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
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 …
Deanne’s Notebook Archives
The following pieces appeared in Deanne’s Notebook beginning in 2018.
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.
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!
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.
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!!!!!
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.
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.
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.
Let Your Light Shine
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
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.
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
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.