Thursday, December 16, 2010

Governor Proposes to Cut Funding for Highly Capable Programs

Yesterday, Governor Gregoire released her budget proposal. Devastating. So many programs cut and so many people, particularly children, impacted. One of her proposed cuts is the elimination of all funding for highly capable programs in the state – ironic in that just a year ago, the legislature passed ESHB 2261 which states that, “for highly capable students, access to accelerated learning and enhanced instruction is access to basic education.”

Highly capable (gifted) children are not more deserving or better than other children. To be identified as highly capable is not an honor or a privilege. It is simply recognition that you learn differently. That you are ready for more complex ideas earlier than your peers. That you can move through the curriculum faster than typical students your age. In a school system designed around the factory model in which, if you are 6 years old, you must be ready to learn addition and subtraction facts and must be a beginning reader, highly capable students don’t fit. We recognized years ago that there are kids who need more time or alternative strategies to learn because they are not ready for the same learning as their peers, and so special education and remedial programs were created. Highly capable students don’t fit either. They are ready to go faster, think deeper, and make more complex connections.

As Head of School at an independent school for highly capable children, I talk with parents every day who are simply interested in making sure their child gets to be appropriately challenged at school. The parent of a kindergarten girl who has been reading since she was three, but who has hidden that from her teacher because she didn’t want the other kids who couldn’t read yet to feel bad. The parent of a third grade boy who has been labeled a behavior problem because he constantly wants to know “Why?” and wants to invent his own ways of doing things. They come to our school because their child is getting lost in a system that wasn’t designed for the way s/he learns. They just want their child to have the chance that all children should have to learn something new at school every day.

Eliminating funding for highly capable programs will save money. But at a huge cost. Those children who have the potential to become our nation’s leaders, creators and innovators will spend their days waiting. Hiding their talent to fit in. Becoming behavior problems because they can’t take the boredom. Marking the time until school is over so they can go home and learn something new on their own. Highly capable children don’t deserve better education. They simply deserve education – the chance to see what they are capable of and to learn something new at school every day. Isn’t that what we want for every child?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gifted Girls

Some gifted children are easy to spot. They show their boredom with classroom work that is not sufficiently challenging by becoming verbal pests or by acting out. They are clearly bright, but are underachieving because the work they are asked to do is not meaningful to them. Or they just demand to know, “Why?” about everything, all the time.

But there are gifted children that are overlooked. Those who are bright, but who are compliant: willing to do what is asked of them because they don’t want to make waves. Or those who hide their gifts in order to fit in socially. Too often, these overlooked gifted children are girls.
My son needs to be in your school. He is bored in his current classroom and is becoming a behavior problem. We are pretty sure he is gifted and just isn't being challenged enough. His sister? No, she isn’t gifted. She gets A’s in school, has friends and likes her teacher. She is fine. She doesn’t need anything different.
I have heard those words so many times from so many parents. The daughter, who is more socially aware at an earlier age than her brother, has looked around her classroom and has realized that the way to make the teacher happy is to be polite and do what she is told. And the way to make friends is to do what everyone else does and not raise her hand too often. It’s not a conscious choice she has made. It is more of a subtle process of recognizing what it takes to fit in and following the social rules. And yet when she and her brother are both given IQ tests, more often than not, her scores are as high or higher than her brother’s. Her talent is not recognized and is, therefore, often not being nurtured or developed.

Advocating for gifted girls is a passion for me. Perhaps because I was one of those girls. If you had asked my parents if I needed something different in elementary school, they would have said no. I was fine. I liked school. I liked my teachers. I had friends. But then I got to junior high school and was placed in a gifted program humanities class. I had no idea school could be like that. That discussions could be so stimulating – leaving me thinking even after I left class. That I could connect with other kids my age on such a deep level. That we could share ideas and insights and be excited about making interesting connections or tossing around intriguing ideas. It was in that classroom that my passion for gifted education was born. Both for those kids who obviously need something different, and for those kids who are doing “OK,” but who could be doing so much more if they were given the chance to be in a stimulating environment in which being bright was an asset – not something to hide.

In an article on the NYU Child Study Center’s website titled Gifted Girls - Many Gifted Girls, Few Eminent Women: Why?,  Dr. Anita Gurian, writes about some of the challenges gifted girls face in school. As I read her article, I found myself thinking about my own experience as well as the experiences of the gifted girls I have been privileged to work with both in public school and at Seabury. I look around our Seabury classrooms and see girls who are not afraid to raise their hands. Girls who see being smart as an asset rather than a liability. Girls who relish being part of interesting discussions and who are willing to step up and show their leadership ability. Girls who get to spend the day laughing and learning and exploring with their intellectual peers. Girls who have had the chance to attend a school where it is safe to be smart.

Do all gifted girls hide their talent? No. Does this phenomenon apply only to girls and never to boys? Of course not. But as we look around at the girls in our families, our neighborhoods and our communities, it is good to be aware that the girls (and boys) we see may have potential that has not yet been discovered or developed. And as we look at our Seabury girls, we can be grateful that they are in a place where their talents are nurtured and developed. Where they can become the creators and leaders and thinkers they are capable of becoming.  Where they can discover the full measure of their gifts in a safe, supportive environment.  What a gift...

Friday, November 19, 2010


It is the time of year for reflecting on those things that we are grateful for in our lives. I find myself thinking about how grateful I am for my family and friends, for the opportunity to live in such a wonderful community, for my health… and for the opportunity to work with the amazing kids we serve at Seabury.

People often remark that when I start talking about Seabury, I can hardly contain my excitement. They are right. I am passionate about our school and our mission because I see the difference we make in the lives of kids every day. And I am thankful to be at Seabury, because I have the privilege of spending time with and learning from our kids every day. I get to hear the complex stories they tell. I get stumped by the fascinating questions they ask. I witness their creativity, their enthusiasm for learning, and their astounding sensitivity. I laugh at their jokes and am amazed by their insights. I go home each and every day with a sense of profound gratitude for the opportunity to be part of their lives, and for the ways in which they enrich mine.

Our kids are amazing, but are often misunderstood or underappreciated, especially in educational settings that aren’t designed for the way they learn. Kids who are highly creative can be seen as unwilling to follow directions when they come up with their own ways of doing things. Kids who are intensely sensitive and idealistic, especially when they are young, can have their worries trivialized or dismissed. Kids who always need to know why, or to correct others when they make a mistake (especially if the other is an adult) can be seen as disruptive or defiant. And kids who are able to do or think about things that others their age aren’t ready for can decide to hide their talents to fit in, and their ability can become invisible to parents and teachers.

I am so fortunate to have the chance to work at Seabury with a faculty and staff who are as passionate and committed to our mission as I am, with parents who team with us to support their children’s learning and growth, and with children who are unique and challenging and incredible. As we gather with family next Thursday and give thanks for the blessings in our lives, Seabury’s children will be high on my list!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sometimes Growing Hurts!

As the parent of a teenager who is growing faster than we ever imagined possible, we sometimes deal with growing pains at home. Bones sometimes grow faster than muscles, and feet grow faster than we can get new shoes. Sometimes growing hurts – and not just physically.

As a parent, one of the biggest challenges we face is letting our kids experience the pain of growing. It is so tempting to swoop in and rescue them when things get hard or when their feelings get hurt. It is painful to see our children hurting – whether from a skinned knee or the aftermath of an argument with a friend. But it is a necessary part of growing. It is in the times of challenge and frustration that children (and adults if we are honest with ourselves) are most open to letting go of old patterns and embracing new ways of thinking and doing.

The Polish psychologist and psychiatrist Dr. Kazimierz Dabrowski calls it a process of “Positive Disintegration.” His theory is extremely complex, but in essence he says that when we face a situation that causes us to come undone in some way (to dis-integrate our understanding of ourselves and of how things are supposed to work), we have the opportunity to put ourselves back together in a way that is more mature or advanced or at a higher level of being. To grow. And Dabrowski believed that gifted people are more likely to experience this process to greater degrees because they often experience over-intensities or over-excitabilities that make them more tuned in to potential conflicts and challenges. Our job as parents and educators is not to prevent this process, but to support our children as they walk through these challenges – to allow them these opportunities for growth.

It is a delicate dance, as a parent, to know when to step in and protect the safety of our child and when to let go and let him work his way through the challenges he faces. Certainly there are times to step in and say, “This is too much for you right now, and for your safety, I am going to take you out of this situation.” But most times, we need to find the courage to come alongside and say, “Yes, I know it is hard. And it will get better. I have confidence in you and know that you will figure it out.” Different situations and different stages of development call for different levels of intervention and interaction with our children and, as a mom, I often feel like just when I get things figured out a little, my son changes again and I am back to the drawing board.

At Seabury, we can support each other as parents. We are all raising children who think and learn differently than typical children their age. Children who often have a disparity between their intellectual maturity and their social/emotional maturity. Being at Seabury gives us the opportunity to support each other on this journey. Share your stories – your successes and your mistakes. Get to know each other and lean on each other when it is hard. Laugh and cry together (I often find myself doing both at the same time!). Educate yourselves about the unique challenges and opportunities that come with raising gifted children. Take advantage of PBC events and Seabury learning opportunities to come together as we support and nurture our children (there are several opportunities coming up next week!).

Growing sometimes hurts. For our kids. And for us as parents. But avoiding the hard times is not the answer. Walking through it is the key to learning and growing and evolving. Let’s support each other through this adventure of learning and growing!

Read more about Dabrowski’s Theory and its implications for gifted children on Hoagies Gifted Website.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Each day, we ask our children to challenge themselves in new ways. To learn and grow. To take risks. To make mistakes and learn from them. The reason most families have chosen Seabury for their children is that Seabury is a place where their students learn something new each and every day. For children who learn quickly and think deeply, Seabury provides opportunities to stretch themselves that are often not available in programs designed for more typically developing students.

Seabury is all about learning as a school as well. In two weeks, Seabury will host an accreditation visiting team from the Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools (PNAIS). This visit is the culmination of a three year process in which teachers, administrators and board members have gathered information from one another and from the school community, have looked at all aspects of the program, administration, services for students, facility, and more, and have asked two key questions.

First, we asked ourselves if everything we do in line with our school’s mission to, “…challenge gifted children in a community that cherishes each individual and fosters a love of learning, discovery and creativity.” Are we challenging our children appropriately through our curriculum, and is it aligned to ensure students meet benchmarks for learning from year to year? Are we supporting students as individuals, celebrating their gifts and building on their strengths? Are we inspiring and providing opportunities for students to take charge of their own learning – to discover new ideas and applications for information and to express themselves creatively?

Second, we asked ourselves if our program, operations, and strategic goals are in line with PNAIS major standards, based on research supported best practices for independent schools. Do we have a curriculum that is clearly defined and articulated, and that is in line with our mission and philosophies about how children learn? Do we have a sustainable financial model for the school and a strategic plan that outlines how we will pursue our mission in the coming years?

The result of our efforts over the past 3 years is a comprehensive self study document which, in nearly 150 pages, outlines Seabury’s program, operations, goals and aspirations. Creating the self study document and preparing for the self study, including completing a comprehensive review of the curriculum, have already been learning experiences for Seabury. Now, as we prepare to welcome our visiting team, we look forward to learning even more about ourselves, and about how we can improve our effectiveness as a school.

Teachers model learning for students each and every day in the classroom. Seabury’s staff and board look forward to learning as an institution as well. Learning is what we value as a school, and we look forward to this amazing opportunity for growth.

Friday, October 15, 2010

It Takes a Village...

Seabury’s rich educational program is made possible, in part, through the generous donations of those who support Seabury’s mission and vision. Seabury supporters, including parents, extended family, alumni, and community members, generously give of their time, talents and resources to ensure Seabury has the resources to “ …challenge gifted students in a community that cherishes each individual and fosters a love of learning, discovery and creativity.” Parents chaperone on field trips, including the multi-day excursions the Explorers and middle school students have been on this month. Parents and community members share resources. This week, we had firefighters, police officers, local religious leaders and others spend time with Seabury students to enhance their learning. Parents, through PBC, provide enhancements to classrooms, and provide opportunities for parents to get together for fun, family activities.  The activities and experiences that are made possible through the time and expertise shared by parents and community members have been life-changing for Seabury's children.

Tuition helps provide the small classes, highly trained teachers, and the unique experiences Seabury's students benefit from. But to supplement tuition, and to support enhancements to programs, Seabury relies on two major fundraising efforts each year, the annual fund and the auction, to provide exceptional education for students and to expand Seabury's program

You will soon be hearing about the first of Seabury’s two major annual fundraising initiatives. The annual fund will launch this month, and you will have the opportunity to participate in supporting Seabury’s students through your donations. In addition, Seabury is entering the second year of a three year Program Enhancement Campaign, which is raising funds to support the start up of the middle school program, fund facilities enhancements at the lower school, and has already provided for the lower school arts program. More information about how you can participate will be coming soon.

Seabury’s parents and friends understand more than anyone the value of the Seabury experience. Seabury’s faculty and staff appreciate the generosity of our parents in giving their time and resources to support our work on behalf of your children.  Thank you!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Learning Out of the Box

Education has been in the news this week with the release tonight of the new documentary, Waiting For Superman by director Davis Guggenheim. The film has prompted discussion about education reform, and about the qualities of great schools.

As I have listened to the debate this week about how to reform our country’s education system and about how to prepare our nation’s children for the challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century, I was encouraged by the passion I saw for our nation’s youth, and for providing them with exceptional educational experiences. But I was also concerned when I heard simplistic solutions to complex problems, solutions that typically regarded education as an assembly line in which the same formula is best for all students in all situations. Seabury exists because not all students learn and grow in the same way, and because equal access to appropriate education does not mean doing the same thing for all children all the time. It is recognizing and building on the unique strengths of each child, and using the child’s strengths to address areas for growth. It is building skills for life and for solving the complex problems and unique challenges our children will face in their work and their world.

Education, as we understand it at Seabury, is more than a list of skills to master or a series of tests to pass. While skill development provides an important foundation, it is only the beginning. Education is grounded in rich experiences, is rigorous and relevant, and explores ideas deeply and from a variety of perspectives.
This week has provided great examples of the rich quality of the educational experience at Seabury. Seabury’s middle school students have been on a four day field study experience in Vancouver, B.C. as part of their study of “Perspectives” this year. They visited a Buddhist center, met with an imam, took a tai chi class, attended a physics day at a local amusement park, and explored the international flavor of our neighbor to the north. Seabury’s Explorers class has been at Olympic Park Institute (OPI) this week, participating in a three day science field study experience in OPIs beautiful location on Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park. The Sharks and Beacons classes have initiated a “Team Seabury” for Sunday’s Pierce County Hunger Walk to raise money for the Emergency Food Network, and lower school children have initiated a Seabury Service Club to organize participation in global and local service projects. Our Superstars and Bear Cubs have taken field trips in the neighborhood and to a local environmental center to observe the natural environment and to see signs of fall approaching. And Seabury’s Navigators students initiated publication of a school newspaper, which hit classroom “newsstands” today, and included stories about students’ favorite books and a profile of Seabury’s business manager, Janice Spika.

These experiences have not only provided students opportunities to develop specific academic skills, but have gone far beyond, immersing students in relevant, engaging experiences prompting deep discussions, thoughtful questions, problem solving opportunities, social skills development, and much more. The lessons learned go beyond what can be taught through a worksheet or measured on a “bubble sheet” test. They are life experiences that will shape our children’s future learning and growth.

Talk to your child about what they learned this week. Listen not only for the answers they have learned, but to the questions and discoveries their experiences have prompted them to contemplate. Ask them about successes and challenges in the classroom, on the playground and beyond the school. Learning is complex and watching our students grow, not only in specific skills but as thinkers, problem solvers, and members of the community is the greatest joy of our lives as educators. Thank you for joining us on the journey!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Welcome to School!!

Our first two weeks of school have been an amazing time of learning, laughing, reconnecting with old friends and making new friends. Several parents have remarked to me that their children are so happy to be back at school and immersed in discovery in their classrooms. Our teachers have been bragging about how great their students are, and are already moving full steam ahead into the curriculum.

As we begin another year together, I’d encourage parents to consider the following ways you can support your child and make their experience at Seabury the best it can be:
  1. Be in contact with your child’s teacher about both questions and successes. Teachers want to do the best they can for your child.  Your input is critical to their success, and your child’s too. Let them know both what is working and what isn’t as effective. Let them know about issues at home that might affect your child's experience at school. Let them know what your child is doing and accomplishing outside of school so we can celebrate with you.  Our teachers work incredibly hard tailoring the program to meet the needs of individual students.  They not only love to hear how they can make things better, but love to hear what you are happy about!
  2. Get involved in family activities. Attend PBC meetings and events. Get together with other families from your child’s classroom. You will find that parents at Seabury share many of the experiences you are having with both the challenges and joys of raising gifted children. We have found that it isn’t only our children who form lasting friendships at Seabury, but their parents do as well. Our community is made up of amazing people – get to know them and you will be glad you did!
  3. Educate yourself about gifted children and gifted education. Check out the Hoagies Gifted website,, a clearinghouse for information about gifted children. Take a look at the SENG website to learn more about the social – emotional – developmental needs of gifted children (, and while you are there, vote for them in the Pepsi Refresh Everything grant competition. Take part in classes Seabury will offer during the year for parents, and tell others about them. Knowing more about how gifted children learn and grow will help you as a parent, and will help you understand the unique elements of Seabury’s program and curriculum.
The staff and I are doing everything we can to make this a positive, successful year of growth for your children. Thank you for entrusting them to our care. We are privileged to do the work that we do, and are grateful for your support!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friends Forever

What a gift a friend is! Whether you are a preschool student or a middle school student or an adult, finding someone who cares about you, understands you, and who is just plain fun to be around is one of the joys of life. Whether it is a friend you can share favorite activities or hobbies with, or someone you can pour your heart out to, friends support us, ground us, and help us feel valued.

This week, I have been reminded again about the value of the connections Seabury’s children make with each other. On Monday, we returned from Spring Break, and as I walked through classrooms, I found students in one classroom after another who could hardly contain themselves, they were so excited to be reunited with their friends and to share all the experiences they’d had over the break. Teachers of all grade levels told me they had to take time to allow kids to reconnect before there was any hope that work could get done. This kind of connection between kids, and between kids and their teachers, is unique and valuable.

The literature about characteristics of gifted children typically describes gifted children as being more likely to be loners, or to prefer the company of adults or older children. In my experience, both at Seabury and working with gifted children in a public school setting, this is an incomplete description. It is true that gifted children do gravitate toward adults or older children, or keep to themselves UNLESS they have the opportunity to interact with other gifted children. Our kids think differently than other kids their age. Just as we adults choose friends who have common interests and ideas, children connect with children who are similar in terms of interests, maturity, and ideas.

If you are a 6 year old who thinks like a 9 year old, you are likely to have difficulty relating to the other 6 year olds, and may gravitate toward the 9 year olds or the adults who understand your sense of humor or want to think about the kinds of things you want to think about. But you are still 6, with a 6 year old attention span and 6 years of life experience. So there are still going to be gaps in your ability to connect with those who are older than you. If that same 6 year old has the chance to spend time with another 6 year old who also thinks like a 9 or 10 year old, how much more will they have in common? You can share your interest in Captain Underpants as well as your deep knowledge of the solar system. Your friend “gets” you on a variety of levels.

Over and over again, we see students come to Seabury who have been trying to find a place to connect in previous school settings. They have tried to make friends with their age peers, and sometimes have been successful in finding friends who share a common interest in a sport or an activity. But when they come to Seabury, they suddenly find themselves in a place where it isn’t only the adults who get their jokes; where they aren’t the only ones who want to know everything about a given subject. Who don’t think it is odd to lay awake at night worrying about global warming.

Gifted children want and need friends, just as all of us do. Sometimes our children need help making and keeping friends. But at Seabury, gifted children have the opportunity to share experiences with others who are not age peers, but who are true intellectual peers, and the synergies that come from those relationships are amazing to watch. It is one of the most precious gifts we give our children. And it is beautiful to see those relationships blossom and grow.

Friday, March 19, 2010

What If...

I have been visiting Lower School classrooms recently. One of my greatest joys is spending time in classrooms, observing students as they learn and explore new ideas.

Today, in the Sharks (1st grade) classroom, students participated in an inquiry science project about plant growth. Students had learned previously that plants need air, water and soil to grow, but wanted to explore what would happen if they made changes to these elements. Stop by the Sharks room over the next week or so to see what happens as seeds they planted today try to grow in sea water, in 7-Up or Coke, in sand or rocks, or in the dark. Students had a million questions related to plant growth!  Once each student decided on his or her question for investigation and wrote up their hypotheses, the planting began. The discussion in the classroom as they talked about controlling variables and about stating questions so that answers can be measured was far beyond what one would typically think first graders were capable of. That’s the gift of Seabury. The opportunity to explore the “what ifs” and take ideas as far as they can go.

I have been fortunate to frequently witness this process in every Seabury classroom, because inquiry is at the core of what we do. Recently, I observed the Explorers (4th/5th grade) experimenting with prisms and then with bubbles. I could hardly keep up with the rapid fire questions that each new observation generated. Earlier this week, the Navigators (3rd grade) tried to figure out how to use a battery and wire to light up a light bulb, and then went on to new questions about circuits and electricity. The Superstars (PreK/K) tried to figure out how the smell of vanilla escapes from a balloon when the liquid doesn’t. And the middle school students explored the best way to program their LEGO® vehicle’s computer to get it through the FIRST LEGO league obstacle course.

The inquiry process not only gives students the opportunity to BE scientists (as opposed to passively learning ABOUT science), it develops their thinking and problem solving skills, and allows them to explore ideas in greater depth than in a more traditional / fact directed lesson. The process of inquiry is at the heart of Seabury’s program, and is infused in all subject areas.

Later this spring we will be expanding our ability to offer inquiry science as we purchase additional materials with monies raised through our auction’s Fund an Item project. We can only imagine the new “What Ifs” these materials will allow our students to explore. We appreciate the generosity of all who contributed to the project, and look forward to sharing our new discoveries with you!

Monday, January 4, 2010

This I Believe

Just before the holidays, Seabury's middle school students participated in a writing project based on the NPR radio series, "This I Believe, in which people share essays about the core values and personal philosophies that influence their lives.  After working through a variety of activities designed to encourage students to consider their own core values and beliefs, each student wrote his or her own "This I Believe" essay. 

The insights our sixth and seventh graders had into the people and events in their lives that helped shape them were incredible.  Students wrote about injuries and illnesses and things their parents have done that let them know they are loved.  Funny things.  Tragedies.  Special experiences.  Many of the students wrote about incidents that happened at school - like getting sick at camp or being injured and not being able to play soccer.  Incidents I had witnessed in many cases, but had no idea what transformative experiences they had been for the students. 

One student, sixth grader Nick Schulaner, wrote about the experience of losing his stepfather, Patrick Maher, a police officer killed in the line of duty, when Nick was in kindergarten.  Nick's essay, in which he shared his wish to offer hope to the families of officers involved in recent shootings in Seattle, Lakewood and Eatonville, was featured in a local news story and on a local news blog.  His words not only had a profound impact on his classmates, but brought comfort to many who are grieving in the community.

What a gift these students are.  It is a privilege to work with such insightful, inspiring young people!