The importance of enrolling young children in a high quality preschool is a no-brainer for many parents. However, choosing the perfect program often feels like a pivotal decision that will impact a family and child for years to come.
Last Friday’s Commencement ceremony was indeed the usual bittersweet occasion we see each year. Whether it was the students who have been together for 11 years or those who have forged lasting friendship over the course of middle school, the tears and smiles they shared represented the unity of the experience that is BCD.
In the words of graduation speaker, Tommy Miller, “When those of us who have been here since pre-school started at BCD, we were literally toddlers. A few of the truly advanced students could tie their own shoes, but the rest of us were pretty much incapable of anything. To us, the middle schoolers were like adults. It’s amazing to think how much that perspective has changed and how much we have grown here. As each of us heads off to high school next year, we’re all very much still works-in-progress, but it is impressive to think how much BCD has helped to prepare us academically, bond us as friends, and shape our character in preparation for that next step.”
The “next step” for the class of 2016 is journeys in various different directions, but the BCD experience they carry into those futures will make them all Bulldogs for life.
BCD students, Ian Curd, 7th grade and Skyler Kranjcec, 7th grade, won for their projects at this year’s state level Science Fair competition. Ian’s project, entitled “SwimBot: A Robot for Testing Swimming Speed and Energy,” was awarded third place in the Junior Division Engineering category and Skyler’s project, entitled “Let’s Solve Levitation with a Sine Wave Situation,” was awarded third place in the Junior Division Physics category. Skyler also received the American Vacuum Society (Rocky Mountain Chapter) Award for Excellence in Physical Sciences and Engineering, the Science Toy Magic Award for Physics Classroom Demonstration and the Women in Physics (Colorado State University Chapter) Award for Promising Young Women in Science.
Boulder Country Day School 8th grade artist, Xan, will dedicated her mural (12’x9’) at the Boulder Homeless Shelter on Saturday, May 7th.
An extremely talented student, Xan chose to design a multi-panel mural for the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless for her 8th grade Capstone project. This truly exceptional piece (photo attached) took 170 hours and three months to design and was done all with paints she obtained from hazardous waste recycling. She mixed all the colors herself. The mural is strategically installed at the receiving line of the cafeteria as a permanent feature and is already receiving substantial praise from the facility leadership and tenants.
Ardith Sehulster, Shelter Board member and former President, shared the enthusiasm for the project expressed by the shelter’s volunteer cooks, “They love the mural, are so impressed with Xan's talent, and cannot imagine that wall pre-mural.” Shelter Executive Director, Greg Harms, added, “Xan caught the vision for this space in the Shelter – just the right amount of color, cheer and meaning. We trusted her and she came through with a truly thoughtful piece. Residents, staff, volunteers and visitors to the Shelter will delight in this for a very long time.” Explanation of mural: from left to right the mural moves from an upside down house with shattered windows representing homelessness and disruption across a bridge that represents path to a better future leading to an intact house and a full sun.
As part of BCD’s Middle School curriculum, 8th grade students complete a Capstone Project. Capstone Projects are a yearlong experience that encourages students to dive deeply into a subject of personal passion. This experience develops in-depth learning in the presence of an experienced mentor. 8th grade Capstone projects are a culmination of students' BCD experience bringing together the key elements of passion, innovation, and service. Art has always been a passion for Xan and the idea of using it to help others was exciting. “I wanted to contribute and give back to our community, and the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless was one of the places where art could make the most difference,” Xan shares. “I think that the most fulfilling part of this project was the impact that it made on the lives of the staff, volunteers, and clients of the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless and being able to have a positive effect through creativity and art on these people.”
As part of BCD’s Middle School curriculum, 8th grade students complete a Capstone Project. Capstone Projects are a yearlong experience that encourages students to dive deeply into a subject of personal passion. This experience develops in-depth learning in the presence of an experienced mentor. 8th grade Capstone projects are a culmination of students' BCD experience bringing together the key elements of passion, innovation, and service. It is always exciting to see the range of interests and directions the students take. Student projects this year range from building ovens in Nicaragua, to designing head bands for a cure, to piloting a plane, to stage fighting. On April 22nd, our 8th grade students finished the hard work they have put into their Capstone projects as they presented their work to their families and mentors. Well done, Bulldogs.
To see a complete list of this year's projects, click here.
There are numerous Kindergarten options available for children and parents. Today, more than ever, parents carefully examine their many choices: open enroll or neighborhood, public or private, full day or part day, morning or afternoon, academic or play-based…
So what should a parent look for in a Kindergarten program?
Consider the atmosphere of the school and classroom. Are you greeted warmly when you visit the school? Do the children seem happy, excited to learn, and eager to be there? Teachers and administrators must create and support a love of learning and excitement about school that will help propel students through many more years of learning.
Small class size is critical. Small class size helps to ensure that your child’s Kindergarten teacher truly knows your child. Small class size coupled with in-depth knowledge of your child means that teachers are better able to tailor curriculum to meet the needs and learning style of your child. Many educators talk about the need for differentiating instruction (i.e. tailoring teaching for individual students). However, reality often does not provide the time or resources for this to happen in classrooms with large numbers of students. When class size grows, even the best teachers are forced to teach to the median learning level of the students.
Teachers support and nurture students as they learn to navigate socially. Academics are important, but strong social skills are critical to success in today’s world. Whether a person is five-years-old and knocking over another child’s block tower, or is 50-years-old and irritating co-workers at the copy machine – it is the same thing. Social skills, and the life lessons that accompany learning what works and what does not, are a cornerstone of success today. Look for a curriculum that focuses on supporting development of the whole child and is committed to teaching character development. (I’m not sure how to best say this…)
Teachers have support. Does the lead classroom teacher have the support of resource teachers to help ensure that student needs are met? Do teachers have time to collaborate with one another? Do teachers work as a team and share ideas? Do students have opportunities to work one-on-one time and/or in small group time with a resource teacher? All of the above help teachers to ensure that they meet every child’s needs.
Every child matters. No child should ever fall through the cracks… Instruction in core subjects such as math and language arts and literacy must be balanced. If your child is a wiz at in a particular subject area, the teacher should challenge him further. On the other side of the coin, if your child struggles he should be supported using a variety of teaching methods and materials to ensure that he not only learns – but truly understands – the concepts.
The curriculum and schedule is balanced. Just about every adult can recall the drone of Charlie Brown’s teacher (Wa-wa, Wa-wa-wa…) and the image of students being sucked into a void of boredom. Kindergarten is about learning academics – but it should also be exciting! Look for a balance in the daily routine. Ideally, students should experience a blend of teacher directed and child initiated activities; activities for the large group, small group, and time to work individually or one-on-one with a teacher; time indoors and time outdoors; time to be focused and put pencil to paper and time to just play and have fun. A balanced Kindergarten program will offer challenging academics and variety of enrichment classes (i.e. “specials”) such as art, computer, music, choir, foreign language, physical education, and science lab.
Consider the length of the program. Many public schools are forced by budget restrictions to offer a part-day program for Kindergarten students. And, for many parents a part-day program may feel as though it is best. However, parents also need to recognize that it is very hard for teachers to accomplish curriculum goals and help students meet objectives if they are only at school for 2 ½ hours per day. The reality of a part day Kindergarten daily schedule is that everything is crammed into a fast-paced block of time that often does not honor the true nature and needs of young children. In addition, the cost of extended care either before or after a part day Kindergarten program is often significant.
When considering the choice of a part-day or full-day program, parents need to do what is best for their child. However, they must also need to consider the benefits a full-day program provides: more time and opportunity to “play” with language and literacy concepts as well as to explore subjects in depth; a more flexible, individualized learning environment; and more individual and small-group interaction with the teacher than is possible in most half-day classrooms.
The school has an organized after school program. If you know that you will need to use a school’s before or after school program (also commonly known as Extended Day or KinderCare), check out the program. Does the program seem organized? Are classes held afterschool that might interest your child? Is the program easily accessible to families and easy to use? Can you have your child drop in, or is a reservation required?
Trust your instinct when you visit. One of the most important factors to consider is the feel of the classroom and the sense that the children are actively engaged. It is critical that teachers create this foundation through joy, enthusiasm, and a nurturing passion that reminds us all of our most nostalgic memories and positive experiences in elementary school.
BCD fifth grade students, with the help of the residents of Balfour Senior Living, filled 40 Easy Meal Care Bags for There with Care. The bags will go to families of critically ill children experiencing extended hospital stays so families are able to remain bedside. After their work, the students and the seniors relaxed and had some time to get to know each other. One resident even coaxed some of the students into singing for her. She loved it!
Print, online, and social media are awash with stories evaluating the role of SI (social intelligence) and EI (emotional intelligence) in 21st century society. Frequently, these skills are described as “soft,” juxtaposed to the value of “hard” sciences or measured against the three Rs of reading, writing, and arithmetic. To be sure, the skills in question have not been at the center of school curricula. Mindful practice, cooperation, and relationship building have long taken a back seat to English, history, math, science, and language instruction. Not anymore. SI and EI skills are increasingly coming to the fore, and school leaders throughout the K-16 educational spectrum are paying close attention to their benefits.
The SI and EI call to action stems from a variety of forces emerging in our economy and society. Hectic schedules at school and at home, 24-hour digital access, and the prevalence of multitasking, are causing higher stress levels in our children, which lead to sleeplessness, anxiety, and an increase in illness and disease. As well, the importance of innovation, partnership, and critical thinking are on the rise. In the world of economics, borders and language differences are no longer barriers, headquarters are referred to as campuses, and workers are increasingly organized into teams. Corporation after corporation continue to hail these skills as necessary to advance the economy into its next century.
Dr. Kristin Race, author of Mindful Parenting, is among the researchers and practitioners who are championing the SI and EI cause. She combines neuroscience and mindfulness practice when working with schools, corporations, and other organizations. An advocate of teaching mindfulness in schools, her research and the work of others shows that mindfulness practice stimulates engagement for students and creates more effective learning environments. Building positive neural connections help our brains bounce back from stress-related events. Many of these events are not life threatening, but – over time – small, stressful, non-life threatening events can raise our baseline stress levels compromising effective decision-making, attention, and performance. Training our brains to be resilient is key to keeping baseline stress levels low.
Rebecca Chopp, Chancellor at the University of Denver, recently spoke to a gathering of Colorado independent school heads about emotional intelligence and its impact on higher education. She argues that colleges and universities need to teach all students conflict management, negotiation, and how to navigate the complexity that makes up our human existence. As we shift into a world where character, leadership, problem solving, and working with diverse populations become more important, we have to teach EI and SI skills at all levels of education. As a result, courses with titles that include social and emotional intelligence are populating more frequently in course catalogs at schools like DU across the country. Even within disciplines in higher education, institutions are shifting rapidly to focus on creativity, interdisciplinary, and collaboration.
At Boulder Country Day, our focus on character education led us to institute a daily morning meeting to reset our social and emotional norms and emphasize the “soft” skills cooperation and human relations. Part of the Responsive Classroom method, we understand now more than ever before that children need to feel safe and welcome in order to learn. Many of our teachers are also adding mindful practice to morning meeting knowing its results will lead to better educational outcomes. Kath Courter, Head of BCD’s preschool, often remarks about the importance of teaching our youngest students how to cooperate with others. She says, “Whether you are 5 years-old and taking turns on the slide in preschool or 45 and not being very nice at a copy machine while at work, the behaviors are the same. We have to be intentional with our instruction in order to teach our students how to navigate their social and emotional worlds.” This is hard work, not soft, and perhaps it’s time we elevate EI and SI education to its rightful place in our schools.