Director's Corner: On the Power of Family

For the second time this year, and the third time in three years, one of our little ones has suddenly and unexpectedly lost a parent. As we do our best to support them and help them pick up the pieces of their shattered sense of safety, we are led to reflect on how limited our influence can be compared to the power of family. No matter how caring and nurturing our community is, in no way can it provide the sense of total and unconditional love a parent provides. We strive to be a second family to our students but in no way are we ever close enough to the real thing. We must keep our limitations in mind and approach the task of supporting our young ones with lots of humility. What we work at most is emotional safety. To this end, we provide a familiar place, with familiar people and familiar routines; we provide a staff of loving adults; we provide a space where hugs and embraces are part of the normal day; we offer activities that enhance students' bonding; we keep our eyes open for signs of stress; we respectfully support our reactive kids; we emphasize consistency and encourage experimentation; and we work on self-awareness and self-control. Our approach to emotional development is designed to gently help our students become resilient and confident.

At this point, all our families need to realize that the fear of loosing a parent has been heightened for all our students, not just the ones directly affected. All of us need to be on the alert for signs of anxiety and need to be ready to help. We have a few resources on grief in the elementary school library under "Life Issues / Emotions" (orange label with half green dot) for students and on the parent resource shelf for parents another good resource is Peter Levine and Maggie Kline's book  "Trauma-Proofing Your Kids: A Parents' Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience."

This is the time to support our families. This is also the time to celebrate the power of our own families. For the lucky among us who made it to Rendezvous last week, it is time to follow Snow Bear's and Russell’s words of wisdom: time for honoring, time for gratitude.

Director's Corner: On Solicitation

We are well aware that we do solicit our community a lot. We ask for help for outreach events, fundraising events, community service events, work days; we convene meetings; we hope for PTO participation and committee work; we encourage attendance at school events and camping trips; we tap into parents’ expertise and talent for our themes; all that on top of four hours per month of work for participating tuition families. We are aware that this represents a lot of time, and sometimes some expenses. We are also aware that it may feel overwhelming to those of you who cannot avoid feeling guilty if you do not answer all solicitations. We ask for help because we need it, as all non-profits with a tight budget do, but we want to make clear that we do not wish for anyone to feel pestered or burnt out. We do worry when we always see the same people stepping forward. We would love to spread the work as widely as possible. To avoid guilt and burn-out, and to promote joyful participation, we suggest you “budget” your time in advance. Maybe you can afford the time to attend just one out of six or so outreach events. Maybe you cannot plan to be present at PTO meetings regularly but are available to serve on either the Facilities or the Outreach committees (created by the Board of Directors and open to all interested Magnolia community members). Maybe your heart is into community service and nothing else, or into guilds. Whatever your level of participation, we welcome it and are grateful for it. Everything you do enriches our community.

On our side, we pledge to do our best to advertise upcoming events and activities as early as possible. A number of them are already in the 2011-12 school calendar; the others make their way into the newsletter, on the elementary school front door, in email announcements throughout the year, and sign-up sheets appear on the elementary school kitchen door. It is, again, a lot to keep track of. Please consider letting us know what your participation preferences are, and we’ll make an extra effort to ensure you are informed accordingly. Thanks for all you do.

Director's Corner: On Community

The first big date on the school calendar is our Magnolia Community meeting on Tuesday, August 30th, 5:45–7:30pm. This meeting is a more structured opportunity than our Back to School Party to welcome everyone and introduce new and older members of the Magnolia Community to each other. It is a time to reflect on the school’s philosophy and practices, for past years families to report on what they liked and to suggest changes, and it is a time for everyone to make goals. We will introduce The Magnolia School Handbook, talk about procedures, housekeeping matters, communication and the importance of parents' participation. This meeting also doubles as the first Parent Teacher Organization meeting of the school year and will be the opportunity to elect PTO officers and select those goals the PTO will want to pursue in 2010–11. The second big date will be our Parent Education Night on Tuesday, September 6th, 5:45–7:30pm. The aim of that meeting is to explain in more detail how students are taught, how the classrooms function in practice, as well as to address the questions that may have arisen during the first two weeks of class.

The concept of community is central to who we are. We view our setting as an extension of home, a safe place where the learning that happens naturally at home gets solidified through more systematic instruction. We wish for our students to view their parents as part of their educators, to view their teachers as part of their family, and to view parents and teachers alike as guides into the wider community. Learning is a natural joyful activity to very young children, it needs to remain so as they become older, not become just what one does at school.

To achieve this vision, we pledge each year to do our best to keep families informed of what is about to happen, what is happening, what just happened at school, using this newsletter, bulletin boards and electronic messaging. This way, families can step in to offer their expertise for an upcoming activity or general theme, and/or they can support at home or in the community the learning that occurs at school by checking out relevant books or movies, taking their child to a relevant exhibit, etc…Having family members participate in school activities helps students understand the concept of being a community of learners. So do visits from alumni and their family members.

Being a small non profit organization with a tight budget, we rely on the members of our community for help in advertising and fundraising (mostly through PTO participation) and for help with a lot of the maintenance and embellishment of our campus (during Work Days). Working together to promote and embellish the school and taking pride in our work is another great way to build our community year after year. So are our “theme dinners” or other celebrations involving families at the end of each theme, and our fall and spring family camping trips. We also want our students to understand that they are part of a wider community to which they can contribute. To this effect, the school gets involved in several community service activities each year and the middle school curriculum includes service projects.

Our diverse community includes families from all walks of life who are always fun to bring together. We are excited to welcome 9 new families and 9 new students this year and look forward to getting to know them all better. Remember that child care is provided on meeting nights and that siblings are welcome. See you all next Tuesday, August 30, for our Community meeting.