October 2016

Happy October, Walnut Acres Parents,

Your children constantly amaze me! The enthusiasm they shared during our recent ‘Kindness in Chalk’ Day and the chalk messages they produced were heartening. We will continue to emphasize life skills within our curriculum and at special events. We thank you for modeling life skills for our children. Thank you for your sense of volunteerism, those of you who give time weekly to our school, and to those who volunteered at our site during last Saturday’s Walnut Creek Community Service Day!

Life skill events
Our Sing-outs are a fun and memorable way to reinforce our monthly life skill focus. Our October Sing-out is moving to 10/31 so that we can piggyback on our Halloween parade. We will hold our parade on the blacktop and convene to the tables in the foyer for our Sing-out since our Book Fair will be kicking off in the MUR. Whew! We are a happening place! Parents are welcome to join us at our parade, and at our Sing-out, but please remember these events are experiences for the children, not performances for parents. All students are invited to wear costumes to school for our celebration (no toy weapons or masks, please.) Students will change out of costumes following the event so the costumes will be in good shape for trick or treating. We encourage students to wear their school clothes under their costumes for ease of changing.

Our grade level performances coordinated by choral music teacher, Mrs. Ryken, are designed to entertain parents. Each grade level will have an evening performance complete with songs that will delight an audience and provide wonderful oral presentation experience to the students while reinforcing a life skill message. For the dates of each grade level performance, check the calendar on the PFC website or click here.

Ongoing life skill activities
We encourage positive life skills every day at school directly through instructional activities within the classroom and indirectly through modeling. Some classes are implementing class meetings on a routine basis to build a sense of community and enhance student social problem solving skills. We also maintain specific, ongoing, schoolwide behavioral supports.

Positive behavioral rewards include our bee awards, our Positive Discipline Referrals, and our zaps awards. Zaps are given to students who complete some good deed, while bees are simple paper bees given to students for being a helper, a great worker, a friend to others, or modeling a particular life skill. The first bees of the year will be taken from the bee board and presented to bee earners this week. The bee board is on the east side of Wing C near the PFC thermometer. Every month new bees are placed on the bee board and the previously mounted bees are presented to the students. I make the presentation at lunch with the recommendation that the owner place the bee somewhere at home where he or she will see it and feel proud.

Our Positive Discipline Referral form, given to students who model our life skills in a way that resonates with a teacher, is another method of rewarding students for positive life choices. The teacher completes a Positive Discipline Referral form and sends the student to the office for a talk with the principal. I add my comments to the Referral and send a copy of the Referral home for parent signature – and parent congratulations.

Our recently-acquired buddy bench provides a new strategy to support positive student social interaction. Any student who needs a friend at recess is invited to sit on the buddy bench. Students are being taught in classes to be “bench watchers” and if they see a student sitting on the bench, they are encouraged to ask that student to join them in an activity. I observed a student waiting on the buddy bench last week at recess and she was quickly surrounded by a group of girls who scooped her up and skipped away with her to play. So far, so good.

Meanwhile, our Peace Path work continues with our peacemakers helping peers to practice active listening and I messaging on the playground and in the classroom.

School Plan for Student Achievement
Our life skill focus is designed to build and maintain a safe and positive learning environment and teach our children to make positive social choices. This goal and our academic goals are detailed within our School Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) recently approved by the School Site Council and now sent to the MDUSD School Board for approval. Once the plan has board-approval it becomes a public document online for all to read.

Our SSC-approved SPSA has 3 major goals:
1. Students will be prepared for 21st century citizenship through active engagement in deep and meaningful STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) and language arts learning experiences.
2. Students will feel emotionally safe, comfortable, and supported at Walnut Acres while parents feel welcome and informed.
3. Staff will enhance personalized learning for each student through data-driven instruction.

School funds that we spend and activities in which we engage should all be related to these goals. Our Reading and Writing Workshop implementation, our reconstituted computer lab, our engineering exploration with devices such as Little Bits and Spheros, our hands-on science lab experiences, Math Talks, and multiple math methods focus, as well as our parent volunteer Art Awareness program all support our efforts to achieve Goal #1.

We are lucky to have our district-funded counselor with us 2 ½ days a week to support our efforts with Goal #2. The previous section of this message refers to many activities designed to help us achieve this goal. Besides supporting our classroom activities, such as class meetings, and schoolwide efforts such as our buddy bench and peacemakers, our counselor works with individual and small groups of students. She is also available to any parent who wishes to contact her for another perspective or to problem solve. Our counselor is Joanne Finn, and she is with us on Mondays, Tuesdays, and every other Wednesday. You are welcome to contact her.

Goal #3 documents our efforts to expand differentiated learning opportunities in our classrooms daily. Differentiation is integral to Reading and Writing Workshop based on skill level needs and student choice. Running records, conferring and guided reading groups allow the teacher to assess student needs and respond accordingly whether the student needs more challenge or extra help. We also use our data collection processes to reteach within the classroom and provide extra intervention within our reading lab as needed. We will continue our personalization of our curriculum over time with math as our next major area of focus.

News from WA and the Larger Community
You may have heard of the social media hoax called clowning in which threatening clowns appearing in public places. I’ve alerted you to the phenomena via a phone message and Konstella, but please know that there have been no threats or sightings at Walnut Acres.

There has been lots of conversation about our upcoming Carnival on 10/22, however. It will be loads of fun and I recommend this annual Walnut Acres family event to you! I have the privilege of kicking off the afternoon of fun with a parade around the neighborhood at noon. That same weekend (10/20-22 at 7:00 p.m.) Curtains Up presents “The Aristocats” in the MUR and then our much-anticipated annual Book Fair is in the MUR from 10/31-11/4.

The 6th Annual Bay Area Science Festival (BASF) is coming soon – 10/27-11/5. The festival will provide a wide range of science & technology activities – lectures, debates, exhibitions, concerts, plays, workshops, etc. –at a variety of locations throughout the Bay Area. Discovery Days, Signature Events and Explorer Experiences are designed so that young people will understand that science is fun, exciting and important, encouraging them to pursue careers in science. Based on similar festivals throughout the world, the 50+ festival events are expected to attract over 50,000 active participants. Go to the BASF website for further information – http://www.bayareascience.org/ These sound like great family outings!

Here’s to events that promote family connection, help us achieve our academic goals in support of our children, and encourage us to model positive life skills. As one chalk-author wrote on Kindness Day, “You can never have too much kindness” while another wrote, “Keep calm and Walnut Acres on!” You ‘gotta’ love our kids!

Respectfully,
Colleen Dowd, lucky principal