Indigo Messenger


Welcome to the October newsletter for Blue Mountain School.

The chill in the air these past few days (and nights!) reminds us all that winter is coming, and the start of every winter is marked by a celebration we call Christmas.

We may all enjoy this occasion differently, but a common theme is gift-giving. If this is indeed a part of your holiday routine, we would like to invite you to spend as much of your money locally as you can. It's good for our local economy, it's good for the environment, and it's great for our community.

To this end, we are having our annual Local Gifts Fundraiser from Friday, November 18 to Sunday, November 27. To help you spend your money locally, we are providing free childcare at the school on the two Saturdays of the event, as well as childcare on Black Friday, November 25. We are also offering some great local prizes, and to be in the running for them, all you need to do is show that you spent your money at one of the many participating businesses in this fundraiser (keep checking up on this list, as it will continue to grow).




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

Shelly Emmett
Shelly Emmett


Blue Mountain School: based on relationships

In our recent first conferences of the year, teachers talked with parents about successes and challenges that have surfaced for students in these first seven weeks of school. While academic progress and goals for students are an important part of first conferences, a larger portion of the time spent between parents and teachers was spent looking at how each student is adjusting to being in school so far. Teachers talked with parents primarily about students' skills as they relate to awareness, relationships, communication, and Social Emotional Learning activities, and participation in classroom activities and discussions.

Our school's focus on these skills does not mean that we do not value academics; instead, we recognize that before students can excel academically, we must first meet their need to understand and relate to themselves and those around them. We must create a safe environment where trust between students, teachers, and parents can grow, because we know that trust is the catalyst for intellectual, social, emotional, and even physical development for our students.  

How does this emphasis on relationship impact what students learn at BMS, aside from the areas already touched on in our first conferences? Victoria Kindle and Sura Hart, authors of The Compassionate Classroom (an important book at our school) explain that in a relationship-based classroom, "The sciences can be seen from the perspective of successive advances in meeting human needs for shelter, food, protection, communication, transportation, relaxation, etc. History can be seen as the study of the strategies that different groups of people have used to meet their basic human needs. Literature can be looked at as the interplay of needs of a wide range of individuals and the results of the strategies that they chose to meet their needs."

Our intention is to give our students a solid foundation in self-awareness and awareness of their relationship to others, so that they'll have the capacity to develop critical thinking skills and a big-picture understanding of our world--which seems to increase in complexity by the minute. We believe this to be one of the greatest gifts we can offer them, and in our recent staff development workshop following conferences, each of us expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work in such a unique environment. 
Elementary & Middle School Liberal Arts
Hari Berzins
Hari Berzins


One of the things I love about teaching at Blue Mountain School is the freedom to allow the lesson to have a life of its own. Being present with and truly listening to ourselves and each other allows us to go places we could never have planned for. I thank all of my students for their willingness to show up and experience the lessons with me.


This month, I'd like to share a bit of our morning routine with you, specifically to show how our time together flows and is rich with connection.


Daily Grammar - Students find grammar exercises ready for them when they arrive in class. It is not their favorite time, but it is growing on them. I know this because the resistance is decreasing.


There is no joy quite like the joy I feel when a student explains why they put a comma in a certain place. It means so much more than the comma.


A special grammar moment:


Student: "Why do we need to know this?"


Me: "Because, like an artist or mechanic, when you deeply understand the tools of your art - how they go together and come apart, you can intentionally and masterfully create. I want you to experience the joy of knowing that you put that comma right there because it belongs there for sure."


From grammar, students move on to quote of the day.


Quote of the Day - We take turns sharing a quote on the board and leave a few words out, inserting blanks in their place. Each of us writes the quote filling the blanks with words that make sense. The engagement is high as we listen to each other's words and write all of our words in the blanks on the board. In the beginning, I chose the quotes. A special moment came last week when someone asked what my guesses were and I told them I couldn't guess since I chose the quote. That's when Leah said, "Can we take turns choosing the quote, so you can do it too?" And another class tradition was born. Through this activity, we are discussing context clues, parts of speech, cultural context and schema. "I knew that blank had to be an adjective because it is between an article and a noun." I love seeing and hearing all of the ideas on the board and pointing out the similarities in the words we each chose. It is interesting to look at the ideas we each have and then compare them to the actual quote. We take some time to reflect on the quote in our Writer's Notebooks and then we share our reflections.


The picture below is from our quote of the day activity and my journal response to the quote was: "I think this quote is inspirational. It encourages us to continue pushing the boundaries of creativity. If we all live in this way, imagine what we could create. It reminds me of the TED video, 5 ways to listen better, I watched this weekend. I really like that one. I think I will play it."



I closed my journal, led the discussion on the quote and then played the video. We then practiced 3 minutes of silence.


Allie chose the quote that day. If she hadn't put that quote on the board and I hadn't written the reflection I wrote, we wouldn't have ended up sitting in silence for 3 minutes and discussing conscious listening. It is through our contemplative progressive model that we are able to reach beyond foundational academics and teach the joy of knowing. Thank you, Blue Mountain School, for breaking the mold. We are charting such exciting territory!


I encourage you to watch the video and practice the activities the speaker discusses. We are!


Elementary and Middle School Sciences
Miranda Spencer
Miranda Spencer


Wow! I'm amazed at how fast I'm feeling time fly, yet it's only been two months since school began. I love Einstein's quote, "When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, you think it's only a minute. But when you sit on a hot stove for a minute, you think it's two hours. That's relativity."


This past month has proven to be incredibly active in all areas of human relations: academic, social, emotional, physical, etc. In the elementary and middle school classes we have been learning in deep and personal levels about the meaning of respect for oneself, classmates, teachers, and the earth itself. I am constantly reminded what an awesome staff we have: they are so holistically supportive of each child's individual learning ability in all aspects of the social-emotional model. The support that all the children and teachers have felt so far has been empowering!


On a more academic standpoint, both classes have been thoroughly involved with creating their Cosmology research books. The elementary students are focusing mostly on each planet as well as two or three extra topics in astronomy. Meanwhile, the middle schoolers have been free to choose specific topics in astronomy, with the research being much more in depth.

We've also been learning about gravity and the moon and how much the gravitational pull and phases affect us and everything else in the solar system. The elementary kids have been able to show their independence with specific lab experiments set on the shelves including Venus' Oozing Volcanoes, Jupiter's Great Red Spot, Gravity, and the Communication Station (how important it is to have good communication skills when NASA is speaking with an astronaut on how to fix something mechanically - from thousands, sometimes millions of miles away!). This last lesson has been great in showing all of the students how your choice of words can truly affect the outcome of a situation, as choosing your words well could - in the case of astronauts - sometimes be a matter of life and death.

Our discussion about the creation and death of stars was very intriguing for our young astronomers and was a great introduction into the periodic table of elements. Our example of this was linked to astronomy by discussing what exactly it is that makes stars shine: nuclear fusion within the core of the star. This also gave the middle school students an introduction into more advanced chemical equations - something that will be worked on more thoroughly as the school year progresses.

The math front has proved to be very popular! We recently received our new math books, and I am so amazed at how excited the students have all been. I had only just passed their own math journals out for them to inscribe their names, and they immediately turned to page one and began their math work. Who am I to put a halt to eager mathematicians?

Until next time.
Fire Cheetahs / Fire Kids
Corey Avellar
Corey Avellar

We have been learning about perspective this month. Below is our one-point perspective project: a museum.

When we made our museums, we learned about:

Hand-eye coordination: Using a ruler and a pencil, we practiced drawing straight lines. Not an easy task.

One-point perspective: We put a point on our paper, and then we drew a line with our rulers to each corner of the paper. Then we made a rectangle for the back wall.

Colors: Painting with black, gray and white gave a feeling of walls, floor and ceiling. The neutral color around the painting made it stand out more and be the focal point.

Museums: What a museum is and different kinds of museums.

Personal perspectives: People's different perspectives of art and life, such as how each person sees or feels something different in each painting.

Light: Silhouettes are an outline of a person filled in with one color, and they can be cast by a shadow or light. Light creates dark and bright. The bright lights in the museum shining on the paintings turns the people into silhouettes and sometimes shadows on the floor. 

Welcome to the Fire Cheetahs and Fire Kids Museum! (larger versions of these images can be found here)

The 3-4-5s
Stefi Schafer
Stefi Schafer

The 3-4-5s are Rockin' in the Yard!!!!


Music, and sound in general, has been a field of interest in our classroom. I thought maybe noise...ahem, music would be better explored outside. With the help of my husband and the use of pots and lids, metal trays and wooden spoons, we installed the Wall Of Sound.


The 3-4-5s immediately took to it, and the big kids soon started to bang out rhythms as well. I even saw a few grownups having fun with the instruments.

Then it happened. Overnight our cherished Wall of Sound was severely damaged. The large pots lay in pieces on the ground, and the lids had been disconnected from the hangers. The children spoke about the "tewibble" thing and how our music was "all broke."  


I took this opportunity to explore emotions and asked the children "How do you feel about our Wall of Sound being broken?"


Disharoon: "I miss them. I'm sad."


Jeret: "Frustrated, 'cause I was about to go out and play one of those drums."


Enzo: "I was interested in the bells. Now I'm sad."


Porter: "Ahm, rally angry! Because it looks bad, broke."


Edwin: "It made me think of monster trucks driving and crushing the school. It made me feel nervous 'cause that happened."


Bella: "I don't like it! We have to clean it up and fix it."


Anya: "Because I don't know who broked it, it makes me sad I can't make music."


Conor: "Ah, ahh, it makes me feel some angry 'cause I like to play on it."


While the Wall of Sound is for all of the BMS family to share, we, The 3-4-5s want you to know that banging till it breaks is not okay. Of course things happen and supplies break, so all we ask is to be respectful and notify someone if you accidentally break something. This of course is not only true for the Wall of Sound but for all of BMS and the whole world too.


P.S. If you have any old pots, we would love to have them!


Lore Deighan
Lore Deighan


As the leaves turn color and the temperature drops, I am reminded once again that change is always with us.  We are all in a state of change: as the school year settles in and new friendships are born, we are growing and changing, individually and collectively.  Because of these seasonal and personal changes, the changes I am feeling as a new teacher, and the many changes I am seeing in the students as the year progresses, we are (if I haven't mentioned it enough yet) focusing on the word change in the art room.  When asked what came to mind while thinking about this word, some responses were:


"The changes in the seasons."


"What we were like when we were younger, versus what we are like now."  


"When one thing turns into another."

With those three answers alone, my mind races through many potential projects, both conceptual and literal, in which we could explore the concept of change through art.  And that is what I hope to do over the following weeks: explore change through art. 

We started with the leaves.  We went on nature walks and collected leaves for inspiration.  With those leaves we made leaf rubbings and with those leaf rubbings we are now working on pieces of "fall art", incorporating the many changes we are seeing and feeling all around us.

And on a side note, before starting our fall art projects it became clear to me that we needed a place to store our works in progress, so each student now has their own, personally decorated, portfolio.  Here are a few pictures of the portfolios that the 3-4-5's decorated themselves......

I hope your children are enjoying art as much as I am, and I want to thank the parents, staff and students for supporting and encouraging me through *change* into being an art educator. I also want to thank Lara Davis for being such a great substitute art teacher!
Service Learning
Jamie Reygle
Jamie Reygle


Less than two months into the school year, and things are really happening!


The 3-4-5s spent much of their time this month collecting nuts. We collected black walnuts here at school, and then acorns at Ipi's place. We gave the black walnuts to the Department of Forestry, who will plant them and then distribute the seedlings to landowners throughout Virginia. The Fire Cheetahs are keeping a close eye on the acorns, and when they start to sprout, they and the 3-4-5s will plant them. Once they're big enough, we'll plant some around the school, some at our homes, and the rest, well, somewhere else. Please let me know if you are interested in having a sawtooth oak or two, or if you have any pots we could use.


In November, we are heading to the Zion Church next door to join the Friendship Cafe in a round of games and conversation, which should go some way towards fulfilling their goal of helping people play!   


Most of what the Fire Cheetahs are doing revolves around trees: erecting bird houses in them, and now preparing to plant them. While we wait, we also want to build a maze for the 3-4-5s. This will primarily be a two-dimensional maze, on the ground where the old sandpit used to be. If you have any materials that could help make such a maze interesting, we'd love to hear from you. 

The Elementary Class really does need to come up with a name! I guess they're just too busy to do so. They have written their letters to soldiers, and should be receiving a visit from local members of the VFW during November. Now they are embarking on their project of stopping war, and hopefully getting to Washington DC to pass their message on to the powers-that-be. In the works at the moment is a book on stopping war, although we'll have to see if they are able to focus their energy enough to make this happen. Some more contemplative time could be in order before we move forward on this project.

But they are really excited about the prospect of going to DC. They have figured they need to raise $2,000 to make this happen, and the book was one way in which they thought they could raise some money. We would love to hear any other suggestions that might help them help themselves in this endeavor - preferably something that is consistent with at least one of the group's goals to help soldiers, stop war, and help animals. 

Finally, the Rainbow Monkeys are moving right along with their local foods project. They raised $303 at their bake sale, and are now in the process of determining exactly how to spend it. They know they want to make t-shirts, and figuring out numbers of styles and sizes, while bearing in mind printing costs, has turned out to be a good opportunity for some math in Service Learning. We love that kind of cross-pollination at BMS!

At least some of the t-shirts should hopefully be ready by the end of November, so be sure to consider ordering one as a Christmas gift - for yourself or some other special person.


Performance Arts
Kari Kovick & Vicky Town
Kari Kovick


From Kari:

We have gotten off to a great start with music this year, celebrating the fall season with songs and movement, and providing the musical soundtrack for the Persephone and Demeter play with Vicky at our Harvest Celebration.


Our fall songs have included "Autumn Leaves" and "Red, Yellow, Orange, Brown" using our beautiful fall-colored scarves for moving our bodies like falling and swirling leaves, swaying branches, and jumping kids! We've also learned to keep a steady beat and to sneeze into our elbows (a hygienically-preferred practice) with "Mother Nature's Sneeze:"


Red Leaves, yellow leaves, orange leaves, brown

Big leaves, small leaves, crumpled on the ground.

Everywhere are falling leaves

Mother Nature, did you SNEEZE???


I have already attended two music conferences this fall, which have given me lots of great material and insight for using music to enhance social and emotional learning. One peace educator from Massachusetts, Sarah Pirtle, introduced me to many great new songs for helping children to feel the power of the circle. "Great Big Circle" helps us to celebrate a sense of inclusion and belonging, while "Oops," and "When I Say Stop (I Mean Stop)", help us to notice when the circle gets broken and to mend it with consideration for each other.


The other workshop, called Music in Education, taught me a new repertoire of singing games that offers a very fun way to build community through music (and music skills through play). The games are traditional folk games like "There's a Penny in My Hand," "Rig-a-Jig-Jig," and "Uncle Joe," which are played in a circle and involve movement, guessing, and memory skills.They tend to get more and more active as they progress, which makes them fun and challenging. The program is based on the research that has proven that children (and adults) learn best when they feel emotionally safe in their environment. When they feel that no threat exists, their nervous systems can switch off any perceived need to protect themselves, and they can proceed with the natural impulse to explore their world. I got to experience this first-hand, through how energized and alert my mind felt after a half-hour of playing these games with my peers. They seem to set the stage for learning reading, math, and whatever else there is to know in the world, together, in cooperative, creative ways.


We have also practiced calming techniques and attention-building with our Calm Down Song and our "listening to the chime" activity.


If you are interested in including any of these songs, games or practices in your home environment, don't hesitate to ask me for help. I have lots of resources that I am happy to share, and so does the school's office library. We would love to help you bring calming routines and practices into your lives, too. The children love them, and they are very wonderful to experience together.  


Vicky Town
Vicky Town


From Vicky:

During my two sessions this month, I enjoyed getting to know the student actors on a deeper level!

Our skills this time involved using the three levels of movement to create strong visual images on stage. We also began working on the concept of how to create a character's master leading gesture. We worked on these ideas through theatre games in pairs, small groups, and the whole group.

I chose these concepts after visiting with Hari. We decided that it would be a great collaboration if we worked on the reading and writing skills of visualization and the students' vocabulary.

Our actors designed their own stories, and we presented them in a freeze frame format. We created wordless scripts -- storyboards -- to help sequence the pieces. The middle school team incorporated their vocabulary words, too!

The K-3 group really enjoyed creating the storyboard and colored the pictures all at the same time! They presented two stories at the Thursday circle: one about fairies and a gnome who fight fires and the other about fire dragons.

I was most impressed with the collaboration of the elementary students. They arrived wanting to create a piece about stopping the wars in the world. Their goal is to present the piece in Floyd to raise money to go to Washington, DC, to protest the wars. Their piece was very powerful and was also presented at Thursday circle.

Congratulations for great work, everyone!    
Literacy Learning
Virginia Klara
Virginia Klara

Learning to read well and write clearly are two basic literacy skills that people rely on to learn things for themselves and to function well overall in our print-rich world. In order for our students to be able to meet this challenge, I have joined the Blue Mountain School staff as literacy learning instructor for my second year.


As literacy learning instructor, I work with young learners who are in the early stages of learning, to read and write independently. Because the children bring widely varied abilities and prior exposure to literacy learning, I work with all of the children at the Early Learning Level (Corey's class / Fire Cheetahs) and select students at the Elementary Level (Hari and Miranda's younger student group).


I base my instruction on where each child is at in his or her literacy abilities. I work with the children individually or in small groups, reinforcing core literacy skills and introducing the exceptions found in the English language. I stay abreast of what the various teachers are doing with their classes and offer in-class support during some lessons. As needed, I rework the concepts covered in group lessons into customized reading and writing review exercises.


At other times, I do one-on-one work to improve the individual students' reading and writing proficiencies. These days, my lessons with youngsters range from basic letter recognition for some of the Early Learners to the decoding of complex multisyllabic words from science classes for Elementary students.


I am truly enjoying getting to know the children and families now involved at Blue Mountain School. As an alumni parent, it is great for me to be returning as a reading tutor, an interest which developed for me when my eldest child (now 22) and his peers were learning to read and write, right here at Blue Mountain.


Today I wish you a good read with your child!



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
Liberal Arts
Fire Cheetahs / Fire Kids
The 3-4-5s
Service Learning
Performance Arts
Literacy Learning
Parent's Tao Te Ching
Board of Trustees

The next Board meeting is Wednesday, November 2, at 6:00 pm. The meeting is open to the public.

Elections for membership on the BMS Board of Trustees will occur in November.

In Gratitude We Thank

Collen Redman for a fabulous article in The Floyd Press.

Kari Kovic for donating a filing cabinet for the office.   


LaVern Beaver for helping with copying for Hari. 


Rebekah Hicks for helping in the Early Childhood classroom.  


Scott & Cassie Pierce, and Shannon & Sol Atkins for helping sort the Equal Exchange goodies.  



The Parent's Tao Te Ching 

by William Martin

The Parent's Tao te Ching


Quiet the Mind


Our bodies produce

the bodies of our children

Our noisy minds produce

the fears of our children

But the Tao produces

the spirit of our children


Still the body

Quiet the mind

Discover the spirit


Meditation is not complicated

nor esoteric

It is a natural skill

practiced in many variations

Breathe in and think, "Be..."

Breathe Out and think, "....still"

Once you learn

teach your children

You don't have to call it meditation

Call it "being still like a mountain"

Bring forth their natural ability

to remain quiet and at rest

(Yes, they can,

even for brief periods

Can you?)



Blue Mountain School 

470 Christiansburg Pike, Floyd, Virginia 24091