Monday, November 30, 2009

TIPI! . . . we made our home out of ?????????


We made our home out of paper bags
128 to be exact
We sewed and sewed 'til our fingers exploded!
We made our home out of paper bags
But not from skins of buffalo
We Ralphed and Gelsoned and Trader Joed it.
We used twine instead of sinew
Metal needles instead of bone
Leave your matches outside when you
Step into our paper home:
Our Tipi!
- from The Tipi Song

If you visit one of the third grade classrooms during the fall, you may be lucky enough to view a Willows tradition in full swing:  the building of the tipi.

It is definitely not a project for the fainthearted!  Picture desks covered with piles of brown paper grocery bags and a roomful of  children threading needles, measuring seams, and sewing bags together in groups of two, four, and eight.  The challenge of creating a completely handmande, life-size tipi over 6' high and 12' in diameter seems daunting - but somehow it all works!

The Willows' very first tipi was created in 1997.  A rainy El Nino winter and bad weather forced the children inside during recess and lunch day after day. (Remember, this was when there was only one building and no gym where kids could blow off steam!)

The third graders were in the midst of a unit on native American life, reading novels about Native Americans, creating clay kachina dolls, and building Seneca medicine masks.  Third grade teacher Erin Sullivan was searching for a larger project that would give the class a collective mission. She also thought it wouldn't hurt for them to have an activity during the rainy recess periods.

"Let's make our own tipi," suggested one third grader.  Together, they discussed the materials needed (we can't use buffalo skins, so why not paper bags?) and the steps to take  (let's make small rectangles and piece them together into bigger rectangles).

"As the project unfolded, the tipi started to take on a life of its own," remembers Erin.  "The kids had to use multiplication to calculate the dimensions of the canvas they were sewing - how many bags long? how many bags wide?  We had to work with the number pi to cut the canvas into a tipi-shaped semicircle. Then, of course, they had to research and read about the pictographs that they would use to decorate the outside.  The tipi project wasn't just 'social studies' anymore - we were integrating all the disciplines and drawing on a huge set of skills to get the job done."

That spring, the completed tipi was erected in the atrium of Willows I.  On the day of their end-of-unit culmination, the third graders stood proudly at the entrance and provided tours for parents and friends.

That morning, the students also presented the very first performance of "The Tipi Song," a staple of The Willows "songbook" that third graders have sung at every Step-Up ceremony for years.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tradition! Establishing traditions!

Today, each year at The Willows is jam-packed with fabulous school-wide events that unite the community to benefit the school or simply to celebrate each other and the community. 

"Our traditions are important," says Lisa Rosenstein.  "These are the moments when we can gather as a community to enjoy each other's company and celebrate our shared purpose of educating children."

Founder and former Board member Mark Solomon recalls how these traditions were established during the early years, "We knew we wanted to anchor the calendar with some events, but we wanted to be sure they would be meaningful to families and help them feel connected to each other."

The Willows Auction was one of those early first events.  "I remember at our first auction, we collected what we could, and we had all this stuff out there for bidding," recalls Mark.  "My son Jake, '01 had come to the auction, and about an hour into the event, (Founder and Board Member) Gary Yale taps me on the shoulder and tells me, 'You better go check inside -- your son has bid on every piece of art from every kid he knows!'  By the end of the night, we ended up with the funniest collection of art you've ever seen.  It cracked me up, but it also spoke to me.  Even in the 3rd Grade, my son loved The Willows -- and he loved the art that the other kids were doing enough that he wanted it in our house!"

Parent volunteers are at the very heart of The Willows' traditional events and have worked tirelessly over the years developing and producing these successful events. 

Kudos to the Willows Parent Association, whose efforts over the years have made these and many more events possible:

THE BOOK FAIR (coming up this year on December 6th) - established the first year to fund the library and provide curricular books for classroom use.

BIG SUNDAY, a city-wide day of service in which Willows families gather together to support the larger community through a variety of hands-on projects.

THE PIER EVENT (this year on May 6th),  a family FUNdraiser at The Santa Monica Pier.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Eden Cipolla, '05 Remembers Poetry Night!

Poetry Night holds important memories for Eden Cipolla, '05.  Eden entered The Willows as a 3rd grader with a unique situation; she has lived with cerebral palsy since birth and lacks the ability to speak or move independently.  From an early age, Eden has utilized a motorized wheelchair, assistive communication technology including a computer she programs with her knee to "speak for her, and a companion, Dona. 

During 5th grade, Eden presented an original poem at Poetry Night. With the help of her companion, she danced while a classmate read her poem aloud.

Where Do Leaves Go?
Orange leaves blowing
in the wind
on a gray
gloomy day.
The sky's dimmed light
saddens me.

But the leaves
the sound is music
to my ears.

I listen
and watch

Where do the leaves go?
Do they get lost?
Do they ever find
their way home?

As I watch the leaves 
do a little dance,
I laugh
and feel so at peace.
      Eden Cipolla '05

"We did contact improvisation," recalls Eden, describing how  Dona assisted her move onstage to the rhythm of the words.  "I had so much fun onstage, and it felt wonderful to dance and have everyone watch us.  My favorite part about Poetry Night was seeing so many different kinds of performances and seeing so many of the students' families there supporting everybody."

Eden reflects,  "The Willows meant so much to me!  I have beautiful memories from my three years there, and every time I have gone to visit, I've had such amazing and touching experiences.  The last two times were especially amazing because at the time, I was having a very hard time at high school.  As soon as I go to The Willows, I just feel surrounded by so much love.  I felt safe enough to just let go of my stresses, and I felt like everyone was there to give me the support I needed at the hardest times of my life.  When I was at The Willows, I could totally relax and just be myself."

Eden recently returned to The Willows as an alumni poet, and at the 2007 Poetry Night one of her original poems was read aloud.