Caring Environment at Work

You have probably heard someone at SAMS throw out the line, “there is no such thing as other people’s children.” This commitment- to provide for the students at SAMS only what we would accept and only what we would desire for our own kids- drives our work.  It also reflects the values we uphold as we go about our work of leading, serving, and learning.  Those values include respect, hard work, and belonging as well as others.  At SAMS, the grown-ups around here not only try to model those values, but we also try to make them more explicit so we can reflect on them with students.  

When it comes to these values, we model them, speak to them, and make them tangible for our kids.  Ideally, our values are reflected in our day-to-day work.  How might we respond to a conflict between two students? How might we respond to a student who needs more time to learn?  How might we choose the texts and materials we use in our classrooms? However, our values should also be explicit in the way we serve on the larger scale.  How are the values reflected in our school climate?  How are the values carried through from Husky Camp to 8th grade promotion?  How are our values used to build trusting relationships with all stakeholders?

As Renee likes to ask, “What’s the bottom line?”  It’s this: with so much at stake when it comes to educating our kids, we must be on the same page when it comes to what we want for our kids.  Whether it’s our mission, vision, values or our belief that “there’s no such thing as other people’s children,” it’s never just words to us.  They form the foundation of the experience students and their families have at SAMS.  It’s imperative for us to know how they can be strengthened by the aspirations our families and community have for our kids.

Working together with all families within our SAMS community is always critical.  Yet as we work to make progress towards becoming an anti-racist institution, we are learning it is imperative to ground this work in the context of our values, especially the ones we all share for our children and students.

Our hope for this spring is to get a clearer view of how the aspirations and values of our families and our community can support and bolster our SAMS’ mission, vision, values and beliefs.  Here is our plan:

  1. The first step will be to ask a random sampling of at least 30% of our families to respond to a short survey.  If you see a survey in your email inbox, please know that you have been chosen randomly and it would be greatly appreciated if you took the 10 minutes to respond to the questions.  Once we have a substantial, statistically-sound random sampling*, we will be ready to move to the next step.
  2. The second step will be to give all families a chance to reflect on the data we receive. During this second step, we will invite anyone interested to come review and respond to the data either at next week’s SAMSA meeting or throughout the day on May 2, here at SAMS from 7:30-2:30.  Using the input from all families who participate, we will be able to use it to draw conclusions about how we could best integrate the aspirations we all hold for our school and our students.  
  3. The last step will be to review the findings and discoveries at our May SAMS meeting.  This last step of our process will be held at SAMS, Room 217 on May 22 from 7-8 pm.  

We are excited to wrap up this year with this collaboration with all of you.  We will keep you posted on the different stages of this collaboration.  Please plan on attending next Monday’s SAMSA meeting at 7pm, if you can!

IMG_6198*Little known fact: Renee’s doctoral work led to  the discovery that she is a little bit of a survey and statistic nerd.  While not every step of our process will reflect perfectly valid and reliable information, she is eager to explain why our model makes the most sense for what we are trying to accomplish.  In all seriousness, she would love to talk shop with anyone.  Feel free to reach out with questions and comments!

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

Last spring, as we began to formulate the path we would start to take as a middle school staff to deepen our understanding of the role race plays in our lives, our students’ lives, and in the life of our school, we didn’t know exactly how it would go.

The evidence suggested the experiences of students and families of color here at SAMS were different than the experiences of families who were white.  This school, the one we hope to build into a place where all will learn and contribute, was perpetuating whiteness.  Ignoring the evidence that told us our kids and families of color were predictably more likely to experience SAMS as a place unconducive to learning and contributing only sustained racial injustice.

For a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment, we had to make changes so as to guarantee the mission and the vision of our school could become a reality.  Our mission and vision required us to come to terms with the notion that all students, regardless of their racial identities, are far less prepared for our globally-networked, perpetually-evolving economic, political, and social world when we fail to dig deeper into the role race and racism plays in our lives, their lives and in our school.

We began this work about one month after Mr. Castile was shot and killed and two weeks before school started, and we invited all staff, parents, school board representatives, community members and students to come listen to how we intended to go about this equity work. That night in August, we shared that our school’s learning goals this year would be about racial equity and whiteness.  Specifically, the goal was for all of us, the grown-ups at SAMS, to grow deeper in our understanding about how race and racism impact our lives, our students’ lives, and our school community.

Now, we are months into this racial equity work.  Without diving into the all of the details of our journey, it’s been an extraordinary one.  We’ve heard from many stakeholders, we’ve heard from many kids, we’ve heard from many parents.  As teachers, we’ve tried to reflect on our own racial identities, and we’ve tried to expand our compassion for the perspectives of others.  We were warned by experts and school leaders who have been doing this work for far longer than we have that this would be a difficult year.  When we don’t know what we don’t know, we are going to make mistakes.  When we have limited experience talking about race, we aren’t going to be very effective when we first try.  When we start inviting our students into this conversations, we are going to have commit to listening to their perspectives and helping them understand the perspectives of others.

So, we are retelling all of this in the blog today because we see an uptick in racial conflicts in our school.  Not many, but more than we are used to.  We take them seriously, and we respond as appropriately and thoroughly as our vision, values, policies, and practices demand us too.  In the past week or so, we’ve investigated and responded to five incidents that include actively racist statements (like the use of the n-word) and passively racist situations (when ignorance allows everyday racism to go unaddressed). SAMS remains a safe, open, and authentic place to learn and contribute.

As we struggle with situations where race plays a significant role, we remain more committed than ever to our racial equity work.  Our urgency to do this work and get it right drives us to always be open to conversations, emails, meetings with anyone interested.  Monday at SAMSA, we had an engaging, diverse, deep conversation, and it made a positive impact on the ways in which we went about this important work today.

Our request for you today is to stay engaged, stay in touch, and keep us accountable in this work.  When we model trying to live racially just lives and when we help students do the same, we are serving the children well. And the children are all ours.

ALL Will Learn and Contribute

The following letter was read to our students today at SAMS.

Dear Students,

As we go into our three-day MLK weekend, Dr. Corneille and I have a quick message for you.  We hope you join us in celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We hope you take time to celebrate and reflect on the extraordinary life of service he led, and we hope it inspires you- as it has us.

As teachers, our lives have been enriched by the lives of hundreds, even thousands, of students.  All of them, and all of you, deserve to live the dream Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about in his influential speech.  We like to say around here that ALL will learn and contribute.  And when we say “all”, we mean ALL. Every one of you- regardless of your race, culture, background, religion, ability, gender, sexuality- deserves a bright and promising future, and as the leaders of your school, we are committed to giving you the education you need to get you on your way.

Together, with your teachers, we are deeply committed to building a school where all students feel as if they really do belong, they can contribute, and they will learn.  This commitment requires of us a laser-like focus on racial justice.  We owe it to all of you to not just celebrate the strength the diversity of our school offers our community, but we must also disrupt outdated thinking. Some examples of this outdated thinking are talking about race is controversial or white people can opt out of the work to dismantle racism because it does not affect them. Talking about race and racism is important, and dismantling racism benefits all of us in significant ways.

Together, with your teachers, we have been working all year to better understand the role race and racism plays in our school.  We welcome you to ask us about what we are learning, what keeps us curious, and what questions we are asking.

Together, with your teachers, we pledge to stay inspired by the life of a great American hero like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We vow to stay inspired by all the promise you show us, too.

We will wrap up with a powerful quote of Dr. King’s- “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve…You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Enjoy the MLK weekend, SAMS students.

Ms. Kujawski and Dr. Corneille

My New Year’s Wish

Hi all.  It’s Amy K, from Renee’s office at SAMS.  It’s also me in that picture baking with my daughter on my back.  When my husband showed me this picture he took of my youngest and I baking over winter break, it reminded me of parenting advice my minister offered when I was pregnant with our middle child.  She told me the only parenting advice I’d ever need was to “be the person you want your kids to grow up to be”.  Simple enough, yet what a challenge.  I couldn’t help but see this picture as a metaphor and wonder how differently or similarly would I behave if Callie was always on my back, looking over my shoulder, hearing every word I said.

This wasn’t just good parenting advice, it was also good teacher advice.  

Be the learner you want your students to be.

Be the musician you want your students to be.

Be the champion for justice as you want your students to be.  

As the new year gets under way, my wish for the grown-ups in our SAMS community is to have the courage, commitment, and awareness to be the people we want our kids to grow up to be.  We’ll need to rely on each other, as well as our senses of humor, to pull this off.   Our kids will continue to do things like wait until the night before a project is due to get started on it.  Some of them might cry hard over a B+ even though you’ve never expected all As.  They are going to say things they do not mean and try on attitudes that are anything but appealing.  But they are also going to create beautiful artwork in art class, make connections between their current world and the past in Social Studies, and solve complicated algebra problems in math class.  In fact, they are going to shine in all sorts of classrooms.  And while they are stretching their minds with all this learning, we must stretch ourselves to be vigilant in our learning too.  May 2017 be our best yet.  Our kids deserve it.

Before I sign off, let me share why I’m here on Renee’s blog today.  She and I are both committed to updating this blog more consistently. While sometimes Renee and I joke about sharing a brain, you can tell from this post, we do not share writing styles.  But we’ll both be here more often trying to share pieces of our world here at SAMS.  We invite you to share questions and prompts to help us follow through on this goal.  Go ahead- we’d love to see some comments, thoughts, and questions.

Cheers,

Amy Kujawski

 

 

It Takes a Village…

Dear friends and families of SAMS,

It’s hard to believe the end of the year is here.  The 2016-2017 year is nearly halfway over, and it seems like just the other day when many of us got together behind the school for our Back-to-School celebration.  The end of the calendar year means winter break and the holidays.  As we get closer to both of these, we want to announce the kick-off of the SAMS Community Fund (SCF).  

We are establishing the SAMS Community Fund to help guarantee all students and families have the same access to everything that makes our community awesome.  Here at SAMS, we see students and families who are unable to participate, experience, and enjoy this community fully. For example, students often need certain clothing items for concerts, sporting events, and Work Hard/Play Hard days.  Or food gets tight over the extended breaks when some of our students cannot receive the two meals they usually get during the week.   Bus passes for our students to use for transportation to sporting events or after-school rides home is just another example.

We recognize there are many structures in place to support families.  It’s just that there are small, seemingly inexpensive costs that prevent all kids from enjoying everything this school and community has to offer.  We know kids who are hesitant to even tell their parents about these little expenses because they know asking will cause stress.  In the past, we have come together as a staff to cover these costs and expenses, yet, recently, the needs are becoming more and more constant.  We are excited to launch our SAMS Community Fund in hopes that we can provide a more sustainable system to meeting these needs.

To get the SCFund started, my family will be donating $250 to the fund in honor of the SAMS staff.  They are some of the most hard-working and caring educators I’ve ever worked with.  And I invite you, friends and families of our SAMS community, to consider making a donation too.  All donations can be sent to or dropped off at the middle school- SAMS Community Fund ℅ St. Anthony Middle School, 3303 33rd Ave N, St. Anthony, MN 55418.  All donations will be received with a letter of receipt for tax purposes.  

Amy is always walking around here with quotes and things from books she’s reading- one of her favorites is from author Jean Vanier about community.  He writes, “One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals.”   That is exactly why we are creating the SAMS’ Community Fund.  Thank you for considering contributing to this important cause.

Thank you,

Renee

Thankful at SAMS

This week of Thanksgiving, St. Anthony Middle School took on the challenge to be overt in our gratitude. We had a “Thankful Assembly” this morning. We definitely stayed true to our middle school roots and played some silly games and students won some great prizes, but the bulk of the event was about being thankful.

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I often get picked on for my massive love of the “fractions quote” – but the words speak to our vision of creating a school dedicated to authentic learning in a caring environment. Students really ”…will work harder and do things — even odd things like adding fractions for people they love and trust”. We are grateful for this!

The staff at SAMS wanted to show our students how we really do care about them, how we are thankful for them, and how we just-plain enjoy them. So, we made them this video. Be prepared to see our raw and authentic emotion; we love our students, and we are unashamed of being thankful for them, for our work, and for each other.

To the parents of SAMS, thank you for giving us your children every school day, to our larger community, I promise, we are making future citizens ready to take on this world. You should be proud and excited…

Please take 10 minutes and watch this video (shout out to Mr. Meyer for taking the million hours to make this video).

Also, for those of you who want even more insight into our Thankful Assembly click here for our powerpoint with an additional video made by our 7th grade Media Literacy students.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Work Hard Play Hard – SAMS Style

Here at SAMS we take working hard seriously and we take playing hard seriously too! Today we had an unsledding day (no snow in Minnesota, amazing) so we built mini-golf courses and played the links. At the end of the day we all gathered in the auditorium and talked about how we care at SAMS — by being respectful, working hard, and showing that all belong. Please enjoy the show below (just click on the slides) – there are some awesome, student produced videos embedded too. Unfortunately, the only thing missing is the live music performed by our 8th grade band and choir. One more thing, all the music you hear in the background of the videos were created by students in Music Appreciation class – using Garage Band.

I’m not sure how to express how proud I am as the Principal of SAMS. The teachers, the staff, and all the students had so much fun today. Working hard and playing hard, it really is the SAMS Way!