Last week was the annual Readathon day at Sycamore – one of my favorite days of the year. I love seeing the kids so eager to enter school, carrying pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals to help them hunker down, cuddle up, and settle into the reading routine. I enjoyed being able to read to kids in all grade levels. (Yes, I shared something in each grade about the Iditarod race, which is now underway for at least the rest of this week.) On Monday, 3rd and 4th graders were treated to a conversation with Stephan Pastis, author of the comic strip Pearls Before Swine and the Timmy Failure books. He was funny and engaging, and if there are any students in those grade levels that have not tried one of his books, I’m sure they will now!
I wanted to share a few resources and suggestions for books for your family to read. With spring break coming up, it might be a good time to stock up from the school or public library! First, there was an article on the Common Sense website about how to hook your kids on books and raise a reader. I thought it had some good suggestions. The website is: How to Raise a Reader
Amazon.com also has many links for children’s books. You can start here: Amazon Children’s Books Home site From here, you can read information and reviews about books for kids of various age categories, along with best books of 2013, book award winners, and best books of the month.
A final site with many good suggestions is the International Reading Association. Here you can choose to look at yearly lists of best books chosen by teachers and children. There are always a lot of good options to be found! International Reading Association book lists
Here are some good books I’ve read recently that I would recommend. I’m going to start with poetry:
National Geographic Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs That Squeak, Soar, and Roar! by J. Patrick Lewis
Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou by Dr. Edwin Graves Wilson
Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry: How to Write a Poem by Jack Prelutsky (In this collection he talks to the kids about how the poems came about, along with tips for them about writing poetry.)
Marvelous Math: A Book of Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer
Here are some picture books to look for:
Arrowhawk by Lola Schaefer
Tomorrow’s Alphabet by George Shannon
The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau
Mary Had a Little Ham by Marcie Palatini
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story From the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
Finally, here are some chapter books I recommend:
Timmy Failure books by Stephan Pastis
Danny’s Doodles: The Jelly Bean Experiment by David Adler
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett (This is a mystery that integrates math and art.)
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage (A mystery full of humor; probably for 4th, maybe 3rd.)
Education at its best is a partnership – between students, teachers, parents, and a greater community. The last 36 hours have been filled with stories of the past trimester and tales of things to come. Our students are diligent in communicating with their teachers in the hallways, before/after school, and via email. They bring forth questions for clarification and notions that probe the fringes of current knowledge, share jokes and act bravely when they see a need for change. Their words bring perspective and enlighten.
Our parents take the time to ask questions and share concerns rather than just wonder. Bringing stories of their personal passions about history, literature, numbers, music, art, and research they model what passionate learners look like in the day-to-day. They listen – to their children and their child’s teachers. All of this combined with our faculty’s open ears, insight, and rich educational expertise affords us all to be true agents of change.
Not every learning community has key players who are willing to take the time to converse. But as we know, it is inquiry and conversation that we know yields the most productive growth.
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, concerns, ideas, kind words, and tales for the sheer purpose of a good laugh with us. Whether it has happened in the past two days or in the past few months, it has, and continues to, make us stronger.
Looking forward to hearing from and seeing you all again soon.
Sycamore has surpassed the $3,250 goal for the Access to Water project, as the Sycamore community has raised more than $5,500! One of our families will add to that amount, and we will fully fund a bore hole for a school of 750 in Zimbabwe, so that they can get running water. In the coming weeks, we will receive pictures and letters from students and teachers at the school. Thanks for your support of the project!
The American Library Association (ALA) announced the top books, video and audio books for children and young adults – including the Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Newbery and Printz awards – at its Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia.
A list of all the 2014 award winners follows:
John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:
“Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures,” written by Kate DiCamillo, is the 2014 Newbery Medal winner. The book is published by Candlewick Press.
Four Newbery Honor Books also were named: “Doll Bones,” written by Holly Black and published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division; “The Year of Billy Miller,” written by Kevin Henkes and published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; “One Came Home,” written by Amy Timberlake and published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.; and “Paperboy,” written by Vince Vawter and published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children:
“Locomotive,” illustrated by Brian Floca, is the 2014 Caldecott Medal winner. The book was written by Brian Floca and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.
Three Caldecott Honor Books also were named: “Journey,” written and illustrated by Aaron Becker and published by Candlewick Press; “Flora and the Flamingo,” written and illustrated by Molly Idle and published by Chronicle Books LLC; and “Mr. Wuffles!” written and illustrated by David Wiesner and published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
Read more award winners
It is truly a happy new year at Sycamore. On December 13, we let you know of a terrific opportunity for Sycamore. We were offered a matching challenge for our Sycamore Fund through the Scott A. Jones Foundation. The challenge was a dollar-for-dollar match–up to $50,000–for gifts or pledges made by the end of 2013. With the holidays and winter break approaching, it was a daunting task to raise that much money!
I’m thrilled to report that our Sycamore family responded with enthusiasm and generosity! Surpassing our hopes, friends of Sycamore pledged or donated $91,560 between December 13 and December 31! Including the Scott Jones match, that translates to $141,560 for the Sycamore Fund! We received gifts and pledges from current parents, current students, faculty and staff, alumni, alumni parents, grandparents, and other friends of Sycamore.
It’s hard for me to communicate how excited I am about this response. The expressed love for Sycamore is incredible and affirming. Thank you so much for being a part of this great achievement!
Onward and upward!
From Diane Borgmann – Head of School
Hearing predictions of our first winter storm, I think a reminder of how Sycamore responds to bad winter weather is in order.
First of all, we do not follow the lead of area public schools; often, however, often our decisions are the same. If weather is questionable, I evaluate the situation very early in the morning, and sometimes consult with nearby independent school heads, before making a decision about whether to keep school open or close it for the day. We are either open or closed; we do not have delayed starts. Many public schools decide on morning delays due to bus transportation. We, however, believe that if we are having school at all, delaying the start just complicates family routines. Our maintenance staff has snow removal plans in place, and they are always on the job early on bad mornings!
As you know, our families, faculty, and staff come from many areas of the city, and conditions may vary widely. So, ultimately the decision to bring your child to school on a bad weather day is yours. If you do not think you can travel to Sycamore safely, then please stay home or come later in the day. We will not penalize a student for a weather-related absence or tardy. We afford our faculty the same consideration, so sometimes we have faculty members who are also tardy on bad weather days. We always have a core faculty and staff here and can adjust to make the day a smooth one.
If we decide to close school, we will post that announcement on our website, send an email, and call through our automated phone system. There is no need for you to call Sycamore.
This is just a reminder of our approach to bad weather decisions.
Onward and upward!
As we enter the holiday season, somewhere amidst the turkey and sweet potatoes, our thoughts often turn to gratitude, and we reflect on the good things in our lives. While we all probably acknowledge that gratitude is a good practice and its expression is a nice skill, there’s also some hard evidence that gratitude can have a positive impact on students’ academic and social well-being. Kids who are grateful tend to have more positive emotions, receive higher grades, have an increased sense of hope and trust in others and a desire to give back to their communities.
Research about gratitude tells us that practicing gratitude helps kids feel more connected at home and at school, fosters positive emotions that keep stress down, and promotes self-control and self-regulation. In the broadest sense, being grateful helps kids to understand that there are good things in the world and that the sources of those good things exist outside themselves. An attitude of gratitude can positively transform us and teach us to value others more.
At Sycamore, in the social/emotional realm, we focus on our core values of respect, empathy, relationships, and moral courage. All of these core values can have roots in gratitude. So, what should we do as parents and educators to encourage expressions of gratitude? Following are some ideas; I’m sure you will think of more:
- Help children develop the ability to empathize; talk about feelings, both theirs and those of others.
- Relate positive events to the people who help foster them.
- Encourage kids to express gratitude every day, and include why they’re grateful.
- As adults, model gratitude.
- Say “thank you” often.
- Write thank-you notes often. I recommend requiring a thank-you note before a gift can be used.
- Keep a gratitude journal, and make an entry every day.
- Find ways for groups of kids or families to contribute to their neighborhoods or other communities to which they belong.
Being grateful is a habit, and like other habits, it can be learned and practiced. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Surely, practicing gratitude can be an important building block to leading “responsible, constructive, fulfilling lives.”
I am grateful for Sycamore and each one of you.
Onward and upward!
It’s been busy around Sycamore! In addition to our ongoing work, the end of the trimester, report cards, and conferences, we have been preparing for and participating in the annual NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children) Convention. The experience has been rewarding on many fronts. On Thursday, we had about 40 educators from around the United States, and even some from outside the United States, visit us for the day and participate in our Action Lab. They heard from faculty and administrators about various aspects of Sycamore: our identity as an independent school, our philosophy, our program and curriculum, and our specific strategies to meet the needs of our students. They were entertained by Luke Nargang’s performance of magic tricks, and they were amazed by the articulate and impressive manner in which a panel of our students addressed their questions. After the day with visitors, we regrouped and hosted a reception at Sycamore Thursday evening for over 100 guests. This was a casual time of mingling and conversation, similar to our open house format.
As you know, our students were not in school on Friday. That was so our entire faculty could attend the NAGC meeting downtown. About 2000 educators were in attendance. Eileen Prince, David Schuth, Melissa Branigan, and Deb Stewart were among the breakout session presenters, and they all presented to large and rapt audiences. After a full day on Friday, the conference continued on Saturday, and presentations specifically aimed at parent interests were part of the agenda. It was terrific to see a large number of Sycamore parents in attendance! After Thursday at Sycamore and Friday and Saturday downtown, there was a loud and positive “buzz” about Sycamore. We were really proud to wear our Sycamore sportswear!
There were several stimulating outcomes of the conference. Interaction with other educators always provokes thinking and expands our repertoire of ideas. The biggest takeaway for me, however, was renewed appreciation for Sycamore. Many of us on staff, and many of our parents, have been at Sycamore for a long time. We begin to think Sycamore is normal, and we fail to fully appreciate what a gem it is; it’s easy to lose perspective. As I interacted with folks from a variety of schools in many places, my attention was called to our good fortune in having a school like Sycamore. We have a unanimous commitment to our mission that is rare. We have the independence to make sound educational decisions and do the right thing, without external oversight and mandates. We have an enthusiastic and visionary Board of Trustees. We have a trained and passionate administration and faculty who stimulate and inspire our students continuously. We have the freedom to develop a rich and challenging curriculum that fits our kids. We have a committed and supportive parent body and a wonderful bunch of kids who amaze us every day. We have the resources to do our jobs well. During my interactions with participants at the conference, I was acutely aware that all of these things are actually unusual.
Some comments from some of our visitors are worth sharing:
“A dream school!”
“An amazing place…truly one of a kind!”
“I would give anything to work here.”
“I want our kids to have a school like this so they can reach their full potential.”
“I love the friendliness, brightness, creativity, and well…just everything here.”
There are no perfect schools, and Sycamore is no exception. We are continuously evolving and improving, and that will always be the case. What we have is too good not to be better! But let’s not lose sight of the great jewel that Sycamore is and our privilege to be involved. I’m thankful and honored to have the opportunity to lead such a great institution!
Onward and upward!
I have long told Sycamore parents and students that in order to succeed at Sycamore, it’s not enough just to be smart. Other elements enter into the formula for success, both at Sycamore and beyond.
One of the books many of our faculty and staff read over the summer is How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. Tough talks about the non-cognitive character skills that figure into success, and much of his work integrates with points made by Carol Dweck in Mindset and Richard Weissbourd in The Parents We Mean to Be. Tough speaks to what many call “grit,” an unwavering and passionate commitment to a goal.
Tough argues that character skills that contribute to success can be taught. He’s not referring to character as we often think of it—the essence of a person—but to skills like perseverance, curiosity, optimism, will power, conscientiousness, and self-control. These skills, along with cognitive skills, are ones we should be working on with our children.
How do we do that at Sycamore? We want our students to understand that learning is hard work! It’s fun and exciting, but it can also be daunting and, at times, discouraging. As children work hard and learn to succeed, they learn an important truth: there’s a strong relationship between hard work and results. The character skills that Tough talks about are often achieved through experiences with failure. So mistakes are important. That’s why we are committed to challenging our kids every day so they have to stretch—to stand on their “mental tiptoes”—and learn to persevere and develop “grit.” I see examples every day of Sycamore kids with “grit”–in the classroom, in athletic competitions, and in their own individual activities outside of school. In a typical educational environment, most of our kids would never have the gift of the opportunity to make mistakes and then learn from them.
Independence is an important component of “grit.” In order to really experience success or failure, one has to learn to be independent. Children build self-esteem by tackling difficult tasks and succeeding through hard work. Our job as educators and parents is to provide appropriate support when needed, not to make the work easy. I’m reminded of Eleanor Roosevelt’s wise words, “The easiest way to make it hard for our children is to make it easy for them.” At Sycamore, we will continue to provide our kids with opportunities to fail, and thus to learn.
Onward and upward!
Come join 5th – 8th graders from across Central Indiana on November 2nd, 2013 for a MATHCOUNTS style practice competition.
Time and Location
The event will last from 9:00 am to approximately 2:00 pm on Saturday, November 2nd, in Sycamore School’s cafeteria, gym and auditorium. Sycamore is located at 1750 W. 64th St, Indianapolis, IN. Please arrive by 8:45 so the contest can start promptly at 9:00 am.
Students can register online HERE
Schedule of Events
8:30-9:00 – Registration (In Gym)
9:00-9:50 – Sprint Round
9:55-10:30 – Target Round
10:35-11:30 – Review Problems With Mr. T and Mr. Fischer
11:30-12:00 – Lunch (We will be ordering pizza)
12:10-12:50 – Team Competition
1:00-1:20 – Awards