Letter from Teacher Marty (April 2017)

Dear MPS’ers,

As I work on our April newsletter this month, I am sitting on the couch in my sister’s living room in Anchorage watching some sweet, light and fluffy snowflakes fall to the ground. AND NO ONE IS FREAKING OUT! Of course it is only predicted to be 5 to 9 inches depending on your elevation. But still. What a difference it makes to be in a city that is prepared versus our beloved Portland that of necessity lives on the edge, never really able to fully plan for snow and always a little excited and fearful if it shows up in the forecast.

I am so torn because I love both my home state and my transplanted home equally. I honestly can’t say which place I would rather be. When I am here I fall back into the rhythm of my youth and that which would seem out of place in Oregon seems so natural here. There is such a variety of housing types here in the city that we don’t really see down south in the same way. When I was a child, the city had lots of trailer parks and most of those still exist. Single wide trailers, double wide trailers that have been on their base since the 60’s and 70’s are still in use. And there are some really interesting uses of color on some homes and business – some very bright and vibrant, which I am sure is a reaction to the long winters.

Some folks have quite a collection of apparent junk piled up in their yards. And the mountains of snow from the plows that keep the roads clear are just epic this year. They are several stories high and covering a pretty sizable land mass. They have to put all that plowed up snow somewhere! And because they had more normal snow falls and a pretty cold winter this year, those mountains are going to take most of the summer to melt off. In the meantime, this fresh coat of snow that is falling today is welcomed because the snow banks on the sides of the road and those snow mountains are not the white fluffy stuff that we all think is so pretty. Most of it is black and grey with road grime.

I try to see it through the eyes of a visitor and I cringe a little wondering if they would see my home that I love so much as shabby. But then I raise my eyes back up and there right in front of me are the stunning Chugach Mountains that surround the city. And the Alaska Range rising up across Cook Inlet where on a clear day you can see all the way to Mt. Denali and Mt. Foraker. And I know if you look for it you would be floored by the beauty of the place too.

I actually have this same reaction to our little school too. Sometimes I am so tied to the minutia and all I can see are the dirty floors (that is what happens when you have 600 lbs of clay on the floor! Or allow children to play in the mud), or the piles of art supplies that I never seem to get fully put away. Or the bulletin board that hasn’t been changed for months. And I cringe when I know that folks are coming in to tour the school and I wonder if they will see us as shabby?

Eventually I forget about it and let go and lose myself in the glory of they children and know that we are doing that which we do best: being with the kids. We are busy every day supporting those who are struggling with big feelings, exploring with those who want to know why their blocks keep falling over, laughing with those who have an endless supply of knock-knock jokes, and wrestling or playing in the mud with those who need that big body play.

We are a human scale school, authentic in all we do and that is a very good thing. I know that many of you as parent members of our community are hard on yourselves when you evaluate yourselves and your contributions to the school. I have heard many of you lament the fact that you were not able to do all that you had wanted or thought you should have been able to do.

If you can, back up so you are not looking so closely! Our community is made up of lots of different families – each with different capacities. It is so easy to put on the ‘should’ cap. I should be able to volunteer more. I should have been able to procure more for the auction. I should be able to go along on every field trip and field day.

But the reality is that few are able to take each task on. The family that has a child with a very high level of sensory or regulatory struggles is not going to be the family that can respond at a moment’s notice to a call for volunteers because it takes a specially skilled sitter to step in and care for their kids.

The family in which both parents are full-time employed outside the home and going to school cannot be the ones to step in and volunteer to take on extra parent teaching when we have unexpected openings.

Many of our families cannot afford to spend hundreds of dollars at the auction.

Thankfully we all bring something different to the equation that makes the school work. I only ask that you do not judge yourselves so harshly. You know how empathetic you are to each other. You know that as you have gotten to know each other and learned your stories, you have shared compassion and understanding, offering support and encouragement when classmates are experiencing struggles. The compassion you share with each other is inspiring and warms my heart.

I encourage you to turn that compassion, understanding and support inward. Be gentle with yourselves. Please know that I see you. I see how hard you work to care for your family and fulfill all of your many and varied responsibilities. I do not expect you to be superhuman. I so appreciate all that you are able to contribute to the school. You are not letting me down!

We had the right formula this year! We just had our most successful fundraising year in our history. Between our auction, donations and some auxiliary events (Bambuza, Shoperoo) we are in just stellar condition. And our classes have been going so well. I am overwhelmed with pride in and gratitude for our little community. We each give of our time and money to the best of our ability – and together we have rocked the world this year.

You are quite simply the best. Like your children, you are beautiful, shining, and vibrant. You bring your light with you where ever you go. Even when you feel your worst – tired and defeated – you cannot hide the love that shines from your heart. So celebrate our successes this year and know that you played an important part, even if you can’t see it. And accept all of my gratitude as we enter into these last two months of our school year.

IN OUR AMERICA: Some of you have asked me about the disappearance of the In Our America sign from the front of our school, and the Refugees Are Welcome Here and All Faiths Welcome signs in our front windows. I wanted to let you know that they are down because our landlords have demanded their removal. We received a formal letter from them asking that they be removed because they see them as political in nature. After a discussion with Jen Woodward and Sarah Thistlethwaite (our co-presidents) I was prepared to suggest a compromise to them where we would remove them during non-school days and hours. Our point of view is that the signs are a direct expression of the anti-bias values of our school and our commitment to a fair and just world. The signs were only seen if a person were to directly approach the classroom and were not anywhere near the front entrance of the church.

During a phone conversation I had with one of the leaders of the the Latvian Assn. and Church, it was made clear that they are not interested in a compromise and demanded they be removed immediately. I tried to make our position clear but it sadly fell on deaf ears. The conversation ended (as in I was done talking to the gentleman) when he went off on the true reasons they are disturbed. It was as I had feared – the statement Black Lives Matter and the statement Women Are in Charge of Their Own Bodies were the focus of their objections. When he stated “I don’t know who you are trying to impress anyway, 4 and 5 year olds?” I was done. I let him know the signs were already down and then said goodbye.

After a lot of steaming I again discussed it with our co-presidents and then with our board of directors. I will be drafting a letter to our landlords letting them know that we are complying with their directive but are doing so under protest. I will share with them some information about the formation of biases and how we as a school are attempting to interrupt those messages and work for equality for all in our world. In essence YES we are trying to impress 3, 4 and 5 year olds and their parents too.

I do want ALL of our children to hear that Women Are In Charge of Their Own Bodies. Young girls should hear this message constantly and practice speaking up for themselves in an assertive and powerful manner. Our girls should never be touched unless they are asked and have given explicit consent. Our boys need this very same message. It is with young children that we can practice asking, waiting and listening, then respecting the answers given. Being in control of our own bodies means so much more than the right to access an abortion, but that is the limited image in our landlord’s view.

And it is not negotiable that our Black and Non-white students and their families enter our school knowing we believe their lives matter. And it is important that our white students and families see these messages and feel challenged and encouraged to give truth to these expressions of value – to challenge racism in all parts of our culture and society.

So in the meantime, I will display the signs proudly inside our classroom. We will be adding them to our website and our Facebook page. And, just in case you did not get a sign to display at your own home, or if you would like a sticker for your car (they cannot direct what we display on our vehicles!) please see me! I have stickers that I can give you. I also have a box of 70 In Our America signs at the school with wire stands. The cost is $10 per sign.

Spring Happenings

Lots coming up in these next two months of school. The 4s Class and the Pre-K will be dissecting Owl Pellets soon. And we will begin some life cycles and natural world explorations soon as well. Caterpillars will show up. Learning about insects and bugs. Mother’s Day gifts, fish print t-shirts, hatching chicks – all coming up during these last two months. Stay tuned for requests to bring in plain light colored t-shirts (prewashed). Think about whether you would like to adopt some baby chicks near the end of the school year and let me know.

We have our last General Community Meeting of the school year on Thursday April 20th. Remember that this is a mandatory meeting and one adult from each family must attend. This meeting functions as our Annual Meeting and we must have a quorum in order to adopt a budget for the coming year and vote in a co-president and secretary. We are also hosting a parent education speaker this month. Child Psychologist Lynn Collins will be coming to speak. I asked her to talk about developing and supporting emotional resilience in young children. I know this is a topic that has been on many of your minds lately. Lynn is awesome and you won’t want to miss it.

Our FIELD DAY this month is scheduled for Oaks Bottom on April 27th (3s and Pre-k) and 28th (4s). Stay tuned for more details on where to meet. As this is a hike, be sure to send your child with their own snack and water and to send them in clothing suited to the weather.

Lastly – PARENT TEACHER CONFERENCES! I will be offering parent teacher conferences on our in-service days, April 6th and 7th. I forgot to put up a sign up list before I left but will have one up immediately after I get home. There will be additional dates as well. I will also be sending out a questionnaire to complete and return to me prior to your conference to help guide our conversation.

Thanks everyone. Be sure to let me know if you have questions or concerns. Keep us updated on your planned absences and any illnesses that strike your families. Every year I hope that spring break will be the magic bullet that sees us through the virus season and we all come back healthy through the end of the year. It never works but hey, hope springs eternal. Maybe this year!

Gratefully yours,

Teacher Marty