Head’s Corner: Much Appreciation

Dear Saklan Families, 

Saying farewell to our graduates and other students at the end of the school year is always bittersweet, and gives me pause to reflect on the year. As I shared at graduation, there are several groups of people that made this year possible, and I would like to take a moment to share my appreciation. 

The first is our parents. Without your support the year would not have been possible. You have partnered with us as we have helped your children navigate the ups and downs of the school year. You supported us as we continued to adjust to all things COVID: masking, not masking, quarantining, testing, etc. You believed in us when we decided that taking students to Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Westminster Woods, the Marin Headlands, and Coloma was a good idea.   

Parents, thank you.

I also want to thank our teachers; the people on the front line. And while I am not fond of that metaphor, these days it feels accurate. 

Teachers, last year, you came back to teach in the middle of a pandemic, you dealt with masking, distancing, plastic shields, testing, etc. This year you navigated a second pandemic of sorts, one of mental health- as we all now understand the toll the pandemic has put on our children as well as ourselves.

And you showed up to give students the learning experience they deserve. From hands-on learning to a trip to the Moraga Gardens or Hawaii, from fantastic project presentations at CLAS to the musicals, whole-school concert, in-person art show- the list goes on. Thank you.

As educators we often wonder if we honestly deliver on our promise to help students think creatively, act compassionately and live courageously. But as I listened to the graduate speeches on Monday night, the evidence unfolded in front of me. Not in numbers, but in their words. Those 8th grade student speeches were a body of evidence that are an indicator of who the students have become, and the work our teachers do. As Milo said in his speech Monday night, “words matter.”  

And while our students’ words are a graceful reflection of who they are, they are also a tribute to those who show up everyday to make a difference. Their words were so powerful that I want to share some of them.

Everything at Saklan was educational but also fun at the same time. I was very worried whether or not the Saklan community would accept me. I discovered that being yourself makes talking to people much easier. I found that the students at Saklan made it so much easier to be yourself and discover yourself. Everyone at Saklan is all different, but no one lets their differences get in the way of being friends.

Anessa

If you truly believe in your cause and truly believe that what you are doing is right, nobody can tell you otherwise. Remember the only person that can bring you down is you, so do the best you possibly can and always be yourself. The only way to achieve true happiness is by being yourself, not by being someone else.

Milo

I would like to thank all my friends for always supporting me and being there for me when I need it most. I know that if I cry there will always be someone there to check in and help out. Even if they give you an awkward high-five they are still trying to help. And that’s what Saklan is about.

Zoe

There is no other school where children are encouraged to be their true and best selves while surrounded by incredible love and support; no other school where teachers hop in so eagerly to help you mend problems, whether big or small, to make you feel seen and heard; no other school can you find teachers who fully believe in you and will do whatever they can to help you soar; no other school that becomes another home in which you can seek refuge; no other school that can better nourish a child’s sprout and ignite that curiosity into passion.

Ryan

The graduate’s speeches were spoken from the heart, but little did they know how much they nurtured our souls. Thank you, Class of 2022.

Thank you, again, for helping us all make it through another challenging year. Our community moves forward to planning for the 2022-23 school year with much strength, unity, humility, and hope.

I wish you all an incredible and rejuvenating summer.

With appreciation,

David

Saklan Summer Reflection Fund Winners

Due to the generosity of our parent community, we were able to create a fund that supports teachers in creating their own opportunity to reflect on their teaching. This Summer Reflection Fund (up to $2500 per recipient) is meant to encourage teachers and staff to think of out-of-the-box ways to become better at what they do. In past lives I have seen teachers use this fund for anything from poetry camps to traveling the Lewis and Clark Trail. This year I would like to congratulate our two recipients, Lisa Rokas and Peta Siacor.   

As a 5th grade teacher, Peta teaches U.S. History, and as a native of the “Land Down Under” she did not feel as connected to the U.S. as she possibly could be. Hence the fifth grade states project where students researched their chosen state with an eye on persuading Peta to visit it this summer. From New Mexico, to Hawaii and Florida, students not only researched the state, but built a history laden itinerary for Peta to follow. Through an intricate voting process, one state will be chosen for Peta to travel to this summer. From that travel, Peta will bring back true hands-on knowledge of a piece of U.S. History. 

The second recipient is Lisa Rokas, 3rd grade teacher extraordinaire and one of our two Social Emotional Coordinators. Lisa spotted an exceptional opportunity to join several other educators this summer at the Institute for Social Emotional Learning. The institute’s main goal is to empower educators, young people, and parents to transform their schools into caring, inclusive communities. Through experiential learning the institute enables educators to inspire young people to be compassionate leaders and resilient learners. 

I want to thank our generous community for supporting these endeavors and look forward to learning much from Lisa and Peta when they return to school this August. 

Warmly, 

David 

#HeadsCorner

Head’s Corner: What a Special Place

Dear Saklan Community,

I’m enjoying being Head of School today! After CLAS, I walked all around the campus asking students and teachers what they love about Saklan. Almost everyone in every class had something to share with me, which was so cool for me to see. A lot of people said they loved the teachers, the specials, and their friends. They also said they loved the small classrooms so they could get more attention from their teachers. Here are some other quotes from this morning:

“Everyone is always kind, caring, and helpful in this community.”

“Everyone gets to know each other at Saklan.”

“I love the field experiences, whether it’s Moraga Commons or far away.”

“I love that it’s safe here and there’s no stealing.”

“The students make this place brighter.”

“Everyone is there for you.”

“Everyone has the ability to be themselves.”

“I love the family feel of Saklan.”

“I love my colleagues and my community.”

“I love the playground, the redwood trees, and the beautiful campus.”

“Saklan has the best students!”

“The teachers listen to your feelings.”

“All the teachers and students connect with each other.”

“Family Group leaders take care of you and are always helpful and caring.”

This was a great reminder of what a special place this is to me and why I love to come to school. I am grateful to have teachers and friends that are always caring and kind. I loved being Head of School for a day, and I hope I get to do it again someday!

Happy Friday!

Love,

Kingsley 

#SaklanConfident #SaklanConnected #HeadsCorner

Head for a Day

I got to be the Head of School yesterday! The first thing I did was open doors for students before school started. It was fun to greet them and see their surprised faces. Then I met with David and walked through the classrooms. 

The 6th graders had a surprise guest (the guide from their fall field experience at Westminster Woods). He was kind and silly and had their full attention. The students seemed really excited to see him again. 

On the ECE yard, Ms. Jessica was reading a captivating dinosaur book to some of the students while others played on the playground. In Kindergarten, students were writing in their journals; I loved seeing how the young kids write and I was impressed that I could read their work. A lot of them wrote about having lunch with the bigger kids in the pavilion. 

Then we went to see the box of concrete that the 1st graders had created with the 8th graders on Wednesday. It was fascinating, cool and surprising to see that the 1st graders could make that; it’s amazing what people can do when they work together! 

In second grade, the students were reading myths. Many of them raised their hands in excitement to share what they were learning. The 3rd graders were learning about Susan B. Anthony, and learning their vocabulary words. They were on task and happy to point things out in the classroom. 

We walked into the 4th grade when they were starting a new book. But what I am most excited about in 4th grade right now is the passion projects that we have just begun. Fifth grade was watching a video of their concert drumming performance. They looked focused and I think they were getting ready to share their thoughts about what they did well. 

I learned that the Head of School has to deal with a lot of urgent matters, and sometimes even crises, but they can also make decisions that make kids happy. I don’t think I want to be a Head of School, but I had fun doing it for one day!

Sincerely,

Vanessa B.

#SaklanConfident #HeadsCorner

Willing Hearts

To say Grace spent a little time curating the songs for the concert would be an understatement. From “Seasons of Love” to “People Get Ready” to Wyatt’s moving introduction to “Fight Song,” the message of the concert was clearly of hope and looking forward. I would not be surprised if Grace has spent the past two years thinking and waiting to have your children share this message of hope with us. 

Grace had a lot of support. The 3rd- 8th grade students had the privilege of learning Ghanian drumming with Isaac while Annie worked with the Owlets and Hoot Owls to prepare for their concert debut. Shay and Emily made sure every logistical detail was taken care of while Javi prepared the venue for the audience, sound, and instruments. Our teachers were flexible, patient, and helpful throughout the process. The students showed their courage by singing their hearts out.  

Pulling off a whole school concert is not a task for the faint of heart. Executing it outdoors – in a parking lot- at the end of the rainy season (whatever that means these days) with 70% of the participants new to the activity- the word impossible comes to mind. 

But then again, “nothing is impossible to a willing heart.” And if Grace is anything, it is a willing heart. A willing heart that inspires others. 

In immense gratitude,

David

#SaklanCreative #SaklanCourageous

Shindig Success

Dear Saklan Community,

Thank you to everyone who came to celebrate at the Auction Shindig last Saturday. It was clear how much this community needed to be together and how much it meant to be in person. As a community we raised over $135,000 (a record for Saklan), including $93,600 for the Pavilion Fund-a-Need and $6,025 for the Teacher Summer Reflection Fund! Thank you all for your generosity.

I’d like to share a special thank you to Emily Williamson, who was tasked with an almost impossible responsibility: plan an in-person auction that uses donated items from two years ago which may or may not still be valid, that is COVID safe and inclusive, that has indoor and outdoor capabilities, that may or may not actually happen, and that raises money for the school. Finding venues that would satisfy all of our criteria took some time, and then her vision came to life in two short months!

Although Emily has been living and breathing auction planning and execution (and now the wrapping up part), she has had some behind the scenes help. A special thank you to the auction committee: Darla Lovrin, Brian Lovrin, and Amy Perkins for following up on donations, helping to procure decorations, being involved in the planning, and being part of a historic night.

Thank you, Sandy Lo, for taking on the organization, donations, descriptions, and display of the wine raffle! We had some very generous contributions from many families to complete this array, so thank you to all who donated too.

Thank you to Makeda Assefa, Huiying Li and Natasha Reckless for your helping in setting up the event and making the hall look so festive. 

A huge thank you to Lauren Haberly for her work on the collaborative art pieces, and for her guidance of the middle schoolers that created the desert scenery featured at the event. 

Thank you to Javier Yacarini and Shay Sager for spending Saturday helping to set up the auction, moving items from Saklan to the venue and helping to make the ambiance perfect – and then for bartending all night and helping to clean up afterwards. It was a long day made more fun with your presence!

At the event – thank you to Yette Prizeman and Peta Siacor for helping to sell raffle tickets, to Kim Parks and Toshie Baba for helping check in guests, to Gina Gabriel for helping record bids, and to Karen Catanzarite and Linda Lathrop for being excellent spotters during the live auction.

Auctions are a lot of hard work, and we often wonder beforehand if they are worth the effort. Then we all go and revel in the beautiful connections that we make or are reminded of and that subsides. It was a magical evening; a much-needed reconnection for many, and I am so grateful to have been a part of it. Emily, I wish you many good nights of sleep ahead! Thank you, again.

David

#HeadsCorner

Fund-A-Need & the Importance of Inspiration

Two and a half years ago, we started a conversation about the Pavilion and the desire to convert it into a more flexible space. We would refurbish it and install walls that would roll down on rainy or cold days. It would be a space that could be used for lunch and for class assemblies, student presentations, collaborative workspace, parent and teacher meetings, PE on rainy days, guest speakers; the list goes on. 

The plan was (and still is) to take a mundane eating area and create a space that every community member could use. 

And while all those things are still valid, one facet has recently driven how we think about space. How can this space inspire us? 

The Pavilion’s primary purpose has always been to provide a place for students to eat. The additional practical needs of the school are things like more meeting space or PE on rainy days. 

As we continue to include more genuine project-based learning, students need room to collaborate in an environment that fosters creativity. They need a setting where they can share what they have learned with an authentic audience. They need a space that helps them build the confidence and the courage to tackle complex problems. They need a space that inspires.

And so our vision has evolved.  

Our Fund-A-Need for the Pavilion is to create a space where creativity, confidence, and collaboration are inspired – and yeah- you can eat there too. 

#HeadsCorner #SaklanShindig

What Gratitude Looks Like

We spend quite a bit of time here at Saklan thinking about the power of gratitude. We work to recognize when others do good work and call it out. We send handwritten cards home to children, sharing with them the good we notice, and let them know how grateful we are that they are an important part of what makes Saklan- well Saklan. 

And sometimes someone shares their heartfelt gratitude with words that resonate and meet the moment. January and the beginning of February felt like the most challenging time of the pandemic. At the end of January, Mel Zippin sent the email below to everyone on the Saklan team. I share it because it speaks to how special this community is, and how powerful gratitude is. Take three minutes to read it, it is worth your time. -David


Hi,

As we near the two-year mark of this pandemic, I have been reminded several times this week that we are all running on fumes. What we have endured and continue to deal with is absolutely not sustainable, and yet here we are sustaining. 

We have grieved the loss of normal outings, seeing faces, hugging friends, traveling, seeing family, etc. And in all of this, we have tried to wrap our minds and hearts around what was happening – as adults even that has been exhausting.

Then I think about the kids and my heart breaks. Because although they are seemingly resilient, it is confusing. They see and hear and feel much of what we do, and many of them can’t totally understand or even remember life before masks.

And in all of this, YOU have guided them through this weirdness. You show up and teach and love and see them and listen to them. You model kindness and compassion and hard work and resilience. I think in many ways you have saved them.

Since we’ve come back from Winter Break things have become really challenging again. Personal tragedies and challenges aside (of which there have been plenty), you are working overtime, testing and testing, accommodating students who are home, overcommunicating to families, worrying about omicron. It feels endless. 

So, I guess I just wanted to acknowledge the exhaustion. And I wanted to thank you for being this community for my kids and my family. Being able to come to work (and having my children in school) has been a lifeline for me too. I appreciate all of you for what you do and for the gift that you have given me. 

Please take a moment today to take a breath and realize that I am in my office appreciating the heck out of you. And I hope that you are all finding time for some self-care in this madness.

Hugs,

Mel 🙂

#HeadsCorner

Head’s Corner

The Power of Reflection

Over the past two years, it has become clear that making room in our lives for reflection is more important than ever. And yet, with everything that has been going on in our world, it seems harder and harder to make the time and space for this.  

Hence we have started a new initiative at Saklan to help teachers find ways to reflect on their life’s work and come back in the Fall refreshed and energized. Starting this year, teachers will be encouraged to apply for a grant through the Saklan Summer Reflection Fund. This fund will financially support teachers and staff to pursue professional development projects of personal interest off campus that also benefit their students and the school. In the past I have seen teachers take this in all sorts of directions: from Poetry Slam camps and meditation retreats to specialized conferences and historical explorations. One history teacher, for example, decided to follow the Lewis & Clark Trail, bringing the experience back to her classroom. Inspired teachers inspire students! 

You can support this initiative by contributing to the Auction Shindig Wine Raffle or by making a monetary donation to the fund on our auction website.  

The Saklan teachers and staff are excited about pursuing summer reflective opportunities. We look forward to sharing their experiences.

Head’s Corner

These past few weeks have been a huge challenge for all of us- from the absences, endless testing, tracking COVID-19 cases, and quarantine protocols, not to mention the Hunger Games-like atmosphere to procure an Antigen Rapid Test. It’s been a lot. 

But there is a second front that we have been battling since the start of the pandemic- the mental health of our students. I do not need to cite the numbers; we have all felt or seen it in one way or another. Its roots are in the loss of connection and engagement.

The way we have endured the ongoing stress of this pandemic is to double down on what we know is best for our students, our learning, and our community. While we have worked to keep everyone safe and healthy, we have not lost sight of the importance of a connected community and engaging curriculum. Students begin each morning with a Morning Meeting, Advisory, or Circle Time (depending on the grade level), enabling them to be present, engage, check-in, and feel seen and heard. This allows our community to stay connected with one another despite the chaos and uncertainty that has been surrounding us all. 

Not only is our hands-on curriculum and social emotional learning happening on campus, but we continue to plan for our spring field experiences, guest experts, and community events. Our 8th graders are preparing to go to Puerto Rico to build homes; the 4th graders are headed to Coloma to immerse themselves in the gold rush experience; the 5th graders will go to the Nature-Bridge Golden Gate Outdoor Program; we are working on rescheduling the 7th grade Hawaii experience; the all-school concert is being planned for April. Despite the limits the pandemic has imposed, there is still much to be hopeful and excited about.

We know how hard and exhausting these past 22 months have been. However, we will continue to prioritize a nurturing place of consistency and safety for your children. As always, thank you for your support, cooperation, and trust. Your partnership has made this all possible.

In gratitude,

David

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