Director's Letter, Summer 2010

Dear Friends and Families, Up close and personal changes perspectives.

The school used to own a Rainbow vacuum cleaner. In terms of effectiveness, it was a great vacuum cleaner. It seemed indestructible, was multi-purposed, and was said to be super hypoallergenic. The filtration system bubbled up through a water reservoir. Essentially, this captured both dirt and airborne particles. It wouldn’t send dirty, particle-filled air out. Rather a barely perceptible, clean and fine mist seemed to hydrate your skin during use.

Here is the rub. The reservoir of water was filled fresh from the faucet at the beginning of each cleaning session and then emptied at the end. Parents and staff, experienced in an up close, personal, and very unpleasant way, what is on the floors of our school. I learned to look at glitter differently, at foot traffic patterns, at paper scraps, twigs, feathers, grass, mud, gravel, etc. How does all that collect in just two short hours?!?

Dirty water. Rainwater. Storm water. Basement. Gutters. Roof. Stairwells. Silt. Plastic. Paper. Watershed. Science.

Sometimes up close and personal reveals perspectives. From vacuum cleaner water to rain water.

I will often say that learning concepts are “pervasive.” What does this actually mean? At our school it means that important developmental learning takes place all the time and in every space. We create the opportunities for it to happen and also recognize it when it occurs spontaneously.

The parents of multiple boards of directors, volunteers on buildings and grounds committees, and staff have all been involved in efforts to better control the uncontrollable--flowing water. The boards, especially, have all been respectful of volunteer time. Leaking basement and roof equal more volunteer time. Big steps taken last year have included a new roof and just last week, new gutters for the school. Over the course of the years I have gotten so up close and personal with our rain water that on one hand, enough already, but on the other, it opened up a world of possibilities and has corresponded perfectly with how I spent my summer vacation. Our family summers begin with day trips to the National Arboretum and the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. And there the Anacostia sits, or maybe I should say silts.

Looking at the Anacostia and our creeks, all I could visualize was the Rainbow vacuum’s muddy, trash-filled reservoir. We did this, we made that happen. Our watershed collects and flowing water pushes the trash to the banks. Working with the basement floods this summer, there it is again. Then there was a brainstorming session with Maria Navaratne, founder of the ell play school in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Here is the condensed version of our conversation. Me: “Accreditation. Science center, blah. Are you kidding me. The whole world is a science center.” Her: “I know, blah.”

So, here is simply another way to make science pervasive, in an enriching and meaningful way with positive impact on future generations. We start at the center. Our school’s rainwater. Below are photos of our silt flow book-ended by photos of the waters of the Northwest Branch and the Anacostia. Kit Gage, a stormwater and gardening consultant and FOSC member (Friends of Sligo Creek), visited with me and we explored possibilities. She donated two rain barrels to our cause, instructed me on rain barrel use, told me who to call first, second, and third and where to look for information and possible funding for our ideas.

We know that truly meaningful learning experiences are more effective if they are real. In many early childhood sites, we find science “centers.” This idea is worthwhile in some cases, but in my estimation, is a kind of altar to dead things removed and displayed far from natural habitats. We are asked by accreditation guidelines to install a living thing in our “science center.”  Isn’t that even more out of context? We go outside to see living things in their natural habitats, our outdoor space and time is an integral part of the program. Our imaginary play, Becky’s music, Contradiction Dance’s movement are all filled with science concepts, and much of our art is centered in science. Science is pervasive. But wait maybe there’s more, I propose that we make our families and our children part of the process of addressing our role in protecting our watershed as we enrich our science curriculum.

Please consider this kindergarten marker from the State of Maryland's voluntary curriculum (VSC). We use the VSC to check our practice. In this case, without a corresponding marker for ages 2-5, we still have it covered!

Materials and Processes That Shape A Planet; Investigate objects and materials in the environment

Observe and describe a variety of natural and human-made objects found in familiar environments (school, neighborhood, etc.)

Examine and describe Earth materials. Rocks, Soil, Water

Using examples from the immediate environment, describe that objects and materials on Earth’s surface can change over time; Changes in soil and rocks, such as wearing away, being moved, etc.; Changes in trees, such as leaves changing color, branches falling, trees being blown down by the wind, etc.; Changes in landforms, such as hills wearing away, etc.

Is there a rain garden in our future? A conservation garden? Do we make sure the Rock Garden features native plants and embraces water conservation and prevents storm water run-off? How will an energy audit conserve energy? Can we dream of a permeable parking lot surface?

Dream big, coyote, dream big. That is how we radiate out. See you soon, Lesley Romanoff