Monday, December 17, 2012

Our Children

The Seabury community has been rocked by the events that took place at an elementary school in Newtown Connecticut last Friday morning.  That such a tragedy could take place at an elementary school is unthinkable.  We grieve with and for the families and the whole community.

As a school we have experience shepherding our very intuitive and sensitive children through difficult circumstances, whether it be news of floods or famines on TV, tragedies across the country and around the world, or crises among our own community.  We have developed practices and procedures that help us support our children as they process whatever the event might be.  And each time we find ourselves in the midst of one of these events, I again marvel at our children.  Their resilience.  Their compassion.  Their desire to know and to understand.  Today, after starting the day at the lower school by acknowledging that  terrible event had taken place and letting kids know who they could talk to if they were worried about it, most students asked whatever questions they had and then went about the rest of their day thinking about the upcoming winter break and the fact that snow is in the weather forecast for the week.  Some of our fifth grade students wanted to talk about what we, as a society, could do to provide more help for those with mental illnesses.  Several younger students wanted to talk about how sad they thought the families of the victims must be, and have spent much of today making cards, drawing pictures and cutting out snowflakes that we will be sending to Newtown later this week.  Their simple expressions of, “I’m sorry for your loss,” and “We are thinking about you,” came from their hearts and from a real desire to do something tangible to ease the pain of those who are hurting.  

At Seabury, we do community service projects regularly – we just finished raising money for victims of Hurricane Sandy and for the second year in a row, we were recognized as the school that brought in the most food and money per capita to support the Pierce County Hunger Walk.  The vast majority of these service projects are initiated by our children who, when they see a need, want to DO something about it.  Community service and leadership development have grown as areas of focus in our program, not only because our students have the capability to lead and serve, but because they demand it.  They want to make their world a better place.  And so we provide opportunities for them to experience using their gifts to make a difference.  Today was no exception.

That’s one of the things I value most about Seabury.  We have a tremendous program that we are very proud of, but this is also a place where kids are loved and appreciated for who they are: for their insights, for their quirkiness, for the million and ten questions they NEED to ask every single day, for their sensitivity and their desire to help, and for their leadership.   A place where teachers understand the challenge of having the kind of mind that leads you to wonder about things your emotions may not be quite ready to handle yet.  This is a place where children are listened to, and when they want to do something to make their world a better place, they are given opportunities to do just that.

I am grateful to be part of this amazing community of teachers, parents, staff, and board members united in our goal of making sure each of our students knows just how valued and appreciated they are each and every day.  And I am exceptionally grateful for the opportunity to be in the lives of our students, who continually teach me new ways of seeing the world, and whose compassion touches my heart.  Thank you, parents, for allowing us to be part of your children’s lives.  It is a privilege we don’t take lightly.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

An Important Milestone for Seabury

This weekend marked the achievement of a long time goal for Seabury, and a major milestone in our school’s history.  After an arduous process and years of hard work on the part of faculty, staff and the board of trustees, Seabury achieved full accreditation with the Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools (PNAIS). 

Seabury is licensed and accredited by a number of agencies including the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Washington Department of Early Learning, and has been a member of PNAIS since shortly after we were founded in 1989.  But achieving full accredited member status with PNAIS is recognition of our maturity as an institution and of the high quality of our program and governance.  It is something to be truly proud of.

PNAIS’ accreditation standards are the most rigorous available for independent schools in our region, and are based on best practices that ensure high quality educational programs in line with the school’s individual mission, promote a culture of continual improvement, focus on strategic planning and decision-making, demand fiscal responsibility and sustainability, and demonstrate an ongoing commitment to quality.  PNAIS accreditation standards have guided Seabury’s development and will continue to ensure education at Seabury is a school where implementation of best practices, ongoing school improvement and commitment to our mission are the standards we hold ourselves to.

I am so proud of our school, our staff and faculty, our board of trustees, our students, our families our alums, our friends, and all who have contributed to Seabury becoming the school that it is today!  There is still much to be done to accomplish our goal of serving gifted children from across the South Sound and becoming a center for gifted education in our region.  But receiving this recognition reminds us to pause and reflect on how much we have achieved as a school and to be grateful for the dedication and hard work of all who have made this day possible.   There is still much to be done – our dreams for our little school are very large.  But today I am thankful to share this moment with all of you who care about Seabury, its mission and its incredible kids! 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Parents Love to Learn Too!!

We are having a great time at Seabury!!  Seabury's classrooms are filled with students who are hungry to explore, discover, create and ask questions.  One of the joys of working with gifted students is to see the amazing connections they make - the leaps in their learning that happen every day.  If you aren't already following our classroom blogs to see what our teachers are doing each week, you are encouraged to check them out at our family website, under the "Classrooms" tab.  And if you want to know more about just what it is that makes gifted kids different as learners, check out this article about a program for gifted preschool children that was recently shared with us.

But our students aren't the only ones at Seabury who are hungry for learning.  Our parents love to learn too, and since raising gifted children can be both a joy and a challenge, parents are often looking for support and information that will help them better meet their children's needs.  We are so excited to have a number of incredible opportunities for parent learning this year!

On Thursday, October 18 at 7 pm, one of the nation's leaders in gifted education, the founder of SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted), Dr. Jim Webb, will be offering an evening presentation for parents called, "Being Bright is Not Enough."  Seabury parents, friends and the community is invited to join us in the Commerce Room at the Tacoma Convention Center at 7 pm to hear Dr. Webb talk about what gifted children need to thrive as students and in life.  Dr. Webb is the author of many books for parents and teachers of gifted students including A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children, the book used across the country in SENG Model Parent Groups.  It is a tremendous privilege to have him in our community, and Seabury is very excited to be hosting his presentation.

On the Saturday after Dr. Webb's presentation, teachers and administrators from across the state of Washington will be converging at the Hotel Murano for the annual WAETAG conference (Washington Association of Educators of the Talented and Gifted).  On Saturday, October 20, there will also be a strand of sessions offered for parents of gifted children.  Seabury's staff is thrilled to be presenting three of the breakout sessions offered at the conference, and many of our teachers will be there as part of our continuing education program for staff.

Seabury will be hosting its own SENG Model Parent Group beginning in January this year, and parents are encouraged to participate in this facilitated, eight week discussion group that will help you better understand your gifted child and connect with resources that help you in your parenting.  It is a unique opportunity to build relationships over time with a group of parents that share the thrills and spills of raising gifted children in the company of extensively trained, skilled facilitators.  Seabury is fortunate to have Callie Stoker-Graham, a parent of two gifted children, and Dr. Kelly Brown, a Seabury parent and psychologist, serve as facilitators for our group.

These are just a few of the many opportunities for parents to learn more about their gifted children this year.  I encourage you to join us, as well as to get to know other parents at Seabury.  We parents of gifted children have a wonderful job - but it's hard!!  We need to help each other!  Seabury creates opportunities for parents to support and encourage each other as well as our children.  You are invited to take advantage of those opportunities!

It is a blessing to be part of a community so dedicated to our children.  I look forward to a great year!!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why a child's grief can linger

Guest post by Sally Baird, Ph.D. 

Four years ago, the Seabury family suffered a sudden, traumatic loss when a beloved teacher, Mr. H, died in a traffic accident. This spring, two local swim coaches were killed in a plane crash. On top of these losses, there may be a number of personal family losses to grieve. How do children process these important losses and could they still be grieving four years later? This article will address lingering grief and offer some suggestions to parents to help their children in the grieving process.

Children go through many of the same stages of grief as adults, but without the cognitive and emotional maturity to understand what has just happened. The following description is what is typical in “normal grief.” After the initial news of a death, a child usually feels numb and stunned. As the child begins to absorb the loss, her brain goes onto automatic pilot. Her emotional state fluctuates widely and she may often put up a defensive wall to her feelings. This means that she could (unconsciously) decide that it is better not to let herself feel the pain of the loss than to let the feelings out. At this early stage, it is common to develop magical thinking or thinking that is not completely true (examples to follow).

In the next stage, the grieving child may begin to comprehend that her parents cannot keep her world entirely safe. She realizes that there can be danger, not only to the person she lost, but to other loved ones and to herself. At some point, the child begins to have intense longings for the lost person. This stage reflects the inner struggle of “holding on” and “letting go.” During this time, the child may develop sleep problems and have more suppression of feelings unless he or she is actively processing the grief.

Typically, the next few stages involve a preoccupation with the lost person, a searching for the lost one, and feelings of intense emotions. These feelings can seem overwhelming, but a key principle is to the let the child know that normal grief is intense, and it is okay to feel and express emotions. In the final stages, the child makes an adaptation to life without the lost person. She retains fond memories of the deceased, but she begins to build a life which does not include her loved one. 

These stages can take one to two years, but it is not uncommon to be “stuck” in the grief process for several years. The factors that can keep grief stuck are numerous, but one common condition is when the “magical thinking” or untrue beliefs that developed at the time of the loss are not processed, challenged, and corrected. Common distortions can include:

I can’t remember how he looked or acted.
If I talk about her, I will forget her.
If I don’t let myself feel sad, it won’t hurt so bad.
I just won’t feel.
How can I feel happy, when he’s gone and his family must still be so sad?
I’m the only one who still misses her.
How could people have appeared happy within days of his death?
I am angry at her for dying.
What if someone else close to me dies? I can’t think about it.
The world is not safe.

Left unchallenged and unprocessed, this magical thinking can keep a child locked in the grief process. Yet parents and teachers may not even be aware that their child is “stuck”, because the loss is not spoken about and may be actively avoided. 

What can a parent or teacher do? Here are a few tips which should tell you more about where your child is in his or her grief process.
  1. Open a conversation about the death or loss.
  2. Give permission for the expression of feelings of sadness and anger by expressing some of your own feelings.
  3. Tell stories about the departed people.
  4. Create a memory box of the lost one.
  5. Share pictures.
  6. Interview others about their memories.
  7. Keep a dialogue going about feelings and memories.
  8. Get age-appropriate library books for your child on grief.
  9. Get professional help if you think your child remains stuck.
In the fall, I plan to offer a two-to-three session group for Seabury students who may want to talk about Mr. H or other losses. In the meantime, some of these suggestions may be very helpful to your child. It is important to remember that loss is inevitable, but the way it is processed can lead to healthy resolution or not.

Sally Baird, Ph.D. 253-952-4366 
Licensed Psychologist

Friday, May 11, 2012

Good news Friday!

Happy Friday, Team Seabury!

It's been one of those weeks - we keep trying to get things done, and keep finding ourselves sidetracked by amazing news that we need to pause and celebrate. Let's recap:

  • Chess masters: first-grader Ahnika S. traveled to the state chess tournament in April, competing on behalf of Seabury School! Ahnika was joined by former Seabury students Rhys and Dharma S. as well!
  • Catching the eye of famous artists: The Barracudas (fifth-graders) got quite the surprise this week, when they received a package in the mail from internationally known artist Romero Britto. It seems Mr. Britto caught wind of the Barracudas' Britto-inspired auction project and loved it so much that he wanted to send his thanks. Each student received a personal thank you note, and Ms. Head received a beautiful signed book of his artwork for the classroom. Read more about it on the Barracudas' blog!

  • Service awards: Seabury Students were recognized at last weekend's Associated Ministries banquet for their hard work on the 2011 Hunger Walk. Not only did Seabury student Kyan C. raise more donations than ANYBODY for the walk, but Seabury as a whole gathered proportionally more food in a food drive for the walk than any other local school. Two middle schoolers, Jackie Y. and Emmet C., were honored for their work on a promotional video they created to raise awareness about the Hunger Walk and the issue of hunger in Pierce County. Check out their video below, and make sure to congratulate these students when you see them!

  • Local leadership: Head of School Sandi Wollum may be too modest to share this news herself, but we're more than happy to do it for her. Mrs. Wollum graduates this month from Class XVIII of the American Leadership Forum of Tacoma-Pierce County. For those who don't know, this is a big, big deal. For an idea, just scroll through the list of past ALF fellows. Mrs. Wollum will be joining the ranks of judges, elected officials, university leaders and more. Congratulations Mrs. Wollum!
  • Environmental art contest winners: Two Seabury students are being honored on posters going up all around Tacoma this month! Sebastian B., kindergarten, and Greta H., first grade, won second and third place in their division in the EnviroChallenger/ EnviroKids Earth Day art contest. Be sure to keep an eye out for the posters around town this month! Congratulations Sebastian and Greta!

Monday, April 23, 2012

From the Head of School
Friday morning, I met with parents to talk about what we know, what we are thinking about, and what is yet to be decided about next year at Seabury. As we prepare to end this year and begin to think about the possibilities for next year, parents inevitably have questions because they want the best school experience possible for their children. That is the highest priority for our faculty and staff as well, and it is paramount in our minds as we plan for the coming year.

For those of you who weren’t able to join us Friday morning, I wanted to provide you with a short summary of our discussion as well as a few “extras” that I meant to mention at the meeting:

· We are in the midst of admissions season, both for returning students and for students who are applying to Seabury. The good news is that early indications show that our retention rate will be high and that we have a lot of good candidates among our prospective students. A first round of contracts was issued to returning students in March. A second round of contracts is being issued now for students whose families have applied for financial aid, students entering kindergarten who are in the process of testing, and students new to Seabury. Once those contracts are in, we will have a better idea of what initial enrollment trends look like for next year and can begin the process of contracting with teachers and making program decisions.

· One of the challenges for us at this time of year is that as much as parents are dying to know whose class their child will be in next year, and as much as teachers are dying to know what grade(s) and students they will be teaching, we cannot issue contracts to teachers or begin to form classes until we know who is returning next year. The teachers and I are beginning meetings to talk about what their preferences are for teaching assignments, but contracts will not be issued to teachers until we have more student contracts in and firmer numbers for classes.

· Our teachers work closely together to build Seabury’s curriculum, not only for their own classroom, but for the school as a whole. What that means for parents is that regardless of the classroom or the teacher, your child will be in a Seabury program next year that was designed with his or her individual needs in mind and is put together carefully to be sure the knowledge, skills and experiences s/he will need to grow academically, socially and emotionally are provided. Whether your child is in a single or multiage classroom, is with his or her friends or with students that are yet to become friends, with students younger or older, our teachers work together to ensure your student will get what he or she needs. All our teachers are consummate professionals, exceptional educators, and love their students. So you can be assured that whatever classroom your child is in, he or she will be in good hands.

· We expect that multiage classrooms are a possibility next year at the lower school, just is the norm at the middle school. They have been part of the program at Seabury through its history - in fact, for Seabury’s first 15 years, the program was built entirely around multiage classrooms. Seabury uses multiage classes, as opposed to traditional “split classes” because our students are, by virtue of being gifted, out of sync with their typically developing peers. That means that our students are many ages at the same time when you consider their academic, social, emotional and physical development. One advantage of multiage classes is that they give us the opportunity to find peers for each of our students in as many of those areas as possible. The decision regarding whether there will be multiage classrooms at the lower school next year and, if so, in which grade levels, will be made in part based on numbers enrolled, but also based on how best to group students in appropriate learning environments.

· In determining whether to form single grade or multiage classes, as well as placing students in the classrooms we form, the teachers and I work together and take a number of factors into account. These include balancing genders, learning styles, maturity, academic styles, interests, strengths, and personalities. Our goal is to place each student in a classroom that will allow him or her to shine – to connect with others who share interests and can be academic and intellectual peers.

· The middle school will continue to operate with its multiage format in which students work as a whole group with individualized expectations at times and in groups based on academic needs (such as in math groups) at other times. We anticipate between 22 and 25 students at the middle school next year, including students coming from the lower school and a number of students who will be new to Seabury. If enrollment supports it, we are hoping to add staff at the middle school that would allow us to develop an after school program and offer after school study time. We are also in the process of making decisions about when we will need to add space to accommodate additional students at the middle school, something we expect to become necessary in the next year or two.

· If enrollment meets our projections, we expect we will have additional aide time at the lower school next year. Initial plans include a part or full time aide in the kindergarten classroom and at least some aide time to be shared among teachers in grades 1-5 depending on student needs and class sizes.

· We are still recruiting for all grade levels, and are especially looking for students in pre-K, grades 3 and 5 and middle school. We appreciate our parents serving as ambassadors for our school and referring families whose children might benefit from Seabury’s program so they can come see for themselves what we have to offer! If you know someone whose child is a Seabury kid, invite them to come by for a tour or a visit day. We’d love to have them join us!

As always, if you have questions, have concerns, or would like to talk about considerations for your child, don’t hesitate to contact me or your child’s teacher. While we can’t honor requests for specific teachers / classrooms, we do love to hear your feedback about the kind of environment you think would best suit your child or anything else you’d like us to consider. We are blessed to have small classes that allow us to know each of your children well, both personally and academically. And we know that we do our best for your children when we are able to work in partnership with you to meet their needs.

Let me close by saying that we are so excited about next year. We are thrilled about the number of you who have already said, “I’m in!” About the plans teachers are already making for the program, class trips, special projects and more. About the chance to work with you to make sure your children continue to thrive in an environment where they are cared about and supported. It’s going to be an amazing year – we look forward to spending it with you and your children!

- Sandi Wollum

Monday, March 19, 2012

The World Peace Game

Head’s column

Do you know John Hunter? John is a teacher, musician, filmmaker and game designer who has worked with gifted children in public schools since the 1970s. I had the privilege of meeting John Hunter and hearing him speak at the recent National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) conference in Seattle. He is the creator of “The World Peace Game,” a simulation he uses with his fourth grade gifted children that is the subject of the documentary film, World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements. He describes the game, as well as his philosophy of teaching and learning in a TED Talk that was voted the most influential TED Talk of 2011.  

It’s ok. You can stop reading here and take a look at the TED Talk. You will see why John’s presentation, which was an extended version of his TED Talk, turned my day upside down. AMAZING!

As can see, John’s story is one of courage, creativity, and humility. He is clearly a master teacher, a humanitarian, and a gentle, compassionate man who is making a difference in the lives of his students. As I reflected on John’s story, I couldn’t help but think of Seabury, and of how many of the qualities that make him a great teacher are qualities that are also at the core of Seabury’s faculty and program.

Relationships. John recognizes that the key to great teaching is the relationship between the student and the teacher. Learning involves taking risks, and when students know their teacher cares about them, supports them, trusts them and believes in them, they are much more likely to take on challenges with confidence. We experience that every day at Seabury. Our children develop close, trusting relationships not only with their own teachers, but with all of our staff. Our small classes and close community allow teachers and staff members to really know their students – their hobbies, their pets, their fears, the things that make them laugh. In this age of curriculum standards and data-driven decision making, we often get asked how we assess our students and make decisions about their programs. We recognize that formal assessments are essential tools for teachers. But we also know the value of knowing our children so well that we know when they are worried about a sick family member and need a little extra support, or what makes them laugh, or when they need a break, or when they can be pushed to go just a little farther. The relationships that our teachers build with our students give students the courage to take risks, to speak up, to trust themselves, and to know they are cared for and respected by adults in their lives - something that the SEARCH Institute has shown to be critical to the healthy social-emotional development of children. Put more simply, Seabury students are blessed with teachers that build trusting, caring relationship with them and because of those relationships, our students can soar both academically and social-emotionally.

Real Challenges / Real Experiences. The World Peace Game simulates world leaders working to solve real world problems like global warming, resource depletion, famine, war, water rights and more.  John’s students become immersed in the issues facing real world leaders and, because it is “real,” are completely engaged in their learning. At Seabury, tying learning to real experiences that our children care about is at the core of our program. As part of their study of World War II in preparation for their trip to France, our middle school students recently had the opportunity to interview residents of Franke Tobey Jones Retirement Community who were involved in the war, either in the field or on the home front. One of our students interviewed an army colonel who was part of the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach. Just the other day as students were talking about the itinerary for the France trip, he asked one of his teachers whether there will be time during their day at Omaha Beach for him to go to the water’s edge and run up the beach to see what it might have been like for his new friend, the colonel. That is learning that goes much deeper than checking off a list of skills or meeting a particular standard. That kind of deep and meaningful learning is at the core of what happens in every single classroom at Seabury.

There are not many John Hunters in the world. I am blessed to have met this humble, gentle, compassionate, incredible man. He continues to inspire me and our whole staff who recently watched his TED Talk together. But it was heartwarming to see that at Seabury, our students have opportunities every day to experience the kind of passionate teachers and engaging learning experiences that John’s teachers gave to him and that he provides for his students every day.

Fourth-graders changing the world? I believe it - I work at Seabury!

- Sandi Wollum

Friday, January 27, 2012

We survived Snowpocalypse 2012! The ice has melted and we have been back in the routine at school this week, sharing stories of sledding and sliding and snow forts and reading books by the fire.

It got me thinking. We missed a week of school. But did our kids miss a week of learning? I asked our lower school students this morning at our weekly gathering and they couldn’t wait to tell me what they learned last week…

“Never drive in the snow and ice!”
“I figured out how to build an igloo!”
“I watched the weather all day to see if we would be able to go to school the next day or not.”
“I learned to make huge snowballs. I have a sister, you know!”

When I asked how much snow had fallen at their houses, they told me how many inches and how they had measured it. And how they got their sleds to go fast. And how to make a really big snowman. And how many layers of clothes it took to stay warm. And, for some, what it’s like to live without electricity for one or two or five days.

Our students live and breathe learning. They absorb more than just facts. They ask questions, make predictions, explore hypotheses, analyze ideas, create, critique and synthesize all the time. At Seabury, we facilitate learning that goes beyond rote knowledge and emphasizes the development of strong habits of mind and creativity. Our children, beginning with our youngest prekindergarten students, are asking complex questions and looking beyond the surface to explore ideas more deeply. 

But the core love for learning, the quest for discovery and invention and exploration, is evident in our children no matter where they go and what they do. Just think for a moment about how your child spent last week. What insights and discoveries happened? What new ideas were explored? What predictions were tested? What creations emerged?

It’s important for parents to recognize that learning is not limited to school, or to that which happens with paper and pencil. Because noticing the ways in which your child learns and grows from each and every interaction is an amazing gift.

Our teachers at Seabury are skilled at asking questions and providing the framework in which learning occurs at a complex and high level. They are masters at knowing when to let an activity or discussion keep going and when to steer in a different direction. And our kids take what they are offered and run with it. Just this week, the prekindergarten kids, when making penguins out of toilet paper rolls, decided they wanted to do a play with their penguins. Suddenly sets were being created, roles rehearsed, lists of rules for the audience dictated and decisions were made about ticket prices. This was not learning that could be contained on a worksheet – it was economics and stagecraft and literacy and art and music and cooperation and organization and … that is what learning is about at Seabury.

But learning doesn’t stop here. At home, learning isn’t limited to homework time or to workbooks or formal lessons. A trip to the grocery store, a board game, doing the laundry, a discussion about politics, making a blanket fort, even fighting with a sibling – all of these are learning experiences. 

It is a joy to watch your children light up with new discoveries. I wonder what learning is in store this weekend …

– Sandi Wollum, Head of School