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For those who missed it… The State of the School Letters

This week I emailed the community the State of the School Letters. If you missed the email, below is your chance to read the letters and learn about how the school is doing and the direction it is heading.  

From Robert Schultz, President of the Board:

Dear Parents and Friends,

While staying true to its mission, Fraser Woods Montessori School is thriving.

As President of the Board of Trustees, I am pleased to report that our Board has never been stronger. Ever more diverse and professional, we’ve improved the way we work, our stewardship of the school’s finances, and our strategic planning. We’ve also developed a productive partnership with the Head of School, Chris Robertson, who sets the school’s curriculum.

A zealous convert to Montessori, Chris understands that FWM’s defining characteristic is the joy of learning that guides children through their individual journeys.

Indeed, as Chris reports to us during our Board meetings, Montessori education imparts skills as no other method can. Through its emphasis on individuality and respect, it builds character and instills an unshakable sense of fairness. What’s more, it teaches skills necessary for the 21st century such as emotional intelligence, the ability to sort through information, how to work in a team, and how to present ideas cogently.

Building on this foundation, the Middle School gently transitions students in order to prepare them for non-Montessori high schools and colleges. And we can see that the program works, because our former students flourish in those institutions and beyond.

We invite you to read in the next pages Chris’ examples of successes. Among other things, he’ll tell you about new initiatives such as the MakerSpace and all about our splendid Middle School.

Sincerely,

Robert Schultz

President of the Board

From Chris Robertson, Head of School:

Dear Parents and Friends,

This year at Fraser Woods Montessori, we will begin to celebrate our upcoming 50th anniversary.  What an exciting time for a school that is so well positioned for the future.  Our Montessori approach and methodology continue to cultivate the skills needed for children to be successful in an ever-changing and evolving world.   One has only to observe any of our classrooms to see how independence, grit, collaboration, critical thinking, compromising, and purpose are infused in the day to day moments of learning.   At the center of this development is a joy of learning – the true key to a lasting and successful academic experience.

This past year, there were several new academic programs implemented at FWM.  In early childhood through elementary, these programs enhance our Montessori methodology.  In Middle School, the new programs strengthen the learning bridge between the students’ Montessori experience in the early grades and the preparation needed when the students transition to high school.   Hence, FWM is not veering in a different direction, it’s just moving forward – fulfilling itself as a premiere Montessori institution while also preparing children to be successful in non-Montessori high schools.

Instead of taking my word for the effectiveness of these programs or citing research that may or may not apply to our school setting, I asked the teachers to reflect on the impact these programs are having on their students’ learning experience.  Below are some of their observations:

Singapore Math (Upper Elementary)

This past summer, Mr. Comstock and Ms. Hope were trained in the Singapore Math program and implemented it in their classroom.   Mr. Comstock writes: “I have noticed a greater sense of collaboration between small and large groups of students.  The lessons offer an opportunity for all types of learners to grasp concepts and it has made me a better educator. We learn as a group that there are several ways to approach and solve problems.”

New Middle School Math Program (6th Year – 8th Year)

New Middle School Math Teacher, Ms. Manganiello, was trained in Singapore Math and combined her own experience as a math teacher to develop a hybrid program that best meets the needs of our students.  She writes this about the new math curriculum:  “The math program builds a solid algebraic foundation while incorporating the necessary skill sets to help children be successful in their future academic endeavors.  The main focus is on process, not product. My goals are that the children feel successful and joyful about math.”

Teachers College Writing Workshop (Upper Elementary)

After being trained at Columbia University’s Teachers College in the Writing Workshop model, Mr. Comstock shared this about the new writing program in Upper Elementary: “In our Writer’s Workshop lessons there is a purpose and a focus to each mini-lesson. An activity is presented and then the students “turn and talk” to share their personal insights or writing. Once this happens there is an instant buzz in the classroom, with students engaged, smiling, talking and sharing. I am able to listen in on these conversations and push the writers further by asking insightful questions.”

Teachers College Reading Workshop (Lower School)

Lower School teacher, Ms. Doyle, has extensive experience with the Reading Workshop model developed at Columbia University’s Teachers College.  After the Lower School team was also trained in its methodology, the program was implemented with the Extended Day students.  FWM already had a strong literacy component; however, the teachers are observing the impact of this new program.  Ms. Doyle writes: “Since implementing Reading Workshop we have seen an increase in children’s reading levels. More specifically, their comprehension is stronger and they are reading with increased fluency.  We also are excited to see the collaboration that is taking place during partner reading and small group lessons.”

New Humanities Curriculum (Middle School)

Our new Middle School Humanities Teacher, Ms. Lamb, has skillfully woven the language arts and history to create a curriculum, infused with the exploration of contemporary social justice issues, for our 6th, 7th, and 8th Year students:  “I see students building confidence and independence in their writing skills through collaboration with their peers and regular teacher feedback. As readers, students bring individual perspectives to literature discussions and writing pieces that show the diversity of understanding and ability to listen and respectively respond to classmates.”

New Science Curriculum (Middle School)

When he moved from math to science, Mr. Brown was excited to revise the science curriculum.  He shared, “The new Middle School Science program applies a hands-on approach to learning.  My style differentiates instruction for each student’s learning style (aesthetic, auditory, visual). Students demonstrate their understanding of the curriculum not only from reading, but also creating presentations, scale models, and movies to represent each unit’s content.”

New MakerSpace

At the 2017 Spring Gala, the school raised $40,000 to renovate the former Tech Lab.  The transformation was amazing and the result is the creation of the current MakerSpace – a place where tinkering, discovering, designing, and creating happens on a daily basis.  FWM’s Director of Technology, Danielle Ulacco, has this to say about the MakerSpace: “Students in our MakerSpace make choices every day that reflect their commitment to their education here at Fraser Woods Montessori. Our curious, thoughtful, and innovative students can turn a cardboard box into a spaceship, a castle, or even a race car. The energy doesn’t stop there – our MakerSpace truly comes alive as students collaborate with their peers to create, construct, and communicate with each other.”

New Hires this Past Year

FWM had twelve new teachers and assistant teachers join our faculty this year.  Though new to the school, they have acclimated very well and are already making a significant impact on the learning here at FWM.  Their passion, expertise, and excitement have been embraced by this community.

Admissions

The Admissions Office has been very busy this past fall and winter.  There has been a significant increase in inquiries, visits, and applications to FWM.  In addition, it isn’t only the quantity of families interested in our school, we are also attracting families who share the school’s ideals, values, and Montessori philosophy.   At almost every initial meeting Alison and I have with prospective families, we ask them what characteristics they are hoping an early childhood through grade 8 school will cultivate in their child.  The majority respond they want their child to be independent thinkers; confident and comfortable with who they are; nurtured & loved by teachers who know them as individuals; provided the opportunity to make choices about their learning; and happy about school and about learning.

Financial Health of the School

National and regional trends show a decline in enrollment in early childhood through 8th grade independent schools; this translates into less revenue for schools.  However, of the eleven early childhood through 8th grade independent schools in our region, FWM is the only school this past year to show an increase in enrollment.  This past year, FWM saw a 11% increase in enrollment and we are on track to see another increase for the 2018-19 school year.   Hence, I am happy to report that from a budgetary point of view, 2018-19 is on track to be the healthiest the school has been since 2012.

The Challenges Ahead

There are several areas where continued, focused attention will keep the school on an upward trajectory:  1) FWM has a wonderful story and as we evolve, we need to be able to share our story creatively with the internal and external community.  By doing so, we will continue to reduce attrition and increase enrollment. 2)  “Word of mouth” has been the number one reason why new families are visiting and applying to FWM.  The school will continue to actively explore ways to increase the “word of mouth” in the community. 3)  With higher enrollment, the school will need to explore its physical space which may include renovations to the back storage area otherwise known as “the hangar”.  4) Currently, the Board is working with FWM’s administration on updating, and in some cases creating, its standard operating procedures.   Having a set of processes will provide greater transparency and consistency within the organization, as well as outline the steps needed to ensure the most effective outcome.

What Can Parents or Caregivers Do?

Each year, I encourage each and every parent or caregiver to be actively involved and fiercely committed to the school’s success.   All independent schools rely on their parent community to ensure growth and development.  Below are seven important ways you can help:

  1. Attend important school events
  2. Go out of your way to speak positively about the school to neighbors, people at work,  and the wider community
  3. Please give generously to the Annual Fund (click here to give)
  4. Volunteer time to help with a school or grade level event
  5. If you have a concern, share it with the teacher or Head of School
  6. Please complete re-enrollment contracts on time
  7. Stay informed – read the weekly FWM News & Views emailed to you on Fridays; read your child’s teacher’s blog on MyFWM.org; follow me on Twitter (Chris Robertson @cdr1969)

In his letter, Rob Schultz, the President of the Board of Trustees writes, “Montessori education imparts skills as no other method can.”  I believe this to be true and significant for families who have chosen FWM.  What is happening in our classrooms, in our halls, and around the campus is unique to other school experiences.   At FWM, we provide children a learning space that develops more than an exceptional academic base; we also help children to grow into compassionate, confident, and independent young people who understand they have the power to make a positive impact in the world.   

Thank you for all you do for the school.  As always, I appreciate hearing back from parents.  Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions, suggestions, or thoughts.

Best,

Chris Robertson

Head of School

 


Lower Elementary Reading Buddies!

This week we began a very special relationship with Grady and Rex from Newtown Strong Therapy Dogs. They will be our reading buddies every Tuesday morning. Our new friends will visit us for one hour every week and the children will take turns reading to them. Each week a new set of children will read to the dogs.

We are all very excited about this opportunity! Reading to dogs has many benefits. It gives the children an opportunity to practice reading and allows them to gain confidence and fluency. It has many emotional and social benefits as well. Being with the dogs can be calming, reduce stress, bring comfort, and increase kindness and empathy.

This Tuesday, the children greeted Grady and Rex with joy and enthusiasm. About a third of the class got a turn reading this week. It was a truly special time and we are looking forward to their return on February 27th.


Middle School: Shine Your Light

 

The Middle School has missed the 8th years this week as they are away at their internships. We can’t wait to hear all about it when they return!

In Science, 6th year students completed their project depicting planetary alignment. Each planet was designed and positioned in relation to one another. Students did an excellent job! 7th year physical science students demonstrated their knowledge of molecules using clay. Each student chose a molecule of choice, researching its proper arrangement and bonding. At the end of last week, 8th years finished their solar system bulletin board. The addition of constellations and the asteroid belt added the finishing touches.

In 6th year Humanities class, we are studying Ancient Egypt. We learned about the Egyptian creation myth and the importance of gods and goddesses in the Ancient Egypt civilization. We also began reading Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s novel, The Egypt Game. 7th years have been discussing the decades of conflicts in Sudan and Southern Sudan as they began Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water.

For 7th year’s Poetry Tuesday, we read “On Turning Ten” by Billy Collins. It discusses life reflection by a youngster and the realization of what comes with getting older- the loss of innocence and weight of the world. Kids are fully aware of this change, and in some ways, they look forward to it. In other ways, it’s terrifying.

We discussed if there is a balance between staying young and childlike and bearing the responsibility that comes with getting older. There is a line in the poem that says, “It seems only yesterday I used to believe/there was nothing under my skin but light./ If you cut me I would shine./” I asked the class, “How can we keep the light within ourselves shining?” I told them that I keep the light by teaching and surrounding myself with young adults each day. It never lets me forget the importance of staying young within my soul.

As much as adults want to protect children from the harsh realities of getting older, it happens quicker than we would like; however, knowing that they remember and love being young gives comfort that despite the real-world realization they discover, they still hold onto their lights.

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Upper Elementary: Research and Valentine’s

 

Last Thursday evening the students presented their ancestry research to friends and family.  We alternate research projects during our two year cycle, focusing on ancient civilizations one year and family history the next year.  This project ties in nicely to the in-class lessons for history where we compare our closest living relatives and closest fossil relatives. What a joy it was to hear the family stories and see the family keepsakes that have been passed down!

On Wednesday, we celebrated Valentine’s Day with some snacks provided by parents. Students decorated their Valentine’s bags and in the morning we did a graphing lesson using Starburst candy.  We discovered that in a bag of Starburst you will most often choose a cherry flavored Starburst due to the disproportionate number.

When we return to school on Wednesday, February 21 the students will experience another moving up day. Third year students will visit us for the entire day while fifth year students will visit Middle School.


Mrs. Hood’s class: Love is in the air!

What a special week we had! We started our friendship celebration week introducing a very special project. We call it “the mail box work.” This is a multi-step work used to strengthen pre-writing skills in our students while reinforcing the concept of care for others. The first step is to choose a friend’s picture. This helps the child to maintain the focus on the activity. Then the child chooses a piece of paper and creates a beautiful card for his/her chosen friend using large colorful crayons. The child then can ask one of the guides to help him/her write the name of the friend, fold it and place it inside the mail box. One of the details they liked a lot was making sure they put the flag up on the mailbox, so the mail carrier can deliver the cards. In this case I was the mail carrier! Children enjoyed making card after card for all of their friends! This was definitely the favorite activity of the week!

Another popular work this week was our new baby. We talked  and demonstrated the gentleness and care we need to have for our class baby. Through this work the children grow in their social skills and it teaches them how to process emotions, such as empathy and compassion, allowing them to grow up into caring people. It also  teaches them responsibility. We can’t wait to model for them how to give the baby a bath.

Preparing for Valentine’s Day children had a great time creating Love Bugs boxes. Peeling stickers is a great exercise to strengthen the hand muscles and refine the pincer grip needed for writing. They also made friendship bracelets using pipe cleaners and heart beads. They created heart and flowers shapes out of fruit using cookie cutters, shared the valentines they made for each of their friends, and celebrated together our beautiful friendship, enjoying the fruit salad they helped to prepare!

We hope everybody had a special Valentine’s day. Let’s keep the love flowing!


Mrs. Carroll’s Class: Happy Hearts!

 

We’ve had so much fun preparing for and enjoying Valentine’s Day. This week the children distributed notes and treasures to friends, decorated delicious cookies, and agreed that the true meaning of Valentine’s Day is about friendship and love.

The Extended Day children also celebrated the 100th day of school during their afternoon class. This is always a beloved and exciting tradition in Kindergarten. Since the first day of school the children have been counting by 1’s, 5’s and 10’s until they reached 100. Today, the children made 100 day headbands, used the writing prompt “If I had $100 dollars I would buy….” and took turns estimating how many items were in jars to see who could guess the correct amount. Last but not least, they enjoyed a great snack but not before making the number 100 out of pretzels and cookies.

May your hearts be happy!

Cindy & Samantha

 

 


Mrs. Santayana: Sink and Float

Thank you Lisa Jackson for helping us make our Valentine’s Day celebration a success!

In Science, we have been experimenting with Sink and Float. This is a great hands on activity that really gets the children thinking and predicting. The children are learning that some objects have molecules that are packed closely together. Others have molecules that are packed more loosely. This is density. Objects with tightly packed molecules are denser and objects sink. A paper clip or a penny is dense and will sink. Objects with more loosely packed molecules are less dense and objects float. Cork or plastic drinking straws float.

The Extended Day children also celebrated the 100th day of school during their afternoon class. This is always a beloved and exciting tradition in Kindergarten. Since the first day of school the children have been counting by 1’s, 5’s and 10’s until they reached 100. Today, the children made 100 day headbands, used the writing prompt “If I had $100 dollars I would buy….” and took turns estimating how many items were in jars to see who could guess the correct amount. Last but not least, they enjoyed a great snack but not before making the number 100 out of pretzels and cookies.

 


Mrs. Doyle’s Class: Let’s Celebrate!

 

What a busy week we had.  Wednesday was Valentine’s Day and we had a celebration during our morning class. A.J.’s mom, Christi made delicious cookies and brought in toppings so that the children were able to decorate them. We then gathered at our meeting and each child delivered valentines to his/her friends.

The Extended Day children also celebrated the 100th day of school during our afternoon class. This is always a beloved and exciting tradition in Kindergarten. Since the first day of school we have been counting by 1’s, 5’s and 10’s until we reached 100.  Today, the children made 100 day headbands, used the writing prompt “If I had $100 dollars I would buy….” and took turns estimating how many items were in jars to see who could guess the correct amount. Last but not least, we had a great snack but not before making the number 100 out of pretzels and cookies.

At the end of the day, a student said, “Love is in the air today” and we couldn’t agree more.

Have a great week.

Michelle and Sonja