Teaching for Better Humans

Written by Jacey Dexter, Elementary Principal on .

If you haven't see it before—and even if you have—I encourage you to watch Liz Kleinrock's TED Talk: "How to teach kids to talk about taboo topics," before reading this article.

Perhaps more than ever, parents are having to navigate tough conversations with children. From living through a pandemic, to political divisions, to social unrest, to gun violence and lockdown drills. Our children’s opinions are being shaped by the volatile and unpredictable world around them. Even if we are not bringing up all these topics at home, children don’t live in a bubble, and all of this leads to tougher conversations at an even younger age.

Answering Hard Questions 
When our kids ask tough questions, the best piece of advice we can give is to answer their questions openly, honestly, and in an age-appropriate way. It also helps to dig a little before you answer: "What have you heard about that?" When we make space for these conversations at a young age, it actually takes away some of the taboo feelings when those topics come up later on. 

“Accountable Talk”
One way we support these kinds of conversations at school is through Accountable Talk. These are classroom norms that we all agree on and practice ahead of time, so we can engage respectfully with each other on complex and sometimes sensitive topics. Here are a few examples of Accountable Talk sentence starters you can model and practice with children (or even other adults):

  • “I see what you’re saying, but I wonder if __________.”
  • “I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with that because __________.”
  • “Could you give me a few examples of what you mean?”
  • “That makes me wonder if/about __________.”
  • Paraphrase what you heard and ask, “Could you explain a bit more, please?”
  • “I haven’t thought about it in that way before. Where could I find more information about that?”
  • “So that I can be sure I understand you, could you say that in a different way?"

Stamped (for kids)
At school, there are some times when we want to spark more complex conversation, especially in social studies. This is a way to promote critical thinking and to practice Accountable Talk (plus research and perspective taking). As we return from Thanksgiving Break, our 4th and 5th graders will be taking part in an interactive read aloud of Stamped (for kids), focusing on the history of our country from the perspective of Black people, women, and other minority or sometimes marginalized groups. During this unit, students will learn to select, analyze, and discuss purposeful articles and resources to compare/contrast different perspectives and experiences. Another important resource they will be using is A Young People's History of the United States, which was a WHPS parent bookclub last year. 

These kinds of activities and discussions are a special part of our mission to create independent thinkers who can transfer these skills to their daily life. If it also helps our students engage in respectful and positive discourse around the holiday dining table, that’s the whole point.

These can feel like heavy conversations, but if you want some inspiration for how powerful they can be, check out:

School Safety & Addressing Today's Shooting in Michigan

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

The school shooting that took place at Oxford High School in Michigan today was a saddening and infuriating reminder that schools in this country must remain vigilant about safety. While school shootings remain rare in preschools and elementary schools, this kind of violence appears to be on the rise again since schools have mostly resumed in-person learning after pandemic closures. 2020 saw only 10 of these kinds of events, and sadly the country now stands at 28 so far this school year


WHPS is committed to ensuring the safety of our entire community. We hope you will find the following information helpful in understanding the steps we have taken and are taking to ensure the continued safety of our community.

  • PARTNERSHIPWe are part of a School Safety Task Force with LAPD Topanga Division. As part of this task force, we have a direct line of communication with the Senior Lead Officers in the area, which enables us to work together quickly and efficiently on threat assessments, investigations, and any other safety concerns that may arise. 
  • PLANS & PRACTICEOur school has an approved School Safety Plan. School safety encompasses multiple domains within the school environment that must be reviewed altogether when assessing the level of safety for students and staff. All students and staff participate in safety drills to test their preparedness and understand their roles and responsibilities in the event of a crisis. Our most recent practice event was November 10, 2021 with all students and staff.

Some analysis of lockdown drills as a school safety measure. Note: WHPS does not conduct high intensity lockdown drills.

  • TRAINING: Our administration team has met with our LAPD Senior Lead Officers to discuss the latest information about school safety and to craft a comprehensive plan for training to our entire staff on these new measures. In addition, we have hosted training for other school directors in the San Fernando Valley.
  • COMMUNICATION & MONITORING: We take every piece of information and every concern seriously. Parents, we ask you to continue to report anything you see, hear, or sense that could affect student, staff or school safety. In addition, we closely monitor the school grounds through our closed circuit camera system. 


Many of us struggle with how to talk to our children about this. How young is too young? How much or how little information should we share? And even if we’re not talking about it with our children, how do we address fears they might have?

Here are some recommendations when talking with children about this topic (adapted from Child Mind Institute and the National Association of Elementary School Principals):

  • First and foremost, a rule of thumb when discussing any mature topic, whether it has to do with school safety or puberty or peer pressure, is to follow the child’s lead. This is not something you need to bring up at home with young children unless they are asking about it or showing fear or concern. But, remember, children take in a lot more ambient information than we give them credit for.  
  • Don’t shut down the conversation if they bring it up. If you avoid the topic, your child may find the event even more threatening or think it is simply too horrible to speak about.
  • Answer the questions they’re asking honestly and reassuringly, but don’t delve deeper into the topic than they take it. It's better to start by asking what they have heard and take it from there.
  • Correct any inaccurate information: If your child has misconceptions or inaccurate information, correct them in a simple age-appropriate way.
  • Invite your child to tell you how s/he feels, but avoid leading questions, such as “Are you worried about being safe at school?
  • Stay calm and use “emotional self-control.” The emotions you express will influence your child’s feelings.
  • Avoid "emotional contamination" by discussing your fears or anxiety about the future. 
  • Reinforcing safety is important with young children. Emphasize that the incident happened very far away from us and let your child know that we have wonderful people who are doing everything they can to make school a safe place for learning and having fun with friends and classmates.

Our administration team understands that this is an emotional and tricky topic to broach with children. It is incredibly important to us that ALL children and families feel supported as we process this most recent tragedy. I am heartbroken that we even have to. If you have questions, concerns or other feedback, please don’t hesitate to speak with me or anyone on our administration team.


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Head of School


Pediatric Vaccine FAQs

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

WHPS families:


As we mentioned in the November Newsletter, our goal is to share as much meaningful information as possible now that the vaccine is available. Agoura-West Valley Pediatrics, which has served as a valuable community resource throughout the pandemic, hosted a Facebook LIVE discussion on November 2, 2021. We are sharing the recording below, along with a summary of topics discussed.   



The full recording is linked here, and the key topics discussed are summarized below. 


  • 2-10μg doses, 3 weeks apart (compared to 30μg doses for age 12+).
  • Less fever and chills in young children than with the larger dose.
  • Development of the immune system is primarily associated with age, not size/weight, so don’t wait until a child turns 12 if they qualify now.
  • Side effects (fatigue, muscle pain) within 24-48 hours: Can give Advil/Tylenol if needed but only after the shot. 


  • Benefit of the vaccine far outweighs the risk of getting COVID.
  • No deaths or serious allergic reactions occurred during studies for ages 5-11.
  • Vaccine is approx. 91% effective at preventing symptomatic infection.


  1. COVID is not serious for children
  • COVID is the 8th leading cause of death in children aged 5-11.
  • Children currently comprise a larger percentage of those contracting COVID.
  • Children ICU and deaths are occuring due to COVID.
  • 30% of kids hospitalized w/COVID had no other comorbidities.
  • 8-10% of kids who get COVID become long-haulers.
  1. COVID vaccine causes myocarditis
  • 6x more likely to get myocarditis by having COVID than from the vaccine. 
  • Very rare: 450 cases occurred from children actually having COVID, 77 linked to vaccine.
  • If a child develops myocarditis from COVID infection, they are more likely to have complications and need to be hospitalized.
  • No child has had any long-term consequences from vaccine-related myocarditis. 
  1. COVID vaccine was available so quickly because of shortcuts
  • Full process took place
  • Faster because:
    • Able to get many more trial participants much faster than other vaccines.
    • Able to test more easily during the pandemic - many exposures to test against.
    • Jumped to the front of line for decision making because of urgency (normal decision making process remained the same).
    • Based on 30 years of research on mRNA.
    • Better technology and software now available.
    • Pre-existing studies of SARS spike protein.
  1. COVID is like the flu
  • Everyone is exposed to the flu every year and has some preexisting immunity. People have not been exposed to COVID until recently and immune systems are not prepared for it without the vaccine.
  • Flu does not have the same death rate as COVID.
  • Don’t have good antivirals like Tamiflu to reduce symptoms and contagiousness.
  1. COVID causes infertility
  • Catching COVID may cause a decrease in sperm count, vaccine does not.
  • COVID vaccine does not go after other proteins.
  • No issues w/pregnancy have been recorded.
  • Infertility should not be a reason to not get the vaccine.
  1. Vaccine (mRNA) changes our genes and/or causes cancer
  • mRNA doesn’t stay in the body long enough to cause problems (~72 hours).
  • mRNA does not enter nucleus and cannot change or reach DNA.


Pediatric Vaccine Approval: What does this mean at WHPS?

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

The FDA has given emergency use authorization (EUA) to the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5-11, and once the CDC green lights the process, we expect some of the first shots to be administered as early as this week. CA has announced a vaccine mandate for anyone who wants to attend in-person school. While many parents are anxious to get their children vaccinated, others see this as a weighty decision or may not want to vaccinate at all. Here is an update on what we know so far about the pediatric vaccine and some other pandemic-related issues. 

Vaccine Safety
The vaccine was subject to the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history. The FDA found zero deaths or significant adverse events in the trials for kids. Kids will generally experience similar types of side effects from the vaccine as teens and adults—but likely with less severity, in part because the immune system doesn't fully develop until puberty. Throughout the history of vaccines, side effects are extremely rare after 6 weeks, and there is no evidence of vaccines affecting a child’s future fertility.

When does the CA mandate go into effect for elementary schools?
The mandate does not go into effect until the semester after the vaccine receives full FDA approval (not EUA) for each age group. For ages 5-11, we do not anticipate the mandate going into effect until fall 2022 at the earliest. When it does go into effect, it will apply to children attending any in-person school in CA. At this time, WHPS is planning to follow California's timeline in requiring the vaccine for children when full FDA approval is granted, which we anticipate may be for the start of the 2022-2023 school year. 

Will there be any exemptions?
Governor Newsom put forth the mandate through the regulatory process, whereas other school vaccine requirements and the elimination of the personal beliefs exemption were passed through the CA Legislature. There is still time for further legislation to pass, eliminating certain exemptions, and schools don't have a way to predict whether that will happen. WHPS, like all schools in CA, will be subject to following the requirements and laws in place at the time. 

When might the mask requirement go away?
On last week's DPH school briefing, Dr. Ferrer indicated that indoor masking would almost certainly remain in effect through the end of 2021. It is possible that fully vaccinated children and teachers may be able to be unmasked indoors sometime in 2022.

When do quarantines go away?
Currently, fully vaccinated people do not have to quarantine after travel or exposure to someone with COVID-19, as long as they do not develop any symptoms. We anticipate this will be the case for children who are fully vaccinated, which will mean fewer interruptions to school. As you plan for the upcoming holidays, remember that unvaccinated children must quarantine if traveling out of state. Be sure to account for a 7-10 day quarantine if you are traveling with unvaccinated children. 

What about preschools?
Trials are still taking place for children under 5. We will continue to update you as new information becomes available. 

Knowledge is power!
We believe high vaccination rates are one of the best ways for schools to return to normal for our children. We also respect the varying viewpoints and concerns of our families. We will continue to provide as much meaningful education and information to our families as possible. For now, we strongly encourage you to speak with your pediatrician about any questions you may have. Our friends at Agoura-West Valley Pediatrics are planning to host a live Facebook session soon. We will post the date once we have it, but in the meantime, you can submit questions on their Facebook page

Perfecting Preschool Drop Off, Top 3 Expert Tips

Written by Preschool Directors on .

With any new school year, it is normal for parents to find themselves feeling a bit stressed. Here are some valuable tips to keep in mind at drop off time. 

1) Avoid the Linger
Child development experts say to stick to the planned routine and not linger. For parents who are already anxious about how their child may handle this transition, they may be tempted to prolong their goodbye. But,
 prolonging that moment of separation doesn’t typically calm a child down. It usually makes things worse. It’s best to make sure the child knows what’s coming and to then follow through with it.

Parents should assure their child that everything is going to be OK and that they’re going to have a great day. Then leave them with their teacher, who’s well-versed in helping kids adjust.

2) Remember, Separation Anxiety is Temporary
Separation anxiety is only temporary, and most teachers report that the child is fine within minutes once the parents leave. But for those parents who stay, the anxiety only gets dragged out.

3) Share your calm. Don’t join their chaos.
When a child is either crying or panicking or stating, "I’m not going, don’t make me go," it naturally triggers a parent’s emotions, and they can easily feel nervous, worried, or frustrated. In those moments, Michelle Levin, family therapist, encourages parents to remember one of her favorite quotes: "Share your calm. Don’t join their chaos."

“It’s perfectly OK to drop your child off, smile enthusiastically the whole time, and then go around the corner and cry a little. You just want to try to minimize that sort of reaction in front of your child.” -Levin

Remind them of the plan, tell them you love them, and trust their teacher to handle the next part. While that may not seem easy, it’s ultimately what’s best for your little one.

Adapted from the article: Stressed About Your Kid Starting School?

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