Habits of Mind to Last a Lifetime

Happy last day of school! It is hard to feel the same level of celebration that we usually do this time of year with all we have experienced these last months and the heartache in our country these past two weeks, and yet it is important to mark this time for our students. Not only have they grown and learned, they have shown tremendous resilience and flexibility in navigating these last few months. I am so proud of them. Continue reading

Honor the Memory

In a typical year, our entire campus would have gathered today to pay tribute to our country and our fallen soldiers in honor of Memorial Day. We would have sung patriotic songs (and our school song, Fortune Favors the Bold) and stood together in solemn tribute while simultaneously marking the beginning of the end of the school year. It is one of the annual occasions most anticipated by many. Since we cannot be together, please take a moment to observe the raising of our flag as Band Teacher Andy Tyson plays “Taps” – a typical component of our Memorial Day assembly – to honor those who have served our country and salute those who continue to do so.

These traditions and rhythms, so familiar for so many years, are obviously different this year. Nevertheless, the importance of remembering, of slowing down to reflect, and of observing Memorial Day for its original purpose remains. And, for many years to come, Memorial Day will also take on an additional meaning and import within the NCCS community. One year ago today, a parent in our community, Jennifer Dulos, went missing.
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Flexibility in Planning

Thank you to the more than 150 of you who joined our Community Conversation on Tuesday. I spoke in general terms about distance learning and both the intellectual framework with which we devised our program and the shifts we are making in response to the inputs we have evaluated, including the feedback surveys we sent in April. I also spoke about our approach to returning to campus and how we are similarly devising a set of plans that will be flexible enough to adapt to whatever parameters exist three months from now.  Continue reading

Adapting Together

Happy May Day to you all. It hardly feels like May, and I suppose that is emblematic of all that we are experiencing these days. As we complete our fifth week of distance learning, just as I wrote last week, the early days of adrenaline have worn off, and the realities of the situation settle in.

There is no doubt: this is hard. I know that so many of us feel a great sense of loss – loss of social connection, loss of the daily rhythms with which we are so familiar, and loss of the events and celebrations that are part of spring in school. I know that our students feel the loss of the spontaneous moments of play and connection at recess, in the halls, and at lunch in addition to the connections with their friends. I wish I could tell you when we will be able to experience those again, but I cannot. As I shared in my community letter today, we are planning for myriad scenarios so that we will be able to return to campus when it is deemed safe.  Continue reading

The Value of Feedback

In last week’s parent survey, which received nearly 250 responses in the four days in which it was open, 70% of you rated your satisfaction of the school’s approach to the current circumstances as an 8, 9 or 10. Your comments about the aspects of distance learning that resonate with you are valuable and affirming. Even more, your suggestions about ways we can further improve our approach are helpful and constructive. We know that this is not perfect and cannot be, and we will continue to iterate on it.  We intentionally sent the survey, after three weeks of distance learning, to come at a time when everyone had experienced enough distance learning to be in a rhythm and with ample time for continued evolution. As you know, we designed the program to start slowly and ramp up, and the survey helps us assess how the first stages of that ramping have been impacting our students.  Continue reading

Achieving Balance

Screen Shot 2020-04-17 at 12.19.48 PMBalance. It seems such an elusive concept right now, as we all juggle home, jobs, children and an inordinate number of Zoom calls. The boundaries that we have all established between home and work, family time and activities, socializing and staying in have largely if not completely disappeared. It can be almost laughable to think of achieving balance as we typically think of it right now. Yet, finding control and comfort in this current reality is so important for each of us and for our children, and that is why “balance” will be our theme for week #4 of distance learning next week.  Continue reading

Distance Learning Week 2: Routine

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

Imagine being told you were only allowed to drive a car backwards. After so many years of regular driving from when you first got your license at 16 or 17, you are now only allowed to do so backwards. The pedals are the same, and the car is the same. The roads are the same, and the rules are the same. And yet everything is different. What would you do? I would go very slowly at first so I did not crash into something. And slowly, as I practiced more, I am sure I would start to feel more comfortable. In fact, there is brain science behind this. Check out this fun, “backwards-bicycle” video that touches on it lightly.

This is not unlike what our teachers are doing right now. The students and the curriculum are the same and yet everything is different. As you know, we have decided to step into this slowly and ramp up methodically, being thoughtful about the wide variety of family situations within our community, the ability for students at different ages to learn independently, and the driving-backwards component of this.

Last week was about connections, and students and teachers alike felt the joy of reconnecting, even if virtually. It was wonderful to see, as our Week 1 Distance Learning video demonstrates. Now that we have reconnected, this week is about building routine. It will be a new sort of routine for everyone, familiar in some ways – lessons, schedules and some assignments – and quite different in others all having to do with its being virtual and our being at home. I imagine many of you put in the groundwork for these routines last week, as our teachers did. This week will build on that and will hopefully end with them relatively in place. As these routines are new, give yourselves and your children the space for some parts of it to work and others to need tweaking.

We are all facing an unknown together, and taking things one step at a time is an important and effective way to face that unknown. In that spirit, I offer a reading of a children’s book, Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cromwell. As I said last week, there is great wisdom in children’s literature, and we are never too old for it.

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Distance Learning Day 1

“Take the first step in faith.
You don’t have to see the whole staircase,
just take the first step.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.

Dear Country School Community,

Welcome to the first day of online learning! As you know, this first week is all about connectivity – our reconnecting personally and ensuring that everyone is able to do so digitally. Today’s messages and activities are designed with both of those goals in mind.
Today starts with a video. I believe many children’s books, in addition to being entertaining for our youngest learners, contain great wisdom meaningful to us all, no matter our age. We’re never too old for a good children’s book. As we embark on this new way of approaching school, we are connected by our community and the virtual ties our digital world affords us just as we are not physically together on campus. Thus, I thought that The Invisible String by Patricia Karst and illustrated by Geoff Stevenson would be a perfect book for our first steps together down this new road.

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Maple Sugaring, a Country School Hallmark

large_news1316793_1336175This week, for the first time, we held a parents’ maple sugaring event. The gathering, which was put on by our Parents’ Association and Chris Lawler, our woodshop and maple sugaring teacher, was fully registered within days of offering it. I believe the opportunity to engage in a traditional craft – manually – was attractive, particularly in this automated world. Maple sugaring is a hallmark of our program as it connects us to nature’s rhythms. The sap runs when the days get warm while the nights are still cold, signaling the beginning of spring and the growing season – and of a completely natural process – boiled sap equals syrup, with nothing else added. Continue reading