First Grade Studies Beautiful Trees
We stepped into first grade recently, into a veritable classroom forest. There were displays of books about trees, nature artifacts that reminded us of our natural roots, and artwork that featured patched trees and their individual parts. First grade is studying beautiful trees in all their splendor.
The first grade “wolves,” as they call themselves, were contentedly reading to each other. They quietly tried out new words and soaked up fun ideas from illustrated books.
The Story of Trees
Their teacher, Rachel, guided them into a circle where they recited a poem about trees. They swayed like leaves, or dropped to the floor like apples. They sang and recited verses from the song, “I’m a Tall, Tall Tree.” At the conclusion, students huddled together to hear a story.
Ms. Rachel read about many different trees that grow. She asked her students about all the different varieties they might have already known: “Apple tree!” one said. “Maple! Peach! Magnolia!” chimed others. First graders are about the same age as it takes for an apple tree to mature: 6-10 years, depending on the species.
The Four Elements to Make a Tree Grow
They arrived to a part in the book that detailed the four elements of what trees need to grow big and strong.
These first graders already knew:
Air. Water. Soil. Sunlight.
A Little Space
But there was just one more thing that trees needed to grow. What was it?
Rachel called up one student. Then another and another until there were four, standing so close together they could hardly breathe….
All these students were “trees that hadn’t fully grown” and they quickly figured out what that last thing was. Trees need space.
These four students spread out and demonstrated how having a little space made it much easier to spread and grow.
So many life lessons in that statement: having a little space makes it much easier to spread and grow.
The Natural and Physical Domains
There was more. Each student became an “element.” Rachel handed out cards of either air, soil, water, or the sun. Students wore them as badges of honor as they imagined they were air, water, soil, or sunlight. They lined up to head toward the outdoor classroom to incorporate two different modalities of learning: the natural and physical domains.
Rachel’s instructions were to run around the outdoor classroom, but when they heard, “1-2-3-GROW!” each person had to find the other elements that would make a tree. When all four students – elements – were joined, they’d make a circle, giving themselves some space. As they successfully “grew into a tree,” they’d exclaim, “I’m a tree! I’m a tree! I’m a tree!”
After several rounds of finding the different elements, students returned to their classroom. This space is a peaceful oasis that peers out to the Gnome Village below, giving the impression that they are, in fact, in a tree house. We knew they were secure in the knowledge that they wouldn’t soon forget what makes a tree grow from a seedling into a sprawling giant.
Rainbow Has Solar Power
Have you seen what’s over on the roof of the auditorium? Getting solar power was one of those far-off dreams until…it became reality!
In 2017, an anonymous donor awarded Rainbow the funds to get solar panels installed. These are located on the east side of the auditorium. This donation will help to reduce the school’s reliance on fossil fuels.
In fact, the installation of these solar panels will provide a benefit of 60+ years. The bulk of Rainbow’s utility bills go toward the auditorium. It’s a big space. Heating and cooling can get expensive.
There’s also the environment to consider. Rainbow will reduce its carbon footprint by huge margins. The solar panels help to reduce the school’s utility expenses while helping the planet. In about 30 years, the panel efficiency will go down some, but will still yield significant energy savings.
Over the course of the process, one of our Rainbow parents had been in touch with representatives from Duke and other organizations to get the interconnections turned on. “Interconnection” means how a “distributed generation system, such as solar photovoltaics (PVs), can connect to the grid.” (Source)
A local solar installation company, Sugar Hollow, installed the solar panels late in 2017. The school had to wait until 2018 to turn on the interconnection. This was due to a rebate from Duke Energy, which also helped with significant savings for the school.
When Sugar Hollow installed the solar panels, they felt really connected to the school and what it stands for. Sugar Hollow is a living wage certified company and their philosophy parallels Rainbow’s mission:
At Sugar Hollow Solar, we care deeply about moving our society towards a more sustainable future – not just in the environmental sense but in how it relates to overall quality of life, now.
The panels they used for installation were manufactured in the US, as well. As a company, they work hard to source everything here in the US.
The Sugar Hollow team installing solar panels on top of the auditorium.
Because this was the first year that Rainbow started the interconnection process, it took awhile to get the power systems connected, approved and ready to go. When it came time to “flip the switch,” the whole school community was so thrilled and the anticipation was palpable. Rainbow elected to have a school-wide celebration to commemorate the event.
Students gathered at the auditorium to view the solar panels and have a “solar song circle” – it was RCS’ first song circle of the year.
Sugar Hollow also joined us for that celebration. Now, students will be able to tell exactly what the solar panels are doing moment by moment that demonstrate power output and usage. Check out the Solar Power Resources section on our website. It has the link to the energy performance of the solar panels.
Since the founding of Sugar Hollow, they have surpassed 1.5 gigawatts hours of energy generation – from the sun! That’s like planting 28,931 trees!! We have so much gratitude for these folks and the work they do!
As we gear up for the school year, we thought it would be fun to highlight one of the first faces you’ll see on campus: Kate Chassner! She is Rainbow’s Office Manager.
She seemingly knows the answers to everything. Need keys? She’s got ’em. Need to know the schedule? She can tell you. Need to find someone on campus? Kate will know. Need to locate a form? Kate’s got you covered.
We gave her a set of questions to answer, interview style. It’s so fun to read the answers of these team highlights.
You’re originally from Florida, right? How did you end up at Rainbow?
After I graduated from Florida State University, I moved to New Orleans with my sister. On a trip back home to Florida one Thanksgiving I ran into a friend from college and we started dating soon after. He lived in Asheville. I then decided that I should move here, too. We have been together for 10 years and have two kids. I’m glad I moved.
How long have you been in Asheville? At Rainbow?
I have been in Asheville since January 2010, and I have been at Rainbow since August 2011.
Why did you decide to do the work you’re doing now?
I was teaching preschool when I first started at Rainbow (and I taught preschool for years before coming to RCS). After I had my first child, coming back as a full-time preschool teacher was very challenging. I knew I did not want to leave Rainbow but I needed a change. At that time, the current Office Manager was transitioning out and I was able to begin helping part-time in the office. I was thrilled to train for the position.
What is the favorite part of your job?
I love getting to know everyone in the school and make connections with teachers, staff, parents and students.
What do you like to do when you’re not at Rainbow?
I love my family time! Going on hikes, bike rides, swimming, making forts, dance parties, cooking, painting and really anything with my family is what I look forward to most.
I am making more time for art lately, too. In addition, I have been taking marimba with Sue Ford.
I also try to run a few times a week and get into a good book.
You’re taking an art class on campus. What sorts of art do you like to create?
I am currently taking a drawing class, and I every time I take an art class I find out a new style or medium I love. Currently I create a lot of mixed media pieces (collage with my drawings layered in). Most of my art has a message about something I am passionate about. (You can see my art on my Instagram page @k8couture.)
What’s the best way to start the day?
My 2 year old wakes me up most mornings, earlier than I would like. But ideally I would like to wake up (after the sun has come up) and sit on the porch with a cup of coffee or go for an early run. Still, I know I will miss my sweet early mornings with my kiddos as they get older.
What irrational fear do you have?
As a parent I have all sorts of irrational fears for my kids. To that end, I have to find a balance between letting them be adventurous and keeping them safe.
What book(s) are you reading?
Right now I am reading, The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro and Conversations Worth Having by Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres.
I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche earlier in the year. I loved it and really enjoy anything by her.
What’s the farthest you’ve traveled from home?
I lived in Tokyo, Japan for 2 years when I was young (6 years old).
My family lived in Geneva, Switzerland when I was in college, so I visited there often. I also studied Art History in Paris, France. All were super interesting and wonderful. Traveling is such an amazing experience and I can’t wait to travel more as my kids get older.
What is something that everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Travel to another country.
What is an item on your bucket list?
A long overdue honeymoon with my husband
If you could talk to any person, living or deceased, for half an hour, who would it be?
Martin Luther King, Jr.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Take risks. Stay true to yourself. Tell the people you love how wonderful they are… as often as possible.
You have been granted one wish that WILL come true. What do you wish for?
I would wish for a greater understanding throughout the human race to treat people with respect and to celebrate our differences.
Freedom and Creativity
Summer is a time when folks often invite freedom and creativity back into their busy lives. Maybe they pick up a project that has taken a back seat, take a workshop, or reconnect with a lost skill, art or craft. Maybe they learn, read, or try something new. Summer is a great time to nurture the young inventor in each child.
The long days of the season allow more time to drop into open-ended, free and constructivist play. Making time for STEM concepts, for inventing and engineering can tap into imaginations, foster creativity and enhance problem-solving capacities. You can try offering this space to them by spending some time exploring, asking questions, creating and building. Allow for simple invention and engineering projects by providing tools and materials such as items found in a junk drawer, recyclables, or simple office supplies.
Once you have ignited their passion for inventing, try stretching their thinking with various books.
What do you do with an Idea? By Kobi Yamada
This is a great book a child’s brilliant idea to bring it to the world. After reading, you can begin by asking what an animal needs to survive. Then you might ask what more the animals need to grow and thrive. Continue the discussion by likening animal growth to “idea growth.” State that our ideas can grow, thrive, survive, and evolve by nurturing them. Follow up with a discussion about the author’s message: stick with your idea, follow it through, persevere and your idea could change the world.
Not a Box
Next time you read with your child, you can try reading Not a Box by Antoinette Portis. This is a fabulous book about a rabbit with a very BIG imagination. After completing the book, you can discuss with your child how imagination and creativity are magical elements of who they are. Talking about different perspectives allows children to see that showing and sharing are part of what makes them unique and special.
Next, lay out a box of recyclables or knickknacks and let your child choose one or more items to repurpose. Ask your child to reimagine how this ordinary object can become extraordinary. Encourage them to use their artistic skills to reimagine it by creating something new. You may also want to extend their learning by inviting them to use the materials and resources to create a 3-D representation of their new invention. Once they have finished, it’s always quite powerful to spend time reflecting about it together.
Implications of Your Work
Children appreciate “thinking outside of the box.” They thrive off of creation and love to deep dive into their own imaginations. They approach STEM activities, such as this one, in the most authentic way when they know that their learning environment is supportive and safe. Children are most creative when the learning environment highlights many perspectives, emphasizes process over product, and failure as opportunity.
In many cultures, tribes and soceities around the world, children engage in various rites of passage. Often these are times when a child is recognized for passing though the threshold toward adulthood. Graduation at Rainbow Community School serves as an integral rite of passage for our graduating Omega Middle Schoolers.
Preparation for this rite officially begins as they join the Omega program. Subtle and more obvious practices support each Omegan’s readiness. For example, each day that middle schoolers pass through a physical threshold. As enter the building, they pass under a wooden panel inscribed with “Know Thyself.” Additionally, their arrival is also marked with a sacred time called Centering; this time is used for grounding, centering, pondering life’s big questions. Lessons, activities and learning experiences throughout the day not only foster a culture of connectedness but support the work of nurturing the child to individuate- to
These opportunities, although grounded in the safety of community, encourage personal identity development, person spirituality and ultimately- wholeness. According to decades of research by Dr. Lisa Miller, head of clinical psychology at Columbia’s Teachers College, teens who have the benefit of developing a personal spirituality are 80% less likely to suffer from ongoing and recurring depression and 60% less likely to become substance abusers. To that end, it is reasonable to suggest that spirituality is indeed the cornerstone for mental health and human well-being. Intentional rites of passage are but one way to nourish that health.
To KNOW THYSELF is to answer these questions:
Who am I?
Who are you?
Why am I here?
What is my purpose?
Graduating Omegans write commencement speeches that reflect on their time at Rainbow and acknowledge their gratitude, growth, challenges, hopes and dreams. Each student, as part of the rite, share these speeches publicly. This public sharing is an amazingly brave yet vulnerable challenge.
They are informed by years of social, emotional and spiritual engagement and learning. They are guided by opportunities to explore life’s big mysteries and ponder personal purpose. They are rooted in a a collective AND personal identity.
If you are curious what happens when soul is invited into the classroom, please click here to listen to Noah Mraz’s graduation speech.
Please also consider:
- What are the implications of integrating rites of passage, existential questioning and the spiritual domain into your own work with children?
- What are you already doing that serves the spiritual development of your students? What more can you do?
The Charleston Chronicles
Our Omega 7/8 students are on their annual trip to Charleston – and this post entry is “The Charleston Chronicles.”
Their teachers have been updating all of us with emails of their trip, including details of what they have been doing.
As they chronicle their voyage and educational experiences, we wanted to share them here with you. These entries are courtesy of Susan Waddell.
We had a FABULOUS first day! After getting ice in the coolers filled with snacks and breakfast foods at the first rest stop we came across, we were on our way. We watched The Princess Bride when en route. Many kiddos enjoyed seeing it again, quoting it, and even, for some, seeing it for the first time.
We arrived at Bull Island at 1:00PM and boarded a boat/ferry that took us across the Intercostal Highway to the barrier island, Bull Island.
We experienced many different ecosystems, and we saw a variety of life forms. Almost immediately, we spied some chilly alligators trying to soak up the few sun rays that made it through the clouds today. Additionally, we traversed the barrier island and made it to the ocean where we all played and explored the windy landscape for just over a half an hour.
Once we returned to the main land, we boarded our bus and headed out for dinner to finally settle into our home for the next three nights.
Thank you to everyone for getting your Omegans to us on-time this morning. Gratitude for the Kerns who grabbed some milk jugs of water. Additionally, a huge thank you to the Tintingers for getting out snacks and breakfast items. They then sorted them in the most efficient way. Finally, they also created a special homemade treat we all enjoyed after dinner tonight.
It takes a village!
Enjoy the photos, and if I didn’t get a close up of your Omegan today, don’t fret, more photos will be coming each evening.
Wow, what a LONG and incredibly fulfilling day! Alarms (that had been left set for a normal school day) started to chirp, buzz, and play at 5:30AM in some cabins this morning. Even though that was earlier than necessary, with sleepy eyes, our Omegans started to stir. By 8:15, we were able to circle up and center before our adventures.
We began with a tour of the aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown. Next was the destroyer, the USS Laffey. Afterward, we went to see a submarine, the USS Camagore. Students (and teachers) marched up and down stairs, and across grates and steel. They experienced the day in the life of our veterans.
From there, we moved to the waterfront to enjoy lunch and quality community building time in play. Students saw dolphins in the bay, and practiced their latest gymnast tricks. Of course, they also showed off their ninja moves, and laughed (a lot!).
In the afternoon, a small group of students ventured to the Charleston Museum, and a larger group investigated the Aquarium. From sea turtles to stingrays, tea parties to dress-up, smiles were infinite.
Dinner was at the Screen Door, and everyone had their fill, for we had all worked up quite an appetite.
Our final destination was the beach where students jumped waves, enjoyed a sweet treat, and eventually formed a HUGE volleyball game.
All is quiet in the cabins now as we rest for Day 3.
Here are some shots of the day, and (lucky us!!) we have more to come from Sheila!
Look out for an update tomorrow night.
Thank you for trusting us with your kiddos. We are enjoying the time with each of them!
What an amazing last day.
We had a late start, which was nice, so we didn’t circle up until 9:15 this morning. We started in circle and by stating the following quote:
“The more often we see the things around us- even the beautiful and wonderful things- the more they become invisible to us. That is why we often take for granted the beauty of this world: the flowers, the trees, the birds, the clouds- even those we love. Because we see things so often, we see them less and less.” –Joseph B. Wirthlin
A quote to remind each of us to listen deeply to those who had information to share with us today: information new to some and known by others, regardless, information and ideas easily and often taken for granted.
We boarded the bus for the 40 minute trek to the Birds of Prey exhibit. It is beyond words. From bald eagles, to baby owls, we were reminded of the impact humans have on our planet and the creatures on it, and how truly incredible ALL birds are.
After our 2 hour tour, we boarded the bus and headed back to Charleston. We ate lunch on the bus while we were entertained by the Gullah Tour founder, Alphonso Brown, who opened our eyes to some of the history that doesn’t make its way to traditional history books. After he serenaded us through the East side, we switched to a second tour guide and headed off to the Angel Oak. It was majestic and this tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable.
We returned to the city for dinner at Mellow Mushroom ~ and some time in community. It is so great seeing these kids eat a meal while laughing and sharing tales from our week.
We then returned to the water front to play before our haunted tour. The guides were fantastic story tellers leaving many of our Omegans a tad frightened to go to sleep tonight!!
Take a look at the gallery to see the photos that illustrate our adventures.
I hope to send another message out before we get home tomorrow. Again, thank you for letting us spend this time with your children. Memories have most certainly been made and will be cherished for a long time to come.
The Omega Team