Mrs. Foster's Weekly Words RSS Feed
CARMEN AGRA DEEDY
5/20/2015

Dear Lowers,
Carmen Agra Deedy is one of the most charismatic individuals I have ever met.  Her skill as a story teller was incredible as she held our students and teachers in the palm of her hand during the Writers Guild presentation. 

But do you know what the best thing about her was?  It was how much she loved our school and our students.  She “got” TLS in a very short time frame.  She complimented our art displays.  She fell in love with our students, especially the boy who gifted her with his own version of the library dragon that he created in Ms. Heller’s art class.  She cared so much that she wanted him to autograph it for her, but he had left early that day and wasn’t available to do that.  She was visibly disappointed about that.

I am sure that the generous hugs she gave to children and adults burned her soul into those of the recipients.  She made us laugh.  She made us feel appreciated.  She laughed at herself, and she allowed us to laugh with her.  She was so comfortable in her own skin, that her presence was a refreshing reminder of how we all need to “take” ourselves…not so seriously.  What a wonderful role model she was for all of us who struggle from time to time with being self-conscious.  It is not in her character to be anything but confident, and in such a good way.

Writers Guild, Spring Sings, Spring Concerts, field trips, and all the other memorable things from the 2014-15 year are behind us now.  But Carmen Agra Deedy will always be in our futures because of how she bonded with us in that one short day.

Check her out on YouTube (TedTalks), and you will begin to see what I mean.

My love goes out to every family in the Lower School as we bid farewell for another year.  I’ve been shedding tears this week as I have been reflecting on the careers of Sharon and Mark and the lower school years of our fifth graders.  I think I’ll cut this off now…You know why, I’m sure.


Have a wonderful summer,
Marijo

 

CHANGES TO THE DRESS CODE AND AN ADDITIONAL UNIFORM VENDOR
5/13/2015

Please study the dress code here.

Changes to Lower School Dress Code:

  • Footwear – tennis shoes are now okay with Friday uniforms in Lower School. Actually any secured to the foot, rubber soled footwear is good to go any day.
  • There is a new option for uniform Friday for all girls. If they choose, girls may wear gray slacks, a white blouse, and a navy blazer. See the website for specifics.
  • All Parker uniforms that you presently own are fine for Friday.
  • We have added a vendor for Friday uniforms. Lands End now has uniform attire as well as Monday through Thursday clothing.
  • In order to access Lands End uniform items -
  • Click on the Lands End icon from within the uniform dress section on the website.
    • Register your student or just enter the grade and gender and scroll down to shop now.
    • In the lower right hand corner, you will see the words Show checklist. That will take you to the list of uniform acceptable Lands End clothing.
  • Uniform gray skirts may be worn by girls of any age now. The plaid clothing is still available but only at Parker.
  • Belts for uniform Friday may be of any color or style.

Mr. Lassman has made a user friendly uniform section in our official dress code on the website.

FOLLOWING THE YOUNG LEADERS
5/6/2015

Dear Lowers,
Sometimes the children are the ones who lead the adults at this school.  A couple of instances of this have arisen lately, and I am writing to assure you that the adults around here are ready, willing, and able to let the kids serve as role models. 

Both of the initiatives have to do with breast cancer and support for others.  This tells US that cancer is very much on the minds of our students, but they are not crippled by it.  They are consumed with energy to actually do something to show support and make a difference.

The TLS track team, as you have read above, is sponsoring a 3K walk/run next week.  The children came up with this idea and have planned it, negotiated with adults to promote it, and will donate the fees for the race to the Kentucky Cancer Link.  Some members of the track team have had breast cancer affect people in their own lives, and they wish to pay it forward in order to find a cure.

The second initiative was begun by one boy who wanted to support a friend who has been affected by this illness recently.  What to do?  What to do?  This young man had the whole thing planned by the time he sought permission to distribute printed pink t-shirts to his advisor group.  He had negotiated the design of the shirts.  He had sought approval from his advisor.  He had planned the surprise for his classmate.  He had arranged for the shirts to be delivered to school on a given day.  His only request from me was to have his plan approved so it could be implemented the following Tuesday.  I was the final detail, and of course, I was proud of him and happy to comply.

We don’t nudge these kids.  We don’t suggest that they do something amazing for the greater good.  We don’t assign thoughtfulness homework.  We don’t demand empathy from them.  We simply support them in their endeavors to do good things for those around them.  We also talk about character every day.  It’s the least we can do.

So lucky to be working with the likes of these young people,
Marijo

 

SPRINTING THROUGH THE TAPE
4/29/2015

Dear Lowers,
Oh, my goodness!  It has happened again.  We are almost at the end of another school year, and nobody is ready to say good-bye yet.  Just as always, we will be sprinting through the tape.  There is no down time, no lull in the action, no “end of year” syndrome.  In fact, as I have written before, we pack so much in at the end of the year that it can get pretty crazy around here.  You have probably noticed!


We also take some time to reflect on our year, to say goodbye, and to plan for the future.  School ends on May 22 after the Candle Lighting Ceremony.   That is a lovely tradition where our eighth graders are honored as they leave us for high school, and our fifth graders are launched into the wonders of Middle School.  We take the time to do this because it is important.


Teachers have been gathering to make placement decisions for next year for quite some time now.  Those lists will be available this summer.  We send them as early as we can because we know how much they are anticipated. 


We also celebrate our worthy programs with meaningful, culminating activities like Writers Guild, spring concerts, field trips, displays of art, and assemblies.  There is also some fun scheduled during the after school hours.  Celebration for the adults provides nice “fun and fund” raising activities for our school community.


Every year at this time I warn about the sense of loss your child might be experiencing.  The children are right to love their teachers.  And the fonder they are of their teachers, the harder it is to see their time together coming to a close.  Just be understanding if your children are a little cranky or even teary-eyed for no apparent reason.  The truth is, the teachers start to show the same signs.  If you will help with your kids who are feeling the loss, I will try to help the teachers.  Working together we can make this happen.  Most of us will be back together next year, and we will renew the cycle together then.


Good endings foreshadow great beginnings,
Marijo


 

HIRE! HIRE! MY HAIR'S ON FIRE!
4/23/2015

Dear Lowers,

Have you ever wondered how The Lexington School goes through the hiring process for new teachers?  It really is a very thorough and impressive process.

This year, we had three lower school positions to fill, so we have had a wonderful time interviewing and observing and chatting with some remarkable candidates from the Lexington area and beyond.  Two teachers are retiring, but a third teacher is changing her position within the school so another position has also opened up.

It all starts with advertising.  We put it on our website.  We place ads in the Herald Leader.  We take advantage of search institutions such as Carney Sandoe and Southern Teachers who are in the business of matching great candidates with independent private schools.  We also put the word out to our present faculty, asking them to tell their excellent colleagues in other schools here in town.  Parents are incredibly helpful in the process too.  I am very grateful for the references provided and the encouragement given to good people to apply.

We get so many strong resumes and philosophies of education, and it is my job to look through all of them and decide which ones would merit an initial interview with me.  I have incredible choices, which means that I interview several people for each slot.  Several?  Let’s just say LOTS!  Then it’s my duty to trim the list to a few finalists.  Those candidates spend the better part of a day with us, meet with the appropriate team of teachers, teach a sample class while being observed by all the division heads and Chuck, experience a team interview with said administrators, and sometimes chat with admission and the business office if they have questions.

The difficult task is paring that finalist list down to one person for each opening.  THAT part is done by Chuck as he takes advisement from all who have participated in each finalist’s interview.

This year we had an incredible field of professionals expressing a desire to join The Lexington School’s faculty…a bumper crop, so to speak.  We have thoroughly enjoyed the process except for our having to tell the majority of these candidates that the prized positions went to other people.  We do our best to encourage these candidates to try, try again if it didn’t work out this time.  We call that resilience around here, and we value it.

Here’s to the best new crop of educators we could find,
Marijo

TEACHERS AND PARENTS MODELING MISSION SKILLS IS A JOYFUL THING.
4/15/2015

Aloha Lowers,


What do an art teacher, a Montessori teacher, a chemistry teacher, a librarian, an admission director, a development director, two division heads, two favorite TLS moms, two first grade teachers, a director of studies, a math teacher, an Acorns teacher, and a science teacher have in common?  Yes, they are all TLS people.  And yes, they are all members of the less than two month old ukulele group, UkulAcorns!


Those are two important things they have in common, but THE most important commonality is their reason for joining this group.  To a person, each has expressed a desire to model for our students the creativity, teamwork, resilience, and work ethic that we ask of them every day.  They also say that it takes courage to get up in front of people and play an instrument, and since we worry a lot about teaching courage, we are modeling that as well.


So, what started as an exercise in creating joy in my own life has turned into a most lofty undertaking to support and enhance the mission skills and the philosophy of our school.  Do you not just love that?


And the joy part is working too,
Marijo

NAUGHTY TEACHERS INSPIRE WELL BEHAVED STUDENTS!
4/8/2015

Dear Lowers,
It seems to me that the naughtier the teachers are, the more perfect the behavior of the children is.  Please enjoy this, the third in our series of our “got manners” videos.  Credits at the end highlight all the teachers and staff who have enjoyed making this video that addresses hallway manners.


The reason we are doing these videos is to provide a creative way to make our expectations for behavior known.  The students love them.  You might want to let your children watch it another time.  They enjoyed it immensely at the lower school assembly this morning.

Click here to get “got manners”!   https://youtu.be/ZDkFpvPCBgg

Yours in creativity,
Marijo

SMILED SO MUCH, IT WAS PAINFUL
3/25/2015

Dear Lowers,

My cheeks are hurting.  Really hurting.  I just returned from the performance of the songs and dances from the fifth grade play, Blazing Car Seats.  They did a little preview for the preschool students and their teachers.  I could not stop smiling.


Every year it happens.  Ms. Merritt, Dr. Cooper, Ms. Heller, and all the fifth grade teachers work with our students to put on a show that makes everyone’s cheeks hurt.  Transportation is the theme this year, so renditions of Life is a Highway, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, Greased Lightning, Yellow Submarine, California, Here I Come, and several other transportation related songs are worked into the play written and directed by Dr. Cooper and choreographed by Ms. Merritt.  He involves the students in the planning, naming, and in one case… a new arrangement of a duet sung and played by two of my favorite fifth grade twins (I have several). 


If you’ve ever had a fifth grader at The Lexington School, you already value this wonderful rite of passage.  If not, you are in for one of the most wonderful TLS experiences as your child performs in the fifth grade play…whenever that may be.


And if your cheeks can take it, you are welcome to attend the evening performance on Wednesday. 5:00. The theater. The more the merrier!


Life IS a Highway,
Marijo

SIMPLE. ACCURATE. HONEST.
3/18/2015

Dear Lowers,
Today’s words are simply to illuminate the importance of keeping your empowerment of both boys and girls as authentic as you can as you enable their confidence.


First thing.  Your children are bright.  They don’t miss a trick.  As you point out their strengths in an area, be absolutely sure that it is, indeed that, a strength.  Stay away from “you are smart” or “you are wonderful” or “you are brilliant” or “you are athletic” or “you are popular” or “you are anything bordering on excellence in generalities.”


Why?  Because your kids know exactly how they are doing, and the more you exaggerate their gifts, the less they will trust your advice.

Keep it simple.  Keep it accurate.  Keep it honest. 


Don’t try to create a silk purse out of a sow's ear.  If your child is struggling in math class, please don’t try to convince him that he is a great mathematician.  If she is working hard, compliment on that.  If he is seeking extra help, compliment on that.  If she is asking good questions in class, compliment on that.  If your child is doing those things, eventually you may be able to compliment on proficiency.  Trying to build up your student when it’s not really true yet will probably backfire.


Simple, accurate, and honest.  Those are three good adjectives to keep in mind every day as you parent. 


My best,
Marijo

A GIRL STORY
3/11/2015

Dear Lowers,
Last week’s words were about boys and their reluctance to share when asked.  Today I am going to address the girlie side of things.


I remember once, many years ago, before I became an administrator.  I was a middle school math teacher with an advisor group of about 23 seventh grade students, half of whom were girls.


From my vantage point, these wonderful girls were happy, academically successful, and socially adept.  They were all great girls, many of whom might just be TLS moms themselves right now.


My conferences were going well, but I began to note a theme among all the conversations about my girls.  To a person, the same thing was described about every girl in the group.  It went something like this – ally.


“My daughter is loving school.  Her teachers are wonderful.  She’s doing well academically, but there is something concerning.  She tells me that all of the other girls in the advisor group are good friends with each other, but she doesn’t feel that she is included or appreciated by the others.”
Wait a minute.  Every girl says that all the others are good friends, but she is not included in that group.  Every girl?  How can this be?
It was then that I realized that these lovely seventh grade girls were lacking in self-confidence.  Each one appeared to the others to be highly successful socially.  Each one was unable to acknowledge that in herself.


My work was cut out for me.  I set out to grow that confidence in every one of them.


Girls share things with their mothers.  And mothers worry with them if it is something like this. 
My advice is not to worry with them but to arm them with the knowledge of how worthy they are as individuals.  Point out their strengths.  Don’t dwell on their insecurities.  Give them the courage.  Enable their confidence.


And above all, enjoy your daughters,
Marijo

A BOY STORY
3/4/2015

“What did you do in school today, Son?”
“Nothin’ much.”


“Did you learn anything new or interesting?”
“Not really.”


“What outside reading book are you enjoying right now?”
“Can’t remember.”


“Who did you play with at recess today?”
“Nobody.”


Sound familiar?  If not, you are among a small minority of lucky parents of boys.  Quizzing your boys about school usually results in a less than satisfying exchange.  If you are quizzing and it’s working for you, you may stop reading right here.


I don’t really know what the answer is, but I have a couple of ideas.  The first is to stop asking questions.  It is getting you nowhere.   Questions aren’t good conversation starters.  I can remember when my son was a TLS student, and I was doing the questioning thing.  He would just cut me off with, “No more questions, Mom.”  And I eventually learned that it wasn’t working for me either.  Here’s another time that I am sharing my mistake so that you can learn from it.


What if you started off the conversation with how your day went?  Or what you have been thinking about in current events?  Or what you learned about the Kentucky Wildcats?  Or what charming thing the dog did that day?  Or…or…or.  The goal is to get the conversation started without asking your boy to lead it.  My bet is that he will have something to say about something, and that’s what conversation is all about.  And who knows what might come forth once the conversation is off the ground.


And if you are asking questions about social things or his interpersonal relationships, that gives a clear message to your boy that you are way too concerned, which in turn gives “who spent the night with whom” way to much importance.  THAT can lead to his feeling bad about something that he hadn’t even thought about before.


Patience is a virtue.  Wait for the tidbit of information that he shares.  I promise you will come out ahead in the long run.


My best,
Marijo

HOW CAN YOU TELL IF YOU ARE A TLS DAD?
2/25/2015

YOU KNOW YOU ARE A TLS DAD…
• if you are REALLY looking forward to Donuts with Dads on Friday, March 20, in the gym, and you have already put it on your calendar for that morning at 7:30.
• if you have ever been mentioned as one of Mrs. Foster’s favorites (she has lots) in the Weekly Words.
• if you wear a TLS hoodie with pride on the weekends.
• if you are in awe of your child’s poise under pressure.
• if you have witnessed your child conquering math concepts that you remember learning in high school.
• if you have beamed with pride as your child performed in Spring Sing, Kentucky Heritage Day, or the fifth grade musical.
• if you know EXACTLY what Boo Sing entails and you have researched how early you can be in the building to reserve seats next year.
• if you have already put together a consortium to bid on one of those fabulous items at Celebration this year on May 8.
• if you have ever shared with a non-TLS person how the head of your children’s school is outside greeting students and shaking their hands every day.
• if you have already saved the date May 8 on your calendar for Writers Guild when your child will share with you a well written and beautifully illustrated finished piece of writing.
• if you have ever secretly wished that you were back in school so you could experience what your children do every day.

We are looking forward to seeing you for the rescheduled Donuts with Dads.  As always, it is perfectly fine to bring a special friend or other relative if Dad isn’t able to come.
My best,

Marijo

IDEAS FOR SNOW DAYS
2/18/2015

Dear Lowers,
It seems that we have another snow day on our hands for Thursday.  I know that some of you are still snowed in like I am, and I can also surmise that some are questioning the decision to call off school for another day. But one thing we all have in common is our students...your children.

We know that your children probably don't have their books and notebooks at home.  They were lovingly packed away in cubbies and lockers with the anticipation of the week-long vacation...that has turned into an almost two-week-long break from school.  But I do have a few ideas for learning that don't require those.

Snow days or any day off school are rife with opportunities for learning new things.  It may not be the same as a day at school, but it may prove to be a good thing after all.  A couple of years back, I suggested that we give our children the opportunity to prepare a meal for the family.  What better way than to practice those MSA skills by planning, preparing (with a recipe), and serving the family a meal.  That touches on time management, creativity, and ethics.  And if you put more than one kid on it, you've got your teamwork too! 

If you like the idea of a little math practice, why not try kahnacademy.org. Remember those progressing toward standard CHECKMARKS on the math skills list from the last report card?  This would be a great way to practice.  For our youngest students, it may require a little assistance from you to get started.

And lest I leave out my favorite free-time activity - reading.... Maybe it is time to download a new book on the Kindle or iPad...or pull out an old favorite to reread.  My perspective is that of someone who couldn't make it to the library or a bookstore if her life depended on it!  You may have more options. 

And lastly, you might want to check the grade level websites.  Some teachers will be posting more grade-level-specific information in the hours ahead.
I hope you are safe, sound, and warm where you are right now. 
My best,
Marijo

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS A UKULACORN?
2/4/2015

Aloha Lowers,


Last week’s message about wisdom found me soul searching a bit.  My message was that there is nothing fancy about wisdom.  Anyone, even kids, can have it.
Today’s message is along the same lines, but I’m addressing happiness today.  One morning I woke up and was thinking about how I needed to inject some additional joy into my life.  Being a widow, I have an abundance of solitude (And I used that positive word on purpose.  It’s not all bad).  There’s a fine line between solitude and loneliness, and I want to stay on the right side of that line.


So, I began to contemplate how I might add something to my life that would make me happy, give me something to look forward to, AND help me cut back on the solitude a bit.  I can’t remember my exact thought process, but all of a sudden I was looking forward to taking ukulele lessons.  I talked to a few people about this, and would you believe it, several others thought this was a great idea too. 


I soon found myself at the place of business of one of my favorite families (I have lots), and I purchased a lovely ukulele to begin my musical adventure.  Before my first lesson, I tried to become comfortable with my instrument, learn to tune it, and try out some chords.  My instruction came from YouTube.  That was okay, but now that I have a couple of real lessons, I practice every day.  I look forward to it.  And it makes me happy.


This week, the first meeting/group lesson of the TLS UkulAcorns will take place.  Now there is a group of us looking forward and feeling happy.  I can hardly keep from smiling.
So, the point of today’s story is that sometimes we need to take the initiative to increase happiness in our lives and not expect it to just fall in our laps.  Truth is, since October 2010 that’s what I think I’ve been doing.


There’s nothing fancy about happiness either.


Mahalo,
Marijo

 

THERE’S NOTHING COMPLICATED ABOUT WISDOM
1/28/2015

Dear Lowers,
Wisdom.  I think it comes from making mistakes, recognizing when that has happened, and then vowing not to repeat.  Pretty soon you have strings of things that should never be repeated, which means that you are doing the right thing more of the time.  Wisdom is nothing fancy.


In fact, lately I’ve noticed that people tend to label things that are imperfect as “signs of wisdom.”  I had two medical appointments last week.  On Monday morning I was told that a certain blemish on my body was nothing other than a sign of wisdom.  All of a sudden I was looking at that mole with a whole different perspective.  Maybe I should let it stand out…feature it or something.  I love that doctor for telling me that!  Then on Tuesday afternoon, I was at a second appointment.  My young physician showed just a tad of gray at the temples.  His white haired nurse made it a point to mention his graying hair (I think because mine was so obviously white), and he responded with, “It’s a sign of wisdom.”  So I looked at his temples.  And then I looked at my hair.  And I figured that if his hair was a sign of wisdom, mine must be some colossal sign of something really brilliant.


All kidding aside, as one grows older one learns more lessons, gains more imperfections, and perhaps acquires a little wisdom.   I am telling this story so that you will embrace those things that you might not have otherwise. 


Mistakes.  Blemishes.  Gray (or even white) hair.  Celebrate them all.
Marijo

BORROWING SOME WORDS FROM A PARENT
1/21/2015

Dear Lowers,
Sometimes a reply to the weekly words can stand alone and become a message to other parents.  That is the case with the following response to last week’s words about how our actions after an indiscretion are what really define us.  The following was a reply from one of my favorite moms, and you know I have lots!

From the Weekly Words:  “We have always taught the children that they are defined not by the naughty behavior they may have embarked upon but by their actions to make things right afterward.”


From the favorite mom:  “This is one of THE MOST important lessons for my kids, and we put a lot of stress on this at home.  I try to lead by example.  I can beat myself up for making parenting mistakes (gasp!  I admit I yell, am inconsistent, promise something and don’t follow through, don’t pay attention, etc).  But it is better for me and my kids to own my mistakes, apologize, ask how I have made them feel, and discuss how we can do better next time.  And opening that line of communication - treating your kids like REAL people - is wonderful.  Their eyes light up when I sit them down and apologize for my behavior.  They are at first blown away that mommy makes mistakes and apologizes, but then I think they come to appreciate being treated as people, not just “my” kids.  When they make mistakes, we use the same approach.  We don’t hide from our mistakes, ignore them.  We are a team, a family team, all learning lessons every day.  Hopefully when I’m not around, they will do the same thing.  Apologize, make right, communicate.  Learn.  Sorry to ramble, I hope part of it is coherent!  I just love everything you said!”

Well, right back at you, Favorite Mom.  I just love everything YOU said.

I’m pleased to be able to share this today.  I did not ask permission, so I am not identifying the author of these wise words.  Suffice it to say that someone with great parenting sense is lurking among you!

My best,
Marijo

REMEMBERING
1/14/2015

Dear Lowers,
I remember it as if it were yesterday.  It was many years ago, back in the days when I was the “middle school head” for a division that no longer exists.  I was in charge of 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students.  During lunch, someone came up to me and let me know that several of the swings on the playground had been wound around the top bar so as to make them inaccessible for the younger children.  It appeared that a group of my students may have been responsible.  I didn’t think.  I didn’t hesitate.  I simply got on the microphone and asked for those students who had a part in this to join me for a meeting after lunch.  When lunch ended, a rather large group of students joined me at one of the tables and prepared to talk about their indiscretions.  At the beginning of the meeting, I asked those present if others should have joined us.  No.  Everyone was there who needed to be.  We acknowledged that this was a thoughtless act and that the students needed to make it right.  The students felt an apology to the maintenance person who had to undo the swings was in order, and it was taken care of immediately.  When the meeting was over, someone came up to me and asked if I knew how remarkable it was that I had simply asked for the “naughties” to come forward, and they had done it.  I laughed.  I had been at The Lexington School long enough to expect good character and was not surprised when it happened.  Accepting responsibility for one’s own actions is a major step in a child’s development.  Having strong character doesn’t mean that we are perfect; it means that we have learned how to conduct ourselves when we have been imperfect.

We have always taught the children that they are defined not by the naughty behavior they may have embarked upon but by their actions to make things right afterward.  Thanks to good teamwork between home and school, similar things are happening to this day at The Lexington School.
My best,
Marijo

DEDICATED TO ALL MY FAVORITE COLLEAGUES AND PARENTS WHO DECIDED IT WAS THE RIGHT TIME…whenever that was
1/7/2015

Dear Lowers,
Although I have always felt that kids and dogs belong together, it has been a while since I have “gone to the dawgs” in my weekly words.  I am motivated this time by a book I received for Christmas from one of my favorite TLS families (I have lots.)  The book is a collection of essays that have appeared on the subject of dogs in Garden and Gun Magazine.  It is a compilation of well written, emotionally inspiring, and sometimes heart wrenching stories that writers (some professional and some not) have penned about the dogs in their lives.  The title is Good Dog, True Stories of Love, Loss, and Loyalty.  I recommend it for what ails you.


One of my favorite quotes in the book is, “It’s simultaneously never the right time for a new dog, no matter what, and always the right time for a new dog, no matter what”  I think that pretty much says it all. 


When both of our children left the nest for college, Tom and I were in a pretty sad place.  Somehow, over the years without our kids, we gathered a collection of four dogs.  Two people.  Four dogs.  Maybe a bit over the top.  We were trying to fill the void created by our wonderful children’s absences.  Obviously, we weren’t entirely successful, but it did help.


We all know people who have several cats and are called “cat women” or “cat men”.  I’m here to claim my title as “dog lady.”  Living alone with one Border Terrier really means that I’m not living alone after all.

Happy New Year,
Marijo and Josie

SOME ADVICE I HOPE YOU NEVER NEED
12/17/2014

Dear Lowers,
As wonderful as a long weekend or a vacation from school can be, there exists the possibility of some separation anxiety upon the return to school.  When my daughter Meg was in first grade, she went through this every day…not just after vacations.  She cried as she was dropped off at her classroom each morning in first grade even though I was staying right there in the building, teaching my upper school math classes.  (I said “even though”, but sometimes I think a parent’s presence in the school can make it harder for a child.  Knowing Mom or Dad is close enough to comfort yet occupied otherwise can make it even more difficult to face that separation.) 


As I was going through this with my own child, I sought the advice of an expert, so I am happy to share that with you today, hoping that you really won’t need it.  You can still tuck it away because the reasons your child is experiencing separation anxiety are usually not rational nor are they explainable, and they can crop up at unexpected moments.  The message to your child should be that you understand that he/she is experiencing some insecure feelings.  In older children I would explain briefly what anxiety is and what it feels like.  You make it very clear that you are confident that the day will go well once he/she gets to the classroom.  You then bid your child farewell with a light hearted “See you at 3:15!” and leave.  By now your heart is probably aching, so a quick call to me to get an update a while later is perfectly fine.  I love making those checks, but your child will never know why I am lurking about in the classroom.  The important part of all of this is your expression that your child will be strong and confident.  You can trust the teacher to provide just the right amount of support.  You can trust me to do the same.  But YOU can’t really be that successful in doing that since separation from YOU is the issue.  Any amount of lingering only sends the message to your child that you don’t really feel that they can be strong and make this separation successfully.


I hope you never need this advice!


My best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful family time during the holiday break and a successful “re-entry” in January!
Marijo

A VERY YOUNG ROLE MODEL
12/10/2014

Over the Thanksgiving break I found myself in the waiting room of the UK Outpatient Pharmacy.  To my surprise, one of my favorite colleagues (I have lots) and his young son were also there.  We were waiting for our prescriptions to be filled.   When it was his turn, it appeared that there was a problem getting the prescription filled for some reason, so there was a rather lengthy conversation with the pharmacist trying to give options that would be as convenient as possible for the young patient and his dad.  The little guy has been a regular over there at UK, so he seemed quite at home being held by his dad who has had WAY too much experience conversing with health care professionals on behalf of his little boy.


Finally, it seemed that a solution to the problem had been found, and it was time to end the conversation for the time being.  My favorite colleague turned to leave the window when the little guy, in his most clear and confident voice, said, “Thank you!”  My head jerked up to be sure that I had witnessed correctly this two year old’s incredible manners and empathy toward others.  And then it happened.  My eyes filled with tears…mostly for what this little guy has been through in his short life while still growing a grateful heart and attitude toward others. 


I had a lot to be thankful for over Thanksgiving, but getting to witness that moment was definitely one of the best things.
Marijo

WISE WORDS
12/3/2014

Dear Lowers,
There are a couple of favorite parents (I have lots) who, over the years, have given me idea after idea about Weekly Word topics.  They seek advice even though I consider their parenting to be so outstanding that my advice seems unneeded.  They worry about trends that are affecting children…like first person shooter games, cell phones in the hands of young children, social media, and other things that threaten to cause our children to grow up too soon.  All things that you have read about in these weekly messages.  The best part is that they are as worried about your children as they are about their own.


Recently, the dad shared an article with me.  The title was TOUGH by Martha Anne Tudor, and it described studies that are showing that the next generation may not be learning the lesson they need most: how to become resilient adults.  Duke University and Furman were the institutions involved, and it seems that the article was published in a Furman newsletter.
As I read the article, I was smiling about our commitment to teaching children that failure is okay and that it is to be celebrated not avoided.  If a child never experiences failure, she never learns resilience.


At the end of the article was another piece about the “how to’s” of resiliency.  This was written by Dr. Doug Coatsworth, professor at Colorado State University who specializes in programs to build resilience in children, youth, and families.  I hope he forgives me for paraphrasing his wisdom about seven ways to increase resiliency in our students.
• TEACH EMPATHY.  “Kids who are empathic create warmer, deeper relationships with others, and those relationships are going to come back to them when they experience trauma.”
• TAKE TIME TO PLAY.  Kids need unstructured time.  Avoid cramming your life and the lives of young people with too many scheduled activities.
• TURN OFF THE NOISE.  “Unplugging is important.  We get back to basics, to what truly matters.”  The way I see it…reducing screen time is a key.
• LIMIT EXPOSURE TO DISTURBING NEWS.  “Too much upsetting news can be traumatizing and paralyzing for children.  Be sure to address such things in a developmentally appropriate way.
• GIVE EVERY CHILD A DUTY.  “Assign roles to kids so that they will sense they are valuable members of the family or classroom, while building purpose.”
• PROMOTE A MALLEABLE PERSPECTIVE.  “Kids with malleable mindsets understand that with effort and persistence they’ll improve.  The fixed mindset crushes creativity and holds children and adults back from trying new things.”  He suggests changing the sentence from “I can’t do that” to “I can’t do that yet.”
• DON’T OVERPROTECT.  If you are a parent at TLS you have heard this over and over again.  “Disappointment isn’t that bad.  We do kids a disservice by solving their problems too quickly and by trying to make sure they avoid consequences.”


I’ll be honest with you.  It felt quite affirming as an administrator of this school where we have been embracing the above notions for a long time.  Sometimes it does us good to see a list like this and to know that we are “on it”.


My favorite of these tenets?  TEACH EMPATHY.


My best,
Marijo

TLS DARES TO ENTRUST PUBLIC RELATIONS TO THE STUDENTS!
11/20/2014

Dear Lowers,
A couple of weeks ago our admission office held their annual Prospective Parent Day.  It’s all about introducing TLS to families who might be interested for their children.  Included is a wonderful slide show (that always makes me cry), conversations with teachers and administrators, and fine arts classes for any youngsters who come along.  But my favorite part of the day is when the “Cairns,” a group of middle school student leaders, guide tours throughout the school while describing their experiences as preschool and lower school students.  Now, these Cairns are not named for the cute little terriers; they are named for a pile of stones erected as a landmark or memorial along a trail.  Cairn is of Celtic origin.  Every year I place myself at that intersection of the connector and the lower school hallway, and every year I just beam as these students absolutely “wow” the folks they are guiding.  They answer questions with honesty.  They describe what happens in the classrooms.  They recall their favorite parts of lower school and sometimes mention events that meant a great deal to them.  They are proud of their school, and they want everyone to know it.  And they seem to want every prospective family to be able to know it as they do.  It is Beth Pride who takes the leadership talent and molds it into an informed, impressive group of tour guides.  Every year they make me proud.  And every year I bask in the comments of those adults on the tours who are incredulous at the poise of our middle school students.  I just smile, shake my head up and down, and say “Yes, I KNOW!”  Somehow they want to convince ME that these students are very special… as if I didn’t already know…
My best,
Marijo

IN MEMORIAM
11/12/2014

The mettle of an institution and its people is never more apparent than in sad and troubling times.  And THIS school’s community has shown itself well as you have been there to support a family whose challenges have been almost unfathomable.  A couple of years ago, the fight began to bring their wonderful rising fourth grade son back to normalcy after a devastating episode that nearly took his life.  While still in the throes of those challenges, a diagnosis of breast cancer staggered our sweet family, and a new fight was begun.  That battle has now ended, and our community has lost one of our most supportive, optimistic, and positive forces.  Our sadness is deep, but we now find ourselves accepting the challenge to support and love her three boys and husband who have been left behind. 


Lesa Taylor was one of everyone’s favorite moms. 


I miss that smile so much,
Marijo

PATRIOTISM AND GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP AND SONGS THAT WORK BOTH WAYS
11/6/2014

Last Friday was Grandparents Day at TLS, and it was wonderful.  For me, one of the best parts was the 5th grade performance of all the patriotic songs, many of them affiliated with the US armed services.  The children’s singing was accompanied by a slide show featuring photos of many of the relatives of our students and staff members who have been in service to our country.  The pictures.  The singing.  There were few dry eyes.


Then on Saturday, after the Notre Dame vs. Navy game, all players from both teams gathered to salute the midshipmen who were in the stands for the game.  Hands on hearts.  Eyes lifted toward those they were honoring.  Singing Anchors Aweigh.  Those Navy players, of course, knew the words.  The Notre Dame players stood with respect but were not singing. All I could think about was how if a TLS graduate were in that ND group, THEY would have known the words and could have sung along.


Just being grateful for the little things we work on around here.  They matter a lot.


Anchors Aweigh,
Marijo

 

A HALLOWEEN STORY WITH A HAPPY ENDING
10/29/2014

Once upon a time there was a school in Lexington, Kentucky.  It was a wonderful school, and it dared to teach its children things beyond what is traditionally taught in the classroom.  Everyone valued character strengths like teamwork and creativity, and parents and teachers alike tried to model ethics in all their endeavors.  It was all for the good of the children.

The little school valued free play for the students and tried hard to provide a time and a space for free choice during their generous recess period after lunch each day.  The adults encouraged resilience as children faced the very normal challenges that occurred when children were exchanging ideas, working through problems, and making decisions together.  It was probably as close to real life as that little school could provide for its students.


The little school had a lovely playground, beautiful playing fields, and perhaps most importantly, a wooded area where imaginations could soar, entrepreneurial plans could flourish, and exciting ideas could be developed.  In a way, it was a magical place, a place where children could work out their differences, could learn about communal property, and could experience how it feels to work and play in a real community.  This area was called ‘the woods’.


One day, about a week and a half before Halloween in the year 2014, some plans began to bubble up in those woods.  The lower lower school students began to think about how fun it would be to have a Halloween party in the woods, “a party that everyone was invited to”.  The ideas flowed…and so did the enthusiasm…until one day, the young students could contain themselves no longer.  They just had to tell someone, and so one of their favorite teachers (they had lots) was included in the plan for the “party that everyone was invited to.”  As word of the party spread through the adults in the school, the fact that the students defined it that way made the teachers smile.


Those teachers at that school were tricky ones, too.  And they wanted in on the fun.  So, when that teacher sent out an email to see who would join her to decorate the woods for the “party that everyone was invited to”, she got the response she was hoping for.  Those trickster teachers spent their lunch period sneaking around the woods with crepe paper banners, pretend spiders, and other fun stuff to SURPRISE those kids, and boy DID they!


The children screamed and squealed with delight as they headed to their woods on Monday and caught sight of the decorations.  They had been working hard to understand that the woods belonged to everyone, that they could not expect things to be left exactly as they were at the end of the last recess.  And what a wonderful way for them to learn that SOMETIMES things changed and became even BETTER than when they were there last.


What a treat to work with the likes of these tricksters…all of them…
Boo.
Marijo

GIVING UP MY "TIARA CLUB" MEMBERSHIP
10/23/2014

Picture Day Quandary: Can She Wear the Tiara?
Today’s message comes from Motherlode. 


In the Weekly Quandary on Motherlode, they pull from the comments, the weekly open thread or email a question that they know (or at least suspect) plagues more than one parent. The readers  provide the advice with the following in mind: How have you made this work better in your family?
This week’s quandary came to them via email. Christina Locke wrote:


My 7-year-old daughter announced last week that she would be wearing a tiara for picture day. This was not O.K. by me, but I decided to keep silent. After all, she is 7 and I am painfully aware that in a year or two that sparkly little tiara will be gathering dust. At the same time, this is a school event and elements of costume dress-up have no place in her regular day.
I’ll add that my daughter planned to pair that tiara with head-to-toe denim, a fuchsia infinity scarf and pigtail braids. Her outfit was decidedly early-elementary greaser, but that tiara was killing me. She doesn’t think she is a princess, but her sparkling headpiece was part of how she wanted to look. So was that self-expression or indulgence?
In the end, I put her on the bus with a note and the admonition that she may wear the tiara for her individual picture, but that’s it. It comes off for the group shot; she isn’t the queen of the class and a tiara can only distract if it comes out during a lesson.


I’d be curious to know what others would have done!


Well?   The following would have been my response, but I’m writing it to my TLS peeps, not the mother in question:


My first reaction was to share this so that you TLS parents might better understand why we have the students wear their uniform attire for picture day.  Self-expression is very important at TLS, but we love the look of our little guys in their sport coats and TLS ties and the girls in their varied uniform outfits.  The pages of our yearbook are handsomely adorned by those precious faces in their somewhat uniform clothing.


My second reaction was to question why that 7 year old even had a tiara to begin with.  I cringe when we elevate the status of little girls to princesses.  A while back, we even changed our Camp Curiosity Princess Camp to Fairy Tale Wings and Magical Things Camp because we wanted our girls to be creative, strong, curious, imaginative, and empathic toward others and not self absorbed as princesses are sometimes wont to be.  The stereotypical little princess can be demanding and is sometimes without empathy toward others.  She is, at times, overly consumed with her appearance and requests that those around her treat her with deference.  And she almost always sports a tiara.


Not a member of the “Tiara Club”,
Marijo

J&J DOES MORE THAN JUST SELL BABY SHAMPOO
10/15/2014

"Prioritize caring for others, set high ethical expectations:  It’s crucial that children hear from you that caring about others is just as important as their happiness. Parents and caretakers can work toward this by holding children to high ethical expectations, such as honoring their commitments, doing the right thing even when it is difficult, standing up for important principles of fairness and justice, and insisting that they’re respectful, even if it makes them unhappy."


That’s the second of J and J’s nuggets of advice for parents of caring kids.  I figure that if we trust Johnson & Johnson enough to buy their baby shampoo and band-aids, we might be able to trust them to teach us some other things.  Once again, they are asking parents to model the best practices for their children.  I went out to dinner a couple of weeks ago with some old friends (by that I mean that we have been buddies for a long time AND we have a few years under our belts).  One was talking about her grandson not loving a sport that he is participating in right now.  I just said something very simple…well, he can quit that sport…and I very quickly finished my sentence with…at the end of the season.  That is called honoring a commitment, and I believe parents need to make it clear to kids that quitting a sport or an activity before the end just isn’t fair to the others who are participating.  Don’t just demand that your kids remain until the season is over.  Explain exactly why.  Get them used to thinking about others.  It’s called empathy training.


And that part about showing respect is a no brainer.  If a child becomes unhappy at the prospect of showing respect to another, some empathy training is in order.  That includes respect to you and other members of the family.  Don’t be satisfied if your child is nearly perfect in this regard at school but sometimes fails at home.  If that’s the case, then it needs to be pointed out and worked on.


My best,
Marijo

WE ALL CARE ABOUT RAISING CARING CHILDREN
10/8/2014

CHECK OUT THIS LINK :
http://jnjparents.com/content/raising-caring-children/
"Lead by example:  Children learn ethical values and behaviors by watching our actions and the actions of other adults they respect, so it’s critical for parents to be strong role models and mentors. Doing community service with your child, and/or talking with your child when you make a mistake that affects them are just a couple ways to serve as a strong role model to your kids."


These words were sent out by Johnson and Johnson via Facebook to parents intent on raising caring children.  I believe that every parent at TLS is, indeed, intent upon that.  There were six pieces of advice.  This was the first.  They mention community service and admitting mistakes.  I want to get a bit more specific.  When you tell a little white lie, you are telling your children that in some cases, it is okay to fabricate.  When you ignore rules, you are giving your kids a message, loud and clear, that it is okay to go against the prescribed mores.  Have you ever talked on your cell phone while driving on campus?  The rule is simple.  The rule breakers are numerous.  What about breaking laws?  Is it okay to ignore the speed limit or roll through an intersection without stopping.  If you think about it as modeling future driving behaviors for your youngsters, you might take those laws a little more seriously. 

In short, I think it’s best to tell your kids to do as you say and as you do.

My best,
Marijo

SOME NEWS IS TOO SCARY TO SHARE WITH KIDS
10/1/2014

It seems there are some very disturbing things in the news these days…things that can cause anxiety in children if they are exposed in the wrong way or without the proper supports in place.  Two of my favorite parents (I have lots) suggested that I address how we feel about informing children of such bad news…if at all.


First and foremost, you can count on us not to share anything here at school.  In the event of a major disaster, we normally email the lower school families, letting them know that we will not be discussing it at school and encouraging each family to handle it in the way they are comfortable.   Young children should not be exposed to videos depicting the tragic events.  After 9-11 we had children who experienced anxiety about an airplane hitting The Lexington School.  It was difficult for families to shield kids from the videos back then since coverage was 24-7 on almost all channels.


The events in our world today…ISIS beheadings, Ebola breakouts, lost planes, war, etc… are enough to cause anxiety in an adult, let alone our children.  They are not, however, the kind of thing that we will write home about.  That does not mean that parental support is not needed should the family decide to allow their kids to be aware of such news.
The children’s worries are not always rational, but they are very real and should be respected and handled with care.  When dealing with an anxious child, I always try to affirm the fact that they are feeling scared/worried/anxious.  I do not dismiss their irrational concerns, and I do ask questions about them to let the child know that he/she has been heard.
In my thinking, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  If we can protect our young ones from the frightening realities of our world it will work out better.  If we could change our world in such a way that said events aren’t even happening, that would be best of all.


Last week I hope I motivated you to laugh.  Today, my goal is different.

My best,
Marijo

GOT MANNERS?
9/24/2014


I’m always proud of the lower school teachers.  But what happened during the first week of school made me burst at the seams.


During our last divisional meeting of the 2013-14 year, we were talking about one of our goals that came out of the ISACS self study.  We were trying to think of ways that we might improve our manners in the common areas of the school – hallways, lunchroom, playground, and the like.  We decided that manners in the lunchroom would be a good place to start.  Someone suggested that we do some skits for the children demonstrating good manners.  Then somebody else said maybe we could do a video rather than a live performance.  Great ideas, but over the summer we all forgot who had spoken the words and who wanted to spearhead it.  One thing did happen.  Lori Hancock knew that her name had come up as one who might film the video. 

Over the summer, she called me in New York.  She was sitting on her father’s porch in Georgia, and I was sitting on mine at the lake.  We tried hard to recreate that discussion and figure out whose ideas had been floated so we could get to work.  Both of our brains had turned to mush in the summer sun.  I suggested that she send out an email to all the teachers to see who might like to work on the project.  We would start from scratch.  So she did.  People responded with a willingness to participate, and they met a time or two to plan the video.  Mostly it turned out to be an incredible display of improvisation.  We showed it to the students at the first lower school assembly of the year, and the children responded in the very best ways.  They loved it.  They came up with ideas for the next video, and the teachers are beginning to think about how the next one can work.  And we saw evidence of improved manners in the lunch room!

With no further explanation, I present to you, “got manners?”  Be prepared to laugh.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1yRgXq8qUY

Now.  Compose yourself and go about having a good day.

My best,
Marijo

ROARING ABOUT GIRLS ON THE RUN
9/17/2014


I love “Girls on the Run” days.  Their energy and empowerment exudes, and some old ladies even start humming “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar!” as the girls are meeting.  That old Olivia Newton John song just speaks to me, even though I don’t roar all that often.


As I write this, the girls are out there getting revved up to take off on their run.  Some of my favorite women (I have lots) are working with them and are wonderful role models.   The girls are soaking it up!  What a perfect combination for success.


Straight from the GOTR website:  “The Girls on the Run lessons encourage positive emotional, social, mental and physical development.  Participants explore and discuss their own beliefs around experiences and challenges girls face at this age.  They also develop important strategies and skills to help them navigate life experiences. We start with helping the girls get a better understanding of who they are and what’s important to them.  Then, we look at the importance of teamwork and healthy relationships.  And, finally, the girls explore how they can positively connect with and shape the world.”


I was talking with one of my favorite moms (I have lots) earlier this week; she’s one of the role models working with the girls.  The enthusiasm and sparkle in her eye was amazing as she spoke of GOTR and its curriculum and how it is the perfect program for confidence building from all sorts of perspectives…physical, emotional, social, and even academic.

Just thought I would share another good thing going on at TLS that brings together teachers, students, and parents in a most positive way.

We Are Women, Hear Us Roar!

Marijo
P.S.  I like boys too.  No worries.

AREN’T LEGACIES GRAND?
9/10/2014

Dear Lowers,
Can you imagine how much fun it is for me to get the next generation of students from my favorite TLS families of the past?  I call those kids my grand-students and I have quite a few of those right now matriculating at TLS.  It is such an honor that these “formers” value their TLS experience so much that they want the same for their offspring.  It makes me smile.

But this year, three of our four new teachers were students at TLS during my tenure.  Andrew Schwartz, Fielden Willmott, and Whitney Neuman Ward have all signed on as full time teachers.  They join Chris Johnson, Elizabeth Marshall Taylor, and Emily Ryan in that alum/teacher category.  And I’d never want to leave out Margaret Cowling and Lucy McKinstry, but those two were students here before my time.

What a history!  What a legacy!  What a gift!  And I haven’t even mentioned all the Board members who once traveled these halls as students.  I find it wonderful that those who once learned here are now wisely governing the institution. 

Celebrating our legacies this week leading to our Founders Day,
Marijo

Inconsistency Is a Dirty Word at TLS!
9/3/2014

Dear Lowers,

“The Lexington School is inconsistent about addressing breaches of the dress code.” I have been told that this belief is held by some.  Oh. My. Goodness. Inconsistency is such a bad word around here. So we decided to address the issue by talking about it with the children during morning meetings at the beginning of the year. Someone suggested playing dress code trivial pursuit in order to help the kids understand some of the more “trivial” aspects of our code.

We know that code is too complicated, but it gets that way when people ask questions or children push the limits. We feel the need to clarify. What you see is the result of trying to make things clear. I fear it has had the opposite result!

The dress code changed in minor ways this year. We added gray to the spectrum in lower school both during the week and on Fridays for girls.  We also added white polo shirts to the Friday uniform options for the girls.

We understand that kids grow and that sometimes you are surprised with uniform items that don’t fit.  Please just contact us. Express your intent to make things right as soon as you can. We will work with you.

But if your child has been approached about something not in code, and then it shows up again without explanation from you, I’ve asked the teachers to let me know so I can contact you.

We do not like to be dress code police. We have not moved to “gotcha” mode in order to get kids in trouble. We simply want to encourage everyone to follow the code…consistently…so we can concentrate on the real reasons we are all at TLS.

Thanks for working with us.

Marijo

Josie's Video
8/27/2014

Summer is such an idyllic time.  We talk about bonding with our kids through new experiences and celebrating their wonderful little hearts.  The truth is, though, it is not perfection all the time.  There are moments when our kids will do things that are downright embarrassing and not reflective of all our hard work to instill good character and behavior.

Josie’s life jacket was not available, so I made a decision not to include her in the boat rides this summer.  You all know I’m overly protective of her, and this was a perfect example.  Oddly, when I returned from the first boat ride without Josie, I chastised myself for forgetting to make my bed, a regular morning ritual for me.  “Must be getting old and forgetful,” said I to myself.  Then the second time it happened, I REALLY thought I was losing it until I noticed that although the quilt was totally rumpled, the sheets were in a perfectly made position.  Having mentioned this to Davey, my techie grandson, he set up a camera on his iPad to help me fully understand.  And understand I do!  Watch this video and take special note of darling Josie’s looks over her shoulder to be sure not to get caught!

http://youtu.be/A21NefuFyLw

So, if your children weren’t absolutely perfect every day all summer, join the club!

Shall we start a support group?

Marijo

First Day of 2014-2015
8/20/2014

We made it!  Thursday is the first day of school, and we are looking forward to seeing you this afternoon for the classroom visits.  The teachers will be ready for visitors at 4:30.  Until that time they will be involved in meetings with the new PA representatives.  At 5:00, the “Back to School Picnic” will begin at Scarlet Gate.  You will be notified by email if weather interrupts our plans.

For those of you new to the Lower School, this Wednesday email is a moment for me to connect with you each week.  Sometimes I tell a story.  Sometimes I give a little advice.  Sometimes I even mention my inspiration for writing, but don’t worry, I do not usually use names.  I appreciate it when you give me ideas for the Weekly Words.  I need to know what’s on your mind…what might be helpful.  The “words” are meant to guide you, inspire you to even better parenting, and encourage you to think about issues in a different way. 

The “learning season” is upon us.  Let’s think of ourselves as a “select team” of students, parents, and teachers, working to put together a season filled with “wins!”

Looking forward to being the cheerleader for this team,

Marijo 

WHAT ARE BULLIES, ANYWAY?
5/23/2014

Dear Lowers,
It just doesn’t seem possible, but this is the final Weekly Words for the 2013-14 school year.  I have continued to enjoy being connected to our lower school families through “the words”.  Your responses usually affirm that my topics are somewhat on target, but I will be honest with you…  I’ve been writing these emails since 2007, and I’ve hit on a lot of topics.  And in some cases, like the past two weeks, I have given certain topics a double whammy! 


I could use some help from you.  When you think of something that would be helpful to you, drop me an email.  It can be very brief.  I would appreciate this so I can stay current with your needs as parents.  Plus, it will be nice to hear from you over the summer. 


One conversation area that you may be thinking about is bullying.  I wrote about this topic many years ago, and my feelings haven’t changed that much.  Here is the 2009 version of Weekly Words on that topic.

"What ARE bullies anyway?  Anybody who knows me well knows that I don’t use that word very often.  I don’t think I have my head in the sand, and I do think I am pretty realistic about the pain that one child can inflict on another’s feelings.  Do kids say and do unkind things?  Yes.  Do kids find a certain pleasure in watching another child’s reaction when they do?  Oh, yes.  Is this behavior “bullying” even if it happens repeatedly?  I’m just not convinced.


Think about the sibling interactions in your own family.  Do any of your children ever repeatedly push the buttons of a brother or sister?  Do they take a little pleasure when a brother or sister has a strong reaction to that?  Do you call this bullying when it happens in your own home?  I’ll bet not.  That’s because you also know that in a few minutes those same two siblings will be playing together and probably conspiring in tandem to push YOUR buttons.  You see the repaired relationship.  You don’t worry that one child will be damaged forever by the interaction.  And you are right.


I believe that’s why I cringe a little when a parent calls me to report a “bully” in our midst here at school.  Oh, I am most sorry to have to acknowledge that inappropriate things are said and done and that feelings do get hurt, but I just can’t use that word.  And I relish the opportunity to try to work on helping the child who has hurt feelings to respond in ways that will diffuse such situations or even cause the “naughty one” to look a little foolish if he or she tries it again.  My goal is always to give the skills of diffusing the situation to the child rather than to swoop in to rescue him or her.


You see, I have the advantage of seeing the repaired relationships here at school.  All that poor parent who calls me has is a negative report about something that happened at school… a snapshot.  They just never have the opportunity see the rest of the story, and for whatever reason, most kids don’t find that part worthy of mentioning at home.  I truly understand why those parents use the “bully” word, and I hope they will forgive me if I don’t."


Here’s to equipping our children with the very best skills for life!
Marijo


P.S.  Here’s a website with all sorts of resources for parents, teachers, and children. Izzy Kalman explains why bully programs in schools don’t work and gives some good advice on how to equip our children with those good skills for life.  www.bullies2buddies.com


 

DEAR PARENTS OF INSTAGRAM KIDS
5/14/2014

Last week I directed my letter to Instagram.  Today’s is for the parents who allow Instagram and are pretty sure little harm can come of it.  You may not realize it, but putting Instagram in the hands of your youngster also puts it in the hands of his or her classmates and friends whose parents have not allowed it.  These parents have solicited my help in communicating their thoughts.


The responses I received from you were numerous and passionate.  One mom wrote about lost innocence as her daughter was exposed to a photo on Instagram that contained nudity.  She spoke of her child not being able to erase the picture from her mind.  She was sad as she related the story.


I don’t think there is a single parent in this school who would condone some of the things that are happening with Instagram.  I truly believe you don’t know.  I really hate being the one to break it to you, but I’m being encouraged to tell you.  Some of you may be unaware that your child even has an Instagram account.  That’s the scariest, because if you don’t know, you surely aren’t monitoring its usage.


The feedback from last week was plentiful.  Some wrote that they had allowed it and now feel guilty and plan to deny its use.  One mom said that she would be disabling the account immediately.  Others felt affirmed that they had not allowed it yet sad that their children had been exposed to it or embarrassed by Instagram posts by friends.  Several parents who also have middle school students claimed that the troubles don’t end when they reach the appointed age of 13.  Suffice it to say that the responses were numerous and touching.

As school people we take our responsibility to teach Internet etiquette seriously.  We worry about Internet safety.  We provide parent education every year on this topic.  But it seems that the Internet is growing faster than our (yours included) capabilities to control the bad stuff.  We need parents to monitor, and quite honestly, that, too, may be an impossible task given the scope and usage of the Internet and all the available apps.  My heart is with all of you who have this additional challenge that I never experienced as a parent.  I do know how difficult it is.  This note is to cheer you on to be strong…to deny underage usage…to monitor what your children are doing…to be thoughtful of all children…and above all, not to be drawn into the “everybody’s doing it” argument.


Sending you lots of positive energy as you tackle these parenting demands,
Marijo

AN OPEN LETTER TO INSTAGRAM
5/7/2014

Dear Instagram,
Please help me with something.  You state an age requirement of 13 in your terms of agreement.  Why, then, do you look the other way when my young students from The Lexington School establish accounts?  You must recognize that there are concerns with youngsters having accounts or you wouldn’t have the limit.  You know that cruel things can be shared.  You know that embarrassing photos can take on a life of their own.  You know that there are safety issues when you have little kids participating in Instagram.


Alcohol should not be consumed by those under the age of 21.  It’s the law.  Bars, liquor stores, and grocery stores are required to check ID’s and are held accountable if an underage person purchases.  Same is true about driving.  The law says a teenager must be 16 to drive.  The community does not look the other way when a 14 year old is caught behind the wheel.  Voting.  You must be 18 years of age.  We don’t allow 15 year olds to cast their ballots just because they lie and say they are 18 on the voter registration.  It’s all about proving that you are the appropriate age to do these things.


In the case of Instagram there is no law, and there is no proof requirement.  All a child has to do is lie.  But I still hold you and the knowing parents who allow their children to be on your site accountable for the heartache that comes from its being used by little ones under the age of 13. 


There oughta be a law…
Marijo Foster


P.S.  If you are a parent who knows that your child would never do anything to hurt another on a social media site, then this is your wakeup call.  Some of the nicest kids I know have done hurtful things, and one of them might just be yours.

AN ERB PRIMER
4/30/2014

Each year we give standardized tests to students in grades 3-8 at The Lexington School.  Quantitative and verbal reasoning can be likened to aptitude testing in the two curricular areas of math and language arts.  Then we give several tests to also discern our students’ achievement levels in the same areas.  The test we use is the Educational Records Bureau’s CTPIV, otherwise known around here as the ERB’s.


We give the tests at the end of the school year and receive the results in August.  We are able to compare our students to students in public schools, suburban schools, and other independent schools across the country.  The CTPIV is typically used in independent schools, but ERB also administers it in enough public and suburban schools to provide norms for us.  It is almost always the case that our students perform at a higher level than our independent school counterparts, but if they do not, we carefully examine our curriculum and pedagogy to focus on those areas where we don’t.  We also use them if a student is achieving outside the bell curve.  The scores can help determine where enrichment or support is needed.  We rarely depend on the results of the ERB’s alone to accomplish this, but they can provide the motivation to evaluate a child further with different tests.


All teachers have access to present and past ERB scores of their students.  Those are kept on the school server so that they are handy for their use.


The quantitative aptitude and math scores from fifth grade are used, along with several other assessments, to determine the proper placement in sixth grade math.  Ms. MacCarthy is diligent about gathering all sorts of information as this decision is made.  The ERB’s are just a part of it.


We do not automatically send out the results of the ERB’s because we prefer to have a meeting with parents to explain the intricacies of the report the first time.  I call this “the lecture”.  In subsequent years, parents who have already had “the lecture” can simply notify us, and we will email the scores to you.  Some parents are very interested in their child’s scores.  Others feel that it is just another snapshot of where their child performed on a given day.  Another reason why we don’t send the scores home without discussion first is that we don’t want to inflate the importance of that one snapshot.  The truth is, the narrative reports and checklists you receive in math and language arts are much more meaningful measures of overall performance.


We track how our classes perform throughout their time at TLS.  We look carefully at our median scores, especially in quantitative aptitude, mathematics, verbal aptitude, and reading comprehension.  We have records of those median scores that go back many years.  At one point the Everyday Math people were so impressed with those median scores at TLS that we were named an Everyday Math success story and got some nice national press from that.  That was great fun, and I’m happy to report that our scores have remained consistently high ever since. 


Please feel free to call for an appointment to go over the spring ERB scores and receive “the lecture”.  The only thing I ask is that you wait until about the third week of school.  Things are pretty hectic around here those first days back.


My best,
Marijo

 

THINGS THAT HAPPEN EVERY SEVEN YEARS
4/23/2014

Cicadas and “the itch”.  We all know about those things that occur every seven years.  What you may NOT be aware of is the ISACS process by which The Lexington School earns its accreditation.  Every seven years all members of the Independent School Association of the Central States go through a self-evaluation process as well as a team visit made up of experts who will help us determine if we are meeting the goals we have set for ourselves through our mission, philosophy, and curriculum.


It all started seven years ago when a team last visited.  Mrs. Moloney and Mrs. Zimmerman had led our school community through a thorough self-study and had submitted our report to the members of the ISACS visiting team.  At that time, the team listed several strengths to celebrate and some challenges for us to work on in the following years.  We were required to provide progress updates to the ISACS accreditation board during the past seven years.


Last spring it was time to launch our self-study again.  Since they are among my favorite lower school teachers (I have lots) it was my pleasure to ask Janette and Leanne if they would consider leading us one more time.  They were already organized in incredible ways so that they could pass on their knowledge to another team, but we fooled ‘em.  They agreed, and we were off.


We decided to get a head start and to kick off our self-study last spring.  All school personnel, some parents, board members, and even some students were assigned to various committees to discuss, write overviews, list our strengths as we see them, outline challenges, and list our plans and priorities to solve them.
These committees all met during our kick-off day, and many faculty and staff members provided excellent leadership for those groups on that day and all during this school year.  While doing all the other things expected of them, everyone was participating in ongoing meetings and writing sessions to accomplish our ISACS goals.  And we hope you never noticed a thing…unless maybe you were participating on one of the committees.


Well, we are finishing up our writing, closing in on the analysis and editing, and beginning preparations for next September’s team visit.  The chair of our visiting team, John Farber the Head from Old Trail School, is coming in on May 1-2 to go over plans for the accreditation team’s visit in late September.  The team will be on campus from Sunday through Wednesday.  And at the end of the visit, Mr. Farber will meet with our faculty to list the major strengths and challenges as outlined by the team.  He will not be making comments on accreditation at that time; that comes from the ISACS accreditation committee after reading all the reports and recommendations of the visiting team.  It is quite a process, so seven years is just about right to get it all done.


It is not in the same category as cicadas or the seven year itch.  Not at all.  It is an extremely valuable process that all members of the Independent School Association of the Central States gain from.


Yours in accreditation,
Marijo

A MOTHER WITH A DEFENSE
4/16/2014

I admire Julius Randle’s mother.  I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting her, but I have come to respect her through her actions.  When I heard about her leaving that Michigan game at the half so that she could be at work the next morning, she caught my attention.  She said she knew her bosses would have given her an extra day considering the circumstances, but she felt compelled to do the right thing and show up to work at the appointed time.  And we all know what that lady missed in the second half of the Michigan game.  After that, I started paying attention to Carolyn Kyles, and when she was being interviewed by the press on another occasion, I turned up the volume.


Carolyn Kyles was a basketball player at the University of Texas - Arlington, and a good one.  She wore the number 30 on her jersey…just like her son at the University of Kentucky does.  She is a single parent, and she does not let that be a handicap to Julius.  In the interview, Ms. Kyles spoke of her one-on-one basketball moments with Julius as a youngster.  She did not hold back.  She DEFENDED him.  Sometimes she knocked him down.  She never “let” him win.  She did not pave the way for his success.  She put up roadblocks and detours and taught him how to get past them.  She allowed him to fail and learn from those mistakes, and she modeled good basketball skills.  What she was doing was preparing an outlier, a kid who rose so far above the rest of his peers that he soon became the most sought after college recruit in the country. 
I also adore Julius Randle, whose smile lights up an 80,000 seat stadium.  He’s not afraid to act like a kid and celebrate and laugh and clown with his teammates.  He has a sparkle in his eye, and I have never heard him say anything that wasn’t humble.  I’m giving Carolyn Kyles credit for all of that too. 


Here’s to DEFENDING your children in the basketball way,
Marijo

WHO KNEW?
4/9/2014

This place is full of surprises.  One year we were surprised by a very tiny, young, yellow-haired girl who could fly like the wind and excel in cross country and track.  This year we learned about a fourth grade boy who has talents to create things in his third floor “laboratory” at home and then bring them to school to make our Tree-mendous Traveling Tree Show even more amazing.  One time it was a boy who sang a solo in the fifth grade play.  I was sitting behind his mother who didn’t even know that he had a solo, and the two of us wept together as he sang.  Now he has a career…not just a solo.  Then there was the time before The Learning Center even existed when one of our students who had been struggling mightily had tried his hand at writing by using dictation instead of the so, so difficult (for him) use of pen on paper.  His first piece of dictated writing knocked our socks off, and I guess he is still knocking socks off people because he has recently been accepted at an Ivy League university.  Every child has a side that is not known to us, but when that side is revealed it can be an emotional moment.


It happened again recently.  I was watching the songs and dances for Newsical.  It was the fifth grade musical performance for the Preschool. Songs.  Dances.  Little ones yelling “BRAVO!” as they had recently been taught how to do by Dr. Cooper!  I had the biggest smile on my face, and so did everybody in the room!  Then it happened.  One of my favorite fifth grade boys (I have lots) got up there on the stage with his back-up singers and dancers (all of my favorite fifth grade girls).  What is he doing up there with all the girls?  And he has a microphone?  Then it happened.  “I Will Survive!”  Suffice it to say that he had all the moves, the beautiful singing voice, and the stage presence to bring down the preschool house.  I wept again.  Right after I screamed BRAVO!


I love these kids and all their surprises.
Marijo

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE HABITAT
3/26/2014

Next week is spring break.  I’m nesting again, which suits me so well.  The most exciting thing I have planned is a meeting with a state wildlife biologist for some guidance on how to create a better habitat for game birds like wild turkey and Bobwhite quail.  I just thought it would be fun to lure in some game birds to nest with me!


If your family is staying in town next week, you might want to consider the “kid habitat” in your home.  How about a cleanout and reorganization of your child’s bedroom?  Get rid of all the outgrown clothing, toys, games, and books and create an updated habitat that is developmentally appropriate.  It doesn’t need to be a major renovation…just an update that suits the age that your child is now.  Create a habitat that will be easy for your child to feel invested in, maintain, and be proud of.


And if you are traveling, I hope you arrive at a habitat that will be relaxing and fun.  Just be safe coming and going.
My best,
Marijo

FEELING DEFEATED
3/19/2014

I hate it when I lose.  And it appears I have lost the battle when it comes to denying kids access to texting and other online communication.  I continue to say that I don’t think elementary aged children should be texting or Face Timing or the like, and I continue to hear stories about some of my favorite parents giving their children the option.  Often those stories include a level of frustration about the experience for their child, and I have, up to this point, refrained from saying “I told you so.”  I do admit that those words have swirled around in my brain as I listen to the woes.


So, consider it done.  I am accepting that these types of communication will be happening.  But I will continue to warn about the harm that can come of it.  Parents will understand completely when their child gets the first mean text or Face Time that shatters their confidence and leaves them in emotional pain.
In the meantime, I’m pulling one from the archives that all parents should read.  The first words are very cryptic because they include common text abbreviations.  Don’t worry, I translate for you later.

TEXTING LINGO IS NOT A LOL MATTER!
REHI!
This email may be OTT.  I write it because you may be a POS from time to time as you try to monitor the texts your kids are sending and receiving.  You may be thinking ONNTA.    AISI you’d better begin learning the lingo.  ISSYGTI!  ITFA, what you learn may help you to undermine the KPC movement.  Did you know that there is even a P911 abbreviation?  IMHO, TOBAL against that one!
TTFN,
Marijo

TRANSLATION:
HI AGAIN!
This email may be OVER THE TOP.  I write it because you may be a PARENT OVER SHOULDER from time to time as you try to monitor the texts your kids are sending and receiving.  You may be thinking OH NO, NOT THIS AGAIN.  AS I SEE IT you’d better begin learning the lingo.  I’M SO SURE YOU GET THE IDEA!  IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS, what you learn may help you to undermine the KEEP PARENTS CLUELESS movement.  Did you know that there is even a PARENT ALERT – CHANGE SUBJECT abbreviation?  IN MY HUMBLE OPINION, THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW against that one!

TATA FOR NOW,
Marijo
P.S.  You ARE monitoring aren’t you?  It is not an invasion of your child’s privacy; it is your responsibility!

ONE AND NOT SO DONE
3/12/2014

Dear Lowers,
I was listening to the pregame show for the Kentucky Florida men’s basketball game as I was driving last Saturday.  From the onset, it was clear that the broadcasters had a great love for Kentucky basketball and had given good thought to the reason why their, no our, team was having a difficult time this year.  After all, they were the preseason top team in the nation.  Everybody just knew they were going to have an incredible season.  All of us knew it.

So what is happening with this team of talented players under a very good coach?  I can’t quote the commentators exactly, but what they said really rang true.  These young men had outstanding high school careers; most of them had led their HS teams to big championships.  They were all featured as one of the main reasons for the success of their teams.  Their sights were set high…playing in the NBA after their one season at Kentucky seemed inevitable.  It would seem that the stars were aligned for this group of young men.  So what is the problem? 

They said that these players have never, during their whole lives, experienced failure.  They were always so good that failure wasn’t a part of their lives.  So when the first loss occurred, it was a shock…a shock that they just couldn’t overcome as a team.  Their confidence was eroded.  And as we all know, telling someone that they are great doesn’t help.  One has to prove it. 

I hear lots of theories about this.  Most people mention a lack of team bonding as the culprit.  Maybe that has something to do with it.  Or maybe it is because they are so young.  But the theory that caught my attention was the one about failure.

Practicing failure sounds ridiculous, but I do believe it makes us better in how we approach our challenges in life when we meet them head on and then find the way to overcome.

I am hoping that the failures this team has experienced can be thought of as a silver lining to a disappointing season.  I think every one of them…yes, every one of them…should return to Kentucky next year and get it right.  Coach Cal and UK can then launch them to the NBA in good conscience having given them one of the best experiences of their young lives this year.

Must close.  Expecting a call from Coach Cal any minute now,
Marijo

NOW'S THE TIME TO SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
3/5/2014

Dear Lowers,
Shortly the teaching teams, resource room teachers, and I will begin our placement meetings for next year.  I’ve written before about our quest for balance in several different areas:  academic prowess, social dynamics, classroom energy level, gender, as well as taking friendships and personalities into account. 

Teachers use complicated systems to make sure that not all the red-headed children land in one classroom…or anything similar!  It takes a lot of time and effort, and over and over we are told that we pretty much nail it every year.  Occasionally we run into a situation where we wish we had known about a developing friendship or an interest area of the child before the placement work is started.  For instance, if your child has a deep-seated love of wolves and things Alaskan, we would want to know that entering second grade.  Do we have a teacher made for your kid!

We are open to receiving information at this time of year, but the information sharing season only lasts until next Friday, March 14.  After that the class lists are beginning to gel, and what might seem like a little adjustment to you can really play havoc with long hours of hard work on the part of the teams.  And of course, I am sure you remember that once the lists have been published, no more adjustments can be made.
Much like the abbreviated Annual Fund, we are shortening the period of time to make your thoughts be known.  Having them trickle in until the last minute really hindered our good work. 

So, let this email serve as your invitation to let us know of any information you think we might not know about your student.  All you have to do is pick up the phone and call me (X382).  I will fill out the form right over the phone.  Painless.  Easy.  I then share those forms with the teachers so that they can factor in the information.

Please help us with this…  I know you understand that we cannot take requests for specific teachers, but shy of that, we will hear your thoughts and apply them whenever we can.

Yes, we are REALLY already planning our classes for next year! 

Call me, maybe?
Marijo

DARING TO LET KIDS FAIL
2/26/2014

Dear Lowers,
You know how we school people feel about letting kids learn from their failures, and we recognize that it is much easier for us to talk about how it should be done than it is to actually DO what we are suggesting.  Back when we worded our philosophy statement, having that word “failure” in print caused angst among some constituents.  Then there was the “We Teach Courage” mantra.  What?  Will we be putting our students in some kind of danger and expect them to overcome?  That, too, was controversial.  Some felt that the word courage should be reserved for fetes of valor and heroism, but we felt that courage for children would take on a different form.  And we love and live our motto each day.


Risk taking is to be celebrated, not avoided.  We must not enable our children.  We must not make life easy and without challenges for the young ones.  We must help our children grow through the risks they take and the challenges they work through.  And boy is it difficult to accomplish for most parents!  We understand that.


Here is an article that supports the essence of our philosophy.  I don’t agree with every little bit of it, but I do think it is good for parents to read every little bit of it.  Enjoy... 
http://mtips.org/docs/Gateway%20Parenting.pdf


And thanks to one of my favorite moms (I have lots) who shared it with me a few weeks ago, knowing it would resonate with me,
Marijo

PRIORITIES. GET THEM STRAIGHT.
2/19/2014

Dear Lowers,
On a recent Saturday afternoon, I was crossing the gym parking lot on my way to a girls varsity basketball game when one of my favorite former lower school dads (I have lots) hollered my name.  He is still a middle school dad, but I don’t get to see him much anymore.  He was excited to share a story with me, because he knew I would be happy to hear it.


Sadly, it seems that the Henry Clay High School community lost one of their students recently, and the memorial service had been held at a local church.  Several of our TLS alums spoke at the service to honor their friend.  This dad was so impressed with how these boys handled this difficult situation.  He used words like composed, confident, articulate, and courageous to describe these young eulogists.  By the way he was sharing the story, I could tell that he was in awe, and maybe a little bit surprised at how our alums handled themselves under these very unfortunate circumstances.  I really appreciated that he understood how much this story would mean to me…and every other TLS person who knows these boys. 


But then he said something that each of you needs to hear.  He said that the way our former students had performed that day had changed his whole way of prioritizing education finances for his children.  Until that day, he admitted that “matriculating at a great college” was the top goal for his children’s education dollars, a goal that, of course, he credited TLS for having a hand in.  But after witnessing that memorial service, he said he changed his whole perspective.  “The financial priority should be to The Lexington School.”  I just smiled.  And he filled in the words I was thinking.  He said, “But, you’ve been through this education thing from TLS all the way through college.  You probably already knew what I just said.”  Of course I did.  My kids went to a great high school and outstanding colleges, but they will credit The Lexington School with providing the piece of their education that means the most out there in the real world.


Enough said?
Marijo

RELEVANCE: A LOFTY GOAL
2/5/2014

Dear Lowers,
In a recent conversation with one of my favorite moms (I have lots), she said the nicest thing to me.  She was trying to find the right words to say that she appreciated the concept of Weekly Words and that the words often seem to coincide with events in the life of her family.  She searched for the right word for a while, and then out it came.  “You are relevant!”


When you are a 66 year old woman, being called relevant is high praise.  When one reaches that age, confidence in oneself can wane.  In fact, it is a known fact that many people, even younger than I am, struggle with the notion that they are frauds…not worthy of the successes they have experienced.   They feel that somehow they have managed to fool those around them into thinking they are able to perform their jobs or duties.  It’s a real syndrome, and it’s called impostor syndrome. 

Here’s Wikipedia’s version:


“The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”


What I want for our students is relevance.  I want them never to experience the impostor syndrome.  One doesn’t avoid the fraud syndrome by telling our youngsters that they are wonderful, smart, perfect, clever, gifted, etc.  We have to give them the tools so that they can prove in their daily lives that they are competent and relevant, tools such as those that we promote in our Mission Skills Attributes. Telling them that they are competent and relevant accomplishes nothing…except maybe the impostor phenomenon.


We encourage boys and girls to assess themselves in these attributes and to do so honestly.  That’s where true confidence is born.  Even if they don’t quite make the mark, they know right where they stand.  Such practice in self assessment is good for all of us.


I want to thank that mom for using the word relevant, and I want to assure her that we are working every day to ensure that same word describes our students.


Here’s hoping that you find some relevance in this one!
Marijo

CHOCOLATE OR VANILLA?
1/29/2014

Dear Lowers,

Being in a nurturing school has its perks for the adults who are here as well as the students.  Nurturing means you can let another know that you care about them. We teachers can accept hugs when they are offered.  Students can trust that they will be treated with gentleness and care.  And it is perfectly okay to really like one another.


When I was a young student, it was so, so different.  The students and the teachers were in adversarial relationships.  “Gotcha” was part of the code.  Try to catch the students doing something wrong and then mete out a punishment.  Catch ‘em if you can!  When I was in second grade, the teacher battered a child with such vengeance that blood spattered all over the walls from his bloody nose.  I will never forget the trauma that event caused ME, the innocent bystander…let alone my classmate Richard who was the child being abused.  That might have been a bit over the top, but things like that happened back then.


The other day, I was walking through a group of kids before school in the morning.  I’m not sure what they were discussing, but as I passed one of them asked, “Chocolate or vanilla?”  I answered with one word… “Chocolate.”  A cheer rose up from all the chocolate kids in the group.  It was obvious that they really WANTED me to be on their team.  Things like that did not happen when I was a student.  I promise you.

I still don’t know why we were dividing up by chocolate and vanilla preference, but I do know that I love both chocolate and vanilla kids, and I think they know that too.  It is really difficult for me to observe naughtiness in classrooms, and yes, we do have it now and then.  When Mrs. Foster comes in, even the most fidgety ones usually get down to business and try their best to impress their teacher.  Several years ago, we had a little guy who really had a difficult time controlling his naughtiness, and the teacher wanted me to observe him to see what next steps we might want to take to help him.  Why, that little guy was PERFECT when I was in the room.  No problems at all.  After I left, the teacher asked him why it was that his behavior was so good while Mrs. Foster was present.  His answer?  “I wasn’t going to make a fool of myself in front of HER!”  We still laugh about that.


Chocolate.  Vanilla.  Strawberry.  We love them all and consider ourselves lucky to get to work with them.  And it’s very different from what I experienced as a child.  I’m so grateful I got to grow up and be in a school like this one.


My best,
Marijo

EMPATHY AND ATHLETICS…THEY GO HAND IN HAND
1/23/2014

Dear Lowers,
The other day, I was having a conversation with one of my favorite students (I have lots) in the lunchroom.  She had given Josie a new collar and leash for Christmas and was explaining why Josie had received the “sock monkey” pattern as opposed to the “Kentucky Wildcat” one.  She told me that she understood that I hate UK, so it was monkeys for Josie, not wildcat paws.  Oh, dear!  I asked her why she thought I hated what is one of my favorite universities in the whole wide world.  And then it hit me.  Someone had told her that because at some point I had professed my loyalty for Notre Dame football.  Stands to reason that if I love Notre Dame, then I must hate all others.


Which brings me to my focus on empathy for this Weekly Words…we need to teach our children that it is okay to support entities other than our favorites.  In fact, I think it should be encouraged that we support teams that our friends or loved ones cheer for.  I cheer for South Carolina or Louisville or Ohio State or Michigan or Georgia or Auburn or any other school that someone dear to me favors.  It feels so much better to be on the same side of things whenever possible.  That practice needs to be encouraged, even taught, by us adults.  It is not instinctive to kids.


Now, to be clear, this empathy is much easier to demonstrate if our favorite team isn’t the opponent.  But even rivalries can be celebrated in a kind and humorous way, avoiding hard feelings or angst.  It’s called good sportsmanship!  Some of my very favorite young friends and I grew much closer because of the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry.  They don’t know it, but when Michigan plays anybody besides ND, I’m thinking of those young Michigan fans and hoping that BLUE wins the game.


Talk about things like this with your kids.  Not only is it good for them to learn to think of others feelings, but we would also hope that our children might generalize such character traits to other situations as well.


Go CATS! IRISH! BULLDOGS! GAMECOCKS! BLUE! CARDINALS! WAR EAGLE!
Marijo

THE POWER OF THE UNSPOKEN WORD
1/15/2014

Over Thanksgiving I was part of an interesting conversation between two moms, both of whom being my daughters (I count my daughter-in-law).  It was an honest admission of frustration about getting kids to respond the first time they are asked to do a chore or a good deed.  “Please empty the dishwasher, Son.”  “Have you emptied the dishwasher yet, Son?”  “This is the third time.  EMPTY THE DISHWASHER NOW!”  Sound familiar at your house?


It was funny, because the one describing the problem was quickly named as the role model for good parenting by the other.  One thought she was a complete failure.  The other saw it very differently.  So differently, that she used the first as her model to get her own kids to participate in helpful chores around the house.  But both needed some help with speedy follow-through from the kids.
I was once told that dogs will respond to a command only when they know you mean it.  They can actually count and will do what’s asked only when a correction is put into place.  I’m thinking that kids aren’t so far off from that.


Kids will act only when they sense accountability or consequences knocking at the door.  So the solution is to somehow link that accountability with the first request.  It’s like a point card here at school.  They often have a goal for the student to follow directions the first time they are given.  You get a point when you do that.  And points lead to good things.


Or another strategy…don’t even use your voice to give a direction.  Just write down on the family blackboard each child’s name and the chore to be done.  Once complete, a checkmark goes by the name or the chore is crossed off the list.  No reminders.  No threats.  Just a simple checklist.


Prior to this being effective, you will need to have a conversation about expectations with the kids.  Ask them if they like to be nagged about what they haven’t done.  I can answer that for you.  They don’t like it.  So, the way to get Mom or Dad to stop nagging is to offer an alternative where words are not used.  Tell the kids that if the chore is accomplished in a reasonable amount of time, life is good.  If not, another chore will be added to that child’s list.  So, if you don’t finish emptying that dishwasher in a reasonable amount of time (and you get to decide what that is), the child will also be responsible for folding and sorting the laundry.  No words should be used.  A second chore should just magically appear on the blackboard.


If jobs aren’t completed in a timely fashion?  A consequence happens.  And by that I do not mean grounding the kid for two weeks.  That’s too tough, and you will likely end up giving in to something.  A consequence should be short and to the point.  Son or daughter…“Mom, can I go over to Chris’s house to shoot hoops?”  Mom… “Let me check the board.  Oops.  No, not yet.”  Enough said.


Fewer words sometimes reap greater benefits with kids.


My best,
Marijo

FROM THE ARCHIVES
1/8/2014

Dear Lowers,
Occasionally I bring out a Weekly Words from the archives…one that the parents may have liked back then.  The one that follows was from January 2010.  It is full of happy memories for me, and ones that I got to share with Tom.  He loved TLS so much.  He was UK’s best recruiter for TLS…just ask Beth.  He really thought it was a special place, and he never once complained about the tuition checks he signed.  Said it was the best investment he ever made…


From the archives:
What in the world has gotten into these TLS students today?  Things surely have changed since I was a kid. I can remember in my youth doing almost anything to avoid speaking to my teacher or EVEN WORSE my principal if encountered outside of school.  I might zip across the street, hide behind a grocery display, lose myself in a rack of clothing in a department store, or just plain pretend not to notice.  TLS kids are so different.  I absolutely love it when I hear that familiar, “MRS. FOSTER!” ring out when I’m out and about.  I encountered two of my favorite girlies (I have lots) at Sam’s Club before the holidays. Hugs were exchanged, and they made my day; and so did their mom when she finally caught up with us.  And then there was the episode at Five Guys (please don’t judge me for loving those burgers!).  Upon seeing one of my favorite dads (I have lots) and his son (another fave), I plopped right down at the table next to them.  A more thoughtful person might not have done this to a middle school boy, but he really didn’t seem to mind too much.  I learned very important information about an upcoming trip with which the dad would be surprising his wife.  (Don’t worry, my lips remained sealed until after the appointed departure time).  Then another group of my favorite TLS kids, all revved up after basketball practice came in with a favorite mom (I have lots), waved and hollered “HI, MRS. FOSTER” across the restaurant before coming over to visit for a while.  And finally, there was one more special and lovely little girl who brought her mother over to say goodbye as they were leaving.  I had missed them altogether due to the TLS reunions that had transpired already.  My husband and I both loved every bit of it!  But on the way home I got to thinking about what I was like as a kid.  Suffice it to say that I did not compare well.  Whatever in the world has gotten into these TLS students today… should be bottled up and distributed to parents everywhere!


Here’s to self-confident, socially adept children…yours,
Marijo 
P.S.  And if your children are more like I was as a kid, please do not despair.  My guess is, if we don’t force things, they will be more than comfortable with this aspect of social interaction before they leave these halls.

 

BYE BYE SANTA CLAUS!
12/18/2013

Dear Lowers,

If you don’t celebrate Christmas, please just bear with me for a few lines.  This one’s for those who do.

It happens to all families.  And it can be a pretty traumatic event for all involved, especially for the adults.  There comes a time when children begin to question the authenticity of that magical being, Santa Claus.  It can be sad for all involved to have lost that huge piece of Christmas that we have been focusing on for years.  But at some point it is right to put the notion to rest of Santa Claus visiting all those millions of homes all over the world in a sleigh led by reindeer.  Truth is, we parents have to work HARD to make that story believable for our children, and we all do it willingly.

When doubt and then reality hit home, it can be a very sad time.  When there are younger children in the family, we often ask our older offspring to help us continue the dream for the little ones, so they often get swept up in that for a few years, which delays the sting of losing Santa.  Perpetuating the myth for others can be as much fun as believing (as all parents know).

One of my favorite colleagues (I have lots) reminded me the other day of some long ago advice I gave her when she was faced with the Santa Claus dilemma.  I had forgotten the advice, but she refreshed my mind and probably augmented it to make it much better.  In her case, it was her daughter who had reached the intersection of believing and not.  I suggested that she allow her daughter to know the truth but to replace the tradition of Santa with something really special to look forward to each year.  I think I suggested taking her to a fancy tea room…just mother and daughter…to celebrate the upcoming holiday.  I even told her that a small wrapped gift might be opened during tea, a gift from mom.  My favorite colleague was planning her Christmas tea that morning, and she said it had been so successful for her and her daughter that I should consider writing a Weekly Words about it. 

If it’s a boy, I would suggest something different, but something that can easily become a cherished tradition with a parent.  There should be the potential for lasting memories involved for the boy…maybe lunch and a shared activity.  The small wrapped gift is also appropriate…but it would come from the parent, not Santa.

Whatever it is you decide, it needs to be memorable and looked forward to…every year...forever! 

With my love and best wishes for a memorable time, with or without the jolly old man,
Marijo

COURAGE
12/11/2013

I want you, as parents, to have it.  A lot of what I write about takes a lot of courage.  Last week, the words about empathy seemed to resonate a bit with many of you.  I didn’t mention courage in that one, but it is what is required to guide your child down the path of empathy versus popularity. 


I received a thoughtful response to that email that illuminated one child’s path during that same Wednesday at The Lexington School.  It included a description of an erosion of friendship that her sweet daughter had been feeling lately.  The mom found my words helpful and comforting as she herself was feeling the pain of her child’s social experience.  No one was being mean.  There was no unkindness involved.  It was simply a growing apart, but that makes it none the less painful for her daughter or for her.


I appreciated so much that she was able to verbalize exactly how those Weekly Words had been a comfort to her.  She was able to quickly turn to the celebration of her daughter’s empathy and caring for others and help her dear daughter forget the hurt feelings.  Ironically, I had just that day had the opportunity to have a conversation with that sweet girl, and I had been so impressed with her mature and kind nature…the very same day that she was made to feel “not so great” about some of her best friends.  It was such a pleasure to be able to celebrate that girl’s gifts from my first hand experience.  My perspective was that she was a well-adjusted, honest, compassionate young lady who could verbalize how she was feeling and even do some self analysis about some of her insecurities.  The girl’s perspective was that she was losing ground in some friendships…maybe because of a certain lack of sophistication about texting and technology.  I’m celebrating.  She’s crying.  Same girl.  But that mom showed the courage to take my perspective during her follow-up with her daughter.  Atta GIRL, Mom!


Courage.  Have some.
Marijo

A GOOD LIFE…
12/4/2013

I hope you never worry about whether your son or daughter is popular.  I don’t even know that that word really means when it comes to children.  Maybe it is the boy who made the winning basket in Saturday’s basketball game, or perhaps it is the girl whose soccer team won the state, or might it be the kid who loans his cell phone to his buddies at a sleepover, or could it be the girl who has discovered yet the next desirable brand of clothing to wear.  Whatever it is, it isn’t worthy of worrying about whether your child fits the description.


What I WILL give you permission to worry about is whether your child is empathic toward others, can be a good bystander when another is hurting, can be a great friend through thick and thin, and can use their own judgment and decision making powers to guide themselves through the halls of childhood.
Of course it feels good to be included in a group of friends, and we all want that for our kids.  But what we really want to avoid is having that same group of friends influence your son or daughter in ways that aren’t commensurate with your family’s values.


Pursuing that elusive and perceived popularity isn’t conducive to being a good person.  Encouraging independence and strength of character gets her there faster.  Helping your child develop the courage to stand tall and do the right thing doesn’t depend on popularity.  In fact, it can be hindered by it.


Over the years I have watched the dynamics of social interaction among elementary aged kids.  Friendships are formed early on, but it isn’t until about third grade that the friendship groups become prevalent.  There are always growing pains with this.  The pain occurs when a child feels excluded from a group that they find really attractive.  We consistently work toward inclusiveness with our students, but sometimes we just aren’t completely successful.  If this happens to your child, instead of problem solving with him or her on how to get more involved with said group of kids, just help your kid look in a different direction for friendship.  Don’t pine.  Just get busy. 


Sometimes it is the parents who wish their child were more involved with a particular group of kids, and the child doesn’t really care that much.  If that’s the case, I’d love to encourage those parents to keep mum about their desires.  I suppose it would be hard to change the feelings, but keeping them quiet would be best.


A parent’s asking every day about the social dynamics at school is a dangerous practice.  It gives the idea that the importance of “popularity” or membership in a particular group is inflated.  Who played with whom at recess shouldn’t be cause for discussion in the car on the way home.  Now, parents should be open if their son comes to them with a concern, but fishing for information?  Not so much.  (Believe me, I know it’s hard to resist.  I was a parent once too.)


Just remember that it’s the empathic kid who knows how to support others and be a good friend who wins the friendship race in the end.  Help your boy or girl concentrate on those skills, and life will be good.
My best,
Marijo

REPORT CARDS - BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU CELEBRATE.
11/21/2013

Report cards will be ready on Friday.  I’m thinking that this is a good time to communicate a bit about your reaction to the words and checkmarks.  And by this, I mean your reaction as you speak with your kids.  Please do not create a huge hoopla about good reports.  Instead, celebrate the effort.  “It is clear that you have worked very hard this term, and your teachers’ comments reflect that.  Way to go, Son!”  Please refrain from saying things like, “You are so, so smart!  No wonder you did well this term.”


Focus on the way your child achieved well, not the given talent.  And if the report wasn’t as stellar as you had hoped?  How about, “Daughter, do you feel you put your best effort into your school work this term?”  And let her answer honestly.  If she feels that she did the very best she could, please celebrate that.  (Most kids are honest assessors of their own effort.)  If not, be prepared to provide some support in order that she achieves that goal in the future.


Telling a child that he is brilliant, smart, gifted, etc. is not a good way to instill a strong work ethic and love of learning.  Those are both key to the mission of The Lexington School.  There is no mention of intellect in our mission.  What IS valued by our school is the development of enthusiasm for learning, a strong work ethic, and integrity.  We also like for students to be courageous and willing to take risks.


Chances are, if you are a parent at this school, YOU already possess these traits.  I don’t know what your GPA was, but I do probably know that you demonstrate the traits that we value.  When was the last time you made the decision to interact with a professional on the basis of her transcript?  You are looking for integrity, dedication to hard work, and a general enthusiasm for their chosen career path.


The mission statement of our school is not just empty words.  It guides us as we make all decisions at this school.  Let it guide you as you talk about the report cards with your kids.


Here’s to a love of learning that leads to a strong work ethic,
Marijo

 

WELL ROUNDED…FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
11/13/2013

A director of admission at a major university once said, “We do not recruit well-rounded students.  We recruit outstanding students in given areas in order to make our university well-rounded.”


Think about it.  They are not looking for the student who has dabbled in lots of activities but has achieved greatness in none of them.  They are looking for the BEST violinists or the MOST PROMISING soccer players or the MOST CREATIVE writers to put together a freshman class full of people outstanding in their fields.  THAT’S what makes a university great.


So, when one of my favorite moms (I have lots) recently asked me if she should feel guilty about not finding the time for her young son to play “yet the next” sport, I absolved her of all guilt.  The boy loves lacrosse.  Let him spend time honing those skills rather than “experiencing” baseball.  Go with the passion.  That is the sport where he most certainly will excel.


Really.  No guilt.  Identify the passion and invest the time in that.  But don’t worry if your fourth grader hasn’t identified her passion yet.  Some may have, but don’t despair if yours hasn’t.  It is likely that she will find it on her own, despite your best efforts to provide one.


Relax.  Enjoy.  Let life happen.  Do not feel compelled to provide every experience before the age of ten.  It may be that a teacher will inspire the passion.  Maybe Mr. Parlanti will encourage your boy or girl to run cross country because of a spark of talent he has seen.  Or it could be Dr. Cooper who asks if your child has considered working in community youth theater because he sees signs of promise.  Or it might be Mr. Lassman who spies a blooming techie as he works with kids and teachers.  Just let it happen.  And when it does, be there to support it.


As in the very popular weekly words written by that favorite parent from earlier in October, sometimes it is best to let the children lead…
Marijo

SPEAKING OF CELL PHONES
11/6/2013

Dear Lowers,

I think you would be surprised and chagrined at how much time we school people spend on out-of-school issues that crop up because of putting cell phones in the hands of children who are too young to be responsible users of them.  As I write these weekly words, swirling issues at school have to do with videos that children are creating and sending each other.  We haven’t seen the videos.  We don’t even know if there is anything inappropriate in the videos.  But when little girls begin to dwell on them, it is time not well spent in school.


I send this message out about once a year, and I am sensing that my words are not that effective because the cell phones are appearing with greater frequency and at younger ages. Reasons for giving young children cell phones vary, but among them are the following:  “When my child is at another family’s home, he/she needs to be able to call me.”  “I need to be able to text my child if I am going to be late picking up from school.”  “I need to know where my child is at all times.” 


I challenge all of the reasons above.
At another home.  Either be comfortable with your child visiting and being supervised by another parent, or don’t allow your child to go. 
Late for pick-up.  We guide and protect your children from harm if you are late.  They are supervised.  They are fed.  It is okay for a child to be able to function on his own in the safe environment of the school.
Need to know.  Is it time to let go a bit?  Please consider it.


My point is that even though your child doesn’t use the cell phone at school, we school people are still talking about cell phone issues that take place after school, on the weekends, and in the summer.  Some people think the cell phone motivates independence in a child.  I feel that the opposite is true.


Please think about how you want your child’s teacher to prioritize his or her conversations about ethics.  Do you really want them to be focused on the cell phones?


Will you consider holding off?
Please?
Marijo

MAKING DO
10/30/2013

A few weeks ago I was speaking with one of my favorite moms (I have lots).  Two of her children are new to The Lexington School, and she is trying to balance a job with having children in two schools, caring for a recently enlarged family and all that that brings.


We were mostly talking about her lower school child.  He’s pretty precious, and I asked her if she ever just felt like biting him he is so cute and lovable.  She did not flinch when I said that, so I knew that she, too, loved her kids to the point of biting (or wanting to) just like I did.  Don’t worry, no children were ever injured by either of us, and you may or may not identify with that type of intensity!


I was asking her how she was doing with all of her new adjustments…new school, new job, relatively new marriage, etc., and she shared with me the secret of her success at home.  “Make do”.  She has taught her children that not everything will be perfect in their lives.  Sometimes we just have to “make do” to solve a problem or fulfill our needs.  So, if there’s no milk in the house for the cereal, we may have to “make do” with scrambled eggs.  She is also using the word “resilience,” one of our MSA attributes, to help her kids understand the meaning of “make do”!   I LOVED this story.  “Making do” just means adjusting one’s expectations to fit the reality of life.  Resilience at its best.


So…if ever you feel tempted to bite your children because you love them so much, I suggest you “make do” and just give them a hug instead!
Marijo

ADMIT IT, JOSIE’S A GOOD GIRL!
10/23/2013

Did you know that Josie is a member of the admission staff at TLS?  I am not joking.  She is always on call.  I’ve got it all figured out.  It’s a long walk over from the admission office to the Lower School.  Talking with kids is easy and fun for Beth Pride, and the conversation almost always turns to, “Do you have a pet?”  And if the answer is “yes”, and the next answer is “dog”, she heads straight for my office to introduce Josie.  What better way to relax a slightly nervous kid who is visiting a place for the very first time.  And if the bond is obvious and immediate, we usually incorporate a walk with Josie to make what would have been a really good day even better.  It’s easy.  It’s Josie’s job along with all the other ones.  She’s a comfort dog.  She’s a cheer-up dog.  She’s a dog for anybody who needs a little extra movement in their day.  She’s there for a child who is sad.  She is a master with those who are anxious.  And, truth is, she is really good for just about anybody who would give her the time of day.


Recently one of our visitors was feeling a bit insecure.  Who wouldn’t?  So Beth brought her by to relax a bit before beginning the screening.  Josie gave a few kisses to ensure that the child knew she was loved.  Then she just squeezed her body right beside the child and went to sleep next to her in the chair.  The gentle stroking provided by the visitor was relaxing to both of them.  The visitor and I talked and talked.  I just loved that moment.  She was proud that Josie loved her so much.  “I’m a really good dog person,” she declared.  I could tell that without saying.  What a nice way to start what could have been a stressful time.


Funny thing just happened.  As I was writing this, Mrs. Childers and one of her little guys just stopped in to pick Josie up for a stroll.  Mrs. Childers, the child, and Josie all needed to work out the kinks and stress from a day’s hard work.  I couldn’t have timed that interruption any better had I planned it.  But that’s just what happens with Josie.


She loves her work!  She loves her kids!  She loves her adults!  And she loves TLS.


Kids and dogs, they belong together!


A kid at heart,
Marijo

TINCTURE OF TIME DOES HEAL
10/16/2013

What a difference three years makes.  A couple of weeks ago, one of my favorite moms (I have lots) remembered that I was about to embark upon the anniversary of the very saddest time of my life.  It was touching that the mother of a very young student back then would remember.  Very touching.


Three years ago today, I was planning a funeral.  I have very little memory for the actual details, but I do know that my TLS peeps were right there beside me every step of the way.  On the morning of Tom’s death, one of my favorite former boys who had come to my home called another to let him know that I needed his services.  One was my financial advisor, and the other the funeral director.  My favorite TLS boss and administrative colleagues were all with me before dawn that morning.  After school the teachers came…and then the families.  I was being held up, sometimes literally, by these amazing TLS people.  A former TLS parent and colleague of Tom’s set to work writing the obituary, and he captured my husband…right down to his sartorial bowtie.  He also helped arrange the venue.  It was my favorite funeral director who said that I needed someplace grand.  It was taken care of.  Memorial Hall it would be.  The music was planned by one of my favorite TLS music teachers, and it was magnificent.  There were three eulogies that day.  Each speaker had an affiliation with The Lexington School.  One was my son, TLS Class of ’89.  Another was a former dad and also a colleague of Tom’s, and the third was a present TLS father.  All were amazing.  Beautiful white hydrangeas and roses were arranged by a former TLS mom who is now a TLS grandmother.  The receiving line was full of TLS families past and present alongside Tom’s friends from the university and colleagues from all over the country.  After the funeral there was a lovely reception out at the farm catered by a wonderful TLS family.  And the priest who lingered to pray with my family at the end of the reception... was a former TLS student. 


I write all of this as a reminder to myself and to you how The Lexington School community stands by its members.  Quite honestly, I have not written about that day before because I wasn’t able to.  And writing about it now has made me realize how much I was surrounded by the caring TLS people that were there for me at every step…and still are.  Three years makes a huge difference.  But the thing that is absolutely the same is how much The Lexington School and its people mean to me.


I hope that you never need the level of support from the TLS community that I did.  But if you do, it is a pretty incredible thing to experience.
Marijo

CELEBRATION OF PARENTAL WISDOM
10/9/2013

Dear Lowers,

A few weeks ago I had a meeting with one of my favorite sets of TLS parents.  (I have lots!)  We finished with the business at hand, and I began to celebrate the amazing children that had come from this family…amazing, but not without having faced some challenges along the way.  We reminisced a bit about some of the worries from when the kids were younger.  And then we laughed about how the mom was pretty sure her son would be without friends forever.  Suffice it to say that he has developed into a middle school star. He has everyone’s respect, and he is a wonderful role model and leader.  The mom probably doubted me when
I told her back then that he would be turning out just fine.  You see, I knew that he had the character
traits that would take him far, even if he wasn’t the most popular fellow in third grade.  She doubts me no more.

As I often do, I asked them what they had done as parents that might have contributed to raising some really wonderful human beings.  They hemmed and hawed a bit.  They are humble people.  They said a few things that made sense, but later I got an email from the mom.  She had taken the time to ponder my question and put some very thoughtful words to paper.  The following is her response to me a few hours later…

“I was thinking on the way home about your kind words for our children and how we raise them. A recent event in our lives, I think, sums it up.  My 90 year old grandmother passed away recently. My dad chose to have my grandmother's funeral at our family home, visitation and all.  She passed away on a Sunday and was returned to the house by the funeral director on Monday afternoon.  I remembered my great grandmother's passing in 1978.  I was 5.  She lay in our house for 3 days.  I must admit, the memories, both good and bad, are still with me today.  So I was a little cautious about the kids and their reaction.  She lay in an open casket, in the big room in the back from Monday until Wednesday.  Even though all the cousins were in town, I was certain my kids would not want to spend the night.  It is a large house, and it wasn't like you had to go in that room to get anywhere else, but come on, it is a dead body.  I was so wrong.  They all (9 kids total) spent the night, both nights, and I never heard of any nightmares.  It just seemed normal having her there, and it gave everyone a chance to talk to her and be ok with her passing.  My youngest daughter even put a purple (her favorite color) Beanie Baby next to her in the casket and kissed her hand.  And nobody told her to do it or not to do it.  She just did it, and everything seemed normal about it.  

So on Wednesday, after a pretty emotional service at the house, we headed down to Owensboro to bury her.  Two relatives that no one even knew existed showed up and we sat around and told a few stories; then my dad read a few passages and said a few words.  The tears from earlier in the day dried up, and for the most part everyone was laughing and remembering. BUT no one was leaving and the cemetery workers needed to go home.  So Dad told them to go ahead and lower her down.  I had never seen that happen and knew it wasn't customary. All the great grandkids were in the front row, and my cousin immediately went to the front and grabbed her 6-year-old and left.  I started to follow but then stepped back and watched the kids.  No one was crying or gasping.  They were silently watching, smiling, remembering.  I realized that if I took them away from the scene that would only make it seem forbidden or wrong to them, especially since my sister wasn't grabbing hers.  So we all watched what is a part of life.  Then we went to dinner at Old
Hickory BBQ. 

So I guess this is what I learned - and I wish I could say it more eloquently, but I hope you get the point…

My job as a parent is to teach my kids how to survive in this world.  Not to be a best friend or a body guard.  I want them to know what to do when they get lost in a crowd.  I want them to know how to watch for cars in a parking lot and not always rely on mom to hold a hand.  I want them to get germs and build immunity
so they aren't always sick.  So I don't own water-free hand sanitizer and stand in carpool ready to give it to them.  And my kids generally aren't sick.  I want them to be able to survive without being constantly told what to do. So we don't shield them from reality and raise them in a bubble. And sometimes, as I learned from the funeral, you have to not react and just let the kids lead.”

How’s that for parental wisdom?

Marijo



 



 



WORDS OF CAUTION ABOUT BIRTHDAY PARTIES
10/2/2013

Dear Lowers,
Birthday parties.  I was pretty good at planning them.  I know how to be cautious of hurt feelings and model inclusive behavior.  And I really like being around kids.  So, why was I always so stressed by the prospect of being responsible for the birthday party?  It’s because I knew how easy it was for something to go wrong.

The school has guidelines that are designed to help you with one of the pitfalls – making sure to include everyone in a class or grade.  We don’t insist that you include everyone, but if you have chosen not to, we ask that you not distribute invitations at school.  That said, we can’t really control what kids are talking about at school.  Too many times I have had to deal with the dejected look of a child who has just been part of a conversation about a birthday party where he or she hasn’t been invited.  It is heart breaking.  You can encourage your children not to talk about said party at school (as guest or birthday child), but that is hard to accomplish.  It is kid nature to chat about such wonderful social events.  They simply forget.  It’s easy for something to go wrong.

The appropriate gift.  Here’s where my kids tell me I really went wrong.  It seemed very “green” of me to put together a tomato patch for the birthday boy.  There were gardening tools, tomato plants, potting soil, and other necessary items to create his own potted tomato garden.  I have been repeatedly reminded how traumatic it was to attend little Jonathan’s party with such a gift.  I have always been kind of “mother earthish”, but I am told that I took it too far THAT day.  You can ask Meg about it when you see her next.  She remembers every detail.

Favors.  Back in the day, it might have been a bag of candies or some trinkets.  THAT has really changed over the years.  Coming up with the perfect favor must be very difficult these days, and it must also require great creativity on the part of the parents giving the party.  I’m sure there’s lots of pressure to purchase the best favors ever.  Seems to me that it would be easy for something to go wrong…


Supervision.  Being the parent host of a birthday party requires diligence.  There is an expectation that children will be returned in the same condition as when they were dropped off.  Safety is always a concern, but so are the feelings of the attendees.  We all know that kids can be hurtful to one another.  It isn’t bullying, but it is insensitive behavior.  And such behaviors can cause emotional trauma for both attendees and their parents.  It takes good modeling from the party parents to ensure that everyone has a good time.  It takes supervision above and beyond what you normally provide for your own children.  And it’s very easy for something to go wrong.

Expense.  All of this inclusiveness, favor buying, etc. can get pricey.  And parties that take place outside of the home can be very expensive for the host family.  Some of the best ones are held at home with simple games and fare.  But with more elaborate parties happening as each year passes, it takes courage to go the simple route.  Picking the wrong venue is a place where things can definitely go wrong.

No wonder so many of us are stressed at the prospect of hosting the perfect party.  Just remember the most important thing.  It isn’t the elaborateness or the size of the party that matters.  It is the fact that a child is celebrated on his or her big day with good friends and loving family that really counts the most.  That can happen with casts of hundreds or with just the immediate family surrounding the birthday kid.  Figure out what works for you, and go for it.  Don’t be guided by an expectation that you think others may have.  I predict that everything will go well if you use your own comfort level as the guiding force.

Birthdays are meant to be happy for everyone…including YOU,
Marijo

TEACHERS TEACHING TEACHERS
9/25/2013

Dear Lowers,
Teaching values and 21st century skills is not easy.  And much like anything we do, the more we practice, the better we become at guiding and coaching these skills.  Did you notice how I changed the verb there, from teaching to guiding and coaching?  I did it subconsciously, but I arrived at the right place.


When I walk into a classroom where our mission skills are in full bloom, there is no teacher at the head of the class.  There is an adult right there among the children solving problems, modeling collaboration, and providing encouragement.  Everyone is engaged, including the adult whose name is on the door!

   
When Chuck first started talking with us about these mission skills, there was almost unanimous approval for the concept.  Who wouldn’t support teamwork and creativity and ethics and resilience and curiosity and time management?  Good grief.  It’s a no brainer…  But when it came time to create lesson plans and assessments, we realized that it is not that easy…in fact it is quite difficult.


That’s when we started using “show and tell” as our springboard for lower school meetings.  Teachers, one at a time, would talk about their forays into mission skills in their classrooms.  GREAT ideas emerged.  Our science teachers soon figured out that almost everything done in science classes has these skills at the essence.  Soon other teachers were tweaking their projects and lesson plans to give students more opportunities to demonstrate these skills.  Show and tell is now an integral part of every  faculty meeting.  Teachers teaching teachers.  And we have the BEST!  Don’t you just love it? 

Join the 21st century.  Follow me on Twitter @mpfostertls.
Marijo

PERMISSION GRANTED TO SKIP THE ALLOWANCE THING
9/18/2013

Dear Lowers,

Recently I received an email from one of my favorite moms (I have lots) seeking advice about giving allowances to children.  I laughed out loud while reading it.  I have admitted to many parenting faux pas and failures, but allowances are right there at the top of the list.  I was a complete failure.


The whole notion is so lofty…teaching responsibility, budgeting, long range planning…all of it sounds WONDERFUL, but my reality was far from that.  I would forget to give the allowance.  I would issue loans against future allowances.  I would borrow allowance money from my children and forget to repay it.  I would buy things for my children that were certainly meant to come from allowances.  I wrote the book about how NOT to handle allowances.  I confessed all of this to my favorite mom in an email reply.  I was without advice for her mostly because this was an area where I was not able to learn from my mistakes.  Instead I gave up on the whole concept.  How’s THAT for modeling resilience?  Please, can this be our little secret?


The best part came when she confronted me at dismissal carline that afternoon.  She was laughing so hard!  It seems that she had already made all the same mistakes I had.  Together we decided that some parents are just not cut out for the allowance thing. And we forgave ourselves for that.


So, if you want parenting advice on almost anything else, I’m your girl.  Allowances?  Try John Rosemond.


Feeling better just talking about it with you,
Marijo

BLUE HAIR. IT'S PRETTY FUNNY.
9/11/2013

Dear Lowers,
Levity.  It has its place in a school.  On the first day, I showed up with a Kentucky blue streak in my hair.  I soon learned that what I had was a “strip.”  It caught people off guard, and some suggested that they hoped it was temporary.  Others used words like “cool” or “way to go” or “I wish my mom would let me have one”.  Please know that I was not trying to be a trend setter.  I was just attempting to do something to add a bit of whimsy to the day.  In fact, it occurred to me that this fad might lose ground quickly if someone as trendy as I were to have one.  There are few who strive to be as cool as Mrs. Foster.  I get that.


It all started this summer when I was talking with a favorite colleague (I have lots) whose daughter had dyed one of these “strips” in her hair.  I had seen these colorful stripes around town, but I didn’t really know much about them.  I thought they were similar to the feather craze of a couple of years ago.  The girl was chatting about her strip with Ms. Carrithers, and the two of them got to giggling about the possibility of Mrs. Foster sporting one of those colorful strips.  Ha.  Very funny. 


Never one to disappoint, I asked my stylist about this.  Manuel encouraged me to go with one that is removable, and he liked the idea so much that he started fashioning one from the bag with the bright blue hair right then and there.  And you know the rest of the story.


The message to parents?  Don’t be afraid to be whimsical.  It is the heart and soul of good humor.


Taking “blue-haired old lady” to a whole new place,
Marijo

GO IRISH!
9/4/2013

Dear Lowers,
Every once in a while I like to pull a Weekly Words out of the archives and rerun it.  In honor of this Saturday’s Notre Dame vs. Michigan game, I am going back to November of 2009.
Here it is.


A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE BIG HOUSE!
“Some of you may be aware that I am a fan of Notre Dame Football.  My daughter Meg Foster Sullivan graduated from there in 1994 as did her husband Dave.  It has been a while since I have truly been connected to the place, but I do continue to enjoy those Saturday afternoon games.  Last year, Notre Dame had an awful season.  Nothing went right.  So… it seemed to a couple of my favorite 5th grade boys (I had lots), that it might be safe to talk a little smack about their favorite team, Michigan.  Leading up to that 2008 matchup, I had to endure a good deal of “Go Blue” (and they weren’t talking about Kentucky), and some pretty confident predictions about how the game would go.  I politely and respectfully replied, “Go Irish!” when this happened.  Truth is I was pretty sure these fellows were RIGHT ON with their predictions.  But the miracle happened.  Notre Dame pulled it out.  They WON!  It was now time for MY fun. 

I enlisted the help of one of the 5th grade teachers.  She must remain nameless, because she is in a witness protection program now.  She gravely told these two young Michigan fans first thing on Monday morning that they were needed in Mrs. Foster’s office.  By the time they arrived, one boy looked pale.  The other one had a sparkle in his eye… knowing that I was probably up to something.  And I was.  I had my computer all set up with the Notre Dame Fight Song.  I even had the words in case they wanted to sing along.  They didn’t.  But what they did do was listen to the WHOLE thing.  They were good sports who feigned just the right amount of disgust about this terrible punishment.

Well, this year’s matchup went a different way.  Notre Dame went to the Big House and lost 38-34.  The two favorite 5th graders had turned into favorite 6th graders (I still have lots), and I thought I was safe.  After all, they were WAY over there in the Middle School.  And I was all nestled in my office in the Lower School.  I did think of those guys at the end of the game, and I did wonder if they remembered…  But by Monday morning, I glibly entered the building already having forgotten the disappointment of Saturday.  But as I walked down the hall I caught a glimpse of something.  What WAS that stuff all over my windows and door?  What DO those pieces of paper say?  They seemed to be printed in blue and maize.  Ohmygosh!  Every aspect of my life had been inundated with details of that game… headlines… scores... GO MICHIGAN!!!  All day long… everywhere I went there were more… in my mailbox… in the ladies room… on my desk…  It was all in place by 7:40 on Monday morning.  My first reaction was to set to work to have these little hoodlums EXPELLED!  But then I remembered…  I really deserved this.  There were many who didn’t know about the first part of the story, which is why I am writing about it today.  Some reacted with “poor Mrs. Foster!”  But please do not feel sorry for me.  I’m already working on what might happen NEXT year after Notre Dame meets Michigan in South Bend!

So, you ask, what does this story have to do with parenting advice?  The message is that it is okay to tease a little, banter a little (respectfully, of course), practical joke a little, and ultimately “get even” a little!  It’s good for the relationship.  It will not break your child’s spirit; it will enhance it.  I promise.”

Here I am again, back in 2013.  Notre Dame never beat Michigan again until 2012.  I miss those fifth grade boys a lot.  They are in high school now.  One of them visited TLS a couple of weeks ago on his day off school and found his way to my office.  He still has a pesky cough that sounds a lot like a muffled “Go Blue”, but I’m very pleased to report we are still friends.  May the best team win this Saturday, Josh Ehl and Ian Harrison.  I’ll be thinking of you either way!

Go IRISH!
Marijo
P.S.  Oh, I also think that it is time that we released Janette Moloney from the witness protection program!

TIES THAT BIND
8/28/2013

Dear Lowers,
I had something special happen last week.  One of my favorite high school teachers called me to ask a favor.  I don’t know how old Mr. Scaptura is, but I will say that he is still teaching but now at the college level.  He made me call him Jim.  It didn’t feel right.


He was calling to tell me that his granddaughter would be arriving on Friday for her freshman year at UK.  And would I mind being someone “from home” with whom she could touch base if she felt the need.  Would I MIND?  Are you kidding me?  I was so honored that he would remember me, know that I live in Lexington, and understand that I would be very happy to help out with this.  I graduated from high school in 1965.  The last time Mr. Scaptura was my teacher was the 1962-63 school year.  That’s over FIFTY years ago, and we still have a bond.


This story points out just how strong the bonds are in my profession.  I’ve been told many times what a comfort it is to drop off a child in morning carline and know that they will be nurtured by all the peeps at this school.  I am also aware how difficult it is when they move on to the next level…high school.  It’s all over Facebook.  Pictures of our former students all decked out for their first day of school and their mothers struggling a bit with the notion of their leaving the TLS nest.  It may be different, but I predict that before long each of these kids will have forged a bond with some teacher, coach, or administrator at their new school.  How do I know this?  Well, it’s because they know HOW to do it.  They did it here every school year of their lives.  It is one of the gifts.  Do I think kids from other schools won’t be able to do it too?  Of course they will, but I firmly believe that Lexington School kids will be better at it.


Happy Wednesday,
Marijo

WHATATEAM!
8/21/2013

Dear Lowers,

Here we are!  Tomorrow is the first day of school.  Summer has been great, but it is time to begin our next season of learning.  We are looking forward to seeing you this afternoon for the classroom visits.  The teachers will be ready for visitors at 4:30.  Until that time they will be involved in meetings with the new PA representatives.  At 5:00, the “Back to School Picnic” will begin.  It will happen rain or shine.  Shine?  At Scarlet Gate.  Rain?  Inside the school. 


For those of you new to the Lower School, this Wednesday email is a moment for me to connect with you each week.  Sometimes I tell a story.  Sometimes I give a little advice.  Sometimes I even mention my inspiration for writing, but don’t worry, I do not usually use names.  I appreciate it when you give me ideas for the Weekly Words.  I need to know what’s on your mind…what might be helpful.  The “words” are meant to guide you, inspire you to even better parenting, and encourage you to think about issues in a different way. 


We as a school are trying to develop your child’s empathy and increase their self reliance and independence.  We use traditional methods of pedagogy, but we are also intent upon giving our students other skills like teamwork, creativity, resilience, curiosity, and time management using 21st Century methodology.  And our overriding goal is that we, working with you as our partners, want to instill ethics that will make your child stand apart in any setting. 


As I mentioned before, the “learning season” is upon us.  Let’s think of ourselves as a “select team” of students, parents, and teachers, working to put together a season filled with “wins!”

Looking forward to being the cheerleader for this team,
Marijo

IN CLOSING…
5/22/2013

It seems like yesterday when I warned you in a Weekly Words that tomorrow would be the last day of school.  And now it’s almost true.  It has been a remarkable year, and I just want to thank you for sharing your kids with us and trusting us to teach them both the academics and the traits of strong character.  You have supported our initiative to focus on the MSA skills of teamwork, creativity, ethics, resilience, curiosity, and time management, and we appreciate that very much.  As the months have gone by, I’ve noticed that lots of fine educational institutions have begun to focus on the same skills.  It seems that we aren’t the only ones to know that the skill of working on a team and taking a creative project to its completion is one that serves throughout life.  Most MBA schools are tuned into the same values and skills that our elementary school is. 

I hope you have a wonderful summer with your children.  Read lots of good books.  Have discussions about values at the dinner table.  Plant a garden if you can.  Play some board games.  Swim.  Hike.  Dance for no good reason.  Do good deeds.  Try some community service.  Take lots of pictures.  Sing in the car.  Learn a craft.  Practice patience.  Model empathy.  Hug lots.  And count the days until we are together again. 

Already starting to miss our weekly words connection,
Marijo

STILL DECIDING ABOUT CELL PHONES FOR YOUR CHILDREN?
5/15/2013

I pulled this one out of the archives, because I realized that a good percentage of our lower school parents weren’t involved with Weekly Words when it was published back on April 7, 2010.  A lot has changed in all of our lives since then, but the words below are still resonating with me.  Please know that I am not intending a guilt trip, I am just giving you some food for thought about the topic of cell phones and texting for young kids.  And if you think that texting doesn’t cause angst for children, please think again.  Your children may feel like they are “in” if they have cell phones, but take a look at their faces when they receive that first mean text.  “In” turns to “out” in milliseconds. 

From the archives…
I think everybody knows that I am rather protective of children.  I have a strong desire to guide their paths through the tall timbers of challenging things that they are exposed to every day.  But I am also one who thinks we can go overboard with that protectiveness.  I sometimes worry that cell phones are a case in point.  The stated reason always has something to do with keeping tabs on children, maybe even when they are within the safe confines of school or another adult’s supervision.  Safety.  That’s it.  But is it, really?

My question this week is… Is it a good thing to have constant contact with your child via cell phone or text messages?  What about the development of your child’s coping and problem solving skills?  Should you be the one to decide everything or should you have the trust in them to make a few decisions… once again while within the safety of school, organized after school activities, or another adult’s supervision?  I see THAT as your main responsibility… being sure that your child is in a safe place with good people.  That is a far cry from constant contact so that you can monitor.


What happened to getting organized about after-school stuff in the morning?  Now, it seems that it is easier to call that cell phone and plan from minute to minute.  Let’s say you are running a little late for dismissal.  Is it necessary to call to let your child know this?  Or would it be okay to let your child go through the procedures set up by the school for his or her safe keeping until you arrive?  Do you want to eliminate every butterfly in the tummy or feeling of wondering in your child’s life?  I don’t think so.  Without practice and success (and sometimes a stressor or two), children cannot learn to navigate.

Please think twice about whose convenience and comfort are at stake before giving in to that cell phone.  The photos and text messages that come along with that cell phone have a way of turning on them.  Parents just cannot control what other people are going to deliver to your child’s phone.  The only thing you can control is whether or not your child has one.

And if you are one of many who has already made your decision to allow your child to have a cell phone… this is NOT to lay a guilt trip on you.  Just please think carefully about how you and your child use that phone.

Here’s to good communication with your child, just maybe not on a cell phone,
Marijo

COURAGE FOUND
5/8/2013

We were all crying.  Some openly, some just whisking away a stray tear here or there.  I was seated among a group of middle school boys, so I was REALLY trying hard to be in that latter group.  The fact is that all of us were deeply touched by our assembly speaker.  Grades 4-8 were in the room.  Mayor Jim Gray was there.  Rob Brewer was there representing Raymond James and Associates who had sponsored this event.  The TV cameras were rolling, and TOPS IN LEX was snapping photos left and right.  We packed that little theater for all it was worth. 

It isn’t every day that any of us gets to hear a Congressional Medal of Honor winner’s story, told by the fellow himself.  Sammy L. Davis began with a video that depicted his incredibly heroic act of rescuing his fellow soldiers (he called them brothers) from almost certain death…after being seriously wounded himself.  It was a superhuman feat, and he has been recognized accordingly.  Sammy was the real Forrest Gump.  He told us that the only true parts of the movie were those that dealt with the military.  All of that was absolutely true.  The rest?  Not so much, but it surely was entertaining.  And surely you remember the scene at the White House when President Lyndon Baines Johnson awarded Forrest the Medal of Honor?  Well, that was Sammy’s ceremony, Sammy’s body in that uniform, and Tom Hanks’s superimposed face.  We were in the presence of a true hero who had not the first iota of self importance about him.  After all, “He did was what he knew his brothers would have done for him.”  I guess we’ll never know about that, but we do know that Sammy’s character and valor are inspiring.

He passed that medal around so that every person in the room could see it and think about what it represented.  It took a long time, because the children were in awe.  Rob Brewer later told me that most recipients use a duplicate medal for such “show and tell” moments.  Not Sammy.  He had the original inscribed medal…the one President Johnson had placed around his neck…for all the children to hold in their hands.

During the war, Sammy’s mother was concerned that he was bored over there in Viet Nam because he only detailed the mundane things in his letters home.  He did not want her to know the real story, which would have been hard for any mother to read.  She sent him a package that he eagerly opened, hoping it was his favorite oatmeal raisin cookies.  No such luck.  She had sent him a harmonica to help him pass the hours of “boredom.”  Oh, my.  Sammy learned to play it and made quite an impression years later at the dedication of the Viet Nam Memorial when in a private moment he closed his eyes and played Shenandoah to honor his dead comrades.  When he opened his eyes, he found himself surrounded by hundreds of veterans who had spontaneously gathered to salute and join in the tribute to the fallen.  The story would have been enough to make the tears flow, but then he pulled out that harmonica and played Shenandoah for us.

At the conclusion, there were children visibly emotional…teachers too.  One of my favorite middle school fellows (I have lots) found himself weeping in Sammy’s arms after he tried to say thank you for his bravery.  That boy then was given the honor of repositioning the Medal of Honor around Sammy’s neck.  Another favorite lower school boy was spotted in a tearful state by Sammy.  He went to the boy, spoke to him softly, and then presented him with the harmonica.  Sammy L. Davis will be remembered by every beating heart in that room.  He taught us courage.

Marijo

MAY DAY! MAY DAY!
5/1/2013

Happy May Day.  When I was a little girl, on the first day of May each year we would gather what few flowers were blooming at that time in upstate New York, make a little paper basket type of container, and hang it on the doorknob of a favorite person.  It was an anonymous gift and very much from the heart.  Come to think of it, that may have been the beginning of the “nameless acts of kindness” that so many are demonstrating these days.  There is something special about doing something anonymously and feeling the gratitude and uplifted spirits from afar. 

One of my favorite families at TLS is very well known for nameless acts of kindness.  Because they have done so many, they are always “accused” first of being responsible for anything nice that happens.  Oh, how I wish I were that good a person that whenever a thoughtful gesture happens, people automatically assume it is I behind it!   This favorite family I write about (I do have lots) is especially known for clearing the icy and snowy windshields of teachers’ cars just before it’s time to go home.  Mom and all the kids sneak around the faculty parking lots with scrapers and brushes and ready the cars for safe journeys home.  What can I say?  “I wish I had thought of that,” is about as far as I get.

So, this time I’m going encourage you to model nameless acts of kindness for your kids.  I will try to do so, as well.  Maybe if we all get busy, we will be thought of in a similar light as today’s favorite family.  It can be a small gesture or a huge one like the heroes who jumped in to help victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.  If it weren’t for nameless acts of kindness, the list of those who perished would be much longer.

So, once again, Happy May Day.  Maybe you will help your children continue the tradition of flowers for a neighbor or friend.  It does not need to be fancy or expensive…and should probably come from your garden.  We used to wrap the stems in a damp paper towel, then an outer layer of aluminum foil before the woven paper basket.  The damp paper towels didn’t help much, and it usually leaked.  But the spirits of the receiver were still lifted…always.

There is another term, Mayday, which is used as a distress signal.  I like mine better.

Have fun,
Marijo

THE ABC'S OF THE ERB'S
4/24/2013

Each year we give standardized tests to students in grades 3-8 at The Lexington School.  Quantitative and verbal reasoning can be likened to aptitude testing in the two curricular areas of math and language arts.  Then we give several tests to also discern our students’ achievement levels in the same areas.  The test we use is the Educational Records Bureau’s CTPIV, otherwise known around here as the ERB’s.

We give the tests at the end of the school year and receive the results in August.  We are able to compare our students to students in public schools, suburban schools, and other independent schools across the country.  The CTPIV is typically used in independent schools, but ERB also administers it in enough public and suburban schools to provide norms for us.

We use the results of these tests to assess our programs and teaching in these areas.  It is almost always the case that our students perform at a higher level than our independent school counterparts, but if they do not, we carefully examine our curriculum and pedagogy to focus on that area.  We also use them if a student is achieving outside the bell curve.  The scores can help determine where enrichment or support is needed.  We rarely depend on the results of the ERB’s alone to accomplish this, but they can provide the motivation to evaluate a child further with different tests.

All teachers have access to present and past ERB scores of their students.  Those are kept on the school server so that they are handy for use.

The quantitative aptitude and math scores from fifth grade are used, along with several other assessments, to determine the proper placement in sixth grade math.  Ms. MacCarthy is diligent about gathering all sorts of information as this decision is made.

We do not automatically send out the results of the ERB’s because we prefer to have a meeting with parents to explain the intricacies of the report the first time.  I call this “the lecture”.  In subsequent years, parents who have already had “the lecture” can simply notify us, and we will email the scores to you.  Some parents are very interested in their child’s scores.  Others feel that it is just another snapshot of where their child performed on a given day.  Another reason why we don’t send the scores home without discussion first is that we don’t want to inflate the importance of that one snapshot.  The truth is, the narrative reports and checklists you receive in math and language arts are much more meaningful measures of overall performance.

We track how our classes perform throughout their time at TLS.  We look carefully at our median scores, especially in quantitative aptitude, mathematics, verbal aptitude, and reading comprehension.  We have records of those median scores that go back many years.  At one point the Everyday Math people were so impressed with those median scores at TLS that we were named an Everyday Math success story and got some nice national press from that.  That was great fun, and I’m happy to report that our scores have remained consistently high ever since. 

Please feel free to call for an appointment to go over the spring ERB scores and receive “the lecture”.  The only thing I ask is that you wait until about the third week of school.  Things are pretty hectic around here those first days back.

My best,
Marijo

BLAST OFF!
4/17/2013

Yesterday was holiday break.  Today is April 17.  And tomorrow will be the last day of school.  Or so it seems.  They say that time flies when you’re having fun, so I figure I must be having the time of my life!  You, too?

Each year around this time I remind all who read these words that the next few weeks will be jam packed with incredible school events and culminating activities.  The Lexington School has never wound down at the end of a school year; we always ramp up!  We are like a rocket ship taking off toward the moon, and May 24th is lift off.

Along with all the exciting programming, there is a fair share of melancholy among both the students and the teachers.  “Will my teacher next year understand me and love me as much as this year’s teacher has?”  Or from a teacher, “Will I ever have another class with whom I feel as close a bond as this year’s group?”  The answer to both questions is most likely yes, but that doesn’t necessarily reduce the sense of impending loss. 

Your child may feel out of sorts, maybe even grumpy.  Sometimes kids become emotional about other things when parting with the teacher is the real cause.  It may help to just face the issue with your children and tell them that you understand why they are feeling that way…get them to talk about it a little.  I have had kids tell me that they don’t like this whole growing up process, that they just aren’t keen on moving on to the next grade.  I trust you will handle things with your kids in a wonderful way at home.  I’ll try to do the same over here with the teachers!

Ten, nine, eight, seven…
Marijo

STEER CLEAR OF DREAM INVASION
4/10/2013


Our kids find us much more interesting when we are pursuing our dreams rather than invading theirs!”

One of my favorite colleagues shared this quote from one of our favorite former moms.  (I have lots of both.)  My colleague loved the quote and knew that I would too.

I found it so thought provoking that I thought I would share it with you.  I’m not sure if it was an original quote or a borrowed one when my colleague heard it, but it is definitely in the borrowed category as I pass it on to you.

It rings so true.  We are so much more interesting and valuable to our children when we are following our own passions in life instead of becoming overly involved in compromising our children’s independence with our thoughts about how they should be living their lives.  We all have a tendency to want to be overly involved in decisions for our children, and you know that I believe that we need to do that sometimes.  But in that “pursuing dreams” category, I’m all for modeling in our own lives and not getting so involved in the formation of their goals.  Providing support is good.  Encouragement is good.  Feedback can also be good if we are asked for it.  Designing a life plan to be implemented by your child is not so good.  If they are to have the passion to fulfill their goals, they will need to be responsible for making them.

When Meg was about ten years old, I realized I was committing the sin of meddling in her life.  She was a gifted musician.  Many called her a prodigy.  I was involved in every lesson, every practice session, and every performance.  I knew best about how to guide her to a career in music…or did I?  I began to feel resistance from her.   The closeness we once had soon evaporated into a less than attractive relationship.  MY dream for her was in jeopardy.  I sat down with her one day and told her that I loved her too much to let our relationship deteriorate just because I felt this great need to invade her dreams.  I pulled back.  And she continued with her music at a different pace, one that was more comfortable for her.  She did just fine on her own, and she soon made the decision to pursue a dream other than a career in music.  She majored in Psychology at Notre Dame and continued with performance groups there.  Now she’s a stay-at-home mom who still enjoys her violin, but only on her terms.  And I can hardly remember what my terms even were.  That’s a very good thing.

Let their dreams be their dreams,
Marijo

YOU CAN ASK ANY OF US. WE KNOW EVERYBODY.
3/27/2013

When Chuck Baldecchi joined TLS, one of the first things he did was to work with a group of teachers, otherwise known as the Faculty Evaluation Committee to create a new process for faculty evaluation.  Nothing unusual about that, right?  Well, the work that he guided led to a unique process where all division heads and the head of school visit classrooms in every division each year.  A rubric was developed to ensure as objective a scoring scale as possible, and we were off!  Each teacher is given scores by the administrators, and then each teacher receives an evaluation letter from the division head that supervises them.  Before the letters are written, the division heads and Chuck sit down to talk about what they have observed in the classrooms.  We extol the excellence.  We reflect on the areas of challenge.  We talk about ways to help improve things if need be.  And when it seems right to make changes in the process or the rubric, we consult with that Faculty Evaluation Committee again.

You have no idea how this helps all the administrators have a grasp of the big picture of The Lexington School.  I am no Jane Childers when it comes to the Resource Room or The Learning Center at TLS, but I am far more knowledgeable now than I was before I began participating in this endeavor.  It is good that I know about her division and all the others.

Is it easy?  No.  Is it daunting sometimes?  Yes.  But is it worth it?  Definitely.  The more people in one school who understand the entire school, the healthier the institution.  That is why we encourage each other and support each other as we spend considerable time on these observations and letters.  We all know that it is worth the effort.

The goal for all of this is to increase the quality of the teaching at The Lexington School.  Plain and simple.  It’s a goal that we know you share with us, so it’s not just for the students that we do this. 

My best wishes for a wonderful spring break,
Marijo

WHAT DO BILLY DONOVAN AND DONNA HUTTON HAVE IN COMMON?
3/20/2013

I sometimes wonder how coaches can be so supportive when their best assistants move on to be head coaches in other institutions.  I guess I am a selfish person at heart.  The feelings of dismay always wash over me when this happens at a college I care about.  Then I begin to talk to myself…and I usually am able to muster some enthusiasm for that assistant coach if I try really hard.


The same thing happens in schools.  And I have had to be that unselfish coach who sends one of her top teachers on to a different place…administration.  Chuck Baldecchi has helped me with this…probably because he was once one of those top teachers who moved on.  The loss of a fine teacher is ever so much easier on me when the administrative position is right here at TLS.  That has happened four times during my time as lower school head, and I still get to work with those amazing people, but in their new capacities.  Teachers like Donna Hutton and Jaime Lassman have moved on to address broader issues for TLS, and our entire school is better for it.  And then there is Meredith Carrithers.  Her first job out of college was to serve as the lower school assistant.  And even though I sometimes think I will never be able to replace with someone as wonderful, I’d say that Lisa Gumm-Gray, Tracy Young, and Caroline Federspiel have not disappointed one iota.  Lucky us.  But when that incredible staff member moves on to a different school, I really have to work on my selfish tendencies.  When Samantha Kemmish went to be a lower school head at the Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis a few years ago, I was deeply concerned about ever being able to find a replacement for fifth grade science who could inspire and coach children as well.  Enter Tom Novitsky!  Need I say more about how wrong I was? 


What a wonderful thing for The Lexington School to be a recognized training ground for administrators nationwide while also serving as an outstanding teacher magnet when there is need for a replacement!  Lucky, lucky us!


Now, don’t go reading anything into this piece.  I fully anticipate that every lower school teacher will be in place next August when school starts.  I’m just trying to put it all in perspective…mostly to guide myself were a wonderful opportunity arise for one of our own.


If we care about them we must set them free,
Marijo

HOW WE DO WHAT WE DO – PLACEMENT FOR THE NEXT SCHOOL YEAR
3/13/2013

It is that time of year again.  We will soon begin our meetings to determine class groupings for next year.  There are many factors that enter into our discussions.  Suffice it to say that we are looking for balance in many different categories as we place the children.  We want a good balance of academic achievement levels; we like a balance of different learning styles; gender balance is another goal.  We take emotional needs and behavior issues into consideration.  And social dynamics are definitely part of the discussions.  Now when I say that, I don’t necessarily mean that two best friends will be automatically placed together.  As you can imagine, sometimes two best friends being together is not in the best interest of either child’s school experience. 

We talk about cooperative learning partnerships…otherwise known as teamwork!  We even consider the personalities of the teachers and the students.  What we don’t have to do is factor in which program a child might find most beneficial.  With our commitment to consistency of curriculum at each grade level, the academic experience should vary little among classrooms at the same grade.  That is huge. 

Because of our consistency at each grade level, I have noticed over the years a distinct shift from teacher preference to classmate preference.  It has been interesting.  Back in the olden days, parents might hint, cajole, or even blatantly request a particular teacher.  We have a terrific understanding now that such attempts are not appreciated by the professionals working on these groups.  What rises to the top now are concerns from parents about friendships and social connections.  It is an interesting change.  We consider those social issues, but we shy away from keeping a group of three or four best buddies together for next year.

All of that said I still invite parents to let me know in advance of these meetings if there are things about their child’s needs that we might not be aware of.  How to do that?  Just give me a call, and I will fill out the form that we use to communicate such information.   It will be in writing, but you don’t have to write a thing!  Please do not call or speak directly with this year’s teacher.  I am the one who saves these from year to year and disseminates the information to yet the next group of teachers.  I share the forms with both the present teachers as well as the teachers for the rising grade.  And right now is the time to call me.  The meetings begin shortly. 

I hear the same message over and over about the work the teachers do to place our students.  Parents feel that we know their children and that we do a good job of placing them in a classroom where they will thrive.  Thank you for that trust.

Here’s to next year!
Marijo

A THANKFUL HEART IS A HAPPY HEART
3/6/2013

Every year on Valentine’s Day, two dear friends and I have a tradition of having lunch together to celebrate.  TLS is always on winter break on that day, so it is one of the few times I can join them for an outing at lunchtime.  This year we went to Heirloom Restaurant in Midway.  After lunch, we did a little shopping, and I was lucky enough to run into two of my favorite fifth grade boys and one of my favorite moms (you KNOW I have lots of both).  I bought myself some fancy socks, which some of you have already noticed! 

Enough setting the scene…  After the shopping we exchanged our silly little Valentine gifties, and that’s what this “weekly words” is really about.  One of these friends lost her son a little over a year ago.  She, like I am, is trying to work through the stages of grief.  We both have our ways and are making good progress.  But she shared a bit of “her way” with her friends on Valentine’s Day.  Inside her gift bags for us were some sweet goodies along with a small journal.  Not just any journal…  it was the one where I am to record something good each day, something for which I am thankful.  Just one thing a day.  Anybody has time to do that.  Then, at the end of a week or a month or a year I can look back at all the good in my life and maybe celebrate more progress toward my goals than I could have otherwise.

There was nothing silly or little about that Valentine gift.  And I share the idea with you in case you haven’t started yours yet.  And just so you know… the TLS community has already made it into my journal.  Thank you for that.

“Love”,
Marijo

MALIGNING MICKEY MOUSE! OH, DEAR.
2/27/2013

Wow, I surely did get a lot of “atta girls” for that one I wrote about the violent video games a couple of weeks ago.  Thank you so much for your feedback.  I really was feeling guilty about bringing it up again, but it seems that many of you appreciated it.  I am so lucky to work with the likes of you. 

I rarely include verbatim feedback about a Weekly Words in a subsequent post, but I thought the following said it so well that I did not change a word.  It was from one of my favorite teachers.  (I have lots.)

“Good morning,
I just read your weekly words. I, for one, hope that you keep after the subject of video games. And I would also encourage you to keep after the Disney Channel. Whenever I stop there for a moment (usually going from WLEX to HGTV) I am nothing short of appalled at the scripted words. The way the kids and adults speak to each other in short, snippy comments that usually reflect some form of degradation is nothing that we would care to see, hear, or encourage at TLS. But, as you say – anything you watch or listen to over a period of time has a HUGE effect on how we think and act. And we bring that to school with us.  I not only believe this; I know it.”

Now, I know that my bringing this up again is pretty sneaky.  But that part about the Disney Channel gave me the courage!  There are so many factors affecting the minds and attitudes of our children that it is difficult to keep track of them all these days.

My best,
Sneaky

HELP WANTED
2/20/2013

Applications are being sought for the position of Scheduling Assistant to Josie Foster, Lower School Dog. 
Requisite attributes: 
• A love of children and dogs 
• An appreciation for their desire to be together 
• A “advanced degree” of empathy
• An ability to juggle large numbers of kids who all need to make contact during a given day…mostly at first recess but also during the day at other times as needed
• A creative approach to keeping Josie ready, willing, and able to romp and play on demand
• An understanding that Josie is capable of calming a sad heart or cheering a damaged spirit and helping her to apply those skills as needed


This position will involve lots of contact with the lower school students of The Lexington School as well as some loving interaction with one Border Terrier who resides in Mrs. Foster’s office.  It is essential that this person never say “no” to a request for “Josie time”.  Juggling Josie’s schedule to include all interested children is the most challenging aspect of this job.


Interested applicants, please email resume and several lengthy and flowery letters of reference to Mrs. Foster. 


There is no pay for this job except for the obvious rewards.


Oh, never mind.  I’ve decided to keep the job myself.  I love it too much…


Sorry if I got your hopes up,
Marijo

MY, HOW WE HAVE CHANGED!
2/6/2013

My office is in such a great location.  I have a window on the TLS world that is second to none.  Occasionally, my office window provides views from the broader world like happened a couple of weeks ago.  I was chatting with one of Josie’s many young friends when Chuck and one of my favorite moms from the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s (I have lots) were walking by.  I was so glad to see both of them, but the conversation that followed about times “back then” has set my mind to thinking…

• She took me back to the time when my office was in the space that is now the school store…only smaller.  It has been enlarged since.  Our campus is incredibly impressive now…but not so much back then…especially my office. 
• She reminded me of people who were with us then but have since passed away.  The Saturday before had been the one year anniversary of the death of one of our stars from the class of ’92.  He and all who have passed on are still so much a part of the fabric of our school’s history and memories. 
• She reminded me of the very different way we handled the learning of our students back then.  That was before the days of instructional specialists, differentiated instruction, resource rooms, Imagine This!, and The Learning Center. 
• She also took me back to a time when The Lexington School was a strong community with great teachers who loved their students and who dared to do good things with them to enhance their classroom experiences.  In that regard, we haven’t changed a bit!

Thanks for joining me in my walk down memory lane.  It made me realize how lucky I have been in my career. 
Marijo

DUTY CALLS
1/30/2013

 
We’ve all done a lot of pondering about safety for our children in the aftermath of the horrendous events at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  People are talking about mental health issues, control of assault weapons, and the popularity of first person shooter video games.  It’s that last one that I want to talk about…again.  I’m thinking it’s my duty.


A few weeks ago I had a conference with one of my favorite parents (I have lots) and it was suggested that I might consider writing about the use of those violent video games by some of our students here at The Lexington School.  My answer was to say that I was pretty sure that I had abused my welcome to write about such things.  Those who have been around for a while know that I have strong opinions and have not been afraid to share them.  I am aware of some who have listened and removed them from their homes, and I also know that there are others who still have them and feel that they are okay for their children…if they are supervised…or if the kids are warned of the dangers…or if the child REALLY enjoys playing them.  Those parents do not believe that their children are being desensitized to the violence, gore, and foul language.  They really do not care to hear much more about it.  So, if you are one who feels that way, please forgive me for dwelling on it.  I just can’t help it.


I have to say it one more time.  When a child is subjected to experiences that make blood and gore seem like fun and games, you are taking risks with your child’s mind that may have unfathomable consequences later on.  Why do it?  Why take that risk?  I could be totally wrong…  But what if I am not?


There are increasing numbers of courageous moms and dads who are asking the difficult question of a host parent before a “spend the night” or play date occurs.  “Do you have first person shooter video games in your home?”  If the answer is yes, they reply with, “My child is not allowed to play them.  Can you help me with that?”  I want their courage to be contagious.
Once I vowed not to address this issue with you again for a long time.  Sandy Hook changed my mind. 


Safety shouldn’t rest totally on votes of Congress; we all need to do our parts,
Marijo

TENDER LOVING CARE AT TLS
1/23/2013

I suppose most people know that I was pretty hyped up over Notre Dame’s playing in the BCS championship game earlier this month.  As the game unfolded, my attitude and demeanor wilted about the game, but my allegiance to Notre Dame did not.  I remain a loyal fan with an eye on next year!


The morning after the big game, I was on carline duty.  It was my duty to congratulate those that I knew were happy with the outcome.  I came face to face with lots of Alabama fans, and I was so pleasantly surprised at the number of students who said they were sorry for me about the outcome.  Sometimes they punctuated that with an energetic ROLL TIDE, but I get that.  This is SEC country.  I’d have been “with” them were it any other school opposing.  Those sweet comments took me back to the questions on empathy I sent out a while back.  It made me think that parents might have been working on helping their children take on the perspective of another. 


But the one that brought a tear to my eye was when one of my favorite Alabama fans (I have lots) responded to my comment about their big win with, “Thanks, but I decided to go with Notre Dame after all.”  What a kid!  (Now, I’m not sure what was really in his heart during that game, but I do know that he had the good sense to say something extremely empathic when given the opportunity.)


So, I just want to compliment your parenting.  There was not one child who said anything that could have been construed as insensitive to a Notre Dame fan.  What they gave me was just exactly what I needed on the morning after that game…a little TLC at TLS!


Cheering for your parenting this time,
Marijo

CONTROLLING THE CONTROLLING
1/16/2013

What’s the most difficult thing for you about being a parent?  For me, it was “controlling my urge to control.”  I had to work hard on that one.  If my child was experiencing a social challenge with friends, I wanted all the details.  I wanted to know exactly what had happened.  I wanted to know who was involved.  I NEEDED to know who had hurt my child’s feelings.  I would happily go about my information gathering every day on the way home in the car.  My daughter played along with me, as daughters will, doing her best to keep me informed about daily activities..with or without social challenges.  My son, on the other hand, would simply shut me down with the following phrase, “No more questions, Mom.”  With that, I soon learned to take my cue to stop it.  I knew I was wrong.  His little phrase did wonders for me in launching me to a different place as a parent.  I should have said that phrase to myself, and now I do, but back then…Scott almost always had to remind me.


“No more questions, Mom.”  That meant, “I can handle this, Mom.  I don’t need your advice.  I might make some mistakes along the way, but I will learn from them.  I will mend fences if I need to.  I will change my friendship goals if the ones I have aren’t working out.  But I don’t need you to plan my every social interaction.”  He was wise, and he made me a better mother.  He’s still good at kindly and gently shutting down my inquisitive side.  And just so you know, if you ever need to trust someone with your secret, Scott Foster’s your man!  He despises gossip.  He does not even share perfectly good news that might teeter in that direction.  (I wonder what I did RIGHT that helped him be that way as an adult?  If I ever figure it out, I’ll share in a future Weekly Words!)

Controlling the controlling…my personal challenge,
Marijo

CLEARING UP A MISCONCEPTION
1/9/2013

Last month I heard something that made me laugh.  Really laugh…right out loud.  One of my favorite moms (I have lots) told me that when weekly words come out, some of you think I am writing them as a direct message to YOU.  You think that I might have noticed something that you could do better as a parent, and then I write about it!  Just so you know, often you do inspire me.  That part is definitely true.  But that word inspiration is a positive one, and it means that I might have thought something like this to myself… “I wonder how she gets her kids to be so natural and at ease…comfortable in their own skin, so to speak.”  And then I begin to write about things that I know you have done that might have been successful at accomplishing that.  That, of course, was just a hypothetical example, but that is how it might happen.  I do not lurk in your neighborhoods, waiting for you to mess up, and then start typing my weekly words!

Now, sometimes I do identify challenges that all or most parents experience and then write about them.  But I promise you, most of these challenges were my own all those years ago when Meg and Scott Foster were growing up!  Most parenting challenges are pretty universal.  That one a while back about empathy was one of those.

So, rest easy, dear parents.  I would never “out” you in a weekly words.  Not my style.  Promise.
(Well, now that I think about it, I did “out” Beth Pride once a long, long time ago, but she really deserved it!)

Watching you, but only for the good stuff,
Marijo

BE IT RESOLVED…
1/2/2013

Welcome back!  I’ve missed you.  You probably don’t realize how much I think about you as I am coming up with my ideas and then writing these weekly words.  You are almost always my inspiration, either directly when you ask me to write about something or indirectly when I have noticed something wonderful you have done as a parent or when you’ve asked for some counsel and I think it might help others.  So, when I say I’ve missed you, I really mean it. 

Here we are on the first day of school in a new year, 2013.  It’s resolution time! 

I’ve thought of some that can apply to all of us AND make TLS an even better place.  I’ll start, and then when you get this, maybe you will be motivated to reply and send another one back.  I’ll print the additions if you send them my way.

  • We resolve to think about teamwork in all decisions affecting family and school.
  • We resolve to give ourselves time to be creative and explore new ideas.
  • We resolve to make decisions and take actions based on the needs of the community and not just ourselves.
  • We resolve to always try very hard even after we experience failure.
  • We resolve to show enthusiasm for trying and learning new things.
  • We resolve to get right down to our tasks at hand and not procrastinate.

I took these from the six character strengths that we are focusing upon in school this year.  I think they apply well to our personal lives as well, don’t you?

I hope 2013 is full of happiness, good health, and successful resolutions!

Marijo

RE-ENTERING THE SCHOOL’S ATMOSPHERE
12/12/2012

We are about to leave each other for a time.  Shall we talk about the challenges that some students experience after a long vacation from school?  Some kids are so happy to be back in school that it is a seamless re-entry.  There are others, though, who may experience some anxiety about coming back after the break.  All of these kids fall within the ranks of normal; it is just that the latter group may need you to behave in a slightly different way than you might think.  It may seem counter intuitive to you that my advice to parents of reluctant returners is to almost provide less support than you might normally.  If you see the signs of reluctance, please just put on your biggest smile, look around for the nearest school person, and pass off your child with a confident manner and the advice to have a great day.  The more hugging, re-hugging, checking, re-checking, and lingering that you do, the more the separation anxiety will flourish.  Then…please feel free to give me a call later so that I can check to see that all is going as well as I’m predicting it will.  I’m happy to do that for you, and your child will never be the wiser.

Please enjoy the extra time with your children.

My best,

Marijo

MANNERS! WE'VE GOTTA LOVE 'EM!
12/5/2012

Last week I concluded my weekly words with something that went like this, “Empathy is nothing more than good manners delivered with a kind and giving heart.”  Well that phrase made me think of the post from a while back when I quoted a former TLS Head of School, Dr. David Lowry on his “Twenty Five Manners Before Age Nine.”  I don’t often repost, but many of you replied that you really liked the list of questions dealing with empathy last week.  I thought maybe you would still be in the mood for another list this week!  Here is that post from 2010 in its entirety.  Please note that my closing back then connected manners to empathy too!  I had not remembered that.

A REPOST FROM 2010

Good manners at age six means something quite different from mannerly behavior at age eleven.  But there are certain things that should be fairly engrained by the age of nine.  The following was written by David Lowry, PhD, former Head of School at TLS.  This piece was written many years ago, but it still rings true.  I sought his permission to share it with you, and he found it quite ironic that he, too, had sent it out as part of his Wednesday email the very day I asked (back in 2010).  The message is timeless.

Twenty Five Manners Before Age Nine by David Lowry, PhD:

  1. When asking for something, say “please.”
  2. When receiving something, say “thank you.”
  3. Do not interrupt adults who are speaking with each other unless there is an emergency. They will notice you.
  4. The phrase “excuse me” is a useful way of entering into a conversation or getting someone’s attention.
  5. If you have any doubt about doing something, ask permission. It can save many hours of grief.
  6. The world is not as interested in your dislikes, and hates as you are. Keep them to yourself, or between you and your friends, out of earshot of adults. Nobody likes a complainer.
  7. Do not comment on other people’s physical characteristics unless, of course, it’s to compliment them, which is always welcome.
  8. At the table:
    • Use utensils properly. If you are unsure, get your parents to teach you and watch what other people do.
    • Keep a napkin on your lap; use it to wipe your mouth when necessary.
    • Don’t reach for things; ask to have them passed.
    • Add something pleasant to the conversation.
    • Refuse unwanted seconds by saying, “No, thank you, I’m full,” and not “I don’t like it.”
    • Whether at home or away, say something nice about the meal, even if it was the worst meal you ever had.  Someone took the time and care to cook it for you.
    • When you have finished eating before others, ask to be excused from the table; do not merely get up and leave.
    • Especially when you are a guest, offer to help clear the table.
    • Thank the person who cooked the meal.
  9. When people ask you how you are, tell them, and then ask them how they are.
  10. When you have spent time at a friend’s house, remember to thank your friend’s parents for having you over and for the good time you had.
  11. When at a friend’s house, ask if you can use the telephone before calling home.
  12. Knock on closed doors before entering.
  13. Call home if you are going to be more than fifteen minutes late.
  14. When placing a phone call, give your name first before asking to speak with another person.
  15. Be appreciative and say “thank you” for any gift you receive.
  16. Never use foul language in front of adults. Adults know all those words and find them boring and unpleasant.
  17. Don’t call anyone names.
  18. Do not make fun of anyone for any reason. Teasing shows others you are weak. Ganging up on other people is cruel.
  19. Even if a play or assembly is boring, sit through it quietly and pretend interest. The performers are doing their best.
  20. If you run into somebody, say “excuse me” before moving on.
  21. Don’t pick your nose in public and cover your mouth when you cough.
  22. When going through a door, look to see if you can hold it open for someone else.
  23. If you come across a parent, teacher or neighbor working on something, ask if you can help. If they say “yes,” do it -- you may learn something.
  24. When an adult asks you to do a favor, do it pleasantly.
  25. When someone helps you, say “thank you.” That person will want to help you again. This is very useful with teachers!

Here’s to the habit of good manners that eventually turns into empathy,

Marijo

WE’RE GOING FOR 100% PARENT PARTICIPATION ONE MORE TIME!
11/28/2012

One of my favorite moms (I have lots) recently called me with a special request.  She told me that she enjoys the Weekly Words and would very much appreciate my approaching the subject of empathy one more time.  She sees evidence that many parents are taking the time to model empathy, talk about empathic decisions, and provide guidance about doing the kind thing whenever possible.  Like our recent Annual Fund goal, I’d like to see 100% parent participation in growing that caring spirit in the hearts of our children.

Do you remember what it was like to be a kid?  I think childhood is one of the most difficult times of life.  The path is littered with worries of rejection, teasing, exclusion, failure, absence of friendship, and the list goes on and on.  Chuck recently wrote about the importance of resilience, and I loved that letter.  Growing resilience in our children is so important.  But what I’m talking about is helping our children to think about another’s point of view so that the need for resilience doesn’t become the dominating force in another child’s life every hour of every day.  There are other attributes that need to be developed too. 

May I ask you to ponder a few questions about how you are addressing empathy with your children? 

  •          When was the last time you encouraged your son or daughter to invite the new kid over for a play date at the beginning of school?
  •         Better yet, do you ever invite new families over for a family get-together?  Welcoming acts such as these can make a world of difference at a time that can be stressful.
  •          If you have ever noticed a child who seems to be struggling socially, have you helped child to reach out and be a support?
  •          Do you encourage your daughter or son to do nameless acts of kindness for others?
  •          If it is birthday time, do you make sure that there will be no children who have hurt feelings because they weren’t invited?  (Inviting a few is fine.  Inviting almost everyone can be very hurtful.)
  •          Do you model a generous spirit?
  •          Do you encourage your child to look at the other person’s perspective when there is a disagreement?
  •          Have you trained your children to accept responsibility if they have wronged and to make amends in a sincere way?
  •          Do you talk about things like teasing and how hurtful it is…even though the recipient might be faux laughing about it at the time?
  •          Do you stand up for those who might need a friend and encourage your kids to do the same? 
  •          Do you practice the art of a sincere apology with your kids?
  •          Do you model thoughtfulness toward your own acquaintances for your children?
  •          Do you work with your children on phrases that would make them good “bystanders” if another child is being teased or bullied?
  •          Do you guide your child to write a thank you note when somebody does something nice for him?  Notice I didn’t say anything about a gift.  I am talking about showing appreciation for an act of kindness.
  •          Have you taught your children that your family’s beliefs and traditions may be different from those of others?  And that all beliefs and traditions deserve to be respected and never undermined?
  •          Do you help your children actively celebrate the successes of their friends and classmates?
  •          Do you purposefully teach the skills of good sportsmanship, including providing phrases that are appropriately supportive of the opposing team, win or lose?  “Good game” is one, but I think our creative students can come up with some other ones that might be even more meaningful.
  •          Have you taught your young athlete the importance of supporting someone on the opposing team who has been injured?
  •          Have you ever thought of sharing stories with your kids about their heroes (both sports and otherwise) who have performed remarkable acts of kindness behind the scenes?  Children need to learn about THAT side of their role models too.

Empathy is nothing more than manners delivered by a sincere and giving heart…

Marijo

WHY DO I CARE?
11/14/2012

When I greet students in the morning, I always insist on a proper handshake.  That means a right handed, solid grasp between two people who respect each other.  Eye contact is also important.  Sometimes it requires letting the rolling backpack rest or putting down the lacrosse bag or even untangling Josie.  I see it as a way that we honor each other.

 No fist bumps or high fives for Mrs. Foster.  It’s not that I am trying to be curmudgeonly or ornery or demanding.  It’s just that I think we all need to be aware that sometimes a proper handshake is in order.  And as the only white haired older greeter, I have just taken it upon myself to teach in a very subtle way that when you run into somebody like me…THAT’S when you pull out the proper handshake, for sure.

I work hard on saying everyone’s name when I greet them.  The beginning of the year is challenging with all the new first grade faces.  The hardest ones are those who don’t join us until Middle School, but I do make the attempt even with those kids.  I am rewarded by many who respond with “Good morning, Mrs. Foster.  You have a good day too!”  We are not anywhere near 100% with that, but we are making progress. 

Just so you know, I do not demand the verbal response.  Occasionally I will give a good natured nudge in that direction though.  One thing is for certain; most kids greet Josie with a sweet pat on the head and a few kind words.  That pretty much satisfies both of us!

My best,

Marijo

STEADY EDDIE WAS MY NAME
11/7/2012

I made lots of mistakes in my parenting.  I have so much experience at learning from my own mistakes that I am a veritable font of information of how not to do things.   You’ve probably noticed.

But there is one thing that my son and daughter keep telling me that I did right.  There may be a couple of other ones, but this one seems to have touched them the most.  I never dwelled on their grades.  I did not put on celebrations when the 100%s came home, and I did not inflict consequences or express disappointment when the lesser grades happened.  I was pretty much a “Steady Eddie” about it all, and here’s why.

Putting pressure on or expressing dismay when a child has a mediocre or poor showing does nothing to improve things.  There may have been things I did to help my children going forward with time management, organization, or study skills, but I did not put pressure on them when they did not score well.  They felt disappointment because they knew that they could have done better, of course.  But that just made them all the more receptive to any help I might offer. 

And setting off fireworks when the A+ comes home is almost worse.  When we do that, we set kids up to see anything less as inadequate or disappointing.  That is simply not true.  Perfection is something that is rarely achieved, so a good, strong showing should not be accompanied by feelings of inadequacy.  Ever.

There.  Maybe you can learn from one of the things I did right this time!  That phrase, “If you tried your best there is no reason to be disappointed in your grade,” is a good one.  But please try not to be the one to judge whether your child DID try his best.  Believe me, he already knows.

Trying my best to help us all deal with kids in the best way we can,

Marijo

FIBBER MCGEE
10/31/2012

As you probably know, children will tell fibs.  Sometimes it is to avoid a consequence.  Other times it is to enhance a story or prove a point.  But kids have always told untruths. 

The other thing is, many parents believe what their children tell them, no matter what.  They cannot imagine their child lying to them, and they don’t even think twice as they swallow the hook, the line, and the sinker in one big gulp.

It is perfectly natural and normal and good to trust your children.  It is also perfectly natural and normal for children to experiment with a foray into the world of contrived information.  What you want to avoid is looking foolish after you have collected said information. 

Here is what I recommend.  And my perspective is, of course, information about school.  Let’s say that your son comes home and tells you that his teacher gave a SURPRISE TEST on a large body of information, and because he didn’t have the opportunity to study for it, he received a poor grade on the assessment.  Before you call me to report this unfair situation, I suggest that you call the teacher and ask a few questions.  The teacher need not know what was said by your son, but you owe it to yourself and to your son (were the information true) to follow up.  A simple question such as, “When did you inform the students about the big test?  Billy didn’t do well, and I’m wondering if budgeting his study time is the issue.”  When the teacher tells you that the test was assigned and written in his planner two weeks prior, you have two paths to follow as you work with your child.  The first being to instill the value of always telling the truth and accepting responsibility if you have made a mistake, and the second is to provide some support with time management going forward.  Now, if the teacher says, “Yeah, I forgot to mention that to the kids prior to giving it to them, but don’t worry it only counts as 75% of the grade for this term,” THAT’S when the path leads to my office.  See the difference?

One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is to help them understand the value of speaking the truth…even if…

Always tell the truth; that way, you don’t have to remember anything!

Marijo

PICK YOUR BATTLES PART II
10/24/2012

Last week I tried to give an example of a battle that I wouldn’t pick if I were you.  Food. 

This week I’m writing about battles that I think you SHOULD enter into.  And “picking battles” isn’t really what it is about.  I mostly want to address which decisions are for parents to make and should not be placed in the hands, hearts, and minds of a child. 

One of those is your family’s religious practices.  I do not believe in giving young children the option of not attending worship services or children’s programs if it is part of your family’s values to do so.  You are the parents.  You get to decide on such things.  And if you decide against it for your family, that is absolutely okay.  Just don’t leave it to a child to make that choice.

Another one that I believe should be decided by parents is the education of your children outside of school.  I am referring to music, art, drama, or even extra coaching in a specific sport where you see talent in your child.  Some families are not into this.  That is so fine.  But if you ARE, I hereby give you permission to consider it part of your child’s education, and such decisions are to be made by adults, not kids.  You wouldn’t allow a young child to decide which school to attend, would you?  Same thing.  This is an important decision best left to adults who have the capability to see the bigger picture.

Here’s another one - quitting a sports team in the middle of the season.  I believe this decision has to be guided by a responsible adult who can weigh the obstacles against the temptation to give up on a commitment a child has made to a team.  Kids need to be taught that decisions affect others, and letting teammates down is not part of your family’s values.  Now, next season?  That is something else.  I don’t think I would force a team sport on a child who is reluctant, but even that can be borderline in some families.  I get that.

I hereby grant you permission to make all decisions for your children about things that you feel will benefit them throughout life.   After that I grant you the patience and communication skills to make it happen with a firm and fair discussion about your family values.

Some battles ARE worth fighting,

Marijo

PICK. PICK. PICK. OR NOT.
10/17/2012

Dear Lowers,

You hear it all the time.  “Pick your battles.”  But nobody ever talks about how hard it is to accomplish this “pick your battles” thing.  The instinct for most parents is to see something that needs “fixing” and then set about doing just that.  How on earth are you supposed to prioritize things; pick some; leave others for another time; ignore others completely?  It is difficult.  And maybe this one example will help you…

I recently gave the “pick your battles” advice to one of my favorite colleagues.  (I have lots.)  It was all about what her child was choosing  to eat for lunch.  There we were in a lunchroom filled with delicious and healthful food choices.  She looked over, and her child was eating a roll.  Should mom go over there and encourage her daughter to add a slice of turkey and some veggies to her “sandwich?”  Or should Mom just pretend that she didn’t notice and “pick her battles,” which would preclude a skirmish about what was being consumed in the lunchroom on that particular day.

Mom was sitting next to me, stressing about what to do.  My advice?  This was a battle to skip.  When I was raising my children, I pretty much thought of the span of a week rather than a day, when it came to nutrition.  If during the week, my kids had a variety of fruits and vegetables, some protein options, and some dairy products, I felt like they were doing fine. (Please don’t turn me in to the “nutrition police.”  They both turned out to be “foodies” with incredible food preparation skills.)

I have noticed that food is one of those things that kids learn early on that they can control.  If you actually have a conversation with your child, releasing him from further attempts on your part to control what they eat, I predict that they will even out their diet and partake in healthy foods over the span of say… a week!  The key is that release.  If they know that you are not going to be making attempts to control, pushing back is absolutely no fun at all.  And pretty soon they are eating foods that you would have chosen in the first place!

So, dear colleague, don’t pick THAT battle.  Save it for something more important.  Watch for more words on that topic next week.

Until then,

Marijo

BRAG. BRAG. BRAG.
10/10/2012

Hubris.  It means excessive pride or arrogance and is a word that often haunts me, because I’m pretty sure that Chuck’s warnings to our administrative team about exhibiting hubris regarding TLS were really meant for me.  He had the conversation a long time ago, and he warned us never to stop trying to make TLS better.  Hubris would cause us to let our guards down…to be happy with what and who we are.  We should never be satisfied.  And I try not to be.

But when I read through some of my past weekly words on the website, I’m afraid I wasn’t always heeding Chuck’s warning before I clicked send.  I am sorry for that on one hand, but on the other hand I really want to share with you the good things that happen around here.  It’s a balancing act.  I want to appear humble while bragging like a wild woman about things I’m proud of at TLS!

Una MacCarthy always says that I get away with murder because of my white hair.  If this is one of those times that I could be forgiven because of the color of my hair, I’d like to take advantage of that.  Hoping that a touch of hubris from me is okay as long as Chuck is at the helm!  He will keep me grounded as best he can.  Are we okay?

I TOTALLY LOVE this SCHOOL!

Marijo

ISN’T IT GRAND?
10/3/2012

One of the best things about having been with TLS for thirty-four plus years is the opportunity that I have had to work with generations of the same families.  I call the offspring of my former students “grand-students,” and I admit that they are very special to me.  I love to share stories about their parents when they were students at TLS.  It connects us in a very lovely way.  Now, I know that some of those parents are a little worried about exactly “which” stories I might choose to share, but I want to reassure those moms and dads that I really and truly only remember the good stuff.  I always have said that if I tried to remember every “naughtiness” that ever occurred during my time here, my limited brain cells would have room for little else.  When I say I don’t remember, I speak the truth.

Last month I celebrated a birthday, and like it or not, sometimes I get more than my fair share of birthday attention because I share my day with TLS’s birthday.  On the morning of my birthday, one of my favorite former students (I have lots) appeared at my door with a precious greeting card that sported a funky pair of tennis shoes and striped socks.  The printed greeting was perfect.  It said, “Happy Birthday to a true original.”  I liked that a whole lot.  But it was the attached note that made me beam.

“Dear Mrs. Foster,

Hope you have a wonderful birthday!  I can’t tell you how thrilled we are to have our daughters at TLS, and to experience the school from a parent’s point of view.  Hope you have a wonderful celebration. 

P.S.  I bought this card with my Kroger card.

See what I mean?

Marijo

WHAT IS IT ABOUT CHEF RYAN?
9/26/2012

Chef Ryan (first day of school) – “Did you enjoy the food at the back to school picnic last night?”

First grade students – “YES!!!”

CR – “Did you like the cole slaw?”

FGS – “YES!!!”

CR – “Well, that cole slaw was made of cabbage, which is very good for you.  One day soon I will prepare cabbage in a different way for you…by steaming, sautéing, or roasting it…  Will you promise me you will try some and tell me if you like it that way too?”

FGS – “YES!!!”

Pretty much, the students are “eating out of the palm of his hand” both literally and figuratively.  He speaks with them like the intelligent, nutrition conscious students they now are.  There is absolutely no talking down.  This is serious stuff.  He trains them in the value of whole grains, vegetables, and locally produced meats.  He even describes how things are prepared.  And they “eat it up!”

Join me in congratulating Chef Ryan Laudenschlager and his wonderful team.  They used to be called “the lunchroom ladies”, but we just have to come up with a better descriptor for that group.  Something elegant…just like the food they prepare.  Speaking of which, watch this video to be in on the daily roasted turkey preparations!  www.thelexingtonschool.org/families/chef-ryan

Bon appétit,

Marijo

P.S.  Don’t forget to check out the daily menus on the master calendar!

A STORY ABOUT DELAYED PASSION
9/19/2012

In August I told my daughter that I was giving her a long desired mandolin for her fortieth birthday in September.  Meg is a musician…a violinist.  When she was young, she was very good, but she chose to go a different direction with her life.  She continued her study of the violin through college, performing with the wonderful Notre Dame Folk Choir and the ND orchestra.  But she did not major in music.  That’s okay.  She didn’t really have the passion that it takes to choose music as her vocation…or the competitive spirit.  She has, however, continued with it as her avocation. 

That passion part is why I’m writing.  It seems that her passion for music has been growing during her mid-life.  It is natural and inherent in her now, but then?  Not so much.  I thought it might be comforting for parents who have to remind about practicing or watch their very talented child seem lackadaisical about using the gifts that have been given.  Maybe if you support in a gentle way now…someday that passion will pop up when you least expect it.  Quite honestly I am loving it that she has developed this newfound passion for Bluegrass and Celtic music.  And I am very pleased that I could give her that mandolin for her fortieth birthday.

The following is an email exchange to demonstrate just where her passion has taken her!  The exchange occurred right after she learned about the mandolin gift.  Thought you could use a smile on this Wednesday…

“Marijo – I’m getting ready to trade Dad's banjo in for almost nothing.  Anybody want it?

 Meg - Yes - Yes!!!!!!!

 Mom - Okay.  Are you going to be a one woman Bluegrass band?

Meg - I'm definitely getting banjo lessons.  I'm hoping to teach myself the mandolin.

 Mom - I LOVE IT! Also.  Do you want to get one of those harmonicas to strap around your neck?

 Meg - I can play spoons too. And strum a dulcimer with my toes.”

 

Here’s to letting our kids follow their passion…whenever it happens,

Marijo

 

DEAR MRS. FOSTER
9/12/2012

“Dear Mrs. Foster,

I love what you do for this school and how much you care about it.

Love,

One of my Favorite Students (I have lots)”

Okay.  I’m done.  A higher compliment I have never received.  I won’t be needing any others.  I’m just going to use it for my epitaph. 

When I received this beautiful note in the U.S. mail, accompanied by a lovely drawing of a red heart on a blue background, I recognized that this child is learning something about taking care of others.  And there are hundreds of others in Lower School who are learning the same things.  Hurray to you parents who are guiding your children in these ways.  And hurray to those teachers who are doing the same.

Lucky me!

Marijo

IMAGINE THIS!
9/5/2012

 

Dear Lowers,

IMAGINE THIS!

  • Imagine an expert in technology integration coming into your child’s classroom to guide a project involving 21st century technology.
  • Imagine a faculty member having been hired to come into your child’s classroom to inspire all children to work on 21st century skills of problem solving.
  • Imagine a group of teachers dedicated to considering 21st century skills as they plan, instruct, assess, and guide your children through school life and learning.
  • Imagine your children coming home from school with a whole new enthusiasm for learning because of all of these efforts.

When you read the mission of The Lexington School, you will find references to instilling integrity, a life-long enthusiasm for learning, and a strong work ethic.  Just so you know, we are on a constant quest to accomplish these goals in the very best ways while preparing our students for success in our world.  It is what a good school has to do. 

At our opening faculty meeting, Chuck Baldecchi encouraged every teacher to consider the traits and skills of TEAMWORK, CREATIVITY, ETHICS, RESILIENCE, CURIOSITY, and TIME MANAGEMENT.  He has challenged us to consciously weave these elements into every lesson and to record our efforts into our working curricula.  He will be addressing these notions in his monthly head’s letters too, and I am encouraging you to read his words carefully and apply them to life at home as well.

Join us as we value these skills that will help our children grow.  Join us as we march into the future with a new energy for the TLS education we all value so much…

Imagine THAT!

Marijo

P.S.  No babies will be thrown out with the bath water during these exercises.  Our traditional skills and curriculum are still valued.  It is just the approach that is changing.

 

 

WHAT!?! NO TV FOR THE SUMMER?
8/29/2012

As many of you know, even though I confess quite often about watching too much TV myself, I frequently warn against too much television time for our kids.  So this summer when getting signed up for cable service at the lake seemed too daunting, I just didn't do it.  I'm doing pretty well with doing things on my own since Tom died, but there are a few things that I just have not ticked off the list.  Besides, everybody knows that if it has a cable, I am immediately stressed by it.  You can ask our IT guys.

Decision made.  I would be finding OTHER forms of evening entertainment.  Before the kids got there I got involved with Audiobooks on my iPad, specifically the Anne of Green Gables series.  I would knit and listen to the tales of that precious Prince Edward Island girl.  It was wonderful, and I was doing fine without my usual TV fare.  

But when the grandchildren arrived, it felt more challenging.  What happened proved to be as enlightening as it was incredible.  After dinner and a final swim for the day, the three Sullivan boys would get dressed in their PJ's and come over to my house for the night.  Soon the boys became as engulfed as I was in the stories of Avonlea.  If someone needed to retrieve something from another cottage, we would "pause" so that he wouldn't miss a word.  Then somebody asked what I was doing with those "sticks" and that yarn.  Long story short?  All three of them learned to knit.  It started with iPod screen wipers and progressed to the best dish cloths around.  Each boy completed several projects over the summer.  Me?  Not so much.  My own knitting went on hold in order to be there to get them out of the normal and frequent "binds" that beset beginning knitters.  Not to worry.  It was worth it.  It was camp crafting at its best, and I LOVED every minute of it!

The boys are back in Elmhurst, Illinois, attending daily football practice, finishing up their summer reading, and knitting a bit on slow afternoons.  I'm back in my own nest, knitting and watching my precious television again.  Oh, well.  It was great while it lasted!

So, it was possible to live without TV.  It felt good to practice what I'd been preaching.  And it felt even better to be able to write these words of encouragement to you. 

No TV, and we were better for it,

Mj

A NEW PROMISE
8/23/2012

Dear Lowers,

In my last weekly words in May, I wrote something about promising each other that we would pick up in August right where we were leaving off in May.  I was referring to the positive feelings that we were all feeling about our school.  The summer brought some challenges to one of our lower school students.  Once again, the sense of community and outpouring of love was automatic and immediate.  It is who we are, and it is pretty amazing.

You can tell that I have kept my promise to keep the good feelings alive over the summer.  And I hope you have too.  But if there is anything that is bothering you, I extend my most sincere offer to meet with you to talk about it.  This is a standing invitation for the whole school year.  The teachers and I so appreciate your coming to us with your worries and concerns.  We may just be able to set your mind at ease with a few words or a new plan of attack.  We want to do this.

So, this time I’m asking for a different promise that I hope will get us to the end of the 2012-13 school year.  If ever there is a time when you have a question, or a doubt, or even a comment.  Promise me that you will come to us.  We will be here for you.

We’re OFF!

Marijo

TAKING THE RISK OF JINXING TLS
5/23/2012

I am famous for sharing good news about a child with a parent, only to have that student do something undeserving of my praise a short time after.  I call it “jinxing”.  Today I’m set to report some positives about the tone and culture of The Lexington School, and I am going to use measured words so as not to “jinx” the whole school.

Friday May 11 was both Writers Guild and Celebration.  WG is one of my favorite days of the year as family and friends gather to celebrate the writing and illustrations of our students.  It is a special day that highlights the writing process right along with the development of the art.  The works are then shared with loved ones in a lovely, special environment.  Chuck tells me that several of the graduating class members have listed Writers Guild as one of their favorite memories of Lower School in the paper he assigns as they reflect on their school experiences.  Now, that speaks volumes about the values of our students.  And we are honored that they feel that way.

And then later that evening was Celebration.  There was something in the air.  The sense of community was palpable.  There was a former mom (one of my favorites) at my table, and she and I were both celebrating how the school has changed in such wonderful ways.  Now she is a grandmother who came back to support the school from a different perspective.  It is always fun for me to visit with someone who knew us then and who sees the changes like I am able to.  Having the event at Scarlet Gate was a wonderful way to gather at our new place and revel in it just a bit.  (We are so lucky to have had the visionary board members who made THAT decision.)  

Don’t know about you, but I cannot believe that this is the last ‘weekly words’ for a while.  I hope I came up with some worthy phrases to sustain the great feeling that we all have right now for this school.  Let’s just promise each other that we will pick up in August right where we are leaving off in May.  Are we all good with that?

With my very best wishes for a wonderful summer with your kids,

Marijo

 

 

ERB TESTING
5/16/2012

Each year we give standardized tests to students in grades 3-8 at The Lexington School.  Quantitative and verbal reasoning can be likened to aptitude testing in the two curricular areas of math and language arts.  Then we give several tests to also discern our students’ achievement in the same areas.  The test we use is the Educational Records Bureau’s CTPIV, otherwise known as the ERB’s.

We give the tests at the end of the school year and receive the results in August.  We are able to compare our students to students in public schools, suburban schools, and other independent schools across the country.  The CTPIV is typically used in independent schools, but ERB also administers it in enough public and suburban schools to provide norms for us.

We use the results of these tests to assess our programs and teaching in these areas.  It is almost always the case that our students perform at a higher level than our independent school counterparts, but if they do not, we carefully examine our curriculum and pedagogy to focus on that area.  We also use them if a student is achieving outside the bell curve.  The scores can help determine where enrichment or support is needed.  We rarely depend on the results of the ERB’s alone to accomplish this, but they can be the motivation to evaluate a child further with different tests.

All teachers have access to present and past ERB scores of their students.  Those are kept on the school server so that they are handy for use.

The quantitative aptitude and math scores from fifth grade are used, along with several other assessments, to determine the proper placement in sixth grade math.  Ms. MacCarthy is diligent about gathering all sorts of information as this decision is made.

We do not automatically send out the results of the ERB’s because we prefer to have a meeting with parents to explain the intricacies of the report the first time.  I call this “the lecture.”  In subsequent years, parents who have already had “the lecture” can simply notify us, and we will email the scores to you.  Some parents are very interested in their child’s scores.  Others feel that it is just another snapshot of where their child performed on a given day.  Another reason why we don’t send the scores home without discussion first is that we don’t want to inflate the importance of that one snapshot.  The truth is, the narrative reports and checklists you receive in math and language arts are much more meaningful measures of overall performance.

We track how our classes perform throughout their time at TLS.  We look carefully at our median scores, especially in quantitative aptitude, mathematics, verbal aptitude, and reading comprehension.  We have records of those median scores that go back many years.  At one point the Everyday Math people were so impressed with those median scores at TLS that we were named an Everyday Math success story and got some nice national press from that.  That was great fun, and I’m happy to report that our scores have remained consistently high ever since. 

Please feel free to call for an appointment to go over the spring ERB scores and receive “the lecture”.  The only thing I ask is that you wait until about the third week of school.  Things are pretty hectic around here those first days of school.

My best,

Marijo

MS. CONGENIALITY! MOI?
5/9/2012

It is absolutely amazing how popular I have become.  Children seem to flock to my office at all possible moments to visit.  I have been at The Lexington School for 34 years, and I’ve not seen anything like it…ever.  They greet me each morning as I enter the school, hold the door for me, turn on my lights, and then settle in for a lovely visit.  It isn’t unusual for my office to be full of children during breaks and recess.  On this particular morning it was fifth grade boys and second grade girls together before school.  Everyone is clamoring to be with me.  I have become a virtual “kid magnet”, and I love it!  In fact, I can hardly stand myself I’m so popular!

I’m not sure what I have done to deserve this attention and love.  I even see some staff members much more frequently these days.  I am so lucky.  I must have changed in some wonderful way.

…You don’t think this phenomenon is connected to Josie, do you?  Now that I think of it, this all seems to have started when I began bringing her to school each day.  Surely not…

Trying hard to pry my tongue from my cheek,

Marijo

 

THE MERRY MERRY MONTH OF MAY
5/2/2012

May - the month where we culminate another great year at TLS.  Our minds turn to finishing up and fine tuning all the good that has been happening during the year, but we do not “wind down.”  No such thing around here.  In fact, May is about our busiest month…  This is the month where we share beautiful music with you (Spring Sing, Spring Concert, and AML Recitals).  We also share lovely writing and illustrations with you on Writers Guild day.  We promote Celebration as a great opportunity to join the school community to do just that – CELEBRATE!  We are planning field trips to connect with our curriculum, and we are creating some lovely art.  Our spring sports are in full swing.  I recently heard of a school in another state that labeled the last week of school as “optional.”  There will be no such announcement at TLS.

It has been a banner year, and it is all because of your commitment to this school.  The children are the essence of this school, and you have chosen to share yours with us.  There will be some tears shed during this last month, because as excited as we are to look forward to yet the next wonderful year, we are sad that our time together is ending.  On May 25th we will bid farewell to our fifth grade students at the Candlelight Ceremony as they move on to Middle School.  It is what happens in the life of a school, but it makes it no less melancholy for us.  We spend five years celebrating those children, and we become attached.  In fact, it is not unusual to hear the word “love” being used as we say goodbye to each other.  It is not a hollow word.

Love,

Marijo

LOOKING AHEAD
4/25/2012

Last Wednesday, I received an emailed bulletin from NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) that contained a link for a TEDxTalk by Pat Bassett, the president of NAIS.  He was speaking to a group of people at St. George’s School.  The topic was educating the 21st century child and how schools are going to have to change to become more relevant in this new century.  It was a 27 minute video, and I decided to treat myself to that much time to listen to one of the great educational gurus out there.  Pat Bassett is my contemporary, and he is from my part of the country (upstate New York), and he is a visionary.  He has announced his retirement, so it felt even more urgent that I learn one more thing from Pat before he leaves NAIS. 

I watched the video, and my hair started to smolder about halfway through and then burst into flames by the end.  It was mind boggling what we will need to do, and where do we begin?  My flaming hair began to heat up my brain.  Baby steps, I said to myself.  I shared my flames with the other division heads, and we are all on board to formulate a plan for the baby steps.  That felt good. 

But then came sleep that night.  I had a school nightmare that was totally connected to what I had seen, except I was the student, and my educational experience in the dream was about as far from visionary or 21st century as it could be.  I was experiencing the stress and turmoil involved with the memorization and recitation of a long poem.  I’m not sure which one, but it might have been the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  Of course, it was my turn to recite, and I hadn’t even read the poem yet, let alone commit it to memory.  You’ve all been there in your nightmares.  I just know it.

In my dream, there was no sign of group identification of a real and relevant goal or collaborative work to come up with a solution or student involvement in integrating technology into the work or any of the other 21st century skills that have been defined.  So what is 21st century education?  According to 21st Century Schools, an independent company founded in 1995, “It is bold.  It breaks the mold.  It is flexible, creative, challenging, and complex.  It addresses a rapidly changing world filled with fantastic new problems as well as exciting new possibilities.”  I was dreaming in the past, and my mind was trying very, very hard to move to the future…and the outcome?  A nightmare!

As we baby step into this initiative, parent education will be one of our first “problems” to solve.  Anything that is “bold and breaks the mold” can feel very threatening to us adults (parents AND teachers).  We all think of education as what we did when we were in school.  And parts of that are worthy of keeping, but other parts need to be brought into the new century.  Changes in education take a long time because of how we all cling to “how it was when we were in school.” 

I have asked the lower school teachers to view the video.  And by virtue of these “weekly words” I have now begun the process of parent education.   Baby steps indeed! 

Promising not to throw any babies out with the bath waters,

Marijo

TLS IS ALL “A TWITTER”!
4/18/2012

Dear Lowers,

TLS IS ALL "A TWITTER"!

Or is that “tweeter”?  Do I “twit” or should I “tweet.”  Whatever it is, TLS is about to have a greater presence on this social media site.  But if you don’t sign up, all of the retweeted messages will have missed their targets.  Each week I’ll be tweeting a link to the Weekly Words, and there might even be some other interesting thoughts shared by the other division heads or Chuck.  We will be retweeted by @TLSCOLTS, which is the TLS official Twitter account.  Last week I tweeted a great website to help both parents and kids if “bullying” becomes an issue.  Before you know it, you will have more words of advice than you ever thought you needed.

A couple of my favorite colleagues (I have lots) are lighting the fire under us all to share more on TWITTER.  It will only be worthwhile if we all get on board and follow @TLSCOLTS.  We can DO this!

“Tweet dreams”,

Marijo

THE MYSTERY THAT SURROUNDS THE DOUBLE DOORS…
4/11/2012

Dear Lowers,

There has arisen a phenomenon during the first through third grade lunch that is hard to explain.  It all started a few months ago when a student asked me what was behind the double doors in the hallway behind the podium where I make announcements.  I explained that it was the back entrance to the front office…and then as an afterthought, I asked the student if she would like to go back there with me to take a tour of the front office.  My invitation was snapped up.  The next day a few other children asked if they might “go back there” with me.  Why of course.  And this turned into a daily occurrence.  Some children went on the tour multiple times, which was just fine with me.  The office ladies seemed to be happy as we toured their hallway.  It has become a really special treat if there is a Mr. Thompson sighting.  Once we even spied him as he ate lunch at the round table in his office.  It was thrilling!

I can’t explain it, but the desire to take these little tours has grown to such a point that I have to limit the numbers.  Recently I went to rationing the tours to keep the crowds down.  What I will say is that the tours are all inclusive (eventually) and that they are very brief and simple in nature.  I haven’t decided if it is a peek at the “world’s smallest bathroom,” smiles from Mrs. Hopkins, Mrs. Davis, and Mrs. Sipple, a glimpse of their dear friend Mrs. Hutton, or the possibility of a sighting of Mr. Thompson that draws so many to something so mundane.  Kids.  It really takes so little to make them happy.  Why would I ever deny a child the opportunity to visit the inner workings of the magical front office of The Lexington School?  I just wouldn’t.

So, as you consider your next field trip or vacation with your family, you might want to consider adding the front office at The Lexington School to your list of options…

Here’s to the simple pleasures in life that make kids happy,

Marijo

TEXTING LINGO IS NOT A LOL MATTER!
3/28/2012

Dear Lowers,

REHI!

This email may be OTT.  I write it because you may be a POS from time to time as you try to monitor the texts your kids are sending and receiving.  You may be thinking ONNTA.    AISI you’d better begin learning the lingo.  ISSYGTI!  ITFA, what you learn may help you to undermine the KPC movement.  Did you know that there is even a P911 abbreviation?  IMHO, TOBAL against that one!

TTFN,

Marijo

TRANSLATION:

HI AGAIN!

This email may be OVER THE TOP.  I write it because you may be a PARENT OVER SHOULDER from time to time as you try to monitor the texts your kids are sending and receiving.  You may be thinking OH NO, NOT THIS AGAIN.  AS I SEE IT you’d better begin learning the lingo.  I’M SO SURE YOU GET THE IDEA!  IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS, what you learn may help you to undermine the KEEP PARENTS CLUELESS movement.  Did you know that there is even a PARENT ALERT – CHANGE SUBJECT abbreviation?  IN MY HUMBLE OPINION, THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW against that one!

TATA FOR NOW,

Marijo

P.S.  You ARE monitoring aren’t you?  It is not an invasion of your child’s privacy; it is your responsibility!

WHAT DOES PROGRESSING TOWARD STANDARD MEAN, ANYWAY?
3/21/2012

Dear Lowers,

We emailed the report cards a few weeks ago.  When we first went to our new checkmark system with four categories in the fall of 2010, I emailed out some advice to parents to help them interpret the four categories:  Area of Concern, Meeting Standard, Progressing toward Standard, and the new column –Demonstrating Exceptional Achievement.  Meeting Standard and Progressing toward Standard are the two that describe most students’ achievement.  We tried to make the checklists detailed enough to let the parents understand the curricular areas covered, but we removed the narrative information about the curriculum (per the suggestions of many of you) and moved it to the website.  I have decided to send another, different email to help with your understanding of our reporting.

First, I must say that any form of a checklist is going to be a subjective description.  Try as we might, different teachers will have varying ways of determining these marks.  What you can expect, though, is that there will be consistency among all the marks given by any one teacher.  Mrs. Zimmerman’s use of the checklist will vary from Mrs. Haynes’s, but among each of their classes it will be a consistent measure of performance. 

The use of the category Exceptional will be sparing and reserved only for those who demonstrate remarkable performance, above and beyond the norm…which at this school is very high to begin with.   The Area of Concern pretty much states that in this one skill area of our curriculum, the child may need some support, guidance, re-teaching, or additional practice to reach the next level.  It is not a failing mark.  It is a red flag to indicate that attention needs to be paid.

This leads us to the gray areas of our checklist.  Meeting Standard and Progressing toward Standard are both considered to be great marks where we hope most children will fall.  Sometimes confusion occurs with that “progressing” category.  Because of where it is placed on the checklist, those who don’t truly understand our system can interpret it as a poor or less than acceptable designation.  Just so you know, Chuck Baldecchi would never let us rate ourselves as a school with anything but a “progressing toward standard.”  He does not allow us to rest on our laurels or be satisfied with the status quo.  He frequently reminds us that hubris does not breed excellence, which makes us constantly striving to be a better school.  John Calipari also strikes me as a coach who always considers his team “progressing” to a standard.  You hear him say it all the time.  Kentucky as a #1 team in the nation is constantly being reminded that they are still learning and still getting better.  There is no shame in “progressing.”  In fact, it is a noble descriptor.

Always progressing,

Marijo

THE LUCK OF THE IRISH!
3/15/2012

Dear Lowers,

On Monday during dismissal carline, one of my favorite moms (I have lots) came up to me and said three words.  “You’re so lucky.”  I suppose the quizzical look on my face motivated her to continue.  “You are so lucky to get to spend your days with all of these wonderful kids.”  I suppose the next look on my face (A HUGE SMILE) pretty much affirmed her comment.

Not everyone “gets” how lucky I am.  But I am very grateful that she took the time to say that to me.  I felt understood.

May “luck” be with you, too,

Marijo

HOW WE DO WHAT WE DO – PLACEMENT FOR THE NEXT SCHOOL YEAR
3/7/2012

Dear Lowers,

It is that time of year again.  We are beginning our meetings to determine class groupings for next year.  There are many factors that enter into our discussions.  Suffice it to say that we are looking for balance in many different categories as we place the children.  We want a good balance of academic achievement levels; we like a balance of different learning styles; gender balance is another goal.  We take emotional needs and behavior issues into consideration.  And social dynamics are definitely part of the discussions.  Now when I say that, I don’t necessarily mean that two best friends will be automatically placed together.  As you can imagine, sometimes two best friends being together is not in the best interest of either child’s school experience. 

We talk about cooperative learning partnerships.  We even consider the personalities of the teachers and the students.  What we don’t have to do is factor in which program a child might find most beneficial.  With our commitment to consistency of curriculum at each grade level, the academic experience should vary little among classrooms at the same grade.  That is huge.

Because of our consistency, I have noticed over the years a distinct shift from teacher preference to classmate preference.  It has been interesting.  Back in the olden days, parents might hint, cajole, or even blatantly request a particular teacher.  We have a terrific understanding now that such attempts are not appreciated by the professionals working on these groups.  What rises to the top now are concerns from parents about friendships and social connections.

This reminds me of a wonderful story from a few years back.  One of my favorite moms (I have lots) called me while I was vacationing in New York.  It was her first born daughter who had been placed in a class that didn’t seem to have as many good friends in it as the others.  Mom was on a business trip, calling me from the road.  As she unwound the story, I thought I knew what she was going to ask.  (I didn’t know her that well at the time.)  I was afraid that she was going to request a change from the assigned class.  (THAT, is something that we just cannot do once the lists are made public.)  But I was most pleasantly surprised that her question went more like this, “I know that you have worked hard on the groupings and that you have placed my daughter in the class you thought best for her.  I just need the words to calm her down and help her get through this disappointment in my absence.  Can you help me with that?”  COULD I HELP HER WITH THAT???!!!  My response went something like this, “Please tell your sweet daughter that the teachers felt that she is the kind of person who gets along well with all of her classmates…a high compliment indeed.  Also tell her that this moment of disappointment should be celebrated as she thinks of all the potential friendships she is about to forge.”  (I had probably just finished reading Wendy Mogel’s Blessing of the Skinned Knee.)  I went on to suggest some summer play dates with girls in the class in order to ease the transition.  Mom was wonderful.  She thanked me for the advice and set about helping her daughter cope with the disappointment.  And the rest of the story?  It wasn’t long before Mom returned on parent night to let me know that everything was just grand from both her perspective and her daughter’s.

All of that said, we still invite parents to let us know in advance of these meetings if there are things about their child’s needs that we might not be aware of.  How to do that?  Just give me a call, and I will fill out the form that we use to communicate such information.   It will be in writing, but you don’t have to write a thing!  Please do not call the teacher.  I am the one who saves these from year to year and disseminates the information to yet the next group of teachers.  And right now is the time to call me.  The meetings begin next week.

My best,

Marijo

 

BEGGING FORGIVENESS FROM WENDY MOGEL
2/29/2012

Dear Lowers,

Recently, we had a parent discussion group where a group of parents and administrators talked about Wendy Mogel’s book The Blessing of a B Minus.  In a way, it is the big kid version of her first book The Blessing of the Skinned Knee.  Wendy tackles the teen years in the B Minus book and attempts to encourage parents to take the challenges their kids encounter as well as the failures in meeting those challenges…as blessings.  Personally I hope she keeps writing and has one more book in her that will celebrate our failures as parents and call them blessings.  I know she has it in her, and there are a lot of us who could use the affirmation.

Wendy warns against overprotecting or over guiding our teenagers.  Short of telling parents to “get a life” she encourages them “as leaders of our children to step back from the urgency, the mistakes, the heartbreaks, the rejection.”  “Respond with concern and detachment,” she advises.  She even suggests that parents should develop hobbies or interests outside of the home to absorb some of the leftover tension and to try to develop a sense of humor about what is going on.  It is hard to do, especially when everybody else appears not to be doing it!  Think of it this way, she suggests, “Take a deep breath and withdraw; you make space for your child to grow.”  I really like that quote.

Okay.  So all of this talk about not protecting teenagers from every disappointment or hurdle in life set my mind to thinking about something.  I know I have written weekly words about the celebration of good guidance during the recuperation from a mistake.  I know I believe that children develop self confidence and even courage as they fail and recover from those failures.  I know that kids need to develop their own skills of warding off the unkind words or deeds of a thoughtless classmate.  I believe these things with all my heart.  But there is one thing that I keep harping about, and that is giving your children the electronic equipment to receive cyber-bullied texts or emails.  I say please wait until you HAVE to, and I do “get” that the time for that is probably middle school.  In my old-fashioned mind, I probably still think that is too early, but I do understand the need of a middle school kid to be connected to peers.  Wendy Mogel has made me ponder this stance.  I thought, and I thought.  But as much as I love her writing and believe in almost everything she says, I’ve decided to remain the last holdout for such conservative thinking…

Wendy, please try to forgive me.

Marijo

A FAVORITE FROM THE PAST RETURNS
2/22/2012

Dear Lowers,

On the last day in January, Chuck brought a TLS graduate to my office that I hadn’t seen in years.  He was a member of the class of 1995 and was definitely one of my favorites (I had lots).  He walked in and started explaining to Chuck that he and I had, indeed, spent quite a bit of time together in my office back during his upper elementary years.  He was a wonderful kid, prone to speaking out without raising his hand and getting into minor behavior indiscretions.  He remembered me as being quite intimidating but maybe not quite so much as the late and great Mary Lee Nichols who was our “upper” school head at the time. 

It was so wonderful to see him.  It was fun to let him know how proud I am of him.  I had recently watched him on national television speaking about one of his amazing accomplishments, a philanthropic program that utilizes the public’s desire to play online games and combines it with motivating the players’ giving to very good causes around the globe. 

Back to that part about my being intimidating...  I most likely was.  I probably did have to be firm with him because of his propensity for repeat offenses, minor though they were.  But, boy did I ever get to know that kid.  Chuck just stood by smiling as this young man and I remembered and shared.  Before it was over he did note that I was a lot different from the Mrs. Foster he remembered.  Actually, I have not changed much since those days.  But he surely has.  He somehow channeled his wonderful energy and enthusiasm for life and turned it into an Ivy League education and a gift for solving problems in our world.

What if he had been a nearly perfectly behaved student who never required my counsel?  I’d still be proud of him, but the reunion would not have been half as much fun!

THIS is why I love my job,

Marijo

P.S.  If you are intrigued by this mystery man, plan to attend the TLS graduation on June 1.  He will be the commencement speaker.

FROM NANNY MCPHEE TO POLLYANNA
2/8/2012

Dear Lowers,

I recently watched the movie Pollyanna.  I confess; I adore the family movies on the Hallmark Channel and am not ashamed to say so.  I don’t think I had ever seen that one before, and I’m glad I watched it… kid movie or not.  Hayley Mills starred in this old movie, and it was the story of how a positive attitude resurrected a whole town through Pollyanna’s uplifting spin on life.  Before the death of her parents, Pollyanna’s minister father had taught her that it is possible to find something positive in even the direst situations.  She had been orphaned.  She was placed with her wealthy aunt Polly Harrington in the town of Harrington.  Her aunt was a philanthropic person by nature, but she seemed to want to control all outcomes with her good deeds.  And the saddest thing was that although Aunt Polly was fond of Pollyanna, she did not show her any affection.  There was good care.  There were lovely clothes purchased for her.  But the absence of love in the house was very sad for the young girl.  Did she become forlorn and depressed?  No, indeed, she motivated a whole town, one person at a time, to join together to do good things for the community.

As I was watching this movie, it occurred to me that I could use some of that positive spin as I approach my life and the life of this school.  And if we all did the same, just think of the influence we could have on our city, state, and even country.  We can’t make things up.  We have to search for what is truly positive and then spin it.

And I have proof that “we” can make a difference if we band together with a common positive goal.  Do you remember those weekly words about school spirit and my challenge for US to do better in that area?  Well, if you were at the TLS pep rally or the Sayre games on January 13th, you know that we did accomplish something special.  The gym was full.  The concessions were flowing.  I am choosing not to remember the scores of those games, but it was VERY clear that TLS is a winner school!  One of my favorite new parents (I have lots) even said to me that those games were her very first basketball games EVER!  And there she was, catching the contagious enthusiasm that was generated by US.  All of us…working together to create a positive spin!

Now, let us get on with even bigger challenges!  Who among us will emerge as our leader next time?  Could it be YOU?

Go TLS!  We can do this.

Marijo P. (for Pollyanna) Foster

IT’S OKAY TO FIGHT YOUR INSTINCTS SOMETIMES
2/1/2012

Dear Lowers,

There is something about good parenting that is really quite counterintuitive, and it’s all about how a parent’s first instinct is often to try to protect a child from any disappointment, failure, or even frustration.  Instead, I’d like to challenge you to celebrate the fact that your child will learn from those less than positive experiences…much more than if you had helped to avoid them.

What I am suggesting is pretty difficult to accomplish.  And it goes against most of our parental instincts.  It is, however, worth the time to ponder and TRY to accomplish.  I’m going back in time a bit to a day when I had to speak with a student about academic integrity… copying somebody else’s homework to be more specific.  I don’t take such conversations lightly, and I do point out all the down sides to that kind of mistake.  I am not afraid to put a little fear into the heart of a student who has cheated and talk about how such behavior, if it happens when they are older, can alter a person’s eventual progress toward life goals immensely.  I even speak about what happens at the service academies if such behavior takes place…a student is almost always expelled with no chance to return.  I help the student realize the gravity of that poor decision, and I also help them celebrate that they have picked a very good time in life to learn this important lesson.  And that is what this school is all about.  Being able to make a mistake (once) in a safe environment and learn from it is a gift we give our students.  Please join me in celebrating when it happens in your family.

Here’s to fighting that natural desire to help your child avoid all mistakes in life,

Marijo

NEXT TOPIC? TEXTS.
1/25/2012

Dear Lowers, 

Texts.  Oh, how wonderful they are for adults.  You can be in contact with someone at a moment's notice, and it takes so little time and effort to communicate.  I don’t text, but I’m very familiar with the little alarm on those cell phones that signals a text.  It is quick and easy, and it is an efficient way to communicate short messages. 

Texts.  Oh, how dangerous they can be for kids.  It can be so much fun at a sleepover or other gathering to trade phones or iPods and text people with messages that might just break their hearts for a day or two if we are lucky or permanently if we are not.  If you haven’t already made the decision, please consider holding off on the purchase of such electronic devices for your elementary age kids.  Always remember - everybody doesn’t have one if your kid doesn’t.  Dare to make the safe decision.

I have heard from so many parents that say they wish they hadn’t given in…

Marijo

TURN YOUR CHILD’S PASSION FOR COOKING INTO SOMETHING DELICIOUS!
1/18/2012

Dear Lowers,

I recently heard a great story.  It all started with one of my favorite administrative colleagues (I have several) who shared the fact with someone that she is very organized and does her menu planning each week, purchases only what she needs each Sunday at the grocery, and then sticks by her plan for preparation for the week.  It is all so wonderful.  Family dinners.  Well planned.  Lovingly prepared.  One of my favorite middle school teachers (again, lots of faves) got wind of that and begged her to share her planned menus so that she could follow suit.  No more meals on the run or bowls of cereal being eaten over the kitchen sink.  It was going to be family time all the way.  Oh, how perfect it all sounded…until this teacher made the realization that cooking is just not something she enjoys.  Oh, dear.  Rather than going back to the old ways, she gathered her family and problem solved the situation.  The outcome?  The cooking duties would be divided.  Each member of the family would take a night, thereby relieving Mom from having to do all the cooking.  Then the first colleague got wind of this and thought it sounded quite heavenly.  And the idea traveled to others in the building.  Now, we’ve got fifth grade boys perusing cookbooks as they plan their menus, eighth grade girls perfecting their already excellent cooking skills, second grade boys trying their hands at delicious meals like hot dogs and canned beans with macaroni and cheese as a side, and first grade boys fashioning menus inspired by the program Man vs. Wild.  How does roasted chicken with boiled pine needles sound?  (Were you even aware of how much vitamin C is contained in pine needles?)

If the interest in the intramural cooking classes is any indication, the children of this school have a mighty strong interest in the preparation of food.  If you have one of these cookery kids, I’d advise you to put that passion to work!  Right NOW!

Yours in delicious meals enjoyed as a family,

Marijo

 

GOIN’ TO THE DAWGS AGAIN!
1/11/2012

Dear Lowers,

  • For the sake of our school spirit, how about attending the Sayre games on Thursday, January 12?  The first game begins at 6:00. 
  • Thursday, January 12, is to be a green gray spirit day.  We are encouraging all students to wear the green/gray shirts that were given to them last fall.  Points toward the green gray competition will be given only if they have their green or gray t-shirt on.  If they cannot find their green or gray t-shirt, then they have the choice of purchasing another for $10 from Beth Pride (she only has a few available at this point) or wearing regular school dress.
    • That said, all TLS basketball players (girls and boys) are being introduced at the pep rally and may wear their uniform jersey over their green gray t-shirts (or regular dress top).  Cheerleaders may also wear their uniforms.
  • Have you noticed the school uniforms hanging in the middle and lower school offices?  The administration is considering a decision to require uniforms on Fridays only, thereby eliminating Friday dress-up day.  If you would care to share your thoughts on this, please feel free to email me. 
  • There is no school on Monday due to the Martin Luther King holiday.
  • The annual Martin Luther King Freedom March is on Monday, January 16th at 9:45 A.M. TLS participants should meet in Heritage Hall and march together.  Look for Beth Pride and the TLS banner.
  • Birthday Closet?  Have you thought about it?
  • Intramural Update:
    • LS Volleyball January 17-20

I’ve heard the quote, “You must love them enough to let them go,” a million times over, but it has never been more relevant to me than on December 30 when I left Chicago without my dog Commander.  Sure, I let my children “go,” but as I look back on it, those really weren’t my decisions.  They made the decisions, and I then found a way to go along with them.  Letting Commander “go” was my decision. 

My daughter Meg and her family moved back to Chicago from their almost four year experience on the Isle of Guernsey in the UK.  The first order of business once they settled into their home was to take Chiefy (one of the pair of Airedales who are so dear to me) to live with them.  Two whirling dervishes really were quite dangerous for this “not so nimble” grandmother to negotiate.  All was well.  Chiefy was blissfully happy with Meg.  She went everywhere with her in the car.  The two took long walks through Elmhurst every day.  Life was good.  Chiefy was Meg’s dog. 

Then Commander and I drove to Elmhurst for the holidays.  As soon as I arrived, the bonding began.  Where there was a Sullivan boy, there was Commander…cuddling on the sofa, taking walks through the neighborhood, or serving as a pillow as they lay on the floor watching TV.  I could almost feel Tom’s smile as I took all of this in.  One day, after Commander had been asleep on Davey’s lap for about a half an hour, I thought out loud, “Commander really should be with these boys.”  I knew it wasn’t possible, so I felt safe saying it.  But Meg heard me.

A few days later, while I was visiting Scott and his family, the call came.  “Would I seriously consider letting them have Commander permanently?”  WHAT?  ME?  NO DOG AT ALL?

Long story short…  Commander stayed and is having the time of his life.  Me?  I traveled to Indianapolis last Saturday to pick up a 14 month old Border Terrier whose show career had come to an end because her breeder/owner had passed away two months ago.  His widow just needed to simplify her life a bit as she begins the journey I started 14 months ago.  With a respectful nod to our school’s founder, Josie is her name.  She is fourteen pounds of sweetness just like my last Border Katy who passed away a few weeks before Tom died.

So, once again, I am with dog.  It is who I am.  I know you understand. 

Goin’ to the dawgs one more time,

Marijo

P.S.  You just may get to meet her one day soon.  Josie and I don’t like to be apart for long.

 

INSPIRATION FROM NANNY MCPHEE
1/4/2012

Dear Lowers,

Just before the break I was invited to a social event with the fourth grade mothers and their daughters.  It was a lovely affair in the finest of holiday tea party traditions.  I was chatting with a couple of my favorite moms (I have lots) when one mentioned the weekly words.  Somehow that led to the other comparing me to Nanny McPhee as I work with the children.  Admiring Nanny as I do, I took this as a high compliment.  The first mom was not so sure why and wanted to reassure me that I really do not physically resemble Nanny McPhee with all her warts and imperfections.  I loved her for saying that, but I really had not taken offense.

Nanny McPhee should be a role model for me, and I hadn’t even thought of it before.  Her expectations for good behavior and respect for others are spot on.  She has been gifted with magical powers to help children accomplish such goals.  I have been gifted with years of experience from which to draw.  Nanny’s mantra is, "When you need me, but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me, but no longer need me, then I have to go."  Were wiser words ever spoken? 

Happy new year from Nanny and me!

Marijo

SOME ADVICE I HOPE YOU NEVER NEED
12/13/2011

Dear Lowers,

As wonderful as a long weekend or a vacation from school can be, there exists the possibility of some separation anxiety upon the return to school.  When my daughter Meg was in first grade, she went through this every day…not just after vacations.  She cried as she was dropped off at her classroom each morning in first grade even though I was staying right there in the building, teaching my upper school math classes.  (I said “even though” but sometimes I think a parent’s presence in the school can make it harder for a child.  Knowing Mom or Dad is close enough to comfort yet occupied otherwise can be even more difficult to face that separation.) 

As I was going through this with my own child, I sought the advice of an expert, so I am happy to share that with you today, hoping that you really won’t need it.  You can still tuck it away because the reasons your child is experiencing separation anxiety are usually not rational nor are they explainable, and they can crop up at unexpected moments.  The message to your child should be that you understand that he/she is experiencing some insecure feelings.  In older children I would explain briefly what anxiety is and what it feels like.  You make it very clear that you are confident that the day will go well once he/she gets to the classroom.  You then bid your child farewell with a light hearted “See you at 3:15!” and leave.  By now your heart is probably aching so a quick call to me to get an update a while later is perfectly fine.  I love making those checks, but your child will never know why I am lurking about in the classroom.  The important part of all of this is your expression that your child will be strong and confident.  You can trust the teacher to provide just the right amount of support.  You can trust me to do the same.  But YOU can’t really be that successful in doing that since separation from YOU is the issue.  Any amount of lingering only sends the message to your child that you don’t really feel that they can be strong and make this separation successfully.

I hope you never need this advice!

My best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful family time during the holiday break and a successful “reentry” in January!

Marijo

 

MRS. GINGERBREAD IS BACK
12/7/2011

Dear Lowers,

It comes up every year.  Children ask questions about certain magical aspects that surround the holidays.  What’s a good parent to do?  I don’t do reruns very often, but enough people have asked me about this that I would like to provide the Mrs. Gingerbread weekly words from a while back.

December 2009.

Most of you are probably not aware that a celebrity of considerable magnitude visits The Lexington School every year around this time.  Her appearances are very secretive, and she is usually gone within an hour of her arrival in the library.  She greets the Kindergarten students there, tells them a little about her life as the wife of the very famous “gingerbread man” and then shares her favorite children’s book with them, Gingerbread Baby.  This, of course, is the tale of her husband’s beginnings.  The story of her husband’s life is what it is… a good story.  Mrs. Gingerbread always goes on to describe what their life is like now, many years since the time when the gingerbread baby came to life.  She also talks about how people very different in appearance and upbringing can find happiness and friendship together.  When the children ask questions, she is sure to always speak the truth.  Often something comes up about how much she looks like Mrs. Foster.  Her coy response will neither confirm nor deny the suggestion that she is, indeed, Mrs. Foster in disguise.  She is adept at answering questions with other questions so as to maintain the possibility of her magic being kept alive in the hearts of the children.  You would be surprised at how many children participate in the moment and ask relevant questions that support Mrs. Gingerbread’s story.  The doubters usually don’t say much at all, but they smile knowlingly.  Often, after a year has passed and Kindergarten students turn into first graders, Mrs. Gingerbread is brought up again.  A few years ago two of my favorite first grade girls (I had lots) came into my office to talk about Mrs. Gingerbread.  Clearly, both had been believers at the time of “the visit,” but one was beginning to question “Mrs. G’s” authenticity and brought the other along to verify.  “Mrs. Foster, are YOU Mrs. Gingerbread?” said the doubter.  Before I had a chance to compose my response, the other took care of everything for me.  “Of course she isn’t.  Look!  Her shoes are different.”  I just smiled as they left my office, relieved to let my friend Mrs. Gingerbread live on in those two little hearts for another day.

So, how does this story connect to you as parents?  This time of year, I always get a few questions about how to handle questions from their kids that deal with some of the more magical aspects of the season.  My advice is to handle all questions just like Mrs. Gingerbread does.  Always tell the truth; answer questions with other provocative questions; and say less rather than more about the subject at hand.  I have always found that children, up to a point, really want to believe in the magic and will often find a way to do so even when doubt has crept into their minds… temporarily.

Here’s to the wonder of childhood,

Marijo

YOUR CHILDREN ARE ALWAYS WATCHING!
11/30/2011

Dear Lowers,

  • Is it okay to break a little rule in front of your children?
  • How about telling a little white lie that your child knows isn’t true? 
  • Surely it would be okay to say something derogatory about the school, a teacher, or (heaven forbid!) a division head if you don’t really agree with a decision or an action.   Wouldn’t it?

I’ll not insult you by pointing out the error of these ways.  I am just reminding you of how influential your actions are.  I know how hard it is to be perfect, but in cases such as these, I think it is worth the effort in order to be the role model your children deserve.  Integrity, honesty, and loyalty will be your child’s reward as he models his behavior after yours.

One of my favorite third grade teachers (I have three) defines integrity as “doing the right thing even when nobody’s looking.”  What a lovely way to think!

My best,

Marijo

SOME THOUGHTS FROM A “KNITWIT”
11/16/2011

Dear Lowers,

Those who realize that my sweaters are hand knit are amazed at the intricacy.  They think it takes some super-human talent to have created them.  To be honest, I “get” why they think that.  Even I have been known to think, “Did I really just DO that?”  Since Tom died, I have knitted some “doozies,” because when I am sad or stressed or anxious I go into what I call “knitting mode.”  I don’t just knit easy stuff.  I challenge my brain to move to a different level of concentration and knit only the difficult patterns, those that make me focus on the intricacies so that my mind does not wander to the sadness, stress, or anxiety.  I gently guide my brain to a different place, and it works, at least for the time I’m knitting.  Overall, I think it helps to get me to a better place baby step by baby step, or perhaps I should say, row by row. 

Those who are closest to me often raise their eyebrows in a questioning look that says, “Are you okay?” when I show up in a newly knitted item.  They know it is a sign that I am trying to take charge of my life in a different way, and they worry about me.  I don’t know what to tell them.  All I know is that I appreciate their concern, and that I’m in a better place now than I was a year ago.

We all need to find our “knitting mode” be it golf, or bridge, or tennis, or reading, or running, or writing, or exercise, or volunteering, or music, or art, or... whatever.  We need to find that activity that releases our brains from the day to day worries and allows us to function, if even for a while, in a place where we are at peace with our world.  And kids need it too.  Please allow your children to seek and follow their passions.  Give them the time.  It would be one of your greatest gifts to them.

A few weeks ago, I watched as the cross country runners ran past the windows in the Lower School.  I saw the young athletes giving their best efforts to run through the pain and lose themselves in a different state of mind.  One of my favorite lower school assistants (I only have one) came back from a run in Wisconsin a while back in a whole new state of mind, proud of what she was able to do and ready to tackle yet the next challenge.  All of these runners are in their own personal “knitting mode” and are making their lives better from their experiences. 

Now here’s the part your kids might not appreciate.  Please think carefully before allowing electronic games to be your child’s passion and safe haven.  The jury is still out, but there is enough research to make me include this warning.

Here’s to “knitting modes” of all kinds,

 

Marijo

 

IS IT TIME FOR “THE TALK?”
11/9/2011

Dear Lowers,

How can a parent tell when it is time to “let go” a bit and encourage more independence from a child?  There are a few tell-tale signs that could lead you to consider a change in your parenting.

  • Your child is in the 4th or 5th grade.
  • Your child is no longer the malleable second grader who cherishes the homework support from Mom or Dad.  He begins to see it as meddling.
  • Your child shows symptoms of a lack of motivation for activities or schoolwork that you are trying to encourage.
  • You and your offspring are butting heads frequently as you try to guide or support her.
  • You fear that your child may never develop the intrinsic motivation to excel, try as you might to instill it.
  • You frequently think of your child as “not reaching his potential.”
  • Your child seems lackadaisical about anything you suggest and resistant to following your guidance.

If I have characterized your child or your relationship accurately, it may be time for “the talk”.  It is absolutely normal for kids to push back when parents haven’t read the cues and reacted accordingly.  I recently had a discussion about this very topic with one of my favorite moms (I have lots).  She and her husband really saw it as their duty to keep providing external motivation toward academic excellence since their child was not showing adequate signs of intrinsic motivation.  They didn’t realize that the more they tried to control their child the more she was pushing back.  What you don’t want is for this push-back to become the foundation for your future relationship.  You want to instill independence and internal motivation to do the best work possible.  How does one go about accomplishing this?

I recommend an honest dialogue with your student that begins something like this.  “Son, I think I may need to reduce the amount of involvement I have with your school work.  I feel our relationship is suffering because I am so involved in your efforts.  Your teacher (a parent’s best ally) has suggested that we try giving you more control over your own endeavors.  How does that sound to you?”  A time limit is often a good idea.  “We will check back with your teacher in about four weeks to be sure that all is going well.  We will use Study Clinic for homework support to help ensure your success, and if all is well after four weeks, we will keep this new plan.  If you don’t seem able to cope with this new independence, we will be there for you.”  Now, comes the hard part.  You actually pull back.  You fight the temptation to give assistance unless your child asks for it.  You don’t panic if a grade comes home that isn’t what you know she is capable of.  These are the built-in consequences that we as a school provide.  You will simply say, “If this was your best effort then you should be satisfied.  Are you?”

There are several conversations during the upcoming years that can be characterized as “the talk.”  This one may be the most important one of all.

 Here’s to nurturing independence and intrinsic motivation in our children,

Marijo

WHOSE JOB IS IT ANYWAY?
11/2/2011

Dear Lowers,

Whose job is it anyway?  Who is responsible for making sure your children are in proper dress code on any given day?  Just like everything at TLS, it is a team endeavor, but I thought it might be good to delineate our roles in these weekly words.  My school team, with the help of many parents who cared deeply, created the code.  We tried to make it fair to both boys and girls, comfortable in all kinds of weather, appropriate for everyone in our age span, safe for active play, and “cool” enough.  To be honest, we were trying to get a look that would not be a distraction in the classroom as well as level the playing field for all students.  We have fine-tuned it over the years, and we feel it is a comfortable look and one that fits well into our respectful learning environment. 

Your home team, then, is responsible for buying the clothing that is within this dress code and for making sure your kids abide by the code (shoes included) when you send them to school in the morning.  I am occasionally baffled by a parent who requests that we crack down on her own daughter Susie because she is not following the dress code.  As I see it, parents are responsible for seeing to it that their children come to school in appropriate and code approved clothing.  We don’t like embarrassing Susie by having to point out that her outfit is too short, too revealing, too tight, not the right color, etc.  And your favorite job as a parent probably isn’t policing the dress for school either.  But being good school people and good parents, we still have to do these jobs.

You may wish to review the dress code on the school website.  We have reached the end of warm weather season (October 31), and the rules changed on November 1.

Here’s to supporting each other as we encourage adherence,

Marijo

BOO!
10/26/2011

Dear Lowers,

I love Halloween!  And now that we have Boo Sing in conjunction with Grandparents Day, it is even more special.  We do have a few rules about costumes and practices, and I thought I’d share those with you today.  I have copied them from Information and Guidelines on the school website.

HALLOWEEN GUIDELINES

  • Students can wear safe, comfortable costumes, but they should not include masks or toy weapons. Bare midriffs or shoulders are not allowed.  Please avoid short shorts, miniskirts, and tops with low-cut necklines.
  • Boo Sing is a major, special event for preschool through third grade and is the cornerstone of Grandparents Day festivities for those grades.
  • Other classroom activities may be planned on Halloween by the teachers, but we try to have them as connected to the curriculum or to community service as possible.
  • Class parties are not a part of our Halloween tradition.
  • We try to keep school and classroom decorations more oriented toward fall and less connected to ghosts, goblins, and other scary icons.
  • In keeping with our new food policy, please do not send candy treat bags to school.  We cannot distribute them.
  • We try to be as sensitive as we can to those children whose families do not wish to share in the Halloween celebrations.
TRA-LA-LA!
10/19/2011

Dear Lowers,

Everybody knows that I love to sing the praises of The Lexington School.  Some probably think I do it too much.  I just can’t help myself.  Even if I sing sometimes, that doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize areas where we can do better, and my recent experiences over fall break very clearly delineated an area where we have some work to do.  Guess what?  It involves all of us…parents, teachers, kids, administrators, even extended family members.  It will take a grass roots effort to accomplish, but I’ve never seen a challenge at The Lexington School that wasn’t eventually met.  And lucky for us, there has already been a task force formed, and a committee of parents gathered to help us with this important goal.

Okay.  I suppose you are wondering what area of TLS is so lacking.  SCHOOL SPIRIT as it relates to athletics is the topic about which I write.  I had the opportunity to see a fifth grade and a sixth grade football game at Immaculate Conception Grade School in Elmhurst, Illinois this week.  One of the IC teams won, and the other lost, but whatever the outcomes, when it comes to school spirit this little grade school is a WINNER!  As I sat in the stands I was concentrating on savoring the moment and remembering the details of what made this school so incredibly strong in athletic spirit so I could share it with you.  I’m going to make a bullet list of the things that stood out just to make it easier to read.

  • Wildly cheering fans (whole families, including grandparents and aunts and uncles) created a fun atmosphere.  I also noted that one team was supported by all the others…all in uniform and well supervised by coaches.
  • A sound system manned by one hilarious dad who missed no opportunity to welcome individuals in the crowd.  I even got a call out!  “Let’s welcome Marijo Foster who drove through the night to get here to see today’s games!”
  • Every play was announced, giving credit to the player who passed or caught or ran the ball.  The defensive players were also credited for each tackle.  Team rosters for both teams were there for the announcer and his spotter to use to “get it right.”
  • Music was played before the game, at every time out, and at the half.  It was fun, Jimmy Buffett-type music that buoyed the spirits and kept things lively.
  • The apparel.  EVERYBODY was dressed in IC Knights garb.  Royal blue and white.  There was even one grandma there passing out bright blue scarves to the moms. I’ll bet she knitted them herself.
  • FOOD.  The concession stand was manned with about ten parents who were grilling burgers and dogs and fixing the world famous “IC Walking Taco,” which was a bag of Fritos, all crunched up with taco meat, shredded cheese, and salsa.  Throw in a plastic spoon, and you’ve got a PARTY!
  • Water boys.  Little brothers were all decked out in official jerseys with their names on them. Players’ jerseys did not sport their names in an effort to accentuate the TEAM, not the individual.  The position of water boy is a highly sought after honor, and those little guys hustled for the whole game delivering water bottles to the field and keeping them all filled up for the next round.
  • The coaches.  At this level, the coaches are on the field with the players, giving encouragement and teaching.  I saw some corrections, but it was all within the comfort zone of this grandma!
  • Pride.  It was present in abundance.  I was envious, and that almost never happens to me at another school.

Bottom line?  We can do better.  We can accomplish what they have.  We just have to make it fun for the whole family to attend our games (soccer, basketball, football, cross country, etc.) and allow ourselves to get a little wild and crazy!  It will be basketball season soon.  Do I have any volunteers to pop some corn? 

Yours in TLS “green and gray,”

Marijo

CARROTS AND STICKS…NOT SO MUCH ANYMORE
10/12/2011

Dear Lowers,

I believe that sports and physical activity are essential to a child’s well being.  Back in the “olden days” sports were often used as a carrot to entice children to perform better in school.  “If you keep your grades up, Mary, you may continue to play soccer.”  Or sometimes they were used as a stick.  If a child’s grades fell, it was highly probable that membership on a sports team would be in jeopardy. 

Your job as parent to an athlete has little to do with carrots and sticks these days.  Instead of negotiating school performance with sports, you must provide support to ensure that Mary has enough time to get plenty of rest, to get her homework and test preparation completed, AND to participate in the chosen sport or activity.  The last thing Mary needs is to constantly feel behind the eight ball, never really prepared, and less that confident because of participation in sports. And the other last thing she needs is to be involved in so many sports that she can’t keep her head above water.  That is definitely within the realm of parental guidance too.

And if your child is one of the few who is truly gifted in athletics, your responsibility is even greater.  Such giftedness, if also combined with the child’s passion for the sport, takes even more help with management.  It can be done, though.

Here’s to young athletes doing well in school because of YOU,

Marijo

“CHASING” THE DREAM
10/5/2011

Dear Lowers,

Let’s talk football.  Better yet, let’s talk players.  Best of all, let us talk about one outstanding player.  A short time ago I learned that one of our very own alums is likely to be a first-round draft pick by the NFL.  Chase Minniefield ’04, senior cornerback at the University of Virginia, is listed in some places as the number one pick in the nation at his position.  When I learned this, I wondered if this tidbit of information might, indeed, make me famous by association!  After all, I did teach him pre-algebra when he was in sixth grade.  I suppose my fame and fortune remain to be realized, but it could be my best chance!

After I learned this wonderful news, I “googled” Chase.  There were numerous places where I could click on information about one of my favorite former students (I have lots).  I picked a YouTube link first.  There he was at what appeared to be a press conference of some sort.  Yes, indeed, Chase was impressive.  He spoke with the intelligence and poise that I remembered.  Check it off!  He is an effective communicator.  The next one I clicked on talked about his skills as cornerback.  All those interceptions, all that smart play, all that leadership on the field led me to check off two more – dynamic leader and inventive thinker.  (I figured that it took some pretty clever thinking to be in the path of the other quarterback’s football so many times).  Okay, we are on a roll here!  One more to go and I had to make some assumptions that he as a senior at the University of Virginia has almost certainly gained many skills of technology and is absolutely digitally literate.  Our Chase!  He has gone forth and made us proud with the attributes that we strive to instill in our students. 

I remember Chase as a very bright, highly motivated young man whose work ethic was to be admired.  Guess what?  He just kept right on going, developing those wonderful traits both in school and on the football field.  This is exactly what we hope for in our students.

Join me in congratulating Chase Minniefield ’04.  He is often described as having great “instincts.”  I think it is much more complicated than that.

Let’s hook all our wagons to this fine young man’s star; it will be a fun ride!

Marijo

EMPATHY, EVEN AT HALLOWEEN
9/28/2011

Dear Lowers,

Sometimes the desires of children need to be trumped by the wisdom of parents.  The case in point is when your child and his or her closest friends want to dress alike to demonstrate just how close their friendship is.  All kids will think of this at some time during their childhood.  And if two children call each other the night before and plan to wear those matching blue shirts the next day, that seems innocent enough… I suppose.  But let’s say THREE or FOUR kids plan to dress alike.  To me, that starts feeling a little iffy.  It is up to you, the parent, to guide your child toward thinking of the other children who might also have enjoyed being a part of this very visible clique.  Yes.  I dared use the word.  It just feels that way to me.  Over the years we as school people have tried to head off planned costume similarities at Halloween and other events.  (I understand that there are already Halloween plans in the making for just what I am describing.)  If you are “in” the group, it feels really good to have that solidarity with your nearest and dearests.  But if you are “not in” that group, it can feel pretty sad.  Please guide your children carefully.  Teach them to think more completely about how their plan would feel to their classmates who weren’t so lucky as to be included.  Once again, it is called empathy.

Here’s to thoughtful children…ours,

Marijo

SCIENCE IS A VERB
9/21/2011

Dear Lowers,

On Parent Night, I always jog around (using the term loosely) the building picking up bits and pieces of the presentations given.  I know what is happening in these classrooms, but I love hearing the teachers verbalize it and present it in their PowerPoints.  One of the quotes that stood out was about our science program.  It was pointed out by one of my favorite science teachers (I have several) that we at The Lexington School do not do the “shotgun approach” (my word) to science.  We delve deeply into a few areas, giving students a deep understanding of what is taught.  We always used to say “Science is a verb at The Lexington School.”  That is because we consider it an active, hands-on, lab situation.  And where else do children get an hour a day of science in the fourth and fifth grades?  This is an hour of in-depth study into topics that you and I may have learned about in high school and college…if we were lucky.  Our students speak the language of true scientists, because that is exactly what they are.  Their scientific vocabulary will be useful throughout the rest of their academic careers and beyond.  The best part about all of it is that our teachers present this sophisticated scientific information in ways that youngsters can truly connect with.  The students are completely engaged.  They know what they are learning is “grown-up” and are proud of that.

One of my favorite former students (I have lots) who is now a proud TLS papa stopped by on Parent Night and made it a point to tell me that he wished he could come back to TLS and go through it all over again!  We were good when he was a student here, but he and I both know how far we have come during the past decades.  And guess what?  We will never be satisfied with our science program, or any other program at TLS.  We are constantly striving to provide an even better program in an even better environment.  It is what we expect of your children so it would make sense that we have the same expectations of ourselves and what we provide.

Here’s to the young scientists at TLS,

Marijo

SPECIAL EDITION OF THE "WORDS"
9/15/2011

Dear Lowers,

This is a special edition of the Weekly Words because I can’t wait a whole week to talk about yesterday!  It was Founders Day, Field Day, Spirit Day, and Green/Gray Day all rolled into one momentous occasion that will not be forgotten by our students and teachers.  We tried to make it a surprise for the children.  Our communications about dress were cryptic on purpose because we did not want to give our special event away!   It took an extra email the day before, but I appreciate your patience with that.

There were no classes yesterday.  Other things that were missing were computers, electronic games, and screens of any type (except sunscreen).  We were not imitating Disney World, Kings Island, or even water parks (except that time when Mrs. Slabaugh got a little carried away with the hose and sprayed some of those first graders with water to cool them down).  Yet, the comments to describe the day varied from “best day EVER” to “AWESOME” to “I’ll remember this day forever!”

Those kids were on the move all day long, going from sack races to capture the flag to cheering competitions to picnic lunches to healthy snacks to community lessons in good sportsmanship.  It was old-fashioned, wear-‘em-out fun!  All the teachers were there in their trainer shirts supporting and guiding and cheering those kids on!  Some children were in gray t-shirts; some were in green ones.  The teachers were in white because we didn’t want any children to feel as if their teachers weren’t on their team.

We discovered some latent high school cheerleaders in the form of faculty members who spontaneously stood before the entire school leading cheers.  We witnessed high-fives and smiles among students…not necessarily on the same team.  We saw faculty members demonstrating challenging feats of athleticism (sort of) as they encouraged the students.

And it all started with Mr. Baldecchi’s comments about the day’s activities.  At first he seemed a little confused about whether he should really call a day off school to celebrate our 52nd birthday.  He wavered a bit.  First, he thought it would be good, but then as he talked, he became less secure with his decision to call a “Headmaster’s Holiday.”  And then, by some miraculous coincidence, he paused to take a phone call.  (I was standing right by him and didn’t hear it ring!  Must have had it on vibrate!)  And WHO do you suppose the call was from?  Why, Mrs. Abercrombie was on the other end of that conversation!  Mr. Baldecchi wasted no time in asking what SHE thought about calling this special holiday to celebrate our founding.  Her positive response brought loud cheers!

Around here, everybody was exhausted by the end of the day, but it was the best exhaustion we’ve ever experienced.  I loved it so much that I just had to share it with you!

Here’s to the masterminds of the activities, Meredith Carrithers and the whole PE department,

Marijo

LOOKING BACK A FEW MONTHS TO JUNE 3, 2011
9/15/2011

Dear Lowers,

It was a nearly perfect day.  The backdrop was the beautiful residence at Scarlet Gate.  To the sides, the stately trees swayed with a gentle breeze.  Proud family members, Board members, and teachers filled the seats.  The class of 2011 was elevated on a temporary stage… elevated, because it was their time to be honored for having completed their time at The Lexington School.  It was graduation day 2011.

Anna Shine ‘75, the commencement speaker, spoke of her experiences at TLS and how much they meant to her.  She described herself as a less than confident youngster who had been burned once or twice in attempts to be socially successful.  Not until she came to The Lexington School did she find her one, lifelong, and very true friend.  Not until she came to The Lexington School did a teacher inspire her to not only develop a set of life’s dreams but to follow them, no matter how long it took.  Her inspirational instructor was a French teacher, but we all know that it could have been any one of a number of teachers, past and present.  (Somehow those special ones seem to find their way to The Lexington School).  She detailed each of her life goals and followed up with how she was doing toward fulfilling them.  She’s doing just fine, that Anna Shine!  And her goals weren’t all of a sophisticated or lofty nature, either!  For example, her longtime goal of becoming a dancer was one that was approached rather late in her life.  It was hard for me to picture that professorial head of school dancing to the music of Michael Jackson, but if she said it, it is so!

That speech was inspirational to every person listening.  If you haven’t already, please find it on the school website in Pinpoints and read it.  It is worth the hunt, I promise.

At the end of graduation, there is a recessional.  Everyone marches out to the music of a brass chamber group.  The graduates go first, and then the faculty files out right behind them.  Donna, Jane, and I had the honor of leading the faculty down the aisle, and I heard the most wonderful thing from someone in the audience.  The voice sounded like it might have been that of a grandparent, but I really don’t know that for certain.  It spoke volumes about why this school is as special as it is.  “Those teachers look as proud of the children as we are!”  And it is true.  Those teachers ARE as proud of those students as their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  That person had summed it all up.  From my perspective, it pretty much was the perfect ending to a commencement ceremony that was destined to SHINE in many different ways.

Happy birthday TLS!

Marijo

M-I-C…K-E-Y…M-O-U-S-E
9/7/2011

Dear Lowers,

  • ·Tomorrow evening, Thursday September 8, is Lower School Parent Night.  We begin in the dining hall at 6:30 and then travel over to the Lower School for information on our programs
  • ·Birthday Closet!  Please don’t forget how much those kids at William Wells Brown need and appreciate our gifts.
  • ·Don’t forget FALL FESTIVAL next Friday evening, September 16.  5:30. Want to volunteer?  Contact Lorin Clay at lorinclay@hotmail.com.
  • ·Next Wednesday is Founders Day at TLS.  We will be celebrating the school’s birthday.  We are 52 on September 14.  Dress that day will be as follows:  TENNIS SHOES and COMFORTABLE CLOTHING FOR PLAYING.  That’s all I’m going to say.  Please help your children to follow this special dress day.

Here I go again.  Because I so frequently caution parents about what their children are viewing, one might think that I am opposed to watching television, but I assure you I am not.  The number of old episodes of The Closer, The Mentalist, The Good Wife, and others on my DVD certainly would undermine any attempt by me to deny my enjoyment of that medium.  Why Beth Pride, probably in an attempt to elevate my taste in programming, even influenced me to record and watch the Masterpiece Theater series.  I always feel so lofty when watching those programs, and I appreciate her nudge in that direction!

So, I want you to understand that I like TV.  What I don’t like is how some TV productions can negatively influence behaviors in children.  In my day, Walt Disney was a hero.  Whether it was cartoons, the Mickey Mouse Club, or all those great movies both animated and not, Disney could be counted on to provide good programming to be enjoyed by all.  Sometimes they made us laugh, sometimes we had to show courage to overcome our fears, sometimes tears would flow at the end, sometimes they made us dream of becoming “Mouseketeers”, but it was always great programming that touched the lives of youngsters in wonderful ways.

I say all of this, because I want to give credit to all the good produced by Disney Studios over the years.  Sadly though, I must say that the times have changed.  I keep hearing about the programming now being put forth by the Disney Channel.  Kids may like it, but we adults had better be aware that the Disney Channel has become synonymous with edgy dialogue, derision of those in authority (including parents), and sexual innuendo.  While all of this can be very appealing to our elementary age kids, some parents have shared with me that the way such programming has affected their children was so negative that they have chosen to put a parental block on the Disney Channel.  Disrespect for adults and a lack of empathic role models were the main reasons given.  Bravo to those parents who recognized the negative influence and have acted to remove it from their children’s lives after having talked about it with them.

I am thinking that some parents at TLS may be a bit naïve about how much the Disney productions have changed (just like I was).  Here I am with a word to the wise.  Please watch the Disney Channel yourself to see if you are comfortable with the characters being role models for YOUR kids.  That’s my best advice!

Here’s to the good old days of Disney with a respectful nod to Mickey Mouse,

Marijo

ZOOM. ZOOM.
8/31/2011

Dear Lowers,

Picture it, if you can… a white haired grandma behind the wheel of a 19 foot Boston Whaler with a 135 hp Mercury outboard motor towing grandchildren on one of those big tubes.  Because she wasn’t very tall, she had to stand in the cockpit in order to have the proper view of the waters ahead.  She could have left that boat tucked away in a storage barn, but she knew that she HAD to try.  She learned that at The Lexington School!  “They teach COURAGE!”

It was great fun.  For the tube ride to be really good, it has to be a little dare devilish.  Once again, she was forced out of her comfort zone.  Daredevil is a descriptor almost NEVER associated with that grandma.  Everyone had a great time.  Moms and dads were spotters.  Grandma was the driver, darting and weaving and providing a THRILLING ride.  And when the ride was over, further challenge lay ahead for her because she would also have to dock the boat and maneuver it into the boat lift for safe storage.  She did that too.  And when it was over she began to hear cheers from all over Castle Point on Seneca Lake.  Neighbors were SHOCKED that she would dare, and even more AMAZED that she would be successful.  That white haired grandma heard from people up and down the lake during the next few days.  The whole experience was good for her…very affirming.

This story is being shared because that white haired grandma now knows how it feels to leap out of a comfort zone with good people to support her.   Does this remind you of anything?

“Because we are a nurturing environment, grandmothers feel confident.

When grandmothers are confident, they will take risks.

Because risk taking is inherent in learning, the possibility of failure exists.

When a nurturing community exists, challenges lead to growth.

Our success is defined when a grandma has the life skills to make wise choices and overcome obstacles.”

Here’s to philosophy statements that we can all live by,

Marijo

FIRST WEEKLY WORDS OF 2011-12
8/24/2011

Dear Lowers,

I hope your summer was wonderful.  I had a great time at Seneca Lake for about six weeks, and the best part was when Meg and Scott (my offspring) and their families were there with me.  We all tried to fill the shoes of Tom Foster as activities and social director, and we quickly found that they were big ones to fill.  But we did it…maybe not with the exuberance and enthusiasm he always showed, but we got things done!

This year marks the thirty-fourth time I will experience a new school year at TLS.  When I began here, TLS was a teen-ager, and I was thirty years old.  Now, TLS is “over fifty,” and I am too! 

This is the first of “Mrs. Foster’s Weekly Words” for this year.  For those of you who are new to Lower School, each Wednesday I will share some important reminders and maybe a story about school or child rearing or even my own experiences as a parent and grandparent.  I have found that these weekly emails draw us together as a community, and I love that part.

Tomorrow I will take my traditional “first day of school” tour of all the classrooms to reconnect with the formers and make an acquaintance with our newbies.  I do it every year, and I love having that opportunity to greet all those shiny, smiling faces.

During this school year, if there is anything I can help you with please call, stop by, or email me.  The teachers and I want to be the first people you turn to with worries, concerns, feedback, or comments about your child’s experience… or your own for that matter.  We are accessible.  We try to be responsive.  We really want to be there for you.  Please take advantage of this offer!

To those who are new to Lower School, WELCOME!  And to those who aren’t, WELCOME BACK!

Looking forward to a great year with your family!

Marijo

HAVE A GREAT SUMMER, LOWER SCHOOL!
6/15/2011

Dear Lowers,

Okay.  One last Weekly Words for the school year.  I just wanted to say thank you one more time for EVERYTHING you did to ease my pain this year.  Yesterday, June 14, would have been our 42nd wedding anniversary, and I made it through the day just fine…mostly because of the love and care from my school family.  I even ventured out to a wonderful dinner party last evening, knowing that it could backfire, but it did not.  My hosts were unaware of the significance of the date, which was just fine.

I know you are anxious to receive the class lists, and links to those will be emailed before you know it.  In the meantime, you might refresh your memories for your user name and password for the school website.  You will need them to see the class lists this year.  Also, please remember that once the lists go public, there can be no changes.  It just has to be that way.

I have loved working with you this year…mostly because I love your children.  I believe I have gained more strength and composure from them than anybody!    They remember that I have lost my husband, and they bring it up in the loveliest and most comfortable ways.

And on a lighter note, I have a little story to share.  Two days ago, I happened upon one of our rising third grade campers.  She stopped dead in her tracks.  I noticed the look, and I waited for the response, which took just a few seconds.  “I’ve never seen you in shorts before, Mrs. Foster!”  I did not wait around for a judgment on how they looked on me.  I already knew THAT!  Her honesty was refreshing.  And I do get how shocking Mrs. Foster in shorts must be!  But it is how I will be most days for the next weeks…until I see you in August.  I promise to be fully covered by the opening of school!

Have a wonderful summer.  I will be thinking of you.

With love and gratitude,

Marijo

REFEREEING YOUR KIDS’ DISAGREEMENTS? FUHGETABOUTIT!
5/25/2011

Dear Lowers,

Recently I was chatting with a favorite administrative colleague (I have several).  She confessed that she was wearing herself out while trying to referee the disagreements at home between her children.  I gave her some advice, and I thought you might appreciate it as you begin the lazy days of summer with yours.  There’s nothing like a good old sibling fight to enliven a summer day!  Kids are very resourceful.

I learned something so long ago that I can’t remember where I heard it.  It is a simple message that goes something like this.  “Almost every sibling dispute has at its heart and soul the goal of gaining additional attention from the parent at hand.”   It can become almost a sport.  Who can elicit the biggest or best or craziest reaction from Mom or Dad?  Attention, after all, is attention any way you can get it.  Personally, I think moms make better targets.  Dads, somehow, don’t fall prey as easily as mothers.   They are inherently better at continuing to read the paper, watch the TV, or do just about anything while chaos reigns around them.  It means (sorry moms) that they are better at removing the prize…

The key is not taking sides… not reprimanding one for starting it or the other for compounding it or anything like that.  Simply announce that you are leaving the room and you hope that they can work out their differences by the time you had planned to… _________  (Fill in the blank here.  It can be anything from go to the pool, feed them dinner, or anything else that might be appealing.)  Then follow through.  The first time they will test you.  They won’t believe that it is really up to them to work things out.  They won’t buy it that you are giving up control.  But if you really do what you say you are going to do, it will get easier and easier.  Integrity is doing what you say you will.  Consider it an exercise in integrity.  And if the disagreement isn’t over by the time you had planned to leave for the pool, you have to be prepared to miss the pool that day.  Never give “another chance.”  Never use the phrase “if you do that again I’ll...”  If it’s a worthy consequence then stand by it.  If it is over the top, you will pay dearly.  Keep it reasonable, and keep it within the realm of what you can pull off.

Have a great summer.  I will miss you very much…

Peace,

Marijo

A FRIDAY THE 13TH TO REMEMBER!
5/18/2011

Dear Lowers,

I absolutely loved Writers Guild day.  What a perfect way to share all the incredible language arts skills learned this year.  I had the opportunity to attend each session and was treated, as always, to a few stories from each grade.  It was very enlightening to witness the developmental changes in student writing over the years.  Beginning with the “Who Am I” stories from first grade and ending with the sophisticated, beautifully bound and illustrated books, complete with dust jackets, in grade five.  I loved seeing the proud looks on the faces of those who had come to share the day with our students.  As I walked around the room, I was able to hear bits and pieces of stories, almost as if I were story surfing (not to be confused with channel surfing).  It was just amazing.

And then that evening, I had an entirely different but nonetheless wonderful experience while gathering with parents and colleagues for Celebration.  This year was a different Celebration for me.  It was my first without Tom by my side, but everyone involved made sure that I felt comfortable being there. 

The Friday evening prior, I spent reading over the collection of Weekly Words in the privacy of my own home.  I cried only because I was so touched by the publication of the book.  And, of course, I really wanted to share this moment with Tom.  I could see the smile on his face, and I could hear the words I know he would have used.  “You are loved.”  That is what he always said at moments like that.  His eyes would have filled with tears too.

And then there was the Celebration item, Mrs. Foster’s Little House.  Except for a near catastrophe as I tripped going up the stairs to the stage, the auction of it was a treasured moment.  My job was to encourage the bidding on the replica of my childhood playhouse.  I had watched with joy the many children who entered and dreamed that, come Saturday morning, the playhouse might just be theirs!  And when the bidding was over, one of my favorite fifth grade moms (I have LOTS) came to me with a giant key to the playhouse.   It was very humbling to hear that the fifth grade parents had joined together to bid on the playhouse so that I could enjoy it.  And enjoy it, I will.  I have decided that I will donate that little house back to the school so that I can watch LOTS of children enjoying it every day.  The preschool playground is safe and secure, and I think that Mrs. Foster’s Little House should land there…with one stipulation…that lower school students be allowed, now and then, to enjoy it too…if they want to.  I was incredibly honored by this generous act of kindness.

I’m calling Friday, May 13, 2011, my LUCKY day!

With love and gratitude,

Marijo

CELEBRATE! AND THINK BEFORE YOU THROW AWAY (A DOUBLE DIP TODAY)
5/12/2011

Dear Lowers,

Last Wednesday, the Celebration item, Mrs. Foster’s Little House, was delivered to campus.  I saw it first as I was coming back across from the other building.  I swear, I think I was as excited to see it as I was back in 1953 when the original playhouse was given to me on my sixth birthday.  I am not sure how it was accomplished, but the very special dad (a favorite to be sure) who guided its construction, has magically duplicated every detail.  And his wife did so much research with my family, unbeknownst to me, that they are as inspired by this act of kindness as I am.  My son and daughter-in-law toured it with me last Thursday.  They, like me, felt a sense of joy as they took it in.  And joy has not been an ever present emotion in our lives these past months. 

Each time I look out there at the playhouse I wonder what little one will play in it, love it, and cherish it forever.  It is built to last, just like the first one.  Pretty soon (maybe already) the little house in New York will qualify for the National Registry of Historic Places!  Right now I am picturing children in the replica, but I have not put faces on them yet.  I will have to wait until Celebration evening to complete my vision!  I cannot wait!

Below is the original Weekly Words about my birthday playhouse.  I think it is time to refresh your memories.  The original was sent out on September 1, 2010:

THINK BEFORE YOU THROW AWAY THOSE CHILDHOOD PLAYTHINGS…

For my sixth birthday, my father built a playhouse for me.  It was painted red with white trim.  The shutters had cutouts of “M’s” to indicate Marijo’s ownership.  The linoleum was gray with a multicolored confetti-type pattern.  In it were those old metal toy appliances, just a stove and refrigerator (no dishwasher necessary – don’t think they were even invented at that point).  There was a table and chairs, and a now priceless little set of blue willow china handed down from my mother’s childhood, and all sorts of dolly equipment.  You know how many accoutrements babies bring on.  To put it succinctly, I was the envy of every female of any age in my family, neighborhood, and school.  It was where I learned to keep house with my little broom and dustpan.  I also learned to keep in telephone contact with my family.  There was a telephone that was magically hooked up to another one in the “main” house.  I probably buzzed for my mother to “pick up” a conservative fifty times a day.  She always did.

Over the years, the little house’s use changed from playhouse to storage shed.  It was very sad.  All the playhouse things were still there, but my father added a lot of lawn tools to the mix.  It really lost its identity. 

When the sad time came to sell my family home, there arose such a commotion that it could not be ignored.  BE SURE TO SAVE THE PLAYHOUSE!  That mantra rose up from every woman who had ever spent a hot afternoon playing house there.  It was such a part of the memories of all my friends and cousins that it was touching.  So it was decided that the playhouse would be moved to our lake place.  On the back of a flatbed truck, the little house creaked and moaned as it was moved to a new location by Seneca Lake.  In the process, the wonderful linoleum lost the battle, but everything else remained intact.  Let the playhouse renovation begin!  First came the “hardy plank” siding, this time painted dark green just like the other cottages.  The white trim was repainted.  A new red shingle roof was installed, again to match the other cottages.  This spring a red and white checkerboard tile floor was added.  Finally, it was READY!  Ready for what, you ask.  Why, ready for Jane Scott Foster (the first granddaughter after five wonderful boys) who is now two and a half and totally able to appreciate the playhouse. The look on her face and the exclamation of “MY HOUSE!” said it all.  She loved it.  She swept it.  She had tea parties with the plastic dishes from my childhood.  (The blue willow ones have been put away for safe keeping).  She talked on the phone, although it is no longer connected to the outside world.  She fed her baby in the high chair.  She baked muffins with the old toy muffin tins.  And she pretended.  It was a joy to behold.

I am thankful to my father for building that wonderful little house.  I am thankful to my mother for helping me equip the playhouse with everything needed to keep house on a small scale.  And even more than that, I am thankful that it was left intact even during its storage shed stage.  But I am most thankful for a granddaughter who appreciates every bit of it!  My parents would have adored her…

And now I am particularly grateful to the TLS families to have made the replica possible.  They are ALL favorites of mine.  (I have lots.)

 With gratitude,

Marijo

P.S.  For those who have enjoyed the Weekly Words over the years, a beautiful edition of the collected “Words”  including photographs of many TLS community members will be in the Starlight Auction at Celebration.

THE RULE OF THREE
5/4/2011

Dear Lowers,

CHUCK BALDECCHI’S “RULE OF THREE”

Once our Head of School hears about an issue three times, he almost always addresses the problem then, rather than at the first mention.  It keeps him from being reactive to things that may need some time to study.  It keeps him from jumping to conclusions.  And it helps him to have some balance to his approach once the “rule of three” has been met.

This doesn’t mean that Chuck doesn’t listen.  In fact, he listens well and stores the information in some sort of organized place in his brain.  When the rule of three has been met, he goes into action.  One example of this is our weeklong vacation at Thanksgiving.  At least three families had voiced concerns that they did not appreciate this time away from school.  So how did Chuck handle that one?  Well, he sent out a survey to all parents to see what the consensus was.  Guess what?  The survey showed that a pretty significant majority of our families DID like the weeklong vacation at Thanksgiving.  In this case, those who liked what was happening weren’t communicating that, but those who didn’t were expressing themselves.  The end result was a decision to continue the tradition.

Another example pertinent to lower school families also made the same survey.  That had to do with our report cards.  There were many people who took the time to express themselves about our inclusion of the curricular material on the reports.  Those who commented were quite consistent with their suggestion that they preferred that such information not be included.  They only wanted the information about their child on the report card.  Most schools that use narrative reports do include the program information on the reports, and we do think it is important information to share.  What to do?  What to do?  Our solution took some effort, but I think it was worth it.  We have worked hard to put all of that curricular information onto the grade level websites so that parents and prospective families can get an overview of what is covered each term.  Really, it serves our purposes very well, and the report cards now only feature information about your children and their performance in school.

I’ve learned lots of good stuff from Chuck Baldecchi, but this may be the most important of all.  Feel free to learn from him about this notion too.  Since his recent birthday, I find him to be much older and wiser.

Third time’s a charm,

Marijo

SPRINTING THROUGH THE TAPE
4/27/2011

Dear Lowers,

SPRINTING THROUGH THE TAPE

Oh, my goodness!  It has happened again.  We are at the end of the school year, and nobody is ready to say good-bye yet.  Just as always, we will be sprinting through the tape.  There is no down time, no lull in the action, no “end of year” syndrome.  In fact, as I have written before, we pack so much in at the end of the year that it can get pretty crazy around here.  You have probably noticed!

We also take some time to reflect on our year, to say goodbye, and to plan for the future.  School ends on May 27 after the Candle Lighting Ceremony.   That is a lovely tradition where our eighth graders are honored as they leave us for high school, and our fifth graders are launched into the wonders of middle school.  We take the time to do this because it is important.

Teachers have been gathering to make placement decisions for next year for quite some time now.  Those lists will be available in June.  We send them as early as we can because we know how much they are anticipated. 

We also celebrate our worthy programs with meaningful, culminating activities like Writers Guild, spring concerts, field trips, displays of art, and assemblies.  There is also some fun scheduled during the after school hours.  Celebration for the adults, and the End of Year Picnic for all provide nice “fun and fund” raising activities for our school community.

Every year at this time I warn about the sense of loss your child might be experiencing.  The children are right to love their teachers.  And the fonder they are of their teachers, the harder it is to see their time together coming to a close.  Just be understanding.  If you will help with your kids who are feeling the loss, I will try to help the teachers!  Working together we can make this happen!  Most of us will be back together next year, and we will renew the cycle together then!

Good endings foreshadow great beginnings,

Marijo

NETWORKING IS WORKING AT TLS
4/20/2011

Dear Lowers,

The Lexington School network can be likened to ones that some colleges are so proud of.  It is a strong connection, and those who are in it know exactly what I am writing about.  This year has been a difficult one, but one in which I have taken advantage of the TLS network in lovely and comforting ways.  I have had to call on TLS people to help me through this, and they are still by my side.

A recent example of this really made my heart sing.  Taxes.  I just don't know anything about doing them.  For many years, my husband had used a mother and son CPA firm to do ours, so when it came time to drop off my information, I went back to them.  Very nice people.  So helpful.  So understanding.  I hadn't communicated directly with them before, but I just felt comfortable with them as soon as I did.  The son warmly greeted me at the door, summoned his mother, and went back to his office, which was adjacent to the reception area.  She and I spoke about some of the details, and eventually she mentioned my place of employment, The Lexington School.

It took about one millisecond for the son's head to peer out of the doorway.  At the very same millisecond, I made the same connection he did!  Charlie!  From Algebra class, 1980-81 school year.  (One of my favorite former students…) Yes!  The connection was made, and we talked and talked about his classmates and my memories of them.  Neither of us had realized that our relationship had had beginnings thirty years ago at The Lexington School.  No wonder I felt so comfortable there.

If you are a TLS alum, you already know of what I write.  Some of you have been connected even longer than I have.  If not, you may be in the beginning stages of your network time, but it cannot be denied. 

This Saturday, I'm going to the 31 year reunion for the class of 1980.  I have written about them in weekly words past.  They were the ones who hooked me.  I taught them all in my first year at TLS.  They were eighth graders when I started teaching at TLS back in 1978.  They knew then how to support one another and even the new math teacher who arrived just in time to teach them on that first day of school. Class of 1980, you know who you are!

So, to Charlie TLS ‘81, the Class of 1980, and to all the others whom I have known and loved over these thirty-three years, here’s to connections made and connections kept.  You are ALL my favorites!  Now, I hope you are beginning to understand what I mean by, “I have lots!”

With affection and gratitude to everyone in my TLS network,

Marijo

 

KINDNESS. IT WORKS FOR US.
4/13/2011

Dear Lowers,

One of my favorite admission people (I have two) recently had a conversation with a prospective mother following her child’s visit to The Lexington School.  Upon questioning her boy about his impression of the school, he answered with one word.  “KINDNESS.” 

That a visitor to our school, especially a child, would leave with such an impression was music to my ears.  Now, I realize that this place is not perfect.  Children do and say unkind things too frequently that need our attention.  But the fact that the overall impression of a visitor was that we are a place of caring and kindness is something to celebrate.

I believe it is all part of the nurturing environment, so well stated in our school’s philosophy and mission.  There are very few “us versus them” moments between adults and children.  In fact, when we feel one coming on, we are quick to use techniques that will calm the waters and change the feeling to “We can do this by working together.”

Kindness is a virtue that we aspire to, and I thank that young man for picking up on that during a one day visit.  I hope to see him in our halls next year!

Here’s to lasting impressions…GOOD ones,

Marijo

P.S.  I love it when things like the following happen:  On Monday at lunch, there was an unfortunate accident where one of my favorite third graders (I have lots) was juggling all the plates from his table along with the silverware container.  I’m sure he was helping somebody else out by doing their job for them along with his own.  All of a sudden there was a HUGE clatter as all of those plates tumbled and crashed down to the floor.  It was quite a scene to behold.  As I watched the spill unfold, I started talking to myself.  Please let there not be any cheering or clapping or other derisive or embarrassing acts.  You know the kind.  They are meant to make the moment seem lighter, but to the one who caused the problem it feels quite the opposite.  I got my wish.  There was no reaction like that at all.  The reactions could not have been more perfect if I had choreographed the whole thing.  Several nearby children came to his rescue and picked up plates and stacked them.  A nearby second grade teacher (not his former one) quickly reached out to him to pat his back and soothe his ruffled feathers.  All was well.  It was KINDNESS, and I couldn’t help but smile, knowing how beautifully this post script would fit into the Weekly Words!

ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING
3/30/2011

Dear Lowers,

ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING

Among my pet peeves are people who, if they don’t get the response they are hoping for, just repeat the message (over and over) in an apparent attempt to get their way.  I’ve decided to risk the appearance of living out my own pet peeve and address last week’s issue from a different perspective.  Please forgive me, but I consider the message that important.

The following is a heartfelt and beautifully written response to the last Weekly Words.  It was written by one of my favorite moms (I have lots) who also happens to be an expert in the field of psychiatry.  My piece was written from the heart.  Hers is written from there too but with added dimensions of experience, expertise, and intellect that I want to share with you.  If you weren’t convinced last week.  Try this on for size.  The only things I have changed are references that might lead you to her identity.

“Thank you for your wise and pertinent words this week.  As the mother of boys in their teens I 'stuck to my guns' by refusing to allow single shooter games in my home until they were in high school (and then only reluctantly).  As children they were not allowed to watch TV from Sunday evening until Friday after school.  It was hard to be my kid.  If they grumbled they were informed that my first responsibility was to be a good parent (and then I would sit them down in front of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations on whatever subject we were disputing!).  I rolled video/computer games into the 'no TV' policy because it all involved a screen.  Studies are now emerging linking TV viewing time to reduced attention spans.  Early data suggests that exposure to the type of violence in the single shooter games will alter empathic responses.


Now, it is refreshing to see how protective the boys are of their younger sister and her innocence.  They are vigorous in their opposition to her having access to 'I-anything' (the IPod/IPhone is the girl equivalent of gaming for boys as an attention sapper and behavior changer).  They are as strong in their support of the way they were parented now as they were in their opposition to it as children.  They never allow her to be present when they are gaming with their friends.

I think parenting is the making of us all...the ultimate challenge.  Saying no and imposing 'loving limits' on our children for their own good is exhausting at times, but it is a responsibility not a choice.


Your words are a wonderful and welcome validation.  Thank you.”

Well!  If I can validate this incredible mother and professional, then I’ve reached the pinnacle.  The truth is, she is giving credit where it is not due, but I certainly am glad to play along with her for the sake of our children!  Hers, by the way, are simply amazing in case you were wondering about that.

Have a wonderful spring break.  If you are traveling, be safe.  If you are not, you are in good company with people like me who enjoy the time at home.

She closed her email with the following beautiful sentence.  I’m borrowing that too.

“I hope the spring brings your heart and spirit ongoing healing.”

Marijo



WE TEACH COURAGE, AND THIS MEANS PARENTS TOO
3/23/2011

Dear Lowers,

Sorry.  I’m back on that topic of violent video games again.  I had a good response last year when I brought it up.  Being the eternal optimist, I guess I assumed that TLS parents had removed such “first person shooter” games from their children’s repertoire.  Even the makers of the games agree with me that children at the age of our lower school have no business playing these games.  And those who rate these video games?  Well, they couldn’t be clearer about the fact that these games are not appropriate for children of lower school age.  Last I knew we had no sixteen year olds on our class lists.

The reason I bring this up is that I was having a conversation recently with one of my favorite moms (I do, of course, have lots).  Her boy recently had begun to have a change of behavior and attitude both at school and at home.  She shared that she was suspicious that the alteration might be due to his having played one of these video games a few times while visiting a friend’s house.  She shared that she now informs other parents of her aversion to such games if her child is invited over to play or spend the night.  If you remember the Weekly Words from last year, one week I addressed the inappropriateness of the games, and then the next week I encouraged just such communication between families.  Good for her.

Now, do I believe that playing these games will cause our students to go out and get an assault rifle and begin gunning down people at the mall?  Of course not.  But I do believe with all my heart that these games forever alter what children consider normal in our world.  They become more accepting of foul language and more numbed to the effects of violence in their daily lives.  Some may even give aggressive behavior a try, just to see how it feels or to see if it can affect an outcome to their advantage.

Yes, I am old fashioned.  Yes, I have white hair.  No, I did not have these issues to deal with when my own kids were growing up.  But I still think I’m right about this topic.  And if you read last week’s “words” you know how much I love to be right.

Be courageous enough to say no; I’ve got your back,

Marijo

 

RIGHT ON!
3/16/2011

Dear Lowers,

RIGHT ON!

I’m going for thirty three more years at TLS.  It’s all decided.  Last week I sent out the Weekly Words about the session in my office with a group of “naughties” and outlined how everything happened.  At the end I went out on a limb and suggested that those children might have gained more from the experience of a poor decision handled with guidance than if they had never made that bad choice in the first place.  I dared, once again, to suggest that a degree of failure is good for kids.

Those who know me very well understand that I really like to be “right!”  I just love it when that happens.  And I got a response from one of my favorite dads (I have lots) that affirmed me last week.

That favorite dad is also one of my favorite former students (I have lots of those too).  His reply began like this.  “I remember being in this same spot back in 1984 in your office.  I fully agree with you that I had a better outcome of going through that experience in your office, telling the truth, filling in the blank spots of what you already knew.”  He then went on to remind me what the offense was, which shall still remain between the two of us even after all these years.  He probably thinks I remember it, but as I have said many times, I make it a point not to remember those naughty deeds.  I believe in clean slates, newly turned pages, and any other metaphor that describes letting go of the negative and concentrating on the positive.  He then concluded with this.  “The experience not only taught me about telling the truth but also to be nice to my classmates!”

Boy, did I feel “right” as I was reading that email.  It is what keeps us school people going…to know that you might have influenced a young person in even a tiny way is incredibly affirming.  I do not fool myself, though.  His parents deserve all the credit.  They are the kind of people who supported the school’s efforts at every turn while also sharing their own strong values at home.  Shall I say that they are among my favorite former parents?  And you know the rest of that line, right?

I’m just kidding about the thirty three more years.  I’m pretty sure I will retire after about thirty more.  Thirty three seems a bit over the top.

Here’s to being right every once in a while,

Marijo

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES
3/9/2011

Dear Lowers, 

“Always tell the truth; that way you don’t have to remember anything.”  This piece of advice works, and I use it frequently with students who may need to ‘fess up for some less than attractive behavior.  Lying sounds so harsh; I rarely use that word.  That is why when a child comes to my office, I begin with encouragement to tell the truth from the beginning.  I explain that everything will go so much more smoothly that way.  I also “speak the truth” and tell the students that they will have to be accountable for any wrong doing but that the truth has a way of positively affecting everything.  I often tell the student to close his or her eyes, lean back, relax, and just let the truth be the only thing guiding the conversation.  It usually works.  Not always.  But most times.

A while back there was reason for several of my favorite students (I have lots) to be in my office to solve a mystery.  It was not a huge issue but one that required some accountability.  Picture me.  Picture them.  I am the one who is quite relaxed.  They are the ones who aren’t.  I began with my usual guidance about telling the truth.  I then explained what part of the truth I already knew.  It was like a miracle.  Those students filled in every detail without reservation and accepted the responsibility for their acts.  Now, would it have been better for them to have avoided the indiscretion in the first place?  I’m not so sure.  I’m thinking that they gained more from telling the truth, accepting the accountability, and making amends than if they had made the perfect choice at the time.  It’s the TLS philosophy, and I believe it with all my heart.  There is so much to be gained from failure (in this case in making the imperfect choice) that it is often better to experience it and come out on the other side having received some nurturing and guidance that may affect choices for the rest of their lives.

And that’s the truth!

Mj

WAS IT RIDICULOUS, OR WAS IT SUBLIME?
3/2/2011

Dear Lowers,

WAS IT RIDICULOUS, OR WAS IT SUBLIME?

Children are passionate beings.  And sometimes major events like the Super Bowl bring out passions and emotions that are difficult to keep in check.  I have a precious story to share, and it is a perfect example of why I love my life at TLS so much.  It involves one of my favorite students (I have lots). 

It was the morning after the Green Bay Packers defeated his beloved Steelers.  It seemed as if the sky had fallen.  And everyone was acting so chirpy about their wonderful Packers and wearing those cheese hats and green and yellow beads and everything.  All he had was a Steelers “terrible towel” wrapped around his neck, but it was so, so handy for mopping up any extra moisture that might have seeped from his eyes during all the celebration swirling around him.  His wonderful teacher sensed that he might need a little cheering up, so she brought him to my office for a visit.  Because I immediately affirmed his feelings, he soon let down his guard and let his thoughts come tumbling forth.  He told me all the reasons he loved the Steelers.  He is a loyal boy, and I told him how much I admired and respected that in him.  I really did try to understand how he was feeling, and the more he felt that, the more he shared.  After a while, out of curiosity I asked him if his mom was aware of how upset he was.  His response was priceless.  “No, she doesn’t know.  And I don’t want her to either.”  “Oh, really,” I replied, “and why is that?”  Through his tears he said, “Because she would say that I’m being ridiculous!”  Sometimes the sensibility of a man comes right out of the mouth of a sweet little boy, and how lucky for me that I got to be the one to witness that!  It was a sublime moment for me.

Here’s to my young friend and his Steelers!  There’s always next year…

Marijo

YOU KNOW YOU ARE A TLS DAD IF...
2/23/2011

Dear Lowers,

YOU KNOW YOU ARE A TLS DAD…

  • if you are REALLY looking forward to Pizza with the Pops this Friday (11:30, the gym)
  • if you feel great about having beaten this Friday’s deadline to get your children re-enrolled in school
  • if you have ever been mentioned as one of Mrs. Foster’s favorites (she has lots) in the Weekly Words
  • if you wear a TLS hoodie with pride on the weekends
  • if you are in awe of your child’s poise under pressure
  • if you have witnessed your child conquering math concepts that you remember learning in high school
  • if you have beamed with pride as your child performed in Spring Sing, Kentucky Heritage Day, or the fifth grade musical
  • if you know EXACTLY what Boo Sing entails and you have researched how early you can be in the building to reserve seats next year
  • if you have already put together a consortium to bid on one of those fabulous baseball packages at Celebration this year (May 13)
  • if you have ever shared with a non-TLS person how the head of your children’s school is outside greeting students and shaking their hands every day
  • if you have already saved the date May 13 on your calendar for Writers Guild when your child will share with you a well written and beautifully illustrated finished piece of writing
  • if you have ever secretly wished that you were back in school so you could experience what your children do every day

Here’s to school functions that bring families closer together,

Marijo

JUMPING ROPE FOR MR. SCARR
2/9/2011

Dear Lowers,

The following is a note from Mr. Mark Scarr, 4th grade language arts and social studies teacher, our special miracle for this school year.

“I would like to thank the Service Learning Committee for honoring me as part of the American Heart Association’s Jump Rope for Heart program.  As many of you know, I had a serious heart issue early last October.  Being physically fit and continuing to exercise regularly has greatly aided my recovery.  I want to encourage all students to participate in the Jump Rope for Heart program.  Each child who participates will have improved heart health.  Additionally, each child will know that the donations raised will help the American Heart Association continue its important and excellent work.”

I seem to be fixated on the idea of miracles lately.  Last week’s “Words” were about a possible miracle, and this week, I present Mr. Scarr’s words.  I don’t think there are many out there who wouldn’t describe his recuperation and rehabilitation as a miracle.  One of my favorite dads (I have lots) is a physician and has used that word repeatedly to describe Mr. Scarr’s recovery.  This dad spent a good deal of time checking in on Mark and checking in on me during those worrisome days last October. 

We are very lucky to have Mark back with us.  First estimates were that he might be able to return in April…then word had it that February would likely be more like it.  So when Mark reappeared in our hallways after the holiday break, there was great cause for celebration.  February is the month associated with hearts.  Suffice it to say that Mark Scarr has a heart of gold, and we celebrate his presence in our lower school every day.

Here’s to healthy, golden hearts,

Marijo

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?
2/2/2011

Dear Lowers,

I think I experienced a miracle on December 23, 2010.  If it wasn’t one, it was an incredibly amazing experience that buoyed my spirits beyond what I thought was possible on that date, given my state of mind.  It all started the week before when one of my favorite moms (I have lots) called to see if I would be at home on that Thursday around 6:30.  She needed to drop something off at my house.  And I now know how important it was that I be in at the appointed hour. 

For those who don’t know, I live out a bit.  My farm lane is quite long, so it is somewhat difficult to sneak up on me.  I had put Commander and Chief in their crates because I didn’t want this favorite mom to have to experience their “jubilant” greeting.  That can also be translated as “out of control” or downright “WILD”.  My sentries, therefore, were rendered inefficient.

I think I was watching the news when I looked out my windows and saw moving lights approaching my house.  These were definitely not the headlights I was expecting.  And where was that music coming from?  And how was it that those lights were floating toward my house as if they were being energized by something supernatural? 

I soon realized that those lights weren’t floating.  They were being carried by people.  They were candles, and those people were some of my very favorite lower and middle school girls and one boy (I have lots) and their equally favored mothers.  They had stealthily come up the farm lane, had parked in the front field, and had walked the rest of the way up the driveway, creating this beautiful illusion of floating candlelight.  And that music?  It was Christmas carols.  The candles floated up the driveway, onto the porch, and into the house.  Once they were inside the house, I joined in the caroling.

They left me with a beautiful candle as a remembrance of this very special encounter.  But the incredible essence of the evening was the act of kindness that these mothers were modeling for their daughters.  I hugged every last one of them with tears streaming down my cheeks, and the miracle was that these really were tears of joy…not sadness.

Call it what you will, miracle or simple act of kindness; I will never forget that evening…

Marijo

 

SUMMING UP AN EXCELLENT PROGRAM AT TLS
1/26/2011

Dear Lowers,

Last week a math department chair from a good independent school in the northeast called me to inquire about our math program.  We get lots of phone calls like that, and we are also a popular destination for other independent school teachers to observe in our classrooms.  Last year one of the Louisville schools came to visit.  They brought all their teachers and their head of school just to see our teachers in action with the Everyday Math curriculum.  We were honored by their visit.  Several years ago we were named an Everyday Math Success Story because of our impressive standardized achievement scores in math.

Over the years, we have continued to have outstanding scores as compared with other public and independent schools nationally.  It occurred to me that the parents in Lower School now would probably not have been aware of how we are being used by other schools as a model or of our national attention as an Everyday Math Success Story

Everyday Math was developed at The University of Chicago in conjunction with math teachers all over the country.  We do continue to examine other programs in the event that something better might be lurking out there, but because of the strength of our program we would have to be really impressed with a new one before making the change.  A few years back our Middle School made the decision to leave the University of Chicago series at their level.  The secondary program was surprisingly not intertwined with the elementary program nor were they similar in any way, so there was no sacrifice in the transition when they moved to more traditional pre-algebra, algebra, and geometry texts.

Sometimes we get busy and forget to catch you up on some of the interesting things about TLS.  A good background in mathematics is a precious commodity.  And a good comfort level with mathematics is a true gift.  We do not even think about that term “math anxiety” any more.  That is one of the strengths of our program.  Children develop a comfort level and a “math sense” that takes them far in the realm of problem solving and conceptual understanding.

Here’s to good things like Everyday Math at TLS,

Marijo

SALUTE TO ONE WHO DARED TO DO THE RIGHT THING...FIRST!
1/19/2011

Dear Lowers,

Sometimes it happens.  Sometimes students behave in ways that disappoint us.  And when it happens in a large group with a substitute teacher it can be very challenging to find the truth of the situation if one relies on traditional methods.  I’m here to share a story about something that started as not very good but turned out to be very good, indeed.

It was in one of my favorite grades (I have five).  And the behavior for the substitute was not in keeping with expectations at this school.  Some students were involved.  Some maintained their good manners.  The task of this division head was to separate the wheat from the chaff.  My goal was to allow the wheat to go about their school day unscathed while guiding the chaff to make amends and be accountable for their less than “wheat-like” behavior.  And I had confidence that the chaff would do the right thing, and I hate to say it… I was right.  I just love it when that happens!

I had to set the stage for this to work… 

Teachers, please stay in your classrooms because students would be coming to you during the meeting.  Students, please join me for a brief meeting in one of the common areas…not your usual one… but a different one.

And the story went something like this…

Mrs. Foster:  Would it be fair to say that something happened yesterday with the substitute that you, as a class, aren’t proud of?

Students (with heads nodding affirmatively):  Yes.

Mrs. Foster:  Would it also be fair to assume that some people were involved in the naughtiness while others were not?

Students (with more nodding):  Yes.

Mrs. Foster:  It is never my practice to ask children to tattle on each other¸ so I won’t do that, but I really need to know who was not involved.  At this point, I’d like to invite you to nominate the innocent ones so that they can avoid the rest of the meeting.  Those nominated may go back to their classrooms.

One by one, students were named by their peers to leave the room.  I excused them quickly and sent them on their ways.  And then it happened!  One boy was nominated to leave (as in getting to escape the accountability and consequence that lay ahead), and he declined to go.  He said that he didn’t feel innocent in what had transpired; he would like to stay.  That took real courage.  There were several others who followed in his footsteps after that.  That kind of leadership is rare in one so young… actually it is rare at any age.  I cannot recall ever being as proud of a student. 

So, now YOU understand how something that started out not to be very good, turned out to be very good by anybody’s standards, even The Lexington School’s.

Here’s to having the courage to be the first to do the right thing,

Marijo

WOULD YOU CONSIDER CHANGING YOUR MESSAGE?
1/13/2011

Dear Lowers,

One of my favorite first grade students (I have lots) has been doing a good deal of art work featuring his favorite college football team.  He always manages to depict his favorite team scoring touchdowns.  Lots of them.  He and I both love Notre Dame football, and we have forged a bond with that at the core.  His dad and my daughter were actually students at Notre Dame at the same time.  And long before that they were both at TLS during their elementary and middle school years.  I had the privilege of teaching both of them.

And what does this have to do with me or my child, you ask?  Well, I just want you to know that visits to Mrs. Foster’s office occur for all sorts of reasons.  And if I can somehow lure children here for these good reasons, life is so much better when we might have to have a chat about the occasional behavioral challenge.  I know that there is a negative side to “the principal’s office.”  And I also understand why you may have told your son or daughter to avoid being sent there at all cost.  The following weekly words from March of 2009 still ring true, and I think it might be time for my first “rerun!”

“Last Thursday and Friday, I had the privilege of attending the National Association of Independent Schools Conference in Chicago.  The McCormick Center was teeming with independent school professionals from all over the country, and the workshops were excellent.  There were many great choices, but one of my favorites was the one given by Dr. Michael Thompson, author of Best Friends, Worst Enemies; The Pressured Child; and Raising Cain to name a few.  He presents wisdom about children in a way that touches teachers, administrators, and parents.  One aspect of his presentation last week was how important it is to allow a child to fail, to learn from these failures, and to somehow make that child know that they can benefit from even those choices that were not stellar.  With guidance from people who truly believe this message, a child can emerge successful and gain independence, which brings me to my message for this week.  I need your help… especially if you have ever said anything like “if you ever end up in Mrs. Foster’s office, there will be big trouble at home.”  Lots of parents have said it, but I’m asking you to change the message to something like “if you ever end up in Mrs. Foster’s office, she will help you work through your difficulty and learn from your failures.  You will be held accountable, and you will need to make amends.  Your teachers and Mrs. Foster will guide that process.”  If you say something like that, your child will not be crippled with anxiety, which can be most detrimental to the progress we are seeking.  To those of you who have received the “dreaded phone call or email from Mrs. Foster,” you know that I rarely ask for further consequences at home.  I almost always just want you to be aware of what has transpired and to be encouraged to share your family values in a meaningful way for your child.  It’s all about the children learning to be independent as they accept responsibility and make better decisions in the future.  Independence is the key.  On that, Michael Thompson and I firmly agree.”

Here’s to fun-filled visits to the principal’s office,

Marijo

DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO!
1/5/2011

Dear Lowers,

Over the life of these Weekly Words I have been known to “go to the dogs” on occasion.  This is because I love them… almost as much as I love kids.  And I do believe that kids and dogs are good for each other.

I have two Airedales, Commander and Chiefy.  Airedales are not easy.  They are strong in body and in spirit.  Even somebody like me with some ballast on board can get batted about a bit when two energetic Airedales come acallin’.  There was a time recently that both Meg and Scott sat around the dining room table with me, told me how worried about me they were with the dogs and suggested that I contact their breeders about returning them… all for my own good, of course.  What!?!  Get rid of Commander and Chief?  No.  I must try to make it work.  And I have tried hard…  That’s because kids and dogs belong together, and I am stretching that to include “kids at heart!”

Each summer, Meg and her boys spend time on Seneca Lake with me.  The Sullivans have never had a dog, but Davey, my oldest grandson has taken it upon himself to be the care person in charge of walking, feeding, and loving my dogs.  He has proven over and over that he has a way with them and that he is absolutely responsible enough to have his own one day.  And I’m on his side with this.  And if one of your kids were to ask me to intervene on his or her behalf to help convince you that they NEED a dog, I’d probably oblige.  Are we still friends?

I love it when kids get involved in obedience training, showing, grooming, etc.  The bond that is created is second to none.  And it is a lovely way to help a child develop a passion for something when some of the more usual passions may elude them.  Over the course of my years, I’ve attended many dog shows to observe our TLS students as junior handlers in the conformation ring.  I also encourage doggy families to take everybody, kids included, to obedience classes where Fido learns basic manners and family members learn to consistently expect them. 

I must say something right now, though.  I talk a really good game about the consistent expectation for good manners with dogs.  But I have not been entirely successful achieving that status myself.  Actually, my expectations are okay, it’s the end product that leaves something to be desired.  Forgive me, but I’m going to suggest that you do as I say and not as I do! 

As a sideline, after I wrote these weekly words, one of my favorite moms and her also favorite daughter (I have lots of both) stopped by to see me last Sunday afternoon.  Commander and Chiefy were outside in their play yard at the back of the house, but they could see that I had guests.  Their behavior was atrocious!  There was barking, scratching at the door, jumping against the screens, and just about every other unattractive behavior they could muster.  And here I am writing about how wonderful they are!  Have your children ever done anything similar to YOU?

Goin’ to the dawgs one more time!

Marijo

NO NEED TO STRIKE UP THE BAND!
12/8/2010

Dear Lowers,

Before you set off the fireworks, call in the marching bands, and declare a family holiday over an A+ on a math test, I want you to think about something.  If there is great fanfare over such a success, what happens when your child scores, not an A+ but an A- on the next test.  Does that A- mean that she is a substandard math student?  I don’t think so.  But if too much is made of good grades the possibility exists that your child will not feel successful or accomplished with less than a perfect showing.  Perfection is not what we are seeking.  We are seeking a great work ethic and a healthy respect for doing one’s best on any given day.

Recently I was having a conversation with one of my favorite moms (I have LOTS), and she was worried that her daughter did not possess enough self confidence.  No amount of telling her what a great student she is, no amount of celebration of her successes, nothing seemed to convince her of her strengths as a student.  My advice?  Concentrate on talking about hard work and good study habits.  Do not plan a parade or purchase a long awaited gift as reward for high achievement.  When the grades come in, try not to vary the response too much if the result is good, great, or otherwise.  And if the result is not so pleasing, help your child come up with a plan to work hard more regularly and develop better study habits.  It needs to be within their grasp.  Perfection is not always going to be within the realm of possibility, but a good work ethic certainly is.

Here's to celebration of a good work ethic,

Marijo

THE VALUE OF PRETENDING
12/1/2010

Dear Lowers,

I have always said that if you can get a child to pretend to have lovely manners and to extend acts of kindness at will that eventually, the pretending turns into habit, which, in turn, becomes a genuine personality trait.  I have joked that I will take those good manners and kind gestures any way I can get them, and I really do believe that if a skill is practiced it becomes a part of the personality.  So, if little Eddie Haskell pretends to be charming as he greets me each day, I give some positive reinforcement for it and wait.  I contend that Eddie will soon become the charming fellow that he is pretending to be.  And I’m almost always right! 

As you all know, I have taken a huge emotional hit with the passing of my husband.  I am trying very hard to live each day to the fullest, pretending to be strong and pretending to be improving with my outlook on life.  My theory is that this pretense will eventually turn into reality.  I am also a woman who values the truth, so when you ask how I am doing, I’m likely to say something like, “I’m doing okay until I’m not.”  And I am also likely to develop some tears in my eyes.  I do struggle frequently.  You know that, and I can’t hide it.  But in the meantime, if you could go along with my little pretense it will probably help me get to a better place sooner.  I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and support extended from this school community.  I am not pretending one bit when I say that I am grateful from the bottom of my heart.  THAT part is as real as can possibly be.

Here’s to Eddie Haskell, bless his little heart,

Marijo

NO KNEE JERKS, JUST GOOD RESPONSES
11/17/2010

Dear Lowers,

I have finished reading all the narratives on the report cards, and I feel that I know each child even better than I did before having that opportunity.  If you remember, the reports will be emailed to you on Friday, and they will look a bit different this time.  The changes were suggested by you in last year’s surveys, and by “you” I mean that several of you took the time to mention the same positive ideas.  I love Chuck’s “rule of three.”  If something is mentioned at least three times, it is important to spend some time responding.

I know how it feels when you fill out a survey, click send, and then wonder if anybody will even care about your thoughts.  I like to say that we are responsive to your ideas, which in my mind is different from reactive.  Being responsive means that we took your good thoughts, discussed them fully, added some of our own, and came up with changes to benefit everybody.  Being reactive has a whole different feeling to it.  Those words “knee jerk” go so well with “reacting.”  Here’s a good example.  Several of you mentioned that you preferred not to wade through all the information on the old report cards that pertained to what had been covered during the term.  Some even hinted that we were using that as a “space taker upper” so that there was an appearance of more information on the reports.  Wow!  We had never thought of that!  Here’s how we “responded” to that one.  We have removed the curricular information from the reports and have placed it on each grade level website.  Now, you can go to the site, click on “curriculum” and see what is covered each term in all subjects.  No more wading for you!  All information on the reports pertains to your child.  There were no “knees jerked” during our process of thinking this through, but our response should be a good one for all involved.

Thanks for giving us good feedback that makes us better,

Marijo

MUCH MORE THAN A PILE OF STONES
11/10/2010

Dear Lowers,

Sunday is our family activity day, a time when prospective parents and children can come to see what that school on the corner of Lane Allen and Georgian Way is all about.  This year there will be some interactive time when specials teachers actually teach some classes to the children who are visiting.  It should be a great opportunity for people to learn about us.  But my favorite part of the day is when the “Cairns,” a group of middle school students will guide tours throughout the school while describing their experiences as preschool and lower school students.  Now, these cairns are not named for the cute little terriers but for a pile of stones erected as a landmark for travelers.  Cairn is of Celtic origin. 

Every year I place myself at that intersection of the connector and the lower school hallway, and every year I just beam as these students absolutely “wow” the folks they are guiding.  They answer questions with honesty.  They describe what happens in the classrooms.  They recall their favorite parts of lower school and sometimes mention events that meant a great deal to them.  They are proud of their school, and they want everyone to know it.  And they seem to want every prospective family to be able to know it as they do.  It is Beth Pride who takes the leadership talent and molds it into an informed, impressive group of tour guides.  Every year they make me proud.  And every year I bask in the comments of those adults on the tour who are incredulous at the poise of our middle school students.  Usually their words follow an unspoken communication that includes a slightly dropped jaw, eyes that are opened wide, and a look that just says how amazed they are with these incredible children.  I simply smile, shake my head up and down, and say “Yes, I KNOW!”  Somehow they want to convince ME that these students are very special.  As if I didn’t already know…

Here’s to leadership opportunities that let our students shine,

Marijo

YOU SPOKE, AND WE HAVE LISTENED
11/3/2010

Dear Lowers,

Report cards are in the air.  Both last Friday and this, teachers are preparing for this special communication that you receive three times a year. There will be some changes this year in the lower school reports.  Many of you mentioned on the surveys last year that you preferred that we not include the curricular overview on the reports.  You expressed a desire to have the reports only describe your child’s performance.  We have listened.  That curricular information will still be available on the website for those who wish to study it.  We have also added a fourth column to our checklists.  This category will be reserved for those students who truly exhibit exceptional performance in the skills listed.  The teachers will be using this category very sparingly – only for those who achieve at a level well beyond the standard.  The last change is that our specials reports have been completely revamped so that you can see how your child is performing on all the skills being taught each term.  They have been designed to provide much more information than in the past.  We hope you will find these changes to your liking.  We got our ideas from your comments on the surveys, and we are very pleased with the changes.

Oh.  One last thing – these reports will be emailed to you, thus saving paper and mailing costs.  We think that is a change for the better as well.

Many thanks,

Marijo

THE IMPORTANCE OF A HUG
10/27/2010

Dear Lowers,

"I love you, Mrs. Foster."  That's all he said as he wrapped his arms around my waist as I stood in the doorway of my home.  The hug lasted just long enough to lift my spirits to a better place.  The words were simple… nothing flowery...  but they got the job done.

Nobody had rehearsed with him.  It came straight from his heart.  Perhaps because this boy had experienced grief of his own during his short life, he knew exactly what needed to be done and said.  Children have talents for comforting that have astounded me during these past weeks.

I am grateful for that first hug and the thousands of others that have followed.  I am so lucky to be surrounded by your children… and you.  As one of my favorite lower school dads (I have lots) said to me just this morning, “Grief shared is grief diminished,”

Marijo

TEACHING COURAGE
10/18/2010

Dear Lowers,

Teaching courage.  We do it.  And recently we have been bombarded as a school community with good reasons why this is our mantra.  Whether someone is recovering from a serious operation, grieving a lost loved one, or fighting a life-threatening illness, members of our school community are modeling courage every single day.  We believe in talking about these challenges with our students so that they can also muster courage right along beside us.  Monday morning I witnessed a meeting where a team of teachers met with their students to accurately portray a serious health issue of the fourth member of their teaching team.  The teachers did not hold back information in order to protect the children.  They were honest and encouraging, which were both appropriate.  Teachers and students together developed a good plan to carry on successfully during the absence.  They used language perfect for nine and ten year olds, and they answered all questions.  I firmly believe that if they hadn’t taken the time to do this, the children would have filled the information vacuum with things much more fearful and anxiety-causing than the reality.  I encourage you to follow our lead when such courage is needed in your own lives.

Here’s to teaching courage every day so that it is in place when needed,

Marijo

 

RECALL OF A PREVIOUS NOTE ABOUT EMPATHY IN CHILDREN
10/6/2010

Dear Lowers,

Once upon a time I wrote a piece about how important it is for us adults to model empathy so that our children can see it, live with it, and eventually feel it.  I'm here to tell you that I think I may have been off base on that one.  Last Thursday when I entered the school and witnessed that "window of hope," I was struck with something powerful.  I did not cry, which is my normal MO.  I was actually smiling, and it was from deep inside me.  What I felt was a release of some of the fear and anxiety that I had been walking around with since Tom's diagnosis.  I felt the hope and love from those children as it replaced the fear.  Now, I know that those children did not organize themselves to do this.  I'm almost positive that a seed of empathy was planted in the hearts and minds of the kids by their wonderful teachers, but no amount of modeling could have accomplished that rainbow of love.  Those students did what no physician had been able to do.  They gave me real HOPE.  And I am now pretty sure that the empathy was in them all along!

Thankful that empathy comes in small people too….

Marijo

AND IT'S NOT EVEN HALLOWEEN YET!
9/22/2010

Dear Lowers,

On her way out of the building following parent night, one of my favorite moms (I have lots) stopped to share a little story.  One day at dismissal carline, her older daughter commented that Mrs. Foster looked nice in her red jacket.  The younger daughter immediately concurred and added that Mrs. Foster looks good in red because it matches her EYES

I suppose the sweet little one was referring to my glasses, but it underscores the fact that even a red-eyed monster can be a leader in a school as long as the teachers are as exceptional as ours!

My best,

Marijo

HERE’S WHY GRANDPAS WERE INVENTED
9/15/2010

Dear Lowers,

Not every kid is cut out to be a water skier.  I was not, and my eleven year old grandson (who looks like me) is not either… at least not yet.  It was fine at first.  He tried several times with persistence and determination, but no luck.  But soon, one by one, all the younger grandsons “got up” and plowed their way through several feet of Seneca Lake before “splatting”.  He cheered those younger brothers and cousins.  He kept trying but did not reach success.

Now, this is very difficult for a mom to witness.  On one hand Meg was proud of her boy’s strength of conviction, but on the other, as the other kids, one by one, found success and he didn’t, something else was visible in her face.  She was hurting for her boy.  But the key here is that he was not hurting for himself.  He just kept trying… but still no success.  Enter Grandpa… ski boat driver and sailing instructor extraordinaire.

After the skiing, Grandpa simply pulled mother and son aside and suggested in a most inviting way that TODAY is the day that Davey would take his first solo sail in Breezefiddler, a sailing dinghy that had recently been refurbished at Grandpa’s hand.  Davey, you see, is a good sailor.  He had taken lessons on the Isle of Guernsey (UK) where they live, and he had sailed his whole life as first mate to Grandpa on Windfiddler.

The look on Meg’s face was one of frozen fear.  The words of opposition were about to come tumbling out, but… enter Grandma!  With two raised eyebrows and one penetrating glance, I stopped those words from spilling out, and the silent communication between us was amazing.  With my glance, I wordlessly said, “You have to let him succeed today.”  She stopped in mid-sentence and said nothing but words of encouragement from that point forward.  She tabled her motherly concern and set about teaching her boy something good.

Davey had great success as a solo sailor.  I suspect he is writing a report about it back in school on Guernsey because he requested a photo or two from Grandpa.  He was as proud of his solo sail as those boys who skimmed across the lake on trainer skis.  They celebrated his accomplishment and he theirs

You see, it’s all about finding the talent and passion and providing the opportunity.  Good things will come.

Here’s to good grandpas everywhere,

Marijo

AN OPEN INVITATION
9/8/2010

Dear Lowers,

Every year around this time, Chuck asks all members of the administrative team to evaluate themselves and list goals in preparation for the yearly meeting with him where we compare what we have come up with against his thoughts on the same subjects.  I have never liked this process.  (He knows this but tortures me with it anyway!)  I find it difficult to prepare my self assessment knowing that he is doing the same thing.  I want to appear confident and competent but not arrogant.  Good grief.  What if I rate myself higher than he does?  Very tricky.

“And what does this have to do with me, a TLS parent,” you say?  Well, one of my goals this year involves you.  Last year during the year I had several parents make appointments with me to discuss an idea or concern involving their child.  I did what I always do.  I welcomed them to my office, and I encouraged them to share their thoughts.  I listened carefully.  I asked for clarification or examples when I needed them.  I sometimes was able to come up with a solution on the spot, but sometimes I needed to communicate with others before doing so.  The meetings all went well from my perspective, and most parents, at the end, told me that they appreciated that I was receptive to their concerns… as it should be.  But some went on to say that they were surprised about this… that somehow I didn’t radiate this openness to parents until they were actually in my office having the conversation.  Some told me that they were pretty sure that I would somewhat blindly support the teacher or the school’s perspective rather than listening.  Now, sometimes I do have to support the policy of the school, but I do everything in my power to make things right while still respecting the school’s stance.   

It is a simple formula.  I support students and their needs.  I support parents AND teachers to that end.  Please don’t ever hesitate to visit my office or pick up the phone to call me.  I promise to collect information from all sources and then sort through to come to a solution. 

Truth is, I am a northerner by birth.  I am not apologizing about that nor am I using it as an excuse.  Where I come from, communication is pretty direct and may be missing some of the finer points of a great Kentucky exchange.  I simply want you to know that I will be working extra hard to be open to anything you care to share with me.  It’s my goal!

Here’s to open communication between home and school,

Marijo

THINK BEFORE YOU THROW AWAY THOSE CHILDHOOD PLAYTHINGS…
9/1/2010

Dear Lowers,

For my sixth birthday, my father built a playhouse for me.  It was painted red with white trim.  The shutters had cutouts of “M’s” to indicate Marijo’s ownership.  The linoleum was gray with a multicolored confetti-type pattern.  In it were those old metal toy appliances, just a stove and refrigerator (no dishwasher necessary – don’t think they were even invented at that point).  There was a table and chairs, and a now priceless little set of blue willow china handed down from my mother’s childhood, and all sorts of dolly equipment.  You know how many accoutrements babies bring on.  To put it succinctly, I was the envy of every female of any age in my family, neighborhood, and school.  It was where I learned to keep house with my little broom and dustpan.  I also learned to keep in telephone contact with my family.  There was a telephone that was magically hooked up to another one in the “main” house.  I probably buzzed for my mother to “pick up” a conservative fifty times a day.  She always did.

Over the years, the little house’s use changed from playhouse to storage shed.  It was very sad.  All the playhouse things were still there, but my father added a lot of lawn tools to the mix.  It really lost its identity. 

When the sad time came to sell my family home, there arose such a commotion that it could not be ignored.  BE SURE TO SAVE THE PLAYHOUSE!  That mantra rose up from every woman who had ever spent a hot afternoon playing house there.  It was such a part of the memories of all my friends and cousins that it was touching.  So it was decided that the playhouse would be moved to our lake place.  On the back of a flatbed truck, the little house creaked and moaned as it was moved to a new location by Seneca Lake.  In the process, the wonderful linoleum lost the battle, but everything else remained intact.  Let the playhouse renovation begin!  First came the “hardy plank” siding, this time painted dark green just like the other cottages.  The white trim was repainted.  A new red shingle roof was installed, again to match the other cottages.  This spring a red and white checkerboard tile floor was added.  Finally, it was READY!  Ready for what, you ask.  Why, ready for Jane Scott Foster (the first granddaughter after five wonderful boys) who is now two and a half and totally able to appreciate the playhouse. The look on her face and the exclamation of “MY HOUSE!” said it all.  She loved it.  She swept it.  She had tea parties with the plastic dishes from my childhood.  (The blue willow ones have been put away for safe keeping).  She talked on the phone, although it is no longer connected to the outside world.  She fed her baby in the high chair.  She baked muffins with the old toy muffin tins.  And she pretended.  It was a joy to behold.

I am thankful to my father for building that wonderful little house.  I am thankful to my mother for helping me equip the playhouse with everything needed to keep house on a small scale.  And even more than that, I am thankful that it was left intact even during its storage shed stage.  But I am most thankful for a granddaughter who appreciates every bit of it!  My parents would have adored her…

 Here’s to cherished childhood memories,

Marijo

 

Here We Go Again!
8/24/2010

Dear Lowers,

I hope you have had as wonderful a summer as I have.  Tom and I recently returned from our summer place on Seneca, one of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York.  That area used to be “home” to me, but after forty years in Kentucky, we have adopted this Bluegrass state as “home” and intend to keep it that way.  But we love it there too.

Everyone up there assumes that we are very sad to leave the lake (which we are) and that we dread returning to our lives back in Kentucky (which we do NOT).  Once we pull away from “the lake” we are dead set on getting back to Kentucky and all we love about it.  The Lexington School is, of course, a huge part of that.  This year marks the thirty-third time I will experience a new school year at TLS.  When I began here, TLS was a teen-ager, and I was thirty years old.  Now, TLS is “over fifty,” and I am too!

This is the first of “Mrs. Foster’s Weekly Words” for this year.  For those of you who are new to Lower School, each Wednesday I will share some important reminders and maybe a story about school or child rearing or even my own experiences as a parent and grandparent.  I have found that these weekly emails draw us together as a community, and I love that part.

Thursday is our first day of school, and because of a funeral in Chicago, it will be the first time I will have had to miss an opening day of school in all these years.  I beg for your understanding, but I know that the REALLY important connections are between the students and teachers.  On Monday, I will take my traditional “first day of school” tour of all the classrooms to reconnect with the formers and make an acquaintance with our new students.

During this school year, if there is anything I can help you with please call, stop by, or email me.  The teachers and I want to be the first people you turn to with worries, concerns, feedback, or comments about your child’s experience… or your own for that matter.  We are accessible.  We try to be responsive.  We really want to be there for you.  Please take advantage of this offer!

To those who are new to Lower School, WELCOME!  And to those who aren’t, WELCOME BACK!

Looking forward to a great year with your family!

Marijo

The Last Words of 2009-10
5/26/2010
 

Dear Lowers,

Promise me something. Promise me that you will have a wonderful summer with your kids; that you will encourage them to read about things they are interested in; that the summer reading list is something that you help your child find enjoyable… and not a chore; that you find math in all sorts of daily activities and talk about it with your children; that you encourage lots of physical activity for your children, including unstructured, spontaneous play; that you and your children relate to nature in fun ways; that you consider introducing some of the board and card games that you enjoyed as a child; that you find the courage to limit your children’s screen time; and finally, that you find the time to engage your children in a random act of kindness every once in a while.

It won’t be long before class lists are emailed to you. We try to get those out as soon as all three divisions have their lists complete, usually around the end of the first week in June. I know that is an exciting and anticipated event!

Thanks, once again, for the opportunity to work with you and your children,

Marijo

I Cannot Tell a Lie
5/19/2010
 

Dear Lowers,

I recently was having a conversation with one of my favorite students (I have lots) when I told her something nice that someone had recently said about her. Her response was a little grin that indicated that she didn’t really “buy” what I was “peddling”. Quizzing her about that little look, she told me that she thought I had made that up to make her feel better about herself. And here is what I told her. “My favorite life saying is this - Always tell the truth. That way, you don’t have to remember anything.” Think about it. The truth is just hanging there; there’s no need to conjure up a story, remember a detail, leave out something, or even elaborate on it.  Now, I did acknowledge that sometimes good people think it is okay to say something untrue if it will make the other person feel good about herself. Personally, I don’t buy into that school of thought so much. If you are a person who always tells the truth, you will soon be known by that attribute. Your details will be clear, and you will not waver from the message, whether it be positive or not. You will be known as a person with integrity. And that’s the truth!

With regret that it’s almost over for another year,

Marijo

Sometimes May Brings Melancholy
5/12/2010
 

Dear Lowers,

 

It happens every year. The middle of May approaches, and my reaction is always the same, “Where has this year gone?” Then my nostalgic side takes over, and I begin to reflect on all that has transpired. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the very special celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the school happened a very long time ago. I guess that is because so many other good things have happened since that October date. Each of you has your own set of memories to draw from, and I have mine.

As the school year closes I always like to remind parents and teachers alike that sometimes moods get out of sorts and emotions run high at the prospect of leaving beloved teachers and moving on to the next grade. A few years back in my Weekly Words, I began sharing a precious story of two third grade buddies who ended up in my office after some sort of disagreement took place at recess. Now, these little boys were good to the core, and it was definitely not typical of them to be cross with each other. They were very close friends. Trying to get to the bottom of this quizzical situation, I asked each to reflect on what was happening between them. Their responses still bring tears to my eyes as I write today. The first said that it was his fault because he was just feeling really sad about leaving his teacher who he really liked. He was just plain cranky because his world was changing so much. With that admission, the flood of tears came. Feeling like a one-armed paper hanger, my attention was immediately drawn to the other little guy, who by now was sobbing. Gently, I probed as to the reason for his distress. He shared between sobs that he was feeling very sad because one day he was going to have to graduate from The Lexington School, and he really did not want that day to ever come. So… by then the three of us were crying. I came up with some words of comfort… the best I could do… and we all celebrated this honest sharing of emotion, third grade style.

That story will remain in my heart forever, and you will need to forgive me if I retell it every year. What went on in my office that day was not typical of all kids in all schools. In all my school years, I do not remember ever being sad as the last day of school drew near. (If you remember from a past email, I was the kid hiding in the clothing racks of the department store to avoid having to speak to my teacher in public.) It speaks volumes about the culture and community of this place… and the people who work with your children. 

Thank you teachers, for another great year!

Marijo

4-28-10
4/28/2010
 Dear Lowers,

 

ERB testing will be starting soon.  We test each year, beginning in 3rd grade, and we only assess the areas of language arts and math.  We assess the children’s reasoning skills in both areas as well as their achievement levels.  Generally, we use the scores more to evaluate our programs and curricula than to evaluate the student performance.  We use their performance as a guide to measuring the success of our programs. There are times, however, when we do study a child’s performance to see if there may be clues to academic problems being experienced or to give us additional information about suspected learning differences or need for further enrichment. 

We willingly share the scores with any parent who requests them, but we do not send them out automatically.  There are two reasons for this.  First, we wish not to give them an inflated importance as far as the individual scores go.  Second, when we go over the scores with a parent, we like to have a face-to-face conference to explain the meaning of all the data.

We compare our scores to those of other independent schools and hold ourselves to a high standard. Plain and simple, if we are not scoring BETTER than the median of other independent schools, we examine our programs carefully.  There are several subtests, and we pay very close attention if any one of those subtests comes in at an equal or lower level than our independent school counterparts.  (We also compare ourselves to the public school national norms, and our scores are always well above that median score.)  A couple of years ago, Una MacCarthy and I attended an ERB workshop at a professional meeting.  Somehow, our standard for measuring our programs came up during the question and answer period.  The incredulous expression on the face of the ERB representative and her subsequent questioning of our goal of having higher scores than the independent school median on every subtest made us realize how high a bar we have been holding for ourselves.  Well, it’s working, and we have no plans to change our approach!

The scores come back in August.  If you have a desire to see the scores for your child, please call to arrange a meeting in late September.

 

Many thanks,

Marijo

 

Special Instructions for Dismissal During Thunderstorms
4/20/2010

Dear Lowers, 

In the event that we are in the midst of a lightning storm at dismissal time, please follow the procedures below:

Lower school drivers should look for the nautical inclement weather flag on the second flag pole.  When this flag is flying, it is your signal to park your car in a single line along the curb closest to the building, to enter the building, and proceed to your child’s classroom to retrieve your child.  (Students will not be dismissed to anyone except the adult driver.) When you feel that it is safe to take your children to the car, please do so.  Once you have your children safely in the car, please exit the carline area.  It is very important that egress from the parking lot is not blocked, so park accordingly.  If your lower school students participate in the middle school dismissal, they should proceed to the gym.  A similar “park and retrieve” system will be in play from the gymnasium.  Preschool dismissal will not change.

This system works quite well. We will use this only in the case of lightning.  Rain, snow, or other weather will not deter us from our regular dismissal procedures! There may be other non-weather related reasons for dismissing in this fashion, but you will always be informed in advance.

Here’s to being prepared,

Marijo

Some Thoughts on the Importance of Exercise and Sports from an Unlikely Source
4/14/2010
Dear Lowers,  

What I’m about to address may seem counter-intuitive to some, but I believe it strongly enough to put it out there. It has all come about as I was listening to the morning news last Thursday morning. Evidently Time magazine has a big story on bribing children to perform better. I haven’t read the article, and I am not commenting on it… maybe another time. As this article was being discussed, there were follow-up conversations where various bright minds were sharing what they do with their own kids. I kept hearing a common theme, which went something like this… My kids do fine in school, but they really LOVE the sports and athletic activities. As long as they are doing well in school, they can participate in the sports. But if those grades fall… goodbye soccer, tennis, swimming, or fill in your own blank. THAT is what I disagree with. I speak from experience, as you know, but there is also considerable research that supports the fact that children will do better in their academic pursuits if they have the outlet of sports and athletics. Exercise breeds higher performance. 

The same holds true if a child is struggling with some behavior issues. So many times I hear parents say, “I told my daughter that if she has any more behavior problems at school, she is OFF the soccer team.” WHOA there, Nelly! I think that is almost always the opposite of what my instincts and experience would advise. The more exercise and movement a behaviorally challenged child gets, the better!  But Mrs. Foster, you say, what about accountability?  Why, I’m all for it. Just don’t take those sports activities away.

I suggest you make a plan in advance outlining a good schedule for completion of academic work and/or your behavior expectations along with appropriate consequences for non-compliance and then explain this plan fully to your child. Consequences are rarely appropriate if given in haste when you are furious about the latest indiscretion.

Go team!

Marijo

A Message for Those who are Still Deciding about Cell Phones for Their Kids
4/7/2010
 

Dear Lowers,

I think everybody knows that I am rather protective of children. I have a strong desire to guide their paths through the tall timbers of challenging things that they are exposed to every day. But I am also one who thinks we can go overboard with that protectiveness. I sometimes worry that cell phones are a case in point. The stated reason always has something to do with keeping tabs on children, maybe even when they are within the safe confines of school or another adult’s supervision. Safety. That’s it. But is it, really?

My question this week is… Is it a good thing to have constant contact with your child via cell phone or text messages? What about the development of your child’s coping and problem solving skills? Should you be the one to decide everything or should you have the trust in them to make a few decisions… once again while within the safety of school, organized after school activities, or another adult’s supervision? I see THAT as your main responsibility… being sure that your child is in a safe place with good people. That is a far cry from constant contact so that you can monitor.

What happened to getting organized about after-school stuff in the morning? Now, it seems that it is easier to call that cell phone and plan from minute to minute. Let’s say you are running a little late for dismissal. Is it necessary to call to let your child know this? Or would it be okay to let your child go through the procedures set up by the school for his or her safe keeping until you arrive? Do you want to eliminate every butterfly in the tummy or feeling of wondering in your child’s life? I don’t think so. Without practice and success (and sometimes a stressor or two), children cannot learn to navigate.

Please think twice about whose convenience and comfort are at stake before giving in to that cell phone. The photos and text messages that come along with that cell phone have a way of turning on them. Parents just cannot control what other people are going to deliver to your child’s phone. The only thing you can control is whether or not your child has one.

And if you are one of many who has already made your decision to allow your child to have a cell phone… this is NOT to lay a guilt trip on you. Just please think carefully about how you and your child use that phone.

Here’s to good communication with your child, just maybe not on a cell phone,

Marijo

Be Empowered to Speak Your Mind
3/24/2010
 

Dear Lowers,

Last week I wrote about parental responsibility to preview video games before exposing children to them. I hope that the “words to the wise” were sufficient to guide you in your decision making. But that brings me to the next level of responsibility, which is to be respectful of the decisions of other families regarding such things as video games, movies, television shows, and the like. When your child invites another to play or spend the night, do you find out in advance about that child’s family preferences for such things? Perhaps you are comfortable with your ten year old watching PG-13 movies; do you check to see that the friend’s family is also okay with this? I think it’s important to find out.

Even better, I think every parent should be empowered to mention what their comfort level is about such things even as they are accepting the invitation for the play date or sleepover. Such empowerment can save a good deal of frustration or even in some cases some good friendships. 

Given the number of responses to last week’s email, I take it that many of you are also concerned about what your child is exposed to. Those of you who have developed rules and standards need to know that you are in a sizable group of people. You are not alone. You need not feel uncomfortable standing up for your decisions. In fact, I say you must stand up for them. Your child’s character development is at stake here. I just can’t think of anything more important.

I am not promoting that any parent be judgmental about any other’s decision. As I stated, these are family decisions, and families will differ. I am simply promoting good communication so that there are no breaches to your particular comfort level.

It is important that you be a part of developing your child’s life compass. If you don’t, that video game, TV set, or computer screen will.

Here’s to the empowerment of parents to communicate with each other,

Marijo

 

A Few Words to the Wise
3/17/2010
Dear Lowers,   

A warning. I am embarking upon a discussion topic about which I am not personally well-versed but one that I still have some thoughts on. There is one segment of the age of technology that continues to concern me. I believe that parents need to be better educated about the electronic games they are bringing into their homes. Many of them are great. Some are contributing to better exercise, eye-hand coordination, even mental acuity. But there are others that could be contributing to a child’s becoming desensitized to violence, gore, vile language, or worse. One in particular, Call of Duty, seems to glorify the horrors of war while incorporating the aforementioned. It seems to be taking our country by storm. On the two websites I checked for ratings on this particular series of games, they were rated either Mature, No Kids, Teen, or 16+. 

Such decisions about the games your children play are yours to make. I simply want to caution you to pay attention to the ratings and to the content of the games you are allowing. Children are capable of enjoying experiences that they do not have the emotional or intellectual capacity to handle going forward. Whether or not your children feel the game is “fun” should have little influence on your decision to allow them to play it. 

Please be proactive; do your homework; experience the game before you allow your child to do so. Visit the websites where video games are reviewed. And please do not be cavalier about the ratings. www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.jsp and www.commonsensemedia.org are two good ratings websites, but there are others.

Remember, these are your decisions, not your children’s,

Marijo

 

Another Take on the Manners Theme
3/10/2010
 

Dear Lowers,

On February 17th, I published Dr. Lowry’s list of 25 manners that should be secure by the age of nine. I was not surprised at the numbers who wrote back saying how much they liked that list. It set me to thinking. We all value good manners. Most of us have spent countless hours trying to instill them in the children we hang around with. We model good manners. We prod when they don’t happen automatically. We correct when necessary. So, why is it that these bright, lovely children do not have the automaticity that we are craving? Could it possibly be because we are not specific enough in teaching these skills of life? Have we needed a manners curriculum in our daily family lives all this time? Is it more like our school lessons than we have thought? Do these children need a little more direct instruction and a little less “watch me doing the right thing for the next ten years or so?” Many of you have written to say that you are putting the list on the refrigerator. If you’ve deleted yours, it’s still available on the TLS website under program. You don’t even have to login. Go to Program – Lower School – CLICK and scroll to the bottom of the page. All the oldies are stored there. Mrs. Foster’s Weekly Words

I’ve already done your lesson plans for you:

·        Break the list up into smaller segments. This will take a few sessions. 

·        Read the good manners together with your child. 

·        Ascertain understanding by having them rephrase in their own words. 

·        Practice a couple of times by role playing. 

·        Assess by watching them trying out the rules in their daily lives. 

·        Give feedback. This part is very important.

It’s a lot like teaching vocabulary words. Good luck.

In celebration of your new teaching career,

Marijo

 

My Kid Said WHAT?
3/3/2010

Dear Lowers,

Last week I talked about how much we love your kids, warts and all. While I was composing, I was thinking of an oft repeated transgression that seems to always elicit that “Oh, my gosh, what are they going to think of my child!” Or perhaps even more frequently, “Oh, my gosh, what are they going to think of ME!” This would be the use of the “F-bomb,” as we refer to it around here. Anybody who knows me knows that this word is not part of my word bank. When I was growing up this word was so infrequently heard and had such a different use that it has had a lifelong affect on me.

That said, I know that it is a word that is out there, and its use has changed since I was developing my vocabulary. Used so frequently and in so many places where kids can be exposed, the “F-bomb” is just hanging there, waiting for a kid to try it out. Do we react when it happens? Yes. Do we take it very seriously? Yes. Do we want to protect every child from hearing that bomb? Yes. But do we immediately assume that it was used because the child heard it at the breakfast table that morning? No. We do not. 

We always go about teaching the child that this word is not EVER to be used at school (or anywhere, for that matter). Period. But almost always, when we let the parents know, the first response is, “We do not use that word in our home.” We know that. Then this is usually followed up with some questioning of the child at home about the origins of the experiment in word usage. You know what? The word might well have been heard at school, but it is so pervasive in our society today that it is likely that it has been heard many other times during a child’s experience. We wish we could change the children’s exposure, but we have to be satisfied with helping them understand that the exposure is not something to be repeated.

So, if you get the call that your child has used the word, please understand that up to a certain age, they know not of what they speak. They are repeating something that has become too pervasive in our world. And they probably are aware that it should be a “no-no” but was worth the experiment to see what might happen. We will continue to teach. So will you. But we will not be judging.

In celebration of our mutual understanding,

Marijo

 

Note to Prospective Teachers: Grudge Holders Need Not Apply
2/24/2010
Dear Lowers,  

I know I have addressed this in passing before, but it keeps coming up, so I want to explain the notion more clearly. We do not judge children. And we do not keep detailed lists of past transgressions. If teachers and administrators were grudge holders, our brains would soon be so full of naughty deeds that we wouldn’t have room for the daily barrage of goodness that comes from every child. What we do is help children learn from mistakes and celebrate when that is accomplished, and most times it is. And then we move on. There are many kids who have to learn from multiple mistakes, but it is rare that the same ones are repeated. 

It’s okay. It’s why we are here… to teach right and wrong alongside the academics. I often tell kids that it is more important to me that they learn to be truthful, honest, good people than to learn those academics. Now, I’m fairly safe in saying this because I know that they will, most certainly, learn those academics here at TLS. But I want them to know that who they are as people really is of the utmost importance.

So when I hear a parent fretting about what we might think about their child when they have done something disappointing, it makes me feel like we have failed to communicate our stance. Our philosophy says that we are okay with kids making mistakes, so if we are okay with that, how can one possibly wonder if we will think less of a child or its parents when a mistake happens. We love kids, warts and all. In fact, over the years, it’s probably those kids who needed our guidance the most who remain closest to our hearts.

Here’s to celebrating the moments when children learn important life lessons,

Marijo

First Comes Good Manners; Then Comes Empathy
2/17/2010

Dear Lowers,

Good manners at age six means something quite different from mannerly behavior at age eleven. But there are certain things that should be fairly engrained by the age of nine. The following was written by David Lowry, PhD, former Head of School at TLS. This piece was written many years ago, but it still rings true. Ironically, I sought his permission to share it with you, and he found it quite ironic that he, too, had sent it out as part of his Wednesday email the very day I asked. The message is timeless.

 

Twenty Five Manners Before Age Nine by David Lowry, PhD:

  1. When asking for something, say “please.”
  2. When receiving something, say “thank you.”
  3. Do not interrupt adults who are speaking with each other unless there is an emergency. They will notice you.
  4. The phrase “excuse me” is a useful way of entering into a conversation or getting someone’s attention.
  5. If you have any doubt about doing something, ask permission. It can save many hours of grief.
  6. The world is not as interested in your dislikes, and hates as you are. Keep them to yourself, or between you and your friends, out of earshot of adults. Nobody likes a complainer.
  7. Do not comment on other people’s physical characteristics unless, of course, it’s to compliment them, which is always welcome.
  8. At the table:
      • Use utensils properly. If you are unsure, get your parents to teach you and watch what other people do. Keep a napkin on your lap; use it to wipe your mouth when necessary.
      • Don’t reach for things; ask to have them passed. Add something pleasant to the conversation. Refuse unwanted seconds by saying, “No, thank you, I’m full,” and not “I don’t like it.” Whether at home or away, say something nice about the meal, even if it was the worst meal you ever had. Someone took the time and care to cook it for you. When you have finished eating before others, ask to be excused from the table; do not merely get up and leave. Especially when you are a guest, offer to help clear the table.
      • Thank the person who cooked the meal.
  9. When people ask you how you are, tell them, and then ask them how they are.
  10. When you have spent time at a friend’s house, remember to thank your friend’s parents for having you over and for the good time you had.
  11. When at a friend’s house, ask if you can use the telephone before calling home.
  12. Knock on closed doors before entering.
  13. Call home if you are going to be more than fifteen minutes late.
  14. When placing a phone call, give your name first before asking to speak with another person.
  15. Be appreciative and say “thank you” for any gift you receive.
  16. Never use foul language in front of adults. Adults know all those words and find them boring and unpleasant.
  17. Don’t call anyone names.
  18. Do not make fun of anyone for any reason. Teasing shows others you are weak. Ganging up on other people is cruel.
  19. Even if a play or assembly is boring, sit through it quietly and pretend interest. The performers are doing their best.
  20. If you run into somebody, say “excuse me” before moving on.
  21. Don’t pick your nose in public and cover your mouth when you cough.
  22. When going through a door, look to see if you can hold it open for someone else.
  23. If you come across a parent, teacher or neighbor working on something, ask if you can help. If they say “yes,” do it -- you may learn something.
  24. When an adult asks you to do a favor, do it pleasantly.
  25. When someone helps you, say “thank you.” That person will want to help you again. This is very useful with teachers!

Here’s to the habit of good manners that eventually turns into empathy,

Marijo

Trust Doesn't Always Come Easily
2/3/2010
Dear Lowers,  

On the 13th of January, I wrote about rites of passage and the importance of letting your child work toward resolution of challenges. I also made it clear that advocacy for your child is still a very important parental role and that your cooperation with teachers and administrators is key to getting things right. I usually get a few emails back from my weekly words, and this time was no different. Several replied that they liked the weekly words and that they were in complete agreement. The true test, however, is when one is in the throes of a parenting challenge and you can still believe. Those weekly words went out on a Wednesday; on Thursday there was an issue at school, and I had to email some of my favorite parents (I have lots) that their daughter would be speaking about the issue with them at home. The mom’s response was so supportive, and she used my closing words to end her email - Here’s to strengthening our children through cooperation. I was incredibly honored and more than impressed that she would remain a believer even when it was her daughter who was experiencing the challenge. The truth is, human nature dictates that these words of advice sound good enough as they pertain to other people and their children, but they sometimes are a bit harder to follow when we are dealing with our own family issues. I get that. The bottom line of this week’s words is that I want to publicly yet anonymously thank that mother for trusting in the school and remaining a believer… even when.

Here’s to the kind of trust that brings out the best in our students,

Marijo

Sometimes It's Worth It to Air Some Family Linens!
1/27/2010
Dear Lowers,

Recently I was asked for some advice from my daughter. Her ten-year-old has always been a great kid, but as the first born of three sons he has the burden of being the big brother to an amazingly darling and charismatic (depending upon your perspective) young fellow. That five year old seems adept at anything he tries from tennis to dancing to winning people over to making people laugh at his adorable (again, depending upon your perspective) antics. There is also a middle boy, who simply makes it his job to get along quite well with both of his brothers and to pretty much be the sweet, thoughtful one… most days. 

Getting back to the ten-year-old… back in December he was having some rough times and was, well, hard as it is for this grandmother to admit it, behaving in unattractive ways toward his brothers - teasing, meddling, pushing their buttons, and getting their goats whenever possible. My daughter, as most parents are, was pretty much convinced that her boy was well on his way to becoming a social deviant who would probably end up in reform school or worse before he grew up. (Whatever phases our children are going through, we almost always think it’s a permanent condition that will have dire, lasting effects.) And, to make matters worse, my daughter had reacted in ways rather unlike her when confronted with this behavior. 

Enter the white-haired grandma. Mind you, she DID ask for advice, so I felt pretty safe in being straightforward with her about how to fix this boy! And believe it or not, we had to start by fixing his mother! The following bullets were my advice to her that day, and it worked wonderfully.

  • Wait for a peaceful moment when all is calm in the house and there has been no rancor for a while.
  • Approach that naughty boy with a calm demeanor and contrition about her inappropriate response to the last unpleasant sibling interaction.
  • Ask the boy to forgive her behavior.
  • Acknowledge how hard it is to be the big brother to the “mayor” of the town who everybody adores.
  • Acknowledge, also, what a good boy he is about things that haven’t pertained to the damaged sibling relationships. Thank him for being helpful, for being so good in school, and for working hard every day to do his best.
  • Ask him if he could try to understand why she was driven to responding the way she did.
  • Encourage him to think of some ways to be a really great big brother in the days ahead. Help with the specifics if necessary.
  • Figure out a way to follow all of this with some special focused time with him, mostly to reinforce that notion of unconditional love.
  • Provide positive feedback as improved sibling interactions come about.
  • Repeat as necessary…

That ten-year-old is a fabulous kid… responsible, high achieving, clever, handsome, AND vulnerable to feelings of insecurity about not being as “adored” as that five-year-old. His cure was to self-medicate with feats of “put-down” that would kill a bear… or at the very least, his mother. My remedy was somewhat counter intuitive… to take a child at his worst moment and show him the most love and care… but my daughter tried it, and it worked.

This airing of our family linens is brought to you with the care and understanding that you, too, might need to follow that path of bullets one day! (And in case you are wondering, I did run this by my daughter before sharing…)

Marijo

Another Good Reason to Talk with Us
1/20/2010
 

Dear Lowers,

Does it seem possible that this school year is half over? The recent conference day marked the halfway point. Very soon you will be asked to electronically reenroll your children, and once that reenrollment deadline has passed we will begin the task of meeting to discuss every child for next year’s placement. You have been so good to respect the “no teacher requests” guideline. This gives us the ability to create well balanced groups that allow for the best learning relationships. We take into consideration learning styles, academic strengths, areas of potential growth, emotional needs, personality issues, as well as social relationships in our attempt to create classes that serve each child optimally.

We always invite parents to give us information that we might not know. This could amount to something as simple as, “Johnny and Tommy are great friends, but when they interact at Cub Scouts they seem to be more focused on the friendship than the activities at hand.” One mom shared that she thought it would be best if her daughter had a female advisor, and by golly she was proven right recently. 

We do take friendships into account when we group the children. But we also put personalities and potential friendships into the mix. If two best friends have been together for a time in classes, we will sometimes place the students in different classes to promote new circles of friendships. If we are aware of budding friendships that seem good, we will often try to accommodate further growth of those relationships either in core classes or in specials at the upper grades. There have been cases where budding friendships were known to you but not to us, and it would be good to share with us. 

What we can’t do is make any changes once the placements have been published. This means that your sharing your ideas with us should come early in the process… which will be starting right after the reenrollment contracts are turned in. How do you proceed? Once you have reenrolled your child, just call me, and we can discuss your thoughts. I will then share them with the teachers and Mrs. Childers as we have our discussions.

Here’s to communication that leads to optimal success for each child,

Marijo

 

Your Child's Teacher Can Serve as the Most Valuable Player on Your Team!
1/13/2010
 

Dear Lowers,

Rites of passage are important in a child’s life. They can vary immensely, but the one common thread is that rites of passage always include a challenge. As parents, we are so often tempted to ease the path of our children… maybe to lessen a challenge that crops up… maybe even to take that challenge on ourselves rather than let our child experience it. We’ve all done it. We all know what the right thing to do is, but we are sometimes overtaken by a desire to protect our kids. The thing is… what appears to be protection really can be a roadblock to the child’s learning to deal with important challenges in the future. 

 There are certain rites of passage built into a child’s experience at The Lexington School. There are teachers along each child’s path who will challenge them to reach new heights in their learning. Do you remember Chuck Baldecchi’s November Head’s Letter? Chuck was expecting his father to intervene with that biology teacher, but “old Dad” did not. Now, years later, here was Chuck publicly thanking his father for expecting him to face that challenge and to grow from it. The closing remark, “Thanks, Dad. I needed that,” pretty much says it all. 

So, when Mr. Scarr’s (4th grade) homework seems daunting, or Mrs. Moloney’s (5th grade) diligence about improving your daughter’s organization skills seems too persistent, or Dr. Cooper’s coaching for the next great production seems too pointed, or Miss Cowling’s (6th grade) expectation for excellent note taking seems too demanding, or Ms. Bonzo-Sims’s grading of that first eighth grade paper seems too stringent, or Coach Parlanti’s encouragement to trim that time in cross country seems excessive… stop yourself. Do not be tempted to dive in to make the challenges melt away. 

Being an advocate for your child is a huge responsibility, so please do not read these words and think that I am discounting the importance of that role. There are ways to advocate that are extremely beneficial to your child’s experience. One is to contact that teacher, state your goal of wishing to provide support but needing some help to do it most effectively. The best work on behalf of children comes when teachers and parents join forces. You will gain a more complete perspective about what is actually happening with your child, and if the teacher doesn’t provide some good advice for you and a great plan for your student, I will be surprised.

Here’s to strengthening our children through cooperation,

Marijo

They Just Don’t Make Kids Like They Used To… Thank Goodness!
1/6/2010
Dear Lowers,

What in the world has gotten into these TLS students today? Things surely have changed since I was a kid. I can remember in my youth doing almost anything to avoid speaking to my teacher or EVEN WORSE my principal if encountered outside of school. I might zip across the street, hide behind a grocery display, lose myself in a rack of clothing in a department store, or just plain pretend not to notice. TLS kids are so different. I absolutely love it when I hear that familiar, “MRS. FOSTER!” ring out when I’m out and about. I encountered two of my favorite girlies (I have lots) at Sam’s Club before the holidays. Hugs were exchanged, and they made my day; and so did their mom when she finally caught up with us. And then there was the episode at Five Guys (please don’t judge me for loving those burgers!). Upon seeing one of my favorite dads (I have lots) and his son (another fave), I plopped right down at the table next to them. A more thoughtful person might not have done this to a middle school boy, but he really didn’t seem to mind too much. I learned very important information about an upcoming trip with which the dad would be surprising his wife. (Don’t worry, my lips remained sealed until after the appointed departure time). Then another group of my favorite TLS kids, all revved up after basketball practice came in with a favorite mom (I have lots), waved and hollered “HI, MRS. FOSTER” across the restaurant before coming over to visit for a while. And finally, there was one more special and lovely little girl who brought her mother over to say goodbye as they were leaving. I had missed them altogether due to the TLS reunions that had transpired already. My husband and I both loved every bit of it! But on the way home I got to thinking about what I was like as a kid. Suffice it to say that I did not compare well. Whatever in the world has gotten into these TLS students today… should be bottled up and distributed to parents everywhere!

Here’s to self-confident, socially adept children… yours,

Marijo 

P.S. And if your children are more like I was as a kid, please do not despair. My guess is, if we don’t force things, they will be more than comfortable with this aspect of social interaction before they leave these halls.

Mrs. Gingerbread Will Be Coming Soon to a TLS Library Near You!
12/9/2009

Dear Lowers,

Most of you are probably not aware that a celebrity of considerable magnitude visits The Lexington School every year around this time. Her appearances are very secretive, and she is usually gone within an hour of her arrival in the library. She greets the Kindergarten students there, tells them a little about her life as the wife of the very famous “gingerbread man” and then shares her favorite children’s book with them, Gingerbread Baby. This, of course, is the tale of her husband’s beginnings. The story of her husband’s life is what it is… a good story. Mrs. Gingerbread always goes on to describe what their life is like now, many years since the time when the gingerbread baby came to life. She also talks about how people very different in appearance and upbringing can find happiness and friendship together. When the children ask questions, she is sure to always speak the truth. Often something comes up about how much she looks like Mrs. Foster. Her coy response will neither confirm nor deny the suggestion that she is, indeed, Mrs. Foster in disguise. She is adept at answering questions with other questions so as to maintain the possibility of her magic being kept alive in the hearts of the children. You would be surprised at how many children participate in the moment and ask relevant questions that support Mrs. Gingerbread’s story. The doubters usually don’t say much at all, but they smile knowingly. Often, after a year has passed and Kindergarten students turn into first graders, Mrs. Gingerbread is brought up again. A few years ago two of my favorite first grade girls (I had lots) came into my office to talk about Mrs. Gingerbread. Clearly, both had been believers at the time of “the visit,” but one was beginning to question “Mrs. G’s” authenticity and brought the other along to verify. “Mrs. Foster, are YOU Mrs. Gingerbread?” said the doubter. Before I had a chance to compose my response, the other took care of everything for me. “Of course she isn’t. Look! Her shoes are different.” I just smiled as they left my office, relieved to let my friend Mrs. Gingerbread live on in those two little hearts for another day.

So, how does this story connect to you as parents? This time of year, I always get a few questions about how to handle questions from their kids that deal with some of the more magical aspects of the season. My advice is to handle all questions just like Mrs. Gingerbread does. Always tell the truth; answer questions with other provocative questions; and say less rather than more about the subject at hand. I have always found that children, up to a point, really want to believe in the magic and will often find a way to do so even when doubt has crept into their minds… temporarily.

Here’s to the wonder of childhood,

Marijo

A Travel Encounter of the Best Kind
12/2/2009
Dear Lowers,

Every teacher is a member of the admission committee of The Lexington School. Not only do the teachers help by providing important information and answering questions during tours of the school, they also help screen prospective students and then participate in follow-up meetings with the admission people. At special admission events, they are on hand to answer questions and provide curricular information that is always helpful and impressive to those visiting us. 

As a division head, I have always taken my role on the admission committee very seriously. At times I have been shameless about recruiting bright youngsters to our school. One time, many years ago, I was most impressed by a precious and precocious toddler waiting in an airport with her parents for a flight to Lexington. I watched. I thought… how shall I do this? I waited. Before you know it, we were boarding, and I had not yet made my move. Lo and behold, this little girl and her parents were seated right across the aisle on the flight back to Lexington. I saw this as serendipitous, and so I began a conversation. “So, where do you plan to send your darling girlie to preschool?” said I. “Well, we haven’t really decided,” said they. “Have I got a school for YOU!” was my response. I’ll bet you know the rest of the story… That little girl found her way to TLS as did the baby sister who came along a while later. The dad served on our Board for many years, even after his girls were gone. This was all because I have an eye for bright, wonderful children, and I dared to speak about the school I love so much because I truly believe it is the best place for those children. That family had never heard of The Lexington School until that fateful airplane ride.

My reason for telling this story is simple. You, too, have the knack for knowing a great potential family for our school. I am therefore granting you an invitation to serve on the admission committee for The Lexington School… any time you come across a child who you believe will be a good fit for us. Your appreciation for this school will guide you as you speak, and I promise that if you are successful, you will be a hero in that family’s eyes.

Find your voice and use it to change a child’s life and strengthen our school at the same time,

Marijo

P.S. That toddler is now a freshman in college, and the baby sister is a sophomore in high school.

What to do. What to do. It's Thanksgiving break!
11/18/2009
Dear Lowers,

We have an entire week for Thanksgiving vacation, and I’d like to make a suggestion for one of your first family activities this weekend. How about a trip to the public library or favorite book store to stock up on some great reads for the week ahead? If you engage those brains in books it will pay off in all sorts of ways. Our students work hard every day and rarely get a whole week away from school where they can focus on pleasure reading. Voracious readers will have a list of books already in place. More reluctant ones may need to be lured by books or magazines about things they care deeply. Feed those passions. If you can hook a young reader on some of the great series out there, it can be a joy to experience both as a reader and as a parent. And when they aren’t reading? I hope they are outdoors playing! No, WAIT! What I really mean is when they aren’t outdoors playing, put a good book in their hands. I had that backwards, didn’t I?

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,

Marijo

The Joy of Teaching
11/11/2009

Dear Lowers,

A few weeks ago (October 7), I wrote about the difficulties of watching our children grow up. And as I wrote the closing “Here’s to the new crop of first graders who always are willing to fill that void,” it hit me. Therein lies the key to why teachers have the best jobs in the world. Everybody knows the reasons why some would not consider this to be true, but teachers know the secret, just smile, and keep on coming back year after year. Can you imagine? Teachers get a fresh crop of students each year, so the melancholy they felt in June as they said goodbye to last year’s students is soothed completely when that new group enters their room in August. It’s perpetual. Teachers do not know the pain of never again experiencing childhood’s best moments, because they know they will… and SOON.

So, I speak for all the lower school teachers when I say thank you for providing us the new crop each year so that we can continue in the best jobs in the world. And it doesn’t hurt one iota that we at The Lexington School get the creamiest of all the crops around!

 Here’s to the jobs we love!

Marijo

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Big House!
11/4/2009
 

Dear Lowers,

Some of you may be aware that I am a fan of Notre Dame Football. My daughter Meg Foster Sullivan graduated from there in 1994 as did her husband Dave. It has been a while since I have truly been connected to the place, but I do continue to enjoy those Saturday afternoon games. Last year, Notre Dame had an awful season. Nothing went right. So… it seemed to a couple of my favorite 5th grade boys (I had lots), that it might be safe to talk a little smack about their favorite team, Michigan. Leading up to that 2008 matchup, I had to endure a good deal of “Go Blue” (and they weren’t talking about Kentucky), and some pretty confident predictions about how the game would go. I politely and respectfully replied, “Go Irish!” when this happened. Truth is I was pretty sure these fellows were RIGHT ON with their predictions. But the miracle happened. Notre Dame pulled it out. They WON! It was now time for MY fun. 

I enlisted the help of one of the 5th grade teachers. She must remain nameless, because she is in a witness protection program now. She gravely told these two young Michigan fans first thing on Monday morning that they were needed in Mrs. Foster’s office. By the time they arrived, one boy looked pale. The other one had a sparkle in his eye… knowing that I was probably up to something. And I was. I had my computer all set up with the Notre Dame Fight Song. I even had the words in case they wanted to sing along. They didn’t. But what they did do was listen to the WHOLE thing. They were good sports who feigned just the right amount of disgust about this terrible punishment.

Well, this year’s matchup went a different way. Notre Dame went to the Big House and lost 38-34. The two favorite 5th graders had turned into favorite 6th graders (I still have lots), and I thought I was safe. After all, they were WAY over there in the Middle School. And I was all nestled in my office in the Lower School. I did think of those guys at the end of the game, and I did wonder if they remembered… But by Monday morning, I glibly entered the building already having forgotten the disappointment of Saturday. But as I walked down the hall I caught a glimpse of something. What WAS that stuff all over my windows and door? What DO those pieces of paper say? They seemed to be printed in blue and maize. Ohmygosh! Every aspect of my life had been inundated with details of that game… headlines… scores... GO MICHIGAN!!! All day long… everywhere I went there were more… in my mailbox… in the ladies room… on my desk… It was all in place by 7:40 on Monday morning. My first reaction was to set to work to have these little hoodlums EXPELLED! But then I remembered… I really deserved this. There were many who didn’t know about the first part of the story, which is why I am writing about it today. Some reacted with “poor Mrs. Foster!” But please do not feel sorry for me. I’m already working on what might happen NEXT year after Notre Dame meets Michigan in South Bend!

So, you ask, what does this story have to do with parenting advice? The message is that it is okay to tease a little, banter a little (respectfully, of course), practical joke a little, and ultimately “get even” a little! It’s good for the relationship. It will not break your child’s spirit; it will enhance it. I promise.

Go IRISH!

Marijo

 

You Know You Are a TLS Dad When...
10/28/2009
 

Dear Lowers,

You KNOW you are a Lexington School dad when…

1.     Your wife calls you at the office and tells you that ALL the other dads will be at Pizza with the Pops, and you need to rearrange your noontime schedule next Friday.

2.     You happily rearrange your schedule and willingly cancel your afternoon golf game to accommodate this event.

3.     You openly confess to Mrs. Foster on parent night that you are so sorry that you ever doubted the wisdom of sending your children to The Lexington School and that you gladly would pay TWICE the tuition just to have the opportunity to have your kid with that wonderful teacher.

4.     You rethink those words from parent night and decide just to pay the one tuition upon seeing the light of the next day.

5.     You use The Lexington School as a recruiting tool to lure that prized associate to Kentucky, as in… “You need not worry about what school district in which to locate. The best school in town is open to all bright students.”

6.     You wonder just how your boy or girl got so adept at speaking with adults, using good manners, and being so poised in public performances. You just don’t recall teaching all that stuff.

7.     You find yourself talking about The Lexington School with people you hardly know.

8.     Your pen holder at work is actually a pinch pot created in a TLS art class.

9.     You actually enjoy attending parent conferences and leave absolutely amazed at how that teacher could know so much about your son or daughter.

10.After that same parent conference, you worry just a little bit about what that same teacher might know about you, courtesy of your son or daughter.

11.You look forward to the Holiday Concert and are the one with the camera snapping photos.

12.You know exactly what the term Boo Sing means!

13.You look down at the logo on your new fleece, and it says The Lexington School ~ 50th Anniversary.

14.And last… you shed a tear at graduation when it’s all over… even though this means that you’ve written your last tuition check.

We love you POPS! See you for pizza next Friday,

Marijo

Challenges That Lead to Growth
10/21/2009
Dear Lowers,

    Suffice it to say that I have been delighted to be associated with this school for as long as I have. Suffice it also to say that there have been some rough times during those 32 years. There were times when faculty morale was in a very different place than it is now. And there were other times when parent satisfaction waned. The 50th anniversary celebration with its gatherings, speeches, press releases and all has really taken me on a trip down memory lane. When one looks at the big picture, the entire fifty years of its existence, one soon discovers that The Lexington School is what it is because of these challenges that have led to growth. The essence of the school is a strong symbol of our present philosophy statement, which is only as old as Chuck Baldecchi’s tenure. We are a better place for having experienced those “failures.”   I love basking in our present situation, but all of this walking down memory lane has also left me appreciative of times that were different.

    And how does this relate to us today? Things are going pretty well, you say. Well, it’s all about helping your children cherish life’s disappointments and rough times, because truly they are the moments when they will grow the most. I was reminded of this at the Main Event on Saturday evening. Just as I had my hand on the door to leave that magical place, one of my favorite former students (I have lots) rushed up to me. I hadn’t seen her during the evening, and I was so glad that we crossed paths. We chatted for a while, which was such fun for me, and during the conversation she asked me if I remembered the time when she and another student had been in my office to talk about a little academic integrity issue. These formers always think that I remember these learning moments, but of course I only remembered what a wonderful, bright, lovely girl she had been. I let those “learning moments” go soon after they occur. The fact that she remembered, that she had described that visit to my office in a presentation for her work recently, and that she had never, ever had another moment where she was tempted to go down that path again says it all. Given the choice, her parents might have hoped that she could avoid a visit to the division head’s office. I hope not. And I hope you wouldn’t wish for that either. I want you to celebrate when a teacher points out an indiscretion so that we can work with your child to “never, ever be tempted to go down that path again.”

    Here’s to cherishing the moments that seem “unlovable” at the time,

    Marijo

    A Confession...
    10/14/2009

    Dear Lowers,

    I love it when people call or drop by my office for a bit of parenting advice. The fact that some might trust my instincts is very dear to me, but I fear that it is time for a confession. I’m not arguing that I have some pretty good ideas about guiding children, but what I’m confessing is how I got that way. In keeping with The Lexington School’s philosophy statement, I have had my share of, shall I say, “failures that have led to growth.” I have been really good at learning from my mistakes, and I am more than happy to share what I have learned from them. I’m also pretty good at knowing a good thing when I see it and being able to model my own behavior accordingly. The truth is, I am in awe of some of the wonderful results of great parenting around here.

    When you have white hair, people seem to throw that word “wisdom” around more generously. I love it when somebody says they are seeking my wisdom, but I am also washed over with guilt that they think I really have it. What I have is a series of turns in my life… some correct… some misguided… that have helped me work with families (yours AND mine) over the years. What I have become “wise” about is how to learn from every turn and put the best ones on my roadmap. Once you’ve been at it as long as I have, you too will have something that resembles wisdom. Please do not be afraid to share it.

    So, if you keep your senses keen and learn from your own mistakes and those of others… and then model the parenting of the best… you too will be “wise.” Now, the white hair? You can decide about that when the time comes!

     The white hair is real; the wisdom? - not so much,

    Marijo

     

    A Few Thoughts on Growing Up
    10/7/2009
    Dear Lowers,

    Often “growing up” is harder on the adults than it is on the kids who are actually going through it. And by that I don’t mean physically growing up but emotionally. Educators have to be much more cautious about hugs and other physical contact with their students these days. It’s not that today’s children need hugs any less frequently, it’s that today’s world forces us to be more reserved about offering them. My personal rule of thumb is that if a hug is offered, I take it. No questions asked. I don’t initiate… except on very rare occasions. The fact is that as children grow up, fewer and fewer hugs are offered to us, and it’s okay. For three straight years I had been offered a hug at lunchtime every single day by one of my favorite fourth graders (I have 52). This child would very quietly, very unobtrusively, just find me in the lunchroom for a very quick hug. Nobody noticed. It was just something that I looked forward to each day. And then it happened. Fourth grade. For the first couple of weeks of school, no contact was made. No need to explain why, it’s just life. But a couple of weeks ago, as I was seated at a lunch table on the other side of the room, this fourth grader was walking back from the peanut butter and jelly table and took a detour… right by my chair. There was a pause. I looked up. And a hug was offered, just for old time’s sake. It made my day, but I knew it for what it was…

     Here’s to the new crop of first graders who always are willing to fill that void,

    Marijo

    A Story About Baseball and One VERY Good Dad
    9/30/2009
    Dear Lowers,

    Did you see the news clip a couple of weeks ago about the 31 year old father who, after many years of attending Phillies games, finally caught a foul ball from the stands? He had brought his three year old daughter to the park that day, and she must have brought him luck. He celebrated briefly with his friends and then proudly handed that baseball over to little Emily. With a single motion, she took the ball from her daddy and threw it over the railing back onto the field. His response to that was a thing of beauty! With nary a pause, he reached over and began hugging his little sweetie, protecting her completely from the stunned responses of those surrounding them. He hugged, and he hugged. And then it was over… or so he thought.

    Dad learned something that day. Children do not come equipped with the same values and understanding of our world that they end up with as adults. Teaching about such things is a parents job, and sometimes we are caught unaware of what wisdom we should have imparted. It happens. You can’t predict everything. What you can do is take whatever disappointment you may feel in stride and let your children know that they are loved unconditionally.

    Dad was rewarded mightily for his wonderful parenting instincts, as he should have been - a Today Show appearance, hand delivered autographed baseballs (at least two that I have read about), and most important, the knowledge that he did the right thing… automatically… even though he was probably at a loss for air when she tossed that ball back!

    Here’s to expression of unconditional love, even when…

    Marijo

     

    The Rest of the Story
    9/23/2009

    Dear Lowers,

    Continued from last Wednesday…

    Lest any of you have spent any time worrying about my having to leave The Lexington School after that first year, let me spare you further consternation. That math teacher who had agreed to come in the fall of 1979 decided to remain in her position at the university, and the TLS position was to be mine if I wanted it. If I wanted it? I was in love with the place, for heaven’s sake.

     Fast forward two years…

    After a total of three years as an upper school math teacher who also tried her hand at math classes in fifth and sixth grade, opportunity came calling again. By then, Mr. Pritchett had retired, and new Headmaster Richard Schwab had been hired. “Mrs. Foster,” said he, “would you be interested in serving as our Middle School Head?” I would be teaching some classes and serving as the administrator for the division that included grades 4-6 at that time. Now this, I had to think about. 

     Fast forward twenty eight more…

    You know what my answer was! And after all these years of administrative work and teaching, I am happy to be here to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Lexington School next month. I hope to see lots of faces from the past and enjoy the company of those who are here now. There is so much to celebrate!

     A little side note…

    I think it’s awesome that I share my birthday with The Lexington School. On Monday, September 14, 2009 I received a set of beautifully hand decorated birthday cards from one of my favorite classes. (I have eighteen.) All of these cards were drawn by hand, and each had a message of love and good wishes on my big day. There were 13 of them, and five of those were from former TLS students’ children. One dad was even in that class of 1980 that I wrote about last week. Now, that is the ultimate compliment… to have enjoyed and appreciated their experience enough to want the same for their children.

     And that’s the rest of the story…

    Marijo

     

    Some TLS History on the Occasion of its Golden Anniversary
    9/16/2009

    Dear Lowers,

    The beginning…

    Monday, September 14th, was the actual 50th anniversary of the founding of The Lexington School. On that date in 1959 a new school was opened in Lexington that was to attract the community’s best and brightest students. And it did. And it still does.

    Fast forward 19 years…

    In August of 1978, when the school was still a teenager, I received a phone call shortly before the start of school. Mr. Pritchett the Headmaster asked if I would be interested in teaching half-time as an upper school math teacher. Upper School was grades 7-9 back then. I would be teaching math and algebra to all of the eighth grade students, the class of 1980. “Mrs. Foster”, said Mr. Pritchett, “we will need your services for one year only. We have already arranged for a full time teacher in the fall of 1979, but she cannot join us for another year.” I even remember her name. “Well, that would suit me fine”, said I to Mr. Pritchett. I had not sought this position. I was planning to be a stay at home mom with my two young children, and this sounded like something I could do to help them out… for this one year only. No problem.

    Then it happened. I fell in love. This teen-aged school worked its way into my heart like an auger. I think it was the students (I still love that class of 1980). No. Maybe it was the other teachers (Some are still here with me). No. I’m pretty sure it was the parents. No. I think it was Mr. Pritchett. There’s no sense trying to figure it out, because it had to be all of the above. And it was the fact that I wanted this school for my own two children more than anything else I could think of.

    I spent that year doing the best I could muster. Just like all the other teachers, I was dedicating myself to the students’ success both at TLS and beyond. I spent some extra time with one of them, helping him prepare for boarding school. (He is now one of my favorite dads. But you know I have lots). Others I got to know even better because they were great babysitters for my children. The more time I spent with that class of 1980, the more impressed I was with their capacity for kindness and support for one another and for their teachers. It was a wonderful year that 1978-79 school year. I felt blessed to have known The Lexington School even for a brief time.

    Saying goodbye…

    Alas, my time at The Lexington School was drawing to a close. And for me, this was a problem!

    … To be continued next Wednesday…

    How Teamwork Benefits TLS
    9/9/2009
    Dear Lowers,

    Senator Orrin Hatch said something about Senator Kennedy upon his passing. It went like this – “It was a sign of his greatness that he did not care who got the credit as long as the job got done.” I appreciate that attribute, and I do believe that it is what makes the teamwork among teachers at our school so powerful.  When teachers leave their egos at the door and combine their creativity and expertise to provide the very best program for all children, it is a beautiful thing. In my early days of teaching, such a concept would have been very foreign and probably would not have been embraced. Sadly, teachers were sometimes prone to “one-upmanship” and were perhaps seeking credit for being the “best” teacher in their hallway. It is not that way now. We all take pride in what our colleagues are doing well, because it reflects well on every teacher at that grade… or in that division… or in the whole school. Those of you who were at Parent Night saw the teamwork in action. Your children feel it every day.

    We celebrate and emulate the good teaching of our colleagues. We do not care who gets the credit as long as the job gets done!

     

    Here’s to giving credit when it’s due but not expecting it oneself,

    Marijo

    After Parent Night
    9/5/2009

    I’ve always enjoyed collecting comments after parent night. This year, my favorite was from one of my favorite dads (I have lots). He said, “When we first brought our kids to TLS, I was not so enthusiastic. I was just the check writer. But now, I’ve graduated from check writer to CHEERLEADER! I love this place.”

    Parent Night, School Photos, and Intramural Information
    9/2/2009
    Dear Lowers,

    Every year we gather the new parents for an orientation just before school starts, give them way too much information, and then expect them to remember parts of it as we guide them through their first days of school. We believe in our philosophy where mistakes and failure are inherent in learning. Many of us demonstrate this in our daily lives, and we are able to laugh about our mistakes and learn from them in the process. We want our new parents to do the same. But it is hard to be a new family. Just wading through the dress code is challenge enough, but then there are morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up with that crazy bullhorn. It is sensory overload at its finest! If you are a new parent, I think I “feel” your head shaking up and down from across cyberspace. If you aren’t, perhaps you could ease the way for one of these new families who has garnered the courage to join our ranks.

    We do teach courage… even to our parents,

    Marijo

    August 26, 2009
    8/26/2009

    Dear Lowers,

    Last Thursday, the first day of school, an email was being circulated among the administrative group. Every person who received the forwarded email felt compelled to comment on it and express appreciation for it. It was intended for none of us, but every administrator took pride in it, savored the fact that it was written, and celebrated that a member of the class of 2009 had taken the time to write an incredible thank you note to one of his teachers. Not only was the note beautifully written, it was from the heart, and it specifically stated what this teacher had done that had made a difference in this student’s life.

    The sender meant to touch the heart of his teacher. In the process, the hearts of several others were touched, as well.

    We can’t make our children perform such acts of thoughtfulness, but we surely can model it for them. Have you ever thought about letting someone who has taught or mentored you know just how much it has meant to you? Actually, I have thought about it, but I have not followed through… yet. I may let that high school student be my role model and see if I can track down any of my teachers. I know that I am very sad that Ed Dolan, my high school math teacher, never received the letter I should have written before he passed away.

    Here’s to great teachers that have guided us along the way,

    Marijo

    August 19, 2009 - First Post of the 2009-10 School Year
    8/19/2009

    Dear Lowers,

    Thursday is our first day of school, and I hope to see most of you here this afternoon (Wednesday) for our classroom visiting period from 4:00-4:30 and then the opening picnic to follow.

    This is my 32nd "first day” of school at The Lexington School, and I am as excited today as I was in 1978 when my first grade daughter and I both began our journeys here.  What a gift it is to say that after all these years I am happy to be here every day.  Where else?

    I hope you have been exploring the new website a bit.  I must remind you that logging in with your user name and password will open the information gates for you.  Those were sent earlier in the summer from the IT HELPDESK with a subject line:  The Lexington School.  The grade level websites will be up and running within the first days of school.  Once again, those are accessible via the main website.

    I have to say this every year, because I mean it from the bottom of my heart.  If there is anything I can help you with please call, stop by, or email me.  The teachers and I want to be the first people you turn to with worries, concerns, feedback, or comments about your child’s experience… or your own for that matter.  We are accessible.  We try to be responsive.  We really want to be there for you.

    One question has already come my way about the wording of the dress code.  To be succinct, polo style shirts that are a little longer in the back (with the v-splits on the sides) are okay.

    Looking forward to a great year with your family!

    Marijo