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.

2022 – 2023 Notebook

Check-in Conferences
September 21, 2022

This week we have begun meeting with real experts about our students. These experts know our students’ learning styles. They understand deeply what motivates them and what makes them feel anxious or worried. We have found experts who know the kids’ favorite foods, what they dream about, and what their first ever favorite toy was. Lesley Ellis has found the best experts in the whole world. Who are these brilliant, highly trained, insightful, intuitive people? You! Our parents, of course.

You know your child better than anyone. We intend to get to know them, too, as they grow and change during their Lesley Ellis journey. Later we will report to you about what we are learning and the strategies we are using to teach your children. But no one knows them better than you do. We are deeply grateful for the time you are giving us as we start this journey together. You are your child’s loving advocate and our partner. We look forward to hearing all of the insights and wisdom you have about your child as we embark on check-in conferences. Your thoughts and perspectives will inform our planning and our teaching.

We appreciate your partnership.

 

Lesley Ellis — An  Open Door Culture
September 13, 2022

The halls are alive with the happy sounds of children and it is about time! A school is not a school until there are backpacks and new sneakers, laughter and learning, singing and shouting, even running and yes, love filling the space. It’s just not the same without your wonderful children and all of you. It’s been terrific to see everyone in the building this year. As you know there have been a few changes to how we come in but make no mistake We Want You In!

Parents are our partners and we love having you in the school. Anytime. The changes are simple. We don’t have door codes anymore. This came as the result of our safety and security review that we conducted this summer with the Arlington police department. To enter the school for any reason at any time you must use the front door (Winter Street) and be buzzed in. If you do stop by during non-arrival or pickup times, please check in at the main office, say hello, and grab a visitor sticker. (Clubhouse pickup – no sticker needed.) Your child’s safety is our first priority.  But a close second is our school/family partnership.  I know some of you who have been coming inside for many years might have a favorite door.  And maybe it isn’t the front door. You might also think that you can just run in on someone else’s buzz. After all we do know you.

But no. These simple precautions done the same way every single time by every single person will make our school more secure. Which is a priority for us and I’m sure for you as well.

So come on in!  We want you inside with us again seeing and loving the school after such a long break. I know I can trust that all of you will follow our new entrance procedures.

See you at school ….

Warmly,

Deanne

School Year Resolutions
September 7, 2022

New Year’s Eve may get all of the attention. It has the ball drop in Times Square and all the parties and glitter. But for many of us teachers, parents, and kids the start of school is the REAL new year. There is just something about getting a brand new notebook, all those new pens and sharpened pencils that puts us in the new year frame of mind. So why not kick it off with school year resolutions? In much the same way that resolutions help us shape our year with plans and goals in January, school resolutions can help you and your student make this the best school year ever.

Here are some ideas to help you get started.

Read Aloud. How about a reading commitment? Being read to is a different intellectual activity than reading. This is good for kids whether they are three or thirteen. In a study by the Child Mind Institute 87% of older kids nine to fifteen who are read to even only once a week consistently rate themselves as happier and more content than kids who report never being read to.

Homework. Just the word sends chills down the spines of parents who have learned on Sunday night that there is a project due on Monday that includes something like building a flying buttress. This year how about a commitment to making homework fun? Homework gets its own space in your house. In that space there is cheering artwork that your family has made and favorite snacks that you only get in the Homework Corner. Bills get paid and history reports all get written in the Homework Corner. Celebrating homework and making it a regular part of your family life can change how you and your students see it.

Highs and Lows. This is an engaging dinner activity with kids. At supper everyone in the family tells their highs and lows from the day. In this gentle way you will learn where your child feels successful and where there may be challenges. Saying your own out loud may even help you pinpoint patterns too.

What are your family’s school year resolutions? Together, let’s make this a great school year.

Deanne’s Notebook Archives

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

Imagine

May 3, 2022

Have you heard all the buzz about our new performance center and library Things. Are. Happening. A team of faculty and I have been working with our architects, and we are hip deep in the process of getting architectural drawings, as well as raising the money we will need to build. We were thrilled when we moved from the Gibbs Building to our bigger permanent home here on Winter Street. We loved the big sunny classrooms and the opportunities for a makerspace and science lab. The only things we missed were our theater and the wonderful library space we had. But we will soon be missing them no more.

 

Our students begin appearing on stage when they are in Kindergarten. Now that we have parents back in the building some of you have experienced, for the first time since the pandemic, the beautiful self-confidence that our performances encourage in our students. We can’t wait to have a dedicated black box theater for this program.

 

And finally we will have our library back and better than ever. Libraries are more than houses for books. At Lesley Ellis diversity of thought and diversity of background are part of our library experience. Our school library will be the learning hub of our community. The architects are working now on a design that may even include a cozy fireplace for tucking in on a dreary day with a good book. As we imagine our future in these spaces the possibilities for enriching our students’ experience are dizzying.

 

We have been meeting with parents and lining up the pledges and gifts from our generous community that will make all of this possible, not just for our current students but for all the ones that come after. Soon you may get a call to have coffee so we can tell you all about the new programming coming your family’s way and also think together about our hopes and dreams. This is how we make them come true, and like all of you … I can’t wait!

Going Once Going Twice

April 5, 2022

Have you seen those cheery little crocuses popping up all over? They are like little purple smiles and not a minute too soon either. Crocuses 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 is the Do Not Miss! event of the year. We’re still virtual but that does not stop the fun. There are the annual tussles over classroom items and whose child will be Head for a day. Bring your drinks and snacks, we’ll provide music and fun!

But the real reason we come together is because of our community. Lesley Ellis is a family and families support one another. Did you know that nearly a quarter of our families receive some level of financial assistance? Making it possible for as many families to attend our school has always been a priority. The generosity expressed on auction night supports our financial assistance program and is foundational to helping us maintain our supportive and inclusive learning community.

So join us this Saturday evening at 6:30 p.m. online for a fun-filled night for the whole family as we raise money for a good cause. The motto of our financial assistance program is No Lion Left Behind.  Because … well you know why. We’re Lesley Ellis. We can do this!

See you Saturday,

Deanne

Deanne

Home Stretch

April 26, 2022

 

As we come back to school from our April break we also move into the final phase of our school year. I call this spring fever. As the weather starts to get warmer we all get a little restless as we wait, maybe not so patiently, for summer. Imagine you are a kid with a big project coming due; or a teacher with seventeen projects to grade and wiggly giggly students whose attention spans are shrinking; or a parent with camp forms still to fill out and work deadlines looming.

 

As someone who has experienced many springtimes at school I have a couple tips.

 

Reflect and Plan
Set aside time at home to talk about summer planning. In addition to books to be read, sleepovers to be had, vacations and camp to be signed up for, consider including a discussion about finishing the school year strong. Reflect on the gains your student has achieved this year and encourage them to finish the school year with the same focus and attention they have given to their school work all year long.

 

Be Transition Savvy
Your child may be feeling sad or scared about leaving their teacher(s). Be sensitive to their conversations about their teacher in the coming weeks. Remind them that teachers will be here next year and are always there to help them transition to their new grade. Memory books are a fun way to document thoughts and feelings about your child’s year. Students can have fun being creative while remembering the special times they’ve had. Make sure to leave a couple of blank pages for the fun things still to come!

 

The days are getting longer and the flowers are beginning to bloom. In this season of rebirth and renewal, be sure to take time out and soak it up. We’re all in the home stretch.

 

Warmly,
Deanne

After Lesley Ellis

March 29, 2022

Choosing the right school always feels important, and it can feel scary too. At Lesley Ellis we help all of our 8th graders transition to the secondary school that is the best for them. How do we do that? We have toured and interviewed every school in the Boston metro area and, of course, we know our students intimately. There is no such thing as the best school if it isn’t right for your child. Some of the top schools are very traditional and that’s a different experience from the progressive, hands-on approach students at Lesley Ellis have experienced. Some schools have beautiful diversity and equity programs. Some have excellent sports teams and extra-curricular opportunities. It’s all about fit. Many of our families rank what is most important to them in terms of academics, geography, cost, diversity, sports, extracurricular activities, and size. We work worth our families and students to determine what would be the best fit. It’s a wonderful opportunity for learning and growth. This year our students’ acceptances and/or schools they are attending include Arlington High School; Cambridge Rindge and Latin; Concord Academy; Beaver Country Day School, Buckingham, Brown & Nichols; Commonwealth School; Cambridge School of Weston; Chapel Hill Chauncy Hall; and Lexington High School.

The most important thing to remember as your own child begins to get ready for next steps is that there is no single perfect answer. There are many good choices, and Lesley Ellis students report that they feel prepared and ready to begin their secondary school careers.

Let’s give a big cheer for this year’s graduates. I can’t wait to see what you all do next!

Warmly,

Superheroes

March 22, 2022

When I was a child Superman and Batgirl were our superheroes. When you were young, it may have been Wonder Woman or the Incredible Hulk. But today’s superheroes are living among us. They wear lab coats instead of capes and carry gene editing tools instead of lasers. But make no mistake, the scientists who enabled the use of messenger RNA in the development of the COVID-19 vaccines changed the world. Their eureka moments saved countless lives, and their brilliant research holds enormous promise for future vaccines and therapeutics of all kinds. They are in fact real life superheroes with actual superpowers.

In 2020 when the pandemic was sweeping the world and killing millions of people, all the world’s best scientists began to work around the clock to solve the problem. Never in the history of medicine had an effective vaccine been developed in just a year, but we had all our best players out on the ice taking shots and science quite literally saved the world.

And in case we ever doubted it… science is cool.

Now the scientists of tomorrow, right here at Lesley Ellis, have kicked off our annual Lesley Ellis Science and Engineering Fair. The experiments have concluded, the builds completed, data has been analyzed, and the presentation boards are wrapped up. The fifth and sixth grade fairs were Friday and Monday, respectively, and the seventh and eighth grade fair is today and tomorrow. All of the projects will be on full display for parents and the rest of the school on April 5th.

At Lesley Ellis we believe in the power of science. STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) is the language of our new and rapidly changing digital economy. Students in the science fair begin with a hypothesis and conduct experiments that test their theory or solve engineering problems with a real-world build. Then they create a presentation to tell the rest of us about what they learned and discovered. In this way our students learn and practice hands-on scientific inquiry skills, research, reflection, and public presentation skills, which are intrinsic to our curriculum. The Science Fair is not just an extracurricular at Lesley Ellis because we already know the secret. Science. Is. Cool.

Getting Gritty

March 15, 2022

At this time of year students and teachers both begin to “feel the burn.” It’s the end of winter, not quite freezing and not quite warm. Spring seems close but only in fits and starts. Long-term projects are coming due and the academic pace quickens as teachers and students work to meet year end goals. This is when we need to call on our grit. Talent and skill count for a lot, but important successes rarely happen quickly or easily. We succeed because we seize the challenge, we face frustration and failure, yet we don’t quit. When we hit the wall we pick ourselves up; we try again and again.

At Lesley Ellis who you are is more important than what you know. To be clear, academics are foundational to the Lesley Ellis experience. Students need to know how to read, write, and calculate. Similarly, the arts and sports are key components to our students’ development. We need to exercise the creative sides of our brains, and our bodies need to move in fun and healthy ways. Our job as educators, however, extends beyond the classrooms and playing fields. We prepare our students to be quality individuals and successful adults. Grit is a key social-emotional success quality, and we intentionally teach it. We create space for safe risk-taking. When a student struggles to succeed we don’t make the work easier, but we help the student develop methods and skills to find their way through it. We want our students to experience “desirable difficulties” and this time of year typically affords many opportunities! When your student faces a challenge, we are here to listen and support them in uncovering and mastering the solution. With the proper scaffolding, guidance, and encouragement they gain perspective and learn the value and rewards of tenacity and grit.

Talking to Our Kids About Ukraine

March 8, 2022

Our world has entered another hard phase. This time it isn’t a global pandemic but war in Ukraine. Inevitably the news comes on when our children are around, and they can’t help but notice and ask questions. If war is a hard topic for adults to process, it is even harder for kids. At Lesly Ellis students, even our youngest, learn how to manage conflict and settle differences respectfully and peaceably. They surely wonder why adults can’t seem to do the same. Our job is to help them process what is happening and to make sure they feel safe.

Safety is the first priority with young children. When your young child asks you about the war it is important to be brief and clear. State your values and explain that they are safe. Child psychologist Harold Koplewicz at Child Mind Institute suggest something like, “There is a war and people are fighting over the right to be a country. War is never the answer but it is far away and we are safe. We can help by donating to families in Ukraine.” Koplewics reminds parents that It is also important to keep the door open. “You want to tell them that when they have more feelings or questions to let you know so you can talk it through. When opens the door wider than if. “

With older children parents might want to initiate the conversation. “What do you know about the war in Ukraine?” might be a place to start. Then you will have an opportunity to correct misconceptions and to talk about finding reliable news and information. It’s also a great time to start a dialog about your family’s values. “This is why politics are so important and why it always matters to vote” might be a message you want your child to have. “Our family can help families in Ukraine” might be another.

This war is upsetting to everyone including our kids. Let’s all make sure they know the adults in their lives are trusted sources of information, and that we will keep them safe. This is yet another hard thing. But at Lesley Ellis we have a strong encouraging community where we can all go for support. I feel very lucky to have all of you …

Warmly,
Deanne

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!

Deanne

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.

Warmly,
Deanne

Gratitude

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.
Warmly,
Deanne

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.