Archive for category Middle School

Newsletter – June 1

Welcome, June!

Now that we have completed both graduations, Moscow and St. Petersburg, we find ourselves in the midst of final demonstrations of learning that will play out in the remaining days. I value tremendously the remaining plays and programs as they present their “best stuff” to parent audiences. And we have done well to make sure there are packed audiences that reinforce our students for their efforts. We have the Strings Concert tomorrow night, the Elementary School Play today and tomorrow, and a few other opportunities for kids to show how their learning takes form and function that extends beyond the classroom. The time is coming for “pats on the back” and “high fives” for jobs well done.

Please take the time in the coming days to honor your kids for their hard work and diligent effort. They have had many wonderful experiences this year. The cycle of the school year always leaves us with an opportunity in the early days of June to recognize accomplishment and celebrate the fact that learning, like the seasons, has a life cycle of engagement followed by reflection, keeping us ever reminded that learning is life long.

My thanks to all the valued families and volunteers who participated in our most successful PTO International Fair ever. After my turn on the dunk tank in the early minutes of the event, I got a sampling of the amazing spectrum of crafted treats that were on offer from 26 of our 64 countries. What a great day that was enjoyed by all in attendance. Thank you, PTO!! All we can say is, “Brilliant!!!”

And Happy Children’s Day! It’s June 1 and today is being celebrated around the world as the day we honor children. It may be that this date first inspired the International Children’s Day many years ago. First proclaimed in 1925 by the World Conference for the Well-being of Children, it was more formally recognized in 1954. It is currently recognized and formalized in 77 countries. My simple wish on this important day is that you take some extra time with your children to assure that they know their importance. It would be fun tonight if you gave your child a hug and told them it was a special one just for them and just for being a child. Because that is important, too!!

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Newsletter – May 18

As we head into graduation on the weekend, let me offer my sincere congratulations to all the students and families that will be involved with us on Saturday. The act of Commencement is a pivotal moment in a student’s life ushering them into long considered career pathways. While some are still narrowing their path toward what they want to become, they all begin a journey this weekend that is similar to a choice of roads leading toward distant and unforeseen destinations. We are very proud of their accomplishments as they bring a close to this chapter of their lives.

On that note, it has been great seeing past graduates dropping in to visit in recent days. Exciting to hear about the first year of college and exhilarating when they share with us how AAS shaped them in preparation for that first year experience. I should note that Alumni in good standing are welcome on the AAS campus. We appreciate if you call ahead to the HS office to let them know that you are coming, and if you haven’t made advanced arrangements, please know that we will escort you to the High School Office to check-in with them (a trip down memory lane, right?). Please wear your visitor’s badge on campus if you don’t still have your alumni badge. As alumni, you should display a badge at all times, like parents and staff. We also ask that you not disrupt classrooms that are in session as we are still working hard in all other grades until June dismissal. But, you are always welcome! Contact my office if you have any questions or concerns.

On a final note, I just want to remind parents that you should always contact us if you receive information about possible student activity inside and outside of school that would be in conflict with our code of conduct, rules, and policies. We appreciate these notifications and do follow up on them. We are bound by policy to provide for confidentiality in matters of this nature and, as we discussed in forums last year, we will inform the parents of all information received regarding their son or daughter, even when the school does not have sufficient evidence nor authority to take disciplinary action. If we do have sufficient evidence, the school will take action as needed and prescribed by policy. But, we all agreed in our discussions last year and previously, that the school has limited influence bound by our campus perimeter. Therefore, information and dialog is our most important weapon against the influences of drugs and alcohol. As always, we expect and appreciate your partnership in this area and our collective responsibility for protecting the privacy and confidentiality rights of all involved.

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Newsletter – October 21, 2015

We’re heading off to our first week-long break of the school year, and I’m hopeful that you have plans to enjoy some family time and refresh/relax in preparation for a busy period in November and December as we get ready for the holidays.

We are beginning the annual process of assessing our staffing needs for 2016-2017.  Although it is still early in the year, we will soon be asking staff to consider the extension of their contracts into next year and beyond.  This schedule is typical in global education, and the nature of international schools is that we see turnover rates that are higher than might be expected in a domestic school of similar size and stature.  It was announced at this week’s PTO General Meeting that we do often consider members of the community for inclusion in our recruiting process.  If you are a qualified teacher and would consider working at the Anglo-American School, we ask that you look at our employment site for potential positions of interest.

Finally, MAP results (Grades 2-10) are out to students and families, and I want to emphasize that the nature of these tests should be taken in the context of a student’s overall profile.  The MAP test is a standardized measure and can only go so far in painting a picture of the spectrum of talents a child shows on a daily basis in the classroom. (Click here to read more.) Similarly, our 1st quarter progress reports provide another window into student progress early in the year and is the best opportunity to reflect and set goals for the remainder of the year.  Our balanced approach to using this information, along with other measures and student self-assessment, provides a comprehensive understanding of personalized learning needs.  As noted at the PTO meeting, it is important to reach out to teachers and administrators for answers to your questions immediately and as they emerge.  Your partnership, as always, is expected and appreciated.

Hopefully, you got a chance to see the MS Drama production of “The Giver” in our Bolshoi Theatre this week.  With this newsletter, you have one last opportunity on Thursday for their closing performance at 4:00 pm.  Our MS cast and crew are very proud of their accomplishment, and I can think of no greater validation of this than to fill the theatre on closing night.  See you all there!!

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Victory Day 2015

Appropriate at this time of year to share some thoughts about the upcoming Victory Day recognition that has been a tradition at AAS for a number of years. As in the past, we will welcome special guests, local veterans, for this remembrance.  This is particularly poignant given that this is the 70th anniversary of the signing of documents that signaled the end of World War II. CLICK HERE for a short one page summary of our school focus for this event and my thanks to AAS Russian teachers for their contributions to these general guidelines of the main idea behind our recognition and the associated messages.

It’s important to remind everyone of our adopted identity statement that provides critical subtext to our mission and vision and was an important part of our strategic planning in 2011:

The Anglo-American School of Moscow is an international learning community that is enriched by the local Russian culture and strengthened by the unique experiences and synergistic engagement of its students, teachers, and parents.

As you can imagine, this year brings greater challenges to this holiday given the current political climate. That means that caution is suggested in the context of the coming days. While we will likely experience the usual delays relative to traffic, there will also be another tone to the week ahead that could be challenging for us. There will be many opinions on both sides of the issues and many see this holiday as an opportunity to raise these points of view with some emphasis. As evidence of this, we have seen world leaders unfortunately cancel their participation in the events hosted here in Moscow, despite the milestone year and their active participation in prior years.

This year, we are reminding ourselves of the diversity of our community and seeking to respect the associated diverse points of view. It is our most important responsibility to provide a learning environment free from coercion and full of open dialog on all the world issues we confront — both as spectators and participants. We will encourage the aspect of our school culture that enhances the precept from our mission statement of “respect self and others”. We will be particularly aware of parent needs in this regard as concerns are expressed about children and developmentally appropriate levels of involvement in the issues associated with a complicated set of competing ideas.

As always, we encourage partnership and feedback on how we address this and other issues that we encounter together as a diverse community. You can contact me or any member of the administrative team though the usual channels.

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Parent Partnership II – Responding to your needs…

We had another wonderful forum for our Parent Partnership theme.  We had a wonderful group of parents, great presenters and some good conversation about the topics important to us and our children.  We decided that providing both the video and the slide show was the best way to get this content to a larger audience.  Please let us know what you think via the comment section below or via the anonymous comment link below the slides.  Suggest you watch the video with the slides side-by-side.  You can generally follow along with the presentation.  Other links below to some of the resources.

Note:  I made a correction to the slideshow and need to inform you that there was a typo in my reporting of the FCD data.  I read the data as “never” and wanted to use this data to make the point that we still had areas of concern.  In fact, the word is “ever” – therefore the data should have read:

The percentage of students who have ever used alcohol, or other drugs before coming to, or during a school event, decreased from 8% to 2% from 2010 to 2014.

Therefore, this is another point of improvement, not a trend of concern as I originally reported.  I was accurate that all forms of substance were included in this question.  FCD will be better able to review and reflect on their data when they visit.  My apologies for the mistake.

You can also leave anonymous comments at the following link:

http://surveys.aas.ru/index.php?sid=57952&lang=en

The book that Fiona mentioned:  http://www.amazon.com/Teenagers-Alcohol-Drugs-Really-about/dp/1741756804 

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Working on assessment @ AAS

Teachers spent the day honing their skills on assessment during the first of our PD sessions for the 2013-2104 school year. I was impressed with the way we dug deeper into our standards and the degree to which we unpacked the learning targets in our work together.

What was particularly powerful was the interaction across subject area boundaries in the morning. As one teacher pointed out, it was powerful to have others outside their discipline reflect on their understanding of learning targets. That objectivity helps us to uncover things we often take for granted. The CASL materials are well adopted in many schools around the world and help us to focus on the clarity we bring to students and the details of how our assessments align with our unpacking of the standards into learning targets.

51oTk1jhdxL._SY300_Stiggins, Chappius, Chappius, and Arter teamed up to provide the definitive guide to bridging between curriculum and classroom practice.  Understanding the formative side of assessment is critical to our work in personalized learning and leads us done the path of achieving our mission and vision.

NatalieBoltonTeachers dedicated themselves at all levels to weaving these practices into their classrooms in the coming days.  Our facilitator, Natalie Bolton, led us on this journey and guided teachers in critical conversations about our practices.  Natalie comes to us from the University of Missouri – St. Louis (UMSL) and brings a strong instructional background to her interest in large-scale assessments, formative assessment, and standards-based education reform.

She continues with us this year as a key consultant on establishing practice and will return throughout the year on the following schedule:

Monday, September 30 – Thursday, October 3 (All Faculty PD on Thursday)

Monday, January 27 – Friday, January 31, 2014

Monday, March 3 – Thursday, March 6 (All Faculty PD on Thursday)

Monday, April 28 – Friday, May 2

We are thankful for Natalie and the many staff members that contribute to our work in all divisions in providing leadership on this critical goal. The work continues in earnest to assure that students receive both a guaranteed and viable curriculum and a personalized approach that is rich in formative feedback.

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Kony 2012

I got an email this morning from a group of concerned students that had come across something interesting on Facebook.  After watching the 30 minute video detailing the atrocities of a Ugandan rebel named Kony, a group of 7th graders were inspired to setup an email account (invisiblechildrenaas@gmail.com) and organize around this inspirational cause.

Here was their email to me, but please read all the way down as there is more to this tale.


Dear Mr. Zurfluh,

A couple of days ago there was a video spread around Facebook on the topic of Joseph Koney, we understand that this does not concern us but I think to show how much this school is internationally available and how it can help poor children in need like the ones in Uganda, Africa.

To find out more about this you can visit this website http://vimeo.com/invisible/kony2012

You will find out about everything in this 30 minute video which is worth watching. We have organized some ideas about the way to spread the word, but before we can take any serious action we need your permission to continue.

This is a great opportunity to show everyone that we care about people as far as Africa, we can easily raise money and donate it to this foundation.
Please take this into consideration.

Thank you,
[7th Grade Students]


WOW!  This is wonderful on so many levels.  Kids inspired by media and grouping together around a cause that is clearly immediate and urgent to protect children that are being tortured and kidnapped!

HOLD ON!  Let’s pause a moment!  These kids did a great job, but here’s where adults and educators need to step in, because a little digging found that the video they viewed told only a partial truth, as viral content often does.

So, here was my response and you can help me with molding their energies a bit as we dig further. I don’t want to dispel their enthusiasm entirely. But, instead, let’s see if we can capture it, inspire it, and move it in another direction.


All,

Thanks for writing to me in regards to this video via your new email address.  This video was also circulated in a variety of other news and web feeds in recent days.

I’m sorry to inform you that there is some controversy emerging regarding the maker of this video and whether the video is an accurate portrayal of the current situation in Uganda.  I value that the video has gone viral on Facebook and through other social media, but there is an important need to study this further before considering any action – part of what we teach here at AAS, as I’m sure you know.

While it is clear that Kony is a bad person by all reported accounts, it is unclear if he is still in Uganda and whether he is a threat to children any longer.  Also, at least two articles point to the government of Uganda also participating in the kidnapping of children for military service – as is the case in a few countries around the world today (suggest you research this).  The group responsible for the video also seem to have some controversy around them with regards to their finances and involvement with other military forces.

I would suggest that a carefully researched approach to this issue might still lead you to some other appropriate social action.  Maybe your own video response?  I’m sure we have many teachers and staff who would be willing to help.

To that end, please read some of the following, do your own searching and then come and chat if you want to discuss further.  I’m always open to your visits!

http://justiceinconflict.org/2012/03/07/taking-kony-2012-down-a-notch
http://wilwheaton.tumblr.com/post/18920717928/thedailywhat-on-kony-2012-i-honestly-wanted-to
http://bit.ly/yPXsCK
http://rosebellkagumire.com/ 
http://edition.cnn.com/2012/03/09/world/africa/uganda-kony-profile/index.html?hpt=hp_c2 

Looking forward to discussing with you more.

Regards,

Mr. Z

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The Emotions of Youth

Two events this past week reminded me of the often-raw nature of student expression. Emotions bottled up seemed to often find their way to the surface and spill into the hallways and various events that are part of the AAS smorgasbord.

On Monday last, our IB Drama students took to a small stage to put on 24-hour theater. These original works brought some very difficult language and emotions to a mixed audience. We laughed, we cringed, and we saw some deep wounds exposed for all – a connection to difficult issues in our world. There were poignant message of the horrors of abuse, power, corruption, and related themes. Their hearts and souls were in these short pieces and the underlying theme was obvious with emotions sharp and like daggers thrown in the dark. From the technical standpoint, it was amazing to see what emerges in 24 hours – costuming, lights, staging – everything well done! The Malyy Theater was the perfect venue for this intimate expression of something so personal and intense.

On Friday last, our “Middlers” entered their first evening social at about 5:00 p.m. A large crowd turned out for dancing, games, movies, food, and friendship. As a father, I signed up as chaperone for the night to give me a chance at connecting with my son, his new friends, and everyone else in attendance. It’s always amazing to see the range of this group of kids and reflect on the growth that emerges in these often dynamic and challenging years. Equal to the range of height was the range of emotions on display. The energy on the dance floor in the Malyy was almost overwhelming at times. We had constructed a multi-tiered dance floor and the room was filled throughout the night. The tunes belted out lyrics with intense emotional themes and resonated with the crowd as they mimicked the words while dancing alone, as couples, and in groups. The dynamics were like a complex nuclear reaction where one particle hits another building the energy exponentially to a fevered pitch of movement, color, and sound moving in waves around the room. And then the music slowed, the room emptied a bit, and a brave few remained for a subdued dance at slower pace, some as couples and others comfortably swaying on their own to the flowing cadence. Friendships were made and broken that night. There was both laughter and tears. One past student from AAS even attended the event virtually from South Korea via Skype on a student’s computer.

Tina Quick was here talking to us about the emotions of youth and how vibrant and unpredictable they are. It’s fabulous that we have an environment at AAS where occasional open expression is valued and encouraged. Some might react to a dance or a play as a moment of supervisory weakness. Not us. We see it as an important part of becoming – an important part of childhood.

Tina had some valuable messages for us on emotion and transition. If you missed it, watch below a video reminder of her important lessons. Listen for the themes of how the emotions of youth guide our understanding.

Parents – Listen to your kids and tune in to their emotions – often raw and unrestricted. They are learning!

Students – Bring your emotions to the surface and learn from them. Be honest with yourself and others. This is the time to learn about what you can teach yourself.

Thoughts?

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Off They Go

I dropped off my 8th grade son for his trip to Altai this evening and waved as buses filled with 35 students and their luggage headed for the airport and a trip to a place known for its convergence of Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. There are many curricular goals for this trip, but I couldn’t help reflecting on how these trips truly bring together many elements of the concepts that underlie the AAS Mission.

As global travelers, these students bring a broad range of experience into AAS that span the globe through both origin and travel. These students representing dozens of countries are now visiting what some see as the birthplace of the divergence of mankind. Whether they will grasp the deep history and profound insight that is found in this treasure trove of historical artifacts is anyone’s guess. But the fact that these students have this opportunity to build their “team” and find common ground across cultural lines in this unique environment is a testament to holistic excellence and a key to global awareness and citizenship.

“Creating harmony amidst diversity is a fundamental issue of the twenty-first century. While celebrating the unique characteristics of different peoples and cultures, we have to create solidarity on the level of our common humanity, our common life. Without such solidarity, there will be no future for the human race. Diversity should not beget conflict in the world, but richness.” –Daisaku Ikeda

I’m looking forward to my conversations with students upon their return at the end of the week. They left with an aura of excitement and anticipation. My hope is that they return with renewed energy for connecting their studies to their dreams and building upon a deeper and richer understanding of the global and historical context within which they live.

Safe travels one and all!

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