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December 2010
In This Issue
From the Director
Nature's Ninjas
Amy's class
Service Learning
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We'd love to thank...

All the businesses that are participated in the Local Gifts fundraiser on Saturdays, December 4 & 11

All the shoppers who participated, too

Leah Mitula of Denur Crafts for speaking to our school about student life in Kenya

Rain Lipson of Green Label Organic for connecting Leah with BMS

Laura Polant of Artemis GIS for helping students identify a water management project

Jeff Walker of Blue Ridge Site & Soil for the loan of his Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Handbook.

Linda Johnson of RSVP for volunteering her time and expertise in Inge's class


On our calendar:

Jan 3: Return to school

Jan 6: Winter Celebration

Jan 10: Skyline Field Trip

Jan 15: Floyd Feast

Jan 17: MLK Day Celebration


Welcome to the December edition of Blue Mountain School's Indigo Messenger.

As we say goodbye to one year, and enter another, we have a good opportunity to reflect on how things are developing. In the pieces below, there seems to be a general sense that things are developing very nicely at Blue Mountain School, and we would like to thank you for being a part of it.

We would also like to offer you a unique opportunity to be a part of the school this month. On Saturday, January 15, we are holding Floyd Feast at Natasha's Market Cafe. This is an invitation-only event, so if you have not received an invitation in the mail, please consider this to be your invitation.

In addition to the fine cuisine on offer, we are also having a silent auction, with items on offer from the following contributors:

Kurt Steger
Jayn Avery

Swede McBroom

Pat Sharkey
Howard Wenger

Benjie Osborne

Anne Vaughan

Gibby Waitzkin

Susan Icove


Sarah McCarthy

Jeanie O'Neill

Floyd Fitness

More details about the dinner, including the invitation and RSVP, and a regularly updated auction item list, can be found here.

Please do your very best to RSVP by Friday, January 7, as Natasha needs to know how much food to order.

Thank you, and Happy New Year!

From the Director
Shelly Emmett

Shelly Emmett
Shelly Emmett
The gift of acceptance

The topic of acceptance has come up a lot at school lately, primarily because we often navigate the balance between freedom and boundaries with the students in our care each school day. We also talk about the idea of acceptance as a quality that facilitates change for kids and grownups alike, because we as a staff want to embrace change and growth for ourselves and model it for our students. Change and growth can be risky endeavors, and feeling accepted just as we are can put us on the solid ground we need to be on, in order to take the leap toward something new.

When I was in graduate school for counseling, I learned about revolutionary humanist therapist Carl Rogers. Rogers held acceptance in highest esteem, and recognized it as one of the most important qualities in healthy human relationships. Among many other contributions to the field of counseling and therapy, Rogers coined the term 'unconditional positive regard', which is unconditional acceptance of a fellow person - acceptance that is not dependant on the presence of certain behaviors or traits. This does not mean that we may not have boundaries or expectations of others, but that our graceful acceptance of them as individuals capable of growth and change, and worthy of our respect, is a constant: something that can be depended on and trusted even when a mistake has been made or a boundary has been crossed.

In humanist psychology, unconditional acceptance-which caregivers, parents, and teachers have a unique opportunity to model for children-is one of the most fundamental building blocks in the development of a mentally and spiritually healthy adult. It is as important as healthy attachment in infancy and early childhood, with healthy attachment and unconditional acceptance being two of the most precious gifts that we can offer children. Kids (and the adults they grow into) who have experienced unconditional acceptance are more capable of showing compassion for others and are more able to be compassionate with themselves. This compassion allows them to be able to take responsibility for the mistakes and missteps that are a normal part of growing. What follows is an ability to learn from mistakes and make different choices next time, uninhibited by guilt or shame. As Rogers wrote, "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change."

So when making those lists of New Year's resolutions in the coming weeks, consider acceptance - toward yourself, your children, partners, friends, family, neighbors - as the first step toward any growth or change that you would like to bring into your life and the lives of those around you.

With warm blessings for a Happy New Year,

Class Reports
Shannon & Hari's class
The Oxymorons
Hari Berzins
Hari Berzins

From Hari:

Greetings Parents,

What a perfect time of year to curl up together for a read aloud! I encourage you to use these next weeks to share some quality time reading together while deepening your child's metacognitive awareness. "Metacognitive awareness means that the reader is aware of his or her thinking during the reading of various types of texts. Good readers are actively thinking while they read. They are aware when meaning has broken down, and they stop to fix the confusion." Comprehension improves once students are able to "build a bridge. . . a bridge between their brains and the text." (Skidmore 2008) The following strategies are the ones we have been working with and with which we will build that bridge:

Clarifying: What words or ideas don't I understand?

Connecting: What does this remind me of? -text to self -text to text -text to world

Deciding What is Important: What is important, based on my goals?

Evaluating: What do I think about this text? How can I use this information?

Inferring: Why do things happen? What does this probably mean?

Monitoring: Which parts are confusing? What fix-up strategies could I use?

Predicting: What might happen next?

Prior Knowledge: What do I know about this topic?

Purpose Setting: Why did the author write this?

Questioning: What questions do I have?

Responding Emotionally: How does the character feel? How do I feel about this?

Retelling of Summarizing: What was this text about? Paraphrase.

Visualizing: What pictures, smells, sounds, tastes, and touches come to my mind?

Try this:

Share a "Think Aloud" - Read to your child. Stop to make a prediction. Then, make a connection. Evaluate. Question. When a section is confusing, share what is confusing about it and model how you clarify. Try to stop and say your thoughts about the text out loud as they come to you.

Modeling good reader thinking is a powerful way for students to understand how to get to deeper level comprehension.

Happy Reading!


Skidmore, S., Graber, J., & Minor, J. K. (2008). Balanced literacy: Through cooperative learning & active engagement. San Clemente, Calif: Kagan Publishing.

Balance Literacy
Balanced Literacy
Inge's class
Nature's Ninjas

Inge Terrill
Inge Terrill
This past month proved to be exciting, as expected due to the upcoming holidays.  Yet December also proved to be somewhat disjointed due to several school cancellations.  However, the month put us in a new groove, with the introduction of two class helpers, Virginia Klara and Linda Johnson.  In the short period of time that they were with the Ninjas, their invaluable help was very apparent.  Many, many thanks go to Virginia and Linda for their involvement in the class!

On Monday and Tuesday mornings, Virginia has been helping the emerging readers in the class move forward in developing their reading skills.  Learning phonics and how to break down words into syllables has helped give the early readers the leg up that they needed.  In the afternoons, Hari has also been working with this group of Ninjas.  Among other things, she is helping the emerging readers progress at their own pace through the Hooked on Phonics Program that she brought with her from Florida.  It is a fun, yet effective way to help build the proper foundation that they need to become fluent readers.  This will be a big year at the school for these young readers.

Linda has been helping the Ninjas on Wednesday and Thursday mornings as a classroom aid.  This has been a wonderful addition to the classroom, especially when the students are working on their lapboards: very individualized projects, with each student doing research on separate topics.  Linda has been helping the students learn to operate the Apple computer in our classroom, so that they can do research for their lapboards.  Some of the current lapboard topics include Martial Arts, Polar Bears, Endangered Species, Knights, and Mystical Creatures.  The lapboard projects have proven to be a great way for the students to do self-directed studies and to learn how to do research.
Plaque presentation
Plaque presentation

In December, Swede McBroom and Jason Rutledge stopped by the school to drop off the wooden plaques that the students made in Swede's shop in November.  Each Ninja who attended the Service Learning trip to Swede McBroom's Natural Woodworking Workshop made a wooden plaque for themselves.  These plaques were later lacquered as the finishing touch in Swede's shop, and given to the Ninjas at the school. A discussion ensued, in which Swede asked the students what kind of woodworking projects could be done at the school as a service learning project in the future.  Some of the students suggested repairing the playground equipment.  Swede suggested a teeter-totter project might be fun to build using local, sustainably harvested wood.  Many thanks to Swede and Jason for their generosity!
Lori Kaluszka
Lori Kaluszka

Another fun event for the Ninjas this month was their trip to the Jessie Peterman Library.  Lori Kaluszka, the main librarian, conducted an origami class for the Ninjas, in which they all got to create a reindeer face, complete with googly eyes and shiny, golden antlers.  Afterwards, they were given an introduction to how books are categorized and shelved at libraries.  The students who do not have library cards were given an application to get their own library card.  Thanks Lori, for a wonderful class trip!

One of the highlights of December was the spontaneous holiday card making session that took place in the classroom on Wednesday, December 15th.  It all began as some of the students in the class were giving out gifts to fellow classmates, when the rest of the class decided to reciprocated by making holiday cards for everyone.  The flurry of cutting and gluing was a sight to behold.  The excitement and joy of giving was very uplifting!

One last big event for the Ninjas this month was their trip to Skyline Manor.  This time, they helped make butter using an old-fashioned butter churn.  Many of the seniors there remembered making butter this way as a child.  Most of them remarked how much work it was, especially toward the end.  All the Ninjas got to taste the butter they made, and the butter milk that was left behind.  Jamie was a big help in getting the job done since the students ran out of steam toward the end of the churning session, just as the seniors had foretold!

Here's wishing you a happy, healthy, joyous New Year!


Amy's class
Silly Monkeys

Amy Myers
Amy Myers
Wintery greetings to the BMS community! Although we have not had that many days of school in the month of December, we sure did pack it full of fun things. We were blessed with snow this month, and the sleds came out a few times during our outdoor time. It has been so chilly though, that we spent a lot more time indoors than normal. Luckily, our class has really come together nicely at this time in the year, and we have had many positive group experiences.

During our circle time, we have been playing a new game called "shoemaker." The rhyme is great for speech development and the actions are great for cross-over of the limbs. Have your child show you if they can. We have also been counting, finding different parts on the body, and singing a few songs. We learned a new helpful song that is sung to the tune of "Are You Sleeping?" It goes like this. "Use your words, use your words, all day long, all day long. Keep your hands and your feet, keep your hands and your feet, to yourself. To yourself." We make it a fun, light song, but I bring it out when they need to be reminded of this. It helps bring humor to stressful moments in our classroom and often diffuses emotions.

We have had many stories from different holidays, we read about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and different winter tales within our Tiptoes series. The day we read about Kwanza, we had a lovely visitor from Kenya who bestowed a beautiful mobile to our school and classroom. It was handcrafted by the mothers of children that are raising money to attend schools in Africa. Come by our classroom and check it out.

Our craft times were mostly geared towards making our lanterns, beginning with watercolor painting, to stamping snowflakes and putting it all together. We ended with a story about festivals and we lit our lanterns together and sang This little light of mine. It is a delightful time of the year and in our classroom too, I am sure we will enjoy coming together again in January after our break!

Jamie's class
Community connection

Jamie Reygle
Jamie Reygle

School was closed on the two Mondays that we were scheduled to have class this month, so December has been an interrupted month for Service Learning

Still, we are moving forward on a few things.

We rescheduled the Skyline Manor trip, so Natures Ninjas still got to churn butter and have the opportunity to socialize with the residents. In 2011, the plan is for this class to begin working with the Humane Society, and help some dogs transition into new lives.

With Thumbs-Up Kids, we are hoping to work with Laura Polant, and find ways to observe and interact more with wildlife.

Commencing at the start of the year, we are moving the Oxymorons class time to the afternoon, so we can work more consistently with Shannon, who is getting very involved in the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge. Our three groups - and their projects - are now defined, and the projects will commence in the new year. The three groups are:

  • Lily, Madeline, Rachel, and Sage are working on an eWaste recycling program;
  • Maggie, Yeshe, Jerrin, and Camille are working on a local foods promotion project; and
  • Linneya, Eric, and Jahpa are working on an erosion management plan.

If you would be interested in utilizing your skills to help get any of these projects up and running, please let me know.

Happy New Year.


Lora Leigh's class
The Painted Word

Lora Leigh Giessler
Lora Leigh Giessler

Value Range of Tints and Shades and a Monochromatic Color Scheme

Last month we studied Values in a Monochromatic color scheme. We all know now that Monochromatic means - "One Color" and that painting in one color can produce a strong mood as seen in "The Tragedy" from Picasso's blue period. The children have learned that a range of values creates depth in a painting as observed when viewing a mountain vista. Essentially, the objective in this month's lesson was to practice the skill involved in mixing paints to achieve a range of values. The students created a range of tints by adding white to a hue and a range of shades by adding black to a hue. In this exercise they were given the freedom to design patterns and add texture in their paintings for more interest. The month's lesson culminated with an attempt to use what we learned in painting a monochromatic still life. The still life painting was challenging; however, the students made a great effort to recognize and see the highlights and shadows in their subject and the relative value and placement of each image before them.  
Below are selected paintings from all four classes:         



Lily A





Lily S





Kaia (1)
Kaia (2)


Eric (1)
Eric (2)
Lily M

Linneya (1)

Linneya (2)
Madeline (1)
Madeline (2)



Kari's class
Hands-On Music

Kari Kovick
Kari Kovick
For me, full-bodied and whole-child learning has always felt like the right way to approach music education. Music is so fun! Why muck it up with having to read notes and play scales before you really WANT to? Besides, it's a language, just like spoken language, and can be learned as we grow up, naturally and joyfully. This is what I attempt to create in my classroom at BMS: an environment for having fun with music. It's a community experience. And because I get to pick the music, we also sing about the things I love: nature, emotions, milestones, and lessons to learn in this life we share. 

If you get to peek into the music room on a Tuesday when I'm set up to teach, you will see something new: a tenor marimba (which my husband Michael made) and two tables full of other xylophones lined up to be played by all the kids at once. With one student on each instrument, I teach games and songs that build music skills. The activities are simple and general enough that the kids do not have to struggle with abstract tasks like reading music, or complex coordination that their bodies are not equipped to master. They can keep their focus on having fun. I'll occasionally call out a chant to rotate to the next instrument, so ideally every child gets to play on every xylophone each class day. Sometimes I also include drums in the mix, finally utilizing my huge Djun-djun to the delight of those who love feeling its bassy, bouncy vibration with the biggest mallets they've ever seen. This makes for BIG FUN in more than one way. Now I feel like ensemble playing is really possible, and I hope to make that a focus for the year with the three oldest classes. 

Hickory Dickory Dock gives them practice zooming up and down the scale with glissandos. Jack and Jill allows them to hear and play stepwise movement up and down the scale. (We even tried a whole-body version of this on the inside stairs, which was fun for them and me! Magically, there are exactly 8 steps on each stairway.) Through this play, the kids are attuning their ears to high and low pitches, finding the relationship of pitch to the sizes of the xylophone bars, and playing with the concepts of up and down in music. In ages where literacy has not really taken hold, I don't talk about music theory, but without knowing it, the Thumbs Up Kids and Nature's Ninja's are experiencing first hand what music is made of, and how to create it together.

Of course, the older kids are ready for more. The OxyMorons have a good sense of steady beat, and so I am introducing them to feeling divisions of the beat. At their age, they are able to appreciate music in the abstract as well, so I am teaching them not just how to feel eighth notes, triplets, sixteenths, halves and whole notes, but also how to notate them. They have created their own rhythm phrases, which we layered, adding words (to further define the rhythm), and then assigned pitches to each word. We took this creation to the marimbas, where they got to hear their first class composition, layered, as Eric says, like one of his mom Linda's triple-decker Hummingbird cakes. The layers, in case you're curious, sing/play "I like chocolate milk", "Strawberries and mangoes" and "Yum, Yum." Needless to say, the song sounded delicious!

The curriculum that I bring to Amy's class, the Silly Monkeys, is from my community program, the Early Childhood Music Program of Floyd. We use hand held percussion instruments like mini maracas, drums, and rhythm sticks, plus other props like fall colored scarves and skull shakers to increase our fun.

We sing songs about the seasons and about our feelings, AND without knowing it, learn gross and fine motor coordination while we sing. Our winter set includes a favorite story-song called Going On a Bear Hunt, which is a real adventure, believe me! The purpose of early childhood music education is to lay a foundation for feeling steady beat in the body, singing in tune, and most importantly, loving music.

I love BMS's focus on Social and Emotional Learning, so I use songs and activities to augment their understanding of that part of themselves whenever possible. Tick Tock Like a Clock is a game I have used to help the children find a place of centered calm in their physical bodies. This is helpful for them and for me, especially after a loud expansive activity like jumping or ensemble playing. I have introduced the song Rachel to the older classes to discuss the feelings that come up when a friend feels left out, and We're All a Community In One School to talk about creating a safe community together.

I'm very happy with what we've started together, and where we can go this year. I look forward to moving through the seasons in song when we return in the New Year.
Thank you
We hope you enjoyed reading the Indigo Messenger, and plan to be sending you another one in a month's time!

Be sure to forward it to anyone you think may be interested.

Thank you,

The folks at
Blue Mountain School