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A Peek Inside BMS Staff Meetings

This article was written by BMS office co-manager, Carol Volker.

Nearly every Tuesday afternoon during the school year, the staff of Blue Mountain School gather together – outside if the weather allows or in one of the classrooms if it doesn’t. Staff meetings are an important but somewhat hidden piece of the school, and I often find myself thinking, “If only all our parents could see and hear what happens at staff meeting!” Here is a little peek inside The Blue Mountain School Staff Meeting…

The start of a staff meeting is a lot like drop-off time in the Early Childhood classroom: loud and full of energy! Many of us are only at school one or two days a week, so this is our chance to connect with each other and catch up. We pass around hand-me-down clothes for our kids, Hari usually has eggs to sell, and someone always puts the kettle on for tea. And snacks. What is a meeting without snacks?

Once we are all settled, Shelly leads us in a moment of silence or a guided meditation and then brings us back to the present moment with the chime. (In many ways, our meetings reflect what happens in our classrooms!) Next, we have time for announcements: Don’t forget to write your newsletter piece! Does anyone have any Altoid tins I can use for a project? I have a copy of a great article about learning through play if you want to borrow it… Then we get down to business.

Each week, we focus on one of four basic themes: business, process, staff development, and planning. Like our school’s curriculum, these themes are a guide rather than a dictate. We recognize that sometimes we will need to deviate from the scheduled theme to meet a specific need that has arisen, but the structure of the themes holds a place in our meetings for all the areas that need to be covered each month.

During business meetings, we discuss upcoming whole-school events like celebrations and field trips and talk about big-picture things like the accreditation process or thoughts for the next school year. It is important for us to be able to talk about these things as a group, so that we all are able to contribute to and be informed about what is happening at school.

In our process meetings, we have time to share concerns or successes and to practice reflective listening and empathy skills as well as communication skills and relationship building. We generally will have a reading that goes along with this meeting.

Staff development meetings are like mini classes for us. There is often more reading and occasionally a video that provide a jumping off point for us to learn, practice, and reflect about teaching techniques and tools. Sometimes, one of our teachers will share a presentation about techniques or tools they have learned about at a conference or from personal experience. Researchers in the fields of education and child development are constantly discovering new information about how to best meet the needs of students, and we do our best to stay up to date on this research. We may also use this time to learn and reflect about our model and our program.

Finally, we have planning meetings. These meetings provide a space for teachers to share what they are working on and to connect with each other on plans or themes that are woven between multiple classes and enrichment areas. This is also a time to share concerns about specific students or groups or about other experiences at school.

Witnessing planning meetings has the biggest impact on me as a parent because I am able to watch my daughter’s former, current, and future classroom teachers, her enrichment teachers, and the school director all working together to make sure she and her schoolmates get what they need. I see and hear how much each member of our staff cares about each one of our students, and it is so clear to me in these moments the value of our model and its emphasis on relationships and community.

The meetings generally wind down around 4:30 or 5:00, but sometimes we are so engaged the time escapes us. A few folks with other appointments sneak out and our kids begin to wander in with pouty faces and hungry bellies. The signs are there, so we gather up our notes, put away our tea cups, and head home.

If you would like to take a peek at an agenda from one of our recent meetings, click here.

The Light in Each Moment

Written by BMS teacher, Hari Berzins.

The last day of school before Winter Break is challenging for a teacher. The kids are fired up! (Change fires anyone up, doesn’t it?) A few days before break began, Shelly sent an email to staff asking for help setting up for and cleaning up after our Winter Celebration, which is on the last day of school for the year. I was tired just thinking about putting more items on my to-do list. I offered to bring the fire but hardly thought I’d be staying long enough after the celebration to help with cleanup. On this last day before Winter Break, it would be easier for all of us to say, “Oh, never mind, let’s just do popcorn and a song after school.” That’s the worn-out me thinking.

It’s dark now. I’m alone in the Zion Lutheran Church parking lot lighting a fire in my portable fire pit. Lighting fire calls my attention to the moment. It was a challenging day. It took a lot out of me to navigate the energies of twelve 5- & 6-year-olds on the day before a long holiday. But I have what it takes—my breath. Deep, slow breaths help me tune into the students and the needs of each moment. We moved through our day with calm and ease. Being mindful keeps me in the present moment, and it’s a wonderful moment.

The fire is going now, and cars are pulling in. It’s almost time. I imagine what it took for us as a community to pull this evening off. Running home, cooking, running back, setting up the church, getting kids bundled up, leaving work early… And now we’re circled around the fire, and Andy’s picking Christmas carols on his guitar. The kids run in from the dark to join the circle. With only one or two reminders they settle in to listen. Several parents and teachers read about celebrations of light around the world.

It’s time to light the wish lanterns. Shelly explains, “It takes at least 3 adults or 1 adult and 2 big kids.” Excitement and rushing ensue. The first lantern takes flight. We watch it float effortlessly into the sky as we send silent wishes of peace with it. The third and fourth lanterns go straight to the trees across the street—a few moments of held breath—Andy climbs the tree to save them—released breath. A scary moment!

More and more lanterns fill and float. I run around the circle trying to capture the moment of release, and I’m struck by the beauty of our families—each one uniquely doing their best to peacefully parent and teach children that no matter how hard the moments get, we can release them with love and care. I witness the joy in blended families, co-parented families, extended families, young families, new families, all families joining to create this beautiful moment amidst the chaos of daily life and the troubles of the world.

Jagadisha rings the bell of mindfulness and reminds us that we can awake to this precious moment with every breath. Ahhh. Shelly leads us in our traditional pre-meal blessing. “Hold hands and let’s make this our longest Yum ever!” I grab the hand of the woman to my right, a new face in our circle. I delight in hearing her giggle as we chant "YUUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM" and then disperse to the potluck. I introduce myself, and she tells me she’s new to Floyd. “When did you move here?” “Today!”

Yes! I landed directly in this community five years ago, and I couldn’t have landed in a more nurturing place. All my life I have longed to find a place where I belong, and now I find myself in one. Belonging is a direct result of acceptance after all. Being seen and accepted by this community has allowed me to see and accept myself and my part of the whole. I love witnessing a fellow family be welcomed and enfolded into our community.

The meal was delicious—“A good one!” says my daughter, Ella. The joy in the room was tangible. Stories and warmth filled the air, as did song. Casey, Rissy, and Jami sang as they lit the Menorah, a surprise treat.

Before I knew it, the room was empty, and I was helping with cleanup. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. The worn-out me of the afternoon was replaced with an energized me happily sweeping up with my co-workers.

Thank you, Blue Mountain School, for holding us all and for teaching us that every moment holds wonder and light.

Blessings of peace and healing to our community and our world,





Come Visit the Winterfest Kids-Only Store

For the first time ever, the Jacksonville's Winterfest will have a place just for kids to do their holiday shopping! Blue Mountain School’s Kids-Only Store will feature locally-made items that kids can shop for and purchase on their own. No adults allowed! [Except store staff, of course!]

All gifts are priced under $10, with many items under $5. We hope to make these gifts affordable to our young friends, so that they can experience the joy of giving locally-made gifts to those they care about.

The store is right across from Santa’s workshop on the first floor of the Jacksonville Center and is for kids aged 4 to 12. Before you come, print out a copy of our shopping list, and you can help your kids fill it out ahead of time.

Special thanks to the Jacksonville Center for allowing us to have our store and to the following folks for donating items: Lore Deighan, David Oakes, Debbie Johnson, Warren Lapine, Starroot, Christine Tueller, Natasha Sebastian, Jennifer Newcomb, Joanne Bell, Angie Barrett, Shelly Fox Emmett, Misty & Isobel Harris, Pam Frazier, Carol & Anya Volker, Corey Avellar, and the BMS teachers and kids!

If you have items you would like to donate, there's still time! Contact Carol or call the school at 540-745-4234.

All proceeds go to the Blue Mountain School scholarship fund.





Connecting with the Broader Community

At BMS, community is one of our three core values. "We celebrate diversity in our membership and in the world. We explore Wisdom Traditions and cultural celebrations, engage in service learning, and work to contribute positively to both our local community and the larger global community." We understand the importance of community in our lives, and we work to make sure our students have plenty of opportunities to form connections with others.

One of our favorite community events is coming up next week as we gather for our Thankfulness Celebration. This will be the third year that our students, staff, friends, and family assemble at Zion Lutheran Church to rake leaves from the centuries-old oak trees. Adults and children alike work together to show our gratitude for our neighbors at Zion, and we model for each other the importance of community support. For a peek at our celebration last year, check out this article from the Floyd Press. 

While we constantly search out ways for our students to serve our community, sometimes it's the adults who are serving. This summer we were honored to provide child care at the Floyd YOga Jam. The founders of this event, Shirleyann Burgess and Laura Polant, have been a part of the Blue Mountain School family for many years. We are very grateful to Shirleyann and Laura for donating a weekend for two to YOJam 2016 for our drawing, which will take place Tuesday, November 17 at 5:00. (To enter, just donate $50 or more before by 5!)

"Floyd Yoga Jam is a three-day celebration of yoga, music, and community held in Floyd County. YOJam refreshes and rejuvenates with nationally-known yoga instructors, free classes for all ages and fitness levels, amazing fresh local food, beer and wine, hoola hoops, public art, and just plain fun!" 

Some new projects we are working on this year to help us connect with and serve our community include a pen pal project with a school in Spain, creating ornaments to decorate a tree for the Jacksonville Center's Winterfest tree auction, and making wrapping paper for the Floyd County Silver Bells program. We will also be participating in the Jax's Winterfest by opening the BMS Kids Only Store, where children between the ages of 4 and 12 can shop on their own for holiday gifts for their friends and family.

Check out some of the community projects in which we've participated in the past:

Floyd County Earth Day
Martin Luther King, Jr., Day

Growing Stronger Through Accreditation

When people learn that we are working on becoming an accredited school, they often ask two questions. First, "What is Accreditation?"

In short, accreditation is process that requires lengthy self-evaluation and reflection and requires an extensive examination by the accreditation agency of every aspect of the school for compliance with rigorous standards. After BMS is accredited, we will continue to have routine reviews to make sure we are maintaining this excellence. Completing accreditation is a priority of the Board of Trustees and staff because there is ample evidence that accredited schools are more stable and effective in meeting their goals.
Another question we frequently hear is, "Why? Blue Mountain School has been around a long time, why get accredited now?" This question is even more common when we share how much work accreditation entails.
There are many reasons for BMS to become an accredited school. All of them have to do with strengthening our school in one way or another; all of them have to do with accreditation helping us to become ourselves in a more substantial way. But one of the top reasons for becoming accredited has to do with the opportunities for connections with other schools like us that accreditation affords. Community connections provide mutual support.
Formed in 1953, the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) now has over 360 member schools. By becoming part of the SAIS community, our staff and Board will have hundreds of new neighbors. We probably won't be going on picnics or having potluck dinners with these neighbors (but who knows?). Instead, we will be sharing ideas and information and helping each other continue to strengthen our schools.
As a school accredited by SAIS, BMS will have access to these resources:
  • High-quality professional and organizational development opportunities covering relevant issues such as governance, leadership, and financial sustainability;
  • A network of independent schools through which we can communicate with other member schools about issues we may be facing and share methods we've found that work for us;
  • Grants and other types of funding specifically designed for independent accredited schools.
Relationships with other SAIS schools, just like relationships with other organizations closer to home in Floyd, give us new perspectives, provide us with more opportunities to share our unique gifts, and help solidify our commitment to our vision. The accreditation process will help us to further the development of BMS in ways yet beyond our consideration.
Blue Mountain School would like to thank the June M. McBroom Charitable Lead Trust for their support of our accreditation journey with the award of a $20,000 grant. This grant is making it possible for our school to become accredited without diverting any of our budget or fundraising efforts away from our primary mission.
We are grateful for every donation that we receive; each one matters. Thank you for supporting our school!


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