Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tears in my Eyes

Two things happened over the past twelve hours that made me tear up. The first was a Facebook status updated by a Summers-Knoll alumna, saying she 'really kind of misses school the Summers-Knoll way a lot.' It popped up on my Facebook page, and the tears just sprang into my eyes. It means so much that this talented, confident girl who is doing powerful things in her high school career stops and remembers us with the same fondness that we remember and think about her. She may be a Junior in high school, she may be winning prizes and exploring distant horizons, she may be on a fast track to save the world, but she is still our baby. :)

The second time I got misty was just a moment ago when a parent stopped by the office. She told me that she had been chatting with a Greenhills teacher, who brought some of his students here to do a Shakespeare workshop with Renata's class a short while ago. In the course of their chat he said to her, 'That teacher is fabulous, and you should be really happy about what's going on in that school.'

So it's lovely to be reminded that what we do has enduring importance for our children. It's lovely to know that other educators can come into this school and see the vitality and significance of our work. And it's doubly lovely that everyone - our visitors, our students, and you, our wonderful parents, are moved to let us know that you understand and care about the experience the children are having here. Thank you for the vote of confidence.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving is Here, For Sure...

This was an amazing day; I feel as if everywhere I turn there is kindness, appreciation, honesty, generosity and open-heartedness.

Today marked the first giving to the Annual Fund Campaign, which was launched through the mail last week. Our goal is $70,000 - a bit of a mountain for our little school, but as a percentage it's in line with the goals other school communities need to raise each year, and it's a necessary one at this crucial moment which marks our steps away from years of generous support from the Andrah Foundation. Today I was given checks and pledges exceeding $11,500. Incredible. The response of one family to thanks was this: 'Believe me when I say that sometimes the beauty of this school and its role in our lives brings tears to my eyes as well. So it is an easy thing to do...'

So in one day we are 16% of our way to our goal. And I was reminded today of why we do this, why raising the money is crucial, why these children are so important. Today a seven-year-old asked if he could speak with me, and he laid his thoughts, hopes and fears squarely out before me with trust and faith that we could make things work. Another child talked with me about a struggle she had witnessed, and came to a new realization about her power to make a difference. Both these students talked openly and honestly, putting their points of view fearlessly and listening with open hearts to mine. Our children are not cookie cutter perfect angels, they are complex people exploring the world and their place in it. The joy is that they are in a place where they can do so with the support of a community that loves them. Because of that, they grow up to be complex people who still have open hearts, who still want to make a difference, and who have confidence and self-knowledge to back them up. A couple of weeks ago, one of our alumni went to Washington DC because the high school newspaper she works on was nominated for the prestigious Pacemaker award – the Pulitzer of high school journalism. I watched a pair of Summers-Knoll alumni performing at a local theatre, along with a whole bunch of adult professional actors, and the two of them owned the stage. Their confident mastery of the Shakespearean language and their comfort level with their professional colleagues was consummate. Another won an award in middle school writing last year. Yet another was one of six high school students from across the country to be awarded a spot in the Coast and Ocean Science Training Internship. I could go on, but the point is this: these are people who know they can move mountains, and they CAN - in part at least because they learned to do so here, with small hills that were more their size. They, the past, present and future students of Summers-Knoll, are worth every ounce of energy we give to them day by day. And they are the reason that our Annual Fund goal is worth striving for.

And then (back to my day, here) I got to spend time with a wonderful woman from the University of Michigan whose team is working on a marketing plan for SK. She was incredibly generous-spirited, showing total understanding for why the work we do - progressive, nurturing, flexible education for children with creative minds and unique gifts - is important.

And THEN, back at school, I was faced with Renata (whose talent, energy and love for her students radiate from her) who was asking about a space to perform 'As You Like It'. Now, this was a project with a mind of its own, if ever there was one. Much like Susan Carpenter's students with the plastic bag campaign a couple of years ago, Renata's students have picked up the ball on this and run with it harder and faster and with greater joy than any of us could have anticipated. It has grown from a little dalliance with the Bard to a Play That Needs To Be Performed, and as such, it needs a space. So I picked up the phone and called Deanna at the Kerrytown Concert House and she gave me an incredible and completely unexpected deal. When I tried to thank her she told me how wonderful she thought it would be to have these children and our school community at the concert house (Wednesday December 16th, 7pm, by the way). People are amazing. Our school community is amazing. Our wider community is amazing. Today was amazing, in its parade of wonderful, loving human beings. And guess what, it's Thanksgiving. I could not be more thankful for all of you.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Play's the Thing...

I am sitting in the office during aftercare hours, and Ollie G just ran in to let me know that it may be one more minute until the play is ready. (Actually, on second thoughts, he says it might be two more minutes.) He gave me a lovely rhombus of paper, colored brown, to be my ticket.

They are making a puppet show. This all came out of nowhere - Quinn colored an image of the wicked Queen from Snow White, then cut it out and stuck it on a popsical stick to make a puppet. That fired up all the others, and they started work on a Star Wars idea. Erin got a xylophone and started work on learning the Star Wars theme. They have been making character puppets, working on a story, and setting the school alight with single-minded passion ever since. Toussaint is the director, David is the vice-director... (I can't help smiling at that one.)

I just watched Act One... I am having a hard time writing because I am laughing so hard, but (calming myself down here) I have to say that even though the story is hard for an adult to follow, the sheer exuberance of the children is a delight to see. It is very much in rehearsal mode right now, scenery and characters generated as the moment demands, and music improvised to cover a sudden need for an intermission - but the drive and the hunger to create are electrifying. There is an amazing sense of action and stepping into the gap - we need scenery, I'll make it; we need time, I'll play some music; we need more people to run the puppets, can I help?

So, tomorrow they are going to work on rehearsing, and who knows what will happen? All I can say is that I can't wait to find out.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Curious Epicures: The Feast was Fabulous!

I want to send huge thanks out to all of you who attended or helped with the North African Feast for our Curious Epicures event yesterday. It was a glowing occasion, full of laughter, warm light, mesmerizing music, exotic flavors and aromas, beautiful art and most of all, you. The community of SK families, alumni, friends who were there is very special to me; I can't describe the feeling I get when I think about you all together sharing this amazing experience in support of our kids and our school.

There are many people whose hard work made this event the runaway success that it was. Alex Young, the master chef behind Zingerman's Roadhouse, worked with our children to produce the phenomenal meal and was unfailing sweet, kind, warm, generous, and just plain adorable throughout. Thank you, Alex, for making this such a special experience for these children. I know for a fact that it is a memory they will carry with them. My own two boys have worked with you twice now, and you have semi-divine status.

(So go to Zingerman's Roadhouse, people, and if you see Alex, thank him again. And while you're there, have lunch, or dinner, or coffee - the food is pure poetry.)

Julie Martin provided henna art, and she was the sensation of the evening. Upwards of sixty children surrounded her and she decorated them with elegant, exotic designs, and treated them all with her wonderful, warm, gentle sweetness. If you ever want to treat yourself or your friends to a beautiful henna tattoo, her web site is here. Thank you, Julie!

Laith Alattar played the oud as you might hear it in an Arabian Nights story. Our very own Summers-Knoll children followed with singing, playing and dancing from their North African music classes. The wonderful Jan Biliti led them, and Jesse Metcalf-Burton and Renata McAdams danced sumptuously. It is such a treat to work with faculty that have so many varied and fascinating talents! Thank you, Laith, and thank you to all our children and teachers for the gorgeous entertainment.

Thank you also to our sponsors and donors, who made this event possible. Our deep gratitude goes to the following organizations: please thank them by patronizing their business. You can reach their web sites by clicking on their name:

Eat Local, Eat Natural

Whole Foods
Mighty Good Coffee
Weber's Restaurant and Hotel
Invisible Engines Design
Main Dish Kitchen
Tantre Farms
Maplewood Lanes
Aladdin's Market (no web site for this one, but it is a great little grocery store at 3188 Packard, Ann Arbor 48108)

And of COURSE, Zingerman's Roadhouse and Arbor Henna.

Huge thanks also to our wonderful volunteers:
Students of Pioneer High School
Christine Moellering
Robbin Hitchins - and the amazing support team she brought with her
Anthony Nitsos
The SK faculty

And last but absolutely not least, I want to give a huge shout-out to the incredible team that brought this whole event together. Heidi Robb, Fran Loosen, Karen Bayoneto, Linette Lao, Ruth Marks - your dynamic energy, constant attention to detail, forward-thinking, ability to collaborate and problem-solve, and fantastic good will and generosity made this event happen. You are the Power team, goddesses all. Thank you so much.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

SK Graduate in the News: Congratulations, Katie!

Sometimes people ask me what happens to our students after they graduate from Summers-Knoll. Of course, they go many and varied routes and do many and varied things, but right now Katie O'Brien, a Summers-Knoll middle school graduate and currently a senior at Community High, is part of a team that works on the Communicator, the Community High School student-run newspaper. Katie and her fellow journalists recently found out that their work is up for the highly prestigious Pacemaker award, and they will be going to Washington DC for the ceremony. As Katie told me, 'We are 1 of 7 news-magazine style school papers up for the Pacemaker award which is considered the Pulitzer of scholastic journalism.' There is an article about it here.

Katie told me how she found out about it:

"A few weeks ago, Tracy, our adviser for Communicator, pulled up the web page for National Scholastic Press Association to talk about our upcoming trip to D.C. There is a convention ever year where they hand out awards. So we are looking through the pages of different awards and when she gets to the Pacemaker she starts scrolling really really slowly then stops and we see the cover of the Communicator and we're all really excited. She had known for a while but was pretending she didn't. It surprised all of us, because the Communicator has never been up for this award! She was a good actress, because some people thought she hadn't known and were asking why NSPA wouldn't contact her."

So, congratulations, Katie! I'm so proud of you! I can't help thinking back to the days of our 'Gorgeous Writing' EBs, when you really started writing with joy. Remember the hot chocolate? Have a great time on your trip to Washington DC, enjoy the awards ceremony - and whether the Communicator wins or not, know that your hard work and creative spirit have paid off and you have made a difference. I can't wait to see what you do next!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

'Moon Wolf' update

I want to share a little bit of news with you about the book our children created last year. Today Susan Carpenter sent me a response from a preschool teacher friend in Boston, to whom Susan had sent 'Moon Wolf' some time ago. She says:

I wanted to let you know that we are introducing our moon curriculum next week and we are using Moon Wolf to do that. We are learning about pumpkins this coming week and then turning to the moon. Rosh Chodesh is a jewish holiday that comes once a month and celebrates the new moon. Thanks for sending the book to me.

Our SK children have created curriculum for children in Massachusetts! One small step in our quest to take over the world. ;)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Preparations for the Summers-Knoll Eco-Fair

The end of October is approaching fast, and I want to alert you to a great SK tradition: Eco-Fair! This is the Summers-Knoll version of Halloween, and it happens like this.

Between now and October 30th (a Friday) the children need to spend time with you at home, making costumes to wear for our festivities on the 30th. We hugely encourage costumes to be made out of re-used and recycled materials - a big part of this is helping the children understand the fun and satisfaction that can come from earth-friendly practices. It also encourages creative thinking, problem-solving, out-of-the-box (or sometimes inside the box, in the case of Maria's tree costume above) strategizing, as well as a host of practical skills. As you can see from the photos above, pretty much anything can play a role in creating a fun costume - they don't have to be extensive or sophisticated; it's the children's input that makes them special. (I wore a white sheet and was Mount Everest...)

On October 30th, we hold our Eco-Fair. Details will come later through the classroom teachers, but as an overview I can reveal that there will be different stations throughout the school where the children can participate in a range of ecological activities - hands-on making, experimenting, discovering, creating - that encourage the students to think about the value of the natural world and things we can do to help sustain it.

There will be healthy and earth-friendly snacks. If your child has allergies, please send a special treat for him or her on this day.

More information later!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Back to School Picnic

I don't have space here to do everyone justice, but here are a few snapshots of the day. Happy children...

Happy adults...

Great cookies...

Amazing smiles...

Cool conversations...

New worlds conquered...

New worlds created...

Thanks for a great day!

Friday, September 11, 2009

What a Week!

I want to thank the Summers-Knoll students all for the joy, the wonder, the enthusiasm, the delight, the friendliness, the thoughtfulness, the wit, the creativity and the love that they lit up the school with this week. I want to thank their parents for joining this amazing community. I want to thank the teachers for the atmosphere of warm, eager, loving exploration that has permeated every homeroom classroom and every specials class. I am so proud that I am part of this school, it's hard to find ways to say it adequately.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Alumni Surprise Visit

Welcome to the new school year, everyone! It's that time again - goldfinches are at the sunflowers, and the September sunshine feels good. It seems odd that the school year, full as it is with new promise and the certainty of new explorations and adventures, begins as the days start to cool towards winter. But there it is!

The new year was heralded for me by a wonderful, unexpected visit from a bunch (gaggle? horde? What is the correct collective noun?) of Summers-Knoll alumni, who had gathered for an informal party celebrating the rare in-town-ness of our own Jacob Fauman, whose family left SK and Ann Arbor some years ago. They stopped by the school in a drove, amazingly tall and adult-looking, and caused me immense pleasure as they swarmed over the play structures as if nothing had changed except the size. (They would have me believe that it's the school that has shrunk, not they who have grown. They were highly amused by the size of the little chairs they used to sit in all those years ago.) I was so happy to see them all - if you are reading this, people, please come by again. We miss you all, and talk about you often. You are ALWAYS welcome.

And now the little ones are about to arrive, and they will sit on the little chairs, and play on the structures, and everything will seem big to them. Some day I hope they will return as teenagers and laugh together over memories - exciting, hilarious, adventurous - from this year that is about to start.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Eudaimonia - a truly joyful event

I want to give an enormous shout-out of thanks to all who helped with or attended our wonderful book launch party and fundraising event. It was a genuinely warm, fun, beautiful party, with great food and wine, lovely company, and gorgeous art. Thank you for celebrating with us. This is a small, unique, and very special little school, and I truly appreciate your supportive energy.

Our celebration was also a fundraiser, and it was hugely successful! We raised over $12,000 for school programs and scholarship funds. I'll let you know the exact figure when we have finished processing receipts etc. Thank you for your generosity: I hope you all enjoy the artwork, vacations, spa experiences, children's activities, wonderful food, and other fabulous offerings from the silent auction. I hope you also enjoy sharing our book with your children.

Special thanks for organizational help and amazing hard work go to David Alber, Micky Arvoy, Jan Biliti, Kristen Boudia, Marco Bruzzano, Melissa Bruzzano, Susan Carpenter, Steve Chapel, Sunny Chapel, Julie Cohen, Shan Cook, Kathleen Dergis, Johanna Eriksson, Mark Fancher, Nick Giardino, Imogen Giles, Kim Guziel, Ingrid Kock, Fran Loosen, James Marks, Ruth Marks, Robert Meyer, Christine Moellering, Elaine Neelands, Anthony Nitsos, Miina Ohman, Lisa Ortiz, Will Purves, Paul Resnick, Jeff Rhodes, and Heidi Robb.

Huge thanks and appreciation to the Ann Arbor Art Center, who donated the space for the event.

I also want to thank our wonderful sponsors for their gifts and support. Please support them in return! They are all great businesses, and do fabulous work. Visit their web sites by clicking on the list below:

Ten Thousand Villages
The Affordable Vet (Dr. William MacArthur)
Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase
Ann Arbor Hands On Museum
The Ark
Cafe Luwak
Crazy Wisdom Bookstore (who is also hosting a Moon Wolf Reading and Book Signing on May 31)
DaVinci's Salon and Gallery
Divers Inc
Georgetown Country Club
Gym America
Paul Hickman
Huron Valley Tennis Club
Integrative Pediatrics
John J. Boudia, J.D.
Keith Hafner's Karate
Kerrytown Concert House
Rebecca Kurtz
Liberty Spa
Maplewood Lanes
Marnee Thai Restaurant
Ruth Marks
Morgan & York
Motawi Tileworks
Palio's Restaurant
The Peaceable Kingdom
PRP Wine International
Roosroast Coffee
Seva Restaurant
Leslie Sobel
Wild Swan Theater
Woman Safe Health Self Care Room

And a final thanks for special donations to our auction to:

Nancy McClain
Police Chief Barnett Jones
Fire Chief Samuel Hopkins
Micky Arvoy
Cesar Bayoneto

Ann Arbor Book Festival

This coming Saturday, May 16th, is the annual Ann Arbor Book Festival. Summers-Knoll will have a booth, of course - we always do. It's a fun and active way to reach out to the community and show people a little bit of what we do. This year we will have the Moon Wolf book to share, as well as the school information and summer camp brochures that we typically have on hand. It's perfect timing for our little hot-off-the-press publication. We will also have a make-your-own-book activity for children to enjoy. Come by and say hello! Or better yet, volunteer to man the booth for a little while - the more the merrier! We will be outside the Michigan League on N. University, booth # 51 & 52.

Another good reason to come to the book festival is the headliner speaker. The Festival is hosting Dr. Perri Klass as the headliner at 6:30 pm in the Chemistry Auditorium #1800 on N. University. Admission is $5. Information from the book festival director is below.

Perri Klass, M.D., F.A.A.P. is the Reach Out and Read National Center Medical Director. She is a professor of journalism and pediatrics at New York University, where she works in the clinic at Bellevue Hospital. Klass participated in the Early Childhood Cognitive Summits and the Global Literacy Summit at the invitation of First Lady Laura Bush and is currently a member of the National Advisory Child Health and Human Development Council at the National Institutes of Health, and a member of the Health Literacy Project Advisory Committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Klass received her M.D. from Harvard University and completed her training in pediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital, and in pediatric infectious diseases at Boston City Hospital. She writes the "18 and Under" column for the New York Times.
She is the author of Quirky Kids, Treatment Kind and Fair, and novels and short stories.
Here is a link to the Book Festival website with all of the details:
Thanks very much,
Kathy Robenalt
Exec. Director, AABF

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Will Purves: 4th/5th grade homeroom teacher

The other day, I was showing a prospective family around the school and Will's name came up in conversation. 'We've heard of him,' they said. 'Our friend's daughter says he is the best teacher she ever had.'

Will started teaching in the 1980's and has worked in schools in New Hampshire, Colorado, and Michigan (teaching students in grades K through 12). He has taken his passion for education outside the classroom: he has run his own educational game company, taught teaching methods and poetry as an adjunct professor at the UM, supervised student teachers, and started a tutoring and writing services business. He is a published poet and the father of two amazing girls (one an SK alumna).

Will's goals for his students are that they should be self-motivated, playful, energetic learners and thinkers, exploring for the joy of exploration, internally motivated, confident, with a solid skill-set to take them into the future. I always say to families who are interested in SK that our goal is for each child to be the most - and best - themselves that they can possibly be. That is Will's focus and intent. So how does he get there?

Much of the work that is done in Will's classroom is project-based learning and exploration. It engages the students' own ideas and sense of direction so that they are passionate themselves about the journeys they make. 'As a teacher,' he told me, 'I know I'm doing a good job if I'm in the background, as a guide, I get to start the ball and watch them run with it, roll with it, play with it...' His role as a facilitator is to respond to the energy his students bring into the classroom. Along the way he encourages, gives feedback, develops skills. 'I help them see that there is a more difficult road ahead - one that's worth taking - you need better shoes. No cop-outs.' The result is that he has students who clamor to come in from recess so that they can continue working and take their activities further. When they find they have five minutes of time they ask to bring out other work: 'Yay, I get to work on math!'

Everything, from working on spelling to major units like the hybrid car project, involves choices that the children can buy into on their own terms, and different facets of skill-training and higher level thinking. Spelling development is based in their own work and study, and they are given creative options to enhance their understanding as well as memorization of the vocabulary. In this as in other projects, Will says, 'I'm not the one saying you have to do A, B or C. I offer them creative opportunities that give them a sense that learning doesn't have to have boundaries, which is really important for kids to experience learning as exciting, joyful for its own sake.' That internal motivation is a big part of Summers-Knoll's philosophy. It's why we don't give grades, why we de-emphasize testing. We want the children to learn with passion, not depend on external expectations.

Will's students spill out of the classroom on a regular basis, and bounce happily around the school measuring, discussing, experimenting. You have to be careful coming out of the office sometimes in case you get a helium-powered gondola disputing your right-of-way. The children come into the office too, to get what they need. 'We want to measure you!' some of them told me a short while ago, and pulled me out to stand me up against the wall. It turned out they were trying to find out where in the world had an average yearly rainfall that was equivalent to my height. They write creative poems and stories that are uniquely their own. They write letters and essays on social justice that come from their hearts. They do independent projects that give them opportunities to delve deep into their own interests. They engage themselves in their work, and their studies are in large part self-studies, explorations of who they are and how they relate to their world on many levels. Over all this, Will's gentle presence supports, encourages, questions, and laughs with them. It's a very happy classroom.

I'm honored to have Will as a teacher in this school. He is an unusual man and an exceptional educator. He is a great example of what progressive education is about. He has been a guiding light to me for most of my SK teaching and administrative career, and his values have informed and inspired the whole school. I'll never forget the moment last year when I told one of our parents that he would be teaching her child. She turned to her daughter and said, 'You lucky, lucky girl.' The child looked puzzled, and the mother said, 'You've been taught by Joanna, by David, by Catie. Now you get to be taught by Will. They're all different, they're all bring their different passions to the table. What a great experience.' For me, that summed up our faculty as a whole: each one is different, each one has something new to offer the students who enter their classrooms, and each one offers his or her interests and inspirations wholeheartedly to the children.

Next profile: Susan Carpenter! Watch this space.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Summers-Knoll Faculty Profiles: an introduction

Prospective parents inquiring about our school ask me from time to time; what is the teaching style at Summers-Knoll? The truth of the matter is that it mixes different styles, in no one single tradition, and that is a big part of our success. A former parent wrote to me the other day about her son, 'We're amazed, as are many of the teachers at his current school, at the depth of knowledge he has in relation to many of the other students at his school -- not just in math, but across the board.' The reason this student has this knowledge is that he has been taught by a variety of teachers - Susan, me, former SK teachers David Cyrus, Matt Perry and Catie Quist, and most recently by Will Purves. All these educators have very different styles: the combination of a variety of outstanding teachers makes an amazing, eclectic experience for a developing mind. Another parent mentioned to me when Will took over the 4-5 classroom last year how privileged her daughter was to have him as a teacher after the array of other spectacular teachers she had already been lucky enough to work with. What an opportunity to open new doors and think ever more deeply and creatively!

What all the teachers have in common is a commitment to honor each child as an individual and help them in their unique educational journey. Teachers love to work here because their own individuality is also honored and celebrated; each one is a passionate educator, a brilliant teacher, a loving guide, and each one has his or her own style of being in the classroom. They are free to educate in the best way that they, with their particular strengths, possibly can. They are trusted to respond to the children in their class and evolve the curriculum with those particular individuals in mind, with the flexibility to meet the needs of the children in the best way that they can. What I want to do over the next few posts is introduce you to each of our homeroom teachers as an educator, to give you some insights into their personal styles and what they are accomplishing in collaboration with your children. So watch this space! First up, Will Purves.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Moon Wolf

I'm sitting looking at a printout of the computer draft of 'Moon Wolf', the book that has been put together with a poem I wrote and a number of staggeringly beautiful illustrations created by our children under the guidance of Ruth Marks, Amelia's mother.

I want to ruminate a little on the process by which this book has come together. It has been a journey - one that is not ended yet, although the end is in sight. It started at the Ann Arbor Book Fair last May, with children stopping by the Summers-Knoll booth to make little books for themselves with pictures and stickers and words. Kim and I were staffing the booth, and of course we started making little books too. How could we resist?

Long story short: Kim made some little pictures and showed them to me. I improvised a little story to go with them, and a tiny book was born. But more than that, a seed of an idea was born which Kim nurtured and watered until quite recently. Then she said, 'Why don't you write a book and have the children illustrate it?'

Well, before I knew where I was, Melissa Bruzzano had picked up on the idea, and now I had two of them asking me what I was going to write. What I actually did was take the opening stanzas of a long narrative poem I had written some years before, and I offered that to the children. It was called 'Moon Wolf'.

Ruth Marks, who is an amazing professional artist, agreed to work with our children on the project, and all through the dreary month of February she and the students from the whole school made the winter seem brighter by working on enormous and largely collaborative pieces of art in different media. The K/1 children worked on washes and sweeps of textured color, colors of sunrises and midnights, backdrops for a wolf's journey. The 2/3 class was interested in the wolf's run through New York City, and they worked together on a huge cityscape, with tall buildings, streets and traffic. The 4/5s focused on landscapes: mountain ranges, polar ice, forests. Several of the children of all ages made portraits of my wolf. When everything was done, all the illustrations were taken in a huge pile to James Marks, who worked like a hero to sift through them all for the perfect images to create each page of text. He scanned them, photoshopped them, entered the text, and the book took shape.

Most of the images were developed by several children. When the selections were made, no one knew who had drawn what. Each illustration is a collaboration and a fusion of energy from each class. That is what makes them so special, and makes me so proud of the finished product. I feel as if every child's spirit is represented in the overall response.

There were many, many wonderful images to choose from, and relatively few pages on which to place them. Because of that, we are including a final page with a collage of images that we didn't have space for within the story itself. I hope that everyone will recognize something that they helped create.

The book is currently in to the printer, and we will receive a mock-up copy in due course. After alterations, it will be printed as a bound paperback book. We are selling it as a fundraiser for the school's Scholarship Fund, and the proceeds will be used to support student tuition for those who need it. Melissa has given out pre-order forms, but the actual launch of the book will be at Eudaimonia, our auction fundraiser at the Ann Arbor Art Center on May 9th. This event has really become an art-and-auction event: the children are in the process of making one-of-a-kind collaborative art pieces, Ruth and several other artists are donating unique and original works of art, and 'Moon Wolf' original illustrations will be up for auction too. It is a celebration of the creative spirit of our children and our whole community.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Update on Reusable Shopping Bag Campaign

Some of you will remember that last year, Susan Carpenter and her class of social activists mounted a campaign to educate the community about the negative effects of plastic grocery bags. They put a huge ball of plastic grocery bag trash together and presented it to the Mayor at a City Council Meeting, showing eloquence. poise, self-confidence, and passion for their cause as they made a speech in front of the councilors and general public.

At that time, the Mayor told our students that plans were being drafted to ban plastic grocery bags in Ann Arbor. Then, just the other day, I received information through the Chamber of Commerce about a survey and focus groups that have been set up to gather public feedback on this issue. I have included the information at the end of this blog entry. If you would like to participate in the survey or in a focus group discussion session, the links and contact information are listed below.

I can't help hypothesizing that our fledgling 2nd and 3rd grade activists helped this process along. Our students can be very proud of themselves: they made their voices heard, and helped the decision-makers in our community understand the sincerity and commitment of our young people. Kudos to all of them!

City of Ann Arbor Seeks Input on Shopping Bag Use
Survey & Two Business Focus Groups
Tuesday, March 31

Zingerman's Road House
2501 Jackson Rd, Ann Arbor
8:30am - 9:30am
Thursday, April 2
Downtown Development Authority Office
150 S. Fifth Ave, Ste. 301, Ann Arbor
8:30am - 9:30am
City of Ann Arbor officials are considering policies that reduce the litter and waste from disposable shopping bags and encourage consumers to choose reusable shopping bags. The public is invited to provide input on a range of possible local shopping bag policies through online surveys and business focus group sessions. The comments received by early May will help shape future City Council actions.

· Surveys are posted at through April 30, 2009. Two variations of the survey are provided: one for general consumers; and a second designed for business owners, managers, and employees.

· Interested business representatives are encouraged to attend one of two business focus group discussions to be held on Tuesday, March 31, 8:30am - 9:30am at Zingerman's Road House or on Thursday, April 2, 8:30am - 9:30am at the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Office at 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. Pre-registration to these free sessions is appreciated. Light refreshments will be provided. Please RSVP to Katie at 734.794.6000 extension 43728 or to

· Requests for mailed copies of the survey and general comments on promoting reusable shopping bags are being handled by Katie at 734.794.6000 extension 43728 and through

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Heal the Child Workshop

This workshop may be of interest to you. It is open to all. The information was sent to me by Amy Cherry, who is a Brain Gym practitioner with an organization called Learning through Movement.

To those who have children's best interest at heart. International presenter, Jon Bredal will be in Hastings, Michigan, March 13th and 14th , presenting his Heal the Child Program. Jon has been achieving outstanding results with children for over 20 years. He has worked with pioneers in the field of integrative movement, child development, kinesiology, and natural family systems healing.

Each one of us knows a child with ADD/ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Sensory, Speech Difficulties and other learning challenges. This is an opportunity to learn specific, step-by-step processes that get to the core of the challenges these children face. There are no prerequisites for the class and it is encouraged for parents, grandparents, teachers, OT's,PT's, counselors and anyone who has the interest to assist children in their full development and growth.

For more information and registration contact: Amy Cherry, M.S.Ed., 269-945-4568

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Creativity and Education

Please try to find fifteen minutes to watch Sir Ken Robinson's speech on the TED talks site (really wonderful mini-lectures on all kinds of subjects, for those of you who haven't discovered it yet). He discusses the need to foster children's innate creativity, and what that means. You can find it here.

It is a very timely reminder to all of us that intelligence is not only cerebral, that creativity springs from multiple kinds of intelligence, and that a creative approach to life and learning is essential for our society in these times of rapid change. Being locked into an educational system where mistakes are unacceptable, test scores are the measure of success, and students are directed down a narrow path with predefined required outcomes, ultimately destroys our chance of achieving excellence. It's a great speech, and also highly entertaining.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness

Following the inauguration of a new President of the United States, what better time to reflect on the founding principles of this country? 'We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men [and women, incidentally] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness'. Ah, goosebumps!

Last week it was brought to my attention that Jefferson (and the other signers of the Declaration of Independence) was basing his ideas of 'happiness' on Aristotle's 'Ethics', of which he owned a heavily annotated copy (in the original Greek, of course). This isn't any surprise - of course Jefferson studied Aristotle. It was expected at that time. What is more enlightening is to think about what Aristotle actually meant by the concept. He used the word 'eudaimonia', (which if you break it up must surely mean 'spirit of good'), and he interpreted it as human flourishing, self-actualization, knowing who you are and what you believe and having the courage to live according to your beliefs. That is the principle that was invoked in the Declaration of Independence, and interestingly enough it is also the principle we invoke at Summers-Knoll when we talk about a child's happiness. What we are seeking here is not the superficial happiness of every child at every minute of the day, a happiness brought about by having everything go smoothly, never coming into disagreement or irritation with another child, never having to try anything demanding or disagreeable, never having to experience conflict. To aim for that kind of happiness would be a huge disservice to our children. Watch Will's students responding to stories written by Sudanese refugees, or debating the meaning of life as they prepare for class. Watch Elaine's students racing to read books that will bring donations to kids in need. Watch Susan's class in math grappling with concepts of fairness (or unfairness) as they learn about probability. Watch them find power in helping each other through their 'Tribes' activities. Watch what they each come up with when they discover the intensity of Degas, or the ancient resonance of stories from Homer and Ovid. The happiness we're looking for here comes from self-actualization: the quest to become the most 'themselves' - and the best 'themselves' - that they can possibly be. We want to foster in our children the insatiable curiosity of the Elephant's Child (if you haven't read that story, it's a must. Look for it here), to help them grow to new awareness, new understanding, to develop in them the ability to think deeply, flexibly and creatively, to make connections, to explore their beliefs and have the courage to live accordingly, to discover passion in knowledge, skill, and service. (Albert Schweitzer famously said, 'The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.' I think his notion of happiness fits right in here.)

If you have a chance, go here, and listen to what Ben Dunlap (president of Wofford College) has to say about the living of a full life. The people he describes and whose stories he tells did not necessarily live the most comfortable lives. They experienced suffering and injustice - more than we may be equipped to understand. Their happiness certainly didn't come from getting everything their own way. They found fulfillment through a passionate, empathetic engagement with life and an unfailing curiosity and zest for new experience. That's what we're shooting for here: the pursuit of happiness as an open-hearted exploration of life.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Inauguration Day

I opened up my blog to write about Inauguration Day, and found that Susan Carpenter had beaten me to it. I encourage all of you, no matter which classroom your child is in, to read her blog entry - it is relevant to everyone. History is being made right now - live in the moment! Experience it! No amount of school can be a substitute for that.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Annual Fund Thanks and Celebration

With deep respect and gratitude, I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the Summers-Knoll Annual Fund. We have raised an amazing $23,000 to support Summers-Knoll programs and operations. In the current economic climate, that figure is a huge indication of your support and belief in our unique little school. Thank you for your recognition and appreciation of the important place that Summers-Knoll fills in the educational community - this school truly is like no other in this area. You, our community, play a tremendous role in making our school what it is: your children are our raison d'├ętre, and your involvement in their education is a crucial part of our success.

I want to extend special thanks to Sunny and Steve Chapel, who funded a $5,000 match for donations in December. Sunny and Steve, I am always in awe of your involvement and commitment to the school. You share so much love, warmth, support, and wisdom with us, it is truly an honor to have your family be part of our community.

Our goal for the Annual Fund was $30,000. The generosity you have already shown has contributed hugely to our current financial stability and I am thrilled with the level we have reached. I am keen to continue the Annual Fund and maintain our goal of $30,000, with a focus on building scholarship funds with contributions from this time on. Summers-Knoll is passionately committed to supporting a diverse community of families and students, and currently has 23% of families receiving some level of financial aid. I will be fundraising for 2009-10 scholarships enthusiastically for the remainder of the year. If you have not yet contributed to the Annual Fund (or even if you have, but wish to contribute to this great cause) now is your moment!

Last but not least, Fran Loosen and Nick Giardino are very kindly hosting a thank-you party for contributors to the Annual Fund on Saturday January 31st . I am delighted to have this opportunity to celebrate with you. Watch for your invitation in your email!