November 18 Newsletter

Happy Wednesday and welcome to the wonderful dusting of white I’m viewing outside my window tonight as I gaze through the collection of colorful socks that currently adorn the glass!!

PTO Enhancement Grants were presented at PTO this week, and I couldn’t be prouder of the student-led initiatives that were presented, along with the array of projects from across the school.   I encourage your earnest participation in the PTO vote on these projects. Online voting will be begin today and close November 23.

One grant application is the request for funds to support a keynote speaker at our upcoming TEDx Conference December 17.  High School students have been leading and developing this program for four years now and this, the fifth iteration, is working toward expanding their presence even further.  TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an acronym for an annual conference that is dedicated to “ideas worth spreading.”  Many fascinating people cross the TED stage each year, and their short and insightful presentations are made freely available to the world.

Similarly, over the last four years, our kids have created a video catalog of their speeches, some by students, some by teachers, and some by welcomed guests.  At this year’s December 17 conference, we plan to welcome others to our audience  in the hopes of spreading these messages of innovation and creativity even further.  The initial link to our current upcoming event is here: https://www.ted.com/tedx/events/16382

More details will follow soon.  If you’d like to pursue the catalog of TEDxAAS videos, click HERE.

Thanks again to PTO for supporting our community’s dreams!!

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Terrorist Threats and the Paris Attacks

I write to you today saddened and confused.  A weekend of thought has not yet brought me to any level of understanding of the depth of the tragedy on Friday.  Tears have flowed for our friends that hail from France, in condolence for their loss of family, friends, and countrymen.  Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you.

We do not know of any in our community who have been directly affected by this tragedy.  We have heard messages of friends and family that have been contacted and confirmed safe.  For that we are thankful.

As you are likely aware, the focus is not entirely on Paris.  In the waning hours of last week, many of us saw news on CNN regarding potential attacks of a similar nature planned for this country.  In a video posting on Thursday, ISIS had threatened to bring harm to Russia.

Based on consultation with our usual sources of information, it was determined that it was too early to assess these threats.  The Russian Government reported similarly, but that it was still investigating the video and associated messages.  We went to the weekend considering a more global message to the community in the coming days.

However, we did immediately alert guard staff to raise their awareness last Thursday, and checked our plans and procedures, as we always do.  We feel confident that both our campuses in Moscow and in St. Petersburg provide a localized and appropriate level of security.  We continue to maintain an open channel of communication with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg, and our other founding embassies and consulates in both cities.  More information will be made available in the coming days, which will be passed to you in future communication.

As always, we hold your children’s safety as our most important responsibility.  To that end, we ask your help by keeping a watchful eye at all times and particularly in the days and weeks ahead.  When out and about in Moscow and St. Petersburg, a higher level of awareness is also recommended.  Prudent prior planning and awareness of your surroundings is the best defense in an emergency.

We will, as always, provide an atmosphere for open dialog and safety for your children at school each day.  We know that the maintenance of routines is an important part of keeping all of us comforted in the face of significant events.  You are our partners in this.

When hate lashes out against love, and particularly in a city that is known as the cultural heart of the world, we know that, in the end, love will survive and thrive as we nurture together the children that will bring peace to this planet.  I am always encouraged by that aspect of our mission and your earnest collaboration toward our common goal.

 

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Newsletter – November 11, 2015

Weekly update includes this week one additional administrative announcement.  I’m happy to report that we have concluded an agreement with Michelle Alzamora to move into the lead chair at the Elementary Division as the new principal.  Over the last 5 years, Mrs. Alzamora has held various roles at the school including teacher, Literacy Coordinator, and Assistant Principal.  We are excited that she has committed herself to honoring the work of the division and reaffirmation of the path they have set for growing and learning as a team.

On the more educational side of things, I wanted to share with you some nuggets that I gleaned from the recent IB Regional Heads Conference in the Hague.  David Perkins, one of the keynote speakers, shared some insight into their work in instructional planning. Like our work on personalized learning, he talked at length about “Life Worthy Learning!”  His work at Harvard Project Zero has led to a new initiative referred to as Learning that Matters (LtM).  This is a leadership initiative in partnership with the Independent Schools Victoria (ISV), Australia.  Of particular note is a white paper discussing the conceptual framework for leadership in the context of LtM.  It starts by understanding the trends in the expanding universe of what’s worth teaching.  This is referred to as the 6 Beyond’s:

  1. Beyond content – 21st century skills, competencies, etc., such as critical and creative thinking, collaboration, communication, self-management.
  2. Beyond local – Global perspectives, problems, and studies, as with our global economy or worldwide problems of energy or water supplies.
  3. Beyond topics – Content as tools for thinking and action, for instance with regard to some of the big issues above.
  4. Beyond the traditional disciplines – Renewed and extended visions of the disciplines, for instance broader views of history or studies of contemporary communication technologies.
  5. Beyond discrete disciplines – Interdisciplinary topics and problems, such as the roots of intergroup human conflict or poverty.
  6. Beyond prescribed content – Learners as choosers of what they learn well beyond the typical use of “electives.”

His argument is that there is a growing importance in looking at a combination of deciding what needs less focus because of its declining degree of importance and coupling this with a look at how other things can be combined and expanded to grow deeper understanding and applicability to new situations.

I couldn’t help but notice some of the parallels of this work with our work on personalized learning descriptors.  The current cornerstones definitions speak to student learning that crosses disciplinary lines, and provides a deeper understanding that is tuned to interests and passions.  Beyond #6 is particularly focused on this type of “chosen” learning.

While we work hard every day considering how to increasingly articulate curriculum and outcomes through standards and assessments, we are also defining and understanding the plausible futures that 21st century thinking demands.  We all struggle with trying to predict what the future may hold for our youth, it is clear that some elements of the future are fairly easy to predict.  We know our students will face significant challenges that will test their ability to innovate and learn.  We know that technology will continue to grow as an influence in their lives.  We know that they will increasingly face the challenges of scarcity and the essential need to reevaluate their partnership with the planet.

And we can also hope that they will reap the benefits of their collaborative spirit when issues of peace and prosperity are achieved through the efforts of an enlightened generation.  I have every faith that our globally aware graduates of AAS will contribute significantly to that accomplishment.

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Newsletter – November 4, 2015

As I have mentioned in previous articles, it is the time of year when many of our international staff are making decisions about next steps in their lives.  We always start with the core leadership team and after a number of years of stability, we find ourselves seeing some natural progression in their careers.  International education is as challenging as any expatriate lifestyle.  The tugs of home, the lure of the next adventure, and the desire for professional advancement are all factors in the decision.  Such as it is, I can now share with you some of our changes for the 2016-2017 school year:

First, Mr. George Dolesch, Elementary Principal, has confirmed his selection as the new principal of the International School of Basel, Switzerland.  After 6 years with us, George is taking his family to a new environment and his next adventure after a wonderful sojourn with us.

Mr. Robert Doyle, Assistant Principal at the High School was recently named as High School Principal at the American International School of Dhaka.  After 8 years with AAS, Rob has been a fixture and tremendous component of our success in recent years.  Moving from IB Diploma Programme coordination and wearing of many other hats, Mr. Doyle is excited about taking on his first key leadership role in a highly regarded school.

For family reasons, our Middle School Principal, Mike Johnson, will be departing at the conclusion of the 2015-2016 school year.  Mr. Johnson is very disappointed to be leaving, as he believes strongly in the mission of our school and enjoys greatly being a part of this community.  However, he is confident that a smooth leadership transition will occur and that the professional faculty in the Middle School will continue to provide increasingly powerful educational opportunities for all of our students.

Finally, and to that end, it is our additional pleasure to announce that Mr. Johnson’s replacement for 2016-2019 school years has been named.  Mr. Noah Bohnen, current Assistant Principal, will be promoted to the role of principal and will provide leadership to the Middle School division for the next three years.  Noah has already been with us for 4 years and has held many roles in the Middle School.  We believe that this will foster a smooth transition for the division and a consistency of service for students and families.

Other processes for open positions will emerge in the coming days.  We again encourage referrals from parents for potential staff members here and around that world that might be eligible for the positions we have open now and that will continue to open in the weeks ahead.  Please direct all interested candidates to our website at http://www.aas.ru/employment.

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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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Newsletter – October 14, 2015

FCD Parent Meeting
Thursday, October 15 @ 8:45a
Faculty Dining Room

This week we welcome representatives from FCD Prevention Works (A Global Non-Profit Substance Abuse Prevention Organization).  We’ve hosted them multiple times over the years, and their message and materials constitute a major portion of our substance abuse prevention program that links to curriculum through our health and counseling standards.  Their important message constitutes a cornerstone to our beliefs about community collaboration toward healthy lifestyles. A healthy lifestyle is a key component of our mission statement outcomes and supports the holistic side of our excellence aspirations.

To assist with the FCD’s work, we gather comprehensive survey information from students.  The leaders from FCD follow this with multiple opportunities for dialog with students that delve deeper into the trends and topics uncovered by the survey.  They help kids see connections between their cultural attitudes and accurate information about the risks associated with substance abuse.  For our students, it helps uncover myths and misinformation that is often presented in the media environment that surrounds us.

There is a parent meeting with the FCD reps scheduled on Thursday, October 15, 08.45 in the Faculty Dining Room. I can’t encourage enough the need for strong parent turnout at this meeting.  I know there is no perfect timing for a meeting of this nature, but we emphasize that parent partnership is truly important for dialog around this content.  As students learn how to apply the theme of “Respect Self” to their sense of health and well-being, it is a community dedicated to collaboration and communication that will provide the most important safety net for the children of our “village.”  Please join us tomorrow at this important meeting.  All are welcome!

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Newsletter – October 7, 2015

This week, as we quickly approach the end of the first quarter, we are continuing to reflect on our work with kids in Respect Self.  Grade 3 in particular was working to brainstorm what it means to “be yourself.”  They developed some understanding of this important concept and shared that it is important to remember that being yourself also means accepting, expressing, trusting, valuing, and loving yourself.  That sense of personal identity is a key factor behind the researched quality of “grit” that I mentioned at opening ceremony.

A foundational concept in eduction is linked to our growing understanding of readiness.  We work hard to monitor developmental milestones, growth, and maturity as factors of readiness for learning.  Readiness is about understanding if a child has the “tools” to take on the next challenge in their learning journey.  In our deeper understanding of Respect Self, kids are beginning to reflect on their own readiness, and taking steps to actively prepare themselves for the next stage in their learning.  In many ways, this is the best kind of personalization, when teachers and students work together to make sure that tasks are neither too easy, nor too difficult.  In collaboration with parents, we want to make sure that students are appropriately frustrated so that they can demonstrate resilience through increasingly engaging and challenging tasks.

This excerpt from Angela Duckworth in 2014 gives some greater insight into this idea, something that we all instinctively accept:

In other words, children need to be taught to appreciate that they’re supposed to suffer when working hard on a challenge that exceeds their skill. They’re supposed to feel confused. Frustration is probably a sign that they’re on the right track and need to gut it out through the natural human aversion to mental effort and feeling overwhelmed so they can evolve.

We want to challenge kids while keeping them engaged in a way where they understand the relevancy of their work to their lives and broader goals.  Respecting self is about the associated emotional fortitude, the internal feeling of worth and potential, that propels kids from one level to the next.

Comments?  I encourage your engagement through this blog and continue the conversation about grit and the ongoing development of our theme.

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September 30, 2015

As we settle into a new month this week, the first stage of the school year moves into our rearview mirror.  We are launching into a critical learning period between now and October Break.  With many founding activities of welcome and the development of community spirit now complete, we capitalize on these qualities toward the accomplishment of a diverse range of learning goals in all classrooms.

The school board comes together for its first official meeting this week on the heels of a successful board retreat earlier this month.  We are excited for and engaged in the work that lies ahead.  New board members have been welcomed and oriented to the ongoing work of the school and we thank them in advance for their service.

As part of staying prepared, we had both an emergency message drill and a fire drill in recent weeks. A Code Red drill is scheduled for October 13.  You can find details of our emergency planning on our website here: http://www.aas.ru/emergency

Other drills, both announced and unannounced, are planned throughout the year.  It’s a great idea to become familiar with our plans and drills in this document to be aware of this at all times.

socks and shoesIn “sock news,” we are continuing to be creative in our expression of “Respect Self.”  The stories emerging through our “socks of many colors” are a constant source of inspiration and deeper understanding of this important tenant of our mission statement.  Just about every day, I’m asked by an elementary school student about what socks I’m wearing.  They giggle when I show them my latest colors or design.  We often end up talking about how their day is going and what they are doing that is especially exciting.  It’s always a wonderful conversation.  Remember that “Respect Self” is about better understanding ourselves and our special gifts.  When kids are choosing their socks in the morning, you might ask them about the special things they are going to do for themselves that day.  Let the colors of their socks remind them of their unique qualities!

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Getting to “YET”

Published originally in December, Carol Dweck has extended her work to include this reinforcement of her concepts into the notion of “Getting to Yet”.  From Sweden TEDx in September, she proposes the concept of a grade for a class being a “Not Yet” rather than a failing grade.

The concept of growth mindset has not be propelled more than through Carol’s work.  It’s a critical concept that should drive the work of schools more centrally.  In the framework of “personalized learning,” the idea of loving a challenge is central to understanding how abilities are developed.

It is still hard to understand this under an increasingly accountability frame of mind.  We can’t let go of necessary accomplishment, but the balance is through what we have “yet” to accomplish rather than building resumes that only capture the past.  There seems potential linkage here between extrinsic reward that has yielded the generation of workers focused on tangible rather than intuitive rewards.

Praise the process equal to the product…

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Graduation 2015


To all of our special guests, faculty, administrators, parents, friends, and family members – we thank you for your pride and presence as we celebrate this, our 21st commencement exercises.

I offer my deepest gratitude to Dr. Sarty for his words today. Above all, we value contributions like this and your participation here affirms the collaborative commitment of all our founding stakeholders. Of special note, our speaker at yesterday’s assembly was Leigh’s son, Robert.  Both father and son can be proud of each other in how they have both engaged us with their wit and wisdom.

To all of our representatives from the supporting embassies including both honored guests and those representatives and independent members serving on the school board, I thank you for your ongoing support of this vibrant institution.  The memories captured in the minds on the stage beside me are, to a large extent, born out of the many contributions made by you and your predecessors who had the vision and determination to bring this institution into existence and nurture it for the children we all serve.  We can never thank you enough for what you have inspired.

Masha, thank you for your words. You’ve captured the moment brilliantly and given us a wonderful opportunity to reflect and find inspiration.  Seeds well planted in the minds of your friends and classmates.

With just a few comments, I plan to bring you quickly to the moment when we will hand you an important document that will forever punctuate your time with us.  You’ll shake a hand, pause as we practiced for the important photo opportunity, and pass through to your next journey in life.

Before you become graduates, let’s note for the record that this is an amazing class! It’s impossible to recount all of the many accomplishments achieved during your years with us.  But, suffice it to say, you have done so much to enrich the school, the community and the world beyond, it is hard to predict what you may now accomplish as adults if the trend line of your commitment as globally aware citizens continues, as I expect it will.

This class has been creative and talented in so many ways.  The diversity, depth of skill, and demonstrated ability speaks for itself through their many projects and endeavors.  I was so impressed by your energy and enthusiasm that I felt like I owed you a crawl through the stairwell gauntlet on senior prank day.  The cacophony of noise, color, and encouragement was a spectacle to behold.  But, it was also such a true and genuine expression of the vitality you have brought to your learning journey — and shared it openly as an example for others.

Your teachers know you as truly engaged learners, empowered by your passion, caring of each other, and motivated to accomplish goals that reached far beyond our walls.  Faculty, counselors, and administrators seated before you are beaming with pride.  As this is our profession, a moment like this carries deep satisfaction and meaning for us.  We do not consider it the filling of a vessel, but more like the launching of a ship.  Because of their nurturing spirit, you are now prepared for your maiden voyage and the challenges that lurk beyond the horizon.

We know as an international community that many here on stage have had other schooling experiences before joining us in Moscow.  Also, some have stayed with us for a time, left for a bit, and then returned.  It is part of our strength that we embrace this diversity and a unique constancy of change and transition.  But, we always have a few exceptions that I simply must recognize because we also embrace persistence:

Xuan Son Do 20-Aug-02 K – Grade 12
Salina Gorodetsky 20-Aug-02 K – Grade 12
Lincoln Pigman 20-Aug-02 K – Grade 12
Daniel Shenkman 20-Aug-02 K – Grade 12
Ilya Yushvaev 2-Sep-02 K – Grade 12
 
We also have one more and I’m not sure she realizes it, but she has been with us for Pre-K – Grade 12 continuously and is only the third student in our history to go from start to finish.
Maria Shikhova 21-Aug-01 Pre-K – Grade 12

So, today, you leave your alma mater and become alumni from this school. These are just words, but I think you realized the profound nature of this moment yesterday when you were dismissed from Assembly for the final time.  You realized this as a moment of change.  One that maybe holds for some a bit of fear and uncertainty.

Someone shared with me recently that the term “alma mater” can be translated from latin as “nourishing mother.”  Similarly, alumni derives from the latin verb alere meaning “to nourish”.

So, if you will allow, I would like to offer three bits of “motherly” advice from AAS.  Parents, you build on this theme later.

First, as you go off to college, we will worry about you.  It’s a given, and with the many complicated and dangerous things happening in the world, it’s going to be particularly hard to wave goodbye as you walk away.  So, word to the wise – phone home!!  In this technological world, there is little excuse for not checking in once and awhile and I know that the parents in the audience will thrive on that occasional phone or skype call that reassures them that their child is still alive and well.

Related to this concept of worry, please take the advice of one mother, who when giving final advice to her son before departure, simply said: “Nothing good happens after midnight.” My thanks to Bart Gorman at the U.S. Embassy for steering me to this quote.

Carry this one in the back of your mind and while I value that you may still find yourself out and about after midnight on occasion, maybe this phrase will remind you to be just a bit more cautious and — maybe, just maybe, as the hands of the clock converge on twelve each night, you’ll be reminded that there are friends and loved ones around the world that care about you and wish for you safety and prosperity.

And finally, there is one thing that you should all firmly promise me as you head off to college.  It’s only one word to remember, so it is the easiest of the three.  Whatever the challenges you face, no matter the demands before you, no matter the temptations in the contrary, promise me you will SLEEP.

I know you may think this to be frivolous, but it is one of those things that we just know to be true through many decades of valid and important research.   In short, everything that you will accomplish is empowered by sleep.  It is during sleep that short-term memory is converted into long term knowledge.  Our body resets during sleep and it is clear that loss of sleep has dire physical and mental consequences and is almost impossible to recover.  Second only to our often poor nutritional habits, our sleep has been attacked from so many directions – television, media, technology.  There are so many distractions to regular sleep that someone your age is now sleeping one hour less, on average, per night when compared to similar aged young adults just 10 years ago.  This has profound implications for creativity and innovation as your brain most prepares for these activities during sleep.  And, just so we are clear, this is not an endorsement for sleeping during class anymore.

And sleep is important for another reason because it is through sleep that dreams are borne.  And I do value that there are many dreamers on this stage.  Dream big, class of 2015.  We need you, your energy, and your inspiration to face the challenges of the future.  May you all be inspired by your dreams to seek peace and prosperity for yourselves and the generations that will follow.

So, three things:  Phone home, nothing good after midnight, and sleep.  Simple advice from your alma mater, your nourishing mother, because, quite simply, we want you to do great things and it is always the simple things that count the most.  As much as you have inspired us during your time with us, we know you are destined for so much more.  Your next steps, like all of your schooling so far, is just a pathway to another destination. And that destination is life.

You have faced many challenges to get here today.  You will face many more.  As you noted on one of the chart papers during our exit interviews, you believe that “AAS opens doors, hearts, and minds.” It reminds me that the things we strive for the most, we also most cherish.

Speaking for all of us before you, we love you dearly and wish you only the best!!

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The Importance of Sleep

At our most recent parent forum on technology, we discussed, as one of the many topics, the important aspect of sleep and the implications of technology to disrupt healthy sleep patterns. I’m going to attempt to compile here a set of the various resources that can help clarify the research on sleep and sleep habits. In 2013, I led a parent coffee reflecting on the book Nurture Shock and this same topic amongst others. Chapter 2 of the book was dedicated to the most recent research on sleep patterns amongst children. It found on average that children have lost almost an hour of sleep per night since about a decade ago for a variety of reasons.  Television and technology have both played a big role in this loss.

It is important to note that significant research is now building up on this topic.  At our parent forum a few weeks ago, we discussed the importance of creating a safe and electronics free sleeping environment. The bottom line is that both quality and quantity count.  Quality sleep only comes from a safe, dark, cool, and quiet environment.

Therefore, I would be in favor of the following in the home:

  • Bedrooms that are electronics free.
  • Beds specifically are electronic free zones.
  • Phones are all charged in a central location outside of bedrooms – maybe in hallway or entrance area.  On silent mode so as to not disturb.
  • Electronics are turned off and studying moves to paper based resources 45 minutes prior to an established bed time.   We can still use a pencil or pen occasionally.
  • Video games are only in common areas (Family Rooms, etc.) and never in bedroom.  You want to monitor these anyway, right??!!
  • Established bed times and positive reinforcement for making it to bed at these established times.

I’ll be the first one to note that I’m still working on this with my family.  We have our struggles occasionally and certainly more often than I prefer.  But, parents should show persistence in this area because we are building lifelong habits that will yield tremendous results for our child’s well-being.  The potential reward for holding the line on sleep is significant and will be the cornerstone of future health and happiness.  But, like all behavior, the best way to approach it is with a supportive frame of reference, filled with positive reinforcement, and through good role modeling (yes, you need sleep, too!!).

From the National Sleep Foundation:

Sleep and School-aged Children (6-13 years) 

Sleepy KidChildren aged six to 13 need 9-11 hours of sleep. At the same time, there is an increasing demand on their time from school (e.g., homework), sports and other extracurricular and social activities. In addition, school-aged children become more interested in TV, computers, the media and Internet as well as caffeine products – all of which can lead to difficulty falling asleep, nightmares and disruptions to their sleep. In particular, watching TV close to bedtime has been associated with bedtime resistance, difficulty falling asleep, anxiety around sleep and sleeping fewer hours.  Sleep problems and disorders are prevalent at this age. Poor or inadequate sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioral problems such as  ADHD and cognitive problems that impact on their ability to learn in school.

Sleep Tips for School-aged Children

  • Teach school-aged children about healthy sleep habits.
  • Continue to emphasize need for regular and consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine.
  • Make child’s bedroom conducive to sleep – dark, cool and quiet.
  • Keep TV and computers out of the bedroom.
  • Avoid caffeine.

Additional resources you can access for more information:

Impact of technology on sleep (these are abstracts and summaries – short and not necessary to buy or download whole article):

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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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Christmas Message 2014

Dear Parents,

In my many years working as an educator, I can’t begin to count the number of times I have learned important lessons from the children in my charge. Such was the case yesterday when a staff member shared the story of a student interaction that had just happened in our hallways. Two 3rd grade boys were quarreling over a single toy that they both wanted to keep following an afternoon party. The students employed the resolution strategies taught to them by their teachers, but were still struggling with coming to a viable solution. The wisdom of the staff member at this point was to engage the boys in helping with some cleanup activities while holding the toy for them. The task gave the boys an opportunity to work as a team, but more importantly, it gave them time for reflection. The students decided to resolve the toy issue the next day and were about to say goodbye. But, one of the boys said in the final moment before leaving, “I’ve decided I don’t want the toy. Friendship is more important to me than things.”

Pause for heart melting…

Teachers refer to this as the “Ah-Hah” moment, the instance when everything becomes real for a student and the strategies that were taught bring about deeper understanding and profound insight.

There are two lessons learned here. The first is that the “Love” in our theme of “Love Learning” demands an important quality that is often forgotten – Patience! Children learn on their own clock at times, often frustrated by adult expectations for quick resolution. They need time to digest and make connections. In this story, the adult could have adjudicated the dispute by taking the toy away, calling the parents, or imposing some quick solution. But, the patience of letting the boys have a few minutes of contemplation while engaging collaboratively in service led to a far better conclusion — and a more profound outcome for all involved.

The second lesson is one that this student is teaching us. In his final statement, the child delivered a poignant message for the season. We are finding ourselves now embroiled in many challenging events across the globe and in our midst. Our hearts go out to those who have been impacted. The lesson from our boy above speaks to the priority to human relationships and a profound commitment to community over commodity. May the spirit of the holiday season inspire you and yours to consider the importance of our common quest for peace and joy.

As is usual this time of year, we sadly say goodbye to a few AAS families; we wish them the best of luck in the next chapters of their lives. I know you will join me in warmly welcoming new families in January.

Happy holidays to all! I look forward to seeing you again in the New Year!!

Best Regards,
Jon P. Zurfluh
Director

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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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Parent & Community Partnership Presentation

We had the first Director’s forum on September 3rd, and follow-up with PTO meeting this morning, September 16th.  The slides from that presentation below.  Our purpose in these forums is to get a sense of how we can better serve the community outside the walls of the school.  While our discipline legitimately cannot go there, we can provide information and resources to parents in order to bridge this gap more effectively in partnership that ensures student safety and security.  This was the first in a multiple meeting conversation.

Future dates:  November 5, March 4, May 20

Parents at the forum shared the following ideas:

  • It was agreed that it would be useful to provide information to parents about what is legal and illegal in Russia.  Smoking age, drinking age, substances, etc. (In process)
  • It was agreed it would be useful to publish that EMC provides a home substance testing service – we should check whether there is mandatory disclosure to the authorities with some drugs before we put that out. (In process)
  • There was discussion about educating parents about what their children are taught so that they know, too. (Note: FCD is coming soon to MS and HS – Freedom from Chemical Dependency)
  • Translation of this kind of communication into Russian was seen as important.
  • Informing nannies (via translation) was seen as positive opportunity as they are often the ones more in tune with what is going on in the school and the wider community — and also the person who often translates for a non-English speaking parent.

Please feel free to add your comments on this post by clicking on “Leave a Reply” below or email them directly to director@aas.ru !

As suggested at the PTO meeting this morning, you can also leave anonymous comments at the following link to our survey engine:

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

Thanks for your continued interest in this topic.

Mr. Z

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Showing Our Support

Staff at the Anglo-American School of Moscow took a moment to stand together in a vigil in support of our colleagues at the Jakarta International School.  We take strong exception to the lack of transparency and due process in claims against two teachers.  Given the lack of any evidence, incarceration of these two individuals now reaching beyond 30 days seems unsupportable and a threat to the rights of international educators around the globe.

We stand with our friends in Jakarta until the teachers they miss are back in their homes.

_NIK6310JIS – We are with you in spirit, one and all!!

Sign the petition against this travesty here:  CLICK HERE

#FreeNeil  #FreeFerdi, #FreeNeilAndFerdi, #JISPeduli, #RibbonFacts, #JISFacts

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Graduation Speech 2014

To all of our special guests, faculty, administrators, parents, friends, and family members – we welcome your pride and presence as we celebrate this, our 20th commencement exercises.

I offer my deepest gratitude to Ambassador Myler for his words today. The Anglo-American School of Moscow values our sense of community and your participation here validates our collective and collaborative commitment to the students seated before us. Thank you!

To all of our dignitaries from our supporting embassies, I thank you for your presence and continued support of this important institution. Without you, this school would not exist, and we hold most dear our commitment to excellence in order to serve your interests and those of our diverse and vibrant community.

Kate, you brought an important message to this class of travelers. Your words inspire us as the journey begins anew and I thank you for guiding us to a successful launch.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also thank Daniel for his words to all of our high school students yesterday at the annual Awards Assembly. You gave us wonderful insight into your class through the humor surrounding cherished memories, poignant and engaging for all of us in attendance.

In a few words and a couple of quotes, I plan to tie some thoughts together to bring us quickly to that moment where you will stand before us and take those few final steps to the instance of greatest importance here today. The hand-off will be completed with both brevity and significance, punctuating this portion of a life that has so far been committed to living, learning, and becoming.

And you have learned much. More than a decade of education has included a critical foundation of skills upon which you will soon build your profession. Not only did you learn what you needed to know, but you also learned how to learn. I would suggest that you will find that learning is seldom complete.

Our teachers know that their greatest joy emerges when students become independent learners capable of capturing new insight without intervention. They take great pride in getting you to this level of accomplishment and the faculty, counselors, and administration seated before you here today are some of the best I have ever known at achieving this. You see in their faces the tremendous pride that they feel, having brought you to this moment, and they will shed tears of joy today because of their affection for the students that they now know so well.

I should note that the Anglo-American School can not accept total credit for all of the students that sit upon this stage. We know as an international community we must confess that many have had other schooling experiences before joining us here in Moscow. Further, we should admit that some have stayed with us for a time, left for a bit, and then returned after other experiences in different settings. It is our strength that we embrace this diversity and a unique constancy of change and transition. But, we have a few exceptions here today that I simply must recognize:

Lifflander Max K 21-Aug-01
Mekibel David K 21-Aug-01
Rogatnikov Ana-Lina K 21-Aug-01
Sazonova-Prokouran* Maria PK 22-Aug-00

*Pre-K – Grade 12 continuously and is only the second student in our history to go from start to finish.

This is a capable and talented class. They have demonstrated great accomplishment and testament to their achievement is successful placement in a wide range of colleges and universities around the world. These honors were realized through diligent effort and an added ability to capture their passions in words and actions while seeking their next path in life. They impressed recruiters from around the world with their preparation, beliefs, and potential.

I value this class for the unique way in which they demonstrate a commitment to living life to the fullest. On the stage before you are writers, poets, actors, musicians, and vocalists. They practice and perform in every corner of the school and I value the talent and passion that fills our halls.

I also sense that there are strong relationships seated before you that will bind this class now and in the future like no other. I believe that these friendships will stand the test of time. I suggest to you that this is critically important to your future, that you find opportunities to build strong and loving relationships. Hold on to the bonds of friendship as they connect us to common purpose and help us see the path to tolerance and peace.

This class has also shown compassion for others in unique measure. The number of projects associated with reaching beyond the boundary of the school gate has increased significantly. Too many to list here, the spectrum includes saving animals, feeding the hungry, helping communities to recover from disaster, building schools and homes, delivering books, embracing and supporting cancer patients, and the list goes on. During their time here, these students have learned about the importance of a life filled with the enrichment of service to others. They have been generous with their time and resources and there are many smiles of gratitude around the globe as a direct result of their efforts.

So, now, the couple of quotes that I promised at the outset:

I think you all know that my background includes cherished time as a Kindergarten teacher. With that in mind and reminiscent of a Robert Fulghum styled approach, I offer the following of my own as summary, and things that you already know:

In Life…
Learn more than you teach,
Love more than you hate,
Give more than you receive, and
Always seek to become more than you are.

But, how to achieve this in life is best captured through words shared by the new student body president elected on Thursday, Alex Botashev. After two days of work with a large group of adults helping us consider the next steps of our strategic plan, Alex shared this quote from the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche:

You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.

It is my fervent hope that you find a vibrant and rewarding pathway through life and that you tap into your internal chaos, passionately seeking to share your brilliance with us all. I’m absolutely confident that you have the skills and talents for this task.

My congratulations to you all!

, , , , ,

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Ukraine Update #3

Dear Family, Friends, and Staff of the Anglo-American School,

Welcome back from Spring Break.  We hope the holiday was refreshing, filled with renewal and engaged family time!

In keeping with prior messages, I wanted to get an update out just after the break with the most recent information and to attend to current serious matters of note.

I can offer no substantive update on the situation in Ukraine and potential impacts here in Moscow, but some positive steps seem to be emerging from recent high-level meetings reported in the media last week.  That being said, rumor and lack of credible information in many cases still confounds a clear trajectory going forward.  The school, therefore, has no new insights and can only report we continue to maintain our level of raised awareness, but proceed with business relatively as usual.  We continue to monitor students for any signs of stress associated with these events.  Further, our counselors and staff maintain awareness of student interactions surrounding these issues and find no increased level of concern.  We are not planning any changes to upcoming events and travel plans, for CEESA or for other reasons.  We have many field trips planned in the coming weeks both in Moscow and abroad.  We also have a number of visitors in the form of consultants and visiting authors.  There is no recommendation from any embassy restricting our participation in these events and we will continue under the assumption of general stability.

It is with sorrow that I remind the community of the recent tragedy that has seriously affected one of our communities here at AAS.  I’m sure we were all devastated by the loss of life in the recent Korean ferry incident.  Our hearts and thoughts go out to members of our Korean community and their extended families.  While we are unaware of any direct connections, we can only imagine the horror of watching such events unfold from afar.  We have all experienced the frustration of distance during events of this nature and this incident is no different in the way in which we should rally to support those in need in our midst.  Please join me in expressing our concern and encouragement to all touched by this catastrophe through all the ties that bind us.

As we move into the busy weeks ahead, we are buoyed by our sense of community.  We will continue to support each other through all of the concerns that challenge us.  It is my fervent hope that the sunshine of spring will bring us warmer weather and a renewed positive outlook consistent with the renewal of the season.

Best regards,

Jon

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Ukraine Update #2

Dear AAS Community and CEESA Friends,

I’d like to provide an update regarding the political situation in the Crimea and Ukraine and the effect it may have on our school community.

Since my last email to all on March 3, 2014, little has changed for the school¹s normal operation.  In the days leading up to the AAS High School Discovery Week we continued to assess the travel risks associated with our trips. Our considered opinion at the time, and this remains unchanged, is that travel in the region is safe and consistent with our guidelines for departure approvals.

The decision to move forward with Discovery Week trips for Grades 9-11 was based on information provided by our founding embassies and other sources in Moscow.  For example, at a recent meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce, which addressed the political unrest in the area, it was reported there is no additional risk apparent for this region regarding travel or security.  The US Embassy Regional Security Officer (RSO) confirms that there are no plans to issue additional travel warnings for any part of Russia other than the existing warnings for border areas near Ukraine. The only bulletins issued from the US Embassy in recent days regarding the Moscow area have been recommendations to avoid select areas where protests are planned, as is their routine practice.

We again caution all about media coverage of current events.  Many items reported in the press are often sensationalized and exaggerated.  Be careful about this in your assessment of the situation.  We also understand that news reporting of this nature has the potential to cause stress for children and families.  Please let us know if support by our counselors would be helpful. Contact them directly at your discretion. They are available to address your concerns.  These events take a psychological toll on all of us.  Please be aware of your family¹s health and well-being. Stay active and try to maintain your normal routine, despite the constant barrage of potentially upsetting news.  Get plenty of sleep and remain engaged in activities that help to relieve stress.  As always, we will keep our normal schedule of school activities in place to provide an atmosphere of engagement, safety, and security.

To our CEESA friends outside of Russia who are preparing to travel to Moscow with various events, we look forward to your visit and providing you with a wonderful and safe experience during your time on our campus and in our homes.

We will keep you informed with additional bulletins as required.  Please be reminded that we have all necessary systems in place for any set of circumstances.  As an international school, we have contingency plans to assure safety for your children and continuation of their education under a wide array of situations.  Our Emergency Plan is on our website in both English and Russian for your advance reference in this regard.

http://www.aas.ru/emergency

Best Regards,

Jon

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Ukraine Update #1

Dear Family, Friends, and Staff of the Anglo-American School,

The purpose of this letter is to provide important information regarding recent events in the region that may be causing you some level of concern.  As you may already know, the situation in the Ukraine is very fluid at this time.  It is important to note that all of our respective Embassies and governmental agencies are on a heightened level of alert as conditions change.

Similarly, and in consort with our embassy sources of information, we are reflecting daily on the official statements and formal warnings that are distributed by the various agencies.  To date, there have been three alerts posted on travel to Ukraine and these warnings now seem to be in place going forward for the near to long term.

The Central and Eastern European Schools Association (CEESA) Executive Committee met in conference call on Friday, February 28th to discuss the current conditions in Kyiv.  Based on the advice of multiple embassies and the school leadership at the two CEESA schools in Kyiv, two CEESA sports events planned for May have been canceled and are under consideration for relocation to other locations.  These include the Middle School Girls Volleyball on May 1st and the HS Boys and Girls Tennis tournament on May 15th.  We will advise when alternatives for these tournaments are confirmed.

Additionally, we have had many inquiries recently regarding travel by teams coming to the events we are hosting here in Moscow at the Anglo-American School.  Many schools are concerned about sending students to Russia under the current circumstances.  After consultation with the Regional Security Officers of the relevant embassies, we have confirmed there is no intent at this time to issue any travel advisories for Russia beyond the current standing advisory related to the Sochi Olympics, which remains in effect. This current advisory has not precluded any travel to and from Moscow in recent weeks.

We believe that this status is unlikely to change in the near term for Moscow and the surrounding region. Therefore, we have affirmed the CEESA Middle and High School Swim Meet for this weekend beginning on March 6th.  The Anglo-American School of Moscow provides a highly secure facility for our events and our host families are fully prepared to welcome their guests for a wonderful and safe weekend of engaged competition.

Future bulletins will be sent to all constituents as needed to provide for the most recent and accurate information.  We wish everyone safe travels in all upcoming trips.

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