Semi-Virtual Graduation

Written by Seth Pozzi on .

If you have never been to graduation at WHPS, you are missing out. I have not seen an elementary school experience quite like it. We feel very strongly that every student's voice matters and that they have something important to say that we all need to hear. If we don’t give students that opportunity now (in elementary school), how can we expect them to speak out as they get older? As we reminded our graduates last night, the older they get, the more serious the consequences can be if they don’t speak up when something doesn’t seem right. 

It's impossible not to think about the world these young people are going into and the current local and global events we are all facing together. What I do know about this outstanding group of students is that they fill us with hope for a brighter future. These students: Are passionate in many different areas, they know that their voice matters, they are goal oriented, and they speak up for other people when something isn’t right. We love and admire these graduates, and we are honored to have been an integral part of their development

Meet the Graduates

If you have ever wondered what a WHPS student is all about, I encourage you to check out this year's speeches. 

The Drone

We hosted this year's event semi-virtually.  We were all live in the school parking lot, but due to physical distancing requirements, students each gave their speeches on the big video screen (see speeches above). For non-touch diploma delivery, we flew each student their diploma on a drone. Check out one of the diplomas taking off, en route to a graduate.

Teaching Kids to Confront Racism

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

This has been a heavy-hearted and difficult time in our city and across the country. We stand in solidarity with peaceful protesters and the fight for equality, and we unequivocally denounce the senseless killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many others as a result of the persistent structural racism against African Americans in our country. It is a gut-wrenching but important time to be talking with children about racism (anti-racism), bias and advocacy.

Some tips for talking to children about the recent events:

  • First and foremost, a rule of thumb for parents and teachers when discussing any mature topic, whether it has to do with racism, school safety or puberty, is to follow the child’s lead.

  • Don’t avoid talking to your child about what happened. If you avoid the topic, your child may find the event even more threatening or think it is simply too horrible to speak about (and even if it is, we NEED to talk about it in order to confront it).

  • Invite your child to tell you how s/he feels, but avoid leading questions, such as “Are you worried about ______________?”

  • Answer the questions they’re asking honestly but reassuringly, but don’t delve deeper into the topic than they take it. Give children the facts they need to know now, but avoid discussing your fears or anxiety.

  • Correct any inaccurate information: If your child has misconceptions or inaccurate information, correct them in a simple age-appropriate way.

  • Reinforcing safety is important with very young children.

  • Stay calm and use “emotional self-control” when talking about this topic. The emotions you express will influence your child’s feelings.

  • Focus on ways your child/family can take positive social action.

Below are just a few resources parents may find helpful. Let us be clear, we are not sharing these links and resources to point out how much we have already done, but rather to acknowledge the amount of work that likely won’t be finished in our own lifetime. We are committed to advancing anti-bias education and working with our community to address inequities that have persisted in our country for far too long.

Elementary Division FAQs - 2020-2021

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

We have summarized some of the common parent questions about what to expect this year in "COVID times." While of course we are subject to any new orders from government and health officials, here are some FAQs based on what we know at this time. We hope it will answer many of your questions.

Q. Is school open for in person instruction?

  • TK-3rd grade is open in person for regular school, 5 full days/week.
  • 4th-5th grade should be able to reopen in person once LA County gets to "Tier 2" according to the state COVID-19 metrics. 

Q. What does distance learning look like in our school?

Distance learning includes LIVE daily instruction throughout the morning in SEL, Math, Reading, Writing, and Phonics. In the afternoon, specialist classes are also taught live: Spanish, Music, PE, Technology, Art, Animal & Nature Studies.

Here is an example of the elementary distance learning schedule (all BLUE classes are taught live).

Q. What if our school reopens and I am not yet comfortable having my child return in person?

We spent the summer re-imagining campus and classrooms, including putting up semi-outdoor (heated and cooled) learning spaces, preparing to move classes outdoors, and implementing strict health and safety guidelines. Even so, not every family may be ready to return to the group environment at the same time, due to underlying health conditions or who is in your "family bubble" at home. We are offering an extended distance learning option to give families flexibility in their return date.  

Q. What should parents and students expect this fall?

This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some key "COVID era" changes:

    • Class Family Groups - A static group of no more than 16 students with one teacher. The children in each group will learn, eat, play and have specialist classes together but may not physically mingle with others on campus. 
    • Outdoor Learning Spaces - We know that COVID-19 is much less likely to spread outdoors. We have added additional sheltered outdoor learning spaces, including new portable classrooms that are fully heated/cooled and can be open-air on nice days. 
    • Visitor Restrictions - Health officials currently recommend that parents use rolling drop off and do not get out of their vehicles at school. 
    • Physical Distancing
    • Scheduled Hand Washing (and of course as needed)
    • Temperature & Symptom Screening - Anyone coming on campus will be screened for a fever or symptoms. 
    • Sick Policy - Anyone coming on campus must be symptom free (fever, diarrhea, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose) for 24 hours without medication. Out of an abundance of caution, staff/students will need to go home immediately if symptoms occur at school. 
    • COVID-19 Testing - We strongly encourage all families and students to get tested before returning to school and to follow all public health guidelines to protect the health and safety of everyone in our Class Family Group.

Q. Normally the afternoon includes specialist classes: Spanish, Music, Art, PE, Science/Social Studies, Barnyard, Computers. Will these classes still happen?

Yes. Specialist classes are happening, but students may not go to the Art Studio, Computer Lab, etc. This is to avoid having multiple Class Family Groups cycle through a shared learning space. Most specialist classes are being taught outdoors. We have also expanded 1:1 devices for every student in grades 1-5 so each student has a dedicated device (laptop, Chromebook, iPad, depending on grade).

Q. What about after school classes like Mandarin, Team Sports, Robotics, Art, Drama, Cooking, Speech & Debate, etc.?

These classes are temporarily on hold. Because the current guidelines and best practices suggest keeping students in static groups and not mixing, after school classes are temporarily suspended until we are able to mix or combine groups. We plan to bring these classes back as soon as it's safe. 

Q. I saw that when WHPS reopened in June, campus is now open 8am-5pm. Will you go back to 7am-6pm in the fall?

We hope to be back to regular hours as soon as possible. We know families rely on us for childcare, and we will do everything we can to get back to 7-6 as soon as possible.   

Q. What if there is another temporary closure next year?

  • The Class Family Group structure and preventative measures now in place should help us prevent a COVID-19 outbreak in the school community. The procedures we now have in place are based on the guidelines for childcare centers that stayed open during March-May
  • If we do have a temporary closure this year, it may only impact one classroom or certain classrooms. 

Q. Will tuition be discounted if there is another temporary closure next year?

  • We are sensitive to the financial impact even a short-term temporary closure has on families. As much as we do understand these costs for parents, the cost of staffing and running school doesn't change for us if we are temporarily on distance learning. If there is a longer closure or further intensified pandemic, our board will evaluate the situation at that time, but there are no guarantees that we could discount tuition and still continue to have a viable program. We really appreciate families understanding and making sure you are ready to make the annual commitment when you sign on for our program. And, in return, we are committed to offering a high quality program, with or without a temporary closure. 

Q. What else should I know?

No Quid Pro Quo (Kids)!

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Intrinsic Motivation
When Rewards Can be a Bad Thing

Experiences from age 0-8 influence how kids will think for the rest of their life. No one wants to raise an adult who will always think: “What’s in it for me?” when confronted with a task or responsibility. But you might be surprised to know that some commonly used discipline and “positive reinforcement” strategies can actually contribute to this kind of mindset. 

Here are a few suggestions that can help ensure we are building up intrinsic motivation and not a “What’s in it for me?” mindset in our children. 

Avoid Rewards, Incentives & Bribes
One strategy to keep in mind is to avoid giving children a reward for doing something that is a basic expectation: going to school, separating without tears in the morning, putting dishes in the sink, getting a good grade, doing homework, reading, etc. These kinds of rewards often influence a child’s behavior in the short term but don’t promote intrinsic motivation. 

Rather than giving rewards, we strive to give children words to tell them exactly what behavior is working and why. 

  • You put your toys back in their spots so they won't get broken or lost. 
  • You put your book back in the right bin so we can find it next time. 
  • You put your blanket in your nap bag so it will be there when you need it tomorrow.
  • I saw you get out your homework and get started so you will have time to play later. 

Emphasize how they might feel over your own approval. 

  • You worked really hard on the art project. 
    • Instead of: I am so proud of you.
    • Try: I bet you feel proud.
  • You remembered to put your dishes in the sink without being asked today. 
    • Instead of: I love that you did that. 
    • Try: That’s really responsible. 

Please & Thank You
While important aspects of politeness, the words "please" and "thank you" suggest that an action was optional. Responsive Classroom reminds teachers to avoid thanking children when they do something that is a basic expectation: Lining up quietly, putting our supplies away, cleaning up the lunch tables. Just like the prior examples, the ideal response reinforces the behavior that is working and why. 

  • Instead of: Thank you for pushing in your chairs.
  • We might say:
    • You remembered to push in chairs so no one will trip.
    • Let’s go back and try that, remembering to push in chairs so no one will trip.

Similarly, at home, you can try "noticing" and remarking about the desired behavior without the "please" or "thank you," if the behavior is an expectation, as opposed to a personal favor. 

That's not to say you can never say "please" or "thank you."  They still very much have a place in the lexicon, but they can be used more appropriately if the child does you a favor or a gesture of kindness. For example, "Thank you for grabbing me a tissue when I sneezed" or "thank you for holding the door".

Finally: I noticed you read through the entire article and learned a bit more on how to help build intrinsic motivation.

A Different Take on Empathy

Written by Dr. Tracy Ewing, Preschool Director (Oxnard St. Campus) on .

"How would you like it if someone did that to you?"
"Say sorry" ...after they’ve hurt a friend

While very common, these are actually not developmentally appropriate for most preschool children."

Find out why below!

One goal we have at WHPS is to support young children’s social and emotional development. An area that is particularly important during the preschool years is empathy. Parents and educators agree that we want children to be empathetic and caring individuals. Understanding how children’s minds develop can help us improve the way in which we teach our little ones to be more kind and empathetic.

Three Aspects of Empathy
Empathy actually encompasses three distinct aspects: Emotional Sharing, Empathic Concern, and Perspective-Taking.

  • Emotional Sharing - “Occurs when we experience feelings of distress as a result of observing distress in another individual.” For example, your child who was perfectly fine before may begin to cry upon witnessing another child crying. This is commonly seen during preschool drop-off.

  • Empathic Concern - “The motivation to care for individuals who are vulnerable or distressed.” This is the aspect of empathy we most often think of, and we see this in preschoolers when one child tries to comfort a crying friend by offering a tissue, a toy, or a hug.

  • Perspective Taking - "The ability to consciously put oneself in the mind of another individual and imagine what that person is thinking or feeling."

You can think of these as stages of empathy development. It starts with Emotional Sharing. As young children have opportunities to practice, they develop Empathic Concern. The last aspect to develop, Perspective Taking, is the hardest for children (and some adults too). Developmentally, many preschool children may not yet have the ability to truly take another’s perspective.

Theory of Mind & Perspective-Taking
Researchers have conducted a variety of experiments to better understand when and how children can understand other people’s mental states (theory of mind). “Theory of mind is the ability to recognize and attribute mental states—thoughts, perceptions, desires, intentions, feelings—to oneself and to others and to understand how these mental states might affect behavior. It is also an understanding that others have beliefs, thought processes and emotions completely separate from our own” (Pedersen, 2018). Children younger than approximately four years old are typically unable to understand perspectives separate from their own and the majority will not pass a simple false-belief task, which is designed to test how well a child can reason about other people’s thinking.

Instead of: “How would you like it..”
Have you ever asked your child: "How would you like it if someone did that to you?" Or asked them to say sorry after they’ve hurt a friend? While very common, as you can see, this is actually not developmentally appropriate for most preschool children. There are some specific things parents and teachers say and do to give children the opportunities they need to practice and develop these skills.

Tips for Parents and Teachers from (Teaching empathy: Evidence-based tips for fostering empathy in children):

  • If you observe someone in distress (in real life, on TV, or in a book), talk with your child about how that person must feel (Pizarro and Salovey 2002). Even a very brief conversation might have an effect.
  • One of the best ways to encourage empathy is to make children conscious of what they have in common with others.
  • Another is to get out and meet people from different backgrounds, and learn about what life is like in far away places.
  • Conversations are helpful, but it's worth remembering that kids are heavily influenced by what we actually do, and less by what we say. Decades of research indicates that one of the biggest predictors of racial prejudice—and a failure to empathize with members of other groups—is having little or no contact with people who aren't like you. Moreover, this enhanced empathy is linked with increased happiness and scholastic achievement (Le et. al 2009; Chang and Le 2011).
  • Fictional stories and real-life narratives offer excellent opportunities for teaching empathy and sharpening a child's perspective-taking skills. What do the characters think, believe, want, or feel? And how do we know it? When we actively discuss these questions, kids may learn a lot about the way other people’s minds work (Dunn et. al 2001).
  • Other research has shown that kids are more likely to develop an internal sense of right and wrong if their parents use inductive discipline—an approach that emphasizes rational explanations and moral consequences, not arbitrary rules and heavy-handed punishments.
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