Sunday, April 13, 2014

A "Brief" Note

Greetings, Coolidge Families!

The week ahead will be a brief one!  Students will be released for the vacation at 11:00 on Wednesday, as the staff has a two-day conference on Wednesday afternoon and all day Thursday.  I wish all families well as we head into our spring vacation!  Once we return, spring should officially be with us, and the end of the year will be in sight.

Speaking of spring, I want to address "brief briefs".  Last week at school, we spoke with all of our girls about proper dress now that the weather is warmer.  As a mother of a young girl, I know that the shopping options are limited when it comes to shorts, and that skimpy styles are "in".  We do ask that you please help your daughter to make conserative choices when dressing for school.  If you or she has to think twice about whether something is appropriate, it probably isn't.  And while many girls are just dressing with trends in mind, please try to help them to realize that there is style and beauty in dressing in a way that doesn't reveal their entire body shape.  To be more specific, shorts and skirts should cover all aspects of the bottom and uppermost thighs (both when standing and bending over at a locker), while shirts should cover the particulars of the top including the chest. Other shirts to avoid are off the shoulder, cropped, and low V-cut.  There has also been discussion about tight leggings.  While these are not part of our dress code, we find some pants leaving little to the imagination.  We leave these legging decisions up to families, but figure it is worth mentioning to factor into your discussions.  If a girls is dressed in a manner that is truly revealing and distracting to others, we will ask her to call home for additional layers or an alternative.  We would love to prevent this from happening!

Thank you for your attention to this matter!  And most of all, enjoy the warmer weather, and have a safe and restful vacation!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Removing Masks

I am writing this blog post on a Friday rather than Sunday, as I want to share today's assembly experience while it's fresh in my mind and heart.

For those of you who attended last night's performance by Michael Fowlin, you know what I'm talking about (or trying to put into words).  For those who were unable to attend, I will try to share with you what happened in today's performance at Coolidge, as it was extremely moving, and likely had a strong impact on all who saw it.

Michael Fowlin started his show with a poem by Langston Hughes:

Still Here

been scared and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me,
Sun has baked me,

Looks like between 'em they done
Tried to make me

Stop laughin', stop lovin', stop livin' --
But I don't care!
I'm still here!

From there, Michael started to take on different characters.  He was able to flow from one character to another in such a believable manner that the audience was left wondering what pieces of each character were actually him.  He began as a kindergartener with ADD, transformed into a black, gay football player, then to Jewish Korean student; a feminist; and a boy with cerebral palsy.  With each character, their mask was taken off and their truth was unveiled.  They were each beautiful for their differences.  He made the students then say, "I am beautiful," and then to someone near them, "You are beautiful."

While the show was filled with characters, it really wasn't about those characters.  It was about the audience.  By identifying with aspects of different characters, the audience was able to start to identify who each of them are under their own masks, what they truly struggle with , and what they share about themselves to be truth.  It was about getting us to admit to ourselves that our true selves are beautiful and we should wear this truth with pride.

Reading students wearing masks, you ask?  In this suburban, upper middle class community of good intent, high achievement, empathy, athleticism, and kindness, we are wearing masks?  Absolutely.  Michael noted (at last night's community presentation) that when he told a story to the high schoolers that often begets a laugh, they were quiet, which showed great emotional intelligence.  Yet in a community of students with high emotional intelligence, there are also risks, as this often means that the population doesn't connect with the fact that they are wearing masks.  In that case, the act of opening up, and exposing their individuality, is even more of a challenge in these situations.

So how did Michael challenge us to expose ourselves?  He kept coming back to the phrase, "There is a difference between what you are supposed to do and what you need to do."  This means don't just be a bystander in life.  Don't just let things happen and don't just try to go along with the "norm".   Instead, stand up for what you believe, identify who you are, and celebrate it.  Make a lasting difference.  Celebrate what makes each person different rather than conforming.  Don't be a "zebra", much less a lion that might attack a zebra.  The lions are obviously aggressive (bullies).  But when a zebra is attacked, what do the other zebras do?  Turn and run?  No, they stand and stare.  Don't be a zebra.

Michael asked a moving question: Who are you right now?  If your life were to end right now, what is your legacy?  Are you leaving behind a life you are proud of, something that can last positively beyond you, and because of you?

The room was silent.  So often we talk with children about their futures, and who they want to be, and what they want their life to be.  But who are they now?  What are they doing in the moment to define themselves, and to make the world a better place?  Are they making the people around them feel better after meeting them then before they met them?  Are they able to define who they are and to celebrate that?

A survey question asked an elderly population about what three things they would do differently if they could live life again.  The three top answers?
1) Reflect more.
2) Risk more.
3) Do more things that would live on after they pass on.

I encourage our families to do this together.  Reflect together about your challenges, both individual and as a family.  How do they impact you?  How do they define you?  Who are you, both individually and as a family?  Define who you are and own it.  Celebrate it. Take risks together.  And set goals as to what little things you can each do to make the world a better place.  They don't have to be big things; little things can make a big impact.  Find the truth each other, the people behind the masks, and give that truth power, both individually and together.  "We are far more powerful together than we are alone."

At the end of the assembly, I was on stage and I asked the audience to thank Dr. Fowlin one more time.  They began to clap.  And then they began to stand.  Within moments, all students and teachers were on their feet, clapping with thanks, some smiling, some crying.  It was the most powerful moment I have experienced in my nine years at Coolidge.  I knew that the students really felt the message of acceptance, owned the message, and were willing to stand up in support of it.  I was all teary and admitted that to the students.

I am so proud of them.  And now, moving forward, the adults in the school hope to support them as they speak their truth, as they own their lives, and as they take off their masks, and as they help to make the world a better place.  For some it won't be easy.  For some they are already doing it.  But to think that this experience can help to foster a celebration of diversity and individuality and difference.... how powerful.

Students, parents, Coolidge Community.... You are beautiful!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hoops for Heart


Friday was an extremely fun day at Coolidge, with students raising money for heart health via Hoops for Heart!  Tournament play lasted for an hour and a half for each grade,with two teams per grade and gender moving on to the end of the day playoffs.

The last hour and a half of the day included the final games and honors, but it was also a time for other awards as well as a guest speaker.  One highly-coveted award was for Sportsmanship at each level.  In additoin, there was an award for the best uniforms, which is always fun!  This year's team uniforms included: suspenders, superman socks, bling, body art, Ninja Turtles, superheroes, suits, ties, funky tights (on boys as well as girls), and so much more!  We also had the pleasure of welcoming this year's highlighted visitor, 7-year-old, Zach, who had open heart surgery at the age of one day in order to put his improperly-developed arteries back into their proper places.  There he stood, as healthy as could be! He and his two sisters were some of the cutest guests we have ever had at an assembly!  Another highlight of the assembly was to  undestand that money raised for heart health not only benefits people beyond our walls, but it includes many within our community as well.  A couple of students and staff members were also celebrated at the assembly, which was a moving tribute!

Thanks to Mr. Huizenga and Mrs. Schiavo for organizing the event as well as to all of you who donated or supported this event.  Memories were certainly made!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

MCAS, Illness, and Anxiety

The week at Coolidge was a busy one!  I will share two items from the week:

First of all, I was so proud with how the students did during the ELA MCAS!  They worked diligently, took it seriously, took their time, and handled the stress of standardized testing extremely well.  We appreciate the support from parents in terms of sending your students fed and rested and ready to test.  We also appreciate how you help your students balance the need to take the test seriously, yet not to the point of feeling tremendous stress.  This is a difficult balance for many students.  We saw a few signs of this stress at school, with students in tears when they didn't know all of the answers even though trying their best.  We reassured them that their effort is what counts!

Secondly, I am not sure if the MCAS reduced the immune system of our students or if it was just a coincidence, but we had 31 students out on Friday with either a stomach bug or a fever/cough virus.  I am sitting with my own Coolidge child who now has the fever.  From his 6th grade perspective, I see that being sick is causing him anxiety.  He has homework he doesn't feel well enough to do (nor should he).  He knows that when absent tomorrow, he will miss more work and will have more homework.  All that work can be an overwhelming feeling for any student, especially if they feel too sick to do it.  I thought it might be timely to remind parents of what to do when your child is absent.

Absence Suggestions:
-First of all, I  want to remind parents that if your son/daughter is absent, you have the ability to request work when you call the absence in to the office.  If there is work that can be done at home without the student being present in class that day, the teacher will send the assignment home.  If there was learning in class that was critical in order to successfully complete an assignment, the teacher will often wait until the student returns in order to explain the material.  A parent can call the office at the end of the day to ask if work had been sent to the office, and if it has, it will be available for pickup.  If a student remains too sick to do that work, feel free to just let the teachers know in the form of an email or note.  Teachers are extremely understanding, yet communication is extremely helpful!
-Some teams have set up a defined expectation as to what to do if absent.  In 6th grade, the teachers have created forms for students to fill out to help them collect information as to work missed and to create a plan for making it up. The goal is to teach students how to advocate for themselves to collect work, and to support them with creating a plan for making up the work.
-In the higher grades, the responsibility of seeing teachers for missed work shifts to the student.  The #1 thing a student should remember is that it is the student's responsibility to see the teachers for what they missed.  This contact means a LOT to teachers, as it shows that the student cares about the work missed.  Teachers should not have to be the ones chasing the students about missed work.
-It also helps if a student come in a few minutes early to school when returning, as that gives the teachers time to focus on the student and the work rather than being asked during class.
-If a student says "Did I miss anything?", that is a bit frustrating for a teacher.  Of course something was missed!  :)  We try to coach them with this!
-In any grade or situation, it is important that the students know that their teams of teachers care about helping them structure their work, to be successful with the work, and to give the time they need to get it done properly.  While the extra work can be very stressful, the teachers are very reasonable as to giving time to get the work done.
-The worst thing a student can do is to ignore the days/work missed and to not see their teachers.  This means that the work will build up over time or will not earn any credit.  Those things are both much more stressful in the long run!
-Parents, feel free to let the team know if a student is feeling anxious, or if they need extra time or help on something due to an absence.  This type of communication is extremely helpful in coordination with the student seeing his/her teachers.

If you ever have any questions about missed work, feel free to contact the teachers and/or team leaders about policies, procedures, and expectations!

Stay healthy this week, Coolidge Community!  Perhaps if it ever warms up, and we get outdoors a bit more, these germs will clear out!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

So Many Celebrations!

I would like to focus this week's blog post on two major events that happened in our community this week, of which I am extremely proud.

Celebration #1: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Visits Coolidge!

On Wednesday, March 12, Coolidge was honored to host a visit from the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.  As he arrived at Coolidge, he participated in a "Meet and Greet" with two Coolidge student representatives and various district and community leaders.  He then visited an 8th grade math class taught by Chris Friberg, where he engaged with students as they worked to complete a challenging math problem.  He then moved to the library where he was greeted by district teachers, administrators, community members, parents, school committee members, and students.  He then participated in a roundtable discussion, including special visitors such as the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester, Commissioner of Early Education and Care (and Reading resident) Tom Weber, and MTA President Paul Toner.  ELA teacher Laura Warren represented Coolidge at the round table, while Chris Friberg was asked some questions about math from her seat in the audience.  Secretary Duncan wanted to learn about Reading's educational initiatives as well as the challenges and successes we are facing in implementing those initiatives. The initiatives discussed included the implementation of the new math and literacy curriculum frameworks as well as how we need to teach students perseverance and "grit".  He commended Reading on being a place where collaboration and teamwork are the norm, where teachers are encouraged to try new things, and where students are supported in their learning.

Just as the district and community is extremely honored to have been hosting a visit from the Secretary of Education, Coolidge is also proud to have been chosen by the Secretary as the school to be visited.  An important takeaway for the entire school population has been a feeling of pride, as the Secretary's choice to visit Coolidge and Reading reflects on all of the excellent work that is being done by our educators and students.  We are all part of a school and a district that is considered at the forefront of education in a time when education is going through some rich and important changes.  As Secretary Duncan said in his parting words, it is sometimes difficult to be pioneers at the front of change.  Yet he thanked our district for being in that position, as it not only benefits our own student population, but it will benefit many students in many communities as they learn from our successes and challenges.

Celebration #2: Coolidge Science Olympiad Team Wins the State Tournament!

If I felt like a proud parent of 30 at the Science Olympiad Awards Ceremony (even though I wasn't actually the real parent of any of them!), I can only imagine how proud the actual parents of the students felt as the Coolidge team was announced as the MA Olympiad Champs!  Head Coach Karawan Meade was also extremely proud, and should feel that way of her own success as well.  Of the 23 events, Coolidge regulars earned eight 1st place awards, five 2nd place awards, and three 3rd place awards.  In addition, the alternate team won six 1st place awards, four 2nd place awards, and seven 3rd place awards.

As many of you know, being part of the Science Olympiad Team takes extreme time and dedication.  Early in the year, students commit to their team and their events.  Throughout the year, they work hard and have fun.  By putting in such time, effort, and passion, they rose to the top of what was the most well-attended MA Science Olympiad State Tournament in history!  The team requires tremendous support from coaches and parents.  Special thanks to parents Liz Rogers and Sergio Rotstein, who have organized the parent board in support of the team.  And thank you to the many coaches who help to guide and structure the learning, building, and modeling along the way.

The hard work and dedication continues as the team now focuses its attention on the 30th Annual National Olympiad Tournament, which will be held on May 16 & 17 at the University of Central Florida in Orlando!

Of special note, the team missed John McCarthy at this year's state tournament, who was home with an ailing back.  It was the first state tournament he missed in 22 years!  We look forward to having him back next year.  The students wrapped their first place trophy in a t-shirt that read "McCarthy Strong", which was extremely touching!