About Marcy Jackson

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So far Marcy Jackson has created 134 blog entries.

A Progressive Viewpoint on Standardized Testing

One of the most common ways that people judge the strength of any school is by looking at their standardized test scores. Because St. Francis is a Progressive school, we choose not to publish our standardized test scores because scores alone are neither an effective or helpful way to measure the overall strength of a school nor the full abilities of its students. Research indicates that the two factors most highly correlated with standardized test scores are the income level and educational level of the parents. Therefore, most private schools, as well as public schools in wealthier districts, have high standardized test scores. Certainly this the case for St. Francis. However, because we don’t publish our scores, coupled with the fact that St. Francis students are generally so happy, people wonder if what we are doing really “works.”   I can assure you what we do in our classrooms works. And there is one type of standardized test score that we do publish because both the school’s teaching and the students’ efforts play significant roles in these scores: Advanced Placement (AP) exam scores. AP courses are overseen by the College Board (the same organization that administers the PSAT and SAT). AP teachers submit syllabi to the College Board each year, and the School also sends faculty to an intensive AP Institute for each subject before they teach that course. St. Francis offers the following AP classes regularly:  English Literature, US History, European History, Calculus AB and BC, Statistics, Computer Science Principles, Biology, Environmental Science, Chemistry, Physics C: Mechanics, Physics C: [...]

2019-10-11T16:16:28-04:00October 11th, 2019|Downtown|

The Future of Progressive Education

Last week I was fortunate to attend the biennial PEN Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. PEN stands for Progressive Education Network—a consortium of schools specifically dedicated to the tenets of Progressive education—to which we belong. I last attended a PEN Conference in 2007 in San Francisco, and it’s always an affirming gathering of like-minded educators with a plethora of workshops and keynote speakers all aligned around Progressive education.  This year’s conference theme was Educating for Democracy: Navigating the Current and Channeling the Future of Progressive Education. I attended an opening night panel of experts addressing the education gap students of color face in the Minneapolis public schools and heard other keynote speakers talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in Progressive schools. The provocative conversations forced us to examine ourselves closely. Fortunately, with the efforts we are making at St. Francis to address this topic (including having DEI trainers in the Middle School today), I felt good about the ongoing work St. Francis does with faculty and students to address this area; while recognizing how much work remains for us. I also attended workshops on mentoring new faculty in Progressive schools (and took away some ideas to bolster our program), how to handle difficult conversations in the classroom (which is another focus for us this year across divisions), and how to create a Progressive middle school musical. Couldn’t pass that one up! I was excited to see that much of what we have been doing for years is what they were suggesting.  I also had the privilege of visiting a [...]

2019-10-11T10:34:17-04:00October 11th, 2019|Goshen|

Nature Is Imperfectly Perfect

Recently, we have seen local excitement regarding the emergence of nature preschools, outdoor learning labs, and adding items from nature into early childhood classrooms. We are delighted to see other programs embrace nature-based practices into their curriculum. Providing children with nature-based learning opportunities has been an intentional component of our preschool program for over 12 years. When we give children opportunities to learn about trees and why they change colors, to understand insects and why they’re helpful, and to observe plant life through nature hikes and our garden, we are supporting their sense of wonder. We see children challenge their motor skills as they roll down the berm or duck under the branches of the bushes and trees. Nature is a place where children share their discoveries with one another, make choices about how they want to spend their time, and gain a greater sense of independence trying new things. Our natural playspace incorporates loose parts that children can manipulate and move around from one area to another. A few tools we use for open-ended play include tree cookies, logs for building, acorns, a portable slide, and shells. In one day our busy mud kitchen can be home base for making cakes, bad guy soup, sushi, or a place to access water for the flowers or sandpit. Providing a one-acre playspace where children can climb trees, observe birds flying overhead, catch the occasional frog in the sandpit, or simply roll down a hill are opportunities that we hope will inspire a connection to nature and our planet. Richard Louv, [...]

2019-10-11T10:33:28-04:00October 11th, 2019|Preschool|

Lunch, the Sign-Out System, and Safety

What do our high schoolers do for lunch? What does a sign-out system mean? How does it work? Do they just wander around downtown? Is it safe? These are all good questions that we want to answer. The idea behind our lunch and sign-out system is that going to high school downtown and using the city as our campus help teenagers learn how to navigate the world and become independent young adults. In four years (or three, or two, or one), you’ll be dropping your kids off on a college campus -- perhaps in a large city -- and expecting them to know how to handle it and navigate life. Our open campus provides students a small step toward that, with a big safety net underneath them. Our sign-out system is philosophically fundamental to the High School, because when we talk about being college preparatory, we mean students not only being academically prepared, but also becoming personally ready to be on their own in college and beyond. In addition to helping students learn to manage their time, the sign-out system and downtown location enable students to gain independence and take responsibility for themselves as they become familiar with and thrive in an urban environment. Many St. Francis students go on to colleges in bigger cities, and their understanding of how to handle themselves in those environments is extremely valuable. The possibility of purchasing lunch out also provides an opportunity for budget discussions between parents and students, another important topic during the high school years. We know that it can [...]

2019-10-08T15:30:12-04:00October 8th, 2019|Downtown|

How to Have Difficult Conversations

It is an understatement to say that we at St. Francis are big on conversations. From exchanges between four-year-old friends over a toy to lower school conflicts to middle school peer mediation to some of the bigger issues of high school, we are constantly sitting down with students to have conversations about the impact of their actions on themselves and others. In recent months, we’ve also been focused on the concept of finding ways to help students appropriately negotiate hard conversations with one another. We wanted to create a framework that is consistent with the school’s Mission and values, and a set of tools that students can use to be truly in dialogue with one another. Compassion is at the forefront of our Mission statement, which begins, “St. Francis School cultivates a joyful, compassionate, intellectual community.” Embedded as students are in a society of TV talking heads and blistering social media posts, they need this kind of education now more than ever. This work takes different approaches, of course, at the different levels.  At the High School, we recently unveiled a poster entitled “How to Have Difficult Conversations.” You can take a look at it here. Adapted from resources from Spalding University and the Teaching Tolerance website, the poster was introduced at a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training we brought outside facilitators in to do with our students two Fridays ago. Students then had the chance to break into advisee groups and do some practice work. “How to Have Difficult Conversations” is divided into two parts. The first [...]

2019-09-13T08:41:50-04:00September 13th, 2019|Downtown|

Facilitating Courageous Conversations

While traditionally schools focus on the “Three Rs” with academics as their main point of emphasis, at St. Francis, we are just as concerned with kids’ emotional intelligence. To that point, at our opening faculty meetings this summer, we decided that common language among the adults in the community around many topics was a wonderful strategy to ensure that our students hear the same approach and wording on important issues. A wonderful example of this is on the topic of having challenging conversations. And while we’ve always tried to help students in this area, we decided to research different developmental approaches for the various age groups and choose what makes the most sense for each. At the Lower School level, it’s a continuation of an approach counselor Julie Marks has championed that is known to the kids as “Power Talk.” Students learn to use phrases with “I messages” to frame their exchanges. Such as: “I feel hurt when you won’t share the Legos and end up sad.” It turns the conversation into how each individual feels rather than focusing on “what you did wrong.” Both students in a conflict use this framework, guided by an adult, to hopefully solve their problems. You can view the framework we use here. At the Middle School level, we looked at what the High School had adopted and decided it was entirely appropriate for our students, too. Adapted from resources from Spalding University and the Teaching Tolerance website that Suzanne Gorman looked into, we rebranded our model, “How to Have Courageous Conversations” (because [...]

2019-09-13T08:39:48-04:00September 13th, 2019|Goshen|

Building Social-Emotional Skills

Preschool-aged children often react with big emotions when faced with peer conflicts. As adults, our first reaction is to jump in and resolve the conflict for them and move on, but when we do that, has the conflict truly been resolved? And will they know how to handle a similar conflict in the future? Now, of course, if they are being physical with one another, we absolutely intervene. Our first goal is to keep our students safe. Beyond that, our work in the Preschool is to teach children how to name their feelings and emotions, and to give them the words to talk to others. Our goal is to support their growth in negotiating resolutions to their conflicts now and in the future. We use a calm voice when approaching children in conflict, and we always move to their eye level. After they have have calmed down, we often begin by saying, “I see you’re having a problem.” If they haven’t developed the language skills to say from their perspective what happened, we begin narrating what we see. We then offer children ideas on things they can say to each other. We want children to listen to their friends; therefore, we model active listening and empathy. If the children in conflict can’t come to a resolution, we will suggest ideas and ask if they would like to try our ideas. Often we gather ideas about how to solve the problem from other children who are observers; they often have suitable suggestions for their friends. We ask the children in [...]

2019-09-13T08:33:57-04:00September 13th, 2019|Preschool|

4 Books We Recommend You Read

By Suzanne Gorman, Head of Downtown Campus; Reed Gabhart, Head of Goshen Campus; and Renee Hennessy, Preschool Director At St. Francis, we are dedicated to lifelong learning. One of the ways we model this dedication is that the faculty and staff engage in summer reading annually just as the students do. At the High School, the entire faculty and staff reads the all-school summer reading book assigned to students, which this year was In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. In addition, the entire faculty and staff - Preschool through High School - reads one of several book options, which we then discuss at our opening faculty/staff meetings. This year we selected four titles, White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo; Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom by Heather T. Forbes; Good Life Practice: A Quick Start Guide to Mindful Self-Regulation by Dave Mochel; and Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children by Michael Thompson and Catherine Grace.    We chose these books for several reasons. This year, we are focusing on positive student climate and experience, with four “pillars” that each lead to this in different ways. The pillars are diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work; mindfulness; restorative practices; and trauma-informed teaching. The books generally correlate to one (or more) of these pillars and provided a springboard for the rich professional development sessions the faculty and staff had before the start of school. In addition, Dave Mochel [...]

2019-08-30T14:17:53-04:00August 30th, 2019|News from St. Francis School|

Starting the School Year Off Right

What an incredible start to the 2019-20 school year! First, the students (and parents) who were able to attend the Back-to-School Picnic last Saturday were blown away by the the new front entrance, beautiful lobby, and, of course, the sparkling gem that is the new theater. It has truly transformed our school building and energized everyone! Secondly, digital literacy and humanities teacher Anne Holmes started work Wednesday with her due date for her baby’s arrival a little more than two weeks away. Well, surprise, surprise, Anne began feeling “funny” during the day, left school at 2:00 p.m., and drove to the hospital where she delivered her little girl at 4:00 p.m. Wow! We are so pleased for her and baby Mabelle, who rang in at 6.9 pounds and 18.5 inches. Baby and family are doing fantastic, and we wish them the best! We were also fortunate that Goshen and High School alum Tom Skaggs G’04, ’08 was on deck to take on another St. Francis short-term assignment. He arrived at lunchtime yesterday, and will be Anne’s fill-in until she returns later in the fall. What a start to the school year! We also wanted to give you some tips to get the new year off to a great start, so here is some advice gleaned over the years from ourselves and other educational experts: Eat a good breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day and will give your child the energy to power through the morning. Have your child be responsible for their belongings (i.e. packing their [...]

2019-08-16T14:50:36-04:00August 16th, 2019|Goshen|

Easing the Transition Between Home and Preschool

Children need time to feel comfortable in new situations. We often see a few tears in the beginning. This is normal and should not be cause for concern or worry for parents. It can take a few weeks to adapt to a new routine, and it’s not uncommon for children to have more tears during the second week of adjustment than the first. Our Preschool teachers are pros at helping children transition into the classroom environment. Here are a few tips to help: Make sure your child gets enough sleep at night. Try to establish a morning routine that is relaxed and unhurried. Allow enough time to be on time for school. Children feel the hurriedness of being late and not having a chance to ease into their day. For most families, we have found that the carpool routine makes for the smoothest goodbyes. Before separating from your child, calmly remind him/her that you will be back (after school, after lunch bunch, etc). At pick-up time, rituals such a carpool again help set a familiar pattern for your child. Before too long, the transition from home to school and back again will become a natural part of the day. Your child will have learned that greetings and goodbyes are a predictable part of the daily routine.

2019-08-16T14:50:13-04:00August 16th, 2019|Preschool|
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