Indigo Messenger


Welcome to the February newsletter for Blue Mountain School.

As someone receiving this newsletter, you know that we love to celebrate at Blue Mountain School. We've just had Mardi Gras (with Floyd's new King and Queen: Joe Klein and Colleen Redman, below), and in the very same week had our Special Person Tea, which you'll read a lot about in the pieces to follow.

Well, do we have some news for you! We have a very big celebration coming up, as the school celebrates its 30th anniversary, on Saturday, May 19. Save the date.

This isn't any old celebration, this is a reunion of every generation of Blue Mountain School families to have graced our grounds. It'll feature bands, skits, a memorial, camping, and the biggest potluck you've ever attended.

We've just started working out the finer details, and would love to have your support in making this the most special event in the school's history. If you'd like to help out, just let us know in the office.

At the very least, please invite your friends.


And stay tuned to your email and our Facebook group for more information and pictures about activities happening at school.

Shelly Emmett
Shelly Emmett


Toward the end of this month, we will be having our second conferences of the year. These conferences are an opportunity for teachers, students, and parents to reflect on the learning that has taken place so far and to set some goals for the time between now and the end of the school year. As many of you know, our teachers assess students' developing skills in a variety of ways rather than assigning traditional grades. This way of tracking student progress relies on communication between parents, teachers, and students: we welcome parents to attend March conferences (and students to participate, if they wish), so that concerns and goals can be communicated clearly, to make the most of the rest of the time that we have together this school year.

Thank you!

Purple Platypuses & Rainbow Monkeys: Science
Miranda Spencer
Miranda Spencer


Greetings Earthlings.

In January, our classroom created a habitat for our new fish friends. The new addition has provided a few lessons for the elementary and middle school students ... and myself - lessons that were expected, and lessons that were not so expected. The majority of our fish friends had passed away due to what we now call "the invisible assassin", also known as "the ammonia cycle." Oh the joys of attempting to mimic a natural habitat in a glass box. Although the passing of many of our fish was sad, it also was a learning opportunity into the incredible world of the periodic table of elements. We were able to delve deeper into what ammonia is and how it's a result of Nitrogen and Hydrogen combined, how it's produced in an aquarium, and why it's so toxic. The result of our final four surviving fish also led to a number of Darwinian comments such as "survival of the fittest." We were able to take the opportunity on one particularly beautiful morning to dissect one of our friendly fish, who we hoped didn't mind donating his body to science. The elementary kids were completely fascinated by this! After about a month of battling the invisible assassin, we feel pretty strongly that we now have a stable environment ... and now to start the notorious algae battle. The lessons never end!


On a Cosmological note, we are wrapping up our unit on Cosmology with learning about the phases of the moon. The students created clay moons, which were placed on sticks or pencils, and used to discover the differences between a new moon, a waxing crescent (our educational joke of "wax on, wane off"), a first quarter (which was a great example of fractions!), a waxing gibbous (we found the "gibbous" actually means "hunchback"), full moon, waning gibbous, 3rd quarter, waning crescent, and finally back to the new moon using their moons-on-a-stick and a very bright lamp. Their ongoing homework for a full month is to view the moon each night, sketching what they see in their sketchbook, and naming the phase. We recently went outside to gather various bits of nature that resembled the phases of the moon ... I'm constantly amazed at how incredibly creative they are. The middle schoolers were able to show our guests at the Special Person's Tea party their moon phase skills by carving the icing out of Oreo's to create the different phases.  



In the center of the phases we used topographically decorated cupcakes as Earths!


We are leaving Cosmology - the study of the Universe - and plummeting ourselves back down towards Earth, moving into the subject of Geography. What I love about Science is that it connects to everything in one way or another ... in this case we will begin with functional geography. We've learned that "geo" means Earth / world and "graphy" means to write. Then we add "functional" to create "writing (or studying) about the function of the earth." Our lessons take us into the earth's atmospheres, layers, land forms (continents, islands, volcanoes, rivers, etc), and the Hadean Era (the first era in Earth's history). Since our BMS students are so creative, what better way to facilitate their functional geography skills than with projects? The middle school students have already begun their extensive geography project, where they have chosen a continent, narrowed it down to a country, and are creating a presentation due towards the end of the year. The project, which will also be utilized in the elementary class, will help them to obtain map-making skills by drawing a replica of the continent where their country of choice resides, and also a separate replica of their country of choice, while representing the topography and major cities and landmarks, latitudes and longitudes, and the compass rose. They will also be researching the culture, learning parts of the language, making a timeline, and creating a brochure to attract different target audiences to a particular destination. So far they have asked to work on their project nearly everyday, which gives me confidence that they are not only very motivated, but also very excited about their new project! Elementary's project will be discussed with them soon.     


Math Mondays and Thursdays have been successful in elementary with learning multiplication, division, fact families and rectangular arrays, and other essential life-long math skills. The manipulative math lessons on the shelves have proven to be incredibly helpful in boosting confidence and knowledge with all of these skills. One of my favorite parts about teaching and using these manipulatives is when I can see the lightbulb turn on inside their heads, which leads to wide eyes and an excited, "Ohhhhh, so THAT'S how it works!" This was a regular exclamation when the Division Board (a Montessori material) was used to show a visual representation of how division works.  


The Stamp Game (another awesome Montessori material) is also being used to visually show not only how to borrow in subtraction in small and very large numbers, but also how to practice long division and multiplication with large numbers. Using these have created many "ah ha!" moments within the classroom, and I find them to be essential in transitioning the younger child from the concrete to the abstract.

Middle School also continues to work independently with pre-algebra, geometry, and other maths suited for their levels. And thanks to a very helpful math friend, I was able to ease the middle school students' resistance and loathing of long division into a more friendly version called "short division." With this method we use the same principles of long division, but without taking up so much space on a piece of paper! We said good-bye to long division of yesteryear, and hello to only having to use TWO LINES for long division! What a relief!


Before finally saying farewell, I'd like to send a gigantic thank you to Tree, Linda, Winter, and Jagadeesh for all of their help in the classroom! Your help has been greatly appreciated by the students and myself!

Until next time my fellow Earthlings....

Purple Platypuses & Rainbow Monkeys: History
Vicky Town
Vicky Town


Presidential Election 

The Purple Platypuses and Rainbow Monkeys have just completed a unit on how the president is elected. We learned about the criteria for deciding to run, primaries, the Electoral College, slogans, and platforms. Finally, we created our own puppets and gave campaign speeches to the class. We held elections too!


Yeshe's puppet was the Rainbow Monkey presidential winner. Her slogan: I can't save the world, but I can save America!


Puppets for president. The kids did a great job!



African American History


Now we are studying African American history. Our goal is to understand/empathize with the African American experience. We are also learning how past events have shaped today's civil rights policy for every American. Students are currently creating historical fiction -- monologues, stories, songs, or poems -- from African American history. The students will research their time period and create a fictional character who participates in an historical event.


Below are a few pictures of the Purple Platypuses as they learn about the wretched conditions on slave ships. In this first one, the students are experiencing the crowded conditions in the berths. The heat was often so intense that a candle could not burn.




The students measure the space each person would have on the ship below deck.




We also had some snow! Our friend Tara who was the only one who chose to eat outside that day!




Purple Platypus & Rainbow Monkeys: English
Jonathan Vandergrift
Jonathan Vandergrift


Since my family's move to Floyd late last summer, the local community has been very welcoming, and this is especially true with Blue Mountain School. The staff, teachers and parents at Blue Mountain are always kind and warm to us, whether it's sharing a humorous story about something our son Everett did in Stefi's class or the school's sincerity in accepting my wife and I into the community. It is always difficult moving into a new area, which is why I want to take part of my letter to thank each person at Blue Mountain for their kindness to me and my family.


With regards to the classroom, I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching at Blue Mountain. Both Middle and Elementary classes are filled with exceptional students. It was a pleasure to work with the Elementary class preparing and attending their Special Tea event. As a group, the students chose and designed a board game which was then played as a group with their special person during the tea. The students truly enjoyed playing while also demonstrating some of their course material, which was incorporated into the game. The Special Tea was a great event, and I was glad to be a part of it.


The Middle class will--as always--show off their impressive creativity with a new writing project. The students are currently drafting short stories that will eventually be submitted for local publication or to various literary contests, if the students so choose. We have been identifying the various styles and techniques authors use in their stories, along with reviewing some of the basic elements in story writing. The students have shown great enthusiasm with the assignment, and I am looking forward to being able to read all of their great ideas.

The 3-4-5s
Stefi Schafer
Stefi Schafer

The 3-4-5s had a great time being hosts and hostesses for their special people at this month's Special Person Tea! We all worked very hard to prepare for the event. We made festive decorations for our walls, put out beautiful table cloths, and made yummy treats.

When our guests arrived, they were welcomed with a happy greeting from the children.

The ladies and gentleman shared all the yummy treats with our visitors. "Would you like a scone?" 
"Would you like a piece of cake?"

Virginia Klara
Virginia Klara

The 3-4-5s have been having lots of fun while showing developmentally-appropriate interest in their reading readiness and number exploration activities.

Some days you may see and hear us on our porch forming a letter with our bodies and practicing its sound. For example, after our wonderful Special Person's Tea, we got into exploring the letter T. First, while standing, we held our arms out and each formed the letter T with our bodies; then the T became a T-T-Tall T-T-Tree. Next, we were T-T-Tigers showing our T-T-Teeth. Then the children wanted to try making the T shape while lying down snow-angel style. These Ts became T-T-Turtles who formed a T-T-Train and T-T-Trotted indoors to hear a book about T-T-Trains. Try to seize Terrific, creative learning opportunities like these at home with your child. (Hint: Sometimes it takes more than 1 body to form a recognizable letter or number so become a part of the act or encourage siblings to take part.)

Valentine's Day gave us lots of practice writing our own names and writing and recognizing the names of all our class friends. Interest continues in making cards for buddies and family members, so we'll be keeping the paper, markers, scissors, stickers, and tape handy. While we create and learn, we'll also be improving our small motor skills.

Stefi and I have formed an amazingly-intuitive teaching collaboration since we began working together at the start of the year. Our mutual interest in animals has brought bird watching into the children's awareness. Close observation of the birds that frequent our feeders has us all counting and classifying the feathered friends. The neighborhood birds go through the birdseed quickly so if you have some seed or suet to share, we thank you.
Lore Deighan
Lore Deighan


Magazine scraps covering the floor, the aroma of shaving cream filling the air, chopsticks being used as drawing's all happening in the art room!  It's been a fun month..... 


The Purple Platypuses and Rainbow Monkeys finished their collage projects just in time for mid-winter break. It was a long involved process, challenging at times for the students to look beyond the media images for colors and textures to make their own, but the projects turned out great; each one unique, beautiful and different, just like the kids. Here are a few images....  


Purple Platypus Collages



If you haven't poked into the art room lately please do and admire the color wall, works of art made by the 3-4-5s. We worked through our colors, exploring each one per class through an array of materials. And now that we've completed our colors, we're heading on to texture. Last week the 3-4-5s made two works of art; one with paint and shaving cream (in their words...smooth, eggy, slimy, soft) and one with paint and sand (rough, crumbly, dirty). They love getting their hands messy and while I do use smocks you may want to hold off on dressing them in their finest on Monday mornings.


The Fire Cheetahs are having a great time exploring different art making materials and techniques. They loved the feeling of oil pastels and were intrigued by how fast the pastels would completely disappear and make the drawing rich, bold and oily. From there we started talking about the repel of oil and water, and a few kids painted over their oily drawings. We also made scratchboards where the students covered a drawing surface with crayon, painted black tempera paint on top and then scratched out drawings with the colors of the crayons shining through.....




As I write now we are on our mid winter break, a week in which I look forward to coming back from refreshed, recharged and ready to go as we slowly turn the corner into spring (did winter ever really happen?). Happy art making!!!


Service Learning
Jamie Reygle
Jamie Reygle


Harmonious conditions necessitate sufficient supply, so that if there appears to be any lack, we should realize that the idea or soul of money is service. - Charles F. Haanel

What is Service Learning? This is a question that has vexed me - to some degree, at least - from the moment I was asked to teach the subject.

Service takes many forms. The type that comes most readily to mind is the selfless service of the likes of Mother Theresa or Ghandi. But just how selfless is this kind of service? Would they have done it if they didn't experience some personal benefit from it?

We are a contemplative-progressive school, which means - in part - that we focus on the intrinsic. We wouldn't be doing this type of education if we didn't understand the value of intrinsic rewards - if we didn't understand just how 'selfish' selflessness really is. Let's face it: doing the right thing by others is a buzz in itself.

So this leads to the question: who are we really serving? Actually, it really leads to the answer of the question.

Many have noticed that Service Learning at Blue Mountain School has recently had more of a focus on money than one might normally associate with the word, 'service'. Well, there's a good reason for it. It's honest. We're cutting to the chase. To effectively serve others, you must first serve yourself: sacrifice is not service; sacrifice serves nobody.

At the moment, the two older classes are working on saving money for a trip to Washington DC. They are over a third of the way to their $2500 target, and have been showing great endeavor to achieve it. They are serving themselves. And in the process, they are providing the community with entertainment (Skit Night), with tasty treats, childcare that allowed parents some freedom to party, and a host of other services that they have offered to their neighbors, family and friends.

And not only have they been providing more service than has ever been given while I've been teaching Service Learning, they have also been learning that what they have to offer has value. This is something that has taken me most of my life to learn, and I don't believe I'm alone in this experience.

Most interesting of all - to me - is the level of engagement I have noticed with the students. It appears to me that the children who are doing the bulk of the fundraising are so much more engaged than I've ever seen them before, like they've kindled a fire that's been smoldering their whole lives long.

Please encourage your child to be a part of this: the benefits amount to so much more than a three-day field trip.


And when it comes to the two younger classes, our main focus recently has been on the stewardship of our beautiful planet. As part of this, we got to visit the transfer station, in the snow!




Vicky Town
Vicky Town


The 3-4-5s have been listening to and acting out folktales from Africa and the African American tradition. We are incorporating pre-literacy concepts such as over, under, next to, high, low, fast, slow, loud and soft into the stories. We are also working with gross motor development when we dance each class and act out characters.


The Purple Platypuses plan to perform their play, "Anansi and the Moss Covered Rock," on April 1st for Skit Night as part of their fundraising effort to go to Washington, DC. The kids look fabulous, and they created their own dialogue and funny jokes! They even made their own scenery!

The Fire Cheetahs/Fire Kids have been learning about improvisation. In the following pictures you will see them learning the first lesson: Acting is reacting. This activity develops listening skills, the ability to express ideas in words, and the connection of actions and words--all skills which are an important part of early literacy.

A bus driver has a headache!

A mom reacts to a dropped cake!

Finally, the Rainbow Monkeys are planning to share their stories after break. They have also begun to study Stanislavski's ideas and Linklatter's voice work. In this last picture they have played a game which teaches them to understand the importance of character status in an improv. These skills will help them analyze scripts, stories, and characters in both drama and English classes.
We hope you enjoyed reading the Indigo Messenger.

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

Thank you,

The folks at


In This Issue
PPs & RMs Science
PPs & RMs History
PPs & RMs English
The 3-4-5s
Service Learning
Parent Reminder
On the Calendar

Mar 20: Spring Celebration
             Half Day
Mar 20-22:
Mar 21-22:
No School
April 1:
Skit Night 
Parent Reminder
The Lost and Found bin is overflowing with misplaced clothing. Please pop into the office and take a peek to see if you recognize any of your child's belongings.


Board of Trustees

The BMS Board of Trustees met on February 1, 2012 at 6:00pm. 

Logistics and legalitites of an after-school and summer program were discussed.  The Board looked over the school's current financial status and discussed how to best allocate loan funds.  The Board also reviewed upcoming fundraiser events and discussed the final item needed to submit the 501(c)(3) application. 

The next meeting will be on March 7th.

In Gratitude We Thank

Dogtown Roadhouse, Natasha Shishkevish, the members of Lagniappe, Spoon Fight, Attakk, Joel Venditti, Chance McCoy, all the auction donors, and all the volunteers who helped make Mardi Gras such a fun event.

who helped with the Special Person Tea.

Howard Moody for his structured play sessions with the Purple Platypuses.

Tree Gigante, Linda Johnson, Winter Koeppe-Martens, and Jagadeesh Rotella for all of their help in Miranda's classroom.

Our friends at the Friendship Cafe, who keep showering the children with gifts!

Rebekah Hicks for her continued classroom support with the Fire Cheetahs. 



Blue Mountain School 

470 Christiansburg Pike, Floyd, Virginia 24091