Deanne's Notebook

Deanne Benson is in her 17th year as head of school at Lesely Ellis School. She frequently shares her thoughts and ideas about education and teaching in general and the experience and ethos of Lesley Ellis specifically. Check back here frequently to stay in touch with what's on Deanne's mind....and in her notebook!

Deanne's Notebook: Community

March 27, 2018

This past Saturday evening our Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead fundraiser took place and it was quite an amazing event!

As head of school I am privileged to witness every day, the spirit of Lesley Ellis in a variety of different ways. Saturday night’s event was a nexus of the Lesley Ellis ethos. It was the personification of the Lesley Ellis experience—community. People coming together to have fun and raise funds in support of a common purpose.

This spirit of community around the fundraiser was apparent long before Saturday night. A group of parents worked for months on all the details of the planning; parents and faculty and students donated auction items; parents and teachers helped with set up, at the event, and clean up; parents and faculty attended in all kinds of attire (!) and bid on items big and small.

The fundraiser was a shining example and embodiment of all that Lesley Ellis is—a supportive, engaged community that works together, has fun together, and is committed to supporting and moving the School forward.

Thank you to everyone who participated and thank you for your steadfast support of Lesley Ellis.

Deanne's Notebook: School Safety

February 26, 2018

We were all horrified at the events at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on February 14th.  Even as we grieve for those directly impacted, as parents and educators, we immediately think about our own school and the safety of our students. At Lesley Ellis we coordinate with the Arlington Police Department regarding safety protocols, and then practice with students (as we did recently) and, at other times, with just faculty. The safety of our students is their right and our number one priority, and we will continue to do everything we can to keep our school safe.

I have been buoyed by the courageous actions of surviving students from Stoneman Douglas High School in the wake of this tragedy. Former President Obama expressed it well last Thursday when he said, “…How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students, standing up for their right to be safe; marching and organizing to remake the world as it should be. We've been waiting for you. And we've got your backs.”

Deanne's Notebook: Anti-bias

February 12, 2018

Recently in a series of thought provoking and inspiring brainstorming meetings with parents and teachers we were discussing our award winning anti-bias curriculum.  At Lesley Ellis we absolutely understand that students need to read, write, and calculate—but there’s more to life. That should be the floor, not the ceiling. If we really want to prepare kids to be successful in life—not just preparing them for secondary school and beyond; but being a good person, being a good partner, being a good parent—we need to help them develop other vital success skills. Empathy, self-control, integrity, embracing diversity, and grit are essential.

This doesn’t mean we have to have a lesson on empathy or integrity every week. It does mean, however, that as we think about these traits, we must talk about them with students. Vocabulary is powerful. Also, as adults, we need to be role models. This doesn’t mean we’re perfect. But teachers and heads of schools, for example, must talk about and demonstrate traits that are important in life, not just in school. And our kids need to know the terms. There’s a difference, for example, between integrity and honesty.

Honesty is about what you say, integrity is about taking your honesty and acting on it, sometimes in a very public manner. For instance, speaking up when someone is being prejudiced. Our anti-bias curriculum serves our school community well. And I love that we name it.

Deanne's Notebook: Financial Aid

February 5, 2018

This is the busiest time of year for our admission office. Tricia and I often get asked questions about financial aid as you refer your friends and neighbors to us. So I wanted to give you a thumbnail of our process.

Our goal is to ensure that each student has the opportunity to be part of a rich, joyful learning experience. At Lesley Ellis our intent is also to ensure that a range of socio-economic diversity is represented in our student body. We are sensitive to each family’s financial need and strive to meet that need whenever possible. Our financial assistance, based purely on financial need, is one of the most robust in the Boston metropolitan area touching nearly one fourth of our families. At Lesley Ellis we believe there is value in a learning community that looks like the world. We are proud of the financial assistance we offer to help us achieve that goal.

Deanne's Notebook: Enrollment Season is Here

January 29, 2018

Enrollment season is here!

This is such an amazing time in our admission office. Tricia and Anne are busy AND happy as they are meeting new families, many of whom who will be our partners next year and, hopefully, for many years to come.

This year our parent and student ambassadors have been helping us introduce prospective parents to our new home here at 34 Winter Street. Many parents have asked us how they, too, can help. When you are talking about Lesley Ellis to your friends and neighbors, here are some things you might want to remember—

Our ultimate goal is to challenge our students beyond their potential and expose them to a variety of ways to learn. We offer a hands-on, experiential curriculum in which students not only learn how to think critically and problem solve, but have varied opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned, such as through projects and presentations. 

In addition to our regular robust academic program some key aspects of our school include:

·Award winning antibias curriculum that values every child for his or her unique self.

·Intentional performing arts program, sequentially designed to provide an expansive collection of experiences, with a continuous focus on helping each child gain confidence important in all settings.  

·Arts block/arts apprenticeship program, distinctive in the Boston area. At Lesley Ellis we believe that everyone can use the arts as a tool to better understand themselves and their world, to appreciate the beauty in the ordinary, and to create the extraordinary.

Throughout their years at Lesley Ellis, students develop into happy, curious learners. Upon graduation, they have learned to work collaboratively with others who are similar to and different from themselves and to be responsible and independent in their own lives.


Deanne's Notebook: Encouraging Enrollment!

January 22, 2018

We are so encouraged and grateful for the fast growing interest in our school. New applications to Lesley Ellis are up nearly 40% over last year! It's a clear sign that our way of educating and teaching is resonating with families. Undoubtedly, our new location has been a strong factor as well. On a daily basis, Tricia Moran, Anne Norris and I have the opportunity to hear the excitement prospective families have as they visit our school and see first hand the learning activities in which our students are engaged. Your re-enrollment contract will arrive in the mail early this week. Please mark your calendar for Monday, February 5….the deadline for returning your re-enrollment contract. We look forward to having you back next year as our school continues to grow and serve an increasing number of families in the area.


Deanne's Notebook: Parenting

January 16, 2018

Not surprisingly, at school teachers are most often in conversations with parents about their kids….and that’s as it should be! It might be about how their child is doing academically, socially, emotionally, or behaviorally. Whatever area of development is being discussed, parents will sometimes feel at a loss about how to best support their child’s growth and development because they don’t want to make a mistake. (I sometimes joke with parents that they didn’t send us home from the hospital with a “how to” manual.” I still remember years ago as we left the hospital with our first child the nurse saying, “Good luck with your life.” Yikes!) As parents, we didn’t know everything about parenting when our children first came into our world, and we still don’t even three or fourteen years later (or even more for me).  I recently came across a statement from researcher and author, Brené Brown, that I wish I had seen years ago and want to share with you.

“Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.”


Deanne's Notebook: Performing Arts

January 8, 2018

Early this year when we met with our parent ambassadors we asked them to describe their favorite parts of the Lesley Ellis experience.  Repeatedly, we heard about our performing arts programming. It was gratifying that so many of our parents appreciate our musical and theatrical experiences because performing arts at Lesley Ellis is an essential element of our curriculum. Students build new skills and competencies each year. At first, we see them as quiet or bouncy kindergarteners. But as the years pass, they develop into self-confident, independent personalities.

Performing arts play a crucial role in each student’s development, stimulating innovation and developing creative problem solving methods.  They enhance students’ understanding of the world, providing them unique modes and tools l for expression. The arts challenge their intellect and integrate play into the learning environment. I’m extremely proud of our arts program which is indispensable and at the core of our social and educational pedagogy at Lesley Ellis.


Deanne's Notebook: Back From Winter Break

January 2, 2018

If you are seeing this first thing on Tuesday morning, then you are most likely rushing to get everyone out the door. If you are reading this sometime later, then congratulations, you did it! Now we are all back to our normal routine and your child(ren) are back with their teachers…the rock stars at Lesley Ellis! They provide that just right learning experience for each student in their classroom—whether it’s creatively using plastic stepping stones to cross a river full of alligators in preschool or setting up a game of  “Pharoah Jeopardy” with middle schoolers. Our teachers make learning come alive each day, and I’m so grateful for their dedication to our children.


Deanne's Notebook: Winter is Upon Us!

December 19, 2017

Winter is upon us. But this year with the cold days and the messy weather our students will be able to spend time in our new Lesley Ellis gym! It is such a pleasure to have our own indoor space where kids can move their bodies no matter what’s happening with the weather outside. Exercise makes us feel better and makes our bodies healthier. In an increasingly sedentary plasma screen world we must create a fun environment for kids to kindle a lifelong passion for activity. We feel good when we get our blood pumping because our brain is functioning at its peak. Exercise makes kids more available to learn because it turns on attention, motivation, and memory. And now at Lesley Ellis we’ll be movin’ all winter long!


Deanne's Notebook: I Am Jazz

December 11, 2017

Our teachers did it again, and I’m so glad to be part of the LES community! Last week we participated in the National “I Am Jazz” School and Community Readings. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, is a children’s book about a young transgender child. In classrooms throughout the school, teachers led students in thoughtful, age-appropriate discussion. A sampling--

·Prekindergarten…discussed how Jazz was born with a boy’s body and a girl’s brain.

·Kindergarten…discussed feeling different from others and how confusing that can be.

·Grade 1-2…were very thoughtful and curious as they learned Jazz’s experience is very different from liking to play dress up from time to time. “I’m glad we learned about this. I didn’t know it was something that could happen.”

·Grade 3-4… had a very reflective discussion about stereotypes and acceptance from hearing her story, then responded in their journals to prompts (write a letter to Jazz, about being an ally; why do people make fun of someone who is different; how can you be an ally). 

· Grade 5-6… watched and discussed the Barbara Walters 20/20 story on Jazz and the new sets of challenges she faced at age 11.

·Grade 7-8… watched one episode of the reality show "I Am Jazz," staring the real-life, 14 year-old transgender girl Jazz, and discussed what things in Jazz's life the students could really relate to in their own lives, what aspects of Jazz's life were completely outside of their own experiences, and what things may have made them uncomfortable watching the video.

What a day at Lesley Ellis….thank you teachers.


Deanne's Notebook: EdgeMakers

December 5, 2017

Have you heard about our new middle school innovation curriculum-EdgeMakers?

It's designed to teach students the skills they will need to make positive change in the world. As they work through this curriculum, mixed-grade teams of middle school students strive to identify problems they see in the world and develop innovative solutions through creativity, storytelling, designcollaboration, and entrepreneurship

 Creativity...Students are introduced to the multiple forms creativity can take and are encouraged to explore the ways that creativity is utilized outside of the arts, through the generation of new ideas and innovative solutions. 

Storytelling...Great ideas will die, however, if individuals cannot help others see their potential. Consequently, in the storytelling unit, students learn to tell a compelling story about their ideas in order to make other people care enough to support their cause. 

Design... Students learn about the engineering design process: creating prototypes; testing them; getting client feedback; improving their designs based on their test results and feedback; and starting the process again.

Collaboration... Students identify the skills that each team member brings to the effort, and they look closely at ways to leverage their particular mixture of skills to improve the effectiveness of their collaborations. 

Entrepreneurship...The final stage. An idea, even a great one, is only an idea until it is put out into the world. Middle school students learn the skills needed to launch a venture, including: knowledge of business models and venture plans; branding and marketing; and pitching their ideas. 

At Lesley Ellis we believe in the power of young people to make a difference. Through EdgeMakers, our middle school students develop the skills to harness their energy and ideals to make the world a better place.


Deanne's Notebook: We're Growing!
​Thanksgiving 2017

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite times of the year. That's especially true this year because I feel like there's been an extraordinary amount of smiling around Lesley Ellis. Still, almost every day when I walk into our school, I feel the warm glow that comes from having our own home. These orange walls practically shout Lesley Ellis to me. I will never forget the thrill of this experience. Or how we did it ... together. 

Another big thing is happening, too-our school is growing. Despite not having an address two years ago our enrollment was up 7%. And last year, when we had Winter Street, but still didn't have a building for new families to tour, we grew 7% again! It's remarkable. Our admission team has my deep gratitude, and so do all of you. Because without your storytelling, your parties, and volunteerism, this growth would not have been possible.

We are an intentionally small school, but we aim to be just a little bigger. Fourteen percent growth over two years (plus a 20% improvement in our retention) means that our classes are stronger and our middle school more robust. Our newly recruited parent and student ambassadors are helping us do some heavy lifting, too, so I won't be surprised if we see even more growth next year. 

I am very grateful to be part of the Lesley Ellis community.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


Deanne's Notebook: Lesley Ellis Ambassadors
​November 14, 2017

Did you know that we recently had an Open House? It was phenomenal! I think this was probably the best open house in the history of Lesley Ellis. We have a new initiative this year, and many of you have already heard about it. We have designated Parent Ambassadors helping us tell the Lesley Ellis story to a wider audience. We have met as a group and begun to craft the narrative that defines the Lesley Ellis experience. It has been so neat for me to get to hear about our school from all of you. Usually I am talking with our teachers and staff, or our advisory board, and we have all heard one another’s perspectives for years. But learning anew about your Lesley Ellis, the school your child and your family experience every day, has been wonderful. Our Parent Ambassadors were in attendance at the open house and as a result of their presence I think the afternoon was tighter than ever. Meeting and identifying our core elements, and finding similar ways to talk about them, created a seamless and happy storytelling environment.

The National Association of Independent Schools tells us that in small elementary and middle schools like ours word of mouth still accounts for over half of all new admissions. Over half! Whether you are chatting with the teller at your bank or the butcher at the market, when the issue of your child’s school or even just community education comes up, our families are our frontline storytellers. And this year, when we are home at last here on Winter Street, we have the best kind of story to tell. So thank you to our Parent Ambassadors, and to all of you, for entrusting your children to us every day. Because they are the real story here. The grade 3-4 play this week; first and second graders visiting Sunrise Assisted Living; and some of our middle schoolers coming to school dressed as characters from The Outsiders (as culmination to reading the book) all make up the regular business that is the heart and soul of our Lesley Ellis story. I can’t wait to see what happens next!


Deanne's Notebook: Opportunities for Parents to Stay in touch with Teachers
​November 7, 2017

Did you know you are always welcome and encouraged to check in with teachers if you have questions or concerns, we also want to make sure you know about the timeline for communication about your children through conferences and written progress reports. Early Childhood, Elementary and Middle School vary somewhat, and some changes have been made this year. Here is what you can expect:

Early Childhood

September 18-29, 2017: Optional Check-in Conferences.
December 8, 2017: 1st Conference.
February 12, 2018: Written Progress Report given to families.
May 25, 2018: 2nd Conference with a focus on portfolios.
June 4-5, 2018: PS/PK/TK families invited into the classroom to look at portfolios with their children.


October 20, 2017: Conference Day.
January 30, 2018: Written Progress Reports mailed home.
March 16, 2018: Conference Day.
June 1, 2018: Written Progress Reports mailed home.

Middle School

October 19-20, 2017: Conference Day.
December 15, 2017: Written Progress Reports mailed home.
March 15-16, 2018: K-8 Conference Day.
June 1, 2018: Written Progress Reports mailed home.

Deanne's Notebook: Professional Development at Lesley Ellis
​October 30, 2017

Did you know each time we have a Professional Day at school, faculty are given the opportunity to focus on professional growth, collaboration, and/or planning. This week on Wednesday from 8:30 am - 4:00 pm on our Professional Day faculty will be involved in range of small group and team meetings, all very much customized to support faculty growth and collaborative planning for the coming months. A sampling of topics include…

--Planning science and STEAM curriculum and Lego Robotics for Grades 3 & 4;

--Dsigning a system for utilizing iPads for documentation in early childhood classrooms;

--Planning makerspace projects and activities in early childhood and early elementary;

--A morning workshop on Edgemaker (the EdgeMaker curriculum encourages students to understand that innovation can be learned and mastered through creativity, storytelling, design, collaboration and entrepreneurship) and afternoon workshop on anxiety for middle school faculty;

--Designing and/or updating student portfolios.