We have begun the wind down to the school year. End of year events began with the 5th grade Dare Graduation and the Community Celebration. Next week is the All District 5th grade Field Day and Fly Up Day at school. The final Eagle's Nest is being put together and once again, I am surprised by how quickly the year has gone.
It has been an exciting year, with our new chromebooks that we were finally able to purchase. All the teachers have been using them in their classrooms. It's so much easier having access to them in classrooms and not having to go down to the computer lab every time students need to use a computer. Teachers are excited by the different ways they can use this technology in their classrooms. In the Woodlands classes during their Science Fair unit the chromebooks were being used frequently. The two Prairie classes have a set of 6 for each of their rooms and are able to integrate them into their curriculum as well.
Last night was the new Kindergarten parent meeting. Many new parents will be joining our school, which is exciting, along with seeing parents of current students. The 6 years of elementary school are a profound time of life for children, and it is remarkable how quickly those 6 years can pass. I was still teaching in the Woodlands the year the current 5th graders started school. I remember having some of them in my Homeroom as kinders, and nothing marks time like the growth of children. To remember them as kinders and then to see them about to leave elementary school is always startling. We hope they continue to learn and thrive in their new setting.
We also say goodbye to some families that have been a part of our school for many, many years. I had one parent of multiple children that have attended Nerstrand say that she felt that she and her husband should be ringing the bell as well as their 5th grader. Saying farewell to their family's time at Nerstrand is a big moment for them. We send good wishes with all of our families that are changing settings too.
As we finally see the end of this very long winter and welcome spring and then summer, I hope that all of our families can enjoy the summer. Thank you for your support of our school. Again, we wish all the best to our departing 5th graders and look forward to returning students in the fall.
Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. There will be approximately 9 hours and 47 minutes of daylight today. Within a few days we will start adding more hours of daylight, making our way up to the longest day of the year in June. It's the time of year that we take stock and look back over where we've been and what goals we have in the future.
The last couple of years, our school has had a strong focus on bringing more technology to our Little School in the Big Woods. Since getting our fiber line we formed a Technology Committee to prioritize our needs and make decisions about what we would like to bring to Nerstrand. Our first project will be installing a projector and new screen in the gym in the next couple of months. This will give Carmen a chance to use more technology in her PE program. I'm excited to see what additions she will bring to her classes! Carmen already has a very strong curriculum but I'm sure the new technology will enhance her programming. The Tech Committee is also going to move forward on purchasing Chromebooks. We are looking at having up to 30 chromebooks to rotate through classrooms, and also a certain amount assigned to each grade level. Teachers are excited about using these devices for research projects in their rooms. We can also use them for standardized testing, which allows us to test in classrooms instead of trying to rotate everyone into the computer lab. Those are the main objectives for this year, but we will be making long term goals this year as well.
We also have a Math Committee this year. It has been quite a few years since we updated our math curriculum and so the committee has been reviewing different curriculum and will make a decision at the end of this school year.
Finally, a long term goal of mine is to see our school connect with The Big Woods State Park more frequently. Our biggest obstacle has been transportation to the park, but we are exploring different options. It's exciting for us to think of different ways we can use the park with our students.
Yesterday, we wore ugly/beautiful holiday sweaters to school and took pictures in front of the beautiful backdrop created by Lori Amy for our Winter Program. I am grateful everyday for the wonderfully dedicated staff that we have at Nerstrand. I know all of the adults at our school care deeply for the children that attend Nerstrand and work so hard to teach children everyday.
We hope all of our families enjoy the winter break and are able to spend time with family and friends. Thank you for all your support to our school!
We completed our first set of conferences at Nerstrand. This is an important point, where teachers, families and students sit down and reflect on the start of the year. A couple of years ago we changed these beginning conferences and moved them to October. This has been a good change for us. Our focus during this first set of conferences was about how students have transitioned to a new year. Yes, we include information about their first assessments of the school year, but more importantly, what are teachers seeing in their classrooms? How are children adjusting? What are their relationships with peers? What early strengths and struggles are teachers seeing in their students?
I hope the beginning of the school year has gone smoothly at your home. As a parent I know how stressful it can be to get everyone back to school!
Our first week here at school went very well and it feels like we are settling into the routines. During these first weeks and days, our focus is on getting to know each other again after the long summer break. We also set about getting to know our new children, parents and staff. I always struggle a bit getting to know all the new names of students and parents. There are hundreds of names of children and parents that I've needed to learn now that I've been doing this for 28 years, and that's before I became a Director and all 150 students are in "my class".
Still, we know that name memorization and recollection is worth all the effort. Being able to greet each other by name as we move around our building is an essential component of our commitment to know all the children. Authentically greeting each other by name is a key building block in the formation of the many trusting relationships that are needed for learning to happen. So how do we set about learning the names of 150 children? This process is embedded in the social curriculum that takes place in the first weeks of school. During these first few weeks, in classroom Morning Meetings, teachers are focusing on building community within their classroom. Knowing each other's name is an essential component in that community building. Every morning during their meetings each child is greeted by name, using many different greetings that they learn throughout the year. All of our teachers, and many paras, have been trainied in using Responsive Classroom (RC). Morning Meeting is an essential component in RC. Building a strong community of respect, kindness and perseverance is an important part of everyone's classroom and when that is established we see those same attributes through the entire building. Over the coming weeks, children will learn the names of their friends in other classes in the school as the children are intentionally mixed together during games and play.
At our All School Meeting on September 12th, sped para Nicki Schaefer will present her Spotlight, using this year's Spotlight poster. She will be modelling for all of our students, what is expected on the day that they present their Spotlight to their own Homerooms. Next week in Homeroom classrooms teachers will model how to do a spotlight presentation. The last week of September is when students will begin giving their Spotlights. Teachers begin with Woodlands students that have the most experience doing their presentations. All of this modeling is well thought out, so that all of our students feel comfortable when their turn comes up. Our Spotlight program has been running for over 25 years, giving students opportunities to speak in public and to build connections in their Homerooms and throughout our school. It is a wonderful tradition, that every Tuesday in our Homerooms, one student is in the Spotlight and is able to share facts about themselves. When students leave Nerstrand they are given a DVD will all of the Spotlights they have done over the years. I know from personal experience (both my daughters went to Nerstrand) that this is a cherished keepsake of their time here.
Names matter, they help us to build our community. So, that work will continue and I will add learning the names of new parents to the list. Please forgive me if I struggle with names. I will get there eventually!
The final Eagle's Nest is going out, last Monday I had my last Spotlight Luncheon and we scheduled our final activities at our last staff meeting. It's definitely the end of the school year!
In my mind the school year always felt like my students and I were boarding a large ship for a 9-month voyage. Everyone in the classroom was a part of the crew and although I was Captain, all my students had an impact in where our ship would take us. Everyone was essential and had an impact on the voyage. As Director I still see the school year as a voyage, but with a much bigger crew.
This year's voyage took the Savannah to the Island of Animals, with visits from the Como Zoo and to both of our metro zoos. They loved travelling on the zoo bus! They also traveled through their Flat Stanleys and the Iditarod Dog Race. They made beautiful art and they became strong readers, writers, mathematicians and scientists this year.
The Prairie spent time learning about color science with Linda Bonde. They spent time with Larry: making corn shocks, examining the dugout canoe, planting bulbs, migrating butterflies and especially loved the tipi experience. At River Bend Nature Center, they got to experience three different seasons, and the kids still talk about things they learned and did. Kinders spent a lot of time learning how to make letters, then make words, then write words, then read words!! Wow, lots of growing! It was fun to make 'zoo suitcases': Students learned about 11 different animals, then saw them for real at the Minnesota Zoo. The Prairie learned to 'be kind, be safe, and be helpful' each and every day in their classrooms.
The Woodlands 5th graders journeyed to Wolf Ridge and learned about team work and environmental science. They built rockets and blasted them off in the field. They spent time learning about the properties of water and chemistry and spent a lot of time learning to get along with others. They wrote their own song about a former teacher whose resilience and positive spirit has helped her through some of life's greatest challenges.
The year in PE started with much time spent outside on the track and field area getting ready for and running the mile (grades 1-5) and half-mile (kinders) as well as learning some new skills and improving on emerging skills. All classes once again enjoyed a week of the popular "highway" game where they rode scooters safely around a large obstacle course in the gym. In the spring everyone participated in a Jump Rope for Heart event. All classes raised funds to help those with heart disease as well as increase their awareness of heart health. Our school raised an amazing $4712 this year and everyone had fun jumping rope for the week.
This year in Music was the first year of Drumline. There was a lot of excitement in the Woodlands about Drumline. Savannah students started learning to play the ukulele and did Recorder Karate. Prairie students got to use boom wackers and practice singing for two big concerts.
Everyone got to go on two big field trips, deliver beautiful May Day flowers that are still in the front of houses around Nerstrand and so many other things that would take too long to name. It's been an eventful year that seemed to fly by with much learning, laughing and growing.
I wish your family a safe and happy summer. I wish the best to all of our graduating fifth graders, and look forward to seeing returning families in the fall. Thank you for all your support of our school and your students.
Happy Summer Everyone!
Another month has slipped by and it has been a busy one. Our fifth graders returned from their trip to Wolfridge at the start of the month, and from all accounts it was an amazing trip. You can read more about it in the Family Update that was sent out earlier this week.
The Savannah team also had their final trip up to Como Zoo as part of the grant they received. It's been quite a year for the Savannah with their partnership with Como. I frequently hear it mentioned in my weekly Spotlight Lunches with students as being a highlight of the year. We are appreciative of our fabulous Savannah team of Tara Vondrasek and Sarah Johnson for making this happen for our students. In May the entire Prairie and Savannah team will be heading to the Minnesota Zoo for their team field trip, thanks to our incredible PTO. The Savannah students have learned a great deal about animals during this year. I am sure they have made memories they will never forget.
MCA testing began this month, and has run very smoothly because of our new high speed internet access. Next week the Woodlands will complete the reading portion of the assessment and the 3rd grade Savannah students will complete math. We hope to be finished with all of the state tests by the 14th.
At our last staff meeting, the teachers scheduled this year's Talent Show. Mark your calendars for May 30th to see some talented Nerstrand students sing, dance, tell jokes and surprise us with their talent. This has always been a popular event and more information will be coming home soon.
Finally, Nerstrand applied for a Reading Corps tutor for the 2017-2018 school year and our application was accepted! However, we need to hire that tutor. Flyers will be coming home giving information about being a Reading Corps tutor. You may be interested in applying for this position, or if you know a retiree, college student, or high school graduate. Please let me know if you are interested in finding out more. These reading tutors work one on one with K-3 graders that need some reading interventions. Reading Corps is many times referred to as the naitonal Peace Corps. It's important work, that would really help our students. Here is a link that gives some more information about being a Reading Corps tutor: https://www.serveminnesota.org/news-1/2016/1/6/reading-corps-tutors-help-students-become-better-readers
We started a new tradition this year at Nerstrand School. Our fifth grade students will be spending a week living and learning at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. According to the Wolf Ridge web site, the following is stated as their mission:
Wolf Ridge is a place where minds open to the joy and wonder of discovery of our natural world. We seek to stimulate a love and understanding of nature by involving children and adults in direct observation of and participation in the outdoors. We promote self-awareness and leadership development in the process.
Activities and classes at Wolf Ridge are nearly all outdoors, typically three hours in length. Over fifty different classes and activities are available. Subjects include environmental science, cultural history, contemporary environmental issues, personal growth, team building and outdoor recreation.
At the beginning of my career I taught at an international boarding school outside of London England. An integral part of the curriculum involved travel and first hand experiences. Two weeks a year, once in the fall and again in the winter, the entire campus was closed so that all Middle and Upper School students could take sponsored trips around Europe. Although, I taught 5th grade, I was able to chaperone some of these trips. I got the opportunity to visit Prague, Czechoslovakia just as it was opening up to the West, after many years of Communist leadership. I also chaperoned to Vienna, Germany and a ski trip to the Swiss Alps. My 5th graders also had a chance to travel through school. My 5th grade colleagues and I chaperoned a trip every year to Devon, England, which is a county in Southwest England.
These experiences taught me so much about the importance of hands on learning for all students. In our classroom we had studied erosion, tidal pools and rock formations, but in Devon we got to see them and study them with so much depth. As human beings, learning comes to life when we are able to study something using all of our senses. I saw the huge impact this had on my students, and I certainly realized the impact it had on me. So bringing this opportunity to our students makes so much sense. We are lucky to live close enough to the Boundary Waters so that our students are able to visit this beautiful and uniquely Minnesotan ecosystem.
Here is another blurb from their web site about their location:
Located on a ridge overlooking Lake Superior, Wolf Ridge’s 2,000 acre campus is bordered by the Baptism River and features creeks, two lakes, two high peaks, 18-miles of trail and a mixed forest of maple, birch and spruce. Wildlife is abundant and includes pine marten, eagles, moose, black bear, white-tailed deer, fox, wolves, beaver, peregrine falcons and loons. Facilities include four classroom buildings, two dormitories, a dining hall, a raptor aviary, a library, two auditoriums, two rock-climbing walls, two outdoor ropes courses and an administration building.
Our first annual trip will depart very early on the morning of February 27th, and will return on the afternoon of March 3. We are so excited to offer this experience to our students as they become 5th graders. We look forward to hearing about their adventures when they return.
It doesn’t seem as if it can possibly be close to the winter holidays when I look out at the Peace Garden and see grass and not a bit of snow. We all know how quickly the weather can change here, though, so we’ll be having students bring home all their winter gear over the break, but they’ll need to bring it back in January. We are no longer sharing any clothing from the lost and found, so it is very important to be sure to send your child to school with snow pants, boots, hats, mittens and coats.
It’s a pleasure to see the first Eagle’s Nest go out. This school newspaper has been a long standing tradition at our school. It’s been going on for over 20 years! It’s been nice seeing all of the writing going on around the building in anticipation of the Eagle’s Nest and for other projects. One of the projects I have seen is the Savannah students have been working on sending letters back to their Pen Pals at Bridgewater Elementary School in Northfield. The Savannah students seemed really focused on their writing knowing that they had an audience outside of their classroom that they were writing to. It’s a very cool project!
I am writing this the day after our Holiday Program which was wonderful. I have gotten so many positive comments about the performance. It was special seeing Matthew put together his first program and to pull it off so beautifully. We are grateful to all our families for the support and effort you put in to make this program a success. I know from personal experience the morning after a concert can be challenging as a parent!
As we move closer to the winter break we also move into another phase of the school year. By the end of January we will be half way through this year and the days will be getting longer. I hope all of the Nerstrand families enjoy the winter break. Looking forward to seeing you in 2017!