Director's Corner: Collaboration and Peppermints

For the last newsletter of 2014, we are excited to showcase two exemplary instances of successful collaboration from the Magnolia community. Many of you, beyond middle school parents, have heard of the middle school drama unit, during which the students mounted the play Salvator Dali on the Beach, the short musical act Coffee Break, and multiple individual acts under Paige's expert direction. These were all locally performed to much applause at the Mickey Faust Club before Thanksgiving. This weekend, the Thespian troupe came back with many accolades from a competitive festival in Sanford. Each of our students received  at least one excellent or superior rating, which qualified the entire troupe for participation in the state  festival in February. Congratulations!

The reason to showcase the middle school drama unit is that this is such a good example of the kind of collaborative project in which we like to engage our students. It offers an opportunity for all to try, to shine, and to be appreciated, thus promoting powerful bonding between the students. Alongside excitement and laughter, all kinds of side drama occurs, fueled by lack of confidence (or sometimes overconfidence!), discouragement, stress and fatigue, providing multiple opportunities for individual, small group and large group problem-solving. In the end though, the support of the group prevails, resilience builds up, the deed gets done, and everyone is proud of the individual and group accomplishments.

The other instance of successful collaboration that we wish to showcase involved Magnolia parents as well as students and staff.  It occurred on Saturday morning for the decoration of our bus prior to its appearance in the Tallahassee Nighttime Holiday Parade. The theme of the Winter Festival was Peppermints, Penguins and Poinsettias. The PTO picked Peppermints, and Sunshine spent the three Mondays of the last 2014 guild guiding multi-age students in creating four large circular structures (4 ft in diameter for the largest!) that looked very much like oversized peppermint candy, using chicken wire and red and white paper napkins. Her guild also created smaller "candies" out of paper plates that the students decorated.

On Saturday morning, the decorations were ready, the challenge was to figure out how to hang the structures on the bus (without scraping it) using pieces of PVC, cable ties and ratchet straps. Arrived Sophie; Kelly with Kimmy; Diana with Savannah; Jennifer with Thomas and brother Kenneth; Sarah with Maddie May, Quinn, Hazel and Jasper; and finally Thadra. The kids helped pick and carry PVC pipes, were busy decorating more plates for a while and, thanks to Sarah, spent some quality time on the playground.

Meanwhile the rest of the adult team (all ladies, did you notice?) pondered, measured, and laid out straps; figured out which hooks fit which pipes and how to best utilize the ratchets; built square frames with pipes and rope; tied the "peppermints" to the frames with cable ties; and wrapped whatever stuck out with red tape. Tom (a.k.a. Kimmy's dad) showed up in time to help hold the structures while we hooked them on, and to help attach the lights. In parallel, red and white paper lanterns were built and attached, and the paper plates were stuck on the inside of the bus windows.

So the point is, ladies, we did figure it out! And there was a palpable sense of satisfaction in the air building up through the morning (admittedly mixed with some fatigue since we were there from 9 a.m. to past 1 p.m.). Also, let's admit it, there was some discomfort at the beginning when Sophie explained how much figuring out remained to be done. But no one protested out loud, everyone rolled up their sleeves and remained positive, and some great bonding occurred, e.g. as we discovered Jennifer, one of our most recent Magnolia parents, and her critical yet always constructive eye that simplified our evolving design. In short, our team experienced first-hand what our students experience on a regular basis in our active learning environment: When faced with a challenge, a set of initial materials or ideas, and some encouragement, we can overcome confusion and frustration and rise to the occasion. And it all leads to hard-won satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.

Before closing, we need to acknowledge other recent and current collaborative efforts: the bagging of the peppermint seeds to be distributed during the parade (who knew these seeds were so minute!); the ongoing Focus on Science theme, with collaborative experiments galore; and the collaborative work the middle schoolers are doing for their upcoming participation in the Tallahassee Southern Model United Nations conference (these kids are going to deserve their winter break!).