Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Job Well Done

by Shawna Lee, staff member

Every week for 30 minutes or more, between 10 and 20 students pitch in to pull thistle, blackberry and invasive reed canary grass from a large area of our campus along North Creek. Clearwater's School Meeting partnered with Snohomish County Surface Water Management and Clearwater Commons to restore and replant an area along the creek with native trees and shrubs. The goal is to create better riparian habitat for Chinook, Coho and sockeye salmon that spawn in the creek, as well as many other species of native fauna and flora.

School Meeting made a  commitment to provide volunteer time to maintain the restoration site. For the most part, students enjoy being outdoors and working together to give the new plants a better chance to grow and thrive by decreasing weed competition. Many students have become quite skilled at spotting low-growing weeds and knowing which plants are newly planted shrubs and which are similar-sized weeds. It can be tricky in the depths of winter when everything is mostly leafless.

In early December, three girls tackled a patch of blackberries. Eight-year-old Johnna had already taken on grubbing out Himalayan and evergreen blackberry as a personal mission in previous weeding sessions, and was committed to pulling the entire root. Many of the blackberries are fairly small, so pulling the whole thing took focused attention, but wasn't too physically taxing.

After they had already been working nearly 30 minutes, Johnna and her friends, Zoe (8) and Krista (19), tackled an 8-9-foot-long blackberry cane. They cut off the thorny part above the ground before working on the root. Johnna was relentless. Even though everyone else had completed their 30 minutes and left the work area, Johnna was committed to removing the root no matter how long it took--and she wanted to get it out by herself. Krista held branches aside to give Johnna room to excavate the root and Zoe became a cheerleader of sorts, taking on the role of a sports announcer by holding a trowel like a microphone and giving a blow-by-blow narration of Johnna's progress and blackberry whacking prowess.

A large piece of root was extracted and Johnna was triumphant. In this video, you can see a bit of their elation and pride when the job was done.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Winter Cafe - Sneak Peek!

by Shawna Lee, staff member

The Clearwater School is celebrating Groundhog Day (February 2, 2012) by hosting the second annual Winter Cafe, an inspirational showcase of student solo and group performances. The showcase will be preceded by a potluck at 12:30pm, and performances begin at 2:00pm. Donations of $5 per person are requested for the performance.

Everyone is welcome, but space is limited. RSVP and reserve your space now by contacting The Clearwater School by phone (425) 489-2050 or email.

Here's a sneak peak in photos and video of last week's rehearsal. (The Clearwater Singers will also be performing, but no photographs were taken of them during the rehearsal.)

Alex singing

Aidan, Leo and Gabriel
Benji on saxophone

Leo on bass

Jacy and Maddy

Benji, Matt, Bryan, Cass (partially hidden), Leo and Aidan

A Tantalizing Video Montage

Friday, January 18, 2013


by Bryan

Back at Clearwater after several days' absence, stressed out about lots of things, and not really sure I had the energy to be fully present at school, I was asked to sit in with a number of students practicing on their musical act. That was something I could do.

There's nothing like jamming with other musicians, and by now the group is at a very exciting point -- musicians are sure enough with their instruments to be able to do things, and confident enough with each other to feel free to experiment. This is a great stage for a musician -- confidence with where you are, tempered with frequent tastes of learning something new.
Practicing for Winter Cafe (Bryan, 2nd from left)

I sat in on keyboard and more or less filled out the sound with some chords. It was the perfect re-entry into school. What I added didn't feel like much to me, but it was gratifying to hear others remark about how it added to the sound and made the whole thing better. I love playing music with others, but it's especially exciting when everyone is improving on each others' riffs. After we stopped, I found that all that afternoon and evening I had a bass line going through my head, and my mind was experimenting with what I might do to complement it.

The jam doesn't stop even when you put down your instrument.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Not as different as I thought (Part II)

by Susan Milton, Clearwater parent
Part I was published last week.

As I was writing about some of the similarities between my own school experience growing up, and my kids' experience at Clearwater, I started to think about how both schools were opened in order to provide the community with an educational option that at the time was available at only a handful of schools around the country.

Here is what The Bryn Mawr School website says about the founding of the school in 1885:

".... putting the social standing and reputation of their families in Baltimore at risk, ... five young women chose to open a school that would prepare local girls for something they knew many families did not yet want - intellectual challenge on par with that available to boys." "The curriculum was daring and liberal for its time, including both modern and classical languages, English, history, math, the latest scientific theories, and a focus on physical education - all of which stretched the limits of imagination and acceptance."

Founders of Bryn Mawr School for Girls

Today, it is really hard to wrap our heads around the mindset of a time decades before women would have the right to vote in this country, when it was highly controversial for girls to go to school and take classes in English, Math, P.E. and so on. But, as a Clearwater parent, I am very familiar with the experience of sending my kids to a school which stretches "the limits of imagination and acceptance."

I'm not sure exactly what motivated parents in 1885 to send their daughters to a school where girls were viewed as equal to boys. Maybe their reasons were not so different from the reasons parents today send their kids to Clearwater, where children have rights and responsibilities that throughout most of our culture are only enjoyed by adults.

Many of the mothers of those first Bryn Mawr students must have wished that they could have gone to a similar school when they were young. Perhaps some families were seeking a solution for a "difficult" daughter who just could not seem to succeed at what the "normal" girls of the day were doing. There must have been families in which one parent approved of the school and one didn't. In any case, it took courage for all of the parents to allow their daughters a type of education which many people felt would be destructive to the girls' futures, and perhaps even to the future of society as a whole.

Clearwater students

It so happened that I was in the 100th class to graduate from The Bryn Mawr School for Girls, and so there was some extra focus on the history of our school that year. I vaguely remember that Founders Day was kind of a big deal. To me, the founders were those stern-looking women in Victorian outfits in those old photographs, and I couldn't really imagine them as actual people. Now that I am more aware of the challenges involved in the early days of an innovative style of school, they seem more real to me, and I am impressed and inspired by what they were able to accomplish. I picture them as free-thinking, visionary, and determined women, not so unlike our own Clearwater founders.

Girls and ponies at Clearwater

I am sure that the early supporters of The Bryn Mawr School would be happy to see how it all turned out. They were correct in anticipating the type of world that women of the future would be living in, and they also helped to bring that world into being. And the school continued to thrive and grow for the next century and well beyond that. 

 Martha Carey Thomas, a founder of Bryn Mawr School for Girls

It's fun for me to think about Clearwater celebrating its 100th year in 2096. Perhaps some of today's students will be around to tell their stories. Maybe by then, it will be entirely commonplace for kids to vote on issues important to them, and to learn what they want to, when they want to.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

One Strategy for Working with Sadness

by Shawna Lee, Clearwater staff member

To be human is to experience a range of complex and powerful emotions. For many of us, becoming aware of and taking responsibility for those emotions is a formidable and lifelong challenge.

Children, too, experience complex and sometimes overwhelming emotions. I am often dismayed by the ways adult culture can trivialize, minimize or try to talk children out of their feelings, as if children's feelings are somehow less real or important than those of adults.

At The Clearwater School, students are free to grapple with the spectrum of emotions that come up every day from happy or difficult interactions with friends to satisfying or frustrating experiences. Clearwater students feel chagrined and angry when they don't meet their own expectations, or sad and bitterly disappointed when friends renege on existing plans or make plans that don't include each other.

Because Clearwater students have so much time and space to work with all their emotions, they become skilled at identifying, owning and expressing their feelings when they are young. The following video illustrates how 10-year-old Vera chose to work with her sadness one day when she felt left out of her friends' activities. Note that the friends in question were in the Art Room, where all three of them were happily drawing together on the day Vera talked about her comic.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Not As Different As I Thought (Part I)

by Susan Milton, Clearwater parent

One day a couple of years ago, I was at a playground chatting about schools with another mom while our kids played. After hearing a bit about The Clearwater School, where my kids go, and The Bryn Mawr School for Girls, where I went as a child, she said, "Oh, so you wanted your kids to have the kind of school that you had". I started to say, "oh, no, no,...", when all of the sudden I realized that she had a point. In mid-sentence, I changed my mind 180 degrees and said, "Yeah, I guess you're right. I never thought of it like that."

Susan, 2nd row, 2nd from left

I realized in that moment that although my own school was very traditional, and all girls, and we wore uniforms (although it was not a religious school), and Clearwater is nothing like this, that maybe both schools are similar in the ways that turned out to be of lasting importance to me.

For example:
  • Small Supportive Community. At my school, there were about 50 girls in each grade. Many, including me, went to the school from kindergarten or first grade through the end of high school. And while I wouldn't exactly say that I had warm fuzzy feelings towards everyone at every moment, it was a culture where kindness and basic human decency were valued highly. I never experienced or witnessed any bullying at school. 
  • Continuity. I got to see how different people grew and changed over the years, and I remember times when teachers who knew me as a little girl were still there encouraging me as a teenager. It is not so hard for me to imagine how my kids feel at Clearwater, where they know everyone and can stay in the same school from early childhood through early adulthood. I am really glad that this experience is available to them.
  • Beautiful, Healthful Surroundings.That concrete, fenced-in school building is so ubiquitous, that it seems like it somehow must be a normal, natural place for children to spend their days. But whenever I visit a school like this I never feel like I want to stay long in that institutional space, no matter how nice the people are. I was lucky enough to spend my school years surrounded by grass, trees, and homelike buildings with plenty of fresh air. This wasn't the kind of thing I remember giving a lot of thought to as a kid, but looking back on it, I feel that this calming environment sunk in deep and had a great effect on my overall well-being, including my ability to learn while at school. And I am really glad that at Clearwater my kids are surrounded by natural beauty and comfortable indoor spaces every day.
  • Outstanding Learning Environment. Education was a huge priority for my parents, and they agonized over the decision about what type of school would be best for me. Like every parent I know, they wanted me to be successful in life and they also thought that there was intrinsic value in being an educated person. I believe that the school I went to turned out to be an amazing place for learning, and that Clearwater offers all the best aspects of that, plus lots more. It is really easy for me to focus on the new and different aspects of Clearwater's approach to learning, because I feel so passionately that these differences can offer a way out of so many of the problems that exist in education. But now I am thinking that maybe it is the similarities that drew me in as much as the differences, and that I am able to recognize what a fantastic environment for learning Clearwater is because of the way it builds upon what I experienced myself growing up. 
I have heard so many parents say that they hated school and would never want their kids to have a similar experience, so I know I am lucky that my story isn't like that. While I was writing this, I started to think about another similarity between The Bryn Mawr School and Clearwater, so this post has a part 2 - stay tuned.

Part 2 will be published next week.

Susan Milton has two children at The Clearwater School: Thad (14) and Imogen (7), both of whom have attended since they started school at age four and five.