The Power of Greetings and Gratitude

 


A few weeks ago, Middle Years Principal Pat Wolf and I attended a program for educators about combating bias in our schools. The moderator asked "What can you do at your school to teach children to be compassionate human beings?" As I talked around the table with fellow educators, we agreed that starting small and simple was the best approach, especially for elementary and middle school students. 

We determined that we need to teach our students to recognize the humanity in other people, especially the people they see every day. And the best, easiest way to do that is to acknowledge everyone with whom they interact with a greeting, no matter how small and fleeting that interaction might be. Saying hello to another person sets a tone of compassion and care for any interactions that follow. As we are keen on respecting individual styles at High Meadows, we encourage students to greet in their own way, whether it be a handshake, hug, or smile. 

Another act of compassion, which we celebrate especially this time of year, is to express gratitude toward others. A simple "thank you" affirms that one has done something for another out of kindness. When expressions of gratitude are exchanged, warm feelings arise for both parties. And those feelings have a powerful ripple effect--they help spark a sense of belonging and significance which creates a fertile environment for learning. 

Bias, discrimination, and hatred--whether expressed subtly or brazenly--are terrible facts in society today. Though there are many significant, direct lessons we should teach our children about how to combat such terrible indignities, starting small and simple--with regularly-expressed greetings and gratitude--sets the foundation for that important work to begin.

Gratefully,
Jay's signature
Jay Underwood
Head of School
In Their Own Words: Why We Chose High Meadows
What do families like about High Meadows? The 42-acre campus and animals? The emphasis on academic and social-emotional growth? The daily opportunities to learn while outside? Four families share why they selected a High Meadows education. 

Opportunity to Play and Learn Outdoors
The Nel Family
Marius and Christy Nel's daughter Anneke started Kindergarten this year. Christy began researching schools when she was pregnant and realized she wanted a school with an outdoor education component and an emphasis on play and inclusiveness.
 
"By the time my daughter was three, I knew a place like High Meadows would be perfect for her," Christy said. "She needed a place that was as concerned about her emotional development as they were her academic achievements. Once my husband did his first campus tour, he was sold. His selling point is that High Meadows teaches kids how to think independently and to advocate for themselves." 
 
Their daughter is thriving emotionally, physically, and academically at High Meadows. They are pleased with their experience and noted two wonderful surprises.
 
"Anneke has always been reticent to be very physical. Since starting at High Meadows in August, she is suddenly dancing along beside me through grocery stores, climbing things (even the chicken tree at school), and she wants to play outside at home now! The other thing that surprised me was the absolute thoroughness of the Fall narrative. I find the wisdom and experience of Anneke's teachers to be immensely valuable. I think High Meadows is the model of what early childhood education should be... a loving and protective community of caring adults where kids are free to be their weird little bouncy selves with the freedom to discover their potential."  

Teachers Know Their Students' Needs
Livia, Bram, and Hallie Schapiro 
Bram and Saren Schapiro's daughter Livia also started Kindergarten this year. Saren was impressed by how quickly the teachers got to know Livia's learning style and personality which was reflected in the recent narrative report and parent-teacher conference.
 
"We love the rigorous and comprehensive IB program curriculum paired with an emphasis on social/emotional growth," she said. "My daughter has been happy, has encountered challenges which she has worked through with caring and emotionally-supportive teachers, and has been challenged to try new things.  The high stakes testing environment that starts in Kindergarten was not the way we wanted our children to be educated. We believe strongly in developmentally-appropriate learning, individualized pace, and outdoor/unstructured time between learning. High Meadows is the best option for those values that we found."
 
A Friendly and Inclusive Environment
The Tisdale Family
Neal and Michelle Tisdale's daughter Jordan is an 8th grader who joined the school last year. 

"We knew several current and former High Meadows students who were kind, friendly, inclusive, talented, and happy," said Michelle. "I took a tour of the school and loved the individual attention that I received, the interest the school had in getting to know the needs of our daughter, and the lovely environment and classroom setting."
 
Jordan soon shadowed a High Meadows student, part of the admission process.
 
"She LOVED her shadow day, and everyone was friendly and accepting," Michelle shared. "The students in her class ended the day with an exercise called "Acknowledgements" where each student recognizes another for something good they did during the day or week before. Several students acknowledged Jordan for her courage to 'try out' a new school. It was a game changer for her."
 
The Tisdales have been pleased with High Meadows. "We absolutely love the conferences offered twice a year," Michelle said. "We know how rare it is to meet with EACH one of your student's middle school teachers and review how the subject is going. In terms of students, 'inclusion' is the word that best describes Jordan's High Meadows experiences. The Middle Years student body truly is a community."
 
Students are Self-Advocates and Prepared for High School
The Mulcahey Family
David and Michelle Mulcahey's daughter Catherine is also an 8th grader. When she was in 6th grade at a local middle school, the family decided to find an alternative to its large scale and class sizes. They talked with friends whose three children attended High Meadows.
 
"We were impressed with how the school was able to serve their students, knowing that each is quite different from the other," Michelle said. "After Catherine completed a shadow day, she was effusive about how it felt so good. She noted how students asked questions that teachers seemed interested in, and students didn't feel rushed to answer."
 
The Mulcaheys talked with other parents and teachers who validated that High Meadows offers a unique place for students to grow into themselves and become self-advocates while getting the academics necessary for high school. 
 
"Our daughter was welcomed as a new student even by lifelong High Meadows students," Michelle said. "She quickly grew in a positive direction academically, socially, and emotionally. The progressive approach and physical environment have made all the difference."
4/5 Students Learn About Agriculture on Class Trip
 
4/5 students on their farm field trip
As part of the International Baccalaureate unit on Where We Are in Space and Time, the 4th and 5th grade students and teachers recently traveled to McDowell Farm School in Alabama for three days. While there, they investigated and developed an understanding and appreciation of our role in the history, transformation, and future of agriculture. The trip inspired curiosity, taught problem solving, and empowered community connections. Plus, it was a lot of fun!  
Parents Share Thoughts From Loving Learning Book Study  

In October, a group of High Meadows parents gathered with Kate McElvaney, director of the  High Meadows Center for Progressive Learning, to discuss the book Loving Learning: How Progressive Education Can Save America's Schools by Tom Little. McElvaney wanted to offer parents the chance to discuss the book which teachers and staff members read a few summers ago and is on the essential reading list for new teachers. 
 
"The International Baccalaureate Programme we follow has a progressive foundation," McElvaney said. "This book highlights the thinking behind progressive education, as shown in this quote: 'Abundant research shows that three core classroom strategies invented by progressive educators - namely, letting students pursue their own interests (now commonly referred to as inquiry-based education); using a multidisciplinary approach to teaching skills and content; and organizing material into student projects - are extraordinarily effective ways to develop the skills we most need in the new global economy.' "
 
McElvaney noted that a benefit to having teachers read this book is to explain that it is okay for children to be frustrated as they learn. Here's a quote about that from the book: 'The wisest teachers will do their best to build cultures that tolerate and even welcome that kind of temporary discomfort, together with ruthless honesty about the mistakes we make and how we can do better. This is how we maintain joy in learning and resilience. The teacher's job is to help guide students as they learn coping skills and how to persevere.'
 
Below are some quotes from the book and related takeaways p arents shared.

Stefanie Haerynck has a son in 6th grade. She participated in the book study to learn how fellow High Meadows parents see education for their children and how the school fits in the loving learning plan. "It was a good refresher to read about the education history and how philosophies evolved leading to progressive education," she said. "The central idea of the whole child approach may sound like common sense, yet not every form of education is embracing it to its fullest. Having been a parent of a student at High Meadows for a couple of years, plenty of elements in the book are familiar, such as students feeling emotionally comfortable at school to learn (the whole child approach), the importance of play and being outdoors multiple times a day, the limited official testing to allow for ample genuine interested learning, and the personal narratives versus a grade number. The book also gave perspective to the school-wide Emphasis and hands-on projects. It was a good read to support your choice whenever you find yourself asked 'Why High Meadows?'"
 
Melissa McCoy has a daughter in preschool and participated to hear different takes on the views and importance of progressive education. "In the book, the author says: 'If we truly want to encourage our kids to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and collaborators, we have to give them opportunities to practice those skills early on. And if we hope to spur innovation to keep our economy humming, we must find ways to free students to pursue some of their wildest ideas.' I feel that is one missing tangible in our education system - the ability to create Thinkers, well-rounded children with grit, resilience, but that are still kind and caring members of their community. Really giving students the freedom to explore their interests builds all of these life skills. This is one of the reasons we choose High Meadows for our daughter. We spoke in the group of our definition of success for our children. For our family, if our girls are Thinkers who care about what is going on around them, are confident, and are women who hold true to their beliefs and values, we would consider that success. This was a wonderful book. It was a very easy and engaging read that I would highly recommend to any High Meadows parent." 
 
Amit Patel has a  son in 4th grade. He participated in the book study to learn more about the progressive education concepts he was seeing in action. "While I have become familiar with concepts such as the whole-child approach and project-based learning through my children's education experiences, I didn't grow up educated that way. I wanted to see what other like-minded parents thought about them, and the book study gave me that chance. I believe that focusing on both social-emotional development and academics is important, and I wanted to understand the reasoning others have for that. I recommend that families who are new to these concepts read this book. It provides a good basis for understanding the thinking and applications of this type of education."   

Teacher's Discovery Inspires Class Learning Journey

Students in the 4th/5th grade class taught by Jennifer Hannah and Cari Newman are on a multi-year food and sustainability learning journey. It was inspired by Ms. Hannah's discovery at a local farmer's market of the Slow Food USA movement which emphasizes the importance of food that is good, clean, and fair for all. Ms. Hannah then used a High Meadows learning grant to attend the organization's conference to learn more. 

"The slow food movement teaches about the importance of food and community," she explained. "There are a lot of classroom connections for those, and we have applied them in many ways."
 
Based on Ms. Hannah's learnings, students last year explored the book Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America by Douglas Gayeton. They used the book's striking Lexicon of Sustainability images and definitions of
The Hannah/Newman class shared a meal before the  Thanksgiving break.
agricultural terms as a model for their visual imagery unit, imitating the style of the images and writing to create self-portraits and words about themsel ves. They also learned about the importance of biodiversity in a healthy environment and why some foods are becoming extinct. They planted seeds facing extinction in their class garden and ate what they grew. Finally, they learned about the importance of sharing a meal and began eating meals together before long school breaks such as Thanksgiving and Spring Break.

This year, the students expanded their learnings in several ways. For one of their shared meals, they ate Makah Ozette potatoes grown in the High Meadows
For one of their shared meals, the class ate Makah Ozette potatoes they grew.
garden. Makah Ozette potatoes are a part of the Slow Food's Taste of Ark project . The fingerling potato is a staple in the diet of Pacific Coast Native Americans of the Makah Nation who live around Neah Bay, Washington. The students tal ked about the origin of the potatoes a nd tasted them. 

Ms. Hannah and Ms. Newman have been pleased by their students' learning journey and how the sense of community plays out in the classroom, particularly through the shared meals.  
 
"Sharing a meal is a time you see children buy in to the classroom community on many levels," Ms. Hannah said. "One student brought in his family's silver place card holders for a class meal and shared family stories." 
K/1 and 2/3 Students Enjoy Visit from Local Author 

'He looked high up at his nest and cried, "I'll never get back home." The branch and nest and wind and rain was all he had ever known. "I'm not good enough or smart enough. I'm ugly and I'm weak." The bluebird believed these words as they came out of his beak.'  
- Excerpt from Blue - A Mindfulness Tale

In November, Kindergarten/1st and 2nd/3rd students welcomed Atlanta author Hill Schroder. He captivated them as he read from his book Blue - A Mindfulness Tale. The book tells an inspiring story about self-love, compassion, gratitude, hope, resilience, confidence, mediation, and inner peace. He also read parts of his new book Be Your Beauty.
Middle Years Actors Tell Their Own Stories in Fall Show

Nine students told their own stories in a beautiful and powerful way in the fall Middle Years "Untold Stories" show. They wrote and presented their stories about their experiences, observations, and reflections on sexism, racism, and bullying, as well as the hope and strength it takes to tackle these challenging issues. The show ends by saying "This doesn't end here" because the ensemble wants to continue having these conversations at High Meadows and beyond.



Upcoming Events
Many Upcoming Opportunities to Learn About and Visit High Meadows School

Interested in High Meadows School? Visit our website to learn about our school, from our expansive natural campus to our exceptional teachers who specialize in globally-focused, inquiry-based learning. Then, schedule a campus tour to help you understand how the elements of our campus, community, and commitment to progressive education come together to create a learning environment that is both dynamic and extraordinary. Group tours are held Mondays and Fridays at 10:00 a.m.  Register through our website https://highmeadows.org/admission/admission-events/  to sign up for a tour or to attend any of  these upcoming events: 
  • An Evening to Inform: Thursday, Dec. 7 from 6:30 - 8 p.m.
  • Pre-K Preview: Thursday, Dec. 14 from 10 - 11 a.m.
Learn about the 2018-2019 High Meadows School application process, upcoming events, and how to set up your account with Ravenna Solutions - our online admission system. If you have questions, contact Director of Admission Laura Nicholson at lnicholson@highmeadows.org or 678-507-1170.
The 2018-2019 Admission Process Has Begun

High Meadows has begun accepting applications for the 2018-2019 school year. Below are important dates for the Admission Process.
  • JANUARY AND FEBRUARY 2018: Applicant visit & assessment dates scheduled for this time period
  • FEBRUARY 16, 2018: Preferred Application Deadline
  • FEBRUARY 23, 2018: Financial Aid Application Deadline
  • MARCH 1, 2018: 2017 Tax Information Deadline for Financial Aid Applicants
  • MARCH 31, 2018: Common Atlanta Area Association of Independent Schools (AAAIS) Admission Notification Date
  • APRIL 13, 2018: AAAIS Response Deadline
OUR MISSION

The High Meadows community celebrates and perpetuates each individual's quest for knowledge and skill, sense of wonder, and connection to the natural environment. We empower each to be a compassionate, responsible, and active global citizen.

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