Dear Step One Friends,
As the air starts to feel like fall and the holiday season approaches, we can truly say the school year is underway. Kids are getting established, making new friends; parents are getting used to the routine, too! Step One at this season feels like a mix of old and new: we enjoy school traditions such as Back to School Night and the upcoming Grandparents, Family and Friends Day, while welcoming new families and bringing new energy, activity, and approaches into the classroom.
Appropriately, this newsletter offers a mix of new and tried-and-true. The Jennifer Maxwell Nature Trail is an exciting new development up on the hillside, and Amalie and Aubrie gave us a “sneak peek” at the new stations-in-progress.
We also heard from members of Step One’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, past and present. This Committee has developed resources for school, made a space for parent-to-parent connection, and connected families to opportunities for activism. It has always been crucial for Step One, helping us live up to our values. I’m proud that I was part of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee 30+ years ago and that it’s still going strong!
This issue of Step One Connect also features a useful article about how subtle shifts in your kids’ habits now can fend off future orthodontia, by Step One alum parent Dr. Claire Ferrari. We’re also profiling how the visual arts and dance practices of two of our teachers, Aubrie Sell Williams and Ika, impact their classroom teaching. Step One Connect concludes with some fun pictures of Step One parents and caregivers exploring their children’s classrooms to the fullest and enjoying each others’ company on Back to School Night.
This hasn’t been an easy fall: it will be a long recovery for many of our neighbors and friends in the Wine Country and points north, and they will need our support. At the same time, challenges and how we meet them remind us of our resilience, and I’m grateful to be facing them with all of you. For our creative, courageous, adaptable teaching staff; for our loving, giving community; and for the bountiful harvest of joy we find each day at Step One, I am deeply thankful.
Sue BritsonRead more link text
Step One stands out among preschools in its collaborative governance structure: staff, teachers, and parents work on committees that shape the direction of the school. One vital committee, part of Step One from the beginning, is Diversity and Inclusion. To honor the Committee’s own diversity, we spoke to two members about their perspectives. Find below reflections from Brett Cook, artist and educator who served on the committee from 2009-2011, and Susana Telles Casher, who brings experience with diversity work to her role as Step One’s Program Director and has co-chaired the parent committee for the past 5 years.
There are two responses I wanted to bring forward about my time on the committee. First is that we saw it as a place where we could all practice being in relationship to difference. We don’t usually get that kind of practice, and the committee presented it, just in terms of who was there. We were a complex group with different countries of origin, family structures, class backgrounds. We saw ourselves as working to make healthy families, so we wanted the adults to practice just like the kids at Step One do. Practice getting to know people from different backgrounds, practice championing and embracing equity and inclusivity.
The other thing I remember about my time on the committee is that there were a number of teachers serving on it, including myself. Having so many people with literacy as educators who worked on social justice brought a lot of passion to our work. We had collective expertise and wanted to use it to benefit the community. It was powerful to have the committee as a place where we could impact curriculum and really make a difference. There was intellectual rigor around the work we were doing, plus a feeling that we were nurturing the school.
Personally, this work remains so important to me. In my artwork and in the classroom, I believe in creating architectures where people can see themselves within each other, while still recognizing their differences. We’re different and we are the same. That “both/and” kind of thinking was what made my experience on the committee so powerful. Our culture is typically binary, so we don’t get a lot of experience holding multiple aspects of identity at the same time. But as a multi-ethnic child of the 60s and 70s, I never had just one identity, and I’ve come to realize that we’re all complicated. The committee was a space to realize the diversity in our community and in ourselves.
Susana Telles Casher:
When I first applied to work at Step One, I was really excited to see the explicit language used around anti-bias education. I had never seen another preschool so open about its commitment to bringing racial, economic, and family-structure diversity to its program. I was thrilled to bring my own education and experience with inclusion and racial diversity work, and was impressed by the knowledge and hands-on teaching of anti-bias that had already existed at Step One for decades.
The Diversity and Inclusion Committee has evolved over the years and continues to change and grow with the faculty and families at Step One. We currently have a teacher committee, which is focused on anti-bias curriculum, professional development, and inclusion issues that come up among children. The teachers also organize our Peace Week and Pride Celebrations, annual events that teach children about fairness, social justice, and changemakers. Our parent committee is a place for families to come together to support one another, share resources, and organize events and community-building activities. The group of parents guides the work of the group, which means each year there can be a different focus or inspiration.
Over the 4 years I’ve worked at Step One, the group has focused on differences in ability, children and gender identity, talking to children about race, understanding privilege and connecting around activism. Our goal is for families to have a place to come together safely to build community and understanding. We hope that parents continue to do this work even after they leave Step One, reflecting on inclusiveness and diversity in their own lives, and that the children continue to be allies and changemakers as they grow up.Read more link text
I got my start with art early, as our Step One students do. My dad has always worked for architectural firms, and he would bring home big 4-foot blueprints. I would sit in the middle of them and draw. When I got too big for that, my parents let me paint their shed with giant murals. I was very lucky to have so much encouragement to make art in a big way.
Currently, I do a lot of landscape painting and watercolor. My work is very meditative and I like the feel of the flowing paint. I tend to paint landscapes, which feels politicized to me right now because of climate change. Themes of environment and care run through my personal practice, and come into my Step One work also. Big outdoor paintings like our "Choose Love" painting and the big outdoor peace sign were made after some difficult grown-up situations in the national news. Those brought up feelings for both me and the kids, so we made those big feelings into art together.
I think it's really important for kids to make art with their whole bodies; I'm an advocate of big brushes and big canvases for painting outside. It feels good to make a big mark sometimes! And it gives them gross motor experience as well as an opportunity for self-expression. I had a teacher in college who said "Don't draw with your wrist, draw with your arm" and I always think about that with the kids. Doing work with big energy keeps kids (and adults) from being stuck in that trap of "I can't do it!" You don't want to over-controI.
I also do a lot of projects with kids where you go through steps, such as making prints or doing papier-mache. I'm a firm believer in process-oriented art for children. When they do paper-mache, they tear the paper, add the paste: they make every part of the project. It teaches them skills and they take a lot of pride in what they've done because they've accomplished every step of the process.
It's interesting, because my work is small-scale now: prior to working at Step One, I only made big paintings, but I don't currently have enough space. So doing that big work with the kids gives me that full-body movement I also crave.I feel so lucky to combine my love for art with my work in the classroom. It enriches my practice, I learn from it, and I get to share an important part of myself with the kids.
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We took a walking tour of the new Jennifer Maxwell Nature Trail, in process up on Step One’s hillside, with Teacher Amalie Hazelton. Amalie and Aubrie Sell Williams have been working to make this vision a reality, supplementing the natural playscapes of the hill with exciting educational content that encourages kids to explore and offers teachers new curricular possibilities. The new areas will include a geological dig, animal footprints to find, farm-to-table nutrition content for our hillside garden, and a cloud and sky observation station!
"The first station on the new trail will be a geological dig, for kids to learn about the clay, rock, and soil under the ground. There will be a digging area with rock, dirt, and sand, underground visuals, plus tables to sift through sand, dirt, and stone. Also, clay for the kids to sculpt with: Aubrie put together cards with clay artwork (pottery and sculpture) from around the world that the kids can use as inspiration.
"The next station will be tight-rope walking and balance."
"Our middle section is focused on nature and animals: we created animal footprints that show the kids tracks they might see on the hillside, as well as an interactive display featuring our night-time visitors."
"In the next area, our garden bed will move over to get more sun, and we’ll add a component to our edible garden about nutrition and how nutrients are used in the body, with images and games. We'll also have hands-on, pretend fruits and vegetables for the kids to play with while the real ones are growing, plus bottles full of various fruit and vegetable seeds."
"The sky and water station will be by the deck. It will feature big pieces of slate and brushes, which show evaporation: children can paint water on the slate, see their strokes, and watch them evaporate. We’ll also have images of cloud formations and mats to lie on their backs and watch the clouds."
The Jennifer Maxwell Nature Trail is named in honor of Step One alum parent and lead project donor Jennifer Maxwell. Four of Jennifer's six children attended Step One in the early and mid 90’s prior to their family moving from Berkeley to Marin County. She and her husband Brian Maxwell were the founders of PowerBar in 1986, owing to Jennifer’s degree in nutrition and their mutual business savvy.
Together they supported numerous projects at Step One, including a fund to support teachers and our hillside renovation in 2001-02, and Jennifer is a lead donor in the current Step Two construction campaign. After selling PowerBar and Brian’s passing in 2004, Jennifer has channeled her interests in sports, food and nutrition, nature, and music and art into support for innovative projects such as our new nature stations. We are excited to have her ongoing participation in Step One’s development and success.
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