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September 2010
In This Issue
From the Director
The Oxy Morons
Nature's Ninjas
Thumbs Up Kids
Amy's class
Service Learning
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The Parent's Tao te Ching

from The Parent's Tao te Ching:

Doing nothing while your child fails

requires great courage
and is the way of wisdom.
Gentleness when your child misbehaves
requires great self-control
and is the way of power.

Do not succumb to
or controlling
your child.
Let your gentle presence
teach all that is necessary.

My father tried to teach me responsibility
by scrutinizing my every action
to make sure it was done right.
I didn't really learn responsibility
until I discovered the consequences
of doing it wrong.
Every mistake your child makes
is another step forward
on the long road to wholeness.
Every time you interfere
you both step backwards.

We invite you to forward this email to friends and relatives who are part of the Blue Mountain School Family.

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On our calendar:

Oct 11: Forestry Field Trip

Oct 14: Caverns Field Trip

Oct 14: Board Election

Oct 21: Fall Retreat

Oct 28: Halloween

Nov 1: Conferences

Nov 16: Thankful Day


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

Naturally, we're still working on developing this newsletter, so if there's anything you'd like to see in it, please let us know!
From the Director
Shelly Emmett

Shelly Emmett
Shelly Emmett
In our weekly staff meeting last Wednesday, we had a discussion about an article that we had all read about Progressive Education. The article addressed ways that schools can be Progressive, not in the things that are taught (like recycling or teaching kids about peace), but in the actual way that teachers and staff share in the basic ideals of Progressive education, and in the way that they put those ideals into practice in the classroom.

This article is one that we read last year, too, and referred to a few times throughout the year as we considered how closely our actual experience of having a Progressive school fit with the ideal of a Progressive school. But this time around, something new stood out for me as I looked over the article for the meeting. It was the section titled, 'Why It's Rare'.

As I reread that section I was aware of a feeling of deep gratitude and regard for the teachers here at Blue Mountain School, who are willing and able to jump into the somewhat messy and much more challenging educational model that is progressive contemplative education. In this model, there are lots of questions and few easy answers, there are lots of learning opportunities but nothing that works 100% of the time. This model of education most closely mirrors the authentic, dynamic process that is life itself, where taking the risk of trying new things can result in new missteps or successes with each step taken. You just never know what you might learn or discover!

Also, as I reread the section about how rare Progressive schools really are, I felt grateful to our community of parents and supporters, who know that this way of teaching kids and being with kids has immeasurable value, even without the usual measures of a 'good' education--such as grades and testing. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to create something this rare and unique, together.

In gratitude,
Class Reports
Shannon & Hari's class
The Oxy Morons

Shannon Atkins
Shannon Atkins
From Shannon:
BMS middle school science/math students have begun identifying and monitoring local plant species as part of a citizen science field campaign called Project Budburst. On a site adjacent to the BMS campus, students observe target plants to record the timing of significant stages of the plants' annual life cycles - or phenophases - such as first and last flowering and leafing. While getting a closer look at roles and relationships in Blue Ridge ecological communities, student scientists will contribute their phenophase observations to a national database that other scientists can use to monitor and project effects of climate change.

Students have been exploring the significance of changes in the timing of phenological events, some of which directly affect humans. Project Budburst offers one example:

... fruit trees like apples, peaches and pears, are pollinated by insects, which have a seasonal life cycle - they take time to develop from egg to larva to adult. If the trees flower earlier in the season, they may be out of synch with their pollinators. For example, if an insect is still in the egg or larval stage, they will not be able to fly from tree to tree and transport pollen from one plant to another. Without pollination, the flowers are not fertilized and will not produce fruit.

Besides ecological studies involved in their project, students have also found object lessons for mathematical concepts. Since they will be reporting each dated phenophase event with a specific location, students have used physical maps to survey their study site in combination with digital resources to create the necessary georeferences. In doing so, their work with coordinate systems moves off their graphing sheets to the ground beneath their feet.

In Blue Mountain School's service learning inventory, the middle school class demonstrated strong interest in environmental issues. The phenology citizen science campaign is one of several service learning experiences planned to apply the students' interest toward positive environmental change in their school, local, and global communities. Look for the class' initial data on the Project Budburst website as fall sweeps in!
Hari Berzins
Hari Berzins

From Hari:

Hello from the very exciting classroom of the Oxy Morons!

First, I'd like to say thank you to all of you who make up the Blue Mountain School community. I couldn't have hoped for a more warm welcome to Floyd. I feel quite fortunate to be here.

One goal I have for our middle school class is to help them gain a deeper sense of their own beliefs. We start our days with a mindfulness activity-including sacred drumming, chanting, meditation, walking meditation, mindful eating and more. After these activities, we journal. One of the most interesting insights for me was their journal responses to "What makes you happy?" We have quite a diverse group in our class of ten! Happiness for them comes from nature, animals, their friends, music, iPods, computers and more. Starting our day practicing mindfulness helps us begin class with a strong sense of community and focus; it is also helping us get to know each other and ourselves more deeply.

Continuing this exploration of self, we have been exploring This I Believe. From the website: "This I Believe is an international project engaging people in writing and sharing essays describing the core values that guide their daily lives." Reading and listening to other's values has inspired fascinating conversations as we discuss "Where does belief come from? and "What do I believe?" This project will prepare students for researching family and community histories through interviews, which we plan to share on a class blog and podcast.

Throughout our studies of belief, we are also working on foundational skills such as reading, writing and grammar. Please look for a parent/student/teacher journal in the coming weeks. We will be writing letters back and forth and hope you will participate!

All the best,


Inge's class
Nature's Ninjas

Inge Terrill
Inge Terrill
To start the year, I would like to share a poem written by two of our class members...

Heard on the spit of the wind

by Jonah Coldwater and William Avellar

On the top branch of a tree

Is a riddle to me

And everyone else that sees me.

Nature's Ninjas, in case you were wondering, are the students in the 2nd-4th grade class at Blue Mountain School. This year, the ten students who make up this class are being taught by myself and Hari Berzins. I teach on Monday and Tuesday mornings and full days on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Hari teaches these same students on Monday and Tuesday afternoons. She will also be helping the students with independent reading on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

William (a.k.a. Bert) Avellar, Solace Church, Jonah Coldwater, Indya Da'Mes, Layla Emmett, Cedar Kayrum, Kai Kelleher, Tai Nunez, River Roberts, and Hazel Williams are Nature's Ninjas. They are very interested in learning more about nature this year, and ways to help protect nature (hence the class name).

The school year got of to a great start with a zest for knowledge and camaraderie among the students. The class actually has a separate name that it uses just in the classroom. They are known as The Friends in the classroom and Nature's Ninjas outside of the classroom. I think this gives great insight into who these fine, young people really are.

Some of the fun things Nature's Ninjas have been studying with me so far include Geography (continents), Virginia Studies (maps and state symbols), Science (amphibian metamorphosis), Math (geometry and telling time), and Penmanship (cursive writing). Hari has been giving each student reading assessments to help set individualized goals for this school year. She will be working with the students this year on their spelling, reading, and writing (language arts). They will be reading some of the classics, doing creative writing, and taking spelling tests, among other things.

Each student will be creating their own "Book of Me" which will be a year long study of themselves, including everything from their physical make up (bones, muscles, organs, etc.) to what they like and dislike. They will also be making individual books about Virginia throughout the year. Other fun and worthwhile classes that they are taking at BMS include Service Learning, Art, Yoga, and Music.

This year will be full of educational field trips as well. So far, the students helped dig potatoes at Five Penny Farm for the Floyd County Farm-to-School program. BMS students dug potatoes alongside 85 fifth graders from Floyd Elementary School. On Sept. 22nd, we went on an all-school field trip to pick apples in Check in honor of the first day of fall. Everyone shared in the bounty at the School's Harvest Festival later that day. Our next field trip will be to Dixie Caverns to study karst topography and cave formations.

As you can see, we've got big plans this year. We'll keep you posted!

Corey's class
Thumbs Up Kids

Corey Avellar
Corey Avellar
To see a larger version of Corey's report, just click on it...
Amy's class

Amy Myers
Amy Myers
Happy Fall from the Early Childhood classroom! We are having a wonderful time getting to know one another, and I am very excited about the group that we have and the parents that are a part of it! I feel called to share our class of 10. We are: Lily Anderson, Rowan Anderson, Ipi Bowden-Hello, Allie Chartier, Porter Jones-Sweeney, Edwin McCoy, Trent Nichols, Enzo Nunez, Gabe Vaughan, and Anya Volker. Soon we will come up with a name for our class, but we are enjoying learning who we are first.

This first month has cruised by with wonderful warm weather and fun field trips. Potato digging was a hoot and rather hot too. Our apple orchard adventure was bountiful even though most of our class just couldn't stop eating apples. The cider from the orchard was delicious! We worked hard on making apple sauce for our harvest festival later that day and are looking forward to using an apple press for cider later this fall.

In our classroom we are still learning the rhythm of our days together, which involves free play and focus times. Our morning circle tends towards getting-to-know-you songs and greeting one another. We have had a few show-and-tells already, about our favorite stuffed animals, nature tables, and our pets at home. Our story times have introduced us to our new friend Tiptoes, and the adventures that she goes on. We will continue reading this as the year progresses and the seasons change.

Mindfulness is a part of our school and we are working on that in a simple way in our classroom. We are learning about taking deep breaths throughout the day, and specifically when we hear the singing bowl. Sometimes our energy gets big and even loud (imagine that!), so when we hear the bowl sing, we take a moment together to breathe. And we find that it works! Please feel free to take this idea home with you and see if your child can benefit. Enjoy the fall leaves and this beautiful time of year!!

In Gratitude,
Miss Amy

Jamie's class
Community Connection

Jamie Reygle
Jamie Reygle


Many of you already know me through my involvement with the school over the past few years. For those of you who don't, I imagine you're about to.

This year, I have been given the task of making Service Learning a formality at the school. Service Learning can be briefly described as learning through service: reflection on what has been achieved is as critical as the act of service itself.

So it's important that the students are on-board with what we're doing. To this end, we're spending the first few weeks identifying what is important to each class, and then my job is to implement a program that addresses as many of these issues as we can.

  • The Oxy Morons received a presentation from Jack Wall of Wall Residences this week, which primarily addressed alternative energy and organic food production. He is in the throes of creating an eco-village, and the possibilities of collaboration are both extensive and exciting. We will be talking more, but expect this class to be involved with some environmental projects.
  • Nature's Ninjas are planning on working with the Humane Society here in Floyd, and would also like to spend some time back with the residents of Skyline Manor. We should be kicking off our year of Service Learning with a visit to Healing Harvest Forest Foundation (HHFF) in the next couple of weeks.
  • The Thumbs Up Kids are a very engaged class who will also be visiting HHFF with Nature's Ninjas, as well as connecting with the Skyline residents. They're also looking forward to selling some 'slow down on the roads' bumper stickers, and donating the proceeds to a worthy cause.

I am considering the possibility of engaging each of these classes in the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge, which would require us to identify and solve environmental issues confronting our community. If you have any suggestions for potential projects, I would love to hear from you.


Lora Leigh's class
The Painted Word

Lora Leigh Giessler
Lora Leigh Giessler
Greetings! We are in our fourth week of the school year, and although I have only just begun to introduce the children to this year's art program, it feels like we are off to a good start. The children are attentive, respectful, responsible and eager to create.

First, I'd like to say that I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity over the years to establish a relationship with most of the students at BMS. This gives us a foundation from which to grow and learn more about ourselves, each other, and the art we make.

My ideas of art in education focus on the process rather than the product. I view art as a language which provides a means for us to express and communicate ideas and feelings that may otherwise be difficult to put into sentences. It also gives us a place to explore ideas and to discover new possibilities. In my classes there is no right or wrong, only learning through process, which includes our mistakes. Many a time, a student has become frustrated with the outcome of their art making, later to discover that their problem-solving led them to "see" differently. Together, we learn that our individual approach to creating art reflects our uniqueness and personal perspective. I try to bring awareness of this understanding to the classroom, in the hope that it is carried outside to help us remember that we each have something different to offer the world. To "own" our art empowers us to be our unique selves and to learn to appreciate our differences and our similarities with others.

In a nutshell, the art program offers the younger children an opportunity to manipulate and explore different mediums. We will make art that is inspired by the natural world while learning about the elements of art: color, line, texture, value, shape and form. The older children will use these elements to construct and communicate their ideas or feelings about subjects that are of interest to them. Throughout the year we will look at how art is used and its importance in various cultures, and how it has changed throughout time. We will also view and compare some significant artists and discuss their styles, means of communication, and message.

In closing, I would like to extend an invitation for you to contact me if you have any concerns or comments regarding your child's experience in art class. I am best reached by email at to set up an appointment, but you are welcome to call me if need be.

~ Lora Leigh
Thank you
That's all for the first edition of Indigo Messenger. We hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed putting it together.

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

Thank you,

Shelly Emmett
Blue Mountain School