Election 2016: What to say?

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Two weeks before students arrived at school, the entire Westside School staff and faculty gathered at the nearby Bethaday Community Learning Center for a day long retreat to launch the year. We dedicated one piece of that day to talking about the political climate, what overt and ambient feelings students might be having about the election, and how we might engage them and each other as November approached.

The conversation was far reaching, as we sought to remind ourselves of the need for strong foundational work around the very act of citizenship – listening, observing, critiquing, remaining open to multiple perspectives, acting, voting, speaking up and speaking out. As we considered the increasing need for diplomacy, we doubled our commitment to cultivating strong communication and negotiation skills in our students.

These are moments that fill teachers with a sense of purpose and opportunity, to bring depth to two-dimensional conversations, confront stereotypes and inspire optimism and activism, even in the face of negative imagery and numbing language.

Indeed, I haven’t met a parent this fall who isn’t asking questions about how to talk about the political climate at home. How much exposure? How much detail?

Just as we share an impulse to turn away from the media over coverage, we can’t miss what is being uncovered at this moment, what Dan Rather referred to as a “cracking point in history.” Race, class and gender are being discussed in ways that can’t be separated from “historically mainstream political issues.” Just as our students are deep in the process of identity forming, our country is asking profound questions about who we are, how that identity guides our relationships with others, and how we will view what it means to thrive in the coming century.

Political currents can be felt in the halls of Westside School. Students bring what they encounter – from media, parents, friends – to their classrooms, and our teachers are helping them sort it out on a wide variety of levels. In some cases, these are conversations about language and meaning, in others, it’s a catalyst for historical context. In many others, it serves as a reminder of the importance of kind communication and empathy.

Here’s a couple of resources teachers are using to think about conversations with some of our older students.

Newsela: an interactive website covering current events

Teaching the 2016 Election – an article from Teaching Tolerance

Our Westside School Community of Superheros

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Merriam-Webster defines a Superhero as a fictional character who has amazing powers (such as the ability to fly), but also as a heroic person. Our Westside School community of parents, grandparents, friends, alumni, staff and faculty are certainly our heroes. It has been an extraordinary week (beginning last Friday with our Family BBQ and Movie Night) of community gatherings, stories from our students about who the heroes of their lives are, and a fun Friday of everyone dressing up like superheros!

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We want to thank everyone who has given their time and talents, and those who have generously donated to the Westside School Fund.

Maybe we can’t fly, but you help us soar!

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Creative Exploration at Westside School

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Annual giving allows Westside School to invest in core elements of our program that promote creative exploration for all students


Westside School believes creating is an intrinsic part of learning. That’s why all of our classes provide opportunities for inquiry, discovery and expression, from core subjects like math and science, to dedicated classes in technology, and performing and fine arts. Outside of class, enrichment opportunities like robotics, drama, and art allow students to continue creating as they nurture their emerging passions.

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Last year, students connected creativity with math by having some fun with snails. You may have heard an ant can carry something that weighs hundreds of times its own body weight. In pre-algebra, students asked a similar question about snails: How much can a snail pull, relative to its body weight? Each group harnessed a land snail up to a cup, lured it forward with lettuce, and gradually added weight until the snail could no longer pull the cup. They then weighed their snail and how much it was able to pull. Later, students used their knowledge of ratio and percent to determine which snail was the “strongest” relative to its body mass, and figured out how much a human could pull if it had equivalent snail-strength! (Eighth grade algebra students also got to take part in the fun!)

Art Projects


In second grade, students used their creativity to study animals using art. Students went above and beyond in imagining, designing, collaborating, and constructing this artistic and interactive set. Using their knowledge of nocturnal animals, students imagined their own nocturnal creatures and brought them to life in the form of puppets. The second grade students used their gift of storytelling to create backgrounds, scenarios, and puppet show prompts, all included in this set. The ten team-built puppets are housed in an easy to carry and easy to store embellished vintage valise.

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A Culture of Gratitude at Westside School

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Annual giving promotes a strong culture of gratitude with thousands of hours spent by students on community service each year.

Promoting a culture of gratitude and giving back is an essential part of Westside School’s learning experience. Each year students in every grade participate in meaningful and important service projects in the community, expanding their knowledge, citizenship, and leadership in the world around them. These experiences are integrated into Westside School’s academic curriculum, which gives students opportunities to use newly-acquired academic skills and knowledge in real-life situations in their own communities and extends learning beyond the classroom. Ultimately, service learning helps foster the development of a sense of caring for others. 

Day Star

In the Lower School, service is a community effort that varies year to year. Whether students are running canned food drives, gathering supplies for families in need, or visiting the local retirement community, our students are making an impact – and feeling proud of their accomplishments.

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First grade students began visiting the residents of Day Star Retirement Home last year. They will continue this year with four to six trips in the spring, where students will sing songs and mingle with the residents. In preparation for their trips, students learn appropriate songs, discuss how to introduce themselves, how to converse with adults in a respectful way, and how to present in front of an authentic audience. Last year our first grade class helped celebrate two 100 year old’s birthdays! The visits are powerful and emotional. The resulting friendships are beneficial to both students and residents. First grade loves their Day Star friends!

Forest Restoration

To gain further pride and understanding in their work, Middle School students participate service learning throughout the year. Not only are they weeding and planting at nearby forests, stocking shelves at food banks, or gathering supplies for teens in need at Youth Care, they are expanding their worldview and gaining necessary knowledge about the impact of their contributions.

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In 2016, the fifth grade class participated in the service component of their Service Learning Project for four months in the spring. In line with their curriculum for those months, students worked to restore a local forest by removing invasive plants and preparing the green space to plant natives later that spring. Through the work of this significant project, the students learned how people, even kids, go about making positive change in their community.

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The Westside School Fund provides transformative experiences

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Annual giving allows Westside School to invest in transformative student experiences like our robotics program and salmon release in the spring



Since 2012, Westside School has been igniting minds through robotics programming and design. Each year students in grades fifth through eighth have the opportunity to develop their STEM skills by learning block programming, robot design, and applying robotic properties to real life situations.

In 2015, the seventh grade robotics team made Westside School history by making it to the semi-finals at the Annual First Lego League robotics competition. After competing against 35 teams and making it to the top five, they headed to compete against the best of the best at the semi-finals.

The challenge: Trash Trek. The assignment: to improve the way people handle the trash they make. From start to finish Westside School students worked together to produce a project based on ocean clean-up and trash incineration. Through Westside’s Robotic program, these students continue to develop critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving, along with 21st century skills such as creativity, imagination, curiosity, and innovation.

A curriculum that includes robotics provides students with the ability to take an active role in their own learning and forms a necessary foundation for likes in the ever-changing world. Your contribution to the Annual Fund allows Westside School to remain innovative and provide transformative student experiences like the Robotics enrichment program.

Salmon Release

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Each spring, students release hundreds of Coho salmon parr into Fauntleroy Creek. Picture a beautiful spring morning with sunshine and blue skies overhead, the park filled with newly leafed out salmon berry bushes, ferns and skunk cabbage. Birds are chirping, a wren’s nest quivering and the students are so excited to see the fish find their place in a wild habitat. Out of the tank and into the creek!

Students monitor the growth of salmon through the stages of egg, alevin, fry and parr. The monitoring includes feeding them crushed fish flakes and blood worms, observing and recording their behaviors weekly, cleaning the tank daily and inspecting the equipment. The salmon study includes guest speakers, field trips, a dissection, science observation journals, acrostic poetry writing and fictional writing based.

The salmon release program is one example of the transformative experiences Westside School can offer students because of the Westside School Fund.

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The Westside School Fund supports our Tuition Assistance program

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By supporting Annual Giving, you can make a difference in a child’s life and contribute to Westside School’s unique collective brilliance.

Westside School strives for a learning environment that encourages brilliance from all students. Through the Tuition Assistance program, we are able to offer an education to students from all backgrounds and financial situations, who are exceptional learners and elevate Westside’s collective brilliance.

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“After moving from the East coast last year, my kids were nervous about starting at a new school in Seattle. They have both succeeded in public school but I always felt they weren’t challenged enough. We chose Westside School because they offered an extensive arts program (for my daughter) and small class sizes. Because Westside was able to provide us with scholarships, my kids are flourishing more than ever. My daughter has blossomed in the theater program, participating in plays throughout the year and summer, while my son is enjoying his classmates and ENJOYS coming to school each day.” – Mom of first and third grade students

In addition, funds raised for the Tuition Assistance Program allows Westside School to participate in Rainier Scholars, a program dedicated to “cultivating the academic potential and leadership skills of hard-working, low-income students of color.” Westside School is proud to have three Rainier Scholars for the 2016-2017 academic year. As funds become available we hope to see that number increase in the future.

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The Westside School Fund supports Professional Development for our faculty

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Westside School believes one is never finished learning. Because of funds raised during the Westside School Fund, faculty and staff are given opportunities, away from school, to engage with education professionals and leaders and bring the knowledge back to school.

In February 2016 Michael Le, Director of Technology, and Susannah Muench, Director of Literacy and Technology Integration, attended the EdTech Teacher Innovation Summit, where they were encouraged to think about “what’s next.” Over three days EdTech leaders from around the world came together to share ideas on how to transform student learning and address the challenge of how to best innovate education.

“Half way through the summit, I realized Westside School has a unique potential for education through technology and it was within my grasp to use my newfound knowledge to propel us far into the future. Through a number of hands-on workshops, such as iPad use, tech coaching and leadership, I developed the skills to enhance the use of tech school-wide, from students to teachers to families. I look forward to building on our tech program and making Westside School a pioneer in technology education.” – Michael Le, Director of Technology
“One of the most inspiring things I learned at the Innovation Summit was that with so many technology initiatives available, you can’t expect to do them all. Rather, you need to step back, look at the big picture, where you want Westside School to be, where you want your students to be and what aspects of technology will help further that vision. As such, Michael and I came up with the slogan ‘Create & Collaborate.’ Our driving force as the Tech & Literacy Program develops is to integrate technology in a way that enhances collaboration between students while engaging their creatives minds.” – Susannah Muench, Director of Literacy and Technology Integration

Annual Giving makes it possible for Michael, Susannah, and other Westside School teachers to attend important conferences and workshops every year.

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