Today was Health & Fitness Day at Westlake. Each class came up with a different presentation to show their schoolmates. The creativity and excitement that occurred throughout our halls were incredible.
From The Eagle's Nest
“Good people bring out the good in people.”
There are many, many good people who keep Westlake running. There is a strong administration, dedicated teachers, and countless support staff that pour their hearts and minds into the ministry of Christian education. But there are often so many parent volunteers who humbly hide behind the scenes. Though I cannot name them all, I want to take a moment to highlight the love and encouragement of one special mother, Natasha Nieze. Mother to Jocelyn (7th grade), Caleb (4th grade), and Addisyn (2nd grade), the entire Nieze family has blessed our hallways for quite some time, but I would have to say that Mrs. Nieze has earned her place in all of our gratuitous hearts.
Though Mrs. Wilcox is a joy that will not soon be forgotten by anyone, Mrs. Nieze has willingly
dedicated herself to the job of fill-in librarian for the second graders every Monday. From reading short stories and novels, to letting them choose and share their favorite poetry, Mrs. Nieze has continued to fuel the passion these young readers have for literature and writing.
This past week was the final library class for the second graders and, once again, Mrs. Nieze did not hesitate to make things especially special. Laying out picnic blankets, bringing a cordless microphone, and goofy props, she allowed each child to share a piece of their own writing that they recently composed.
Filled with laughter and creativity, the grassy hills of Westlake were alive with narrative wonders! I can only say that half of this inspiration was due to the kind heart, constant time, and sweet voice of Mrs. Nieze. Thank you for making reading time come alive. Thank you for not being afraid to break down walls and be silly for the sake of the kids. Thank you for making a difference in the ever-present march toward loving literature fully.
“Education should not be about building more schools and maintaining a system that dates back to the Industrial Revolution. We can achieve so much more, at unmatched scale with software and interactive learning.” -Naveen Jain
If I were able to be in sixth grade again, I would pray that I’d have the fortune to experience math with Mrs. Coombe. Using interactive notebooks since the beginning of the year, I’ve been so awestruck by the detailed levels of depth and creativity she has inspired in her math students. The coolest project by far, however, has taken place more recently as the students study not just geometry, but apply geometric form and measurement to an authentic Project Based Learning unit on architecture.
Focusing on the skills of measurement, scale, ratio, area, and perimeter, the students were tasked with, “Designing their own dream houses by creating a scale drawing using architecture symbols.” Using price comparison and estimation, the students were then charged with figuring out a logical “price quote” for the papering, painting, and flooring of their imagined homes. As if this project wasn’t fun and interdisciplinary enough, Mrs. Coombe then rolled their designs into a real-world application by having the students present their proposals to a professional architect (Mrs. DeReus’ husband) from A. Perry Homes.
The sixth-grade class took a field trip to the architectural studio, and spent an entire morning: touring, watching the design process, custom home planning, and experiencing a virtual reality trip through a custom home being built right now! From the thrill of watching a career choice lived out before you, to the pride of being a part of something that effectually influences your future (whether in home design, home purchase, or architectural literacy) these students had an unbelievable time.
To finish out the unit on architecture, Mrs. Coombe decided to take the project one step further, and students are now building a scale model of their approved blueprint plans. Using foam board, measuring tools, and a LOT of hot glue, the sixth-grade room is quite literally “Under Construction.” Room by room, line by line, square inch by square inch, this lesson is more than a dream homecoming alive, it is a dream come true to any seeker of an authentic, project-based, and meaningfully interactive curriculum.
The movie Field of Dreams said, “If you build it, they will come,” and I can’t help but see that to be true, as we are all magnetically drawn to the architects of the sixth grade, as we watch their imagination and innovation soar.
Every child is unique. Every child is special. Every single soul who walks through the halls of Westlake is valued – is respected – is loved. But I will say that not every student “lets you in” the same way. Once in awhile, there is a kid who opens her or himself enough to share their singular light.
As a senior, Carlos Gil returned to Mrs. Krass’ second grade in pursuit of another meaningful year of service. Whether cutting, copying, correcting or connecting, Carlos has found an amazing way of relating to the students and staff he encounters. Mother Theresa once said, “In this life, we cannot always do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” This has been the mantra that Carlos lives out each and every day in her class.
Dubbing him, “Mr. Handsome Hair,” the second graders literally cheer whenever Carlos walks into the room. He immediately gives in to their requests of high fives and hugs, and gets on their level to engage in conversation. The other day, when asked to help guide the students in a writing project, he promptly sat beside them and began a brainstorming session, drawing on their strengths and encouraging their creativity and confidence.
As an educator, it is important to know your cards and how to play them. It has become apparent to all of us teachers that Carlos Gil is a hidden ace. He has a way with students that brings them to a place of safety and motivation. While children respond well to their teachers, they react to a cool teenager who walks in the room. Personality has power, and Carlos has worn kindness on his sleeve so tangibly that the students literally seek him.
Recently, the senior class went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. While it was amazing to hear about their experiences in the elementary chapel, I would have to say that the moment of unparalleled connection happened the following Tuesday, when Carlos gave every second grader a bracelet that he had purchased from the market in the D.R. Shining with pride and importance at being remembered, the students walked around admiring the different colors they were given.
According to Elaine S. Dalton, “If you desire to make a difference in the world, you must be different from the world.” Carlos isn’t afraid to be different. He isn’t ashamed to kneel on the ground so that he is eye-level with a child trying to explain something important to him. He inarguably does any task Mrs. Krass sets before him with efficiency and cheer. He even litters a few of our desks with notes of encouragement to carry on.
All I can say is, the extra mile is never a wasted effort, and Carlos has proven time and time again that he is not afraid of distance. So thank you to him, and to every teaching assistant like him, who takes the time to not only care but carry the hearts of those around him.
I remember my mother always telling me that compassion is as much of a blessing as it is a curse. To be able to feel for others means being able to feel everything … the good, the bad, and the painful. It is difficult sometimes, oh who am I kidding, ALL of the time, to look at this world, at its suffering, and not feel too much. The anger, the poverty, the very essence of all those who are lost. It is overwhelming. But as Andrew Boyd said, “Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it.” This year, the kids in Mrs. Salvador’s Spanish One class decided that they would not be crushed – not by the barriers of time, or space. Becoming a global citizen begins with caring about the people and the issues that are not directly related to you necessarily, but that wear on your heart to the point of changing it. In an effort to make her students more globally aware, Mrs. Salvador opened their hearts to the possibility of a beautiful relationship. Below, two students share their experience.
“Spanish 1 wrote letters to the children in the Dominican Republic where the seniors were going for their missions trip. We were all very excited to write to these children and hear back from them. When the seniors got back from their trip they had the letters that the children had written back to us. We were all super happy to hear back from these children and read what they had written us. The children who wrote to us were third graders and they went to school at Freedom school. We went to their school’s website and got to see pictures of them. Their website is www.itisforfreedom.com.” – Kenzie DeReus
“Our Spanish class recently wrote a letter to the Dominican Republic. We didn’t really know who would be receiving the letters. We wrote letters asking them many questions and telling them a little bit about ourselves. A third-grade class ended up receiving our letters and they wrote back to us. A 9-year-old girl named Rosa wrote me back. She was so sweet and told me so much about herself. I think that it is so cool that we got to communicate with a group of kids far away that we probably would have never been able to meet otherwise.” – Abigail Taylor
Mrs. Salvador had the amazing foresight to connect potential mission students of Mr. Flemming years ahead, with students they will actually have the opportunity to meet when they are seniors. “This way they will be able to build relationships,” she said. Not only is this lesson interdisciplinary and multi-aged, but authentic in investing in cultivating a global conscious and cultivating an open heart. What a blessing to Westlake that we have teachers who care so much that they are literally willing to stretch their compassion around the world.
Okay, we all know that isn’t true … but he did create the plant that started it all! Marshmallows date back all the way to ancient Egypt, where it is believed that a wild herb was discovered in a wetland from which a “sweet substance” could be taken. The sap of the marshmallow plant was combined with honey to make a sort of desert reserved for only the most royal and noble.
By the 1800s, the confection industry found a way to replace most of the “natural” ingredients to create what we commonly know of as our delicious, synthetic, treats. Marshmallows have been in mass production ever since, gracing campfires and delighting every age wherever and whenever they’re served. From their illustrious history, it cannot surprise anyone that marshmallows also find themselves in a high ranking status in education! Used as natural pillows of adhesion … they are the perfect, safe, scientific snack!
Alfred Mercier is quoted as having said, “What we learn with pleasure, we never forget.” How fortunate for the second graders at Westlake that this past week, Mrs. Krass decided to teach a math lesson with the aid of marshmallows! Blending geometric vocabulary and architecture, Mrs. Krass delivered delicious instruction on how to create three-dimensional shapes using lines (toothpicks), vertices (marshmallows), and a whole lot of creative engineering energy! Little by little, the obscure pieces became miniature prisms, cubes, and more complex structures. The children were able to translate something they knew (building) to something they needed to know (geometric patterns).
As we all know, we remember best, that which leaves an impression on us. We recall with the fondest of memories, that which was fun. It was such a delight to witness the second grade’s “hunger” for knowledge, and even sweeter to witness their reward of a job well done … delicious demolition of their figures!
C.S. Lewis once said, “Be weird. Be random. Be who you are. Because you never know who would love the person you hide.” Well today, as we kick off our week of Standardized Testing, I know I speak for all of fourth, fifth, and sixth grades when I say how grateful we are that Mrs. Coombe was living proof of C.S. Lewis’ wisdom.
In acknowledgment of the cultural phenomenon of “emojis,” and realizing how stressed some young people feel about test-taking, Mrs. Coombe had the foresight to head off anxiety through laughter. Administering her special #2 pencils, has been the highlight of a day that might otherwise have made kids feel, “down the drain.” (Pun intended!) What a blessing to instead be vindicated as a child – to hear your teacher say, “I get that this is difficult, and it might feel crummy, but I want you to know I’m on your side, and here’s a little something to keep your spirits up.”
According to science and psychology research, laughter has numerous benefits, a few of which are:
– Reducing the level of stress hormones in your body such as cortisol and adrenaline
– Distracting the mind from negative focuses such as anger, guilt, stress, or fear
– Reframing one’s perspective from “threats” to “challenges”
Another recent study at California’s Loma Linda University found that between a test group asked to sit quietly and do nothing, as opposed to a test group allowed to watch funny videos as they waited, “… the ‘humor group’ performed significantly better when it came to memory recall. Participants who viewed the funny videos had much higher improvement in recall abilities, 43.6 percent, compared with 20.3 percent in the non-humor group,” (Shah, The Huffington Post: New Study Proves that Laughter is the Best Medicine).
So while we as teachers and parents know that Standardized Testing is a great snapshot of where our children and school rank among national standings, we also acknowledge that they are cumbersome and exhausting. Level with your kids and give them a little extra love and freedom on testing days, as I am sure you remember well your days with a scantron form and a number two pencil … even though I guarantee it wasn’t as uplifting as Mrs. Coombe’s!
Julie Bishop once said, “Our cultural diversity has most certainly shaped our national character.” I believe this, and I know that at Westlake, I’m not alone. There has been a cultural appreciation trend in this school for as long as anyone can remember, and one of these beautiful traditions is the Cultural Reports of third grade. What began with the long-loved (and still missed) Mrs. Jackson, has continued with the delightful and insightful Miss Betori!
Students are assigned a country to research, create a report on, and speak about. From France to Greece, Italy to Japan … sea to shining sea is covered in this delightful dip into cultural and ethnic awareness. Miss Betori literally drapes her room with lively artistic representations of the globe, and her children are immersed in the worlds that exist within our world, but that we so rarely are able to see.
In speaking with Miss Betori, I think the most exciting part of it all is being able to give her students opportunities to shine … to be the star presenter and allow them each the honor to show how knowledgeable they are. Any time teachers give their students the chance to take ownership of their own learning, authentic engagement will take place, and true connections will be had!
According to Cesar Chavez, “We need to help students and parents cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community – and this nation.” I think it is evident, given the current state of unrest in our own country, that the more we can direct our focus on others, using the love and example of Christ, the better chance we have of healing. One thing is sure, I feel blessed to have my own children at Westlake, to gain the insight and perspective to be able to appreciate the diverse world we are a part of. We are called to be ambassadors to Christ, and that can only happen when we learn to care with intention about all of God’s globe … not just our small corner of it.
“Never be tired of learning or teaching others.” – Confucius
It seems a bit off to be talking about China on St. Patrick’s Day, but today, that is where the global focus was in Kindergarten this week. The Emerald Isle has nothing on the experience of the Great Wall of building blocks!
For the past few years, Mrs. DeReus has been having a project based learning unit based on China. The students learn about the culture, the food, the people, the language, and the sights. I spoke to a student who is now in fifth grade that shared her memories of the project from years ago. She brightened and said, “I STILL have my passport from that unit! Mrs. DeReus gave us a little passport that she stamped each and every time we learned about another part of the country. It was really fun!”
Mrs. DeReus completes her students’ learning by extending the multidisciplinary unit BEYOND the classroom! The Kindergarten class went on a field trip today to Tang’s Chinese Restaurant. They were able to experience the culture and atmosphere of authentic cuisine while making text-to-world (and tastebud) connections that they will remember for many years to come.
Educational psychology tells us that the more often we, as educators, are able to connect learning to experience, the more apt students are to retain the information. Seeing the bright smiles of these Kindergarteners, it is obvious that their learning was a very gratifying experience. Whether being welcomed by a door-to-floor sized flag of China as they entered, or being asked to observe the beauty of Chinese characters and the sound of the Mandarin language … there is only one thing left to say – I wish I was in Kindergarten again!
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb …” – Revelation 7:9
“Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” ―C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
I didn’t have the privilege to read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe series until I was an adult. And even as an adult, the poetic magic of C.S. Lewis’ words were not lost on me. The rich metaphors, the powerful allusions … Lewis was undeniably a master crafter of verse. I am so grateful to report that the fourth graders were exposed to this delightful storyteller much sooner than I; and even more so, their memories of this book and this time of literary immersion will live on as long as they do. As a
As a child, you usually remember one thing about each grade. Your class pet, an amazing field trip, a particularly special teacher you had that year … memories are stronger when they are exceptional. In the text, C.S. Lewis reminds us that, “All shall be done, but it may be harder than you think.” As educators, it can be hard to bring our curriculum to life. This was not the case for Mrs. Ptasienski, because last week, as I walked down the hallway, I was amazed at the transformation of her room, to Narnia.
Her doors were covered with a set that appeared as an actual wardrobe. Her room was covered in regal twinkle-lights, and Mrs. Ptasienski, herself, was crowned and carried a “sword.” She had her students line up, single-file, and invited them into the “wardrobe” which led to Narnia and proceeded with a royal crowning ceremony, whereby each member of the class was inducted as either a King or Queen of Narnia.
When I asked her later, what gave her the idea, she humbly said, “You know, I don’t even remember.” That’s the thing about amazing teachers … to them, creativity is not work – it’s a way of life. I think what set the whole experience apart, was that Mrs. Ptasienski had woven the tale of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe so delightfully into her curriculum, that I doubt the students felt they were learning at all. From the deep discussions they had, to the film to novel comparison they researched, every facet of this story was intentional and anchored not only to story elements but the gospel as well.
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there is a poem that says:
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
The text clearly lays out the promise that Christ will come again, and he will come with the intention and strength to vanquish all darkness. The allegorical reference was not lost on the fourth graders. During the crowning ceremony, when all of the children were delighted to keep their shiny, paper crowns, Mrs. Ptasienski told the students that the real treasure comes in heaven, when we are given crowns of gold to lay down at the feet of our savior.
How many lessons, I wonder … have the power to end like that.