Thursday, December 9, 2010

Annual Campaign!

In morning meetings, or even just standing in the passageway as children come in, I often feel a pair of small arms circle my legs, or a small body lean up against mine. I look down, and the person smiles up at me, or just gazes off into the middle distance while we hug. It might be Sophie, Arwyn, Adrian or Emma. It might be Arnav or Nilay. It might be Sydney. Old as she is, sometimes it's Melissa. You just never know.

These children are so special to me, and to all of us here. From the oldest children (who wouldn't be caught dead hugging the head of school any more) to the little brothers and sisters of our students who so often join us for the first few minutes of the day - all these people are individually and uniquely important to us. And the community of families we have is so appreciative and warm this year, it's an amazing feeling of privilege to me to work with you all. The whole atmosphere of the school is one of energy and love.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for being part of our school. Thanks to all of you who have made the first, amazing donations to the annual fund. I appreciate it so much. We need the support of all our families -it's great to know that we are all working together for the benefit of the children.

A couple of points to clarify: Summers-Knoll is a non-profit organization so your donation is 100% tax-deductible. If you want to claim it in your next tax return you need to make your donation before December 31st. (That would be wonderful for us too!) If you want to leave it till the New Year, you can still claim it the following year.

Thank you again to those of you who have already given - and thanks in advance to everyone else who will be participating in this campaign! This is a crucial way to keep the school healthy and moving forward in the best way for our children. I am so grateful to all of you for understanding that and stepping forward so willingly to offer your support.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Benefits of Imperfection

I remember when my first child was born. He was so perfect, so tiny, so vulnerable, and he needed me 100%. Now look at him - an enormous eighteen-year-old with talents, brilliance, geeky charm and a whole range of complications that I certainly never planned for him. There's a huge desire when we are parents to control our children's lives so that they will never have to deal with fear, pain, disappointment, unfairness, or any of the other scratchy problems that this world offers us from day to day.

Unfortunately, that's life. It's part of the human experience. It's not possible to avoid it, and if it were it's surely not desirable. Our capacity for happiness is deepened by our capacity for sorrow. Our empathy for others comes from an understanding of what it means to suffer. Without experience of disappointment, triumph is a shallow thing. Every child has a journey to go on, and as parents and educators we need to be able to celebrate the milestones of these developing minds as they learn to tackle life with all their emotions engaged. Learning to negotiate the rapids now will give them tools and strength to cope with the avalanches and earthquakes that are inevitably going to shake them up later in life.

Click here for a great article, and wonderful food for thought. Enjoy the read!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A tip from Love and Logic

Periodically I get messages from the Love and Logic Institute, some of which are invitations to events or updates about publications, and some of which are tips to pass on to parents. The one that came today seemed useful to me as we all strive to help our children grow up honest and honorable. We use a lot of Love and Logic at SK, and I am passing this advice on to you as one way to communicate our approach and share it with our families.

"There are few things that leave parents angrier, or more worried, than when their kids act "truthfulness-challenged." The good news about lying is that kids do it. What I mean is that all youngsters experiment with bending the truth, and it doesn't necessarily mean that they'll end up becoming con men, criminals or politicians. That is, as long as we can help them see that honesty really is the best policy.

One way of achieving this goal is to apply the following steps:
Use "I feel like you lied to me" rather than "You lied to me."

If your kid replies with "No, I didn't!" this allows you to say, "I know…but I feel like you did."

Help the child see lying as an index of maturity.

Achieve this by saying, "When I feel lied to, it makes me wonder whether you are mature enough to handle some of the privileges you enjoy around here, like television, your video games, and things like that."

In an empathetic way, let the child know that privileges will return when maturity goes up.

"The good news is that when you can prove to me that you are more mature, I'll know that it's time for you to have these privileges again."

Remember that parenting isn't like a jury trial: There's no need to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Far too many parents get snowed by their manipulative kids and begin to wonder whether they are jumping to conclusions. I recommend trusting your heart and saying, "All I know is that I feel lied to, and I know that your life will be a lot happier if you learn how to avoid leaving people feeling that way."

More information at

Friday, September 17, 2010

An Empathic Civilization

If you have a few minutes, please take the time to listen to this, and think a bit about what we are all striving for with the children - community, global empathy, the future. It's a lot of fun to listen to and watch, as well as being thought-provoking. Find it here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Land of Oz

Welcome to our new and returning families!

Here's an opportunity to kick off the year, and a little background on it.

This October Renata's class will be partnering with students from the U of M's Residential College to work in the woods of County Farm Park on defining and creating spaces for inspiration and imaginary play. This will be done under the aegis of Elizabeth Goodenough, author of 'Secret Spaces of Childhood' and the documentary 'Where do the Children Play?' (Of course, I am hugely excited by this - it's another great project that our kids get to be part of through our relationships at the U of M, and another chance to connect them with learners and thinkers in the wider community.)

Another project loosely linked to this is a series the RC is doing based around the novel 'The Wizard of Oz', which Renata is also reading with her class right now (no coincidence). A series of panel discussions will be held at the RC on various Oz-related topics. I'll send an email with a flyer listing them, but the one I'd particularly like to draw your attention to is the one on October 14th:

Fearless Girls, Other Worlds: OZ in the Land of Children's Literature

"More than a century after its first publication, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ continues to inspire contemporary children's fiction writers to create distinctly American heroes on travels of self-discovery in fantastical, but very real, lands. Come join our discussion as we examine OZ's ongoing influence on the landscape of children's fiction with Jack Zipes, Professor of German at the University of Minnesota Emeritus, an acclaimed translator and scholar of children's literature and culture; Jennifer Allison, author of the GILDA JOYCE: PSYCHIC INVESTIGATOR series for young adults; and Ellen Handler Spitz, Honors College Professor of Visual Arts at the University of Maryland, a journalist and international lecturer on children's literature and culture."

This is a great way to look deeper into this book and some of the ideas it presents, and through that to support your child's reading and help take it further. This is obviously of particular benefit right now to parents of students in Renata's class, but all and any of you may read, or may have read the Wizard of Oz with your child, and may be interested in this program.

I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Our two wonderful 5th graders graduated today. They are both moving on to Greenhills School. They will be much missed. I find it hard to imagine Summers-Knoll without them.

The performance that was presented by students in honor of Graduation was sweet, funny, erudite and adorable. From Shakespeare to Calvin and Hobbes to Winnie the Pooh, the students put their hearts and considerable talents into their performance. Thanks to all who took part! And thanks to Renata and Elaine for guiding and supporting them.

In keeping with tradition, I wrote a poem for each of our graduates. Here they are:

Maria’s Poem

I want to tell you something
Of a place that I have seen;
It’s a warm and shining country
Where Maria is the queen.

The sea is gold and sapphire,
The shore is jewel-bright,
The forests full of creatures,
The hills are full of light.

And on a mountain summit
Sits Maria, crowned with flowers,
And she gives her minions orders
For hours and hours and hours.

Her temper is volcanic
But her joy is like the sun;
When she’s sad there’s a tornado,
When she laughs the stars have fun.

Maria is Maria,
And she is all our own.
Even though she is a queen
Upon a mighty throne.

Michael’s Poem

Michael steers his ship
Carefully through complex waters.
He navigates the syllables
Of fiendishly elaborate
Words and phraseology.
His ship slides easily
Through mathematical rapids
And negotiates with whirlpools of work
And academic waterspouts.
Mike’s ship conquers all
Because he designed it himself
And built it
With the lumber of his brain and the fabric of his heart.
His own hands formed it:
A ship like no other
That will cruise uncharted waters
With unshaken calm and skill.
Take your ship far, Mike,
But stop by our port again.
We will be watching for your sail.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Human flourishing in education

Sir Ken Robinson has done it again. A while back I linked to a talk he did for TED: here is another. At one point he talks about 'human flourishing' and I couldn't help but think about Eudaimonia, and why we chose that word for our event name. I encourage you all to click here and listen to what he has to say. (He is a great speaker - entertaining as well as thought-provoking!) Enjoy!

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Human Development Index

For when you have a few moments to reflect… What is HDI and why should we be pondering it?

I just read a New York Times article that questioned whether GDP, Gross Domestic Product, is an accurate way to capture the health and progress of a country. We hear GDP a lot; it’s simply a sum of all economic activity. But it ignores some of the important factors which contribute to quality of life, such as education and health. How could a more encompassing quality of life, health of a nation, be measured?

Well, check out HDI – the Human Development Index, a model being used by the United Nations. Reading the article caused me to reflect on what’s important and how it can be measured. Of course, I thought about schools too. What would a Human Development Index for a school look like? What should be measured and how should it be measured?

What do you think?

Monday, May 10, 2010

New web site!

Our new web site is live! This is hugely exciting to me, for a number of reasons.

We now have a web site that reflects the spirit of our school. The old one was functional and informative; this one takes it to a new level in the way it communicates the philosophy, community spirit and pedagogical approach we embrace.

The process of creating the site has been inspiring. I am enormously grateful to Linette Lao (Clementine's mother) and Anjanette Bunce for their tireless work designing and building the site. Their understanding of the things that make our little school important and special radiates from their work. Leisa Thompson, the photographer, also made a special connection with our school, and you can see the results of it in the luminous images she has captured.

I think both Fran and I have benefited also from the reflective process of writing the copy. I know I have. It is re-invigorating to spend so much time sitting with the ideas and ideals that underlie our work, and weighing the language that communicates them.

Maybe the most exciting thing to me was the input of our community - the parents who talk to us constantly, especially those of you who shared your thoughts at the community meeting, the faculty who are the living flame of our pedagogy, the board members who are so supportive and passionate about our mission, alumni who have offered help and who remember us so warmly, the friends who have become linked to the school through all kinds of different projects and have lit up in appreciation of the work they have seen - all of you have had a significant impact on the way this site has evolved. I am grateful to all of you.

Go take a look! And while you're at it, follow us on Twitter and join our Facebook page. Let's celebrate SK!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Standards and Accountability - what are they really for?

I'm catching up on my reading, and came across an article in the Washington Post that makes some interesting points about the direction education, or at least publicly funded education, is taking. The quote below particularly resonated with me.

"When did we abandon our belief that educating wasn’t about filling industry job slots but about exploring the dimensions and potential of humanness?"

I'd be interested to hear what you make of it. To read it, click here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Something to ponder

An interesting quote from Judith Browne-Dianis came to my attention today, in connection with the suicides of Phoebe Prince and Carl Walker-Hoover after suffering relentless bullying. Judith Browne-Dianis is currently co-director of the Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization in Washington D.C. Her work on discipline policies in public schools has received national recognition.

She said: "Misguided use of 'zero tolerance' school discipline and high-stakes testing poses a serious threat to the educational opportunities of America's youth. While they are usually considered separately, these two policies are actually closely related. Together, zero tolerance and high-stakes testing have turned schools into hostile and alienating environments for many of our youth. The devastating end result has been a "school-to-prison pipeline," in which huge numbers of students throughout the country are being pushed out of school and toward the juvenile and criminal justice systems."

I'm sharing this with you because, again, it was a moment of reinforcement for me that at SK we have chosen a strong, positive path for our children. Supporting, nurturing and encouraging on an individual basis, avoiding punitive policies in favor of mediation and respect for all, and in academics avoiding comparative testing as much as possible, have powerful effects on our children's character development as well as their intellectual growth.

Monday, March 22, 2010

More Alumni News - Mathematical Maestro

Today, the mother of an alum student sent me this account of his continued adventures in the world of mathematics. She asked me to omit names (I don't think she wanted to feel as if she was bragging about her kid in public), but those of you who know him will probably recognize the description. This child was one of those SK kids who was in constant need of challenge and stimulation for his amazing math brain. I am posting his mother's account here, partly in answer to the question I am asked periodically: how will students who are racing in math at SK ever be able to cope with the boredom and repetitiveness of math that is not at their level when they leave? This is a living example of how one family makes it work, taking advantage of the opportunities this wonderful city has to offer, and keeping their astonishing math student inspired and challenged. (It also speaks a little to whether a low-testing environment like SK prepares students for tests after they leave.) The child is in 7th grade. He's an exceptional kid. But all our kids are exceptional, in their varied, different, constantly astonishing and individual ways.

"We've been very blessed that many opportunities have come by since our son became a Davidson Young Scholar (DYS). That includes many scholarship opportunities, as well as opportunities to take Math classes at the University of Michigan. Both his SAT scores (and numerous awards following them) and just being a DYS member have helped a great deal in establishing his credentials, including getting the permission to take U of M's most rigorous & demanding Honors Math program for the Math undergrads. He aced the course last semester, and he's been doing pretty well so far this semester too, and most importantly, he really enjoys the materials and challenges there :)

And yes, he's still currently doing his 7th grade at middle school, and both my husband & I are taking turn to take him to UofM for his classes, then drop him back at school after UofM. It's a lot of work, but luckily, we manage to juggle all these so far with our flexible work hours. We're just extremely thankful that both his homeroom teacher and principal have been extremely flexible and accommodating to allow us 'tweak' so much of his school-day in order to allow him the opportunities to take classes at U of M."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Save the date: Eudaimonia, June 5th!

Remember Eudaimonia, our fantastic book launch/silent auction fundraiser last May? We are doing it again! We'll be using the same warm and beautiful venue, the Ann Arbor Art Center on Liberty in downtown Ann Arbor. Imagine a beautiful arty building, filled with interesting auction items and a really gorgeous book display, and you and your friends having the time of your lives along with other parents from our school, teachers, alumni parents, and members of the wider community. Last year it was a blast. I'm really looking forward to it. (Note: this is a party for adults and alcohol will be served. Children will need to stay at home.)

(It's called what? Eudaimonia? I hear you ask. What is that word? Eudaimonia (you-day-moan-ia) is a Greek word for happiness, used by Jefferson as the meaning of the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence. The meaning as he interpreted it is human flourishing, self-actualization, knowing who you are and what you believe and having the courage to live according to your beliefs. We call our event Eudaimonia, because this is the kind of happiness we encourage our children to pursue at Summers-Knoll.)

The children have been working on illustrating another book under the guidance of our own Ruth (this is well on its way to being a tradition). This one is called "Salmon of the Sun", and it is currently at the stage of having illustrations and words put together into book format by the indefatigable James Marks (Amelia's father). Thank you, James! Just like "Moon Wolf" last year, "Salmon of the Sun" will be launched at Eudaimonia, and we will celebrate the creative vision of our amazing children.

Karen Bayoneto is managing the event, and has established a committee of wonderful parents that is currently putting a lot of work into gathering items for a really great silent auction. Last year it was a huge success, with amazing art work, great vacations, wine tasting and all kinds of other goodies. We'll be looking for your help! We all know people, and know people who know people, who could contribute something really fun for this, to make the evening a success and raise funds for the school. A packet will be going home to you from the parent committee for the auction detailing all the ways you can help.

So don't forget! Mark your calendars! June 5th, 7 pm, at the Ann Arbor Art Center! Celebrate our wonderful children, support this great school, and pursue happiness!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Billy Jackson, Alumnus

I had a wonderful surprise this morning. A former Summers-Knoll student came to visit out of the blue! Billy is currently at the University of Michigan majoring in Film with a minor in Mathematics. He had left SK by the time I arrived nearly eight years ago, but we had a lovely time this morning trading stories and looking around the school.

A brief background on Billy: he attended Emerson for Middle School, Pioneer for High School, and now he is at U of M. This is his first year at U of M, but he has entered directly into his Sophomore year because he covered so many accelerated classes at Pioneer, including a bunch of college math and science at U of M alongside college students. ("Math was always what I was best at when I was at Summers-Knoll," he said.)

I asked Billy how he fared with the transition from SK's small, warm environment into the larger schools he attended later. He said that, for him, he felt as if the transitions were stepped really well. From here to Emerson took him to a larger, but still very manageable size. Pioneer was a step up from that, at 3,000 students. U of M has 14,000 students, and he said smilingly that he is perfectly comfortable there.

So why Film? Well, said Billy, he had assumed that he would study Engineering at college level. He is good at math and science, and it seemed the obvious thing to do. But then he took a class in Film, and a passion was born. He lit up when he was talking about it, how it incorporates math, art, technology, philosophy, business, language... "All things I love!" He is writing a screenplay - a cool goal for a math and science guy.

Billy reminisced about various things from SK ("I was a trouble-maker! I spent a fair amount of time in the office getting to know Dr. Cole [the head of school at the time].") He also remembered a particular project - a self portrait with writing that everyone in his class contributed to a class book. I thought it was fitting that a student from this school would remember an expression of the community bonding which has always been so important to us here. "I still have that book," he said.

You may be seeing Billy this summer - he is a Taekwondo instructor and may be training young Jedi to channel the Force at our Star Wars camp - maybe also to make their own original Star Wars movie. He made an instant connection with the kids here at school; it gave me a huge kick to see this former student and our current students chatting together.

Welcome back, Billy! It was wonderful to meet you, and to reconnect with a member of our family in such an delightful and unexpected way.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Progressive Education and Project-Based Learning

As interested visitors come to look at our school and I walk around with them, looking into classrooms, explaining the way we work at Summers-Knoll, I often find that the conversation turns to the progressive philosophy of the school. It's always inspiring to see people take on the ideas and start to light up as they consider the opportunities that a truly engaged, connected approach to learning could offer their child. Sometimes they are concerned, also. This is an unfamiliar way of doing things to many people. They want to know - rightly - how they can be sure that their child will learn fundamental skills, or be tracked effectively in the learning process.

There's an article I'd like you to read here called Powerful Learning. Click on 'articles' and scroll down to the last one on the page. It describes some of the strategies and benefits that research has identified in the kind of learning we embrace here, much more eloquently than I could. It explains the importance of project-based learning and assessment. It was a welcome reminder to me of why we do things the way we do them, and I hope it will resonate with you too.

While you're there, the site that is hosting the article, the Watershed School site, belongs to an amazing school in Colorado which is the natural high-school big brother of Summers-Knoll. Its philosophy of progressive, community-based learning is deeply in tune with our philosophy here, and the web site does an excellent job of explaining why. If you have time and interest, it's well worth checking it out.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reaching out with compassion: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

I want to pass this blog space over to Susan Carpenter for a minute. She and the rest of the faculty have been organizing some community service activities which we want to share with the whole community rather than on a classroom by classroom basis. I am very excited about these projects, both of which are beautifully connected ways to reach out within our school, within our families, and within our wider community to express support and love. My thanks go to our teachers, our students, and you our families, for your warmth and caring efforts.

This is what Susan wrote, to introduce you to the projects she and the other teachers are planning:

"Martin Luther King Jr. Day. is fast approaching, and there are a couple of very special activities afoot. Both projects are a way for children, families, and school to give back to their community, and to promote Dr. King’s message of service and peace.

Our first project is a way to reach out to our neighborhood. In conjunction with Trader Joe’s, Summers-Knoll children will be decorating 50 grocery bags with the theme “I have a dream of peace”. These bags were donated by Trader Joe’s and, after they are decorated, will be given back to the store. They have promised to use these bags during MLK weekend, to spread our dreams of peace to the wider community. Please consider thanking Trader Joe’s by giving them some of your business – and who knows? You may even get your food bagged in one of our masterpieces!

Another, rather larger and wide-ranging, project will involve you more directly. We will be making a school quilt for Project Linus. According to their website:

Project Linus is comprised of hundreds of local chapters and thousands of volunteers across the United States. Each volunteer and local chapter all work together to help us achieve our mission statement, which states:

'First, it is our mission to provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new, handmade blankets and afghans, lovingly created by volunteer “blanketeers.”

Second, it is our mission to provide a rewarding and fun service opportunity for interested individuals and groups in local communities, for the benefit of children.'

Each child will receive a quilt square on Thursday, January 14. Over the weekend, families will be encouraged to do a “Day of Service” by decorating their squares with the theme “family love”. A more detailed note with ideas and inspiration will be attached to your square, but perhaps you could start thinking and talking about this around the dinner table. Later, all the squares will be joined and made into a beautiful quilt, and donated to give comfort to a needy child.

Thank you for being part of our amazing community."