What is Open Session?

September 19, 2019

Matt Krause, middle school Spanish teacher reflects on what "Open Session" means to our students and our community...

Reaching Beyond

May 29, 2019

Given how close we are to the end of the year, I felt it worthwhile to revisit one last time our theme for the year, Reaching Beyond. Since capturing the myriad ways this theme has played out all year would result in a post longer than most research papers, I’ll simply scratch the surface by highlighting how we’ve lived it in just the month of May alone.

 

Reaching beyond comfort zones…

In mid-May, our 7th grade enjoyed a fantastic Colorado trip, an annual adventure where students visit the iconic Sand Dunes and raft the Arkansas River. Opportunities abounded for students to reach beyond their comfort zone on this four-day trip, from persevering amidst false summits while hiking the sand dunes to navigating rapids while rafting for the first time. Our chaperones were also proud to see and hear so many students extend themselves to spend time with students whom they may not have before.    

      

Reaching beyond ourselves…

Throughout the month of May, our 8th graders have reached beyond themselves to create fun experiences for their second grade buddies, exhibiting patience and exuding positive energy,  both at their day at St. Anne’s in the Hills and for those who helped run a fun team trivia competition (including a very entertaining “match the current 8th grader with their second grade photo” activity) on the day of the musical. We had an epic field day as well with our 8th graders leading an assortment of games and water play. If you’ve never seen our 8th graders in action on Field Day, you’re missing out!

 

Reaching beyond our walls…

                         

Last week, we had two groups of 6th graders go to Project Cure, an organization that received $2500 from St. Anne’s during our Penny Wars over Blue/Gold Week. Our students had the opportunity to reach beyond the walls of St. Anne’s to make an impact on those in countries around the world by giving time out of their day to help stuff medical supply bags that would go to hospitals and clinics that serve kids in Cambodia. This final outreach capped off a great year of service for all of our middle school students, which included serving the hungry at the soup kitchen, spending time with those at a memory care center, and helping volunteer at both the Charles Hay World School and the Joshua House to work with younger students and students with autism.

         

No description of last week though would be complete without mention of the Middle School musical, Girl Rising. To watch this musical was to feel inspired and hopeful for the future, given the way our students raised our awareness about the obstacles that girls around the world have to overcome to pursue their education.  One of my favorite aspects of this musical was that Jason Lemire invited international organizations that aim to improve the educational experience of kids around the world to set up tables to engage with our community (and see the production). It is one thing to pull off a high school level musical in middle school but it is another thing completely to lift up and call our community to action in the process.

The St. Anne’s Way, reaching beyond the PS-8 years

In just a week, we will watch our fabulous Class of 2019 graduate from the gardens of 2701 S. York for new adventures in high school.  Though they will leave the physical bricks and mortar of the St. Anne’s community, I have no doubt that St. Anne’s will continue to be with them and shape how they lead their lives moving forward. 

 

How do I know this? Consider the multiple St. Anne’s alumni who have led walks and raised awareness at their local high schools around suicide prevention.  Or how about the fact that very movie that inspired our musical was being produced by a St. Anne’s alum who is committed to improving the lives of young women around the world? For the past two weeks, we have had high school seniors from Kent Denver return to St. Anne’s to give back and help teachers. It’s an annual tradition which all of our faculty look forward to because it is a reminder of the amazing young people who graduate from our school. This year’s volunteers, Rory and Venus (Class of 2015) have been amazing in their one-on-one work with students to tackle challenging math problems or science concepts, or even run through drama scenes and discuss character motivation. One can only hope that these two will continue to find ways to be around kids as they having a huge impact on all of our students. When it comes to alumni, I will say that whenever I run into one, I leave more certain that, while you can take the students out of St. Anne’s, you can never take the St. Anne’s spirit out of a student. They make us proud in the ways they are making a difference in the world, whether it is with their friends or the way they serve their local communities or those across the globe.  Though it will be bittersweet to bid adieu to the Class of 2019, we cannot wait to see how they will enrich their next communities.

 

Best wishes to all on a great summer with family and friends. We are grateful for a fabulous year, and we can’t wait to welcome the current 5th graders and Class of 2022 into our halls to join our returning middle schoolers!

 

-Sumant Bhat

Head of Middle School

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step.”  -Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher.

 

When I recently came across this quote, I immediately reflected on the journeys of our 8th graders over both their middle school time and their St. Anne’s careers. They have grown as students, athletes, friends, and leaders, and the progress they have made between where they once were and where they are now is a source of pride for our whole community.

Further reflection on this quote reminds us of two important aspects of growth. First, meaningful journeys rarely are completed overnight. And second, journeys don’t begin until you take that first step forward. There are countless obstacles that can either delay or prevent the start of a journey from perseverating about finding the perfect path to being overwhelmed by the prospect of the whole journey itself. These obstacles can easily derail growth before an earnest attempt is even made.   

We’ve all experienced this at some point with ourselves and kids, and I’ve been intrigued by the concept of Kaizen, a mindset and approach used in Japanese businesses to realize growth by overcoming typical barriers to change. Big growth can feel daunting to achieve for a variety of reasons, and sometimes it is actually demotivating.

 

Consider the following situations as examples. First, imagine a middle schooler who is struggling with organizational skills. For this student, “keeping a clean locker” could seem like a monumental task, particularly if they’ve struggled with it for years or their locker looks like it exploded inside. Now imagine the student who is receiving feedback to participate more in class. It might feel confusing and intimidating thinking about how to go from not participating to being a more active participant. In another situation, we might picture a student going rafting for the first time with a group of people they’ve not gone with before, and the whole thing can feel like a giant leap of faith and cause anxiety.

 

So, what can we do? Kaizen suggests that instead of spending hours, days, or weeks wondering how to achieve the big growth, identify a small, simple, and concrete step that would represent even the tiniest of growth. 

 

Cleaning a whole locker or room might be a gigantic undertaking that you don’t think you have time for or really don’t want to deal with right now. However, putting in your planner to use the last minutes at BLOC/study hall every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to just collect loose pens, throw out trash, and recycle old papers is simple, quick and clear. It creates visible (hopefully) value and allows for success to be all but inevitable. Doing that every other day even for a few weeks creates a habit that you can then build on. It also keeps it on your mind in a way that might lead to a habit of not putting random loose papers or storing a half sandwich in your locker in the first place. Moreover, it makes the large undertaking of organizing your locker seem less daunting.

 

I’ve been trying this with my own desk at school that, admittedly, can have papers pile up (my digital organizational skills are far more advanced fortunately).  Putting in my Google Calendar to spend two minutes every other day cleaning my desk has actually paid dividends. It has also mitigated the situation of me seeing a desk that would take twenty minutes to sort through.  My hope is that it’ll also help me by discouraging me from simply putting a sheet on my desk without a plan.

 

To close, here are a few other suggestions/applications I came up with that directly relate to how we can use this technique to work for our kids:

 

1) Instead of trying to just be a regular participant, have a student put one box on the top of their notes every day at the start of class. The student’s responsibility is to check that box before the period is over by participating in asking a question (excluding a bathroom visit request) or making a comment. It’s a simple strategy that is visible, and it is much more likely to be successful long-term than jumping to four or five comments a class.

 

2) Rafting: Let’s say you’re rafting in Colorado this spring. You’ll want to consider all the possible components for a nervous student that roll into “rafting.” There’s the wet suit, life jacket and giant paddle that might be a new experience. There’s seeing an unfamiliar river and sitting with a group with varying paddle experience. Kaizen would suggest replying to a student who is reluctant to do it by simply asking, “How about we just put on the wet suit and/or life jacket inside and see how it feels?  Could you sit in the raft on the ground and hold the paddle?”  Just having those experiences before jumping in can make all the difference, reducing the number of barriers and worries.

 

3) Mitigating negative self-talk: For a student who struggles with frequent negative self-talk, try having them write one compliment to themselves every day or every Friday while eating breakfast. Have a jar at the table and a pencil there to lower the barriers to this task, and consider putting words on the jar as triggers (friend, artist, soccer player, brother, daughter). Again, make it simple, concrete, small, and routine.  Start with less frequency to help it be successful, but make it a routine so that the journey can begin.

 

4) Being more active: Do you have a student who every day goes right to a gaming system when you’d rather see them play outside? Instead of asking for 30 minutes of playing outside, tell them beforehand that they need to be outside for five minutes. Stick with it for a period of time before raising that time request. The first few days might seem like a struggle, but soon they might discover something growing in the garden or a cool bug on the tree, or they kick a soccer ball around. Most likely this will eventually lead to their voluntary staying outside longer than the five minutes you had agreed on together. You may not get to thirty minutes in the short-term, but you can get the student on their way to being outside more often.

 

Again, these are just a few suggestions of how the principle of Kaizen can be effective. Avoiding the decision paralysis of trying to select the perfect path by instead finding a simple small step that moves you along can make all the difference. In many cases, it makes the bigger change feel more attainable once the first steps have been taken and internalized. In other cases, the first steps can help by getting you some initial information or feedback. This in turn can give you new insights that ultimately lead to steps you couldn’t have imagined at the outset.  Whether it is in school or out of school, there are plenty of opportunities to embrace the technique of Kaizen to grow ourselves or support the growth of others.

-Sumant Bhat 

Head of Middle School

Innovating from Diversity

March 29, 2019

Every year the annual National Association of Independent School Conference draws amazing keynote speakers and holds fabulous workshops which inevitably lead to me walking away both with new ideas and perspectives, but also inspiration for our work at St. Anne’s. This year, Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect, was among the keynote speakers and his remarks on innovation, prompted me to immediately go out and devour his accompanying text.

In reading his book and listening to his talk, it was encouraging to see several of his essential ideas for fueling innovation be represented in components of the design thinking curriculum we do in innovations to nurture creativity. For example, he noted the effectiveness of using selective constraints around design to actually spark new ideas. I’ve seen this first hand when our sixth graders design circuit games in science with some parameters on materials or while they were creating architecture projects in innovation. Having to design an underwater hotel or ice cream store in a densely populated city requires you consider specific needs of users you wish to engage. Another key point was the importance of the proliferation of a huge volume of ideas in the brainstorming process. Resisting the urge to jump on the first idea and instead produce more ideas can ultimately help you arrive at an even more innovative creation!  

6th graders designing circuit games in science

However, what has most stuck with me from the talk and book has been the specific insights and examples he shared highlighting a direct link between diversity and innovation, two areas that have been passions of mine for many years now. In his talk, Johansson shared memorable anecdotes such as how surgeons were able to improve patient care by reviewing organizational practices of race car pit crews. He relayed the journey of Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s who was born in Ethiopia, adopted and raised by a family in Sweden,  and trained in France, before opening a Michelin star restaurant in NYC with flavor influences drawn from around the world . His willingness to combine flavor combinations in unique ways has led to him pushing the food industry forward. Perhaps my favorite story shared was how architect Mick Pearce in Harare, Zimbabwe found solutions to design the Eastgate Building, a climate-controlled building, by looking at the way termites built housing for themselves in the same climates. It involved using an intricate system of gradients and vents to keep the temperature constant around 30 degrees celsius while the outside temperature fluctuates between 0 to 40 degrees.  What was clear from each of the three cases, innovation and creative solutions occurred at the intersection of seemingly disparate worlds.

As I consider my experiences working with students and teams at various schools I’ve worked at, I’ve seen first hand how a central barrier to creativity is the tendency to fixate on one solution. That tendency is the product of associations our brains develop from the sum total of our experiences and the voices and perspectives that surround us every day. The more homogenous those experiences and voices are, the stronger the associations that get built between ideas. The stronger the association between ideas, the more likely we ignore other alternatives in designing solutions or thinking of possibilities. Yes, strong associations in the mind can be helpful, making for a simpler, more efficient approach for our brains to manage lots of information. However, too often they are inhibitors to innovation.

So how do we mitigate these associative barriers that naturally exist for us all?  Below are a few measures that I’ve been a part of and which are shared by Johansson.

A)Diversity in group composition:  At St. Anne’s I’ve been part of different critical friends groups, taskforces, committees and think tank sessions. I’ve found when you get people together who bring diverse subject expertise, prior school experience, or backgrounds together, the discussions often yield more complex and sometimes even surprising solutions. This is because they bring their own perspectives which helps mitigate associative barriers that would arise from a homogenous group. At Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant Aquavit, his 100 employees come from countless different countries around the world. For our students, this provides a great case for intentionally seeking out and working with different people in classes on projects, rather than just your close friends who might think the same way as you. That goes double for our 8th graders who are heading off to high school and will have opportunities to expand their social circles in their increasingly diverse communities. Yes, some norming and agreements may need to be laid as foundation for successful collaborating, but the different perspectives are likely to yield more creative solutions.


B)  Designing solutions from the perspective of the user, rather than your own- This is a principle that is at the core of design thinking and is an essential stage in creating solutions that actually work for the users for whom you are designing. Over the years we've had sixth graders interview preschoolers and kindergartners as a step before building prototypes for the outdoor classroom. We've done an empathy exercise simulating what it's like to have limited mobility when we were designing everyday solutions for the elderly. As a staff when we’ve been building our program at St. Anne’s in the Hills and trying to iterate the program, curriculum, and logisitcs, we’ve been conscious to interview and survey students and faculty about their experiences. I have also found that by faculty doing training that has put me on the low ropes elements, we all have a greater appreciation for the experience and feelings of our students, thereby better allowing us to scaffold and design our trips.


C) Nurturing divergent and alternative uses for objects to overcome the cognitive bias of functional fixedness - Functional fixedness refers to the mindset of being unable to see other uses for an object beyond its primary use. Alternative use exercises like finding ten different ways to use a paperclip help counteract functional fixedness. For example, a paper clip can be used beyond clipping papers together such as a tie for a bag or screwdriver for a loose screw on glasses to even jewelry! While the practice of generating lots of ideas is important, ultimately what is more important is to simply not have one chain of thinking.


D)Exposure to a variety of experiences:  Part of what is so impactful in our students’ experiences is the breath of classes they get to take at St. Anne’s. Beyond science, social studies, English, and math, are students can take world language, learn about world religions in chapel, support various communities outside St. Anne’s through outreach, and education at St. engage in cultural competency curriculum. Add in the outdoor education and a robust art offering and are students are put into a variety of environments from which to draw inspiration and make connections. When I see the creative content our 8th grade students are producing as artists, musicians or actors on stage, I’m reminded of the role of variety of experiences they are gaining are influential in the creative process.


In a world where content creators are becoming increasingly more valued than content consumers, helping students see the value and role of diversity in innovation is essential to their growth. It is also vital for us as adults to keep in mind as design and provide experiences for our students to nurture their perspective.

 
-Sumant Bhat
Head of Middle School

By Kristyna Yeager

The social, creative, and educational opportunities that come by way of digital technology are limitless and, as we well know, not without peril. The two best resources for keeping children safe are their parents and themselves, but a little technological support can be useful. Staying informed, taking action, and communicating openly will help build positive online experiences that will help foster responsible behavior in your household.

Young people interact with digital media in a variety of ways. According to study conducted by Common Sense Media, American tweens (ages 8-12) spend an average of about 4.5  hours on screen media use a day, while American teens (13-18) spend an average of about 6.5 hours worth of daily screen media use (daily averages do not include time spent at school or for homework). It is difficult to believe this is an accurate snapshot within our small SAES community because of the intentions we have behind our no cell phone policy, the non-academic activities many St. Anne’s students participate in after school, and digital guidelines at home. Regardless, the SAES Digital Life survey given last year indicated that “too much screen time” was what concerned parents most about their child’s online life. Digital media plays a key role in how kids function and develop, staking claims on their time and attention. Consequently, it deserves our continued scrutiny. Keep your kids’ digital world safe, fun, and productive by implementing and evaluating some best digital parenting practices while in your home and about.

Good digital parenting begins with acknowledging risks and reducing harms associated with having digital lives, both in ourselves and our children. Being calm, open, and direct when talking with your kids is the first step. The earlier you open this line of communication, the better. Discussions can include age-appropriate content, with whom we have contact, and how we behave while online. The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) recommends that parents never miss a teachable moment where smart technology is concerned: first device, turning 13, getting a driver’s license, or when your child wants to try or buy a new app/game/site. Exploring and learning can be a two-way street when it comes to technology. Take time to enjoy digital media with your child, and you may be surprised at what he or she can teach you. If you start this habit at a young age, it may just become routine. Check out FOSI’s tips and resources to educate yourself on some of the most popular games, apps, and social media sites. Additionally, heed social media age limit restrictions when your child wants to create an account. Most sites have a minimum age requirement of 13 so letting your child know your feelings about honoring those guidelines will help curb the notion to join too early.

Fortunately, with many big-name platforms and companies beginning to address digital well-being, using parental controls and safety settings is more accessible than ever. However, choosing a parental control utility can be a little daunting. You’ll have to do a bit of homework to determine the program that might work for your family, but the payoff will be well worth your time. It’s important to consider all device types and operating systems. Also, you will want to keep in mind the filtering and blocking capabilities, social media tracking options, and ease of installation and usage. PCMag, Tom’s Guide, and Top Ten Reviews have comprehensive reviews to help point your family in the right direction. Don’t forget or ignore the built-in options on your current operating systems and devices. 

Another invaluable consideration for good digital parenting is establishing ground rules, setting boundaries, and applying consequences when necessary. There are multiple tools parents can choose from, including family media agreements or plans, cell phone contracts, or simply making a list of rules to apply to your child’s digital life. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but these tools are all useful in starting a conversation with your family about how to behave online in a positive way and help keep the lines of communication open. Choose one that works well for your family and make adjustments when necessary.

Do you want to wait as long as possible before you open the door to smartphone usage? A recent movement sweeping the country is the Wait Until 8th pledge, a cause that empowers parents to band together in waiting till their child is in 8th grade or beyond before purchasing a smartphone. The organization suggests skipping the smartphone contracts altogether with a long list of reasons to wait until a teenager actually has a purpose for having a smartphone. This pledge might work well in a community such as St. Anne’s. But do keep in mind that, even if you wait until 8th grade to buy a smartphone for your kids, they will begin to have online activity the moment you put any online device in their hands--be it an iPad, family computer, or Roku.

Here at St. Anne’s, the Technology Department does our part to support community-based digital citizenship. We regularly utilize Common Sense Education’s curriculum to teach students how to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in the digital world. In grades K-2, students are learning how to go places safely online, what kinds of information to keep private versus what information is okay to have in your digital footprint, and what to do when you encounter cyberbullying. In grades 3-6, students are learning how to represent themselves, the effects of what they say about others, media literacy, and how their media choices affect their own well-being. In grades 7 and 8, students are learning how to think before they post, practice netiquette (online etiquette), understand their digital footprint and reputation, reduce oversharing, and find a media/life balance.

Because so much of our children’s lives involve communication via computers, smart devices, and gaming systems, cyberbullying remains an important topic to discuss at home. Following good digital parenting practices such as having open communication and media plans, first-hand experiences with applications and digital tools that interest your child, and using parental control features are key to helping prevent and protect against cyberbullying. But another consideration includes device location. Keeping your home computers, laptops, and gaming systems in highly visible or central locations is a great way to keep tabs on digital interactions. A central docking/charging station for everyone’s device is another good idea. In addition, take time to show your kids how to block, flag or report abusive and inappropriate content and encourage socializing with friends in person. Parents can also discuss using anti-cyberbullying technology such as ReThink, a free app that can help detect and prevent hateful language. It gives users the opportunity to think before posting something they may regret.  

One of the most important things you can do to be a good digital parent is to be a good digital role model. Evaluate your own digital habits and curb any bad ones. It is necessary for parents to be aware of their own digital behavior so they can promote positive behavior in their children. You can’t expect your kids not to text and drive if they grew up watching you do it. If you have “no phone zones” or a common docking area, make sure you are following those guidelines as well. Take the lead on setting time to unplug for yourself and your family and find a balance of online and offline activities.  

Keeping our children’s online lives safe, fun, and appropriate is on the minds of teachers and parents everywhere. Thinking about it and doing something about it are two different things. A lot of us get stuck on not knowing what to do, and the task at hand can be challenging. But good digital parenting and community-based digital citizenship are all about taking an active role in minimizing risks and maximizing benefits. Check out the list of resources below to take a step in the right direction.

List of resources

Current Research:

Common Sense Census: Media Use by Teens and Tweens

FOSI: Tech Addiction; Not All Screens Are Created Equal

FOSI: Online Safety Across the Generations

Good Digital Parenting Resources:

Safer Gaming Guide

Apps Guide

Social Media Guide

Social Media Privacy Guide

Tech Education Guide

Cyberbullying Guide

Cyberbullying Conversation Guide

Parental Control Plan

Smartphones: Why Wait?

Parental Monitoring Software Reviews:

TopTen Reviews

Tom’s Guide

PCMag

A Secure Life

Built-in Safety Features for Devices:

CompariTech (Reviews and detailed instructions for various operating systems)

iOS Devices

macOS Parental Controls

Managing Microsoft Family Group

Xbox Healthy Gaming Guide

Family Link by Google

Family Media Agreements:

AAP’s Family Media Plan & Media Time Calculator

Smartphone Contract by Teen Safe

Family Agreement by ChildNet

Family Media Plan by Common Sense Media

Words of the Month

Middle School Blog

February 1, 2019

Click "Learn More" to check out Mr. Bhat's latest post on the Middle School Blog.

Windows Into Our Own World

November 26, 2018

Books allow the opportunity to see a window into another world, as well as a chance to have a deeper understanding of the world we live in. While reading The Outsiders, seventh grade students had the opportunity for both. The Outsiders, acclaimed for its ability to connect to teenagers, focuses on two rival gangs, divided by social class, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as is told through the eyes of fourteen-year old Ponyboy Curtis. After discussions of what it means to be an outsider, and essays on who was the bigger disgrace to society- the Greasers or the Socs, English classes were asked to find a situation in the news and relate it to the themes they identified in the book. They presented these through iMovies, powerpoints, realistic fiction writings, poster presentations, artistic creations and even in song. As students reflected on the lives of their neighbors, friends, family members and even themselves, they discovered that people felt like outsiders due to autism spectrum disorder, race, sexual orientation, divorce, lack of water, and plenty more. The English teachers couldn’t be prouder of the thoughtfulness and empathy the students demonstrated throughout this project, as well as the connections they made to the novel. While some students took the approach of creating awareness of a social situation, others took to expanding on this understanding by walking in another’s shoes or looking at ways in which outsider groups are included in mainstream society. This attempt at connection is not isolated to English alone, as similar conversations have occurred in advisory, Town Hall grade level time, and with Mr. Bhat in the cultural competency curriculum. We embrace these opportunities because we know that such understandings create a deeper understanding, as well as allow our students to be reflective participants in the world we live in.

-Laura Boroughf- 7th Grade English & Social Studies, 7th Grade Coordinator

Throughout this fall, I have found myself immersed in conversations and learning environments that share an unmistakable thread.  Earlier this fall, the National Association of Independent School’s quarterly magazine arrived in my mailbox with a spotlight on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work in independent school communities. On October 12, a group of St. Anne’s 7th and 8th graders attended a full-day diversity and inclusion leadership conference where they participated in honest conversations about stereotypes, the media, bias, racism and more. The next day, I attended the CIRCLE Conference on inclusion and diversity at the Colorado History Center, an event drawing over 100 educators from the Denver area. Less than two weeks later, St. Anne’s administrators and board members invited renowned DEI consultant, Dr. Derrick Gay, to lead them in a half-day workshop on Cultural Competency. October 26, Eli Saslow, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Rising Out of Hatred, and son of a former St. Anne’s teacher, spoke to our community about reporting, and what he learned in the writing of a story about a white supremacist who experienced a change of heart and mind.  Finally, on Halloween, a group from the Colorado Shakespeare Festival performed an abridged version of Macbeth and held workshops for our middle schoolers around the importance of being an upstander.


The frequency and similar theme of these events have reaffirmed in my mind the importance of the added emphasis we’ve been placing on diversity and inclusion work at St. Anne’s over the past several years. But while our recent efforts from the growth of affinity spaces to the normalization of DEI trainings have served us well, we know that this work must be ongoing and unrelenting for us to continue to be an inclusive community.  Nationwide, school communities are realizing this same understanding and are also creating a variety of spaces both in and out of the classroom to have purposeful conversations around race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, identity and more. I firmly believe, though, that those conversations are more successful and valuable for all involved when a tool box of understandings and cultural-competency skills is possessed by those participating.


But what is cultural competency? It is certainly a phrase gaining a lot of attention, and while there are variations in how people define it, I rely on a definition that considers two components. The first is an inward reflection and understanding of our own identities, biases, and privileges, and how that influences our own world view. The second component refers to our ability to communicate and interact with those of cultures and identities similar to and different from our own. I’ll go further and share that I believe cultural competency also should include having a positive respect and appreciation for the differences of people of all backgrounds. With each generation getting increasingly diverse across all social identifiers including race, gender, and religion, it is important to me that as a school we are not only providing a welcoming environment for all students, faculty, staff, and families, but that we are also empowering our students to go out and create welcoming environments outside our walls as well.


In the middle school this year, both the sixth grade spring curriculum and seventh grade fall curriculum will include a dozen classes focused explicitly on building our students’ cultural competency toolboxes. This includes doing simulations and activities followed by candid conversations around bias, privilege, identity, and allyship.  Prior to beginning each class, we review ground rules around assuming good intentions, respecting differences of experiences, speaking from the “I” perspective, confidentiality, and an understanding that “what’s learned here, leaves here.” Below, is just a sample of the key understandings we hope to instill in our students as part of this curriculum:


1) We all have biases or inclinations that have been formed as a result of experiences or messages from media over time.  Most biases we are unaware of, and without reflection, they can have adverse impacts on relationships and experiences we have and could pursue. Everyday bias includes a boy not pursuing a school club because he feel that “only girls sign up.”  Not exploring a certain school for high school based on a few people you know that you do not like or because of chatter you heard from someone who went is a bias we try to counter in our 8th grade high school support process. Being aware of one’s own biases allows us to take action, which is essential to having inclusive communities and allowing us to pursue diverse experiences. Examples abound in the real world of anti-bias measures that have led to positive impacts. For centuries, orchestras were entirely dominated by men, but once they used blind auditions and had applicants remove their shoes (the heels, they discovered, made noise on stage that preserved gender bias), the orchestras became much more balanced gender-wise.  There are many studies that have shown racial biases can dramatically impact a hiring process, which has led many companies to explore concrete practices aimed at mitigating that bias. Beyond being aware of our own biases, a particularly critical skill today is being able to detect biases from sources of information. Knowing whom the story is coming from is often as important as knowing what story is being told.



2) When it comes to identity, we only see and often only know the tip of the iceberg of other people’s identities. Not only are certain aspects of others’ identities not always visible to the outside world, but sometimes people choose not to share parts of their identities for various reasons. The iceberg analogy proves to be a powerful reminder that what we see is only part of the picture, so taking the time to get to know others’ stories can help us have a greater appreciation for the complexities and intersectionalities of our different identities around race, religion, ability, family structure, gender, sexual orientation, and more. When asked how Eli Saslow gained the trust of those about whom he was writing stories, Eli shared, “When you invest time in people and show them that you are genuinely interested in them, they trust you.”  Building trust can lead to the foundation of a relationship. When we develop relationships with those that share different identities from our own, it can help us counteract hurtful and inaccurate biases in ourselves and others as evidenced in his story. Moreover, it can build empathy for others and encourage us to make better decisions about our behaviors, comments and humor that shape how welcoming an environment we are creating for all.


3) Privilege refers to more than just having greater economic means. It can include unearned benefits that we do not have to think about in certain situations. At 6’7” and with a booming voice, I do not have to worry about whether I’ll be able to see at a concert or if I can get everyone’s attention in a room if I want to speak to a group. As an able-bodied person, I have the privilege of not wondering whether there is a ramp to get to the front door of a party I get invited to attend. For years following the attacks on 9/11, I began to expect to be selected for additional “random” screening at airports while my white friends would pass by and not worry.

Privilege comes in a variety of forms and plays a significant role in how we experience the world, and very often, we are unaware of both our own privilege and that which others may lack.


4) In order to be an ally to someone who lacks privilege, you must first be aware of your own privileges.  The phrase, “Sometimes you’re a caterpillar, sometimes you’re a snail,” has proven to be a “sticky” mantra  from this fabulous video which speaks to how all of us have times where we have privilege and other times when we lack it. When we have privilege, it doesn’t mean we need to feel guilty, but it does mean we should be aware of it.  After all, being aware of our privilege and how not everyone experiences it can allow us to be better allies. Being an ally means being a good listener, a safe space, and not being a bystander. An ally knows that if they are willing to speak up or take action, it can have a positive impact on how others feel about their identities and the sense of belonging they experience.  Allies know that being an ally is an everyday thing, not just when it is convenient.


As mentioned, this is just a sampling of the conversations we’re having as we try to build the toolboxes for ourselves and for our students. We are still learning and have plenty more work ahead for us in our training, our curriculum, and our programming. As a PS-8 school, our students may not leave us with a Master’s Degree level proficiency in cultural competency. However, I do believe the time and space we are providing them will help them have a stronger sense of self, be an ally and supportive space for others, and have an appreciation and respect for differences of all people.

 
St. Anne's Students attending STAMP Leadership Conference 
-Sumant Bhat
Head of Middle School   

Learning About Food Insecurity

September 29, 2018

On Thursday September 27, the 7th grade spent the day learning about food insecurity in classes and through various experiences. In all of our classes/subjects, we learned about food insecurity which is where people struggle to find consistent access to healthy food, and they don’t always know where their next meal is going to come from. One specific thing that we learned about is what a food desert is.  A food desert is when people don’t have access to fresh healthy food. They usually don't live within walking distance of a supermarket that has fresh fruit and vegetables. The USDA says that in 2017 about 40 million people suffered from food insecurity, including over 12 million children. In math, we were given a limited amount of money to spend on groceries based on a lower income. The twist was, we also pretended like we were in a food desert so if you wanted to go to the grocery store and get fruit, meat, and vegetables, you would have to take a bus that cost money. So was going to the supermarket worth the extra money, or is it worth saving the money and walking to a convenience store like 7/11? People who are food insecure may be forced to choose to get things like fast food and junk food from the stores. The problem with that is you could be eating very unhealthy. Lots of people don’t just have to feed themselves, they also have to feed their children. And, when people get sick, they have to spend money on medical costs too which hurts their budget. Overall, food insecurity is a serious issue, and has to somehow be stopped.

At lunch on Thursday we also participated in the first ever hunger banquet at St. Anne’s which allows students to get a window into the differences that exist around food access around the world. Each 7th grade student got a card at random which assigned them to a developed country or developing country. I got a card that allowed me to only a serving of rice and beans while sitting on the floor. Others had access to a meat and vegetable and others could eat everything plus got a nice table cloth and other perks. I was fine with the rice and beans, but when I saw the one group eating cake, soda, and other luxurious foods, I started to feel empathy for the people who have to eat this everyday or have limited options. It was also surprising to hear that only a small percentage of the world enjoyed the kinds of meals we get everyday at St. Anne's. Overall this was a truly humbling experience that expanded my horizons and experience what people have to face everyday.

In the afternoon, we divided into different action project groups. Some students worked on making posters to put in the halls to raise awareness about food insecurity. Others wrote over 70 letters to representatives and grocery stores asking for help. One group made 150 lunches that went to the organization Impact Locally that supports both kids and adults who are in need of a meal. Other projects included working on presenting to the middle school at assembly, creating a one page document that highlights foodbanks and soup kitchens for those who would benefit from that information, and writing this blog!

It was clear from the day why it is so important that we and others volunteer to work at the soup kitchen, so that people trying to pay bills and support their family that are in need can get a healthy and nutritious meal which does not cost them anything. 

*This article was contributed to by 7th graders George, Tristan, Ben and Alex as part of their action project to raise awareness about food insecurity.  Special thanks to the Sodexo Dining Staff for all their help running a great day for us!

-Sumant Bhat

Head of Middle School

Your Guides for the Year

August 24, 2018

 Since my days in high school, my father and I have talked about taking a father-son trip to Machu Picchu.  Twenty years later, the stars aligned for us to realize that dream this summer and explore a place that is equal parts breathtaking, inspiring and spiritual. It was an unforgettable journey, made more special by the relationship we have with one another. Since returning, I have reflected on countless memories of hiking ruins together, learning about Incan culture, and catching up over conversations at local restaurants.  Part of the joy of the trip came from our experience with those who guided us at different parts of our journey. As I consider the school year ahead, I have found myself drawing many parallels between the care and stewardship provided by our guides, Joel and Martina, and the nurturing support of the amazing faculty and staff who will help guide your children’s journeys in middle school this year.

 Though our time together was short, our guides’ impact on the trip was unmistakable. I was grateful and most impressed by how Joel and Martina balanced their sharing of insights into where we were traveling with taking the time to get to know both my dad and me. When our guide learned that my dad grew up in a small village in rural India, he continued to seek out my dad’s personal stories. This had a particularly powerful impact on my dad, who felt a greater sense of belonging in a foreign country and was able to draw connections to his own experiences growing up in a rainforest in India. Our guides brought plenty of expertise throughout the journey on everything from geography, to restaurant recommendations, to never-ending content knowledge on the Incans. However, they also were very intentional about giving us some time to reflect and pause, taking in the different places and their meaning, especially while in Machu Picchu.  I also appreciated how they considered the different needs and wants of both my dad’s and my experience. From conversing in only Spanish with just me (while speaking English to my dad) to finding an Indian restaurant in Cusco to appease my dad’s withdrawal from Indian culinary spices, the guides were able to differentiate our experiences.

At St. Anne’s, our teachers are far more than providers of content to our students because young people need more than that in their school experience. Our middle school teachers truly love working with middle schoolers, beginning by getting to know their stories so they may have a greater appreciation of them and be able to best challenge and engage them.  With classrooms of students who possess such diverse experiences and backgrounds, I admire the ability of our faculty and middle school staff to support the different journey of each child. Part of that journey will involve being there for the "aha" moments and transformative growth that will happen while performing on stage or writing that first research paper. Also part of that journey this year will be helping your child navigate the inevitable challenge that will await them, be it academic, artistic, social, athletic or emotional in nature. Just as they will be there to celebrate and reflect on the successes, our teachers will be there to listen, process and help empower students to problem-solve or seek out the help they need. Though every child’s journey is unique, our experienced faculty have developed a great perspective and loaded toolbox from which to draw for all students. Middle schoolers crave independence as they develop their decision-making skills, and I admire how our faculty provide the encouragement, listening skills and mentorship to push them in safe ways out of their comfort zone.  

Over the course of the year, our faculty will serve as teachers, yes, but also as coaches, advisors, club leaders, and literal guides on outdoor trips.  As we step into a new era of expanded programming at St. Anne’s in the Hills, our center for outdoor and environmental education, it is such an honor to be a part of a faculty who possess natural skills as guides and understand the importance of how to check in, differentiate, and support a wide variety of students in their growth.

 So, as we wrap up an abbreviated first week, here’s to a great adventure ahead for us all!

-Sumant Bhat

Head of Middle School

During the fall of 2017, the Technology Department conducted a survey (adapted from Common Sense Media) of 4th-8th grade students to measure knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors around their digital lives. The following spring, another similar survey went out to all SAES parents concerning their children’s digital lives. 52% of SAES families responded to the survey, and the major takeaways from the survey were used to make the attached infographic.


The Technology Department looked at data across grade levels to understand media-use trends as children age. We also compared students’ answers with parents’ answers to assess whether students and parents have similar perceptions around media use.


It is clear that SAES parents consider teaching their children to be good digital citizens extremely important. Yet, parents are seeking guidance in finding appropriate ways to address concerns around technology.

Digital Life Survey 2018

 
There is a link toward the bottom of this infographic that says "Click Here to complete your customizable Family Media Plan recommended by the AAP".  I have included the link here since the link will not work on the image.
 

Right before we left for Spring Break, I was so fortunate to join our 8th graders mid-trip in Washington, D.C. It was my first time on this rite of passage trip with the 8th grade, and what an experience it was! Throughout the six days, our students were “device-free,” a quality that was incredibly uncommon amongst the countless other student groups I saw while we were out there. The unplugged week not only led to our students engaging with one another in new and authentic ways, but it also allowed them to better engage with the history that surrounded them at every corner.

For the non-historians, often our connection to historical events is rooted in remembering where we were when the event happened, whom we were with, and how it made us feel. This is so true for me since I recall both events that were both enthralling and emotionally distressing. For me, those events ranged from my hometown Chicago Bulls winning their first title to the Berlin Wall coming down to watching the events of 9/11 unfold from my college common room.  Those events were part of my life experience and bring back feelings of anger, fear, exhilaration, confusion and hope. As I think back to my middle school years, I remember learning about what were relatively recent events like the Civil Rights Movement, which had happened only twenty-five years prior to my learning about it. I had researched it and done a presentation on that period which I remember seemed so foreign and distant from the present-day world I was living in, leading to a more intellectual connection with history for me. No matter your age, I think we have all had experiences like this with both history that we were a part of history and history that we have viewed as a distant observer.

                                       

Part of my great enjoyment of the D.C. Trip can be attributed to the frequent opportunities for students and me to foster more than that aforementioned intellectual connection with history.  At the Newseum, we had a chance to walk through a gallery of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs from major events in our history. The ability of these personal photographs and their accompanying captions to capture the raw emotion for events that I was not alive for had a palpable impact on me, bringing me closer to moments which I know carry meaning and have shaped the lives of so many in ways that I can only hope to comprehend. Watching news footage of people covering this event and seeing their reactions also provided new windows into these historical events, which I am grateful for.

                                         

On the day we walked on the National Mall up to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, we were able to pass the exact location where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” I was ableto pull up on my phone pictures of the countless supporters MLK was looking at when he delivered his speech, which struck a chord with the few students who were around me at the time. Given the lack of social media to spread the word, the gathering to fill such a large space spoke volumes of how important it was for people to be there.

                                                          

War memorials also proved to be powerful experiences for our 8th graders. While you can certainly read and remember a fact about the number of lives lost in a war, seeing the number of names listed on the wall and standing feet away from the relatives looking for a name helps bring those numbers into a human context. We, too, had multiple 8th graders look for relatives at different memorial sites and at Arlington Cemetery, but even those who didn’t seek a relative walked away with a sense of scope for the magnitude of these wars. 

                                                                         

Near the end of the trip we visited the Holocaust Museum. Our 8th graders had already been provided exposure and some key background knowledge to help them in the processing of the experience that would await them.  However, the photos, letters, personalized stories and artifacts provided a glimpse into this painful part of history. Many students who finished somewhat early also took the time to talk with an actual Holocaust survivor who had set up a table in the atrium of the museum to share his stories. The number of survivors is dwindling by the day, but hearing from someone who survived the Holocaust reminds us just how recently it really happened and that it is not a part of ancient history, despite the black and white photos that capture this time period (or how much we wish it to be so). The intensity and forced traffic flow of the museum does leave an indelible mark on a visitor. I felt equal parts solemn and shocked thatt the Holocaust could go on for so long.

Now that I’ve been on the trip, I can see why our students remember it well beyond their years at St. Anne’s. In fact, at a recent St. Anne’s alumni event, there was no shortage of stories and moments remembered, even amongst those who graduated well over a decade ago. Yes, there will be plenty of stories documenting the chocolate fountain at the Golden Corral, staying up to watch epic March Madness games, or even the souvenirs students picked up at any and all gift shops. However, having been on the trip, I am confident that our students will also take away with them a greater appreciation and connection to our history, therein setting them up to more readily take in the intellectual content that awaits them in their future studies of history.

Coming Together

March 5, 2018

On Wednesday of last week, our St. Anne’s community witnessed our first ever original musical. To see so many middle school students confidently belting out songs on pitch in front of hundreds of people will be something that neither I, nor anyone who was in attendance, will ever forget.  Less than twelve hours later, we returned to the dining hall on Thursday morning where we had our Middle School Winter Sports Assembly. This provided a forum for us to celebrate two undefeated 8th grade basketball teams, a feat that has never been accomplished in school history. We also celebrated 6th and 7th grade teams. This included our 7th grade boys basketball team who suffered heartbreaking losses all season before putting it all together to win their last game. All of these are noteworthy in my book.  As I’ve reflected back on what I saw on stage Wednesday and in the gym all winter, I found myself marveling at the manner in which groups of kids have come together to accomplish great things, but also considering a few of the factors that it takes for these teams to come together to accomplish what they did.

1) Hard work and effort on the little things: There is no question we have talented students, but without consistent effort, talent is not always realized in full.  So much happens outside of normal class/practice time, from a coach working one-on-one at break to tech crew and cast coming in on weekends and staying after school. What I’ve also noticed is that the effort is not only placed on big things, but also on little things such as where to stand on defense or on stage and reflecting on how to respond when a mistake is made.  The effort and attention to little details often can be the difference between good and great performances!

2) Contagious positive energy:  I am a big believer that energy is contagious, regardless of whether it is positive or negative.  Having members of the group that are relentlessly positive and a coach/teacher who constantly expresses belief in what the group can accomplish is powerful.  It allows them to survive setbacks and move forward. Whenever I see a team huddle or walk by the drama crew’s pre-show pump-up ritual, the positive energy is palpable (and usually loud!). Furthermore, it carries on to the start of the performance.

  

3) Trust: An environment of trust at any level is so critical, whether it is on the floor or on stage. However, at the middle school level, it’s even more important. It's incumbent on the teacher and coach to get buy-in, and that requires honoring and trusting student voice. It also requires creating a culture where everyone understands that their success is reliant on the success of the others in the group. When someone stumbles on lines or struggles to shoot the ball, sticking with them and continuing to believe in them nurtures a trust that strengthens a group in powerful ways.  I’ve seen so many examples this year of students helping one another with a line or continuing to pass to an open teammate, and it ultimately pays off down the line. Looking back on the musical, clearly there was a safe and trusting environment created by Mr. Lemire in his drama classes to engage in dialogue around bias, stereotypes and differences, which we saw play out on stage so masterfully.

 

4) The Presence and Overcoming of Obstacles and Conflict, Not the Absence of Them:  All groups go through a series of highs and lows.  It is a natural and inevitable part of the process. This winter we had a rash of injuries and sickness that took its toll on teams and the cast. Differences in opinion also factored in, and at times, the group didn't hit the bar on an individual day. However, the growth continued to happen each day.  Individuals on the teams and cast not only had to take care of themselves and persevere, but they also had to look out for one another.  Often, it is the overcoming of these obstacles that ultimately most helps groups come together faster and more tightly in positive ways.

 

The impact of the confluence of these factors is unmistakable. It builds enduring connections between students that last beyond the days of St. Anne’s. How else could you explain the number of alumni who come back to watch the play each trimester? Yes, they want to see an awesome show, but it also brings them back to a space where they accomplished something wonderful together. The memories that they form together after putting in time together, trusting one another, and overcoming obstacles are impossible to forget. 

A White Christmas

December 21, 2017

Creak. Thud, thud, thud.

  “Abby, wake up!” Henry said excitedly.

I opened my sleepy eyes just enough to see out of and flinched a little. Henry was so close to my face I could count his eyelashes.

  “What do you want?” I asked him sleepily, still not fully awake.

   “It’s Christmas, come on!” He responded, a hint of desperation in his voice.

I checked my bedside clock. It read in large, red letters, 6:30 a.m.

  “Henry, are you crazy?” I asked, “It’s 6:30!”

Finally, he yanked me out of bed, throwing the warm sheets off of me.

I timidly pushed open my door and looked around.The hallway was quiet, and shadows of furniture fell across the wooden floor in the sitting room. A faint whir could be heard from the heating unit. Outside, I could see snow falling slowly, twisting and twirling like beautiful ballerinas. As we rounded the corner of the hall, I felt my stomach flutter with excitement. Christmas was here!

Finally, we found what we were looking for. Nestled under the tree and piled by the fireplace, on chairs and the coffee table, were presents of all shapes and sizes. Packages with glossy wrapping paper, delicate bows, their silky folds tied into perfect knots, shiny tins promising delicious treats, stiff bags decorated with Christmas trees, fairy lights, and Santa hats, and finally, four knit stockings bulging with tiny treasures.

I looked at Henry. A smile crept across his face, making the edges of his mouth crinkle a little. As I stood, I realized how lucky I was to be there, snow falling outside, a warm house to live in, and presents of all kinds in front of me.

The Season for Giving

December 12, 2017

The Season for Giving

The Lower School has been awhirl with gift giving this season. We started with all-school projects like the canned food drive and mitten collection and then most of the grade levels had their own special projects during this time of year.



Kindergarten students exercised their new writing skills by sending letters to the servicemen and women overseas.  What could be more fun in a far away place away from home than receiving an individual letter in invented spelling from a five year old with a kind message!




First grade stayed closer to home and sent Angel Letters to their first grade friends.  The sentiments were very thoughtful and reflective of the individual students.  What gift could be better than knowing that someone else appreciates who you are!





Second grade has had a flurry of projects.  In November and December they decorated lunch bags for Meals on Wheels and stuffed socks with toiletries and goodies for homeless teenagers. 

The Christmas trees in their classrooms were hand decorated by the students and will be donated to two needy families.  Throughout the rest of the year classes will take turns visiting the Clermont Park Assisted Living Community once a month.  Our community is certainly brightened by second grade kindness!


Third Grade participates in the Jared Project.  Students pack up boxes full of games, toys and other exciting items for children of various ages who must spend the holidays in the hospital.  These gifts send messages of joy and add some happiness to what could otherwise be a "less than fun" experience.




Fifth Grade has been busy over several months with their readathon; collecting money from sponsors to go to books for 1st and 2nd grade students at Bishop Elementary.  With their efforts many of the Bishop students will be able to take home their own books to read over the holidays.  We certainly know how important it is to all students to be able to practice those early reading skills in order to be proficient readers!  I am sure that they appreciate all of our fifth graders for their gift of literacy.



Last, but not least, some of our fifth graders in the Changemakers Club have been collecting new socks and gently used shoes for the homeless.  In 2016 we gave over 300 shoes to Clothes to Kids, a local charity.  This year the goal is 400 or more.  They are collecting new socks for Sock It to 'Em, another local charity that supplies thousands of socks yearly to homeless children and adults.   Changemakers is also making what they call Gallons of Love.  These are handmade packages with a bottle of water, a food bar, hand warmers and a note.  They keep them in their cars and hand them out to people asking for help.  These are the projects Changemakers are involved in for the season, but they sponsor many other projects throughout the year.

As you can see, we take every opportunity to encourage our students to give of themselves to others now and throughout the year.  All of us in the Lower School would like to thank you for the irreplaceable gift you give us everyday; the opportunity to work with your precious children.  What they do and who they are fills our hearts with joy on a daily basis.  Have a very happy holiday filled with special times that stay etched in memories. Sincerely, Dr. T.

As two players on the St. Anne’s basketball team that played during halftime of the Denver University Basketball game on December 5, we wanted to share a recap of the St. Anne’s Night event.  Before the game started, the Denver University coaches gave us a tour of the locker room. We learned a lot about athletics at the college and got to see the cool facilities. A couple of minutes before the game started, the St Anne’s Middle School Choir came onto the court and sang the national anthem! They sounded  really good and had practiced a lot on that really difficult song! Five minutes before halftime a Denver University staff member came and brought us courtside. When the first half was over, we took the court and began to play five on five on the actual court! We were nervous, but when the game started, it all went away. The team made quite a few baskets for the time we were given. It was really exciting when we made two three point baskets. I think that we put on a good show for everyone in the crowd.  It was tiring running up and down the extra long court tons of times, but it was also lots of fun.

We really enjoyed this experience! It was so cool to be on the same court that Division 1 teams play on. Plus Denver University ended up winning the game against San Jose State. Overall it was very fun, and we hope future grades can do this too!

 
Written by 6th graders Brendan and Alex P
The MS Chorus singing the National Anthem before tip off!

STAMP, which stands for Students Taking Action and Making Progress, was a conference this year in Denver, at the History of Colorado Center. The leadership conference was run by high school students, and the conference was for middle schoolers. The conference aimed for creating inclusivity in schools and leadership skills. This year, in 2017, STAMP had close to 200 middle school students at their conference, and they had students from private, public, and charter schools. St. Anne’s had 13 7th and 8th grade students attending this year. STAMP also features a different keynote speaker every year, and this year’s was Stephen Brackett, a musician, motivational speaker, and activist. Each student that attended could choose two workshops prior to the conference, and those workshops were all interesting and provided all different types of discussions and advice. Finally, the keynote speaker from last year, hip-hop artist and activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, made a surprise appearance. He’s a teenager and indigenous activist, as well as a director for a climate change organization. At the end, Xiuhtezcatl performed two songs about both current events and political news.

There were a lot of different workshops for us to choose from that focused on a variety of topics. One workshop was on confidence and self esteem around body image. A key takeaway was that you don’t have to be or look like what others expect of you. Just be your own self and take pride in being different. Another workshop was on standing up for yourself and how to get your point across. We need to not get caught up in stereotypes. A third workshop some of our St. Anne’s middle schoolers went to was on understanding how different people have different perspectives on the same situation. Important to honor different perspectives because it helps our society when we take them all into account.

This conference was a really great way to meet new kids from new schools and make new friends.You always felt included! There was always someone to talk to all day. Another wonderful benefit was that you learned how to handle a variety of different situations that happen so often in life. I think that since the conference was run by high schoolers it helped us understand more because we are so close in age. Plus they have been through many of the experiences that we encounter on a day-to-day basis.Overall, we really enjoyed going and are hopeful to go again next year!

By Abby, Bella and Adie-Morgan

For every middle school student, there are myriad experiences ahead for them both in school and out of school that will be new and push them out of their comfort zone. From going downtown to the Soup Kitchen, to working with a group of people at the Memory Care Center, to selling Holiday Greens for their 8th grade DC trip, these new experiences provide different levels of challenge for our students.  The importance of cultivating risk-taking and courage to be successful in these situations seems to be frequently highlighted, but another critical key is the quality of the framing that occurs prior to that experience.

 

What do I mean by framing? Framing is the scaffolding you provide prior to an experience to set a student up for success.  A good frame provides basic information about where, what, who and why. Though I prefer to have more time, I’ve found that even a few minutes of discussion, highlighting of key information, and listening to questions from them can make a radical difference for my students.

 

Framing an experience is so important when working with young people because it provides a focus amidst what can be a new environment with a lot of new faces, surroundings, stimuli and feelings.  As adults who are often providing the frame, we can sometimes forget what it was like to NOT know and to go through something for the first time. As a result, things we think will be challenging for our kids might not be, while things we don’t anticipate to be challenging become real sticking points. When we provide a frame and give a space for asking questions that are actually on the mind of our kids, we can help alleviate stress and anxiety that is often unnecessary but that exists nonetheless. We can help prevent them from getting stuck on certain aspects that make truly immersing themselves in the experience more challenging. Prior to going to the soup kitchen for the first time this year, we shared with kids information about what soup kitchens were and the population they serve. We told them what jobs they might hold, how long it would be, and why we give up time in our school day to participate in this program. However, we also shed light on questions that middle schoolers would be worried about like what they would do for their own lunch since they leave during middle school lunch hour. This, coupled with stressing that our time was about focusing on the people we serve and not on one another or who gets to hand out the dessert, really set the table for the experience.

 

This afternoon, we had a group of ten 8th graders who chose to give up part of their lunch hour and all of their study hall time to spend time with autistic students from the Joshua House as part of a socialization program to help their kids get ready to enter a more traditional school environment. Our kids were patient, enthusiastic, positive and very supportive.  They deserve kudos for stepping out of their comfort zone and showing courage in this new situation. However, I also know that having faculty from the Joshua House come over twice to share insights about autism, help them gain empathy, show pictures of the kids they would be working with, talk about tips and the kinds of activities we would be doing, and answer questions our students had, played a huge role in the success and enjoyment of the experience.

 

So, the next time you have the opportunity to frame an experience, here are a few additional suggestions:

 

1) Find the balance between sharing enough info to give them a frame without getting so granular that the focus gets lost.

 

2) Be sure to ask them what questions they might have after you share some details. Don’t be surprised though if they ask a question that seems less than essential. It doesn’t mean they are not taking it seriously or are committed to it. Honoring what is on their mind and addressing it can ultimately help them better focus on what is important.

 

3) If you’ve got another child or a friend’s child who has been through a similar experience, have them share out their experience when appropriate. Whether we like it or not, hearing from another peer the exact same thing as what we would say as adults can prove more impactful. We use this model at school at times, bringing an 8th grader in to talk with sixth graders on a topic like responsible use of technology.

 

4)You don’t need to say, “Don’t be nervous.”  New situations are bound to lead to nerves, and you can help lower them by honoring the feelings they may have. You can mention how you understand how they might be nervous, but that the value of what they are going to do/the difference they will make is worth that initial butterflies.  Sharing a similar experience where you were nervous too but persevered and were grateful for having done so, also can be effective.

 

5) Follow up the experience with a reflection, feedback, and a pat on the back. Using the initial conversations about the frame as reflection points can really help shape growth and what they take away from the experience. It doesn’t have to be that day as often middle schoolers might not be ready to have processed it and will resist initial prying. Perhaps the next day over dinner!

 

I’ve found over the years of working with middle schoolers that they are so capable of reaching the bar, even when it is set quite high. We must not underestimate them, but we must also provide the framing so that they are well-positioned to get the most out of their experiences. Simply saying, “Be on your best behavior,” or “Do you best” does not provide the information they often need to be successful. We cannot only place expectations on our kids. We must scaffold their learning as well.

What could be more fun than fourth and fifth graders enjoying a variety of activities in the out of doors!  Groups participated in rock climbing, canoeing,  kayaking and a group challenge called the Spider Web.   Hear about their adventures in their own words.

Kayaking by Janie McGawn

Splish splash my shorts were soaked already and we had just gotten on the water.  I knew the surprise we were in for.  It was slightly breezy and at first I thought for sure I was jumping in. But now that I felt the water, I wasn't so sure.  We were in kayaks and the surprise, I knew from past experience with Avid, was piano keys.  We rafted up and I waited and waited for my turn.  Finally, it was my turn. I would be the only one to run in my group so I got up and out of my kayak and sprinted across.  On my third step I slipped, and fell in.  Although it wasn't as cold as I had

expected, it was freezing!  As soon as I hit the water, I scrambled into the closest kayak, ran back across, jumped back in, and went back to shore!

Field trip to Bear Creek by Gabriella Brower

It was a super fun day.  We did rock climbing, canoeing and kayaking.  I was good at the rock climbing, but when I tried doing it blindfolded with my legs tied together, it did not go well.  We were the fastest group to make a square in canoeing.  So we got to explore the lake.  The counselor said five minutes, but we only got two.  We called ourselves the Fat Assassins.  We would also slap our bellies.  Whenever our instructor said, "fat," we would say, "assassins."  People also tried bottle flipping of the rock climbing wall.  Nobody made it, but it was a good day!!!!!

 

Avid Was Very Fun by Tate Ritacco

I had a very fun time at Avid.  I did the spider web.  The spider web was where they tied ropes together up against three posts.  There were slots.  You and your team had to go through one slot each and, if you touched one rope you and your team had to start over.  Finally, we went rock climbing.  It took me a few tried to get to the top.  My counselor really encouraged me to get to the top and, finally, I did it. 

 

Avid 4 by Brooks Wiley

I loved Avid 4 because my guide was really nice to us.  It was also fun because Mr. Bredar fell in into the lake running across the kayaks.  Canoeing was great because we did a scene from "Pirates of the Carribean."

Avid for Adventure 5th Grade 2017 

by Lucy Nadolink

This year I had a great time at Bear Creek Lake Park. We did team building, rock climbing, kayaking and canoeing. I love the rock wall!  I especially loved rappelling down it.  It felt almost like you were flying as the thing gently lowered you down as you pushed off the rock wall.  I pretended that I was a different thing each time.  One time I was a bird and I flew down.  Another time I was an eagle.  Finally, I was Superman (which I crashed into the rock wall doing).   Canoeing was also really fun.  The couselor said our group did all the challenges in record time.  We even played sharks and minnows in our kayaks.   I loved our counselor, Cyrus.  He was really funny and super nice and helpful.  I had a really great time.  I hope we can go next year.

"The Accidental Fall" by Ryan DiTanna

“Okay everybody, you can get into the kayaks now,” the counselor said. Everyone rushed to the kayaks and got in. Everyone started to paddle off and follow the counselor. “This is gonna be fun!” I say. We paddled for about five minutes and lined up side by side in the kayaks. The counselor told everyone how to turn and stuff like that. “Can we play piano keys?” I ask. Piano keys is where we all line up side by side. One person gets out of the kayak and crawls, walks, or runs across the kayaks. “Well if we're gonna do that then we should move more toward the middle of the lake.” he says. The majority wanted to play, so we paddled toward the middle of the lake. “Now everyone, the water is really cold.” my counselor says. “So if I were you, I wouldn't jump in.” “Okay,” we all said in despair. But I thought to myself, “This is the last time my grade is gonna come here so might as well just jump in.” “Okay, who wants to go first?” she asked. I slowly raised my hand “Okay, how about Ryan?” “Okay,” I replied. I slowly got out of my seat. The kayaks were pretty wobbly so at first I walked but then I ran across them. But at the end when I was turning around I pretended like I fell in. “Whoa, Whoa!” I exclaim. I fall “accidentally” into the water! Wow that water was cold. I swam as fast as I possibly could back to the kayaks. “Is it cold?” everyone was asking me. “Duh” I say. “Its freezing!” “Alright who's next?” the counselor said. “I will,” Julia said. She made it to the end but she actually fell in not “accidentally.” A bunch of other people went but the only other that fell in was Katherine. Ward was next. He made it all the way to me and Julia's kayaks. He was stepping from my kayak to Julia's when she suddenly pushed off my kayak! Ward was slowly going down into the splits! Five seconds later he was doing the complete splits. He tried to jump to my kayak but the  bottom half of him got soaking wet. I was laughing so hard I was pretty much crying it was so funny. That was definitely the funnest thing I did all day.

Dear Parents,

As the world of technology expands and becomes more and more accessible by everyone, we find it to be more and more important to have open conversations on how to manage everything that goes along with it. What device is right for you? What computer is right for your children? When is it appropriate to use a device? These are just some questions that we ask ourselves. One question or topic that comes up in conversations quite often is about ways to monitor, protect and keep children safe while using the Internet. We put together the following findings from our research on this topic. If you have additional resources that should be shared, or if you have found success using any of the monitoring and blocking parental controls listed below, please let us know. In addition, we will continue to BLOG on topics of interest to you, so be sure to email us with suggestions on other topics.

 

Technology at Home – 10 Considerations

   1.   Define your family’s Technology Principles – What are the main reasons we want to have balance in our lives regarding screen time and other activities?

   2.   Talk weekly with your children about their technology use.

   3.   Designate device-free family time.

   4.   Schedule device-free social activities such as sports, lessons, and volunteering.

   5.   Consider taking devices out of the bedroom during sleeping hours.

   6.   Create a screen time or media contract. (See resources below.)

   7.   Be an educated parent. (See organizations below.)

   8.   Stay abreast of the latest trends through email newsletters. (See recommendations below.)

   9.   Share and connect with other parents.

  10.   Deploy monitoring and blocking strategies in your household.  (See resources below.)

 

Screen Time Contracts

Screen Time Contracts from Screenagers

Common Sense Media Family Media Agreement and Device Contracts

 

Organizations

Common Sense Media - Empowers parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids’ lives.

Family Online Safety Institute - International, non-profit organization that works to make the online world safer for kids and their families. 


Psychology Today's Parenting in a Digital Age - This blog explores how parents and children might live together meaningfully in a digital age.


Richard Freed, Ph.D. - Child and adolescent psychologist, speaker and author of Wired Child: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age.

 

Email Newsletters

Safe Smart Social – Monthly social media tips and updates

Screenagers Tech Talk Tuesdays – Tuesday emails with conversation starters about social media, research, tech tips and much more to incite a dynamic conversation with your kids

Common Sense Media - Age-based movie reviews, app recommendations, and more

 

Monitoring and Blocking

ARTICLE: Everything You Need to Know About Parental Controls – Great overview of how it all works

Microsoft Family Safety – Block sites, set time limits, and see activity reports

Circle with Disney - Filter content, limit screen time and set a bedtime for every device in the home

OurPact - Mobile guidance for your family, available for iOS and Android
Screen Time - Parental controls for iOS, Android and Kindle devices
Curbi - Parental controls for Android and Apple mobile devices
ParentKit - Control and schedule what is on your child's iPod, iPad or iPhone
NetSanity - Parental controls for iOS
FamilyTime - Parental controls for iOS and Android
Net Nanny - Parental controls for Android and iOS
Mobile Fence - Parental controls and GPS tracking for Android devices
Verizon Family Base - Monitor wireless activity and set usage limits
AT&T Parental Controls - Manage internet and email activity on computers
T-Mobile Family Allowances - Manage minutes, messages and downloads on phones

How to turn on Parental Controls on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch

How to turn on Parental Controls on a Mac with OS Sierra

How to set up Parental Controls for Xfinity Internet

 

Thanks,
St. Anne’s Technology Department

Glen Worthing

Jennifer Worthing

 

Gaining Perspective

August 27, 2017

Over the course of the final days of summer vacation, l have found myself gaining new perspective at seemingly every turn...
Read Middle School Head, Sumant Bhat's latest blog.
Dear St. Anne's Families,

At St. Anne's we currently have Macbooks, iMacs, Chromebooks, and iPads. We often get asked the question: What is the difference between a Macbook and a Chromebook?

A Chromebook is a laptop that runs Google's Chrome OS while a Macbook runs the Mac OS X operating system. Chromebooks are designed to be used primarily while connected to the Internet, with most applications and documents living in the cloud. As a result, Chromebooks don't have a lot of onboard storage, and they cost between $150-$350. Macbooks have faster processors, better screen graphics, more memory, and can do more complex tasks like video editing. The cost of a Macbook is between $1,000-$2,000. The lifespan of a Chromebook is estimated to be around three years while the lifespan of a Macbook averages around six years. A Chromebook only allows the user to use the Chrome browser while multiple browsers can be used on a Macbook, such as Firefox, Safari, and Chrome.
 
Since we use many online tools at St. Anne's such as Google Drive, IXL, WeVideo, and Typing Agent, the Chromebooks have been a great addition to the school. The iMacs and Macbooks have been great for creating iMovie projects, HyperStudio projects, Pages documents and other offline projects. There has been much debate about which device is best: PC or Mac. Now Chromebooks have been added to the mix. If you have any questions about these devices, please do not hesitate to ask.


Common Sense Media is a nonprofit organization that provides education and advocacy to families to promote safe technology and media for children

Below are a few links to articles published by Common Sense Media that we thought you might find interesting.

Technology should work for you and work within your family values and parenting style. When technology is used thoughtfully and appropriately, it can enhance daily life. But when used inappropriately or without thought, technology can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family-time, outdoor-play, exercise, unplugged downtime, and sleep.

3 Places Families Should Make Phone Free - This article is about how technology can interrupt our most treasured family moments. Sure, our devices keep us connected, informed, and engaged. However, meals, bedtime, and even time in the car are the three times when we need to just say no to using devices. Click here to read the article.

Kid's Summer Movies Guide 2017 - Since school's out, that means there are even more movies aimed at kids, tweens, and teens. But how will parents decide what's appropriate for their kids? Common Sense Media has a guide that can help parents choose which summer movies are best for their kids. Click here to read the article.

Last week at Founders’ Day, the whole school gathered in the amphitheater for the bell to be rung sixty-six times, one for every year of the school’s existence. Prior to that moment, Mr. Smiley asked that we all take a time to pause and reflect on our year. Like me, many of you likely feel that reflecting is a practice we do not do nearly enough as we should or would like to do.

 

As an educator, I believe that cultivating a spirit and habit of reflection in our students is critical to both their academic and personal growth, but also to the nurturing of healthy decision-making skills. Through reflection, students can learn causality between choices they make and the outcomes.

 

In the classroom, at different points of the year (e.g., the mid-trimester or trimester), after projects, and prior to tests, teachers and advisors often engage in reflective conversations with students. Asking students what study habits they will try or have tried, or what they could have done differently in class discussions, is intended to help nurture metacognitive skills. Recognizing actions that led to success or identifying ones that did not lead to success can help shape future behavior.

 

Outside of the classroom, being reflective is equally as important, particularly around technology. Frequent meetings and discussions in middle school on digital citizenship are focused on building a habit of reflective self-questioning prior to hitting send. Always asking  Is it kind? Is it necessary? or How will this impact others? can lead to better decision-making on devices. Twenty years ago, adolescents had the luxury of time and countless opportunities to reflect on a poor decision because of how long it would have taken to take a picture on a camera, develop the film and then put it in the mail. Having time to consider the feelings of others and alternative actions was enough to deter a poor instinct. For better and worse, today our world provides our raw emotions and thoughts instantaneous access to an infinite audience for all our tweets, photos and posts.

 

As adults who are eager to support our kids in becoming more reflective, there are several tools we can employ to counter natural walls or reluctance we get from them. Active listening and holding off problem-solving for them allows kids to talk through their challenge, reflect, and often come up with a solution on their own. Teasing out a student’s intention and then helping that person understand the impact on others and oneself is another powerful approach. Another practice I like to use is asking students to use a numerical scale to quantify feelings like frustration, fatigue, or pain that they felt prior to making a decision. Not only does it give the listener some context, but it also helps the individual have comparison points for the future to put things into perspective. Finally, finding time to identify alternative choices and pondering possible outcomes of those actions can help broaden the kids' minds to a multitude of choices they have in the event they find themselves in a similar situation in the future.

 

As a middle school, we hope that encouraging reflection provides students a pathway to build scholarship and good habits that will serve them well beyond our walls. Being reflective is also necessary for our kids to overcome the pressures of peers egging one another on while gathered around a device, or the perceived expectations of being active and current in social media. However, just as using a stress ball only in times of crisis proves less than effective, we must practice reflection routinely and on a daily basis. Only then will we be equipped to be reflective when we need it.

 

Fifth Grade Writing

April 7, 2017

Fifth Grade Writing

By Deena Tarleton

 

Our very talented fifth graders are ratcheting up their skills of persuasion by taking opposing positions concerning various issues.  For one assignement, they researched information about zoos and what various experts considered to be the plusses and minuses of having zoos with captive animals.  After much class discussion about both sides of the issue, each student wrote a persuasive piece supporting a particular point of view.  If you recall the persuasive writing in third where students explored considering their audience (e.g. Alan, teachers, parents, me) in developing an argument for more recess time, staying up later and other topics, reading the next two articles will give you a sense of the development of student writing from younger grades to fifth grade.  These two pro and con papers are illustrative of the excellent work by our fifth grade students.  I think you would agree with me that critical thinking is certainly a part of that development.

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Why  Zoos Are Good

by Chattin

Did you know if we don't do something to protect animals the next generation may not see some species such as the Sumatran Rhinos, Red Panda, or the Silverback  Gorilla? Do zoos provide more benefits for animals or are they more harmfull? I believe that zoos are more beneficial to animals because they provide education, they rescue and rehabilitate injured or sick animals, and they keep endangered species from becoming extinct.

One reason zoos are needed, is that they are a great source of education.  For example, if you live in the city and wish to see wildlife,  you can go to your local zoo to interact and learn about any species. Some of these species that you see, you may never get the chance to see again if you don't go to a zoo. The Zoology Lost World Article states that zoos also give you a better education by describing all about the animal and its habitat. Without zoos, you might not know as much about an animal as you do today. This gives you  more information and knowledge because it shows you what sound an animal makes and can tell you a lot about the animal.

Another reason we need zoos is that zoos take in injured animals and nurse them back to health to later be released into the wild again.  According to the zoology lost world article this is important because if there were no zoos, then many of these species would become extinct. For example, if zoos get an eagle with a broken wing that doesn't know how to live in the wilderness,  they would take it in, nurse it back to health, and teach it how to survive in the wilderness. This is also important because if you released an animal that doesn't know how to fly, would not survive on its own. Many zoos such as the Big Bear Alpine zoo are working on releasing animals that they have rescued back into the wild once they have healed.

Lastly, one of the biggest ways zoos help is by keeping many endangered species from becoming extinct. The article 8 Zoos Helping Animals Edge out of Extinction states "Without their dedicated conservation efforts, some animals would be lost to us forever." Take the Red Panda for example. The only reason that there are Red Pandas still living is because zoos have given Red Pandas a protected place inside zoos and started breeding the species. Zoos breed endangered species which helps boost their population and bring the animals back to healthy numbers.

In conclusion, we need zoos because they provide education, they rescue injured or sick animals, and they save endangered species. As you can see, zoos provide important services for both animals and for people, and these are the reasons why we should keep and expand them. "There are bad zoos and bad individual exhibits but there is always room for improvement," Dr. Dave Hone stated in the Zoology Lost World Article.

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Why We Should Not Have Zoos
by Ryan