short amounts of time at Back to School night, Open House, and through our written communications.

With new programs, this is particularly important to remember, and I was reminded of this as I read feedback this summer from last year’s parent survey. I want to thank everyone who participated, as this feedback was a good reminder for me that especially with newer programs at Tapscott such as colab and Spanish, parents need to hear a lot about these programs so that they really understand both purpose and philosophy well. This year I will highlight these relatively new programs, sharing about our approach to language acquisition and integration of STEM in ways that most likely aren’t the way you and I learned! Both of these programs are solidly based in research about how kids learn and what is important for 21st century skill development.

Below are just a few “peeks” into our Spanish classroom in room 8. One thing I’d like to highlight is that our Spanish program most likely looks different from how you learned a second language. This is because we use a program that is guided by the idea that kids acquire language over time and through a variety of interactions with the most commonly used vocabulary structures. This means that in Spanish class our students interact with vocabulary in a variety of ways – they hear it, sing in, hear it again in story, write it, and even read it. The goal of our K-4 Spanish program is not to create fluid Spanish speakers by the end of fourth grade, as this would be an unrealistic goal given the fact that we have two touch points (lessons) a week in Spanish! It just isn’t enough time. However, what we do want is for students to have real comfort and familiarity with the most commonly used and needed vocabulary structures in the Spanish language.

Our current third graders are the first group that has moved entirely through our program with Spanish, and we are keeping a close eye on how they will do as they transition over to Avis, where some of the grammar and mechanics, as well as more speaking, is expected of them. So far, the feedback from the Avis Spanish teachers has been impressive in that each year our students can do more speaking and certainly understand quite a bit more in the target language than they did the year prior. This is good news for us, as it means our approach is really having an impact. It also means that as parents there is a degree of patience needed as you hear your child say they can’t really say anything in Spanish – it is the same patience you needed as your one or two year old acquired language. For some kids, they might listen for long periods of time and then all of a sudden burst out entire sentences. Other students might practice single vocabulary words right away and then utter phrases and finally build to full sentences. It is a process of acquiring language through multiple modalities that we are working on. I have been so impressed with the amount of reading and writing in Spanish our fourth graders are capable of, and I’ll try over the course of the year to share tidbits of this learning with you as well!

If your child is interested in revisiting some of the songs and stories from class, you can click here (username and password is tparentspanish – prospect2017).

And here’s a short video from Spanish class as well!

Helpful Parent Reminders

Parents often ask how they can support their child’s learning at home. There are lots of ways, really, from creating a family charter to talking about how you want to feel as a family to taking time to read books together! Another important but often overlooked moment is dinner time. Families sitting down to eat is a wonderful way to connect authentically with one another. Often, dinner time can be a moment to really listen to what might be on your child’s mind. Recently, my daughter and I went in search of new ideas for family dinner conversation starters. We do “Roses and Thorns” regularly as a way to share about our day, and we wanted to change it up a bit and do something different. We found this resource, the Family Dinner Project. It includes Roses and Thorns, as well as things like “Would you rather…” and other fun ways to make dinner time an opportunity to share with one another and practice both listening and contributing to a group conversation. These skills are worked on daily at school, and the dinner table is just another moment in the day when these skills can be practiced in a way that also builds a sense of inclusion for children and adults alike. Check it out if you have time!


Worth Reading

Our students are readers, and they love to share their reading with friends, buddies, and teachers. In the spirit of sharing, I have two book recommendations. First, my book club read the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It is very appropriate for upper elementary readers through adults. I loved it and highly recommend it! I also recently read the book Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It is beautifully written and I can honestly say one of the more powerful books I’ve read in a long time.

I hope you have a great October, full of reading, community, deepened learning, and interesting dinner conversations!

Our Community: The Raja Family

When you hear the words Panther Picnic there are a few things that instantly come to mind: Paws, talent show, sno-cones, burgers, and CAFE RAJ! This is the Raja family’s last year at Prospect Sierra, and given this year’s school-wide theme of community, we thought it only appropriate to do a Community Profile of the Raja family as we celebrate one last year with them at Panther Picnic. For those of you who enjoyed Panther Picnic this past Sunday, you now know how delicious the food was, thanks to the Raja family and their restaurant, Cafe Raj. We thank them for being such a cornerstone of the Panther Picnic, and of our community at large, for so many years. It goes without saying, we will miss you!

How many years has your family been at or a part of Prospect Sierra?
Our family has been at Prospect Sierra since 2007 when our oldest daughter, Bella, started kindergarten.

How many years have you participated in Panther Picnic? How did you first get involved?
We have been attending the Panther Picnic from our first year at the school and have always enjoyed this wonderful day of fun and community building. We were first asked to provide food in 2010 and have been happy to contribute to this beloved event in a meaningful way.

What are some special memories of Panther Picnic for you over the years?
We have so many great memories of the picnic, including our kindergarten daughter dancing in the talent show, both our daughters helping out with games and activities, and lots of good times with friends and family.

Tell us a little about the behind the scenes of getting all that food ready.
A badly-kept secret is that Raj has to stay up the whole night before to prepare all the food for the picnic in time for lunch. It’s a true labor of love!

Are there any moments you would like to share about your overall time at Prospect Sierra as your youngest daughter looks to graduation this year?
It’s hard to believe that this is our last season at Prospect Sierra after so many wonderful years! Our time in this special place will live on in our daughters who have learned to be the compassionate, engaged changemakers that our world needs so much.

How would you define community? Are there some examples during your PS years that really exemplified community?
To us, community is a place of belonging and shared vision. It’s a place where we can bring our joys and our sorrows and know that we are seen and heard. Community is a place to be challenged and to grow into our best selves, learning from those who are taking this journey with us. Prospect Sierra has been all of those things to our family and has left an indelible mark on us all.

*Thank you to PS parent Jamie Kennedy for sharing this interview.