Gifts with a Purpose

Gifts with a Purpose_Main Image 4x6_2MPBy Renee Hennessy, Preschool Director

The holidays are here and we have received a few requests for ideas for toys and gifts for preschoolers. In the Preschool, we are fond of toys that are open-ended because they have a high play value and can be used for more than one purpose, wherever those imaginations may go. Building blocks such as Magna-Tiles and play scarves and items that can be used for pretend play (for example, a doctor’s kit) can be revisited time and time again. Books and puppets are also great gift ideas for young children.

Next week will be a festive one as we prepare for the holiday break. In conjunction with the Lower and Middle School, we will participate in the Holiday Dress-Up Week! Monday is Mismatched Day, Tuesday is Pajama Day (a favorite), and at our Big Sing on Wednesday, festive holiday wear is encouraged. We are expecting a special visitor from the North Pole to stop by the Big Sing.

Happy Holidays to All!

Happy Holidays Pic_Main Image 4x6_2MPBy Reed Gabhart, Head of Goshen Campus

Well, time flies, as the adage goes, but it seems to me that time has hit warp speed (then again, that might just be a function of my age!). It seems like just a few weeks ago we were talking about the start of a new school year, and here we are barrelling into Holiday Break. So while we recharge and get to spend memorable time with our family and friends, we’ll miss your wonderful children. And, if I might suggest, take some time to ask your children about the first half of their school year. Ask the little ones to read aloud to you to see their improvement in action. Ask the Lower School students what they thought of Coco, and the Middle School students the same about Wonder. Ask them about themes and lessons learned. Ask the 8th graders about prejudice reduction (and maybe about how it feels to only have half a year left on the Goshen Campus!). Ask them if their school days are fun as well as educational. Ask them about lessons learned on the fields and courts and stages as well as in the classroom. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll realize that in addition to all the gifts they receive this special time of year, you are giving them the most special gift all year round – a St. Francis education.

Happy holidays, and we’ll see you very soon (warp speed time) in January!

6th Grade Trip to Pine Mountain Settlement School

Pine Mountain_Main ImageWhat do folk dancing to live bluegrass, tall tales, crawdads, cave exploration, and coal have in common? All were a part of the 6th graders’ Outdoor Education experience last week at the Pine Mountain Settlement School nestled deep in the Appalachian region of Eastern Kentucky. Students made the five-hour journey via coach bus with instructors Brandon Doble, Anne Holmes, Lindsy Serrano, Alex Taylor, and Shelly Jones. The students spent the week in small groups studying the past and present inhabitants of the region, flora, and fauna. Courses included Native Americans, Early Settlers, Stream Ecology, Forest Ecology, a Night Hike, the Summit Hike to the top of Pine Mountain, Orienteering, Storytelling, Folk Dancing, Appalachian Toys, and Geosphere. Students enjoyed their homemade meals in Laurel House, many of the ingredients for which had been grown in the organic gardens at the Settlement School.

On this particular trip to Pine Mountain, the 6th graders became the first group from St. Francis to have a live bluegrass ensemble for the Thursday night folk dance. Dr. Sky H. Marietta, Ed.D, the Curriculum and Instruction Specialist at Pine Mountain, said “KET ought to be here tonight filming this!” Some of the region’s finest bluegrass musicians – banjoist John Haywood, fiddle player Brett Ratliff, and guitarist Sean Stamper – played traditional folk tunes for the dance, performed a few “extra” tunes for the students’ enjoyment, and explained the history of their instruments within the historical context of the region.

These up close and personal experiences with nature, place-based education, and first-hand experiences with artists and activists working in Appalachia today are among the many reasons we greatly value the St. Francis Outdoor Education Program that includes the trip to the Pine Mountain Settlement School. On the Goshen Campus, we often speak about the importance of “Leave No Trace,” but when students see on a large scale what happens when humans leave quite a large trace, such as the evidence of mountaintop removal coal mining when they hike to the overlook, the phrase takes on new meaning.

Should you or your family be interested in visiting Pine Mountain Settlement School on your own, the Settlement School provides ongoing weekend and summer programs for individuals, groups, and families. For more information, visit the website. Just be sure to tell them that the St. Francis 6th graders sent you!

Trailblazers Spend Time in the Woodshop

Preschool Bird Houses_2_2MPBy Renee Hennessy, Preschool Director

On Monday, as I was walking up to the school, I noticed one of the Trailblazers’ birdhouses hanging from the big tree by the playground. It was lovingly created by their class last week in anticipation of wintry weather. They were constructed of wood and drilled together with the help of their teachers. The woodworking skills of the Trailblazers has increased since the beginning of the school year, with Paul Harshaw and Kelly Pfeiffer ensuring that each child is comfortable using small tools. Young children love using tools that they see the adults in their lives use (vacuums, brooms, rakes). Using real tools, not just pretend versions, helps build confidence and self-regulation in children. We look forward to observing the birdhouses throughout the winter and providing food for our friends in nature.

The Adventurers have been busy creating a wintery scene (although winter is playing hide-and-seek) on their wall with white lights and shimmery trees. The Pandas are busy exploring sensory bins filled with potato flakes and rice, painting with blue and green, and using glue (their current favorite).

Our Holiday Big Sing is coming up on Wednesday, December 20th at 9:10 a.m. This is always a festive morning for everyone.

6th Grade Quick Recall Team Soars and Scores!

6th Grade Quick Recall_1_2MPBy Reed Gabhart, Head of Goshen Campus

At Middle School Morning Meeting on Monday we applauded our 6th grade Quick Recall team for their stellar showing at the 6th Grade Showcase last Saturday! While our team was the smallest there in terms of numbers, they made up for it in knowledge, skill, and heart! Team members included Micah Ghiassi, Zack Mushkin, Allie Rahman, AJ Stevenson, and Mya Stevenson. Here is a summary of their success from coaches Anne Holmes and Debbie Adkins:

Overall Finish: 3rd Place
Quick Recall Finish: 2nd Place (Lost in the final in overtime!)
Science & Social Studies: AJ Stevenson, 1st Place
Arts & Humanities: Allie Rahman, 1st Place
Math: Zack Mushkin, 6th Place

And a comment from Anne on this scrappy team:

“There is only one word to describe the performance of this team in Saturday’s competition: Wow! These five scholars had just returned from a week away at Pine Mountain and were awesome academic competitors. The Showcase competition is made up of three parts: written composition, written assessment, and quick recall. Our team was unable to compete in composition due to the trip to Pine Mountain, so the fact that we placed third overall is truly outstanding.”

I couldn’t agree more! We love to give our talented students academic competition opportunities and this team is a great example why. And a BIG thanks to Anne Holmes, Debbie Adkins, Lindsy Serrano, and Misty Chanda for spending a Saturday with these go-getters and coaching them so well!  

Our Preschoolers “Try On” Kindergarten

K-Try-On Day_1_2MPBy Renee Hennessy, Preschool Director

Starting kindergarten is an important life event for a child (and for parents), and to facilitate a smooth transition, we wanted to give our preschoolers an opportunity to visit kindergarten with their current preschool teachers. Our Trailblazers class of four- and five-year-olds spent the morning “trying on” kindergarten while parents attended an informational coffee with Head of School Alexandra Thurstone and Lower School Director Jennifer Griffith. The children had the opportunity to visit several specialty classes like PE, art, music, and Spanish, as well as spending time with the JK/K teachers in their classrooms. The morning was complete with a tour of the cafeteria and each child receiving a snack through the lunch line. Learning more about kindergarten will help set our preschoolers up for success as they make the transition to Lower School. A few comments from the children following their “try on” included “I want to stay in kindergarten forever” and “That was fun, I liked art.” Each child was energized by the change in routine and is looking forward to what the future holds.

We Thank You
Our Coat Drive ended today and Elyse Folley said that she may need to borrow a bigger car to deliver our donation. This is exciting news! Thank you to those who took the time to dig through those closets and contribute coats to this cause. We also want to thank Highland Cleaners for donating their services. Deena Neimat and Elyse Folley, Coat Drive Co-Chairs, were instrumental in making our Coat Drive 2017 a success!

Thank you to all of the families who donated books to the Preschool through the Scholastic Book Fair.

Did You Know?
You can find the medicine permission form in the Parent Portal. Save time at drop-off by completing it at home.

Reducing Prejudice

8th Grade Prejudice Workshop_1_2MPBy Reed Gabhart, Head of Goshen Campus

While our 6th grade class was off enjoying the unseasonably warm weather during their outdoor education trip to Pine Mountain Settlement School this week, our 8th grade class was immersed in a day and a half-long workshop focused on prejudice reduction. In order to fully engage them without interruption, we held this workshop off-campus at Gingerwoods Reception Hall, thanks to Hope and Morton Boyd G’82. The workshop was led by two facilitators from the Peace Education Program. Their program is part of an award-winning, international training process designed by the National Coalition Building Institute ( It is designed to build on what people have in common while also honoring their positive cultural differences. I let the other kids know at Morning Meeting on Monday what the 8th graders were doing, pointing out the fact that at St. Francis, we don’t just talk about the value of diversity, but actually bring programs to the students that help them to really understand the values and principles therein. School Counselor Julie Marks arranged and attended the workshop along with other 8th grade teachers and had this to say about it:

I had the privilege of witnessing the 8th graders expand their understanding and appreciation of the diversity within their class. The first part of their workshop was spent playing cooperative games and discovering the similarities between the students in order to create a safe environment conducive to sharing. As the day progressed, the students identified the groups in which they belong, the stereotypes of each group, and what members of each group wished others knew about them. I could tell by the looks on their faces and the comments expressed that everyone gained a great deal of insight and understanding. The second day was very emotional as many students shared deeply personal stories of times they felt teased, harassed, and/or discriminated against. The class then had the opportunity to affirm one another and pledged to stand up against these types of prejudice in the future. Overall, the workshop was a very powerful experience for all present. Below are some quotes from 8th graders about the workshop.

“This was a great chance to learn more about my classmates for me and a way to grow closer to them. As I only came to this school last year, I haven’t learned much about my classmates that I am not around all the time. The teachers taught the class really well and I learned about how to use I-statements and how to de-escalate a situation. I also was taught about how to talk to others I disagree with. It was overall a great opportunity and I’m glad I had it.”

“This workshop was very helpful because we all were able to know more about how to deal with conflict and we learned more about our classmates. We were all given the chance to share stories if we chose to. I enjoyed getting closer to my classmates and hearing about difficult times in their lives and I learned some things I never knew about them and I felt that everyone got just a little closer.”

“The workshop we went to was interesting, I thought it was extremely intriguing to hear the stories from my fellow classmates. I was able to learn so much about the people around me and find a new appreciation for them.”

Again, thanks to Julie for arranging such a positive, pro-social workshop and to the Boyd family for their generosity in hosting us!

Preschool Thanksgiving Luncheon

PS Luncheon Main ImageBy Renee Hennessy, Preschool Director

Our annual Thanksgiving Luncheon is more than just a meal; it is a gathering of our children’s most treasured people: their families and their teachers; and all of us connected by a common thread, St. Francis Preschool. We came together as a small community representing many different cultures and countries. Families sat in small (and I mean tiny) chairs to share a meal and conversation all because of their children. As I walked around and visited each class, I was reminded of how special this day truly is, and that it is our hope that we can change the world through our children.  

On Tuesday, we hosted our Open House for prospective families. We had a wonderful turnout and I want to thank Deena Neimat for assisting us in giving parent tours. We understand how important this decision is to families choosing a program for their young children. When talking to families about our program, the first thing I mention is the relationships that we build with our children. Our teachers take the time to connect with and get to know “full well” each child in their group. Establishing this trusting relationship is at the heart of our program. Harvard’s Graduate School of Education recently released an article for parents, How to Pick a Preschool, written by Suzanne Bouffard, a writer and researcher on child development and education. The article discusses five evidence-backed signs of a successful program that parents can use as a guide. This informative article can serve as a reminder for current families and are points to share with your friends and neighbors about how to determine a quality program.

We are accepting gently used or new coats for our Coat Drive to benefit the children and adults Keystone Learning Academy. The Coat Drive will run through Friday, December 1st and donation boxes are in front of the doors in the Preschool area.

A Time for “Thanks!”

You Can't Beat the House_Main Image_2MPBy Reed Gabhart, Head of Goshen Campus

As Grandparents’ Day preparations and rehearsals gear up for the “Big Day” next Tuesday, I’ve been thinking about many things at SFS for which I am thankful.

At press time, it’s closing night for our fall play, You Can’t Beat the House. This zany comedy has absolutely delighted our audiences who have rewarded us with three standing ovations and riotous laughter at every performance! I am thankful to work at a school that supports the arts in such an overwhelming way, and to have Middle School students willing to take on extra work in their already busy schedules. We become a little family during our time together, and it’s always sad when it ends. This family has truly warmed my heart.

I am thankful to work with a faculty and staff so committed to a school and its mission. I have been to many Open Houses over the years, but the one we held this Tuesday was the best I’ve ever experienced! Not only were the numbers outstanding, with 28 families in attendance representing 39 students, but we also had an Activities Fair prior to the Open House with everything from academics to the arts to athletics represented. After sifting through those attractive presentations, parents toured the school in five different groups and then were treated to an engaging panel discussion featuring SFS students, parents, and teachers. My favorite moment was when one prospective parent told Jackson Sleadd he was “adorable!” Kudos to Trisha Amirault and Kelli Carter for organizing and pulling off a fabulous Admissions event!

I’m also thankful for colleagues who are eager to better themselves professionally. Last week, Alexandra, Shelly Jones, Christine Brinkmann, Annette Rudd, and Lindsy Serrano, along with Head of Downtown Campus Suzanne Gorman, attended the ISACS conference in Chicago and came back energized and ready to share! They also visited the famed flagship of Progressive schools, the Francis Parker School, and were delighted to see how similar we were in approach to education and students. As Shelly said, “They are doing many of the same things with their kids that we are in advisory, and also experiencing the same types of challenges.” Sometimes you have to get away to gain perspective on your own day-to-day experience. Here is a comment from Lindsy Serrano on the conference:

“This year’s ISACS conference was filled with timely and interesting sessions that will enrich our classrooms for the coming year. There was a wide variety of topics covered, including incorporating MakerSpaces in the classroom, teaching students how to evaluate news and information that they come across, uncovering our own implicit biases and how that might affect our classrooms, and so much more! Professional development opportunities like this one are a great way to refresh and get new ideas and inspiration for the school year!”

And, of course, I am thankful for our music teachers who are currently hard at work getting the students ready for their Grandparents’ Day performances next week. They are always so entertaining and heartwarming and make for the perfect send-off to this most family-based of holidays. We hope you ALL have a wonderful Thanksgiving next week!

Encouraging Positive Behavior

Encouraging Positive Behavior_Main Image_2MPBy Renee Hennessy, Preschool Director

Recently, in our Fours classes, we introduced the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness For Kids by Carol McCloud. The story encourages positive behaviors and gives children a visual representation of what it looks like to fill someone’s bucket with acts of kindness, appreciation, and love. While “bucket dipping” occurs at times, the story doesn’t focus on the negative behaviors but on ways we can help each other. The Fours have a class bucket that they are working on filling, and each day will have its fair share of ups and downs as days typically do. The work of filling another’s bucket is rewarding (and hard at times) and we’re here to support them as they practice these important skills.

Did you know?
We are always working on developing fine motor skills when using art materials: gluing with glue sticks, peeling stickers, picking up small materials, pinching, and sprinkling. Developing these skills is necessary for children to grasp a pencil correctly and to develop pre-writing skills. We are also working on following simple one- or two-step directions, beginning and completing a task, and developing attention span. Our art projects also contain color/letter/shape recognition exercises.   

Mark Your Calendars

Tuesday, November 14th at 9:00 a.m. is our Open House! The Open House is for anyone considering our School as an option for their child. Please invite your friends and neighbors who may have preschoolers. Our parents are our best ambassadors!

Friday, November 17th from 11:00 – 11:45 a.m. is our annual Preschool Thanksgiving Luncheon. Please join your child’s class for a family-style potluck luncheon. The PA will be sending out more information about this event soon.