Again we face fear and prejudice…

It seems just a few short days ago, I was preparing and presenting a speech for our graduates about tolerance and trust.  I encouraged them that there are things that will happen in life to shake our safety and security when others act on fear and anger.

And, on the weekend, we faced the latest challenge to our belief in what we think the world should become when senselessly, fellow human beings were slaughtered because of hate and intolerance.  My heart is broken and I’m left numbed by the long string of atrocities that span the globe.  Fear and reproach have no borders of boundaries, it seems, crossing all ethnic and cultural lines and founded in the wrongheaded belief that diversity somehow cripples us.

Somewhere along the way in our development as a species, we have lost track of the common goal of humankind.  Like many of you, I’m sick of moments of silence and empty rhetoric.  I was always brought up believing that our commonly held goal was not to write laws that carefully restricted access to guns, but that our true aim was to craft a world where weapons of any kind would no longer be necessary nor allowed.  I teach children so that they will aspire to craft a planet that values people over property and were “peace and prosperity for all” is the commonly held goal.

In my heart, I’m standing with the families and friends of those who lost their lives in Orlando.  I’m also thoughtful of those who have died in similar circumstances around the world, that do not make the mainstream press, but who have succumbed to a similar mix of anger and ill will.  Terrorism in all its forms and locations is just wrong.

I believe, as many have stated, that one thing is true.  If we seek to fight the crazy person wielding the gun and make him our enemy, we are missing the point.  It is not about the gun or the man wielding it.  It is about the beliefs that inspired his actions and about how we, as teachers of each successive generation, inspire something far better in the minds of the children we serve.  We need a world of peace and understanding, now more than ever.  It makes our tenet at AAS of “Respect Self AND Others” particularly poignant.

I wish you well as we leave school in the shadow of these events.  I hope you find and inspire peace and tranquility throughout the summer.  I wish you safe travels and an equally safe return here or arrival to your new destination.  To a school of 65 nationalities that is also diverse in all other ways possible, I can say only one thing:  I love each and every one of you!!

Newsletter – June 8

Summer is almost here!!

I’m looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible at Closing Ceremony next week as we bid farewell to another school year.  It’s hard to believe that, for me, it has been 5 years already — an anniversary of sorts.  It is quite amazing to look back on all the many things accomplished in one year, let alone what this school has achieved in five.  The many faces that have been involved in our growth and development over the years will forever be etched in our memories.  Schools are a transitory place, faced with understanding the nature of growth and transition.  This may be why we often use words like “journey” and “pathway” to describe the experience of education.  Education, after all, is a means to an end, a bridge more than a destination.

To that end, we wish everyone well on their upcoming journeys.  Whether a summer sojourn and a quick return back for the next school year, a trek of greater distance to your next adventure, or the journey returning to home country, we wish all well for a restful and renewing summer vacation filled with fond memories.

My thanks to all for your partnership and counsel.  Whenever the opportunity emerges, the community has always been ready to respond.  This makes me anxious for August already and the onset of a new year!!

For those who are departing to other places far and away, I remind you as I always do:  Once a Penguin, Always a Penguin!!

The 2015-2016 Closing Ceremony will be held Wednesday, June 15 at 11.00 in the North Gym.  Parents are welcome!  The event will live streamed at the following link:   http://www.ustream.tv/channel/aaspenguinlive 

Newsletter – June 1

Welcome, June!

Now that we have completed both graduations, Moscow and St. Petersburg, we find ourselves in the midst of final demonstrations of learning that will play out in the remaining days. I value tremendously the remaining plays and programs as they present their “best stuff” to parent audiences. And we have done well to make sure there are packed audiences that reinforce our students for their efforts. We have the Strings Concert tomorrow night, the Elementary School Play today and tomorrow, and a few other opportunities for kids to show how their learning takes form and function that extends beyond the classroom. The time is coming for “pats on the back” and “high fives” for jobs well done.

Please take the time in the coming days to honor your kids for their hard work and diligent effort. They have had many wonderful experiences this year. The cycle of the school year always leaves us with an opportunity in the early days of June to recognize accomplishment and celebrate the fact that learning, like the seasons, has a life cycle of engagement followed by reflection, keeping us ever reminded that learning is life long.

My thanks to all the valued families and volunteers who participated in our most successful PTO International Fair ever. After my turn on the dunk tank in the early minutes of the event, I got a sampling of the amazing spectrum of crafted treats that were on offer from 26 of our 64 countries. What a great day that was enjoyed by all in attendance. Thank you, PTO!! All we can say is, “Brilliant!!!”

And Happy Children’s Day! It’s June 1 and today is being celebrated around the world as the day we honor children. It may be that this date first inspired the International Children’s Day many years ago. First proclaimed in 1925 by the World Conference for the Well-being of Children, it was more formally recognized in 1954. It is currently recognized and formalized in 77 countries. My simple wish on this important day is that you take some extra time with your children to assure that they know their importance. It would be fun tonight if you gave your child a hug and told them it was a special one just for them and just for being a child. Because that is important, too!!

Newsletter- May 25

End-of-Year Events

May has almost ended and the final activities of the year are before us. Please pay close attention to the calendar as there are concerts, drama productions, moving-up ceremonies, and other end-of-year events scheduled in the next month.  For those in attendance at graduation last Saturday, we hope you enjoyed the pomp and circumstance of this auspicious event.  Thank you to our guest speaker AAS parent and BBC’s Moscow Correspondent Steve Rosenberg and our student speaker Niels Boender.  Both provided us with messages of significance and cohesion to a student-centric event.  Our seniors enjoyed this bittersweet moment as one journey ends and another begins.  They now move on to colleges and other programs around the globe and we wish them all the very best.

Faculty Departing

We also say goodbye to some valued faculty members this year, as we do each year.  It’s important to note their collective contributions to the school during their time here.  Without exception, they have brought tremendous talent, experience, and energy to the organization.  Their legacy of helping us continue to build and develop as a school is now woven into the fabric of who we have become.  We will forever be in their debt for the gifts they have bestowed on all of us.  Best of luck to our departing faculty:

Claire Ansell, John Bishop, Mark Blatnik, Natasha Cowdy, Emily Deutschman, Mary Dolesch, Nicole Doyle, Michael Emerson, Ruth Fawcett, Madeleine Heller, Christina Johnson, Amey Law, Patricia MacMillan, Elizabeth Miller, Dan Miller, Colleen Nelson, Bruce Nelson, Jill Norris, Glenda Semple, Charles Semple, Sheila Singh, James Stratton, Eleanor Weber, and and Martha Medendorp-Allan from our St. Pete campus.

School Year Calendars

A reminder:  to assist our community with planning,  we publish school year calendars several years in advance.  The 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and the recently approved 2018-2019 calendars are found on the website under the About Us tab and in the Quick Links menu.   Please note, a small adjustment was made in the 2017-2018 calendar. The  Autumn Break was moved one week earlier for better alignment with the CEESA athletic calendar.

Graduation Speech 2016

To all of our special guests, faculty, administration, parents, friends, and family members – we thank you for your pride and presence as we celebrate this, our 22nd commencement exercises for the class of 2016.

To all of our representatives from the supporting embassies including both honored guests and, especially, those who serve as members of our School Board, I thank you for your ongoing dedication to this vibrant institution.

I offer my gratitude to Steve for his words today.  I’m thankful for your message, which like mine, is also borne from the critical role parents play as partners in our community of nurturers. Thank you!

Mr. Boender, thank you for representing your friends so eloquently.  You captured the moment brilliantly and served your classmates well.

We know as an international community that many here on stage have had other schooling experiences before joining us in Moscow. Also, some have stayed with us for a time, left for a bit, and then returned. It is part of being an international school that we embrace a unique constancy of change and transition.  As has been my tradition, I’d like to recognize 4 students on this stage that started with us in their Kinder years and have remained throughout their school years at AAS.

Our special penguins, nurtured from egg to emperor, as I call your names, please stand and remain standing for a moment so that we can recognize you as a group:

  1. Michael Melnikas – Kindergarten to Graduation
  2. Kirill Merkulov – Pre-Kindergarten to Graduation
  3. Natalia Timofeeva – Pre-Kindergarten to Graduation
  4. Ingrid Zeilstra – First Steps to Graduation

Please recognize these students as our Penguins of longest standing.

I find it hard to speak to you today as a Director.  Sitting on this stage are students I’ve come to know a bit better than other classes and there’s one particular person of special interest sitting amongst them.  But, we’ll come back to that later.

I speak to you today as a parent.  Someone who, like most of you in this audience, has made many mistakes, always trying to learn from them along the way. And I do believe we learn from our children in equal measure to what we try to teach them.

With that in mind, I have to inform you, graduates, that life is often a paradox. Many problems do not lend themselves to easy solutions.  Instead, they seem to come and go like the tide. We confront these problems and watch them recede from view seemingly conquered, only to find them splashing on our heels again as we turn to walk away.  There are things in life that simply defy solution and all we can do is understand that some problems offer a kind of polarity where the most we can accomplish is to constantly tip the balance in our favor.

So, two examples of these balances to consider as you head out on your next adventure.

Trust before Fear

When you first started growing up, your parents probably started to “childproof” your home.  From the moment you first started pulling yourself up from a crawl, fear set in – in your parents. There was likely a first fall and some crying that only reinforced the concern. You see, parents are instinctively protective.  I remember this in terms of the dozens of little plastic covers I shoved into electrical outlets, the padded corners I installed on all of the sharp furniture edges, the locks on drawers and doors that kept my little one away from knives and other dangerous objects.  There were cribs and bed rails, cushions and training wheels – all intended to keep you safe and protected.

Some parents look back on this and wonder if maybe we protected you too much.  Maybe we should have let you fall a few more times so that you learned to get up more capably.  Maybe we shouldn’t have overly sheltered you so that going off to college now would be less frightening – for both of us. Maybe.

But I say, let’s tip the balance on this one by having some faith and lead instead with trust. It is most important to trust yourself and your judgement, nurtured as it has been by those around you.  Your parents, your teachers, your counselors, your friends.  All have inspired in you a unique spirit that is ready to face anything that comes.  Trust that we have confidence in you.  Trust that we are here when you need us and we will always carry you in our hearts and minds while you reach out into the world to make a difference for all of us.

Another example: Tolerance over Prejudice

We have provided a cocoon of learning during your time here at AAS.  Within these walls we taught many things and certainly much more than just what can be gleaned from books or a screen.  You engaged with a talented faculty, a powerful team of educators that challenged your presumptions and forced you to reconsider.  They embraced what you brought to the classroom that you thought you knew, and found ways to regularly and rigorously captivate you in discourse and dialog that inspires a thirsty intellect.

You have been taught to be tolerant.  Tolerant of ideas not your own, tolerant of disagreement, tolerant of folly, seeing these as opportunities to teach and learn rather than to tease or ridicule.

For those who remember a recent weekly newsletter (you read them all, right?) – I wrote about a special moment I experienced in Africa this year.  With a few of the students on this stage and a cadre of others, we found ourselves on a gas station patio in Botswana, shivering in damp cold with more than a hundred local children, while rain fell torrentially around us.  In that moment, the most important thing I remember is feeling like we were all the same.  A closeness we felt as we laughed at our folly, embracing the moment in song, and celebrating despite our hunger and exhaustion.

When the clouds broke and we lined up to eat the lunch that had been delivered, served from the back of a pickup truck, I held the hand of every child as we led them from the long line to the serving area.  I held every hand and they all became one in my mind and heart.  Today, when I shake the hands on this stage, I will join them with that memory and with the memory of every graduating class that has come before them.  I will join them together as one, knowing that the hands I have held are going to make this planet a place where all have opportunity and respect.  Where differences are not just tolerated, but embraced.  Where prejudice is replaced by friendship, charity, and lovingkindness.

So, I suggest,

  • Trust before Fear
  • Tolerance over Prejudice

Learn from your lives so far and tip the balance where you can.  Look back to plan forward.  Heed the wisdom captured from your childhood and embrace all that is to come.

You’re ready.  You have reached the time when others will take over guiding you until you are ready to guide others yourself.  Whether at university or work, your world just got a whole lot bigger.  The cushions are put away, the electrical outlets back in operation, the training wheels long ago sold or given away.  It’s time to take that big step and find your path.  Only one more thing for me to do…

Jaisen – my son – this last part is for you, the special someone, and I know that all the parents in this audience will feel the same in their hearts for each of your classmates on this stage as I feel for you through these words.

When I say I love you, as I often do, it is not because it’s a habit, or part of a routine. It is because in this moment, and in all others leading to this day, the following is true:

  • you inspire me
  • you complete me, and
  • you give my life meaning

While I will feel lost without you, I’m proud of your launching, warmed by the anticipation of all that I know you are yet to become.

I love you so much!!

Go forth all of you, Class of 2016 — embrace your parents and then the world!!

Thank you!

Newsletter – May 18

As we head into graduation on the weekend, let me offer my sincere congratulations to all the students and families that will be involved with us on Saturday. The act of Commencement is a pivotal moment in a student’s life ushering them into long considered career pathways. While some are still narrowing their path toward what they want to become, they all begin a journey this weekend that is similar to a choice of roads leading toward distant and unforeseen destinations. We are very proud of their accomplishments as they bring a close to this chapter of their lives.

On that note, it has been great seeing past graduates dropping in to visit in recent days. Exciting to hear about the first year of college and exhilarating when they share with us how AAS shaped them in preparation for that first year experience. I should note that Alumni in good standing are welcome on the AAS campus. We appreciate if you call ahead to the HS office to let them know that you are coming, and if you haven’t made advanced arrangements, please know that we will escort you to the High School Office to check-in with them (a trip down memory lane, right?). Please wear your visitor’s badge on campus if you don’t still have your alumni badge. As alumni, you should display a badge at all times, like parents and staff. We also ask that you not disrupt classrooms that are in session as we are still working hard in all other grades until June dismissal. But, you are always welcome! Contact my office if you have any questions or concerns.

On a final note, I just want to remind parents that you should always contact us if you receive information about possible student activity inside and outside of school that would be in conflict with our code of conduct, rules, and policies. We appreciate these notifications and do follow up on them. We are bound by policy to provide for confidentiality in matters of this nature and, as we discussed in forums last year, we will inform the parents of all information received regarding their son or daughter, even when the school does not have sufficient evidence nor authority to take disciplinary action. If we do have sufficient evidence, the school will take action as needed and prescribed by policy. But, we all agreed in our discussions last year and previously, that the school has limited influence bound by our campus perimeter. Therefore, information and dialog is our most important weapon against the influences of drugs and alcohol. As always, we expect and appreciate your partnership in this area and our collective responsibility for protecting the privacy and confidentiality rights of all involved.

Newsletter – May 11th

Belated wishes for happy May Holidays!! I hope all enjoyed the weekend and for those that connected to the festivities here in Moscow, I hope you were engaged in the cultural experience that is a big part of Russia and particularly, Moscow.

We also completed some important work last week during our annual meetings revolving around the school’s strategic plan. The Core Planning Team (CPT), the lead group overseeing the work of the plan during the last 5 years, reached some wonderful conclusions that affirmed all of the work of the school under the three original strategies of 2011: Learning, Systems, and Communication. After reviewing reports of each division and department of the school, they confirmed the belief that the expectations of the original strategic plan had been largely met and that the work going forward was to retain these new practices through regular evaluation and review. The work on Personalized Learning, Systems Review, and our commitment to the Mission and Vision of the school therefore will continue as part of our school culture – embraced and embedded.

Next, we presented the Core Planning Team with work that they requested at last year’s meeting. In essence, they charged us with doing research and design work to suggest the next level of Personalized Learning. All year, a special group convened around this work and, with the help of consultation, have completed it and presented to CPT the next strategic work of AAS. The CPT enthusiastically recommended this work to go forward to the Board as a core strategy under a new approach to strategic work in the coming years.

In meetings with the Board the following day, these two recommendations from CPT were considered and fully adopted by the Board. They have, therefore, accepted the “Learning at AAS” strategy beginning with the 2016-2017 school year and continuing beyond as the next large body of work. We will begin looking for opportunities in the coming weeks and at the beginning of the next school year to involve all stakeholders in this work, as we did with the previous strategic plan. Look for future updates and website based materials that will guide you in our work going forward.

Many thanks go to the members of the Core Planning Team, the Design Team, and to all the members of the administration and faculty who assisted in demonstrating to the CPT and the Board how we are continuously growing and developing as an entire school community.

It’s an exciting time to be a member of the AAS family!!

Newsletter – May 4

Ode to Our Mothers

We are coming up on one of the most important holidays of the year in my estimation. In many countries, this Sunday brings us the holiday ‘Mother’s Day’ and our annual opportunity to demonstrate our love and appreciation. It goes without great articulation that the love of a mother is our first love, the one spawned by our birth and the key relationship upon which all others are built throughout life. I know without a doubt that many attributes of self that we hold dear today are rooted in that initial nurtured state where we totally depended on that first significant adult in our lives.

Later, we form bonds with others that are rooted in that early experience where we felt safety and care, protection from harm. Mothers cuddle us so that we could love others. Mothers discipline us so that we build character and earn respect. Mothers support us in our attempts, let go when we were ready, pick us up when we fail, protect us when we are threatened.

To the mothers of our community, I offer this simple praise for all that you do. We honor you for both bringing us into the world and loving us throughout our lives. I hope all will find time to honor the mother in your lives this weekend. For me, it means loving preparation with my children of that annual tradition of breakfast in bed for their mom. I love you, dear!! Will try not to burn the toast!

Newsletter – April 27

Significant Waypoints

There are particular junctures in life that encourage emotional punctuation to assure that these moments don’t pass us by without appropriate recognition.  Our seniors this week have reached that moment where their knowledge and associated work of two years has come to a culmination and we move them into independent study mode to prepare for critical exams that will begin shortly.  As I’m experiencing this first hand with my own son this year, it is appropriate to pause and ponder the import of this transition from teacher directed to independent study in the final days.

How students move from uncertainty and stress into confidence and calm is still a mysterious and elusive quality.  Some will achieve this quite easily, others will never find that calm in the moments leading up to an exam.  I would suggest it is a complex dynamic that is only partially dependent upon instruction and study.  While those elements are essential, there are other factors at play that require emphasis.

If you have found yourselves concerned about engagement and focus in the weeks leading up to exams, the current moment is not the time for corrective action or additional supervision.  In fact, the final stage of preparation for an event of this magnitude is better couched in the domain of unconditional support, love, and encouragement.  I think students want to hear that, whatever the result, they will be supported and results accepted unconditionally.  It is that level of support and care that may encourage or enrich the way in which students approach the challenge and internalize it as an independent and personal accomplishment.  The hope is for focus and confidence to emerge, which assures the level of energy and engagement that is required for their success.

This is complex because our kids are complex.  Our seniors have worked hard and demonstrated tremendous growth in their final years at AAS.  We owe them our unconditional commitment in the final hours, just as we have done throughout the year.  I value very much the help from parents in the final days, including the many treats that are set to appear on each day of exams.  In ways both large and small, let’s show them the compassion that we all share.  This is a moment of launch, worthy of empowerment and celebration.

Exhibition

Speaking of waypoints, my congratulations to 5th Grade Exhibition for their wonderful display of passion and talent.  Another critical event in students’ lives, they again demonstrated tremendous competence as they explored their interests and turned their inquiry into competent demonstrations of learning and insight.  Way to go, Grade 5!  Thank you to all the teachers and mentors that helped make this work possible.

CEESA Band/Strings/Choir

If you haven’t had a chance, pop over to AAS Videos and watch the CEESA performance if you weren’t able to attend on Saturday evening.  I was glued to the Livestream from Bangkok while attending my accreditation trip.  It was an amazing performance filled with talented kids, impressive directors, and wonderful entertainment.  Combining all of those students from so many places made it all the more meaningful for both the audience and the participants.  Thank you to Penguin Life, Bruce Nelson, Laura Burns, and Dan Miller for making it a special night for our students, community, and guests!