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Westerly Stories

Everyone Deserves A Break!

April 08, 2019
By Dr. Plant

Dear Families,

As we embark on our last week of school before Spring Break, I wondered if you are feeling the same restlessness at home that we have felt on campus. I became curious about the research behind school breaks, and while I could have anecdotally told you about the rhythm of the school year and the vitality of breaks from school, here is what the research upholds:

School breaks are a great way for students to decompress. 

As school-days pile up one after the other, the workload does as well.  Children are asked to remain mentally engaged and productive for months on end. The academic break that comes in Spring allows children to metaphorically hit the pressure valve and decompress from stress and pressure to perform.

School breaks allow for a natural reset button for academics.

Leading up to a break, students and teachers can finish units, projects, and assignments and have closure on activities.  This enables both students and teachers to plan and prepare for their final term of the year.

School breaks are pivotal for social and emotional health.

When faced with the same friends and social groups day after day for too long at a time, children (and families) need an opportunity to step away from each other and reset their healthy social dynamics.

School breaks provide necessary reflection time.

Research supports the idea that children need a period of time in between studies to reflect on what they have learned while not being held accountable for absorbing new information. This is a vital step of the long-term learning process.

School breaks are important opportunities for family time.

In the usual humdrum of school-days and the rushed chaos of weekends chock-full of activities, families often do not have many opportunities for shared recreation time together.  School breaks, even for college-aged students, are important times for families to reconnect and have new experiences together.

So, in the spirit of best practices, let's have a great last week of classes before a fun-filled, reflective, a decompressive week with our families and friends!

All my best,

Demanding A Level Playing Field

March 18, 2019
By Dr. Plant

Dear Westerly Families,

When I first began planning my column for this week's Wildcat Weekly, it was solely going to be about the exciting Student Showcase next Thursday evening, March 21. But as news of the college admissions scandal has broken over the course of this week, I couldn't hold back on expressing my thoughts on the injustice that has occurred and the glaring light this has shed on the role of privilege in education.

For those of you who don't know, here is a brief recap: Several high net worth individuals from Los Angeles (some very recognizable celebrities included), as well as a number of wealthy individuals from across the country, have been engaged in a "pay to play" system in which they paid exorbitant amounts of money to cheat the college admissions system and buy their children's admission into prestigious universities, including USC, Yale, and Georgetown. Specifically, they used a broker to facilitate someone to take college entrance exams for their students or pay coaches to falsely categorize their children as student-athletes. It's some dirty and icky business that has now resulted in arrests, lawsuits, and tarnished reputations across the board.

Though I am not surprised by this blatant display of privilege with total moral disregard, I am deeply saddened by it and appalled by the modeling of these parents for their children. What are we teaching our children about hard work, responsibility, honesty, and citizenship when we cheat to get them into the college of their choice? What pride and gratification are we stealing from them when we don't empower our children to work hard and reap the benefits of that work for themselves? What are they learning about life and their place in this world, when they get to trounce on other students who may have worked harder, been more qualified, but played by the rules? Rhetorical questions aside...there is simply nothing redeeming for any of the parties involved in this scandal.

So...back to Student Showcase. This IS the opportunity to celebrate and honor your child(ren)'s hard work, dedication, and ambitions. They have EARNED their right to show off their learning to you, to guide you through their campus, their academic journeys, and representation of their academic diligence. This is your opportunity as parents to join together for an evening and celebrate all your child has done to contribute to their own success as they deservedly thrive in school. Come celebrate Thursday, March 21 - it's an Open House from 6-8 pm.

Respectfully,

Sustaining Our School Culture

March 04, 2019
By Dr. Plant

Dear Westerly Families,

Thank you to all of those who took the time to fill out the Strategic Planning Survey.  If you haven’t yet had a moment to complete it and share your thoughts yet, the survey is still available to fill out here.

You may have heard me talk or write about the notion of “school culture” and how so much of what you contribute as parents, your children bring to school as students, and our teachers impact as nurturing educators shape this abstract notion of the “culture” of our school.  I thought it may be helpful to dig into that concept a bit, and provide a working definition of school culture.

According to “The Glossary of Education Reform,” school culture refers to the beliefs, perceptions, relationships, attitude, and written and unwritten rules that shape and influence every aspect of how a school functions.  The school culture “results from both conscious and unconscious perspectives, values, interactions, and practices, and it is heavily shaped by a school’s particular institutional history.”  I thought this idea is particularly important to bring up now as I have just returned from the National Association of Independent Schools Conference (held here in Long Beach!) and we are both celebrating 25 years of institutional history this year as well as strategically planning for the next five years ahead. 

As we are a school that’s mission is to help students “develop a true sense of self through meaningful opportunities for self-expression, service, and character development,” it is imperative that Westerly’s school culture is one of positivity, belief in each student’s potential, healthy and positive relationships which buoy our children’s spirits and trust,  and that the written and unwritten rules at Westerly are designed and equitably implemented to support the development of all our student’s character as well as achievement. 

 

I don’t doubt that as a school community, we are all on the same page about this.  That being said, it is vital that we continuously self-assess our community to ensure that our cultural norms are living up to the lofty goals that we set.  As this 25th anniversary year is entering the final third of the year and we are embarking on strategic planning, my goal is that we as an institution, along with each of us personally, take a look at ourselves, our own practices, interactions, and conscious and unconscious perspectives, to see how we affect the school community around us—and in turn, each child’s experience at Westerly.

Make Sure Your Voice Is Heard

February 19, 2019
By Dr. Plant

Dear Westerly Families,

If I did not have the opportunity to connect with you on Thursday, Happy Belated Valentine's Day! The campus was so abuzz with giggles, love, enthusiasm, and creative energy (most likely influenced by a bit o'chocolate and candy) and I could not have been more excited to see the students' celebrations of their friendships. In the spirit of this Hallmark Holiday, I'm asking for a moment of your time and mental energy to help show Westerly some love. As you may know, we are embarking on our Strategic Planning process in order to expand the educational experiences for our students and greater community. This transparent and inclusive process includes:

  • A survey of all Westerly stakeholders: faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni, alumni parents, and trustees

  • A steering committee analysis of the responses, along with other reports, to develop a draft of strategic themes

  • Formation of  a strategic planning committee consisting of multiple stakeholders from across the community to examine and flesh out the strategic themes

  • Development of  a draft of the strategic plan based on the strategic planning committee's recommendations

  • Strategic Plan presentation to the Board of Trustees for adoption in May 2019

  • Celebration of Strategic Plan with Westerly community in September 2019

Please click this link to make sure your voice is heard:

Parent Strategic Planning Survey

Thank you for your time and attention.

The Westerly Factor

January 28, 2019
By Dr. Plant

Dear Westerly Families,

I have written many times before about partnership in our Westerly School community and the vitality of the parent-teacher-student-admin connection to the success of a healthy learning institution, but I think that recent weeks have crystallized this for me more than ever.  As many of you know, my children have been enrolled in LAUSD in our local neighborhood school, before they begin their own Westerly journey.  As much as I have enjoyed watching them learn and grow in their current school, I was so saddened and disheartened over the past few weeks as I bore witness to my children's teachers go on strike to fight for better student-teacher ratios, additional student supports, funding for resources, and increased compensation so they may earn a living wage.  As the over week-long strike drew to a close and my children were welcomed back to school by their teachers, I have never been more cognizant of the delicate and necessary connection between parents, teachers, children, and the school administration-and how much I value this at Westerly.  It is the school's partnership with your families that is the intangible "Westerly factor" that makes this oasis of learning so unique and influential in serving our dynamic students.

It is in this spirit of partnership, that I wanted to remind you of a few opportunities and ways to connect over the next few months.  

First, our Westerly families are our primary ambassadors to the Long Beach (and beyond) community.  As we are in the midst of the admission season, please don't hesitate to ask Jessica how you may serve as an informal ambassador to the school where you and your child(ren) spend so much of your time.  It may be as simple as re-sharing our Facebook/Instagram posts to highlight what we do here, or keeping admission material on hand to have available for anyone who is curious about who we are and what Westerly is all about.  Please don't hesitate to be involved with connecting others to Westerly!

Second, I want to personally invite you to the upcoming Dr. Shefali presentation this upcoming Thursday night, January 31 at 6:00 pm.  A collaboration between Westerly School, Kid Works Children's Center, and the Long Beach Moms Network, this evening will feature both a screening of Dr. Shefali's lesson on "Conscious Parenting" along with an opportunity to speak with Dr. Shefali remotely following the screening. This event is truly appropriate for parents of children of ALL ages, as Dr. Shefali asks us to confront ourselves and how we approach the trials, tribulations, and joys of parenting-and how to enhance the experience to benefit our children.  Additionally, Wildcat will be offered for Westerly students and siblings.  If you are interested in Wildcat, please email tbeal@westerlyschool.org.

Lastly, we have a few very exciting student-driven endeavors going on that we'd love you to be a part of!  Friday, February 1 at 1:30 pm is Westerly's first Farmer's Market, and the Kindergartners, first graders, and second graders cannot wait to help you shop and enjoy healthy, organic, straight-from-the-farmer produce!  Get your order forms in ASAP (they are available for pick-up at the front desk) and come shop Friday afternoon!  Also, talent show auditions are taking place this week, and we are so excited to see the students' enthusiastic performances and collaborations.  Please mark your calendar for the big Talent Show performance on Friday, February 22 from 6:00 to 8:00pm to support our incredible Westerly performers.  

Thank you ALL for your partnership, for your dedication, and for all that you do for your children and this school. I am so very grateful.

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Honoring MLK Day

January 21, 2019
By Dr. Plant

On the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I want to take the time to reflect on Dr. King and his legacy, and to share with you my thoughts on how vital his message and mission still are to us today in 2019. Though many often cite the line, "I have a dream," to epitomize Dr. King's life and teachings, I find there is much potency and meaning to the totality of his words and actions throughout his lifetime that has helped define our role in 'being the change we want to see in the world.

In the same March on Washington address in which Dr. King fervently spoke about his dream that one day our nation would live up to its promise that "all men are created equal," he also talked about the power of now, and the power of engaging in the change we may influence. But far be it for me to paraphrase Dr. King when his powerful words continue to inspire in their original form:

"We have...come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment."

And so here we are today in 2019. Where much has been accomplished, but so much more has yet to be realized. 

I believe that together we must remain cognizant of the urgency of the moment - of THIS moment. In our government. In our schools. At our borders. In our wage gaps and gender dynamics. We, along with our children, are faced with the urgency of now every day, in every corner of our communities and in our country. As an educator, as a parent, and as a community leader, I deeply believe that the best way we can continue to honor Dr. King on the anniversary of his birth, and frankly every day, is to carry his words forward: To teach our young people the importance of staying active and engaged, and not simply to overlook the urgency of nowfor the ease of complacency. It is our duty as parents and educators to teach our children about the power of their voices, the strength of their convictions, the impact of their actions, and the need to step up as informed leaders. On Friday, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy with songs and guided reflection - my hope is that we continue to honor his message by facing the challenges of progress head on. And with humility and grace, all be activists for the future we want to see.

A Message From Our Physical Education Teacher

December 12, 2018
By Shannon Mathews

I wanted to share a sneak peak into the PE program here at Westerly and the types of activities your children are experiencing! Volleyball is a dynamic sport that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels and can be played both indoors and outdoors, in large groups or pairs. Aside from being purely enjoyable, the game also has many benefits including improving muscle strength, hand-eye coordination, timing, reflexes, and balance. 

In addition, and important for our students, volleyball teaches communication, teamwork, and sportsmanship. The students must learn to trust and rely on their teammates to make plays, as well as how to react and support one another when things don't go as planned.

To start their volleyball unit, middle school students were placed on teams and collaboratively developed team names and a team cheer. Our 7th and 8th grade team names included: The Rocks, Tostitos, The Aces, The Bolley Ballers, Da Rock Obama, and The Hot and Spicy Peppers! Playing on the same team throughout the unit helps students learn to work with people of all levels and abilities, build relationships, enhance communication, and practice teamwork. 

Students are also focused on improving their arm's platform, overhead passing skills, their underhand serve, and rotating properly, in addition to learning the basic rules and vocabulary of the game. 

The video above shows students utilizing a combination of these skills in a class tournament. There are some great rallies, hustle plays, and even a soccer-style kick to keep a play going! See if you can spot it.

 

Music inspires us!

December 07, 2018
By Steve Elicker and Katie Dahl

"The true purpose of arts education is not necessarily to create more professional dancers or artists. [It's] to create more complete human beings who are critical thinkers, who have curious minds, who can lead productive lives." -Kelly Pollock

In 2nd grade we have started a project inspired by Georgia O'Keeffe's large-scale flowers. This artist was known for her beautiful, large imposing flowers. The first composition style we learned about was open composition versus closed composition. We then moved into color schemes and how artists used different colors to represent different moods. While looking at a color wheel, we each picked out a limited color palette to represent our flowers and our background. We are using tissue paper in various colors creating layers in a papier-mâché technique. 

You will notice music playing in the video while the 2nd Graders create. Listening to music in the classroom engages both sides of the brain, facilitating learning. Tests show that music alters brain waves which makes the brain more receptive to learning. It also helps them work on some new dance moves!

Should I let my student fail and learn?

November 28, 2018
By Dr. Plant

While meeting with our 8th grade families and helping their seniors apply to various high schools, I have found myself in several conversations about the tension parents felt when it came to academic supervision. Parents expressed the challenges they faced choosing between the "let them fail and learn" mindset (that as teachers we often espouse) and the inherent desire to oversee and manage their child's studying, homework practices, grades, and friendships. 

I find that this is a confusion that exists almost universally among parents. How do we support our children to get good grades, develop strong study habits, and be joyfully engaged in their school and social lives, while also refraining from being a "helicopter parent" who hovers over them, or the newly coined "lawnmower parent" who metaphorically mows down any adversity their child may face?

To be honest, I have no single answer to solve this conundrum. It often is a thin line we must walk as parents to support our child(ren)'s healthy development of the skills needed to face adversity they will surely encounter in high school, college, and life beyond: independent problem-solving, conflict resolution, autonomy and ownership of the quality of the work they present, as well as their ability to navigate multiple perspectives with whom they may not agree. And yet, to develop these skills, they must confront the times in which they face these challenges and learn from the times they fail. Fail sometimes, they must, as a process of learning and healthy development. Though, what do we do when those failures coincide with the consequences of poor grades or struggling in school, sports, or with friends? 

While I have only been a parent for a mere 11 years and served as an educator for 20 years, my personal, professional, and anecdotal experiences parallel with what educational and psychological research posits: we need to embrace and model that "failure" is only a step of the learning process. When your child has tried something that doesn't work (like NOT doing their homework and getting a "0"), they are one step closer to finding what does work (e.g. getting their homework done early so they can play and feel good!). This reinforces the concept that we as individuals are not fixed in place (e.g. "I'm not good at math"), but rather, with perseverance, effort, and practice, our skills and talents can develop and grow. In his  article about Carol Dweck's Growth Mindset, James Clear illuminates this change of mindset that many of us struggle with ourselves. 

In terms of the consequences that come with embracing failure, we have to acknowledge that there are ways to support our children which both encourage a growth mindset and help to support their success: open communication, brainstorming solutions, recommending that they talk with their teachers, and reminding them that problems don't go away by avoiding confrontation. Let's lean in together to help our students build the skills necessary for success - rather than "mowing down" the problems for them.

 

 

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Happy Thanksgiving

November 24, 2018
By Dr. Plant

Happy almost-Thanksgiving! I want to send out a heartfelt "Thank you!" to all the Westerly community members - teachers, students, parents, and grand-parents - who made last Friday so overwhelmingly special and powerful. Every classroom and learning space I walked into was filled with gratitude, food, and lots of love and nurturing. From the classroom feasts at which students presented their well-written reflections, to the amphitheater where sixth grade mentors and first graders collaborated on a musical number (after eating pie of course), to the costume-filled ocean unit presentations in Ms. Cherin's classroom; it was a day of meaningful moments and communal celebrations for all that makes us so very grateful. 

As always, I have an educational plea to make to all the families reading this: take some time with your children this week to read together. Even for an hour, put away your phones, close up the laptops, switch off the TV, and power-off the video game console. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let's all be tremendously thankful for the power we have to read - unparalleled in its vitality to discover new ideas, venture to new places, expand the imagination, and envision the future we can create. Just watch what this young man has to say about reading...

 

 

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