A Program of Schools for Children

Deanne’s Notebook

Periodically throughout the school year, Lesley Ellis’ head of school Deanne Benson informally shares her thoughts and insights about the Lesley Ellis experience and educational trends and topics. Check this space frequently for her latest blog.

2023 – 2024 Notebooks

Big School!
April 23, 2024


At this time every year, we begin to see what Lesley Ellis will look like in the fall. Acceptances have officially gone out and many new families have chosen Lesley Ellis! In addition to these new families many of our own early childhood families will see their children begin the elementary program next fall. We talk a lot with our students about navigating transition but it’s important to remember that transition can be challenging for parents as well.

As parents, we are excited for our children but sometimes our own coping mechanisms are stretched by these changes and passages. It’s tempting to think that our children, who have adjusted to being in PreK or TK and feel at home there, might find the next step overwhelming or difficult. And for us parents this transition can often feel different. More significant somehow.

As parents these next few months will likely be marked by a stew of competing emotions. My child is ready for this. But she’s little and the elementary grades feel big and scary. Wasn’t it just yesterday she was a baby, falling asleep in my arms? But I know he’s aching to learn, and grow, and make new friends. He needs (and wants) to be independent. Deep down you are ready to let him take this next step, but you also want to hold on to this stage forever. These feelings are normal and you’re not alone in what you’re feeling. This next stage will have all kinds of lovely gifts and experiences that you can only imagine and hope for at this point. Picture that first play when your heart bursts with pride. And oh the confidence when your little one reads you the goodnight story. It will be wonderful and memorable.

Every stage has its gifts and challenges, and you are needed at every single stage. You are ready even if you don’t feel quite there yet. Remember, too, that the parents just ahead of you have been there and can lead the way. Chat with other parents and share your worries and hopes. They are a good resource and will be very reassuring.  We are all on this journey together and our community is always one of the best resources our families have.

Get ready to be amazed and delighted and touched by this next stage. For more than 20 years I’ve watched both parents and children make this transition. I can promise you that you are going to love what’s about to unfold just as much as what you’re already experienced. And Lesley Ellis will be right here with your family every step of the way.



Deanne’s Notebook Archives

The following pieces appeared in Deanne’s Notebook beginning in 2018.

The Benefits of the Great Outdoors

April 9, 2024

I love walking through the woods near my home because I can be outside. On that beautiful day yesterday I saw a sign of spring. It was a moth. It wasn’t a moth in flight. Rather, the moth, newly metamorphosed, awkwardly waddled along a stone, its wings seemingly glued to its side. I  knew that this moth would never reach its potential. As soon as I got home I looked up what I’d seen. It turns out that moths and butterflies must have room to spread their wings immediately after leaving the cocoon. If they can’t stretch, the protein that helps build the wings will harden and fuse the wings into limited, useless, lifeless appendages.

As a parent and educator I know this is true with children as well. We need to give children space to stretch and grow and weave in and out of opportunities and ideas without obstacles so the wings that will let them fly can develop and emerge.  This is foundational to a Lesley Ellis education, and it’s precisely why we are dedicated to educating the whole child. Lesley Ellis provides an environment that allows children to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. To accomplish this, we offer an integrated curriculum with academic learning, arts, health and wellness education, civic engagement, social emotional learning and social awareness.

At Lesley Ellis we provide our students an education that will remain with them for a lifetime so they can spread their wings far and wide …

Here Comes the Auction!

April 2, 2024

Going Once Going Twice …

Have you seen those cheery jonquils popping up all over town? They are like little yellow smiles and not a minute too soon either. Flowers are certainly harbingers of spring. But that‘s not all they are. They are also a sure sign that it’s Lesley Ellis auction time!

The Annual Lesley Ellis Auction … this year “Cosmic Soiree” … is the Do Not Miss! event of the year. Who will get the beach house? Celtics tickets with Andy? Raffle baskets? Laser tag? Taylor Swift fan gear? Head for a Day? And there’s dinner, dancing, and fun.

But the real reason we come together is because of the work that happens amid all the fun. At Lesley Ellis nearly twenty percent of our families receive some level of financial assistance. Often this makes the difference to a family between being able to come to Lesley Ellis or not. And our families’ generosity on auction night helps make our financial assistance program possible. If you don’t already have your tickets, you may purchase them here. 

So parents and friends, join us this Saturday night, April 6 at 6:00 – 10:00 for a fun filled night raising money for the best cause you know. The motto of our financial assistance program is: No Lion Left Behind. Because … well you know why. We’re Lesley Ellis. And we can do this!

See you Saturday!


Eclipse Day!

March 26, 2024

On Monday, April 8, a large portion of North America will experience a total solar eclipse. It will be an awesome experience, even for those of us who will only be treated to a partial eclipse. Younger children (and maybe even some of us adults!) will likely need an explanation of an eclipse. Simple explanations are often the best ones. “When the moon gets in between the Earth and the sun, and the moon appears to pass over the sun as seen from Earth, then we have a solar eclipse.”

Older kids will most likely have questions. They may ask, “Doesn’t the moon pass between the Earth and the sun every month? That’s what a new moon is, right?” And the answer is – the moon’s orbit is normally not completely lined up with our planet’s orbit around the sun. The orbit of the moon is tilted just a little … about five degrees. That tilt means that when the moon moves between Earth and the sun, the three bodies are out of alignment. The moon doesn’t block the sun, and the shadow of the moon cast by the sun lands in space instead of on Earth’s surface, so there is no eclipse. That’s a typical new moon. Once in a while, though, all the orbits line up, resting an eclipse.

Here are some fun facts you can share on eclipse day:

  • If the moon and the sun didn’t take up about the same amount of space in the sky, we wouldn’t have a total solar eclipse. Fortunately, the moon happens to be both about 400 times smaller than the sun and 400 times closer to Earth, so it fits just right!
  • The moon is moving away from Earth a tiny bit each year. At the current rate, the moon will look too small to cause a total solar eclipse in 600 million years.
  • Right before totality, (the complete eclipse) observers might see bright specks of light at the edge of the moon’s shadow. These are called Bailey’s Beads, and they’re caused by the last rays of the sun shooting between mountains on the moon’s surface.
  • After this eclipse, the next solar eclipse to cross the U.S. will not occur until the year 2044 — 20 years from now!

A reminder to kids, both young and old, that it’s not safe to look at an eclipse without the proper protective eyewear. It’s no different than looking directly at the sun!

Happy Eclipse Day!!!!

Our Lesley Ellis Authors

March 19, 2024

Maybe you know about Lesley Ellis READS. We share community-wide books every year, and we also have some great parent – student book clubs each year, too. Lesley Ellis is truly a reading community. BUT did you know Lesley Ellis also writes??? Not one. Not two. But three of our teachers are published authors!

Cristina Martinez wrote Las Fantasticas Emociones de Pedrito which translated is “Pedrito’s Magical Emotions.” The book collects several warm and funny poems and illustrations where Pedrito and Carlitos (his brother) get some crazy emotions. The book helps kids, teachers and family members when these emotions come and visit. She also has a previous book No pierdas tu tren…

Margaret Muirhead also has two books to her name now. Mabel, One and Only, and Flip! How the Frisbee Took Flight. Mabel is about a kid who can’t find anyone to play with and has to make her own fun, inspired by a childhood pal of Margaret’s. And Flip! is a nonfiction picture book about the engaging history of Frisbees.

Mariya Timkovsky’s book Papa’s Lessons: A Soviet Survivor’s Story showcases the life of an ordinary Soviet citizen inspired by Mariya’s grandfather. In this time of turbulence in Ukraine and Russia it is a sweet glimpse into normal Russian life.

Check out these books and support our local Lesley Ellis authors. Because at Lesley Ellis we read, and we write too!

Building Update!

March 12, 2024

I’ve shared with you before that MaryAnn Thompson Architects did the design when we moved into our current building, and Ken Spader at ZVI Builders, made it all come to fruition. They specialize in school building projects, and we and Schools for Children have relished our work together. As you know, we have another big project in the works

Over the last few months we’ve been fundraising by meeting with our parents and continuing the planning. The good news is that we are getting close! The project will be chunked into Phase One—The Library! and Phase Two—The Performance Center! (That’s a lot of exclamation points. Can you tell how excited I am?) We will begin with our library about a month from now.

Our school library will be the learning hub of our community. It will include books, cozy areas, gathering areas for students and the community, and technology. School library programs staffed by expert school librarians (like our own brilliant Margaret Muirhead!) foster critical thinking and provide students with the skills they need to analyze, form, and communicate ideas in compelling ways. Today’s Preschool – 8 students will compete for jobs in a global economy. Our students will need to be good readers and lifelong learners who are adept at researching, gathering, evaluating, and using information to create new knowledge.

If you haven’t yet had that coffee with Ellen and me, stay tuned! Please pick up if you can or call us back. We need everyone’s involvement and support to make our dreams come true for your kids and all the ones who come after.



The Secret Sauce

February 27, 2024

February 27, 2024

When I talk to parents about what brought them to Lesley Ellis the answers year to year are remarkably similar. One of the most consistent reasons they reference is our warm, nurturing, and inclusive community. Lesley Ellis students form intergenerational relationships. Our parents discover lifelong friendships. Parents also report that faculty offer supportive scaffolding in their parenting efforts and symbiotically, faculty feel like parents are on the education team. We cheer for each other’s successes and we wrap our arms around one another when we worry or grieve.

Our community is vitally important to the success of the Lesley Ellis experience. It’s something I think a great deal about at this time of year. We are in the midst of our admission cycle for next fall and welcoming new families to Lesley Ellis. In addition we have many upcoming spring community events, parents and middle schoolers will be playing basketball in our version of LES March Madness, and in April we will all be coming together at our spring fundraiser for a cause we know and love! Community is everywhere and everything at Lesley Ellis. It truly is our secret sauce!

In joyful partnership,


President's Day

February 13, 2024

It used to be that states celebrated George Washington’s birthday or Abraham Lincoln’s birth every February. Now the federal holiday is always on the third Monday in February, and for many people it just means a fun three-day weekend. But how do we teach kids about Presidents’ Day in an era when presidential politics are so fraught? How can we celebrate in a way that kids can both learn and have fun? The presidency once inspired people to be better citizens. Studying our country’s history can help frame the day.

Presidential history can be especially compelling when students study a president who hailed from their state. Massachusetts has had four. John Adams (1797-1801), John Quincy Adams (1825-29), John F. Kennedy (1961-63), and  George H.W. Bush (1989-93) were all born in Massachusetts. Each has accomplishments worth studying and celebrating.

George Washington enjoys the wonderful mythology that he could not tell a lie. Reading stories that inspired the myth and playing Two Truths and a Lie might be one fun way to explore the importance of honesty with younger learners. Older students might be interested in President Kennedy and studying the Cuban Missile Crisis. Playing a game that requires cooperation and compromise with an effort at working toward the same goal is a way to celebrate peace at any age.

And let’s talk to our children about the future of our country. It doesn’t have to be a scary or difficult conversation where they worry that the fate of our nation rests in their hands. Instead, we can play What If You Were President. Ask them what they would do about climate change or healthcare or guns. How would they create economic prosperity? President’s Day is a time to both reflect and celebrate. And who knows? Lesley Ellis might have a future president in one of our classrooms right now!

AISNE Reaccreditation

February 6, 2024

I have long forgotten the comedian, but I still remember the joke. After asking a teenager what he wanted to be when he grew up, the comedian commented, “You know why adults always ask kids what they want to be? Because they’re looking for ideas!” Everyone laughed because the joke was based in truth. No matter our age, we all wonder what we will become next. Almost by definition, life is change. That adage holds true for institutions as well as people.

At Lesley Ellis we are constantly thinking about what comes next. This year we are working on a thorough and broad self study of our school for reaccreditation by the Association of Independent Schools in New England. AISNE’s reaccreditation process is a ten year cycle that encourages continuous self-improvement. We will identify our strengths, opportunities for growth, and directions for the future in all areas of our school. Next fall we will host a 3 ½ day peer reviewed on site visit, culminating in a report with commendations and recommendations.

This is an exciting time in the life of our school. We are constantly evolving and pursuing excellence in all areas of the Lesley Ellis experience. The accreditation process is a key component in our ongoing development of new pathways in our pursuit of excellence together. Thank you for being a part of the Lesley Ellis journey and the creation of our vibrant school community.


January 30, 2024

Lesley Ellis School fosters a feeling of community — a supportive climate of trust, understanding, and common values. We are intentional in creating opportunities for families to interact with each other, with our teachers, and with students across grades. Once students become part of Lesley Ellis, they remain connected well after graduation.

There are many ways to get connected, to become active members of our school, and to build the friendships that will enrich your lives — now and into the future. Hosting grade level parties, being an open house volunteer, being an admissions reference for Tricia and Andy— the list goes on.

Our Parents Association creates vibrant and engaging events for Lesley Ellis families throughout the year. Through our parent volunteers, the PA sponsors a wide variety of events, fundraisers, and programs on behalf of the school each year. Through this service to the school, parents help to create and participate in our warm and welcoming community.

We encourage you now, more than ever, to raise your hand to volunteer.

Volunteering connects you in a unique and special way to other parents, to the faculty, even to your children. This sense of connection deeply enriches each family’s relationship with the school. It models for your children that you value their education and it allows you to express your appreciation for the wonderful experience your children have at school every day.

The importance of community may be the strongest it has ever been.

If you want to get involved, reach out to James Bethel today and let him know. Our spring auction is coming up and if you’d like to help, we’d love to have you! We have a wide variety of opportunities available.

There is always a place for you at Lesley Ellis.

Cabin Fever!

January 23, 2024

This morning I looked at the thermometer outside my kitchen window and it said 16 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s right,16! Now that’s cold. This time of year we can all get a little bit restless. As winter weather is upon us, children spend more time stuck indoors and they can get that cooped-up, bored, restless feeling we call “cabin fever.”

As an antidote to that, next week we have our annual Cabin Fever winter celebration. Each day has a theme, and everyone who participates that day will earn one raffle ticket. As an added bonus, if a parent or other caregiver comes into school and participates, students will earn an extra raffle ticket! The winner of the raffle will get four tickets to Water Country, Six Flags, Coco Key, Water Wizz, Canobie Lake Park, Edaville USA, or Storyland.

Cabin Fever launches with Crazy Hat Monday. Next is a chance to wear school colors or your Lesley Ellis Gear for School Spirit Tuesday. Mismatch outfits on Mismatch Wednesday is always a winner. On Sports Thursday students can celebrate their favorite sports team or sport activity. And finally everybody’s favorite … Pajama Friday!

So let’s go Lesley Ellis. Let’s kick cabin fever to the curb and have some fun!

Cornish Game Hens

January 16, 2024

Last week I heard a Lesley Ellis parent telling a prospective parent that Lesley Ellis has an integrated curriculum. “I think it means they study the same thing in multiple subjects.” That response reminded me how educators share a unique language, and too often we assume everyone knows what we mean. An integrated curriculum brings together branches of broader subjects and teaches students using the connections between them. Teachers plan the subject connections intentionally.

To better explain this, our Grade 5 students are just finishing up a great example of an integrated curriculum unit. Fifth graders have been studying ancient Egypt and learned about the fascinating process of mummification. The students mummified Cornish game hens! Beginning in the science lab, they first washed the hens and then sprayed them with alcohol. Next they dried the hens and using mathematical ratios, packed them in a mixture of salt, baking powder, and baking soda called natron, which is the same process (and mixture) the ancient Egyptians used. The hens have been mummifying for about six weeks, and the students have had to regularly change the mixture. Finally, last Friday they brushed the mixture off one final time and carefully wrapped the hens in linen.

At the same time, our students have been working in art to build sarcophagi, coffins, amulets, and other artifacts for the afterlife. They also made funerary masks for their hens in collaborative groups and will be using their presentation skills to share with their parents today.

So here they were studying history using science, math and art. Isn’t that cool?! This is just a fantastic example of an integrated curriculum in action. So now you can speak educator speak too! You can tell all your friends what the integrated curriculum is like at Lesley Ellis. And maybe you can even stop by Grade 5 and take a look at their mummies!

This is why our kids love school. It’s why I love it, too:)


Snow Day!

January 9, 2024

No. Not today. And it looks like the next couple of storms will be rain. But I suspect we’ll have at least one snow day this year. Do you remember being a kid and that feeling you’d get at hearing those two magical words — ”snow day?” Few things can be more exciting than waking up to seeing your school on the “closed” list. For parents, too, the excuse to stay home and spend time with family is often a welcome respite from the daily grind, even though the driveway and sidewalks need to be shoveled.

Snow days are Mother Nature’s way of slowing life down for kids, parents and educators. For a generation of students whose daily schedule is generally highly structured, snow days are a welcome surprise with time to just be; an escape from electronic devices and responsibilities; an opportunity to engage in play that’s beneficial to both minds and bodies. Snow forts, snowball contests, baking treats, snow people, hot cocoa, sledding, reading for fun, playing board games, and catching snowflakes on your tongue – Lesley Ellis values all of it. When all is said and done, students will remember an unexpected day off over a missed science or history lesson and the inherent value snow days bring far outweighs the missed day of school in the grand scheme of a curriculum.

A snow day helps keep some of the magic in the school year and our daily lives. So, yes, it can be a scheduling challenge; yes, plowing our driveways at school is costly and yes …. we need the simple joy of a snow day more than ever.

I’m rooting for at least one little weekday snowstorm. What will your family do with yours?

Tuition Assistance

January 2, 2204

This is the busiest time of year for our enrollment office. Acceptances are soon headed out and families are making their school decisions. These are huge decisions because it isn’t just about where your child will go to school, but also where family’s community will be. It is about who your children’s friends will be and who yours will be too. These decisions will impact the lives of families for years to come.

Then too there are the financial implications for families when they decide to make these important investments in their children’s education and in creating their own intentional community. Tricia, Andy, and I often get asked questions about tuition assistance as you refer your friends and neighbors to us. So I wanted to give you a thumbnail sketch of our process.

Our goal is to ensure that each student has the opportunity to be part of a rich, joyful learning experience. For that reason, our tuition covers the following at no additional cost to our families:

·   Books

·   Materials and supplies

·   Resident artists program

·   All athletic programs                      

At Lesley Ellis our intent is also to ensure that all ranges of socio-economic diversity are represented in our student body. For over 70 years, Lesley Ellis has been committed to providing an excellent progressive education to students and families. We are sensitive to each family’s financial needs, and strive to meet them whenever possible to strengthen our commitment to all kinds of diversity. Our tuition assistance program, based purely on financial need, is one of the most robust in the Boston metropolitan area touching over one fourth of our families. This helps make a Lesley Ellis School education affordable to many qualified students who could not otherwise join our school community. So you need never be afraid of referring a family that you aren’t sure can cover the tuition. The same holds true if your financial circumstances have changed.

At Lesley Ellis we believe there is value in a learning community that looks like the world. We are exceptionally proud of our tuition assistance program. It benefits our whole community.

Evening of the Arts

December 12, 2023

One of the highlights of the Lesley Ellis experience for many of our families is our arts program. We believe that exposure to and interaction with the arts is equally as important as reading, writing, and math. Art in all of its forms can be a lifelong gateway to joy, empathy, and empowerment. Arts education teaches students to explore the world and their place in it. Through the arts, students develop their imagination; they have the opportunity to creatively envision a better future for themselves and others; and they are given the chance to express their unique vision. The arts offer students another space for expression and emotional connection beyond a traditional classroom setting.

Each year, our Lesley Ellis Evening of the Arts celebrates our young artists and showcases the beauty and joy of our students’ expression. This year Evening of the Arts is happening twice! The first time is our Elementary Evening of the Arts tomorrow from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m., and the second is our Middle School Evening of the Arts for Grades 5 – 8 on January 25th from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.

Splitting Evening of the Arts this way allows space for more people to attend. Bring friends and family members to share the evening. All are welcome. We will also livestream both events for far-flung families so they can easily be included.

Art is an essential building block in our educational philosophy. Art provides students an important space for expression and emotional co

Kindergarten Connections

December 5, 2023

Today and a couple of days next week our PreK and TK children will enjoy their first Kindergarten visit days!

There is a great deal of research that bears out what we as adults and educators intuitively know — that Kindergarten is crucial to a child’s development. As children grow and develop, they become more curious about the world around them – and are driven to learn and explore. Kindergarten is an important time to constantly support their curiosity by exposing them to as many learning opportunities as possible. A creative Kindergarten experience has been shown to stimulate growth and brain development whereas a pleasant but repetitious environment can inhibit growth. Children who experience an exciting transition to Kindergarten are more likely to feel motivated to learn and be eager to go to school.

At Lesley Ellis our teachers guide children in experiential learning projects, supporting them to become active thinkers and investigators in their own learning.

Kindergarten is the time that children are exposed to the “big ideas” like written expression, artistic communication and the language of calculation. Lessons are designed so that children have multiple opportunities to hear other people’s ideas, perspectives, and thought processes. This provides children with the concept that there are multiple ways to think through an idea and encourages creative thinking and problem solving. The ability to learn at one’s own pace, to explore unique interests, and the emphasis on whole-child development (academic, physical, social, and emotional) characterizes joyful learning at Lesley Ellis–and it all starts in Kindergarten.

Kindergarten is a big big deal around here and it all starts today. I can’t wait!

Giving Tuesday!

November 28, 2023

Giving Tuesday is here at last! This is one of my favorite days of the year. It’s when Lesley Ellis Annual Giving kicks off every year, and it always astonishes me and warms my heart to see in such a tangible way how much we all love this school.

At Lesley Ellis Annual Giving makes our enrichment programming happen. Our tuition covers the basics. That’s because just about 75% of our budget is taken up by salaries and benefits. So Annual Giving is how we provide such a dramatic breadth of enrichment programming even in our intentionally small school. Every day is filled with discovery, creativity, and reflection in the Lesley Ellis art studio and makerspace. Our students are weavers, painters, architects, designers, sculptors, photographers, potters, and printmakers. We focus on creativity, confidence, collaboration, communication and community.

Music is a comprehensive program that begins in early childhood and extends through middle school. Performing arts at Lesley Ellis is designed to provide an expansive collection of experiences before a variety of audiences, with a continuous focus on helping each child gain confidence important in all settings. Students in varied grade levels spend time singing, drumming, making and playing instruments of their own, composing music, dancing, script writing, choreographing, storytelling, acting, and more. Success is measured not merely in the mastery of specific skills, but, more importantly, in how much confidence each child has gained.

Whether it’s a field trip to an art museum opened especially for our kids or visiting artists teaching special clay techniques or pointillism…it could be new ukuleles or recorders…maybe it’s equipment for a new program like tennis or tchoukball … all of our enrichment programming is made possible by Annual Giving.

Today is Giving Tuesday. Won’t you join me and support this wonderful school that we all love so much? We need everybody.

We Need You!


November 21, 2023

In our country today, and around the world, we’re feeling less and less together. You turn on the news … you read the newspaper … and too often there are people who are focusing on what’s different about us, rather than what we share. People are yearning for empathy. It can be hard to talk about the huge issues at stake. We see so much pain and suffering and our own beliefs and values are challenged. Too often people live and work in their bubble. They only associate or work with people who are like them and share their views. So there’s a lack of authentic dialogue.

But we can disagree without being disagreeable. When you have empathy, I think you work not only to understand other people’s positions but to appreciate why they feel the way they do. That doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with them, but it means that you better understand them and can work with them.

At Lesley Ellis our sense of community and belonging is central to who we are. We believe in conversation, connection and collaboration. We all share a desire for our children to excel. I think the more we know one another and appreciate one another, the more we can collaborate effectively. And the result is our children do better.

Fostering empathy means asking more questions and listening more. This is the pathway to deeper connection and thoughtful dialog. By modeling empathy for our children we will wind up making ourselves feel better, too.


November 14, 2023

What did you think of when you read that word? Did your career come immediately to mind? Or did you think of your family first? Was money a factor in your first thought or was it more about the time you get to spend doing what you love? For me it’s about supporting people and being in relationship. If we can work through something together, then I feel successful.

There is no right answer of course. Each of us must define success for ourselves.

We want children to see many paths toward success, even as the world around them defines success ever more narrowly. Frank Bruni, author of Where You Go Is Not Who You Will Be, noted that the most significant predictor of success is engagement. No test, no grade, no school predicts success more than a child’s participation in activities in a deep and meaningful way. Princeton conducted a study and identified their alumni who were most engaged in their careers. They then went back and looked at those alumni’s college applications to see if there was a common denominator. There was. It was not grades; it was not scores; it was not the high school they attended. Surprisingly, the common denominator was a letter of recommendation written by a teacher who wrote about how the student had been a vital member of the school community.

We are and will always remain a school where children can get involved. The gift of a small school is that participation is a given. We are a school that works to raise children up, intentionally and systematically, in the cause of building meaningful lives.

Let’s start talking about all kinds of success. Our children need to hear us talk about the variety of ways we define success so that they can find a path to their own meaningful life. Whether its reading one hundred books a year or creating a warm loving home, whether it’s learning a new sport or supporting democracy at a polling place … there are lots of ways to be successful. I challenge you to share a success with a child this week and hopefully they will share one of their own.

Middle School

October 31, 2023

Those two words make some adults shudder. Middle school years can be a messy time, and if you are one of those folks who went to a large junior high like I did, you may have some resulting scars.

At Lesley Ellis we LOVE our middle schoolers!

Our middle school is an intentional, comprehensive educational experience aimed at the unique needs of our tweens. Research underscores the vital educational foundation of the middle school years. It is the time when healthy, positive habits and skills begin to form which have a direct correlation to performance, success, and happiness in high school, college, and the workforce. The Association for Middle Level Education recently completed a twenty-year study looking at middle school models, those that worked and those that didn’t. They identified five hallmarks of successful middle schools. Successful schools are: responsive, empowering, equitable, challenging and engaging.

Does that sound like any school you know?

The Lesley Ellis middle school team partners with families to help students learn how to manage their assignments, materials, classwork and homework. Scaffolded opportunities for safe risk-taking help build intellectual and emotional muscles.

Additionally, our anti-bias curriculum is front and center in middle school and a pillar on which many units are designed. At this time in our nation’s history it’s more important than ever that our students learn how to think critically and compassionately. The LES anti-bias curriculum is the compass that guides our community and our middle schoolers become our anti-bias leaders.

Our support for developing effective executive function ability in all students helps them adjust to increased transitions throughout their day and to the differently structured schedule, assignments, and homework. Google Classroom is introduced in middle school as the primary online organizational tool teaching students an autonomous support system. Our program is designed to develop foundational peer leadership skills as we encourage students to try on different roles in collaborative group settings.

The middle school years also often accompany students’ growing curiosity of alcohol and drugs.  Research shows that if young people avoid alcohol and drugs in their middle school years they are ten times less likely to become substance abusers later in life (Clark, Parker, & Lynch, 1999). Our intentionally small, nurturing model at Lesley Ellis is one of our greatest strengths both academically and socially. We are a safe and joyful community that is inclusive and engaging. Every student is seen and known.

At Lesley Ellis we don’t just get middle schoolers, we love them! And it turns out that may be the most important quality of all.

Getting Gritty

October 24, 2023

Education experts define grit as persistence, determination and resilience; it’s the special sauce that drives one student to practice shooting baskets or a new painting technique or working on their science fair project for hours on end, while another equally talented student quits after their first disappointing setback.


“This quality of being able to sustain your passions, and also work really hard at them, over really disappointingly long periods of time, that’s grit,” says Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book,  Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Duckworth says her research shows grit is actually a better predictor of success than IQ or other measures when it comes to achievements as varied as graduating from West Point or winning the National Spelling Bee.


At Lesley Ellis we deeply believe in the value of safe risk-taking. Our classroom culture strives to be one where risk-taking, even struggle, can be valued every bit as much as getting the right answer. This is true in the academic arena and in social emotional learning as well. Mistakes and even failures are a valuable part of learning and success. Turns out that builds this thing we call grit.

Our partnership with families asks that you support learning how to get grittier at home, too. When our kids struggle to solve a problem or answer a question, it is natural to want to swoop in and offer hints. Instead, letting them wrestle for a little while and experience those hard moments of struggle and unknowing help children get comfortable with struggle, so they see it as just a normal part of learning. If our students graduate from here with nothing but success, then we have failed them, because they haven’t learned how to respond to frustration and failure. No matter how talented a student is, eventually they will hit a wall. We all do. That’s when we learn to pick ourselves up and start all over again. That’s the pathway to success.


If you haven’t already, I urge you to read Duckworth’s book Grit. Let’s think about ways we can teach our kids and ourselves to get gritty!


Troubling World Events

October 17, 2023

The events in recent days feel overwhelming and heartbreaking. The question for educators and families is how do we talk to our children about what is happening in a way they can understand when we the adults are potentially struggling to understand the complexity of it ourselves. With the ubiquitous access to social media, many young people are aware of events and are thinking about them in complex ways that may be under informed. How should we, as the educated loving adults in their lives, help our kids navigate these painful experiences?

Dr Jamie Howard, a senior clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, told “CBS Mornings” on Thursday that children under the age of 10 or so should be protected and shielded as much as possible from the violent imagery. “This is too much for their development to make sense of,” said Howard. She also talked about children older than 10. Howard suggested starting with open-ended questions, such as, “What have you been hearing about?” She recommends starting small and not delving into a lot of details when approaching children about the topic.

Often parents wait, believing that their children will start a conversation when they feel ready. That can be a mistake, said Waheeda Saif, a program coordinator at Riverside Trauma Center in Dedham. In a recent interview on NPR she said “We don’t want to wait for our kids to come to us.” Saif suggests starting the conversation. “’Have you heard what’s been going on in the world?’ ‘Have you heard anything about what’s going on in Israel and Palestine?’ Then just see what they say, and take it from there.

We can also remind them that if they hear anything or have questions they can always come and talk to us, and we will answer their questions when we know the answers or look for them together when we don’t. With older children it’s good to do research together, previewing and avoiding video and media that shows human violence which we know from the research can be traumatic and especially hard for them. The Lesley Ellis antibias approach encourages us to remember when we’re talking about an individual or group, that we’re not making a general statement about all people, such as all Jewish people or all Palestinian people.

Our children are good citizens. They are the activists of the world’s future. These conversations can be profound, as can the learning that we all do together in this moment. The human condition is one of both joy and pain, and at Lesley Ellis we are committed to being present for both and for one another.



Intellectual Curiosity

October 10, 2023

Is reading the Sunday papers still a thing? It always was in my house growing up, and I still love the experience of reading the news. Today I was reading an article about a new book by an author who was examining the Bronte sisters. The article compared readers who really love Bronte to Jane Austen fans. This reminded me of a friend who was recently rereading Wuthering Heights. He looked up the estate named in the novel and found that it was based on one owned by a nineteenth century female landowner. This was a rarity and it turned out that HBO had even made a television show about her which he and his wife subsequently recommended to me.

All of this is to say that when we read one thing it inevitably leads to the next and that is the whole idea behind intellectual curiosity. It happens to all of us. So the next time you are reading the news (however you get your news) and one point leads you to investigate another, share that experience with your children. This is a great way to model the lifelong learning we so fervently believe in here at Lesley Ellis.



Partnering With Lesley Ellis

October 3, 2023

Here at Lesley Ellis we talk often about our educational partnership with our families. That connection is one of the most effective ways to enrich student learning and wellbeing, as well as support and empower positive parent engagement. We know that parents and families are the first and continuing educators of their children. We also know that learning is lifelong and occurs in multiple settings beyond school and the classroom. Partnerships flourish when they are student focused. It’s why we share our students’ successes and challenges. It’s why we come together at events like Curriculum Night last week or class coffees this week. And it’s why we support our school financially. There are two main ways this occurs.

Each year everyone in the Lesley Ellis community is asked to contribute to the annual fund. Did you know that tuition doesn’t cover all of our financial needs? Over seventy percent of our budget is devoted to faculty and staff salaries alone. That doesn’t leave much of a surplus, so our annual giving fund is how we make our enrichment programming robust.

Current families are also asked once during their Lesley Ellis journey to support capital  projects. This is how we make our hopes and dreams come true. Families who came before yours made this school building possible. Our families built our makerspace and our outdoor classroom that our children enjoy today. And it is the families who are here now who are building our new performance center and library.

In the coming weeks Ellen Stimson and I will meet with families so they can plan their giving over the next several years so that we can complete these exciting projects this year. When we call please make time to sit down and dream and plan with us. This is an exciting time at our school, and we look forward to partnering with you to make our plans a reality!

In partnership



September 26. 2023

Is there any word that brings up more strong, identifiable feelings than this one? You may have fond memories of doing a history project or practicing algebra with a parent. Maybe it’s a diorama for social studies that stands out or a monthly book report that you read to your family. Or maybe homework was a hard time and it was often (always?) a scramble. At Lesley Ellis we believe in the value of homework, and we also believe in the joyful homelife of our families. Here are a few benefits of homework.

Homework teaches students how to problem solve. It also provides a more private opportunity to review class material. It’s a chance for parents to observe what is being taught in school and to partner with their children in their school experience. Homework teaches students how to take responsibility for their part in the educational process. At Lesley Ellis we develop students who are lifelong learners and who have the confidence and curiosity to pursue and build knowledge in all facets of their lives. Homework cultivates these mindsets and habits. Indeed, when teachers don’t assign homework, it reflects an unconscious belief that kids can’t learn without adults. Kids internalize this message and come to believe they need their teacher to gain knowledge. In reality, they are more than capable of learning all sorts of things on their own. Discovering this fact can be both incredibly exciting and deeply empowering for students. Our expert teachers take great care with the design of our homework assignments, ensuring they are engaging and relevant to what takes place in class.

At Lesley Ellis we believe homework should be an empowering and worthwhile experience. We also know that there are times as your child grows and progresses when homework needs to shift. If at any time this year homework in your family is not working as well as you wish it was, reach out to your child’s teacher(s) and have a conversation. There may be supports or scaffolding that might be important to consider for your child and your family.

At Lesley Ellis education is a partnership–whether its homework or anything else–we’re in this together.

Welcome Home!

September 12, 2023

September is just about my favorite time of the year. I love that our hallways are once again filled with the happy sounds of children. The jumble of lunchboxes and backpacks, sneakers and notebooks are once again piled on tables and spilling over. The cacophony and mess are all part of the joy of September. We’ve missed your kids.

At Lesley Ellis children are at the center of all we do. We believe in the importance of celebrating childhood as well as affirming and challenging students as they develop during these important early childhood, elementary and middle school years. It is fitting that we meet here at our schoolhouse on our beautiful green acres in historic Arlington, the birthplace of the first children’s library in 1807. Lesley Ellis is a home away from home. We value every voice. We nurture belonging so that each student can feel confident in their identity and advocate for themselves and others. We work to create equitable spaces and structures so that all students have access to teachers, resources, challenging learning, and opportunities to feel appreciated, affirmed, and celebrated. Our students are well-rounded, and we encourage them to bring their full selves to their school life. We honor the joys of learning and instill the importance of kindness and compassion at each developmental stage, from our youngest voices in preschool to our leaders in eighth grade.

The Lesley Ellis journey is an expansive and joyful one, and I am delighted and proud to share our school with you. It’s going to be a great year. I can just feel it. Can’t you?




The Halls Are Alive....

March 1, 2022
If Julie Andrews were a teacher those unforgettable lyrics would surely have been…“The halls are alive with the sound of music …” And in that spirit I’m happy to announce that after two years, it’s finally happened. Live performances at Lesley Ellis School are back. Tonight, tomorrow evening and Thursday evening, our fifth grade, sixth grade, and seventh and eighth graders respectively will perform live once more! Seating is limited to two family members per student (live streaming will be available, see below), but We. Are. Back!

This is a huge step for our school. At Lesley Ellis performing arts is a critical component of our pedagogy. Our performing arts program provides an expansive collection of experiences before a variety of audiences, with a continuous focus on helping each child gain confidence important in all areas of life. Students in various grade levels spend time singing, drumming, playing instruments of their own, composing music, dancing, choreographing, storytelling, acting … the list goes on.

Success is measured not merely by the mastery of specific skills, but, more importantly, by the confidence and growth each child experiences. The arts offer each child an opportunity for individual expression. Performance offers students a unique platform for expressing their knowledge of other, more academic subjects, in creative ways. The exploration, curiosity, and confidence gained through the arts has a direct correlation on academic success as well. Because the arts address multiple intelligences, they provide a gateway for students to enter academic areas that they may have otherwise found difficult. Drumming and math are friendly cousins. Acting makes history come alive. Our arts curriculum is treated with the same rigor as our academic program.

We are thrilled to be performing once again.

And we can’t wait to welcome you to our halls once again.

Antibias Open House

February 1, 2022
Calling ALL Families!!!!!

The first annual Lesley Ellis Anti-bias Open House
Saturday, February 12
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Everyone in our community – every student, teacher, and family is invited to create a project at home that expresses the themes of our foundational anti-bias environment here at Lesley Ellis.

Our theme for the open house is What Does Anti-bias Mean To Me?

Your family might write and record an anti-bias song. Perhaps there’s an engineer at home just itching to help make a really cool diorama. All of our Lesley Ellis artists could get out their paints, pastels, chalk or crayons and make a picture illustrating what anti-bias means to them. Any comic book illustrators want to make us a comic? Poets? How about a poem? Writers? You might want to write an essay or a short story. Lesley Ellis scientists could organize a social experiment with a survey and post the results at the open house. The possibilities are endless. But we need everybody!

Students will come home with an orange card this week. On it please print the unique title of your project and the names of the project contributors. List moms, dads, sisters, brothers, friends, Lesley Ellis students, teachers, etc. List everyone who worked on the project. We will post those cards next to each project. Projects are due at school on Wednesday February 9. Student ambassadors and faculty and staff will set up the show after school on Friday, February 11.

Then what?


Come to the show on Saturday, February 12, between 10:00 a.m. and noon, at school to see your student’s and all of their friends and family’s presentations! There will be hot chocolate. Our new family applicants for next year will be invited, too, so you’ll have a chance to meet them and encourage them to join our welcoming community.


Come one. Come all. We can’t wait to see your projects and come together in person to celebrate the warm, diverse community that is Lesley Ellis.

Caring Community Amidst the Pandemic

January 4, 2022
I had originally hoped to keep this space free of pandemic news. I figure we all get plenty of that everywhere else. But this morning as reports of positive cases at schools across our region are popping up all over my email I feel compelled to talk a little bit about the latest news, even though we had only one positive pool yesterday. (We have had 7 positive cases the past two weeks, which equals the number of positive cases we had between September and December 17.) At Lesley Ellis, community is often cited as one of the reasons families choose to come to our school. It is that community we will depend on in the coming weeks to keep our children, their parents, and their grandparents as safe as possible.

Back in June we all felt like this pandemic was ending. There was a kind of euphoria as we toasted in cafes and reunited with friends. “We’re on the other side,” was something I heard and most likely something I said back then.

And yet here we are.

Dr Michael Siegle an epidemiologist and researcher at Tufts is warning that Omicron could be disastrous for our community and our “already packed hospitals.” Morale is low among health care workers who are facing yet another season of COVID. “A dashboard tracking hospital capacity across the country shows Massachusetts is on an “unsustainable” path as COVID-19 cases spike to record-breaking levels.”

Lesley Ellis needs to do its part. The health of our families and staff is our number one priority. We will get vaccinated, test, mask, and social distance. We have tools we didn’t have even a year ago to mitigate the risk in our community.

One thing you can do which will help immensely is to refrain from congregant settings with your children for the month of January. Many scientists predict that this variant will subside toward the end of the month. Please avoid activities such as indoor birthday parties, sleep overs, and all indoor multi-family gatherings. We’d hoped that the vaccines would permit us to return to normalcy. But this Omicron variant is hyper contagious and our littles cannot yet be vaccinated. Further, the vaccine breakthrough rates are much higher with this variant and while that may not mean anything more than cold-like symptoms for most of us, we don’t know what it could mean to the person we infect. So let’s do our part. Health care workers need our help in slowing the infection rate of the virus.

Data from countries who are ahead of us show that this variant won’t last long and we have the ability to help.
I know this community and I know we will help.  We can do this.

Let Your Light Shine

December 14, 2021
Despite the long, dark days we are all currently experiencing (both literally and perhaps even metaphorically…) we will be moving back toward the light. December 21 is the winter solstice, marking the longest night and shortest day of the year, as well as the official beginning of winter. Winter solstice happens when the earth’s axis tilts the furthest away from the sun, giving less than twelve hours of daylight to all locations north of the equator.
Although it’s the day of greatest darkness, the solstice is a time of great hope for the sun’s rebirth, as we start to move towards the summer solstice once again. We get more sun every day from December 22 through late June. For centuries, the winter solstice has been marked with festivals and feasts by people around the world and this year, led by Jeanette Keller, Lesley Ellis will join with our own celebration. Please join us at school on Tuesday, December 21, at 4:30pm. We will have storytelling with Big Joe, hot cocoa, activities and lots and lots of light. Bring your lights and lanterns of any kind as Lesley Ellis celebrates winter solstice 2021.

I don’t know if the return of the light has ever felt more relevant. Take a minute today to think about how much more you know about yourself on this solstice than you did a year ago. What you have learned that you can do. How much more you know about our shared responsibility to each other. Celebrate how far you have come individually and how much we have accomplished collectively. I hope you can come on Tuesday!


Why We Give

December 7, 2021
By now you have all gotten our Annual Giving letter. I wanted to take a moment to tell you why I think this is so important. I often say that Lesley Ellis is like a family. Our students are challenged, tended, and nurtured. They have a close learning cohort where they are known and appreciated. So, when you make your gift, please take a moment to think about what you are feeling most thankful for … hopefully Lesley Ellis is at the top of that list. You and your child are always at the top of ours.

Your gift strengthens this community. It supports our faculty and students, our academic, art, and athletic programs, and our extracurriculars.

The Lesley Ellis community is an intentional one, created by all of us. Together we support and nurture, bond and celebrate, cultivate and care.

Thank you for your generosity and support. Every sized gift makes a difference.



November 23, 2021
This time of year many of us turn to family traditions. For some families it might be a big holiday with lots of extended family back at the table. They might spend hours reading cookbooks for new recipes to try. Others might have a few friends or immediate family only. For others it might be take out and a movie marathon. Game nights sometimes make it onto the list. Whatever your tradition I hope everyone has lots of fun, calm, and some sweet spots to savor over the coming days.

I will be traveling to be with my ninety-seven-year-old mom. My daughter will meet me there and we will eat our family dinner together while we try to talk mom into playing the piano. For sure there will be a game night tucked in there somewhere.
And one thing is certain, even after the year we have just shared, that this is always a good time to take stock and remember all we are grateful for. There have been many losses, but I still have much gratitude. I am so grateful for my family. My granddaughters, like my daughters before them, have brought me a new kind of deep pleasure. And Lesley Ellis. I am lucky to be around happy children every day and expert teachers who love their work. This community of families hold each other up. We have relied on one another during this pandemic. We have cheered each other on and just been present when that was all there was to do. There is no better school family than ours and I am ever grateful to be a part of it.
Enjoy your time off, and we’ll see you all back here next week.

Robust Enrichment & Rigorous Academics

November 16, 2021
Last week anyone visiting classrooms would have seen students exploring linear equations on one end of the building and reading Moon Over Manifest (Vanderpool) on the other. Math and literature. Two of the things we think of first when we think about why education matters. And you would have seen one history class prepping for an essay to write this week on why ancient Sumaria actually was a civilization. If you went downstairs you would have heard the sounds of the wind ensemble coming out of the music room and pounding near makerspace. You would have seen three and four year olds playing with manipulatives and building their own mathematics foundation through play. That’s the beginning. Seeing the span of what happens at Lesley Ellis throughout the grades is quite an experience.

At Lesley Ellis we instill curiosity, mastery, and independence. We encourage passionate expertise, confident self-expression, academic stamina, grounded core values, and supportive exploration. Our small class sizes enable our teachers to know all students as individuals, including the ways they learn best. While mastering class content and pursuing potential interests, students become more creative, passionate, well-rounded, self-motivated, ethical, and insightful. As they bump into unexpected challenges and take risks in science class or on the stage, Lesley Ellis students build tenacity and resilience. They become confident leaders and contributors both inside and outside of the classroom.

It’s no wonder that our students’ academic achievements match or exceed those of any school in the Boston metro area. Lots of schools say they have rigorous academics. Lesley Ellis means it.

Lunch With Deanne

November 9, 2021

Do you have a favorite day of the week? Maybe it’s related to a family activity or date night. Or maybe, like me, yours is related to a favorite part of your job. Here’s mine. About once a week I get to read to one of our early childhood classrooms. Can I just say … it is always my favorite part of every week. No matter what else is happening, for 15 minutes I get to do silly voices and read about bears living their best furry lives. In front of me are a group of small happy faces waiting to hear what happened to Little Bear. These kids know the secret of life. They live in the moment. They don’t care that the car needs an oil change, or that there is a big pile of paperwork waiting for my attention. They just hear “storytime,” find their spot, and show up with a sense of happy expectation.

Every time I leave storytime I have a renewed commitment to paying attention to what is happening right now and to holding an expectation of goodness. I wonder, too, how I can inject more activities like this into my week that are energizing and such a happy boost. This week I finally figured it out — “Lunch With Deanne.” Over the next several weeks I’ll be taking turns in our elementary and middle school classroom having a pizza lunch with all of our new students. It’s a great opportunity to get to know our new students better (and for them to get to know me), answer questions, and share stories.

Last week I started with our new kindergartners. I brought along a puppet just in case our conversation lagged. I needn’t have worried. We chatted nonstop, and I learned about frogs and special peanut butter. This cinches it. I have the best job in the world! And I’m looking forward to meeting with and learning all about the rest of the new students that are now part of our Lesley Ellis family.