Thank you Veterans!

“As we express our gratitude,

we must never forget that

the highest appreciate is not to simply utter words,

but to live by them.”

John F. Kennedy

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Happy Halloween Discovery School!

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been very “into” Halloween. I would always carve pumpkins with my kids, take them trick or treating and such…but, you wouldn’t find me in a costume. Well, I guess being with younger students now has inspired me!

Mr. Simon like costumes, which also inspired me. I couldn’t let him dress-up and not do so myself! So, we each had two different costumes for the day. Imagine the kids’ surprise when the Hungry Caterpillar emerged as a BUTTERFLY at the end of day costume parade 🙂

The Hungry Caterpillar had a busy morning of reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” book to the Preschool, PreK, and Kinder classes.

She also made an appearance at lunch to “steal food”….not really.

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Our staff and students certainly did not disappoint with their amazing costumes, as well:Mr. Smith as Pizza Friday, Mr. Paterak as Buzz Lightyear, Mrs. Rahall as a Word Wall, Mrs. Rachel as the witch from “Room on the Broom,” Mrs. VanDine as Pete the Cat & a Unicorn, Mrs. Wicker as a Raccoon, Miss Holley as Scooby Doo, Mrs. Sidders as a skeleton & tiny skeleton baby, Ms. Parsons as a Black Cat, Miss Bolin as an icecream cone, Mr. F as a Gryffindor from Harry Potter, Mrs. Parrish as a Scarecrow, and Mrs. vanHarlingen as a Rainbow Unicorn….they went all out!

And can we talk about our Trunk or Treat event??? Wow, you guys! The trunks were so creative and amazing, we received tons of donated candy, and we had well over 100 kids come to participate in the event. What a fun evening! Thank you to everyone that participated.  Happy Halloween Discovery School. You add so much JOY to my life and bring out my fun side, for sure!

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Hike with the Head of School

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I knew when I took the Head of School job that I would desperately miss spending time hiking with kids like I so regularly did at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary. Solution: Offer hikes with the Head of School on weekends. The first one of this school year was held at Gorman Nature Center on a beautiful, crisp, fall morning. It didn’t even matter that only a handful of people turned-out to participate. We had a very special time.

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Before setting out, the kids made predictions about what wildlife we might see on a Fall hike in this part of Ohio. Some predictions included: songbirds, deer, squirrel, chipmunk, frogs, and turtles. First stop was the pond. Since the temp was in the low 50’s, we did not see any frogs or turtle there as  we normally would on warmer days. Next we set-out on a 1.5 mile hike that included a stop at the fire tower. Looking out over the landscape, the fall color change was evident.

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We continued our hike out through the property of Gorman Nature Center spotting numerous variety of fungi to the natural spring where the trail turns sharply. The kids learned the term “blaze” for the markings on the trees that keep you on the right path. Blazes can be particularly helpful in times when the trail is completely covered; like with leaves or snow. We followed the stream as it weaved back towards the prairie. We saw several deer trails and chipmunks along the way.

 

Next, we found a nice bridge with benches to rest our legs and listen to a story. I brought along the story of Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, who was the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. She was a native of Ohio, mother of 11 children, and completed the trail at the age of 67 years.

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Next, we made our way to the very quaint and popular covered bridge at Gorman Nature Center. Its such a cool place to hang-out and listen to birds. Its also very near to a vernal pool, that did contain some frogs who were out sunning themselves.

 

Our last stop was the Visitor’s Center, where there are a wide variety of live reptile and amphibian species to see as well as many stuffed versions of Ohio’s birds and mammals on display. We finished our time together with hot chocolate in the pavilion.

 

I plan to offer more Head of School hikes, for sure. The next one, date TBD, will be a winter hike in the Mohican Forest. Stay tuned! Adventure awaits!!

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In defense of recess…

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We love our playground. It is a fabulous playground. It got even better this summer after we received grant funding from the Donald S. and Clara Louise Black Fund through the Richland County Foundation to put in a new climber, new fence, new play sand, and to expand our space into the woods to install an outdoor classroom area.

 

 

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But, what we really love about our playground is RECESS. As a school, we’ve made the important decision to never deprive our students from the benefits of recess. Where is may be commonplace in many schools to take recess away as a punishment, that is something that we choose NOT to do. Research supports unstructured play not just for its physical benefits but for its social/emotional and  cognitive benefits. And it is no secret that children are not spending enough time outdoors or enough time engaged in physical activity. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. In examining a typical Discovery student’s weekly schedule, our students (between recess times, PE, woods time, etc) get an average of 570 minutes/week or 9.5 hours. WOW!

The Social and Emotional aspects of unstructured play are not to be ignored. Respecting boundaries, taking risks, cooperating, creating, resolving conflicts, and navigating relationships are all things that come-up when children are given the freedom of unstructured play. At Discovery School, we were the recipient of a gift; a “Buddy Bench” donated by a local Girl Scout Troop (#4101.) The concept of this bench is to eliminate loneliness and to foster new friendships amongst students on the playground. Students may sit on the bench to signal others that they are in need of a friend to play with. It encourages others to reach-out and be inclusive and caring. We are so thrilled with this surprise addition to our playground.

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Last, but certainly not least, are the cognitive benefits of recess. Some of these include: improved focus/control, boost in problem-solving ability, increased mental clarity, mood enhancement, and stimulated creativity. We have the added benefit of being able to actually hold class in the outdoors, too. Our classes regularly use the woods for instructions or can be found reading, journaling, or having class discussions in the outdoor classroom.

 

 

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Priority #1: Love of Learning

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At Discovery School, the curriculum is student-centered. While it is easy for any school to make such a claim, the proof is in what happens daily in the classrooms and beyond. The IB Primary Years Programme embeds “agency” or student choice as well as “action” into its inquiry-based approach. We let student wonders be a driving force. Even the “rules,” or what we call “Essential Agreements,” are co-developed. Below is our student body developing Essential Agreements for the common areas of our building during our first Town Hall Meeting of the year.

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On Fridays, students have the opportunity to choose an Enrichment Club they would like to be a part of. These become multi-age clubs where students explore a new skill or interest. This Trimester, our offerings are:

  • Puppetry & Sewing with miss bee
  • International Cooking with mrs. ransom
  • African Drumming with Sogbety
  • Lego Club with mr. Fullenkamp
  • Art Club with mrs. volz
  • Crochet Club with Ana Maria
  • Coding Club with mr. jerry
  • Book Club with ms. owens
  • Jewelry-Making with mrs. schwartz
  • School Newspaper with mr. simon
I’ve been so busy teaching the Jewelry Club that
I have not had a chance to get out and photograph the other clubs much.

 

It is very important to us that children love to come to Discovery School. While we recognize that learning can happen anywhere, a love of learning often begins with a love of school. We commit ourselves to creating a place where learning is fun and children have a choice.

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Happiness is…a big hug from a small person

It it my first week as an elementary principal.

Though I have 6 years of principal experience, those years were with MUCH older students. I loved that time and wouldn’t trade it. But…it’s fair to say that none of my high school students asked me what my third favorite reptile is or told me that my hair smelled good, or wanted to embrace me first thing in the morning. Yes, all of those have happened in the last few days.

While I know I’ll make a lot of mistakes being new this year, one thing I’m committed to not messing-up is relationships. My greatest joy is greeting those little ones in the morning, making time to spend with them over lunch and recess, and walking them hand-in-hand back to the safety of their cars at days end. If they want to hug me, I’ll hold on until they’re done.

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The staff of Discovery School are participating in a group Book Study this year. The book I have chosen is called “FISH!” Its essentially a guide to improving the atmosphere at work by following the lead of the remarkably energetic Pike’s Place Fish Market in Seattle, Washington. There’s an emphasis on making others’ days, playing, and having fun. It’s a book that has been used by countless well-known organizations all over the globe to boost morale and improve results. I look forward to the ways we’ll transform and grow as professionals, together. 

I could easily be overwhelmed by the immensity of what I must accomplish in a day, a week, a school year…and the many things I need to learn. But, for now, I’m just happy. Because happiness is a big hug from a small person. And I have 156 small persons!

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Teacher Efficacy & the Principal’s Role

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When I was studying Educational Leadership at The Ohio State University for my Masters Degree, I was lucky enough to have Wayne Hoy and his wife Anita Wolfolk-Hoy as professors. They were preeminent researchers into teacher efficacy (defined as “a teacher’s own judgement of their capabilities to bring about desired outcomes of student engagement and learning, even among those students who may be difficult or unmotivated.”) The long story made short is that their years and years of researching led them to this outcome: the number one predictor of  student growth/success/desired outcomes was high teacher efficacy.

This is HUGE. As a principal-in-training at that time, I remember thinking, “easy enough…..focus on growing and maintaining high teacher efficacy.” Part of that is simply done through mentoring, years of experience, and working on a teacher’s confidence level. But, another HUGE part of it, and this is where the principal comes in, is school climate related. The work environment must be positive, happy, fun, and not chalked full of tasks that keep a teacher’s plate full to overflowing all the time. Part of it is appreciating them. But, part of it is also protecting them. The principal must be willing to step into the gaps.

I previously worked in a much larger school than Discovery School and even with around 90 staff members, we were incredibly close and did things to keep the environment healthy and fun. This didn’t just happen by accident. It had intentionally been created. It helped keep the staff positive, happy, confident, etc. And there is no doubt in my mind that it kept teacher efficacy high.

This is never far from my mind as Head of School. It doesn’t mean that every decision I make will be popular with my staff. But, at the end of the day, I appreciate each and every one of them and will do anything in my power to help them and help them be successful in their jobs. My relationships with them are incredibly valuable to me. It’s just one of the ways that the principal can have a direct impact on student outcomes.

Our school officially welcomes its students back next week. But, in the meantime, the groundwork is being laid for a positive school climate, happy/healthy relationships between staff members, and FUN! So…much…fun!

Below are a few pictures taken at our recent staff get-together, hosted at my home. We called it the Dippin Discovery Dinner. Everyone brought their favorite dips and dippers to share.  There was food, fellowship, games, prizes, and lots of fun. They will be giving a lot of themselves to their students this year. I will take care of them…because you can’t pour from an empty cup.

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Mrs. Rahall was voted to receive the first ever Golden Dipper Award for her delicious Spinach & Artichoke dip. YUM!

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The little school in the woods

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I’ve heard Discovery School referred to as the “little school in the woods” so many times recently. I love it. It makes sense given its locale. But, as it turns out, it’s a phrase that can be traced back to the school’s very beginnings.

The year was 1975, and Margaret Black was the mother of two young sons. She was looking for a hands-on education that nurtured the innate sense of wonder present in her boys. She wanted them to have control over their learning process and the freedom to come out from behind the desk and explore. It was then that she decided to partner with Dr. Shirley Heck of Ohio State University Mansfield to co-found the “little school in the woods” they called “Discovery School.”  When the school opened later that year, it had 27 students. It was situated on land that used to belong to the Black Family Estate; land that now boasts the Mansfield Art Center, the Raemelton Therapeutic Equestrian Center, and still plenty of beautiful, healthy, mature woods. The entire block; surrounded by major Mansfield thorough fares Trimble Rd., Millsboro Rd. , and Marion Ave. is a true gem in an increasingly-developed urban area.

Jump ahead 43 years, and that little school in the woods is thriving; still proudly providing an alternative approach to education that holds the child’s sense of wonder as sacred. Though it has grown to over 175 students and the building has been added-onto several times, the philosophy has only grown stronger. In fact, the school is the area’s only authorized International Baccalaureate World School-Primary Years Programme; placing it in an elite group of Independent Schools.

Five years ago, when the time came to place my own child in school, I found myself wanting all the same things for my son (and later my daughter) that Margaret Black had wanted for hers. I couldn’t be more grateful for the leap of faith she and Dr. Heck took in the founding of the school that most said wouldn’t last 3-5 years.

I am now the 10th professional educator to hold the title of Head of School at Discovery School. When I hear people refer to it as the “little school in the woods,” my heart bursts with pride!  In making choices about what I wanted to do first, I needed only look into the school’s past.

The woods are such a part of the school’s identity and a natural extension of the learning environment. While most schools have “specials” like PE, Music Art, etc……Discovery School has all of those…plus “WOODS.” It’s a class! Hikes are a regular occurrence…as is fort building, general exploration, and data collection. It is awesome. The identity under which the school was founded is alive and well. We are the “little school in the woods.”

I decided that my initial efforts would be placed on improving some aspects of the school’s exterior and playground. (There will be much more on the playground renovations and generous grant funding in a later blog post.)

Phase one needed to be the removal of some dead Ash Trees. One thing led to another, and it quickly became clear we had the  perfect little spot for an OUTDOOR CLASSROOM…in the woods…adjacent to our current playground. Where there once was a wall of green, there is now a truly magical space where children can sit under the shade of trees with their teachers and their classmates to read, journal, do math, give presentations, and be inquirers. I could talk about it all day, but I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

We were the “little school in the woods.”

We still are the “little school in the woods.”

And I couldn’t be prouder.

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Take the trip!

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Of all the things I hope our students get to do this summer, TRAVEL is probably the number 1! Near or far, budget-conscience or extravagant, across the state or across the world…travel has so, so many benefits for families and especially for children.

To travel is to stretch the boundaries of their thinking. Children will hear things they’ve never heard, see things they’ve never seen, taste things they’ve never tasted, and have the courage to do things they otherwise wouldn’t when away from the predictability of home. Routines are great and necessary, yes…but travelling can push the boundaries of the comfort zone and increase resilience and positive response to the unpredictable. Sometimes its healthy to realize that even though breakfast might not be the Eggo waffle and chocolate milk they’re used to…that they’ll still be okay!

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Traveling can also teach kids to be more independent. Let them make decisions about what needs packed and what might need left behind. If they have to carry their bag through the airport, they’ll think twice about what goes into it and learn to prioritize. Let them be involved in the trip planning/itinerary decisions. Realizing that research and planning is part of a successful and happy trip (while leaving room for discovery, of course) is an important life lesson.

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Geography, History, Geology, Biology, Anthropology…..the list of subjects that travel can teach a child is limitless. And since these are experience-based/multi-sensory lessons, they are more authentic and more lasting than any classroom-based lesson on the same topic. Children will learn while travelling…without even realizing it. Besides the more academic learning, travel teaches children tolerance (differences are cool), patience (Are we there yet?), and respect (exposure leads to understanding.)

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Probably most importantly, I believe travel helps children to not grow-up too quickly! There is no doubt that the family bond is solidified through shared experiences but this bonding effect is amplified when new things are experienced together. Another way travel keeps kids young is they learn to live in awe…to not take anything for granted…and to be willing to take risks & expand horizons. While the latest electronic device held the highest appeal back home…it pales in comparison to whale-watching, cave exploring, collecting seashells along the shore, or climbing a mountain.

In closing, I beg you to go…take the trip…and ponder this quote by Marcel Proust.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” 

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