June 2nd, 2015
Dear Williamsburg Northside Families,
I cannot believe that June is here and this amazing year is coming to a close. I am honored to represent a school of this quality and have an opportunity to reflect on this school year, one that has been rich and fulfilling. The accomplishments of the last year are astounding, not the least of which is Williamsburg Northside’s stature in the independent school community of New York City. As soon as I arrived in August not even two years ago, it was clear to me that this school was a jewel in Brooklyn. This year we have been discovered by those beyond our neighborhood, city, state and country. The Wonder of Learning brought over 12,000 visitors to our school and brought the work of Williamsburg Northside Schools into the spotlight for the Mayor, NYC independent and public schools, as well as international educators. At least 700 professionals toured our programs, separate from touring the exhibit, eager to learn from us how we do what we do. They came from as far away as China, Sweden, Brazil and Australia.
It is great to be recognized for what we do, but it is always our students’ and families’ experiences that matter the most to us. The community that exists, as well as the vital and stimulating learning environment are precious because of what they provide for our children’s development into engaged human beings and thinkers. In that sense, the Wonder of Learning event served as a center piece for our own professional development and conversations about how best to educate our students, so that they think deeply, synthesize different types of information, remain curious and profoundly enjoy learning. Our extremely dedicated and talented faculty used the exhibit as inspiration for creating documentation of the work done in the classroom, as well as for reflection on this documentation, a critical element to the thoughtful processing and discussion of investigations within the classrooms. I hope that you enjoyed the fruits of this in the hallways and classrooms, and used it to inspire conversations between you and your children as you were in the school’s buildings this year. The respect the staff has for the children and their work was both beautifully evident throughout the documentation, as well as through the interactions between students and teachers.
In addition to the relationships the children have developed with their teachers around their work and play this year, we know that the environment is an important element of educational practice. The children of both the Lower School and ITC have enjoyed the larger and better suited spaces they have moved into this school year. The Lower School more than tripled or quadrupled its art studio and library spaces, as well as added a huge new gym, a music room, Spanish room, and science lab. The ITC now has two indoor gyms, an enclosed backyard garden, a library, a music room and its own art studio. The Preschool roof has been transformed into part garden, part natural material “loose parts” area and part playground. The Preschool lobby is warm and inviting and the gym has some surprises coming just around the corner.
Our school community is such an important and special part of our lives, it deserves careful and loving attention. This is true for our children, families, and staff. The year began with many community building events for the children and their families including the record setting attendance at the costume party, as well as Moms’ and Dads’ nights out. Throughout the year, the Family Breakfasts, Friendship Assemblies, Buddy Visits, Picnics, Harvest Day, Potlucks, and Sing-a-Longs served as opportunities to come together in different ways. All of the children in the school shared something about themselves for the time-honored tradition of the “All about Me” installations. The children have also enjoyed coming together with different homerooms for visits from the Lennon Bus, Child’s Play Theater, Talons-Birds of Prey, and the Petting Zoo. Book Authors could be found at all the programs throughout the year, reading their works to the younger children and sharing their creative process with the older children. The Lower School highlighted their academic accomplishments with Lower School parents with Project Shares, Publishing Shares, Technology Shares and Science Projects. They also shared with the broader community the unveiling of the Mosaic installation in the Lower School Library, the Music Concert (June 4th) and Gallery Night. Math and Literacy Nights were open to all parents and Field Day was a special sporting event for the Lower School. The Wonder of Learning event gave our 4th Graders the opportunity to perform their amazing drumming for the Opening Night Ceremony and share the stage with Mayor Bill de Blasio and Borough President Eric Adams, an honor I feel sure His Honor and the Borough President will remember for some time to come!
I cannot talk about our community without gratitude for the Parent Association. The PA has done tremendous things for our school this year. All year they have been looking after our community health and greening. In support of an inclusive and diverse community, they put on the Family Table event and the Gala which raised more money for the hardship fund and the Diversity Scholarship than ever before! The committees of the PA spurred on work that will be carried on next year and subsequent years in collaboration with the faculty and administration.
In response to parents’ expressed wishes to have events related to parenting topics, the esteemed child psychologist Dr. Ron Taffel, author of numerous books and over 100 articles on child rearing, presented in the late Fall. His talk about compassionate limit setting led to terrific discussions and our audience took away many positive and practical ideas. It was a wonderful way to kick off our lecture series that included Dr. Marcie Beigel, Dr. Lauren Tobing, Dr. Nicole Pernod, and Nadia Jenefsky.
We do have experts who we invite in, but you should also be aware that in our midst, we have experts who have had honors bestowed on them this year. Tara Mastin, our Head of Lower School, was selected by NYC Department of Education to train their teachers to teach Literacy. Our Librarian/Media Specialist, Karen Grenke, was recently elected the Vice President of the Hudson Valley Librarian Association, a professional tri-state organization of librarians primarily at independent schools. She joins members of the Board from Chapin, Collegiate, LREI, and Brooklyn Friends, to name a few. Our school was also accepted into the Parents League of New York.
As we look forward to the upcoming year, it is with energy and inspiration. Through our contacts through the exhibit, we started working with a group of educators in China who have developed an innovative way of working with children. Their work inspired our “loose parts” event in March that was such a great success and interesting for both parents and children. I have been invited to China to observe the work that is being done in Anji County with a group of educators from Columbia University, Mills College, and University of Newcastle, Australia, as well as a toy designer from the Rhode Island School of Design, and architects from Shanghai, China who are former colleagues of I.M. Pei. I will be gone next week and will be bringing back interesting ideas and information to share. I will definitely be back for our last week of school, as I cannot miss that momentous moment of transition for our students! We have also been invited to participate in discussions at the 92nd Street Y, as part of a group of educators considering Kindness. Ultimately the goal is to explore ways of making the world a kinder place through schools. More to come…
In the coming days, we will be sending out a survey about your experiences at Williamsburg Northside over the last year. Please fill only one for each child you have in the program. Your voices are important and we want to ensure that you each have the opportunity to tell about your hopes and dreams for the future of the school and your child’s educational community. I want to thank you in advance for taking some time out of your very busy lives to share your thoughts with us.
I will close this long missive with a note of gratitude to the entire community that makes up such a special school. My heart is full.
Gina Farrar, PhD
Head of Schools
Williamsburg Northside Schools