Welcome Back to School from Head of Lower School

August 8, 2012

Dear MMS Lower School Families,

The summer weather has arrived on the mountain as we begin to feel the heat. The lake is low with the elodea in full bloom. As I walked the campus this morning, rechecking maintenance improvements, I was struck by what a truly special place the Mount Madonna School and Community is. The turkeys and deer graze the hillsides and the people walk silently to breakfast, enjoying the quiet space interrupted only by bird calls and water flowing.

The Mindfulness Institute is hosted at Mount Madonna Center this week. We have a teacher, Bob Caplan, in attendance to connect us to the latest research and practices from a variety of teachers and scientists who make this their life’s work. Yesterday the Executive Council worked to create a meaningful agenda for our faculty retreat, which begins Aug. 20. We incorporated questions about what keeps us vital and healthy as teachers and what will infuse our program, and hopefully our students, with healthy energy and vitality.

One of our continuing works is the mapping of our course curriculum. For the last three years the Lower School has worked on mapping our Science, Social Studies, Health, Writing and Math programs. This August we will begin to tackle the reading, speaking and listening components of our language arts program. We also began a dialogue last winter about how each of us brings “mindfulness” techniques into our classroom and what that word actually means in today’s educational circles. We will continue to share ways to help students become more aware of self in relationship to others and develop their sense of awareness of who they are, the choices they make every moment and how to de-stress from a world that is often bombarding them with input. I read a lovely simple book by Goldie Hawn entitled, 10 Mindful Minutes, Giving Our Children And Ourselves The Social And Emotional Skills to Reduce Stress and Anxiety For Healthier Happier Lives. After reading her book, I ordered the Minds Up curriculum guide for grades K-8 and gave copies to our teachers as a resource to add to their practices. The study of mindfulness is of course an ancient science that like quantum physics, is now finding scientific proof of effectiveness in a growing field of brain research and learning. What we once practiced because it made us feel better, is now being used routinely in athletics, schools and universities and in the corporate settings. So as we approach the new school year, we hope to continue this discussion and build into our busy school schedules a daily practice that students will add to their toolbox of skills. Like our articulation of our Outdoor Eco literacy Program, we hope to articulate what we do at each level of the program that will help our students begin to know themselves from the inside out.

This summer I was fortunate to journey through the southeast Alaskan Alexander Archipelago islands on a small cruise catamaran.  The scenery of glaciers calving, bear, wolves, orca pods, humpbacks, salmon swimming upstream, bald eagles, seal lions on icebergs and arctic terns will forever leave its mark as the wildness touched me deeply. We also traveled with an elder, Alice, from the Tlingit clan for a day. Alice told stories of her childhood and ancient legends from her Raven lineage. The totem poles and Whale House are relics of time when people were linked directly to the natural world. One of my favorite sayings from Alice is, “When the tide is low, the table is set.”  For me, it is a reminder that we are provided with so much opportunity in this life. And rather than try to hold back the tide, like the Viking King Canute, accept that nature’s timing provides opportunity. Patience and understanding of the ripening process, as teachers and parents, are key qualities in guiding the next generation to grow into their true potential.

We look forward to seeing the students and you again soon! On Aug. 28 from 6-7:30 at the Courtside classrooms, there is an opportunity to meet with Hamsa, Linda and Jessica about our Outdoor learning overnight field trips. They will discuss purpose, program and address any questions you may have about these trips. The first trip on the horizon is Oct. 1-2 for grades 3 and 4. The Montara Lighthouse overnight trip is a part of their two-year study of California History, flora and fauna.

Class and Welcome Liaisons will be hosting a gathering for new families on September 5 from 6:45-8:00 in the Upper Campus Assembly Room. This is a dessert potluck and a chance for our new families to meet our class representatives and administration. Class lists will be available soon and we invite you to make connections with the newest members of our community.

We hope that everyone will plan on attending our annual Back-to-School evening with the teachers in their classrooms on September 12, 6:30-8:00.

Again, thank you for choosing Mount Madonna as your School. We are gearing up and excited about the opportunities for the coming year. If you are up on the mountain, do check-out the upper lot gymnasium progress.

Much love and gratitude,