Welcome to Diane and Mark’s Group!
I hope your summer has been restful, healthy, and rejuvenating. I stayed relatively close to home much of the summer, enjoying a couple big family celebrations as well as important “down time” with four generations of extended family on our favorite lake in Maine. Summer break also allows just enough space in my mind to create room for the emergence of new ideas and new possibilities, both at home and at school. I am getting excited now about bringing those into the classroom.
Mark Palacio is returning from his sabbatical this year, and I am delighted to be working side by side with him, as well as continuing to spend time and work collaboratively with Sarah Yanuck. I expect her partnership with Louis in the other 5th/6th grade class to be powerful. Mark and I have been planning together this summer and getting excited about the possibilities that we see in the group and in our plans.
My teaching career is now more than three decades long, and has included teaching kindergarten through high school seniors. I was a group teacher at Miquon some years ago, then turned to part-time teaching while enjoying homeschooling educational adventures with my husband and our three young people for 14 years. Our son, Ian, is a Miquon alum and our daughter, Allie, attended Miquon nursery through first grade. My learning career continues unabated, and the generalist nature of teaching young people this age suits me well. Reading (news, nonfiction, fiction of many genres) is one of life’s greatest pleasures for me. I love to write, sing, score baseball games, hike, plan trips, explore museums, and expand my background in culture, language, and religion. For reasons only known in hindsight, my reading this summer centered around nonfiction and memoir primarily. Through my varied experience, I have become convinced of the value and transformative power of independent and collaborative learning in which the learner(s) sets goals and evaluates their progress, and I love to facilitate that process. I aim to be both a leader and a learner in the classroom.
I come from a long line of teachers as far back as the 1880s. My family is Garifuna, descendants of Afro-Indigenous peoples who currently live in Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua and other Central American and Carribean countries. Garifuna teachers in Belize, where my family is from, are renowned for their dedication and service in remote, rural communities. As village teacher, community leader, interpreter, counselor, and catechist, these educators traversed trails in the jungle on foot to live, work, and serve in the most remote areas in Belize. As a young man, I never thought I would be a teacher; in fact, I actively avoided it! But surprisingly, I’ve found my purpose and passion in the very thing I tried to run away from. I guess I, as my mother says, “came by it honestly.”
I began my college experience as a scholar-athlete with no intention of teaching, and I graduated with a music degree. On my musical journey, I encountered some of the finest musicians in the world who were also incredible teachers–folks like Trudy Pitts, Larry McKenna, and James Hicks Glenn who gave me so much more than musicianship. The music and pedagogy they shared with me was a practice of freedom. Their classrooms were safe and radical spaces of possibility.
My teaching odyssey almost twenty years ago when I started working as a substitute in music classes in the Lower School of Germantown Friends School. Before I knew it, eight years had flown by! During my time there, I taught students from nursery through 12th grade in general classroom settings, music classes, afterschool clubs and enrichment programs. I also co-founded the Germantown Poetry Festival with my partner to give young people in our neighborhood and school a platform to express themselves in the midst of violence and discrimination. We gathered youth from both public and private schools and ran weekend poetry workshops. The young people wrote powerful, eye-opening poems, which they performed during a neighborhood festival.
I am proud of my unconventional journey to teaching, and it’s a joy to embrace my students’ unique journeys to learning. I’m looking forward to returning to Miquon after a long sabbatical during which I got to be a full-time musician, performing all over the city with some incredible bandmates. I also took up violin-making and guitar repair, a long-time dream of mine. I’m thrilled to be back in the classroom and to work alongside Diane again. I can’t wait for all the new faces and adventures, plus our weekly sings. There’s so much I have learned while I was away, and I’m excited to share it all!
Louis Herbst and Sarah Yanuck are the teachers with the other 5th/6th grade group, just next door. While your child is in our group with Diane and Mark primarily, they will also be spending time with the children in the other group and with Sarah (beloved to sixth graders in our group who came to know Sarah so well last year), as well as with Louis and Jen Curyto (learning specialist with a particular connection to our group). Learning with the specialists and the wide, wonderful assortment of other adults in the community is an important part of the whole Miquon experience. We value strong, collaborative relationships that include community problem-solving, and blended groups for some of our math and literature work. We spend time together every week in 5th/6th Sing, learning folk songs and other music that is connected to our studies or is just plain fun. This year we also plan to extend small group conversations about current events across the building. Certain materials (construction and building tools, sewing, crafts, games) are stored in one room but available to children across the building. Children also enjoy some specialist time in blended groups. Lunchtime is open across the building as well, so students are free to eat and socialize with peers from either classroom nearly every day then as well as at Choice times. We encourage our students to think of themselves as part of an inclusive, whole-building community that they help to create every day.
A more complete description of the year’s curricular plans and themes will be available to you early in the school year, and we urge you to come to Back to School Night on Thursday, September 26th to hear much more in that regard and to ask the many questions you might have. Your child will be receiving a letter in the mail that offers a peek into some pieces of our plans. Perhaps you’ll take a peek at that as well.
Please feel free to reach out with questions you might have. Diane will out of town and out of contact from August 15th until August 25th, but will be widely available after that date. Please also stop into the classroom between 4:00 and 5:30 on Thursday, August 29th. We are happy to say hello to both you and your child, and it’s a great opportunity to see Mark and welcome him back to Miquon.
This letter contains a lot of the details you will need to know as the school year begins. You will also be receiving a Family Survey. Please take a few minutes to fill it out completely, introducing (or reacquainting) us with you and your child. We read your responses carefully, and value the expertise and perspective you have about your own child as well our partnership with you. In the first days of school, your child will have similar opportunities to introduce him or herself to us and to the group as a whole.
Materials for (and Between) Home and School
Nearly all of the materials needed in school are provided in the classroom. We will spend time in our first few days of school organizing and labeling those materials. We ask that just these few things be sent to school on the first day.
Needed to be brought to school on Wednesday, September 4th:
A 3-ring binder: a sturdy 1” 3-ring binder (for homework)
A change of clothes in a labeled bag or container
A backpack that allows for materials to come back and forth to school.
A zippered (or other securely closed) binder pouch
Please do not send notebook paper (loose leaf) or other notebooks to school.
The binder will come home each school day, and will contain work as well as the planning book (provided by us) in the first days of school. Learning to track, plan and complete tasks on a longer term basis as well as overnight is one of the primary tasks of the 5th/6th years. The goal is never to overload a child with homework, but to use it as a tool for building organizational skills as well as review or extension. (Much more information will be coming home in the first days/week of school. )
The binder pouch — a new request — will be used to hold pencils and other supplies as needed and needs to be able to be clipped into the binder and removed for other use at school.
We provide high quality #2 pencils in school. Writing implements can be a subject of strong personal preference, however. If your child prefers a certain type of pencil (i.e. mechanical), please have them bring that in and it can be kept in school for their use. We do ask children to do homework in pencil, typically, unless using a computer.
Before day one, please have your child choose a seasonally appropriate set of clothes to bring to school for emergencies (mud, water, spills, or embarrassing rips). Be sure socks and underwear are included. Make sure everything in the bag, and the bag or container itself, is labeled with either initials or a name. If your child uses an item and it comes home, please send a replacement item. We will send home all bags every several months, as the weather and growing bodies change significantly. An extra set of shoes seems an extravagant requirement. However, if you have access to an inexpensive/free pair of old shoes that fits your child, please add those to the outfit bag. When shoes are really muddy or wet, they come in handy. Hard soled slippers work well, too.
The backpack should be emptied and refilled by your child each day. We recommend emphatically to children that materials brought home, such as the homework binder or books from school, be placed back in their backpack immediately after use. We have also learned from hard experience that carrying filled water bottles (or liquid of any kind) inside the backpack leads to trouble — as in wet books, papers, stinky stuff growing — you get the picture. Please consider a carabiner (or two) to attach water bottles or even lunch containers to the outside of the backpack. It allows other materials to be transported inside the backpack without incident.
Useful supplies at home:
- a small supply of wide-ruled 8½” by 11” notebook paper with punched holes
- plain, unlined paper
- a sturdy ruler marked in inches and centimeters
- scissors, paper clips and a stapler
- an analog clock
- a family calendar
Wide-ruled (vs college-ruled) paper is helpful in that it allows greater legibility for young people at this age. It also leaves more space for comments and revisions at later points in the process. This paper will sometimes be needed for homework assignments.
Every child has a Google account set up by the school for use at home and at school. These have become increasingly central to our work, as they allow young people to make presentations easily, to share documents with each other and with us, and for comments and edits to be shared. We turn off the email function of their school accounts, since the young people are not yet thirteen years old. Use of Google Docs for homework assignment assumes the availability of the internet at home. If that is not the case for your family, please let us know and we will create alternatives that work for your child.
Most children are still working to understand time in fifth and sixth grades. While reading digital clocks seems easier, the conceptual sense of time that is developed with analog clocks (and watches!) leads to more solid understanding. Time is measured by calendars as well, and the children create and maintain one for the group in our classroom. Having one at home reinforces this skill and also helps your children to know about family plans or events ahead of time. Electronic data keeps so much of this information “invisible” to kids now, and we are asking you to make a tangible family calendar and an analog clock present at home, if you do not already have them.
The close partnership between families and teachers is a key ingredient in what makes Miquon such a special place. Your knowledge of and love for your children is precious to us as well as to your family, and we depend upon it in our work with them at school. We have an open door policy and welcome your visit to the classroom. Advance notice allows us to notify you if we will be shifting our routine significantly, but you are welcome with or without notice.
Generally, we do not expect phone contact from children — or on their behalf — regarding specific homework questions. We will explain that expectation and the reasoning behind it with the children and in school and with families at the September 26th Back to School event. With that exception, we genuinely invite and encourage your contact regarding any questions or concerns. DIane’s home number is 215-540-4439. Sarah’s cell number is 919-259-1064. However, since neither of us can promise that we will be at home or available on short notice on any given evening, and we do want to know if you need to speak with us, the best way to reach us is via email:
Dianew@miquon.org and/or Markp@miquon.org If the concern is urgent, please indicate that in the e-mail and suggest a time or two that you could receive a call. Also, please provide your contact number. If less urgent, please indicate that as well. Sometimes it helps to take the time to put thoughts into writing. We are happy to respond to a note, letter or e-mail in whatever form you request. There are times when sitting face-to-face is the best solution. Email or send a note requesting a meeting, and we will be sure to schedule it with you promptly.
We appreciate your need for time with your family also, and except for emergency situations, will contact you via e-mail to arrange for conversations as well. We will indicate the level of urgency and give you a brief heads-up as to the reason for a specific contact. Please respond as promptly as your situation allows. If reaching out by e-mail is not the best option in your case, please indicate that on the Family Survey, and offer another suggestion.
We want to be completely present to your children and to our activities throughout the school day; therefore, we are not generally available between 8:00 and 3:00 for significant conversation. We will reliably check e-mail early in the AM and at the end of the school day. If your question or concern during the school day is a matter of more urgency or is time-sensitive, please contact the school office and we will get back to you as soon as we can. Children who need to call a parent during the school day are expected to arrange that through a teacher or member of the office staff. If your child is ill or injured, an adult will make the parent contact.
Please be assured that a forgotten lunch or homework item is not a crisis that needs to disrupt a parent’s day. By the time a child is in fifth or sixth grade, packing up for school completely and independently is a reasonable expectation for students, although it may need a parent reminder or help with setting up a routine. We will help your child find food for lunch at school or a solution to a missing assignment, and perhaps talk with them about ways to improve their packing-up routine at home.
In working with the group to create a positive and pro-social classroom environment, we emphasize the importance of direct and open communication. When a conflict or concern arises with a peer, we will coach and support children in communicating directly and constructively with the person or persons involved so that solutions can be found with as little collateral upheaval as possible. We will model the same with one another as colleagues, and invite you, as parents, to do the same. We assume good intentions – on the part of every child and adult in the community. In this way, everyone has room to speak openly and to admit mistakes or alter their perspective.
Snacks and Lunch
Snack is provided every day as morning choice wraps up at 11:00 AM. In our group, it is prepared, served, and cleaned up by the children. It includes fruit, popcorn, pretzels, crackers, cheese, hummus, etc. Your child is welcome to bring in a substitute snack, but please only send enough for an individual serving. We don’t want food used as social currency, nor do we have room to store it for multiple days.
Our lunch time begins at 12:45 and lasts until 1:15 (immediately following the second choice period). A substantial – or at least existent – breakfast makes for a smooth morning, and we will keep a loose eye on children’s eating habits, knowing that eating lunch will help put them in the best position for a strong afternoon. Soda and candy should not come to school for the same reason – a quick sugar boost is a disadvantage in the long run. Your child does have access to a microwave, though it is best used for quick heat ups rather than longer cooking of frozen foods. There are a lot of us sharing a space, and some quick multiplication proves that very few people would get the chance to use the microwave at all in that case. We also have a refrigerator and freezer for keeping things cold and a toaster for slices of bread or a bagel. Again, our numbers and space do not allow multi-day storage very easily. Please label all containers.
Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, young people are free to spend lunchtime in either classroom in our building. On Mondays, we often have mixed assigned tables to encourage new connections among the children. Due to Fridays’ food sales complications, we eat in our separate rooms. The fifth and sixth grade groups alternate between Friday lunch sales beginning a couple of weeks into school. Our group will be coordinating the pizza sale. We will be doing the very real work of deciding on menu and procedures in the first weeks of school.
From time to time there may be lunch-time films, a chance for members of both groups to join and watch a good movie as they eat. This may occur for a couple consecutive days or so, and the children will always have the option to pass and eat/socialize in the other room.
Whenever there are severe food allergies in either 5th/6th group, we will designate a separate eating area in each room for those whose lunch contains allergens. We will send home a list of allergens affecting our groups early in the year, and ask that you avoid foods with those ingredients in Monday lunches so that all children can be included in the “mix-it-up” arrangements.
Birthdays and Other Social Events
We will have simple birthday celebrations in our room that focus on appreciation for the birthday child (or adult). Summer birthday folk will be invited in the beginning of the year to choose a half-day, or just a day they “happen to like” for their celebration. Feel free to send a simple, allergy-sensitive, easy-to-distribute treat on that day, if you choose. This is in no way mandatory. Sometimes families choose to send a birthday treat for both groups to share. This year, there is a total of 19 people in our group and 39 people in the building.
Birthday parties and other social gatherings occur outside of school as well, of course. We ask that children not distribute invitations in school, verbally or in writing, and refrain from discussing plans beforehand and remembrances afterward while in school. This does not impose much hardship, given the multiple other means of communication available. As is natural in any community, strong friendship ties develop between some and looser connections with others. While in school, we will be working to maintain strong bonds across the entire group, and anything we can do to foster a sense of inclusiveness is important. If you or your young person is hosting an event, and you realize that the entire group – except for one or two children, OR one or two boys or girls is included – please consider whether that list can be expanded for the sake of encouraging inclusiveness.
First Days of School
The first days of school can be exhausting for young people and teachers alike – there are new faces, routines, and information to absorb, all while recovering from the switch from a more laid-back summer schedule (for many) to early mornings and full days. Please help your child and family to make that adjustment smoothly by changing routines gradually, so that Wednesday, September 4th feels perhaps more like the fifth than the first day of the new routine. The “go to your classroom” bell will ring at 8:25 AM, and by 8:30, everyone should be in the room and ready to start the day. Activity starts right away, so when children arrive later on a regular basis, they feel like they missed out and are less connected to the group.
We will spend much of our time in the first days deciding upon the details of our classroom routine, working together to create personal and classroom systems so that everyone has a vested interest in the outcome, and exploring materials. Truly, everything to come builds upon these first days together!
Calendar Dates to Note:
- Thursday, August 29th – Families with children in first through sixth grade are welcome to stop into classrooms between 4:00 and 5:30 to say hello. It would be lovely to see you!
- Wednesday, September 4th – First Day of School (gr. 1-6)
- Thursday, September 26th — Back-to-School Night
Diane and Mark