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.

March 19, 2019
Professional Practice

Faculty spend most of their days with your children but sprinkled throughout the year we have a couple of professional days and several early release days to have time to focus on various aspects of our professional practice.

At our most recent early release day two weeks ago, in an interactive session, our elementary and middle school math teachers focused on what it means to be a mathematician at any age. This was the first in a planned series of workshops dedicated to teaching math. Concurrently, early childhood teachers focused on how their classroom environments act as a third teacher. (In early childhood education, the physical environment is as important as a teacher when supporting a child’s learning, independence, social interactions, and self-regulation.) Teachers explored each other’s classrooms using our Early Childhood Best Practice document as a rubric for feedback to support professional learning.

For a portion of the afternoon all faculty came together as our Anti-bias Committee led us in a discussion of the Starz series “America to Me,” a 10-part documentary examining racial, economic and class issues in contemporary American education. After watching and then discussing excerpts from the series, we talked about concrete ways this applies to Lesley Ellis.

Having the opportunity throughout the year to pause like this and collectively focus on various aspects of our practice is important to our ongoing growth as educators. When our faculty is exposed to fresh ways of thinking and teaching and when they are given the opportunity to interact with new ideas and concepts, they return to the classroom energized, invigorated, and inspired. And as a result, so, too, are our students.

March 5, 2019
The Best of the Best

Often, but particularly this time of the year, you may find yourself getting calls from or in conversations with families considering Lesley Ellis for their child/ren. Here are the basics…

With a consistent focus on reading, writing and math, Lesley Ellis School’s comprehensive and challenging curriculum prepares children for success in their future academic endeavors. Specialist teachers include science, Spanish, library, performing arts, visual art, movement and music, a learning specialist, school counselor, makerspace, and physical education.

At Lesley Ellis, students at all levels develop independent thinking skills and are encouraged to problem solve and think critically. They learn that it is not enough to discover what happened, it’s equally important to understand how and why it happened. Students are also exposed to essential signature programs like anti-bias and arts education. Underpinning all aspects of the Lesley Ellis experience is our intentionally small, nurturing environment. The bonds that develop at Lesley Ellis are deep and strong and have a positive impact on the academic environment as well as the social and emotional health of our students.

For me, and I hope for you, easy to talk about when people ask about our school!

February 4, 2019
Outside the Box

A few years ago, there were many stories in the news about how creativity was being killed in the classroom. Yet in the 21st century, creative minds are in high demand; students need to think both creatively and critically. As technology continues to develop, and information is ubiquitous, it is our mission as educators to ensure that the next generation will be full of inventors, musicians, painters, and mathematicians who will inspire humanity to new heights.

In her book Unlocked: Assessment as the Key to Everyday Creativity in the Classroom, educator and author Katie White suggests there are four stages of creativity:

  1. exploration stage—a time when kids are asking questions and invited into learning experiences that create curiosity;
  2. elaboration stage—where students will spend time with their initial questions and their engagement with materials. They will deepen their understanding and their questions might shift a bit;
  3. expression stage—where kids and teachers decide together how to share their thinking with others; perhaps with parents or other students or just sitting beside a classmate and sharing a solution to a problem;
  4. reflection and response stage—is that really deep longitudinal thinking about creative processes and which strategies worked for kids, which environments made them more creative and how they’d like to apply it to their learning.

It’s as if Ms. White has been hanging out in the Lesley Ellis hallways. Whether in the math, history, English, or science classrooms, unlocking the fertile, creative minds of our students is happening every day as Lesley Ellis faculty help students discover how to think not what to think.

January 28, 2019
Lesley Ellis Went to Work!

What a great morning several of our 7th and 8th graders had last Thursday as they participated in our inaugural Lesley Ellis Goes to Work morning! From seeing plans and models (one out of LEGOs!) of how MIT envisions redeveloping much of Kendall Square over the next ten years to creating custom jewelry with a wax mold that will shape poured metal to observing a giant “makerspace” of 3-D printers and scale models at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, our students experienced first-hand opportunities to envision their possible future vocations and they loved it! The chatter in the van heading back to school emphasized that getting a taste of real-life work situations stretched their minds, stimulated their imaginations, and broadened their conversations about what work is and why it matters.

Our hope was to have a menu of possible options from which our students could choose based on their interests, and the Lesley Ellis parent community came through like gangbusters! Thanks to all of the Lesley Ellis parents who offered time at their workplace (even if you didn’t end up hosting a student this year). You all made it possible for us to offer this impactful and memorable experience for our students to connect with the Lesley Ellis community away from 34 Winter Street out in the work world!

January 22, 2019
Make a Joyful Noise

You hear a lot of music at Lesley Ellis. We hear the middle schoolers in CANTO singing sweet melodic tunes with multiple harmonies and most often a soloist in the mix—all thanks to Chuck Claus and his attention to detail in every measure. There is RISE, too, third and fourth graders who work with Andy Stratford and Rob Lesley, singing and maybe stomping and clapping all year long. And finally, all those first and second graders in DOLCE, the Grade 1/2 chorus, who combine their voices, under the direction of Rob, as their young voices go to the places they were born to go. Every age and each voice is lifted up and comes together to make beautiful music. Their music makes us laugh and sometimes cry, and their voices always make us glad.

We have been fortunate to have talented and creative music teachers at Lesley Ellis who work in collaboration with our amazing and musical classroom teachers! New talents take the place of old and in that way our tapestry of experience grows and is enhanced. This year Rob Lesley is in the music room daily, making music with students throughout our school. And if you walk by and listen at the right times, you will hear our familiar house rock bands rehearsing, or maybe middle schoolers playing wind instruments for the first time, or our new Grade 7/8 jazz ensemble.

At Lesley Ellis music is always a joyful collaboration. Tomorrow is our annual Evening of the Arts for Grades 1-8, where studio art displays unite with musical performances for one big celebration of arts at Lesley Ellis. I can’t wait and I hope to see you there!

January 14, 2019
Art Matters

At Lesley Ellis our arts program is central to who we are. The arts lift our spirits and bring us joy; help us to translate the world and makes us more tolerant and empathetic. That sounds like Lesley Ellis, doesn’t it?

The arts not only develop a child’s creativity, but they also have direct, positive impact on a child’s academic achievement. Studies bear this out showing that art-centered schools outscore non-art-centered schools in academic achievement scores. A 2017 report by Americans for the Arts states that young people who participate regularly in the arts (three days each week through one full year) are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, to participate in a math and science fair or to win an award for writing an essay or poem than children who do not participate. The arts strengthen problem solving and critical thinking skills. An integrated arts program builds perseverance and focus.

Mastery of any subject builds a student’s confidence, but there is something special about the arts. The performing arts, for instance, provides students the opportunity to step outside their comfort zones. We see this every day at school. As our students develop and see their own progress, their self-confidence blossoms.

Some of the world’s greatest achievements, from the Sistine Chapel to the enduring plays of Shakespeare, from the Bach Cantatas to Beyonce, from Da Vinci to O’Keefe have happened in the artistic realm. The arts ignite our imaginations and make us better human beings. And this is why at Lesley Ellis, the arts always have and always will matter.

January 7, 2019
Re-enrollment and Financial Aid

With our expanding enrollment, re-enrollment contract deadlines are more important than ever this year. So mark your calendars! Re-enrollment contracts come out in a couple of weeks and are due back February 5. Our goal is to ensure that our current students continue to have opportunity to be part of the rich, joyful learning experience that is Lesley Ellis. For that reason, our tuition covers the following at no additional cost to our families:

  • Books
  • Materials and supplies
  • Field trip transportation
  • Opportunity to work with resident artists
  • Opportunity to join our choruses and math club

At Lesley Ellis our intent is also to ensure that all ranges of socio-economic diversity are represented in our student body. We are sensitive to each family’s financial needs and strive to meet them whenever possible. Our financial assistance program is one of the most robust in the Boston metropolitan area. All of our students benefit from the range of diversity at Lesley Ellis, including our socio-economic diversity.

Our primary tool for attaining economic diversity is through need-based financial assistance. These awards help families afford the cost of tuition based on their individual income levels. Our goal each year is to provide as many families as possible with a robust educational experience. Tuition and financial combined allow us to do just that.

How much aid do our families receive?

  • 25% of our students receive assistance.
  • $17,000 is the average financial assistance award.
  • $868,000 was given in assistance in the 2018/2019 school year.

The financial assistance process begins now, and all forms must be completed by January 31, 2019. Contact Tricia Moran at tmoran@lesleyellis.org for all forms and questions.

December 17, 2018
Collaboration is the Way

“Involving two or more people working together for a special purpose.” When the authors of “The Cambridge English Dictionary wrote their definition for collaborative I bet they had no idea the “special purpose” was your child! But that’s how we do it here at Lesley Ellis. It’s one of our core values.

Friday morning before school in Pre-K Orange Robin and Patrick were setting up their room for the day as they discussed potential changes to the loft area. While the 1/2 Green kids were at chorus that same day, Maija and Ashley were in their room planning their next few engineering lessons. Today before school our specialists – Rob, Bex, Cha, Margaret, Sandra, Cristina, and Kate – met with 3/4 teachers to share information about students. This afternoon all of the 5/6 teachers have their weekly planning meeting.

It happens all the time. Whether your child is in one of our early childhood or elementary classrooms with a  teaching team or in middle school with a team of teachers, we work together for one special purpose–your child. Conversation, connection, and collaboration. It’s our way…the Lesley Ellis way.

December 10, 2018
Lesley Ellis Goes to Work

Lesley Ellis Goes to Work and WE NEED YOU!

On January 24th our 7th and 8th grade middle schoolers want to visit the work world. As educators, we encourage our students to dream big; to envision a future for themselves that is filled with opportunity and excitement. First-hand experiences are one of the most effective ways of inspiring them and broadening their perspective. Lesley Ellis Goes to Work is a two-hour learning experience that will provide our students with ideas about possible vocations. Being in a real-life work situation will stretch their minds, stimulate their imaginations, and broaden their conversations about what work is and why it matters.

We need a wide variety of work places where our students can spend two hours on Thursday, January 24th.  It could be an office, home (for those who work from home), school, college, construction site, theater, restaurant, hospital, studio, or shop. Any work site will do! If you are a Lesley Ellis parent who can donate two hours on January 24th we need to hear from you this week. Ideally, we’d like to offer dozens of possible opportunities from which our students may choose so that we can offer the widest possible range of experiences to them. If you teach in a school or run the business office of a company, if you are a veterinarian or a hospital nurse, if you are an artist or a pet groomer— we need two hours of your time to take these smart, savvy 7th and 8th graders to your workplace. We will provide you with a sample list of activities from a guided tour to inviting your student to interview you or a co-worker to a website exploration or even a roundtable discussion. We’ll make it fun and easy for you to participate.

Parents inquire frequently about how they can help or volunteer at Lesley Ellis. This is an enormously important way you can have a big impact with just a two-hour investment. Please email me this week if you can volunteer. We are all agents of influence in the lives of our students.

December 2, 2018
Moving Up

At Lesley Ellis we celebrate the excitement of learning every day in lots of ways. One thing we love to do every year is to help prepare our students and their parents for what’s coming just around the next corner.

Twice every year, once in the fall and again in the spring, our TK and PreK kids get to experience Kindergarten! Last spring rising kindergarteners made fairy houses which were then added to the Lesley Ellis garden. They worked with our expert kindergarten teachers and had the opportunity to explore the kindergarten room for the first time. We make that spring experience available to any Lesley Ellis student who will be joining us next year or whose family is still deciding what kindergarten program is right for their family.

This year we have added a late fall kindergarten experience as well, so that every Lesley Ellis rising kindergartner can get a taste of what a project-based Lesley Ellis Kindergarten day feels like. We also added an opportunity this year for Lesley Ellis kindergarteners to visit our first and second grade classrooms. They traveled upstairs to participate in a project with those students and their teachers.

These engaging “moving up” experiences help prepare students for the excitement of becoming one of the “big kids” at Lesley Ellis. There is also an opportunity for parents to have their own moving up experience. Moving Up Night at Lesley Ellis provides our parents a similar opportunity to experience what their child’s next school year will look and feel like. It’s an informal way to meet teachers and discuss curriculum. Because of our multi-grade classroom, parents often attend Moving Up Night when their child is in Preschool, PreK, TK or Kindergarten and on their child’s “even” (grade 2, grade 4, grade 6) year, but parents are always welcome to come check out higher grades at any time.

There’s so much learning going on behind these orange doors. Come on in this week on Thursday evening at 7:00 pm and find out what’s happening in that next grade. I’m quite confident you will be amazed!

November 26, 2018
Lesley Ellis Faculty Member Presents at NAEYC

At the recent (November 13 -17) National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) annual conference in Washington DC, which brings together early childhood educators from all over the country and world, one of the pre-conference all day workshops was “Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in Early Childhood.” And here’s the really big news—one of the co-presenters for this workshop was our very own preschool teacher, Ann Scalley!

This is an excerpt from the conference program book… “Embrace a mindset for making and tinkering through engaging, playful experiences. Together we will investigate how tinkering and making experiences support fundamental STEM thinking and learning for young children.”

As a practitioner who has actively embraced tinkering and making in the classroom, Ann was invited to present with the author of the book Making and Tinkering with STEM: Solving Design Challenges with Young Children, by Cate Heroman. Ann shared examples and stories of what tinkering and making look like in a classroom—a Lesley Ellis classroom—with 3- and 4-year old students. Participants in her workshop included educators from all over the world, including Singapore, Spain, India and China. I’m proud of the work all of our teachers do each day with our students, and it’s especially gratifying to see the great work we do at Lesley Ellis highlighted on a national and international stage!

November 12, 2018
Students and Faculty Love Our Outdoor Classroom!

Most of you have probably noticed the beautiful wooden fence the went up over the summer on the side lawn near the admission parking spots. Perhaps you have also noticed that the elements of our outdoor classroom are beginning to take shape! In fact, just last week all of our early childhood classrooms had the opportunity to begin using our outdoor classroom. Although it remains a work in progress, it’s now also play in progress. If you’re a parent of an early childhood student, I’m sure you heard about your child’s experience. I spent a few days last week visiting the outdoor classroom and observing how are students are making use of the space. For those of you who haven’t had the benefit of a first-person report from your child, here’s some of what I heard from the students about what they were doing…

“making pretend campfires”

“stomping around on the stumps”

“building with the big blocks”

“building a machine that’s a ramp and the ball rolls down into a tub”

“playing with really cool big blocks”

“playing with all my friends in the wheelbarrow.”

It was such a highlight to observe our younger students so thoroughly engaged and engrossed in creative and collaborative play as they experimented with the various elements of our outdoor classroom. Stay tuned for further planned enhancements to our outdoor classroom!

November 5, 2018
Professional Day at Lesley Ellis

Last Friday, your kids weren’t at school. They were home with you or another caregiver.

What was happening at Lesley Ellis? What were the teachers doing, you might wonder? They were participating in one of our two professional development days that we have each year. The day is designed to expose our faculty to opportunities to learn and grow in areas that are not only of interest to them but allow them to bring back to their classrooms and their students, new ideas, insights, and exercises.

Jenn Young led all of our new faculty and staff in a series of anti-bias exercises. Individuals in the group shared aspects of their own culture, participated in simulations in which they experienced being in a dominating or excluded group, and had discussions based on a reading about anti-bias education. Finally, a panel of three veteran Lesley Ellis teachers, one from each of our divisions, shared how they approach our anti-bias curriculum in their classrooms. They shared a lesson that went well, one that didn’t go as planned, and they shared the learning take-aways from those experiences.

Early childhood teachers took a field trip to The Wonder of Learning exhibit at Boston University Wheelock College of Education and Human Development and spent much of the day in the exhibit, discussing and exploring possible applications for our school. The exhibit highlights the influence of Reggio Emilia schools on best practices in early childhood education. When viewing the exhibit, our teachers investigated some of the most effective approaches to teaching and learning for early childhood, and many came away with ideas and insights which could immediately be applied to their classrooms. The Wonder of Learning exhibit travels throughout the world, so having it available on our doorstep is an incredible opportunity and gift.

Elementary and middle school faculty met to delve deeper into our summer reading book, Choice Words. (If you recall, this book is about the language we use with students to further their learning). They highlighted questions and comments that are directly applicable and in support of how our students learn. Almost all of their examples proved to be transferable across subject and grade levels.

Professional development days are crucial to our ongoing growth in the field of education. These days provide an opportunity for us to pause and collectively focus on various aspects of our practice. When our faculty is exposed to fresh ways of thinking and teaching and when they are given the opportunity to interact with new ideas and concepts, they return to the classroom energized, invigorated, and inspired. And as a result, so, too, are our students.