What I Learned At School Today

  • White Hill Artifacts

    Posted by Ross Valley School District on 9/5/2019 2:00:00 PM

    White Hill Middle School


    When you show up at the White Hill Middle School office to sign in, you will likely find Cary Adriatico there, unflappably seeing to everything all at once.  If you ask where the new 6th Grade teachers’ lounge is, she will probably offer to walk you over herself.


    “Stephen Pringle set it up,” she says as you walk.  “Mr. Pringle is a super-parent.  He’s our 6th Grade Angel.  He did a lot of the plantings, the shade over the eating area, he brought umbrellas ...” When you reach the new faculty lounge she sweeps her arm around like Vanna White “...Sofa, rugs, I think some of the tables ... we’re all having snack in here today after school.”


    Cary zooms away efficiently, smiling and waving on her way to doing more of everything, and leaves you to explore.  You slip into a classroom and settle by the door.


    Today Mr. Tunney (a new teacher to WHMS) is looking distinguished in his button-down and tie.  Two weeks ago he was wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt as he carried his things (potted plants, guitar, Wall Art) into his classroom in the newly-restored 6th Grade building.  He somehow manages to be equally hip in either outfit.


    “You are a social scientist,” he says to the class.  “We are investigating the past.  So ... What, my friends, is an artifact?”


    The energy of 6th graders is contagious.  A dozen hands shoot up.  The students speak with their whole faces, using their arms for emphasis, umming liberally as they try to pack their electric thoughts into words:


    “Maybe ... an object that is part of history?”

    “Something that proves they were there.”

    “Something they used in life?”


    “Excellent,” says Mr. Tunney.  “Select an object you use in life.  Make a quick sketch of it (remember, quality matters!), then write a paragraph about what you can learn about the person who left this artifact ... What can it tell you?  What did these people care about?  What did they do?”


    You slip  back out of class while pencils are flying and set about investigating the artifacts of the 6th Grade building.


    Inside the classrooms there are low chairs and high chairs, chairs that rock and chairs that sit directly on the floor.  Students can sit reading in alcoves or stand to write if they prefer.  The hallway is newly painted and artwork is going up.


    Outside there are shaded picnic tables and Adirondack benches, a neatly trimmed lawn, and friendly plantings.  You think of Mr. Pringle, 6th Grade Angel, and smile.


    The doors on either side of the front entrance to the building itself read “School Psychologist” and “Counseling Center”.  When you were a kid, psychologists seemed daunting and scary, but Heidi Smoot is more like a favorite auntie.  She’s friendly and kind, chatting easily as she shows you the new space for the Binder Hospital (a parent-led program where students can go for help with organizational skills) then walks you over to the Counseling Center.  


    There are comfy chairs and sofas in there, games and art supplies, and a big poster reminding you that MINDSET MATTERS.  “What do kids come here for,” you ask the School Social Worker?  


    Autumn Arbree says, “Oh, gee ... whatever’s on their minds.  Friendship issues, family dynamics changes, anxiety.  The whole country is having a youth anxiety epidemic.  Sometimes they just need a quiet place to sit for a while.  We have groups for grief and loss, for social skills, Behind Differences, LGBTQ Pride Alliance ....”


    The Academic Counselor, Michele Pelton, joins you and adds, “This Center will be a work in progress.  It will be based on the needs of the students.  We have space now and that’s a game changer ...”


    Ms. Arbree jumps back in and the two of them continue, building on each other’s ideas.  “Hopefully this becomes a place where kids can just come to relax, and that will reduce any stigma about services ...”


    “A lot of times, if kids act up it’s because there’s something on their mind, so kids can come here now instead of being sent to the office ...”


    “And if they aren’t ready to talk they can just be for a while ... “


    “Our ultimate goal is to teach kids coping skills that work at school.”


    When you leave the Counseling Center, the students are out for morning break, sitting in chattering groups or quietly in ones and twos.  You watch them fondly as they navigate their various transitions, from social studies to math class, summer to fall, elementary to middle school, and soon enough from childhood to high school.  


    When the bell rings and it’s time to transition back into class, Mr. Hess welcomes every one of his students with an individually-agreed-upon series of handshake moves, some of which are quite intricate and each of which is unique.  You feel confident, looking around this cozy 6th grade “soft landing” pad, and past it to the splendid buildings built for the 7th and 8th graders to come, that future archeologists will easily determine that this community values its youth.

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  • Art HAWKS

    Posted by Ross Valley School District on 8/30/2019 2:00:00 PM

    Hidden Valley School


    Hidden Valley School is a cul de sac on a cul de sac, tucked away quietly among the rolling hills of Sleepy Hollow.  If you pull in on a bright Friday morning, you will see: rows of Hawk-blue umbrellas two shades darker than the sky; tall puffs of deep red plum trees and lower puffs of mounding red-leafed shrubs; spears of purple Mexican sage; orange butterflies dipping and rising between the native plants; and Mt. Tam silhouetted in the distance.


    With all these lovely shapes and colors, you may find yourself in the mood for art.  And you’re in luck!  On the wall behind the front desk in the office (where you go to sign in, as you know by now), colorful, kid-made letters spell out WELCOME TO HIDDEN VALLEY ... and it turns out Ms. D and Ms. G have the Art room ready for business.


    On Fridays the art classes are taught by Ms. D.  May you watch, you ask?  “Sure!  Come in!  It’s nice to see you.  The students are about to arrive.”  The Mona Lisa waits, projected onto the white board, neat stacks of supplies fill the shelves (courtesy of the 100% awesome YES Foundation), and Ms. Horky’s class is on the way.  Score.


    When the students are settled in (“Welcome!  Welcome Will, welcome Sarah ...”) Ms. D. says that today, the first day of Art, she wants to get to know everyone better.  She has made a short survey, explaining, “I don’t like to just teach the same lessons every year.  I want to teach what you guys are interested in, what inspires you, so I want to learn as much as I can about each of you before I make the lesson plan.  I’ll give you an example to show you what I mean.”  


    Having already filled out her own survey,  Ms. D. tells the class about her favorite things (nature, her friends, being silly, and her cat) and her hopes for her own art practice (she is working on realism).  “And this one is a really important question,” she says: “What do you need from me?  Please tell me what you need from me to help you be the best artist you can be.”  It’s very quiet in the Art room.  Ms. D. goes on,  “I wrote down what I need from you:  Don’t be afraid.  Take chances, try your hardest, and experiment.  That’s how people get better at things — in Art and in life.”


    After seats are selected (“Please choose where you would like to sit this year, then show me that you have made a good choice”) and the surveys are filled out, it’s time for the scavenger hunt.  Students work in teams or individually to answer a list of questions about their Art room.  Where are the pastels and colored pencils?  How many garbage cans do we have?  Everyone wanders from the drying racks to the collage bin, the paints to the quarter-scale skeleton to the stacks of colorful paper, figuring out what is where.


    Fifty minutes fly by fast.  When it’s time for lunch the supplies are put away and chairs are pushed in.  The students head out to lunch and then a long Labor Day weekend to mark the end of summer.  Ms. D says to Ms. Horky, “Thank you for coming.  It’s so nice to have your company.”


    Here at Hidden Valley, even the grown-ups are HAWKS.

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  • Business As Usual at Wade Thomas

    Posted by Ross Valley School District on 8/26/2019 1:00:00 PM

    Wade Thomas Elementary School


    The Wade Thomas motto is: Respectful, Safe, Kind, Responsible.  What better time to see how that’s working out than lunch recess?


    If you arrive at 11:15, the campus may well be very quiet.  Head to the office to sign in and get your visitor sticker.  On the door is written: 


    Come in, we’re


    (and awesome)


    Inside it’s cool and orderly.  You can take a moment to chat with Marlana, who always knows something interesting.  Principal Faulkner will be somewhere close by.  Both of them seem to enjoy smiling. 


    Outside on the upper playground (where the younger students play) just before the bell, there are so many inviting places to sit it may take a moment to find your favorite.  A big rolling basket of balls is waiting for the students, as is Coach Lee.  Two laughing second-graders, one boy and one girl, are synchronized swinging in matching green shorts and a small cluster of boys are rolling hula hoops to track their trajectories.


    Then, as if choreographed, the lunch bell rings (do, sol, mi, do), classroom doors swing open, Coach Lee pulls on his bright yellow vest, and all at once the playground is full of bouncing, skittering, rope-jumping, giggling, and climbing.  (Interestingly, the breezeway remains a walking-only zone.)


    Older students wearing striped jerseys referee a kickball game (SAFE!!) as a mom walks by with her kindergartener.  “So you were dancing in the park?”  “Yes,” he says, “We danced and danced,” and he twirls to make his point.  His tee shirt says “Just Smile” ... so you do. 


    Along the breezeway (walk, please), through the clusters of picnic tables, down a few steps, and past the 4th and 5th grade classrooms, is the lower playground where the upper grades play.  You pass signs and posters with messages like “Do the right thing even when no one is watching” and “When I practice I see great results”.  Here the preference seems to be for gaga, soccer, four square, and serious conversation.  The hula hooping is faster and more specialized and the footwork on the soccer field is impressive.  Several students are huddled over a notebook, working on something complicated under a shady tree, nodding emphatically and taking notes


    There are Children For Change tee shirts everywhere, one that says "Stand for the Silent,"  and another that simply reads "ROCK IT."  The adults are wearing bright yellow vests here as well.  A passing student explains when you ask that this is so everyone can easily identify the “safe people” who will help you no matter what if you ever need them.  “We pretty much never do though,” he assures you.


    And sure enough, recess flies by without a single request for adult intervention.


    When the bell rings again (do, sol, mi, do), everyone stops and sits down right where they are.  Conversations are wrapped up and pencils set down, balls stop bouncing, and 200 students take a deep breath to collect their thoughts. After a moment of quiet settling, Coach Lee says, “Okay!  Have a great rest of your day!” and 200 students get up and walk to their afternoon classes.


    Only as you are sitting, alone again, collecting your own thoughts before heading off to your afternoon, does it occur to you how seemingly effortless this ordinary lunchtime has been.  Hundreds of people, young and old, have just spent an hour eating, playing, and working safely, respectfully, kindly, and responsibly just as a matter of course, even when (they thought) no one was watching.

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  • Brookside P.R.O.U.D.

    Posted by Ross Valley School District on 8/23/2019 1:00:00 PM

    Brookside Elementary School


    If you find yourself with an unscheduled hour on a warm August morning, you might decide to spend it at Brookside School.  As you cross the wooden foot bridge and pass between the rows of bright, new backpacks and planters with tumbling succulents, the sound of construction on Sir Francis Drake fades and is replaced with the happy babble of kids on the playground. 


    After you sign in at the front office (safety first!), you can sit for a moment on the Buddy Bench, where people young and old can go if they are feeling like finding a friend.  You can admire the shaded tables of Marilyn’s Grove (delightfully named for Marilyn Grove, AA extraordinaire, who kept Brookside running smoothly for 30 years).


    As you sit admiring, half hoping to discover a new buddy, you might hear a friendly “Hello!”  If you are lucky, it will be Reily Urban, the Library Specialist.  “Come see the library any time,” she says, and so ... you follow her in.


    If you were just to look around politely, nodding with some vague adult interest in “doing what’s best for children,” you would see a clean, well-organized, well-stocked library.  But this library is not about polite adult interest.  Nope.  This library means to fascinate, delight, and inspire; this library is meant for digging into.


    Ms. Urban has been making a concerted push to find and suggest interesting works of non-fiction for the students of every level.  She has an extensive collection, for example, of illustration-rich biographies for young readers.  Her whole face lights up when she shows you the volumes from a series called “Ordinary People Change the World”, seeming to love each one more than the last:  Jackie Robinson, Jane Goodall, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Sonia Sotomayor, Jim Henson, Billie Jean King.


    “I do a lot of extreme weather and mummies for the reluctant readers, too,” she says.  And sure enough, there is a whole section with exciting-looking books about tsunamis, tornadoes, and avalanches, with nearby titles covering the dump, reptiles, and “Bears!”


    “I like to tie fiction into non-fiction, use geography to sneak into multiculturalism ... the library is a space of peace and quiet and thoughtfulness.”


    The Brookside Library checked out 19,351 books last year.  That is a stack of books (roughly) 23 feet high for each student ... and they weren’t just fairy tales.


    You could happily spend the whole morning reading the “Forest Babies” series yourself, but there is re-shelving to get on with, so you thank Ms. Urban and her kind volunteers and step back into the sunshine.


    On the other side of Marilyn’s Grove, Ms. Wells’ class is just stepping out as well, for a short “brain break”. 


    As the kids are stretching their legs, rummaging for snacks, and quietly discussing their work, Ms. Wells comes over to say hi.  She explains that they, as a class, are busy discussing, “Our hopes and dreams for the year, and how we can make school a place where we want to be, and where we can do our important work.”  She invites you to come in as they begin their brainstorming. 


    While everyone is settling back into their conversation cluster on the rug, you notice that the class has already created an extensive list entitled: Important Work.  The list includes reading, social studies, math, and science, of course, but it also includes: improving; being responsible; and being polite, and: being kind; understanding; and taking care of feelings.  Ms. Wells says, when everyone has quieted, “I love that you didn’t just focus on the academic stuff.  You guys recognize that it is also very important work to be kind.”


    The next step is to brainstorm a list of rules to be agreed upon that will help to make the class a place where everyone can do their important work every day.  Everyone begins to write, with the goal of getting every one of their ideas onto the paper.


    “When we are brainstorming, does spelling matter,” asks Ms. Wells?  Without looking up the class replies NOOOOO.  “Do we need to use our very best handwriting?”  NOOOOOO.  So the ideas tumble onto the pages.  When the timer goes off, more time is requested.  If work is important, after all, careful consideration is due.


    Here are some of the suggested rules:


    — Treat others how you want to be treated — Be helpful — Don’t sit next to the same people every day — Take learning seriously and still have fun — Don’t blurt — Be open to new ideas


    Outside, on the playground, the important work of swinging and laughing is well under way, and you have nearly used up your unscheduled hour.  You slip out and walk back across the blacktop (hi, Ms. Jenks!  Hi, Ms. Hayhurst!), back between the rows of backpacks, past the potted succulents, and over the wooden footbridge. 


    The construction sounds drown out the happy babble, but you are still smiling when you get to the parking lot.  You wave at the dusty men in their orange safety vests who are, after all, doing very important work, and promise yourself that you will sit next to new people today, and treat others as you would like to be treated.


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  • First Day at Manor

    Posted by Ross Valley School District on 8/21/2019

    Manor Elementary School


    The first thing you see when you pull up to campus is a new sign.  It is made from a massive single slab of redwood, lovingly planed and sanded, and precisely carved with the letters MANOR by District dad Kent Matheson.  It was given as a gift by the fifth graders who moved up to White Hill last June.


    It is 9:30 on the first day of the 2019-20 school year, and as of this moment a few hundred students are enrolled here at Manor School.  In fifteen minutes they will all be out on the freshly-surfaced blacktop as the ribbon is cut on the brand new dual play structures.  Principal Peg, who knows everyone by name, is welcoming people as they arrive and Victor is here, as he always is, calmly and effortlessly making sure that everything is where it needs to be and running smoothly.


    The kids come out, class by class, in carefully selected first-day outfits.  They walk or skip or twirl or saunter, in lines or clusters depending on mood and class preference, then take their seats (criss-cross apple sauce) under the late-summer sky.


    The ceremony is brief, with thanks to our community for their steadfast support of our schools, and thanks to the parents, teachers, and students who helped design the structures.  It was a big team effort and Manor is all about teamwork.


    Pharrell Williams sings “Happy” over the PA as Victor takes the ceremonial first trip down the slide, hands in the air, grin on his face, with hundreds of young voices whooping and cheering him on.  Then Principal Peg and Bret (the District Maintenance Director who has looked after all of our facilities for as long as anyone can remember, and who will be retiring soon to go galivanting all over the country on his beloved motorcycle) cut the ribbon and its game on! 


    Happy kids swarm the structures.  There is swinging and hoisting, climbing and sliding, semi-patient turn taking and excited sprinting around as everyone looks to try out everything.  No tears are spilled, or knees skinned, no adult intervention is required, and the consensus seems to be that there are months and years of fun to be had here.  Several of the adults whisper that they will be slipping back to have a spin on the merry-go-round after school lets out. 


    With high hopes for each of the children who will spend the coming nine months here, and deep appreciation for all of the adults who support, teach, parent, and mentor them, you head back past the beautiful new sign and quietly wish everyone a splendid new year.

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