Another Successful Family Field Day!
Jan Abernathy

What a wonderful Family Field Day we had on Saturday!  It is always one of the highlights of the year, and this year was no different.  The weather was perfect, the cheer was plentiful.  I want to especially thank the Gonzalez, Patterson and Piccinich families for hosting the event.  They, along with our physical education department, development office, and maintenance staff, did an extraordinary job of coordinating the logistics of the day and incorporating some wonderful new aspects to the event. 

As you know, we moved this this year’s event back about a month from previous years.  We changed the date for several reasons: we thought that new families and students would know more people in the community and feel more comfortable, we thought more families would be able to volunteer since the planning could take place during the school year rather than in the late summer, and we thought that a mid-October date would be easier for families than a mid-September date since September is so busy with school-opening activities.  We also discontinued the new parent picnic that had preceded Family Field Day for so many years, as we hosted a very successful new family dinner in September.  Even with small changes like this one, we are always looking to improve the experience and to deepen the sense of community, and we are pleased that Saturday’s festivities were so successful.

Thank you again to the hundreds of parents, students, and friends who volunteered Saturday in order to make Family Field Day the best event possible.  Hundreds of families and students got to enjoy all the activities and spend some time together. Every year, my favorite part of the event is listening to the sounds of children playing on the field and the playground hours after the event has officially concluded, and this year was no different.  It was not until we began getting ready for dinner that the final revelers headed home.  That is the mark of a successful event!

The Culture of Innovation at EMS
Aaron Cooper

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to several parents about the culture of innovation which is central to the founding of our school by Elisabeth Morrow and Connie Chilton. Elisabeth Morrow coined the phrase “best of old and best of new” to describe our school and indeed, creating a school for children before kindergarten in 1930 was quite new and controversial. The world has caught up to that vision and now, we live in a time when universal public Pre-K is available in many places throughout our country. They brought blocks to the early childhood classroom, now ubiquitous, as early as any educators did.

Over the past several years, we have intentionally reinvigorated a culture of innovation to stand on the legacy of our founders.  We celebrate the innovators in our community and we have fostered an environment where taking risks and piloting new concepts is encouraged.  However, sustaining an innovative institution requires more than creating a culture that supports it. It also requires tools, resources and materials. It requires learning and professional development.  And, it requires being able to surround oneself with other great out-of-the-box thinkers.  All of that requires financial support, and supporting the spirit of innovation is one of the reasons that our annual fund, the Apple Tree Fund, exists.

We are proud of the innovations that have impacted our students and our community, like the Leadership Symposium in Morrow House, Innovation Alley and our STEAM curriculum in Little School, and our second-to-none music program. Two examples of innovation this year, Seesaw, our student-driven digital portfolio and parent communication tool being piloted in the fours and second grade, and Math in Focus, a Singapore Math-based curriculum being piloted in kindergarten, have benefited greatly from your support.   

Elisabeth Morrow once wrote her mother that she knew EMS would thrive when educators visited to “see how they do it in Englewood.”  Once again, educators from as nearby as The Juilliard School and Columbia University and as far away as India, Holland and the United Kingdom are visiting to “see how we do it in Englewood.” Our faculty members are featured speakers at national and regional conferences and our technology team fields more requests in a year than it could possibly accept.

Our #Rally4EMS this month asks you to continue to provide unrestricted support to EMS as a leading innovator in education because you never know where the next great idea will emerge. Please consider joining Kara and me in supporting how we “do it in Englewood,” every day for our wonderful students.  

Our First All-School Assembly of the Year
Aaron Cooper

Last Friday, we had our first all-school assembly of the year.  Every student and teacher gathered in the Cohen Center for some music and togetherness.  Soon, we will have our first Buddy Day of the year, and the buddy classes sat together last Friday.   Our threes and fours sat with the fourth grade, marking the first time that our fourth graders are the “big” buddies. The kindergarten sat with the fifth grade, first with sixth grade, second with seventh, and third with eighth.  This was our three-year-olds’ first all-school assembly, and they wore shirts proclaiming them as the Class of 2028. 

I started the assembly by showing everyone one of the giant wooden apples I have in my office.  I said the core of the apple defines the apple itself. In the same way our identity - our beliefs and interests and characteristics - makes us who we are.  While some parts of our identity - or the apple’s - can be seen from the outside, many important parts are not visible.  It is through conversation and interaction and community that we learn about one another and that we create an environment where we are comfortable sharing both the seen and unseen parts of who we are. 

Emily Spaeth, one of our music teachers, continued by asking people to stand if they thought of themselves as an athlete or a musician, or if they were an only child, among other things. At EMS, we are committed to making sure that everyone feels like they are a part of our community and, as part of our equity and justice work, one of our themes this year is identity and how our identities impact our perspectives, our learning, and our community.  As one small example, families at the Little School and Chilton House Back-to-School nights saw that we are symbolizing that theme with the phrase ‘identity is the core of the apple’ and a visual of an apple core comprised of the word ‘Identity’ in varying sizes and colors.  

We work hard to ensure that all feel part of the EMS family and when Emily asked people to stand to acknowledge their membership in our community, everyone leapt to their feet.  We ended with the most rousing rendition of the Apple Tree Song that any of us can remember, led with enthusiasm by our eighth graders.

At the Maker Faire
Aaron Cooper

Last weekend, my family and I attended the World Maker Faire - NYC at the Hall of Science in Queens.  I saw other EMS families and faculty there and know that there were any others I did not see in that enormous space with its hundreds of activities.

Ranging from soldering their own small electronic pin to building a marshmallow shooter out of PVC pipe, from programming a Raspberry Pi to make a light blink when we pressed a button to printing out and connecting geometric shapes on a Glowforge 3-D Laser Printer, the hundreds of activities included many new products and novel uses for existing tools and materials.  We watched drones race around an obstacle course and a Diet Coke-and-Mentos display involving 108 soda bottles becoming a fountain show. 

The sort of inventiveness, artistry, openness to trying new things, and willingness to share that were on display at the Maker Faire are also hallmarks of EMS, and these qualities are one of the main reasons we are so committed to STEAM education and design thinking.  For those unable to make it, or those like my family who want to see even more, you are in luck.  This spring, EMS will hold its third annual Maker Day (the date, likely a Saturday in May, is TBD).  Two years ago, STEAM coordinator Kara Makohon-Moore and Technology Integrator Rurik Nackerud, along with dozens of faculty, students, parents, administrators, and community members, founded EMS’s Maker Day in the same spirit as the NYC Maker Faire.  This spring will be our biggest yet, and if you or someone you know are interested in hosting a booth, please look for that information when we send it out later this year.  In any event, I do hope you will plan on coming, as you and your children are likely to experience the same sort of wonder, joy, and inspiration that my family did this weekend.

The Purpose of Adventure Week
Aaron Cooper

As a former athlete who played organized sports through college, the concept of ‘team’ is one that I value tremendously.  I believe in the importance of varying perspectives to improve one’s experience, I believe in the motivation that a group provides for individual achievement, I believe in the sense of pride and ownership one feels when part of a team, and I believe in the cliche of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. While not all teams function this way, the benefits are so great that I always work towards creating a positive and purposeful culture in each of the teams I lead.

We at EMS also believe in the importance of team for our students.  In the Lower School, the homeroom class serves as the team for most of our students, and their consistent attachment to place (the classroom) and adult (the teacher) makes this an effective strategy.  In the middle school, students’ motivations switch, and the overwhelming draw is to feel a sense of belonging.  That is one of the reasons that we have elective classes, sports teams, and sectional groups in orchestra.  It is also a major motivation behind our advisory program, where a smaller group of students is attached to one teacher with the purpose of building attachment within the group, as well as with an adult who has an overarching view of each individual’s progress academically and social and emotional wellbeing.  

I write this week about team atmospheres among our students because our middle school students will be returning today from their “Adventure Week” trips, the overnight trips (for sixth through eighth grade) we take annually in September.  A major goal of these trips, which began Monday, is team building within the advisory groups and the grade as a whole and setting a tone of mutual support, togetherness, and goal setting for the year.  Each grade level’s advisors will take the experiences the students have this week and build on them when students return to school next Monday.  Students will write reflections, hold discussions in Leadership Symposium class, and continue team-building and group service activities in advisory.  In all, building a team creates a "tide that rises all boats” and sets a tone of achievement, excellence, support, and mutual experience that can carry throughout the year.  Such benefits make the three days away from normal classes an very productive investment of time.  

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