“Our children are so happy this year.”
That’s what Lisa Shearer, mother of two students who transferred to Allendale Columbia School this year, said at a recent PACK meeting. “The very purposeful building of community and connections amongst students, staff, and faculty has made a world of difference for my children. They were instantaneously embraced by the entire community in such a meaningful way!”
At Allendale Columbia, “the importance of connections” is listed first of our four core values. While everyone works throughout the year to help students build connections with each other and the adults supporting them, we especially focus on connection at the beginning of the school year, when new and returning students arrive and are welcomed into the AC school family.
According to the longest longitudinal study on happiness out of Harvard University, “Personal connection creates mental and emotional stimulation, which are automatic mood boosters, while isolation is a mood buster,” says Dr. Robert Waldinger. In our role as an educational institution, it is vital that we teach and model for our community not just the importance of connecting, but also the skills needed to foster connections in any context. (See an article about the Harvard study and Dr. Waldinger’s TED Talk.)
It starts from the beginning of the admissions process, where every inquiry is followed up with a personal phone call, not just an email message. New students and their families are invited to on-campus orientation sessions before school starts, whether they are brand new to the school or just transitioning from Lower School to Middle School, or Middle School to Upper School. Each spring, students get a taste of what’s ahead for the following year when they are matched up with buddies in the next grade and invited to walk through a school day together. They can experience what the coming year would be like and have a personal guide they can turn to for questions.
“We think it’s important to build connections with the students and also with the parents,” Head of Lower School Michelle Feiss remarked. “We hold Hopes and Dreams conferences before the first day of school, where families meet individually with teachers to better understand the child and how best to support him or her. These meetings set the tone for the year and help to create a bond between parents and teachers.”
During the first week of school, a number of activities establish a foundation of connections for the year. Middle School and Upper School take the first Friday of the school year to bond as a class and focus on community building and fostering interaction between faculty and students outside school. These events address skills and themes which help instill core values, and they help build the community and connections students will rely on for this year and years to come. You can read about Middle School’s Advisory Day and Upper School’s Class Day to see how they explored this year’s themes. Students leave these events with friendships, teamwork experience, and mutual respect.
“For my son, the senior overnight trip at the beginning of the year was important,” noted Mrs. Shearer. “When he returned, he told us that he felt close with the entire class and had tons of friends. He also really appreciates the way the teachers engage with him and treat him like an adult.”
Every day at AC is an opportunity to build and strengthen connections. Students are welcomed with smiles at the car or bus door by staff and parent Helping Hands (equipped with umbrellas when needed). They offer a lift out of the car and handheld walk to the door for the youngest students, or assistance gathering backpacks and other daily paraphernalia for the older students. A welcoming “have a good day” to child and parent, often with a cheerful compliment or joke, starts the entire family off on a positive note.
“In the Middle School, mornings do not start with announcements or shuffling students off to class,” says Tina Duver, Head of Middle School. “Mornings begin together, as a group, recognizing each other for strengths, accomplishments, and contributions to the community. Attendance can wait for just a minute because here at AC, building those connections of community and thankfulness are important to building peer-to-peer and faculty-to-student relationships. The mindset starts early and continues throughout the day with positivity and reflection of self-worth within the community.”
Advisory groups of students and faculty meet weekly to check in on student well-being, address concerns, and build support networks through team-building and conversation. Advisory groups are intentionally small (usually just six students), allowing advisors and students to focus on what students need that day, or that moment. Some days the focus is on mindfulness, and other days the focus is on upcoming academic projects or social and emotional needs. And sometimes it’s working together on a community service project, getting students to go beyond themselves and connect with the larger community.
“My daughter’s entire experience has been seamless, and she has felt very supported and has lots of friends,” continued Mrs. Shearer. “The study skills, time management, and work organization class, along with her Advisory group, have helped the school year to be stress-free.”
Even lunch promotes connection and inclusion. With family-style lunches, faculty members each host a table of students from across grades within their division. The students are assigned tables every month in Lower School, and every two weeks in Middle and Upper School, providing opportunities to get to know virtually everyone in the division. Students rotate through responsibilities for bringing food to the table and clean-up, and faculty members keep table conversations inclusive and respectful. No one sits by themselves at AC lunches.
AC School Counselor Starmeshia Jones is available for students who may want a bit more support making connections while on campus. “At any given point in a school year, I am working in small group, whole group, or individual settings with students who have had difficulty connecting or maintaining fulfilling friendships. All too often I think that self-esteem, anxiety, or self-consciousness can contribute to actual or perceived social disconnect.” Working with students on activities designed to build self-esteem, exploring themes of friendship, and gradually pushing them out of their comfort zones in building relationships can be useful. She continues, “seeing students move from a place of anxiousness last year to connecting more with their peers this year has been wonderful. They look more comfortable, and I’ve gotten reports that they are happier and more engaged with the adults and other youth in their lives.”
Special events at AC go deeper than they might at other schools. Blue/White Day isn’t just a school spirit day. It’s about pairing younger students with older students who guide them, do activities together, and cheer each other on. It’s competition mixed with collaboration, where teams of students age 6 to 18 work together to transfer water to a bucket or to guide a ping pong ball to a distant bucket. Older students know they are setting an example, and the younger students leave with a “big kid” friend and another familiar face around campus.
Professional development activities for faculty, planned by teacher Tony Tepedino, provide guidance for teachers around team-building and making connections that help them collaborate with and support each other. “Meetings start with an introduction to our group norms as a way to create a safe space for the work that will occur. We then move on to an entry activity that encourages attendees to connect with each other as humans first, which hopefully allows for more authenticity and openness while we learn together. The idea is to create a shared environment where students and teachers are comfortable to be themselves and take risks.”
“I am passionate about my children and their happiness. I’ve definitely shed my fair share of thankful, happy tears this year,” concluded Mrs. Shearer. “Brian and I have been very impressed with so many things. As parents, it was immediately apparent to us that AC’s intentional focus on connection is groundbreaking and very different from other educational experiences we’ve had. I wish AC’s model could be replicated nationwide to combat bullying in schools and promote inclusion on all levels.”
What’s your favorite way that AC connects? Tell us!
Posted in: Highlights, Lower School, Middle School, Upper School
For the second summer, local Allendale Columbia students participated in the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) here in Rochester. IYLEP* is a four-week exchange program for promising Iraqi students to visit different U.S. cities and learn about leadership, peacebuilding, and civic engagement. Rochester is the only host city that has American students participate in the IYLEP program for the full two weeks, which allows them to build a strong bond and further break down stereotypes and misconceptions.
“Before this program, what I thought and knew of Iraq was based off what I see in the news, and sure, we have our differences, but we have way more in common than I thought,” said AC student Garrett Wilson.
During their time in Rochester, Iraqi and AC students visited an array of places, ranging from workshops at the M.K. Gandhi Institute, site visits to Rochester International Academy, a service project at Foodlink, and a night out at a Red Wings game.
On August 16th, students, host parents, and members of the community gathered in the Curtis Performance Center for the IYLEP Student Showcase. As guests trickled in, IYLEP participants laughed, sang NSYNC, and posed for selfies together, further proving that teenagers are teenagers, no matter where they’re from.
“Just because we’re from different places, it doesn’t mean we have different kinds of hearts.” – Mikayla Gross ‘19
Showcase presentations included a student-produced video highlighting the activities and friendships formed over the course of the two weeks in Rochester; a skit depicting some of the cultural differences identified between American and Iraqi students; and a touching thank you video to the host families. Many participants spoke about the lasting impact of the program, including the simple experiences like living with pets or riding a bike.
The evening concluded with the presentation of awards to the IYLEP participants by RGC Executive Director, Cecelia Hencke, and Program Facilitator, Mary Beth Moyer, followed by a friendly mix and mingle over refreshments in the Dining Commons.
“The lasting impact of this program is the person-to-person connection formed between people from diverse backgrounds,” said Hencke. “It increases international understanding and promotes positive U.S. foreign relations and a more peaceful and prosperous world. The program has a multiplier effect because the students are now ambassadors of one another’s country and will help further breakdown the stereotypes or misconceptions.”
Allendale Columbia School has been involved with IYLEP since 2017, when the AC Center for Global Engagement partnered with Rochester Global Connections (RGC), a local nonprofit organization that promotes cultural exchange, to bring this opportunity to our community. Local high school students who participate in the program are eligible to receive accreditation from AC’s Center for Global Engagement. This year’s participants included 11 high school students and one adult mentor from Iraq and eight local Allendale Columbia students.
Since the program’s founding in 2007, IYLEP has brought more than 2,300 promising Iraqi high school and undergraduate students to the U.S. In addition to promoting mutual understanding between the people of Iraq and the U.S., IYLEP also fosters relationships within the diverse group of Iraqi participants, who represent a broad range of ethnic, religious, and geographic backgrounds.
During their program, IYLEP participants visit two to three U.S. cities where they engage in experiential learning activities and cultural exchange. Upon their return to Iraq, they implement projects in their communities, such as organizing peace festivals and providing relief services to refugees and orphans. As an investment in global understanding and peace, IYLEP has created a cadre of future leaders of Iraq.
It is clear this program benefits both American and Iraqi students alike. Together, it prepares them to become global leaders- to learn global empathy, compassion, and humility. They learn leadership skills- such as working with people from diverse backgrounds, problem solving, teamwork, dialogue, and self confidence. From this experience, students are prepared to be successful in our global and diverse society and be empowered to make a positive difference in our community and communities around the world.
“We hope to continue this program on an annual basis, so I encourage local students to apply!” said Hencke.
*IYLEP is sponsored and funded by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and implemented by World Learning.
Posted in: Global Engagement, Highlights, Partnerships
Every year at the end of the spring semester, Middle and Upper School students at Allendale Columbia complete their usual curriculum and begin May Term. May Term exists to provide educational opportunities outside of the normal structures of the school year to support intellectual discovery, encourage collaboration, and foster community involvement.
Here are some May Term highlights so far this year:
- Students learned about honey bees, built a beehive, planted flora that bees love, and installed a starter colony of bees at the school garden in the “Buds and Bees” course led by Mrs. Guzzetta and Mr. Costanzo. Students will continue to monitor the hive and harvest honey in the fall.
- A panel of judges from the AC Kitchen and maintenance evaluated student culinary creations in a Master Chef-type competition, with students presenting the science behind the creation of those food items in the “Science of Cooking” course led by Ms. Crosby and senior Gio Martino.
- In “Human Impacts on the Environment”, AC students worked with students from the World of Inquiry School 58 at a Water Quality Summit in Rochester to understand the Genesee River ecosystem, which was featured on WROC and WXXI. Mrs. Lisi and Mr. Godkin led this session.
- In “Life Underwater”, students explored the flora and fauna in Corbett’s Glen with Mrs. Guzzetta.
- Students visited the Women’s Rights Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls as part of “Nevertheless, She Persisted” (above) with Mr. Neeley
Other topics included:
- Positive Psychology
- The Great Outdoors
- Console Wars: The History of Video Gaming
- Be Here Now: Mindfulness as a Practice
- What do you want to be when you grow up?
- What would Susan and Frederick Think? The Legacy of Rochester’s Agitators
- Muse: Making a Magazine
- Bilingual Theatre
- Building, flying and using drones for media production
- Music with Kids
- Confidence & Courage: Dare to Show Up, Be Seen, & Be Brave
- Wheelin’ Through Rochester’s History
- Stigma and Mental Health: Issues and Interventions
- Ornithology Science and Art
- Exhibition Night Planning
- Grow Your Own Food
- Social Impact Filmmaking
- Day Trading and Cryptocurrency Lab
- Making Community Service a Way of Life
- 2019 College Workshop
- The AC Genome Project
- Innocence and Guilt: Learning about the Law
We’ll have additional updates as May Term progresses. Everyone is also welcome to participate in an interactive May Term Exhibition Night where students will discuss their projects on Thursday, May 7th from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.
Posted in: Authentic Learning, Centers for Impact, Eighth Grade, Eleventh Grade, Entrepreneurship, Global Engagement, Highlights, Invent, Middle School, Ninth Grade, Partnerships, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade, Tenth Grade, Twelfth Grade, Upper School
by Ariane Baer-Harper, Director of the AC Center for Global Engagement
During Spring Break in 2018, 12 Allendale Columbia students went to Dakar, Senegal, to participate in an entrepreneurship program entitled, Developing Entrepreneurship Skills through Intercultural Collaboration. This eight-day program was created by the AC Center for Global Engagement, the AC Center for Entrepreneurship, and Baobab Consulting, a company based in New York City and Dakar which specializes in facilitating collaboration between cultures through innovation. Throughout the program, AC students were paired with Senegalese high school students and were tasked to come up with an innovative social entrepreneurship idea.
WROC News 8 interviewed two students and Director of the AC Center for Global Engagement, Ariane Baer-Harper.
(Photos by Garrett Wilson ’21, Anna Mihalyov ’19, and John Palomaki)
All students, with trip leaders Ariane Baer-Harper (Director of Global Engagement) and Gabe Costanzo (Music and Band instructor), stayed at the Tostan Training Facility in Thiès, about 40 km outside of Dakar. Tostan is an international NGO focusing on human rights issues in Senegal, particularly women’s rights. The group also had the opportunity to spend some time in Dakar, the capital, and St. Louis, a city north of the country which was once the colonial capital of Senegal.
Posted in: Centers for Impact, Eighth Grade, Eleventh Grade, Entrepreneurship, Global Engagement, Highlights, Middle School, Ninth Grade, Partnerships, Tenth Grade, Twelfth Grade, Upper School
by Danielle Fuller, Aditi Seshadri, and Anjana Seshadri
A total of 17 students from Allendale competed in the annual TEAM+S (Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics and Science) competition on March 3rd. The 9/10 team and the senior 11/12 team both won first place at this regional competition. For the senior 11/12 team, this win was particularly significant because they toppled 3-year champion McQuaid. (more…)
Posted in: Centers for Impact, Eleventh Grade, Highlights, Invent, Ninth Grade, Tenth Grade, Twelfth Grade, Uncategorized, Upper School
The festive opening reception for Allendale Columbia School’s Evening of the Arts Biennial will take place Friday, March 23rd, from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. The exhibition features hundreds of works of art from students in grades N – 12 displayed throughout the school. This year’s theme is “Art Around the World”.
Highlights of the event will include a group of 5th graders demonstrating their “crankie” from the LS musical, “I’m Not Sleepy…Yet!”, and the Honors and Portfolio Seminar Art students will be working in studio locations on campus as a preview for their upcoming spring thesis exhibition in April.
Refreshments will be served. Everyone from the AC community is invited! It is a great chance to socialize with other families and friends while taking in the talent and creativity of our AC students.
Parent volunteers are also needed for the Wolf Den, welcome table, and helping to direct people through the exhibits. Sign up here.
Posted in: Eighth Grade, Eleventh Grade, Fifth Grade, First Grade, Fourth Grade, Highlights, Kindergarten, Lower School, LS Birches, Middle School, MS Birches, Ninth Grade, Nursery, Pre-Primary School, PreKindergarten, Second Grade, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade, Tenth Grade, The Birches, Third Grade, Twelfth Grade, Upper School, US Birches
At this week’s PACK (Parents of Allendale Columbia Kids) Coffee Connection, Amy Oliveri, Director of the new AC Center for Entrepreneurship, discussed her vision for the Center. Though she was only hired for the position at the beginning of this school year, she’s making good progress in helping students not only learn about entrepreneurism but actually become entrepreneurs.
The vision for the new Center is for it to be “a hub for entrepreneurship that will create opportunities for our students/participants to make an impact on the world at an unprecedented level by learning to adapt to a constantly evolving world, connecting globally, and carving their own path. This authentic way of thinking and working develops a universally applicable and transferable mindset and skill set.”
Posted in: Centers for Impact, Entrepreneurship, Global Engagement, Highlights, Invent, Lower School, Middle School, Upper School
by Tina Duver
Adolescence is a time where teenagers can struggle with the navigation through the rough waters of social interactions, academics, independence, and self-doubt. Here at Allendale Columbia, we are a responsive community who constantly engages our students in dialogue around topics of community and inclusivity. That dialogue in middle school has led to our participation in the KIND Schools Challenge.
Posted in: Authentic Learning, Eighth Grade, Highlights, LS Birches, Middle School, MS Birches, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade, The Birches, US Birches