HEADlines Blog

Summer is here! School is out! It must be June!

What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade.”
Gertrude Jekyll

With today’s adult work being tied so closely to the technology in your pocket, the laptop in your bag, and the office in your home, summer is truly for the children! While they are “outta school” for these sunny months, their learning does not stop! Guarantee that for them by helping them leave anything with batteries, chargers, or screens behind and help them employ their senses to the wonders of the summer world around them. If they insist on being early risers, share a sunrise with them. If bed times are more flexible in the summer, sit outside and ponder a gorgeous sunset. Get down on the level of bugs and up as high as you can go to see the world from a bird’s vantage point. Get out the chalk, crayons, markers and paints for some summer masterpieces painted on the sidewalk, old pillowcases, and even on themselves. Paint like Michelangelo (on your back) or with your non-dominant hand, with the brush in your teeth or between your toes! Cook, clean, rearrange, and redo their rooms and play spaces. Give meaning to work in the home as summer “homework”.  And by all means- READ- every day in every way with all kinds of print- OK, so maybe technology can be helpful here! You get the idea!

With just one glance on Pinterest or the many blogs on line, you can find many more easy enjoyable “battery free” ideas to entice your children to see, hear, taste, feel, touch and experience their world anew in this month of “a perfectly young summer”… JUNE!

Here’s to May @ the Woods

It is a merry, merry, magical month of May @ the Woods- full of sentimental farewells and graduation, cheers and celebration. Behind the scenes it is also quite manic.  Summer Camp prep, summer repair and renovation scheduling, academic year wrap with report cards, standardized test results, and student transcripts all appear on a detailed check list.  Parent and student packets for the coming academic year go to the printer, curriculum gets ordered as do supplies and materials.  The campus is scrubbed from top to bottom, from ceiling to floor, from door to door.

Yet the pace is somehow a bit slower, a bit easier, a bit relaxed… at least for a few weeks. The rhythm of a school year at Wood Acres is a carefully crafted symphony of dedicated faculty and staff seeing to all the thousand details behind the scenes that create magic each year as school begins anew.  And for The Wood Acres School, this has been occurring for almost 50 years!

Join us this month as we look back on a grand school year, celebrate the present honoring our graduates of the class of 2018 plus each student’s academic growth, and gear up for the future of the 2018-2019 school year and the preparations for our grand 50th anniversary celebration in 2019.  That will indeed be a merry, merry magical time as well.

Here’s to May @ the Woods and a grand family summer, too!

Marching to a Different Drummer

In the world of sports, March Madness signifies the march to the final four and collegiate basketball glory. Wood Acres March Madness is the march off campus for annual experiential overnight field trips involving planes, trains, boats and buses as our 4th through 8th graders embark on true field trip adventures that create once-in-a-lifetime memories for students, proving that what they study and the “real” world are truly one and the same!

Fourth graders’ destination is the sand, surf, flora, and fauna of Jekyll Island Environmental Center for three days and two nights of looking at the ocean and its living creatures in a whole new way.  Fifth graders head to Tennessee and Camp Widjiwagan Outdoor Center for three days and two nights of hands-on learning about the environment and themselves. Sixth graders traveled earlier this year to the Marine Lab in Key Largo, Florida to further their ecological studies of the ocean and enjoyed snorkeling during this wondrous adventure.  Seventh graders look at Washington, DC through the eyes of the Triumvirate of Democracy, as they experience first hand the three branches of government- executive, judicial, and legislative.  It is a trip that is all about “We the People”!  Eighth graders celebrate their impending graduation with a capstone trip to Spain to experience how much they have learned in speaking another language and immerse themselves in the culture.  Students live with host families, study at a renowned university and visit world heritage sites on their day trips during this two week sojourn there.

March YES! By plane, boat, train, and bus we take students to the learning.  With pre-trip study and superb planning, we take students to new heights of metacognition- knowing that they know what they know- on each and every trip.  Through passion for experiential learning with a faculty that generously gives of their time and talents on these adventures, Wood Acres students experience a one-of-a-kind education that is consistently “out of the box” and firmly tucked away in their minds and hearts.

Make Good Choices

My three children have come out OK- even better than OK. They all graduated college with honors, on time, within budget, without debt, and became immediately employed in their chosen fields.  Advanced degrees and additional professional training have made them all the wiser and having their own children have made them humbler.  You have never lived until your own children say, “Mom, I can’t believe you did it all!”  Music to the soul.

With six grandchildren and one more arriving in July, I am also reveling in the joys of grand parenting and being lenient, indulging, and full of whimsy when we are together. Friends, colleagues, and parents have asked me how did you accomplish it.  Faith, luck, patience, and more luck probably are part of the formula.  Although I distinctly remembering my eldest son telling me one day, “You are not the principal of this house!”  A dose of reality always does the body good.

One solid mantra that I drilled into my trio was a sure fire way to assess what they were doing and whether what they were doing was good, fair, and right. It came from my brief stint in the Rotary.  I loved the fellowship and projects, but hated the early hour they met and yearned for a bit more estrogen in the room.  But the Rotary Four Way Test stayed with me and I applied my adaptation to our family, our children, and even our school.

Is it legal?

Is it moral?

Could you read about it in the media and be proud?

Could you tell your mother/father face to face?

The answers to the four questions gave my children pause and allowed a more thoughtful, wise, and positive choice… most of the time. Nobody is perfect!

Our dynamic office team at Wood Acres also has amazing children who are good, kind, and successful. So I asked them for their mantra or one liner that helped their own grow and glow.

“Make good choices.” Marcy LeSieur

“Don’t wish things were easier, wish you were better.” Jenny Tischer

“You have to have a few bad days every now & then to appreciate the good days.” Jenny Tischer

“Be yourself.” Nicole Hankamer

“Share your awesome self with the world.” Laurie Mazor

With Hugs and Love to parents everywhere,

Judy Thigpen

5 Tips for Powering Up Your Parenting in the New Year

While searching for inspiration to write a HEADline to launch the new year, I came across this reprint of an article in Huffington Post. Seems like pretty sound advice and very doable if you “stay the course”.

Here’s to a great 2018 @ the Woods in your family.


Judy Thigpen

5 Tips for Powering Up Your Parenting in the New Year                       By Betsy Brown Braun

As the big hand creeps its way toward midnight on December 31, most people give at least a fleeting thought to New Year’s resolutions. Those usually have to do with eating or exercise or a nagging behavior ripe for modification. And we all know how long those last: Not very. Instead, let’s talk about resolving to make some changes in your parenting — small adjustments that you can do and keep up, that will make a big difference in your life with your child.

Even the best (whatever that means) of parents, has a list of things she thinks she could do better as a parent — not yell so much, get home earlier at night, be more patient. I’ll bet you have at least one of those on your own list, right?

Here are 5 parenting tips for the coming year — ones that you can easily put into practice — that you might want to add to your resolutions.

  1. Listen to your kids. Sounds obvious, even ridiculous, doesn’t it? There is a reason we are given one mouth and two ears. Children want and need air time. And when they get it from you, the unspoken message is: You matter. I care about what you have to say. Your ideas, thoughts, and opinions are worthy of being heard. So, slow down, wait, face your child, get on his level, and listen to what he has to say. Don’t talk over him, don’t finish his thoughts, and don’t hurry him to get on with it. The time you invest listening will pay immeasurable dividends.
  2. Count to 10.Before you respond to anything that is beyond the mundane with your child, pause. Do not react; do not say anything — no threats, no judgments, no punishments. Just wait. The space you create will allow you to think about your response. It will lessen the likelihood of a misfire on your part. We parents are often so quick on the trigger that we regret what has spewed forth. Only slightly easier than putting toothpaste back in the tube, taking back your hastily delivered judgments, crazy consequences, or insane threats is tricky. Pausing and counting to 10 will get you closer to the response you deliberately and wisely choose.
  3. Beware of hollow threats. Parents come up with the wildest threats when they are trying to get a child to do or not do something. If you don’t come to the bath right now, we are not going to Disneyland on Saturday! Or, If you don’t stop bothering your brother, I am giving away your new fire truck. Huh? Really? Not only do children smell your insincerity, but they know if you will follow through. Threats that are feasible, (especially ones that are logically related to the misbehavior), ones that you actually will carry out, can be effective. Your child learns that you mean what you say. And the behavior stands a good chance of changing.
  4. Stay the course. When it comes to getting what they want, kids will go to all ends, and they have incredible tenacity. They beg, they whine, they hound, they negotiate, they debate, they look for a chink in the armor. Don’t let them wear you down. If No is your answer, stick to your No. If you are not sure of your answer, steer clear of No and go with I need to think about it. Children who are raised with consistent, non- negotiable boundaries and limits are happier children. And remember one Yes will sustain a child through a thousand No’s.
  5. Be good to yourself. Much like the “Oxygen Mask Rule” on an airplane, a parent who takes care of herself will be a better parent. If you are spent, you are no good to anyone. You say things you regret; you channel the parent you swore you’d never be. So, have that massage or lunch with friends, say No to one more committee chairmanship, turn over the reins one night and treat yourself to a hot bath. You will be the parent you want to be, and your whole family will reap the benefits.

Joy and Light

The candles of Hanukkah and Advent are lit as is the sense of wonder and anticipation of children everywhere. Diwali and its candles in the Festival of Lights glowed in mid-October this year, much to the enjoyment of many children around the globe and right here.  In our fervent efforts to be thoughtful and correct, we have almost ceased wishing each other anything but “Happy Holidays”.

What is important is that families here and everywhere have traditions and ceremonies to mark their most special and important celebrations and holidays. Passing those traditions down generation to generation creates the substance of who we are and how we fit together in our families and with each other.  Growing up in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania, I remember visiting Bonnie Lieberman’s home each December to celebrate Hanukkah with her family and wishing I could be Jewish.  I also wanted to be Catholic on Ash Wednesday, Greek Orthodox on Epiphany and in the children’s choir of the African Methodist Church near my hometown.  Why? Because it was special, unique, happy, yummy, and full of joy.

My wish for you this December is simply joy and light. Joy does the body good as well as the soul. Light brightens the shorter days of winter and warms us within and without.  Whatever brings you joy and light, may it fill this month and the coming year to the rim.  If you are hard-pressed to find it on any day, just stop by Wood Acres and listen to the joyous sounds of children playing and learning, laughing and growing.  It will light up your day.  It does mine!

The Nobel Prize and its Relevance to Learning @ the Woods

Let’s face it. Most of us know more about the Super Bowl Championship and the Academy Awards than we do about the Nobel Prize.  I was certainly in that category until I had the awesome opportunity to visit the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.  Since night comes early in Sweden in late October, my entrance into this beautiful 18th century building was enveloped in an oncoming fog and an unsettling early darkness.  The Square that fronts the Museum was quite deserted and I felt I heard the hooves of horses pulling carriages in a strange mix of IKEA and Dickens.

As my eyes adjusted to the interior lighting of the museum, I realized I was in for a wonderful learning experience and an unexpected personal and professional “aha”! The Swedes really know how to blend the architecture of divergent centuries as well as the history and relevance of Nobel, the man and the award.  I walked a timeline of the award and met all the Laureates as their bios flowed overhead on an amazing cableway circulating at the roof level throughout the museum.  Modern technology allowed me to “talk” with Laureates and learn about their diverse lives and their own personal “ahas”.  My “quick” visit developed into hours as I visited and re-visited exhibit areas and slowly became a Nobel groupie!  I think the docents were ready to offer me a job or have me arrested as a museum stalker.  And, of course, I completed my visit at the Nobel bookstore purchasing books and literature that are now here for everyone at school to read, learn, and enjoy.  The seeds of an exciting new endeavor for the Woods were planted and I was already dreaming of what could be.

As with sports championships, theater awards, and other social recognitions of achievements existing in all countries, the Nobel Prizes are the only internationally recognized awards in any categories, much less in the areas of academic achievement and research that improve the lives of the world’s inhabitants. There is so much to learn at any age from Nobel, the man and the award.  There is even more to learn as older students learn of the lives, trials, challenges, and successes of the Nobel Laureates.  And there is enough intrigue, drama, mystery, and media gossip surrounding the annual awards to intrigue everyone, too!

I have spent almost a year researching and collecting materials for Wood Acres’ faculty to integrate into their teaching and student learning to elevate awareness of the Nobel Prizes and its timeless relevance to helping mankind solve problems and improve lives.

The results of this labor of love and learning is that each teacher, in age appropriate ways, can incorporate learning about Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Prizes into your teaching especially each December. The annual Nobel Award Concert and Banquet are held each year in Stockholm on December 10.  As you can imagine it is a grand and royal event.  My hope is that in a few years we can incorporate our December WA Band concert into a Nobel concert format and have a most royal reception afterwards surrounded by a suspended poster display of present and past Nobel Laureates (created by our students of course) just like in the Stockholm Museum.  My creative juices are on high alert to all the possibilities.  We can turn this dream into a reality!  Good Morning America, here we come!  What an exquisite way to celebrate the highest levels of learning from an international global perspective.  WOW!!!

The Noble Prize for me now is much more that the facts, history, and stories that first caught my interest in Stockholm that foggy evening in 2015.  My learning has evolved to embrace the process, the people, and character that these men and women displayed that make this award worthy of our study, learning, admiration, and awe.  Noble Nobel for certain!

Judy Thigpen

Simple, sustained, focused caring and sharing

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

On this rainy soggy October morning with our students nestled safely in their classrooms learning, sharing, laughing, studying, snacking, playing and thinking I am overcome by profound joy and deep sadness. I am so privileged to work in a place of hope with the joy of children surrounding me each and every day of my decades long career. I then must cross back into the harsh panful realities of what children, families, schools, towns, cities, states, and countries are dealing with- be it natural disasters or man made disasters- but disasters all the same. Children with no family, no food, no homes, no hope are reflected in haunting photos online or on the news each day. Children hurt, wounded or worse through no other circumstance other than the neighborhood they live in or the health care they yearn for are deep seated signs of a sick and selfish society that is anesthetized to the horrors right here at home.

I wish I had the silver bullet cure for this melancholy up my sleeve, but perhaps the metaphor is a part of a simple doable solution. Up your sleeve is your arm! Put it to good use for both treasuring your own family and reaching out to others who desperately need your hand and heart. Simple, sustained, focused caring and sharing will slowly create a tsunami that can help others envision a better tomorrow thanks to your reaching out.

You did an amazing start on this very quest with the wonderfully generous donations that sent hundreds of new backpacks to students of a flooded and damaged school and community. And it made us feel good, too! Let’s keep that spirit alive and well @ the Woods all year as we continue to learn, share, laugh, study, snack, play and think.

Listen. Can you hear the sound?

Hearts beating all the world around.

Down in the valley, out on the plain,

Everywhere around the world a heartbeat sounds the same.

Black or white. Red or tan,

It’s the heart of the family of man… beating away, beating away, beating away.

-Red Grammer from his award winning CD “Teaching Peace”

Wonder Abounds at Woods Acres

Wisdom begins in wonder.” -Socrates
Wonder abounds at Wood Acres and it is never more evident than at the start to a new school year, especially this one. Children wonder who their teacher will be. They wonder when recess and lunch will happen. They wonder if someone will play with them. They wonder when they will learn to ready, divide, and write cursive. They wonder if they will do well in class, have much homework, or make new friends. Wonder does abound.

This year the wonder of our planet, its place in the solar system, and the rare occurrence of a total eclipse had us in awe and wonder as hundreds of Wood Acres students and families filled the campus plaza and Quad, donned viewing glasses and were properly awed by this “wonder”ful event. Now that is how to kick off a school year! Wonder did abound.

Our goal each school year @ the Woods is to remain steadfast in seeing that each child experiences wonder in each classroom, each grade, and each program. As the cadence of our school year begins to hum, routines established, and the initial wonders subsides Wood Acres does not disappoint. In a school for all seasons, the natural wonder of butterflies, caterpillars, and graceful sidewalk shadows reminds all of us that wonder does abound! Join us often this year to find the child in each of you and the wonder that is discovered every day at the Woods!
Happy New Year to all!

We Matter!

Graduation Day for our 8th graders and the Honors Assembly for all students have come and gone and the campus is quickly transforming into a fun, sun filled summer camp for two months. And while bidding farewell to students, some of whom has been here since they were two years old is bitter sweet, the students’ speeches at graduation about the importance of Wood Acres in their lives brought tears to our eyes and an overwhelming sense of pride for our school. We matter! We impact lives! We mold the future! We model what we preach and walk the talk of teaching, learning, and caring each and every day! Just listen to the words of our graduates to confirm these amazing feelings!