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: Electricity and Magnetism, Spanish Language, Spanish Literature, French Language (the College Board no longer offers the French Literature course/exam), and Chinese Language. In addition, teachers regularly offer extra help for students interested in preparing for the following exams, although we do not [...]
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 fellow Progressive school, St. Paul’s Academy, which is a K-12 school on two campuses (sound familiar?). I visited the K-5 campus, noting the many similarities between us: small class sizes, morning meetings, a strong focus on SEL (social-emotional learning), and even a [...]
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, in his book Last Child in the Woods, says it best: “Nature is imperfectly perfect, filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on movements and skinned knees.” Our natural playground continues to evolve and grow, [...]
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 seem daunting to parents to allow high schoolers to walk around downtown but, as with many aspects of the St. Francis philosophy, we believe it’s essential to help them learn now, with parents and teachers (who are also often out in the [...]
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 is a chart to determine whether students are ready to have a difficult conversation, divided into “I Am Ready If” and ”I Am Not Ready If.” For example, I am ready if my motive is to expand understanding, or if I am [...]
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 it does take courage to engage in this honest interplay!). This approach was rolled out to our middle schoolers at Morning Meeting this week, and their advisors will have further conversations about it during morning and flex time soon. In this model, [...]
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 conflict if a particular idea will work for them. The goal is for them to feel confident and support the solution -- together.
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 and Michael Thompson, authors of two of the books, will be presenting at the upcoming ISACS Annual Conference in Louisville, which all faculty will attend. Here are brief summaries of each book: 1. White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White [...]
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 own backpack). This is a great tip to start in Lower School. Ask your child what went right or what their favorite part of the day was (and don't focus on what went wrong). When students do complain about something at school, [...]
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.
And we are back! What a fantastic first week it's been. We kicked things off with 9th Grade Orientation on Tuesday, welcomed 157 students to the new school year on Wednesday, and sent the Class of 2020 off on their senior rafting trip on Thursday. Now it's Friday and the general theme settling in among students is exhaustion - everyone is ready for the weekend! Speaking of exhaustion: We all know that teenagers don't get enough sleep; parents don't always, either. But as we get back to school, having healthy sleep habits can have a significant impact on students. Our Wyverns SFS alumni Facebook page had a question posed this week asking for words of wisdom for our current students, and several alums emphasized how much sleep is needed, including, "If you want to actually get 8 hours, you better be in bed 9 hours before you have to get up." It's challenging for teenagers to do this, with activities, homework, jobs, and other commitments, but getting enough sleep is really foundational to students' health, well-being, and academic success. Another important foundation to the work we are doing with our students at St. Francis is encouraging them to advocate for themselves. Particularly as they transition from middle school to high school and then prepare to head off to college, teenagers need to foster self-confidence, self-reliance, and autonomy. When a concern arises, with a class, for example, parents can help by brainstorming the conversation that the student might have with a teacher. It can be tempting to just send the email or make the call yourself, but in one, two, three, or four years, your teenager will be on a college campus and need the skills to be able to walk in the door to talk with an advisor, a professor, or [...]
August 6, 2019 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE St. Francis School opens new 400 seat theater in Goshen. Community Celebration and Ribbon Cutting on Saturday 8/10/19 Goshen, KY – St. Francis School, “the School of Thought,” has completed a major renovation and addition at their Goshen Campus. The project, named Goshen Main Amp, Theater & Lobby Renovation, will provide St. Francis’ Preschool through 8th-grade students with a completely updated and much larger theater space to support their National Youth Arts award-winning performing arts program. The 4,000 square foot addition and renovation includes seating for 400 in the new theater, an outdoor amphitheater classroom space, and a revamped main entryway with a new modern canopy. Design features include the use of natural wood throughout and a large southern canopy and tall glass walls framing the campus’ verdant rear fields while keeping light and heat and heat levels manageable within the theater. The theater is outfitted with a modern digital lighting and audio system, new mechanical system, and fixed seating for the upper half of the theater, allowing for greater comfort for the audience while maintaining the child-oriented open-tiered seating for the lower half of the theater. “This project gives our School a more welcoming entrance and lobby, and a performing arts space to match the quality of our students’ talent. It is wonderful news for St. Francis, and also for Oldham County because the theater could host community concerts and plays, as well as school events. Since our enrollment has grown over 27% in the last six years, our performing arts programs, and the seating we need for them have grown as well. The incredible support from our donors allows us to complete this gorgeous renovation,” said Head of School, Alexandra S. Thurstone G’80, ’84. This $3.4 million-dollar project marks the third of the [...]
In past articles, we’ve talked about the St. Francis schedule and the faculty; now, we turn to the curriculum itself to share information with you about what we teach and the goals we have for our students in each area. While we are a Progressive School, our curriculum itself is fairly traditional in that we teach all the usual core subjects (including 15 AP courses), plus fine arts and health/fitness. What makes our curriculum Progressive is our teaching methodology (active and engaged learning) and our inclusion of diverse voices and perspectives throughout. One of the greatest strengths of the St. Francis curriculum is its flexibility — being a small, Progressive school, St. Francis allows students to customize their course of study over their four years. There are courses required in every department because we believe a liberal arts approach to high school curriculum is in an adolescent’s best interest. However, students can also choose to focus on a couple of areas they like best by choosing AP offerings, electives, and/or independent study options in those areas in their junior or senior years. They can also choose to challenge themselves at the highest levels by taking AP exams in their freshman and sophomore years and multiple AP classes and exams in their junior and senior years, as well as do what few high schools students can and take customized (self-designed with faculty members as guides) independent study classes beyond the AP curriculum to really set themselves up for college-level study in a given area. In addition, students can sample courses in all departments broadly, getting a true liberal arts curriculum in high school, and again do so at the most challenging levels. Here is a breakdown by department of the St. Francis School curriculum includes: Math is an area in which St. [...]
College Preparation High school is about many things — social-emotional development, growing from a young adolescent into an almost-adult, exploring intellectually and honing skills. All of this, in the end, translates into teenagers’ preparation for college and the rest of their lives. The way we do that at St. Francis is distinct from other schools. We talk about preparation for college and life. Another way of putting it is that we prepare students for all aspects of college, which is more than just academics. Academics, of course, are foremost. Our curriculum is designed to focus on close reading, writing of all kinds (beginning with major research papers in 9th grade), critical thinking, discourse, problem-solving, and analysis. We go both broad and deep, with AP courses and non-AP electives in every department, challenging students at all levels and preparing them for any college classes they may encounter. There is no doubt that our students are ready to handle college academics. Then there’s the aspect of college preparation that has always been a focus at St. Francis, but seems to be ever-increasing in importance as articles abound these days about college students’ inability to handle the non-academic aspects of their lives: working with parents to develop students’ resilience, competence, independence, and self-esteem. We believe that letting students “test drive” some responsibility is the best way to help them handle full independence in four years. Here at the High School, our sign-out system fosters time management and independence, as well as the added benefit of teaching students how to budget for lunch. The no-cut athletics policy ensures that students can be involved in any sport they like, and can gain all the benefits of part of a team in these critical adolescent years. The strong bonds that form between students and faculty help students [...]
Each year at our Graduations, students choose a member of the faculty or staff to speak on their behalf. This year’s seniors chose College Counselor Leslie O’Connor. You can read Leslie's speech below. A warm welcome to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, faculty, staff, administration, Board of Trustees, and the wonderful Class of 2019. I am deeply humbled and honored to be standing here today to address the Class of 2019, my first class as a College Counselor at St. Francis. It is truly a privilege. Recently, I came across a TED Talk by Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston’s College of Social Work. Dr. Brown is a prolific author who has spent 20 years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. This particular TED Talk was so compelling that my husband actually sat down and watched it with me, a rare occurrence in our house, as sitting is not really his thing. The topic that Dr. Brown addressed was on what she calls; courageous vulnerability. Dr. Brown’s research of this concept was inspired by Teddy Roosevelt’s historical speech from 1910, “The Man in the Arena.” I will read an excerpt of it now, with the preface that I took poetic license and will say woman along with man for the obvious reasons. The reality is that Eleanor Roosevelt most likely wrote the speech anyway! And I quote: “It is not the critic who counts, not the man or woman who points out how the strong man or woman stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man or woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes up short again because there is no [...]