Peggy Procter's Blog
How our students are doing academically and socio-emotionallyPosted by Peggy Procter on 1/11/2022 10:00:00 AM
In a recent Parent Association Leadership Meeting and Community Conversation, parents/ guardians asked the Leadership team for an honest update on how our students are doing academically and socio-emotionally in light of the pandemic and the educational disruptions that have occurred in the past few years. While this is a BIG question and one that I don’t believe we can fully answer, we are happy to share some of our observations with you. It is our sincere hope that we will continue to have a strong home-school partnership in order to support our students' growth and development in these challenging times.
First, allow me to share with you some of the research out there.
- Experts believe that students are an average of 5 months behind in math and 4 months behind in reading. That said, the gaps tend to hit under-resourced schools hardest, so likely the gaps of our EHS scholars who have the privilege of an excellent school with excellent teachers and access to technology are less.
- 35% of parents are concerned about their children’s mental health; 35% of parents are worried about their children’s socio-emotional well-being.
- There was widespread disengagement from students during remote online learning which led to a loss of knowledge and skills.
- Students may be missing some key building blocks of foundational knowledge
- Students may be missing some important skills, behaviors and mindsets that are important for success at the next level
- Students may need a longer transition period to relearn the behavioral expectations of being in a classroom and in a school environment
- Students depend heavily on their teachers for both academic support and emotional security.
- Many experts recommend that, for the time being, educators focus less on student academic progress and more on the social and emotional needs of children.
While the above data may seem daunting, the good news is that the issues and gaps appear to be less in the data on elementary age students, as this age group appears to have received more adult support from parents/guardians, caregivers, and older siblings. The elementary data shows that remote and hybrid learning may have had less impact on reading than on math.
Anxiety and depression are on the rise with a 5-6% increase in the past few years. From a socio-emotional and mental health perspective, research is showing an uptick in behaviors like social withdrawal, lethargy, self-isolation, and irrational fears. Therefore, placing an emphasis on creating a safe, loving, and caring environment for our children is of the utmost importance, and it is something that Echo Horizon excels at. Building relationships, listening to the needs and fears of children, offering friendship and love, and treating others with respect and kindness will help our students to recover from the difficulties they have faced recently.
At Echo Horizon, we remain optimistic about how our children are doing, in light of the challenges of the past few years. Our Hawk scholars are resilient, hard working, determined, and kind. Our Hawk teachers are the best out there, dedicated to the whole child - heart and mind. We are in it together and we won’t give up - we are committed to giving our all to the beautiful children in our classrooms and school.
I have asked our Directors and our student support team to share with you some thoughts and observations about the “state of our students”.
Observations on academic progress:
- Struggles with independence - we are seeing increased difficulty/lack of patience with waiting for help - our students seem to be less resilient when they don’t know an answer or need support. They are more likely to interrupt and demand immediate support from their teachers.
- Additional practice and support may be needed to build fluency in foundational skills (math, literacy development, etc)
- Engaging with the “group plan”: cooperative learning requires different skills and behaviors than when students were isolated at home, students have less experience asking for help in the classroom setting
- Amplified disparities in students’ individual resources to approach new challenges
- Complaints about inability to focus; our students need to rebuild the stamina school requires without distractions that might have been available at home
- Students give up more quickly when things get hard - we are seeing this most in math.
Observations on socio-emotional progress:
- During recess and lunch, students appear less resilient when they need support. They are more likely to interrupt and demand immediate support, and less likely to utilize problem solving strategies they may have used in the past
- We are seeing an increase in attention seeking behaviors
- Conflict resolution - at recess, students struggle to handle conflict situations on their own without adult intervention
- Social and relationship skills, such as sharing and taking turns, need consistent practice and review
- Students benefit from the continued development of their own “SEL toolbox” for how to help themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or frustrated
- Students struggle with making negative assumptions about other childrens’ motivations or actions. They appear less likely to give each other the benefit of the doubt and to have less tolerance for others making mistakes.
- Students may struggle to come up with creative play or games during recess, causing them to rely more on adults.
- Students are more easily overwhelmed by challenges, whether academic or social
- We see more sensitivity and defensiveness to feedback from friends
- We are seeing communication breakdowns. There is an expectation that friends should know what is wrong or what they need without communication.
- Students are afraid to share how they really feel / ask for what they need for fear of hurting others’ feelings
- Students need lots of practice in using “I-statements,” when asking for what they need
- Students need practice respecting boundaries
- Some students appear to suffer lower frustration tolerance.
In summary, while students grasp these concepts really well intellectually, they’re having a harder time implementing this knowledge into daily interactions. After a few years of less interactions and some isolation, they need practice in real-time to make different choices.
Thank you all so much for reading these observations as we continually assess where our students are and how the school can best support their growth and development. We are committed to continuing to partner actively with our parents/guardians to support student improvement. As we said, our Echo Horizon students are incredible scholars and humans, and we have no doubts that in partnership, we can layer in consistent practice and messaging so that they thrive and excel despite these societal setbacks.
Bravery, Humility and AuthenticityPosted by Peggy Procter on 11/2/2021 11:00:00 AM
Almost two years ago, I shared with the community a personal post about my eldest sister Prudy. It was a gratitude post, as we had just learned that Prudy, who was battling ovarian cancer, had been deemed “cancer free” after 7 months of aggressive chemotherapy. It was a joyous day in the Procter family.
The joy I spoke about was short-lived; in early 2021, we learned that the cancer had come back and spread. Her fight continued, and it was scarier than ever.
My phone rang one morning at 6:30am one morning in late October. It was my youngest sister Katie, who lives in New Jersey. The minute I saw the time and caller, I knew. My beautiful sister was gone. It was time for her fight and suffering to end.
Over the past year, my sisters Ellen, Katie, and I have written weekly cards to Prudy, each focused on a different adjective to describe her. The three adjectives that come most strongly to mind are brave, humble, and authentic. As I think about my sister and these words, I am tremendously grateful to have had such an incredible role model in my life for so many years. Many of these traits are ones that I hope to embody, and I learned so much from her about the power of each of them. I know that Prudy would want me to continue her legacy by passing these traits along to all of the children I have the privilege to work with.
Bravery: Not once during this two-year ordeal did Prudy complain. She took each day in stride, no matter how crummy she felt. She was always selfless, never failing to check in on others. In her final hours on Earth with her daughter Jennifer by her side, she paused and said, “Enough about me sweetheart, how are YOU doing?”
Prudy taught me to follow my dreams and my heart fearlessly, to take risks, and to not let obstacles hold me back. It takes courage to be an independent woman and a mother, to teach, and to lead, and I wonder if I would be where and who I am today without her as a role model of bravery.
Humility: Despite my father’s love and support of Prudy, her childhood was far from idyllic. Her parents split when she was just three years old and her (and my) Dad went on to a new life—a new wife in a new city, and three additional daughters. Prudy grew up with a single mom and struggled mightily with dyslexia. She loved her mom, cherished their relationship, and never complained about the things she didn’t have. She was always grateful for her Dad’s visits and she loved her somewhat annoying younger sisters—demonstrating no jealousy, regardless of all the time and attention they took away from her. She loved the simple things in life, such as nature, trees, books, and animals. As a Quaker, she valued simplicity, peace, truth, and community. Materialism didn’t matter to her—she cared about people and the Earth and showered her love and goodness on the things that she believed were important. I was so lucky to have been a recipient of her unconditional love.
I’ll never forget how worried our Dad was when I told him that I wanted to be a teacher. His fear came from the fact that he knew what a difficult and non-lucrative profession it was. What parent wants a child to struggle? And yet, thanks to my awesome sister Prudy, I did not share in his worry. I knew what I wanted to do, and knew that fulfillment would come not from wealth or objects, but from relationships and purpose. I have never looked back on my choice and can think of no profession more meaningful for me.
Authenticity: Prudy was honestly one of a kind. She was unique, and kind, and direct, and she honestly didn’t care about putting on airs for anyone. She loved art, historic homes, museums, gardening, dogs, folk music, fall foliage, walks in the woods, and toads. She was a jeans and t-shirt kind of woman and couldn’t be bothered with make-up. She knew who she was, was comfortable with it, and surrounded herself with those who loved her as her authentic self. Her authenticity was refreshing, and I admired her for her self-assured confidence and ability to love herself and others so fully, without judgment. I credit dear Prudy for my comfort with my own silliness, my love of tacky headbands, and my inability to brush my unruly hair.
Rest in peace, dear Prudy, knowing the tremendous positive impact you have had on our family and so many others whose lives you have touched. You will live forever in the unforgettable stories and beautiful gifts you have left us to pass on.
Reflection on the One-Year Anniversary of the PandemicPosted by Peggy Procter on 3/15/2021
It was exactly one year ago today that I made the difficult decision to close Echo Horizon’s campus for the first time due to a novel virus that was scaring the nation and the world. I still have vivid memories of being at carpool, sadly saying goodbye to every student and family, truly believing that I would see them again after spring break, and thinking that three weeks would be a LONG time to be separated from one another. The image of sixth-grader Eli staring out his window near tears as he drove away from Echo will never leave me.
We’ve been through so much this past year—separation, loss, loneliness, fear—much of which I wish we hadn’t had to experience. Yet, I cannot deny that this year, despite all the challenges, has been one of growth, reflection, and lifelong lessons. I have learned so much about the power of the Echo Horizon community, and I’d like share my reflections on our one-year anniversary of learning during the pandemic:
Lesson #1: We are an exceptionally resilient community;
Lesson #2: We all rely on Echo Horizon school for much more than academic learning;
Lesson #3: We were reminded of the importance of growth mindset in order to adapt and learn new skills—flexibility, adaptability, patience, and responsiveness were a must;
Lesson #4: We were reminded during remote learning of the divides that exist in our world around equity and access;
Lesson #5: We learned to be more appreciative of life’s gifts and to live each day with gratitude.
Resilience, defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties” and “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, or significant sources of stress,” is a vital characteristic of healthy, happy, and successful people. As parents and educators, we hope that our children develop resilience, but we often do everything we can to protect them from pain, difficulty, and failure, thus taking away their chances to practice it. In this case, we couldn’t “take away” the pandemic, providing our children with a true opportunity to learn and grow their resilience. And boy did they! Our Echo scholars, whether 4 years old or 12, were champions. They embraced the complexity of Zoom learning by putting in great effort to maintain focus. They became more independent as they completed asynchronous work, advocated and asked for help during one-on-one teacher time, and were good participants and listeners during community meetings. Our faculty and staff were resilience rockstars, ready to pivot from online to hybrid to in-person to best meet the needs of the beloved scholars in their care. This year will be considered one of the most difficult years ever for educators, and our Echo Horizon faculty and staff never lost sight of the need to show up for the students. Our gratitude for all that they have done is overflowing. And our parents/guardians—what grace you showed as you pivoted with us, never complaining about the frequent changes, the odd drop-off and pick-up times, the times we sent your child home because of the sniffles even though it was probably nothing. Not once did I receive anything but kindness and gratitude from our parent/guardian community.
The second lesson is really about the definition of school and why we chose to join Echo Horizon. In choosing Echo Horizon, of course, we chose a place that would masterfully teach our students reading, writing, and arithmetic, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. School closure made that clear. At Echo Horizon School, we place equal value on relationships, connections, creativity, advocacy, and communication. Echo Horizon is a school, but it is the community piece that makes it so much more. Community is defined as “a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.” That fellowship, in which we work collectively towards common goals, creates a stronger bond and connects us on a deeper level. We hold ourselves and the school to high standards in support of those collective goals. We do not drop the kids at school each morning and ask the school to do all the work: we commit to working in partnership with the school and with other families to support all the children to become their best selves. The need and power of partnership was never more clear and vital than during this pandemic. Echo Horizon is love, friendship, laughter, fun, and lots of learning!
Lesson #3 is about growth mindset. I have been obsessed with growth mindset since it first came on the educational scene about 15 years ago with Dr. Carol Dweck’s incredible research. Dr. Dweck defines growth mindset as “a belief that success depends on time and effort. People with a growth mindset feel their skills and intelligence can be improved with effort and persistence.” (See Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.) It solidified a long-standing belief that I have always felt deep in my heart—that all children, all people, have infinite capacity to improve and achieve goals if they work at it, and that we must not limit them with stereotypes and assumptions. Remote and hybrid learning has required our students, parents, and faculty to be persistent, try new things, stay focused and put in extra effort. We have all been honing our growth mindset skills throughout the pandemic, and I believe that we will come out stronger and more committed scholars and educators because of these efforts.
This past year has been one where the divides that exist in our nation and world have been at the forefront, challenging us to consider our role in both perpetuating inequity and in combating it. Equity and access were all the more prevalent during the pandemic, as we considered who our essential workers were and who had access to technology, vaccinations, and childcare, to name a few. We must not forget the ongoing struggle for equity in our nation as we laser focus on the pandemic, as these two are inextricably linked.
Last but not least, no matter how hard things got with the pandemic, we always remembered the multitude of gifts that life has given us and faced each day with gratitude. We felt grateful each day to see the faces of our teachers and friends on Zoom. We felt grateful when our internet connection was strong. We felt grateful to enjoy lunch as a family. I have been so grateful to our Front Office and Business Office staff, who have been in the building every day since April, answering phones and making sure that school operations functioned smoothly. I have been so grateful to our Facilities team, who have worked tirelessly to keep our building clean and safe. And gratitude goes to our Nurse Laura Leyman, who supported our Leadership team in keeping up-to-date with all health and wellness protocols. Our community continually showed gratitude to the school for all our efforts, and we so appreciated your notes, emails, and calls. Oh, and yes, we really appreciated the brownie and coffee drop offs too!
While I hope never to experience another pandemic or school closure, I can honestly say that I learned a ton. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fun, but I grew as a person, as a mother, as an educator, and as a leader in ways that I never thought possible. Thank you, Echo Horizon, for being beside me every step of the way, sharing your support and kindness.
“Unity is the path forward” -- President Joe BidenPosted by Peggy Procter on 2/4/2021 10:00:00 AM
While much of my 2021 has been spent in a world filled with telebriefings on the pandemic, best practices in cleaning and ventilation, and crisis management and decision-making, the beauty of Echo Horizon and the depth of our commitment to our core values continues to shine through. These daily “glimpses'' of Echo Horizon magic keep me whole, happy, and optimistic. There is nothing that can weaken our unbreakable bond and our unwavering commitment to providing our students with the best education possible through supportive relationships between children and loving teachers and adults. While there have been so many wonderful moments, there are three events in this new year that took my breath away, embodying our Echo Horizon spirit of joyful, engaged learning and nurturing and supportive relationships.
On January 20th, I joined our Upper Elementary faculty and students for a shared viewing of the inauguration followed by guided discussion. Watching a presidential inauguration with our elder scholars in grades 3–6 was a gift. The event and discussion were carefully crafted by our amazing curricular leaders and teachers to ensure a broad and open dialogue about our American democracy in a space where all voices would be heard and honored. Core to our school and JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) missions is to create an environment where relevant and authentic discourse can happen safely. The themes and messages of the inauguration—diversity, respect, unity, dignity, and opportunity—were topics that our students were eager to reflect upon and discuss and I was so proud of their comments and their questions. Bringing up respectful global citizens who listen, wonder, and advocate is central to our curriculum and to who we are and what we believe. I was honored to be in the presence of such masterful teachers and thoughtful scholars to celebrate this historic moment for our country.
The second event that warmed my heart was our Service to Echo Horizon Honoring Ceremony, where we recognized the faculty and staff members who have dedicated more than 10 years to our School. Having the opportunity to pause to celebrate, honor, and thank ten illustrious faculty/staff members with over 10 years of experience (a collective 204 years of experience at EHS!) was an uplifting and moving event for all who attended. What a gift it was to thank the teachers and staff members who guide and mentor us, who remind us of where we’ve been, who embody the values and mission of Echo Horizon and the Echo Center, and who have dedicated so much care and love to our school, and positively affected hundreds and hundreds of children. Those honored were:
Ms. Alicia Camacho (13 years of service): our humble hero, whose incredible creativity keeps our community connected and who is always willing to lend a helping hand wherever needed.
Ms. Debbie Briggs (15 years of service): the secret to the library’s success, she keeps things running smoothly and is quick with a book recommendation or warm smile on a tough day.
Ms. Regina Gusman (16 years of service): for her unwavering dedication to employee wellbeing and to keeping the business office running so smoothly.
Ms. Ellis Enlow (17 years of service): who reminds us of a giant sequoia—mighty, magnificent, tireless, and extraordinary—whose brilliance, love, and kindness are too massive to be blown over in the wind.
Mrs. Jennifer Mascolo (18 years of service): whose unconditional love of and commitment to our Echo Center students is a model to us all about the power of relationships (and she protects us from the Zombie apocalypse too!).
Mrs. Cari Rosen (22 years of service): who brings wisdom and guidance to her colleagues and love and joy for learning to her students, whether in the classroom, at early morning care or as a welcoming light in morning carpool.
Mrs. Claudette Brown (23 years of service): who instills in all of us a LOVE of books and a ZEST for living an authentic life.
Mrs. Sheryl Udell (25 years of service): who like a sunflower has a sunny, bright, and cheery attitude and who is always optimistic in her belief in her students’ potential.
Jose Figueroa (27 years of service) who takes such pride and works tirelessly to keep our beautiful building clean and safe for our children.
And last but not least, Mrs. Kristen Reyna (30 years of service): who inspires us to seek and create beauty and joy through creativity and a celebration of diverse cultures.
We look forward to taking time in an all-school meeting soon so that our entire community can share their respect and gratitude for these incredible educators.
The third event that blew me away was our Purpose Learning Human Library event where so many community members came out and supported our 6th graders as they explored the topic of finding purpose and meaning in their lives. Students have spent the last month participating in a “Youth Purpose Summit,” led by our partners at World Leadership School and their Echo instructors Claudette Brown, Julia Blount, Dr. Patterson, Jake Willens, Ryan Young, and myself. On Friday morning, fifteen “expert human books,” many of them EHS parents, volunteered their time to be interviewed by our students about their life paths and career journeys and how they ultimately found purpose in what they do. While we are confident that our students benefited greatly from the wisdom of these adult experts, the adults shared that they were blown away by our students’ thoughtful questions, great listening skills, intellect, and maturity. They couldn’t believe that children this young were already deeply considering how to lead a life that positively impacts others and the world around them. I have no words to express how proud I am of our 6th graders!
Without a doubt, our reopening day of February 22nd will bring me great joy as we welcome all of our grade levels back to campus at last! We have missed our students so much. That said, the glimpses I have each and every day of joyful, engaged learning remind me that there exists no distance nor obstacle that can get in the way of the excellence and joy that make Echo Horizon the best elementary school anywhere!
With love and gratitude,
Reflections on Teaching and Learning during COVID-19Posted by Peggy Procter on 11/19/2020
“In loss, we need to show up” - Lucy Calkins
As you know, Echo Horizon School is committed to the Writer’s Workshop Program, founded by groundbreaking educator, Lucy Calkins. We have sent many teachers and curricular leaders to the annual training at Columbia University to learn directly from Lucy Calkins. Her wisdom, intellect, and commitment to the power of student voice inspire our community.
This year, Lucy Calkins held her closing address for the Writer’s Workshop graduates for the first time ever on Zoom, rather than in the hallowed halls of Columbia Teachers College. Her words, as always, resonated with me—but maybe they resonated more than usual as I continue to grapple with the new world of online and hybrid school. “In loss, we need to show up,” she said. Seven short words that inspired me to reflect deeply on this fall semester and the incredible work of our Echo Horizon faculty and staff.
Each and every day, we have done just that—SHOWN UP with full hearts and minds for our Echo Horizon scholars. Each morning, our faculty hop on Zoom and greet every child warmly by name, welcoming them into their grade-level community. In morning meetings, teachers check in with every child, listening deeply to their stories of how things are going. They prepare dynamic live activities and engaging lessons to ensure that our students are progressing academically. They painstakingly create asynchronous lessons so students can practice new skills on their own time and with their parents later. They hold drop-in study hours for kids who have questions, or who just need to build their confidence in the presence of a caring adult. They hold weekly one-on-ones to discuss classwork, or sometimes just to hang out and get a tour of a student’s bedroom study and their favorite toy or stuffie. It may seem hard to believe, but I am confident that the relationships built between our faculty and scholars remain as strong and as powerful as they have ever been.
And talk about showing up? Let’s think about all the extra time, creativity, and energy, our staff and administrators have put into ensuring our community remains as connected as ever. Our weekly recesses filled with fun, games, and conversation have been a big hit with our students. I loved playing “Guess the Wonders of the World” and pictionary and charades with our first, second, and third graders. Mr. Alvarado, Ms. Willens, Ms. Baltazar, and Ms. Blount amaze me with their creative recesses, filled with ridiculous games, dance parties, and support for student activism. And, honestly, what other schools have held Bingo Nights, Scavenger Hunts, All School Fun Day, car parades, and Community Celebrations like Echo Horizon has? I challenge you to find any school with as much spirit, enthusiasm, and commitment to our students’ social and emotional wellbeing as Echo Horizon. Oh, how about HALLOWEEN?!!!! The Best Ever!
Our faculty, staff, and parents association has given all of this care and love during one of the most stressful times of our adult lives. We are all carrying a heavy load of fear, stress, and pain, and have been for many many months. We are juggling complex lives of our own. We are mourning the loss of so much—freedom, friendship and connection, and at times, even loved ones—yet that does not get in the way of our deep commitment to educating children, who deserve not to be left behind during this traumatic time. There is nothing that will get in the way of giving our all to the beautiful children of Echo Horizon.
As we enter this period of Thanksgiving, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all of the ways that our faculty, staff, and parents, against all odds, have shown up for the children. They are our reason for being and when we give to them, they give back to us exponentially. I am so grateful for this virtuous cycle of love and gratitude that defines the Echo Horizon community.
Echo Horizon’s Welcoming EmbracePosted by Peggy Procter on 9/22/2020 10:30:00 AM
Returning to Echo Horizon after spring break in April was surreal. No cars lined up at carpool, no families waited at the back gate. The halls were empty and quiet. Did I even need to turn on the lights other than in the front offices? I was lonely and sad. I headed to my office and settled in, organizing myself for the day. The phone didn’t ring and no one knocked on my door. I looked on the bright side and thought that maybe I’d actually get through a project without interruptions, something that never happens on a “real” school day. I got to work.
At around 10AM, my ears perked up as I heard laughter and squeals. I wondered if I had actually dozed off and been dreaming, but that wasn’t the case. I heard little voices chattering away. I went to my window to peek, but the slightly overgrown bushes blocked my view, so I decided to go to the front door. Sherif Zakaria was at his desk; I asked him if he heard the playful noises too and he nodded. We headed to the front door and saw a small group of children playing outside with their parents or caregivers. I beamed at Sherif and he grinned back. A few children approached the door to look at us, and we held up our hands through the glass and high fived. When they moved away from the door and were a safe distance away, I went outside, mask on. I felt the adults tense up at my presence. They must have thought I was going to ask them to leave! I smiled and told them how much we missed having children around and that we loved having them play on our front grass! They seemed relieved. From that day on, there were always children and families sitting on our front steps, riding scooters in our circle, and playing on our beautiful grass.
This month, I watched a dad teach his son to throw and catch a baseball in our circle. Another morning I watched children coloring in the shade on the flat concrete at the top of the stairs. Just last Friday afternoon, I watched two families with small children set up a socially distanced family picnic dinner in the shade behind the Guy Dill sculpture.
At the most difficult of times, when a sense of community and normalcy is most needed, our beautiful school draws people in with its warm embrace. Even with a park next door, there is something more intimate and appealing about our front lawn at 3430 McManus.
It’s been hard having Echo Horizon bereft of the joy, smiles, and laughter of our students for so long, but it has been a gift to share our tranquil space with the community.
Optimism and Joy in the Time of COVIDPosted by Peggy Procter on 8/25/2020 9:35:00 AM
We just completed our new/faculty staff orientation and our Echo Center retreat and are in the midst of our planning week for the 2020–2021 school year. Despite the fact that I’ve been in education for 30 years, I feel the same excitement and jitters for the start of every school year. I know that I will toss and turn as I try to fall asleep because opening day is such a BIG deal for me!
The spring and summer were challenging for all of us—parents, guardians, teachers, staff, and administrators—as we tried to prepare for fall 2020 and envision the new normal for what school might look like. It has been a roller coaster of emotions. We hit rock bottom on that fateful day in July when Governor Newsom announced that K–12 schools would not be allowed to open until we crossed a certain threshold of cases, one that remains out of reach for Los Angeles County.
By nature I am an optimist, wired to see the bright side of every situation. And I am committed to not losing that signature optimism, despite being faced with the most complicated problem of my professional career. Yet even I have struggled mightily to keep a smile on my face (under the mask). I know that so many others are struggling with this same anxiety and sadness as the pandemic lingers. Dr. Tina Payne Bryson—psychologist, author, and parenting expert—is someone I admire greatly and whose wisdom continually impresses me. In a recent ZOOM workshop with her, I was struck and inspired by her explanations and her suggestions. She clarified that what so many of us are dealing with now is chronic stress, which “impacts the brain and body much more than individual stressors that come and go quickly.” With chronic stress, “threats are coming constantly, with no reprieve.” Our body’s nervous system response is presently “activated” and we feel untethered and unsafe. She also shared that human brains hate unpredictability, as it “undermines our sense of safety.” Times have never been more unpredictable. Dr. Payne Bryson’s clear description of what is going on in my brain as I am challenged to lead and problem solve in this ongoing crisis was helpful and freeing.
But even more importantly, Dr. Payne Bryson shared with us many suggestions for how to move forward positively during this unprecedented time. I am thrilled to say that Echo Horizon is embracing and will continue to embrace so many of her suggestions. Three suggestions stood out to me as the most important:
Predictability is vital to create consistency and safety for children as we start a new school year. Thus, Echo Horizon’s plan to open the school year with two weeks of socioemotional-focused learning, where each grade level gets to know a core team of teachers and specialists who will be a consistent presence in their lives, is a brilliant one. This two-week unit will also focus on community building to ensure that students get to know one another and understand the classroom expectations and routines. We truly believe that opening in this way will allow our students to feel safe and known, with the hope of deactivating a sense of danger and unpredictability that may have been looming.
Play and Playfulness
This suggestion was music to my ears. It is clear from our motto of “Joyful Engaged Learning” that at Echo Horizon we value play. Dr. Payne Bryson suggests “laughter, fun, and creativity to provide massive doses of safety above fear.” As a school that firmly believes that academic excellence and social-emotional learning are equally vital, we are committed to infusing joy and creativity into everything that we do. Bring on the scavenger hunts, skits, and game nights!
The Role of Adults
Dr. Payne Bryson reminded me that all of the adults in the lives of children are mirrors and we must create a culture of confidence and competence right now, despite our doubts and worries. This may be hard, but we must let our children know that WE’VE GOT THIS! It doesn’t mean having all the answers and being perfect, but it does mean creating an environment where they know that the adults in their lives are there to support, protect, listen, and lead. As I thought about this suggestion, my confidence grew. There is much that I still have to learn about leading a school through a pandemic; but it is also true that I know a TON as I have been actively educating myself for the past six months to be ready to lead with competence and confidence. Parents too must muster up all of their confidence, so that we can be strong partners in leading our children through these turbulent times together.
Our new faculty/staff Hawks have blown me away with their talents, enthusiasm, and commitment to being “all in” for our school, our children, and our families. I cried tears of joy as I thanked them for joining us on this challenging journey. At the end of our new staff orientation, my heart was full of joy and optimism for what the 2020–2021 year will bring. While yes, we are living in unprecedented times filled with uncertainty and challenge, with the help of the Leadership Team, my new faculty/staff, and the wise words of Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, I confidently share with you that I sincerely believe that these challenges will provide us with much opportunity for growth, learning, and reflection.
With gratitude and love,
Zoom Workshop: Student Wellbeing As We Return for Fall, hosted by California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) with CAIS Executive Director Dr. Deborah Dowling and panel Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP, Tina Payne Bryson, Ph’D, and Charles Sophy, MD.
The RainbowPosted by Peggy Procter on 3/24/2020 3:00:00 PM
"In every crisis, doubt or confusion, take the higher path—the path of compassion, courage, understanding and love."
—Amit Ray, Indian author and spiritual master best known for his books
and teachings on meditation, yoga, and peace.
I am not one who tends to be superstitious, but for the first time in my long life, Friday, March 13 felt like a “Friday the 13th.” I was fortunate to have afternoon carpool that day, because it was important for me to be outside greeting our parents and saying goodbye to our youngsters as I knew it might be awhile before we were together again in person. As I watched 6th grader Eli Mayer push his face to the window and wave goodbye with sadness, I fought back tears and struggled to maintain my usual cheerful demeanor. This wasn’t Eli the jokester—this was serious Eli, beginning the process of mourning the closing of his beloved school as he worried about when he might see his dear friends and teachers again. I can still see Eli’s face in that window.
On Sunday the 15th, I awoke to a light rain as the sun came up. I was feeling anxious about the next few days where I would help train our faculty in teaching their classes online, something I am far from an expert at. I stepped into the living room, glanced to the right out the window, and there it was—a gorgeous double rainbow that was growing brighter and bigger. Just when I was thinking about hunkering down for a Peggy pity party, Mother Nature decided otherwise. As I told the students in a recent Leadership Team social-emotional learning video, I am, by nature, an optimist. And this beautiful rainbow reminded me of it at just the right moment.
In art, literature, and folklore, the rainbow often appears just after a storm, when the sun struggles to break through the clouds and warm us again. In that famous Muppet song, Kermit the Frog reminds us that the rainbow is something we wish upon to give us hope. In social movements worldwide, the rainbow is a symbol of change, the coming of a new era, peace, and the beauty of diversity.
That rainbow reminded me to seek goodness and beauty and to maintain hope and optimism in the face of difficulty. When my heart aches because I miss the children so deeply, the vision of the rainbow reminds me of the laughter in the hallways, curiosity in the classrooms, and inclusion on the yards. It reminds me of the I AM LOVE cards that decorate my office door made by my thoughtful first graders. It reminds me of the glorious single stem rose that Dylan gives me every Valentine’s Day and of how nice it feels to be invited to play handball by the 4th graders. It reminds me of the love and care that our faculty give to our students each and every day. It reminds me of the warm greetings I receive from parents and students at the Back Gate each day, even on the days when I’m late!
I will hold the vision of the rainbow close to my heart each day that we are apart. Please know how much I miss you all and how much I look forward to throwing the front doors of Echo Horizon open again to greet you!
The Benefits of a Pre-K–6 EducationPosted by Peggy Procter on 12/18/2019 3:00:00 PM
As the exciting and tad bit exhausting fall admission cycle comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on the question I am most often asked: What makes Echo Horizon School so special? There are SO many factors that make Echo the joyful, engaging, unique, and inspiring place that it is! But upon reflection, I realize that our sterling quality stems from one key factor—that as a Pre-K–6 school, Echo Horizon focuses purely on elementary education.
We are elementary school experts who concentrate on the important developmental stages of childhood. We do not have to deal with or become distracted by the angst of middle schoolers (who of course are beautiful in their own unique ways!). We keep our school safe and free of the complex influences that come with having middle- and high-school students on the same campus. When you walk around our school, you feel the joyful engagement that comes from an environment that is focused 100% on the needs of young children.
We encourage our children to come to school ready to learn, play, laugh, and be their authentic selves. We love the outfits they choose, the pictures they draw, the games they invent, the questions they ask. Their curiosity inspires us. We are never, ever bored and every day we relish experiencing the unexpected. Young children are curious and we are committed to nurturing that curiosity and not stifling it with right answers and rote memorization. Our teachers love to make learning fun and engage through play, imagination, and dynamic activities. I am deeply saddened by so much research that shows that schools today are dull and lifeless places that get in the way of creativity. In the words of Dr. Tony Wagner, “students spend their school hours bored, covering irrelevant material, doing mindless tasks, taking far too many standardized tests, and having the creativity and innovation schooled out of them.” Sir Ken Robinson, in one of the most-watched TED talks of all time, claims that “schools kill creativity” and argues that “we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.” That is clearly not the case at Echo Horizon, where our students bound through the doors each day, excited for what a day in our classrooms, in the lunchroom, and on the yard will bring.
In our Pre-K–6 environment, our elder scholars have the opportunity at a younger age to be role models, mentors, and leaders. They know their voices matter and they actively share their ideas with the adults in the building. Our 5th and 6th-grade scholars have a real responsibility as buddies to our Pre-K and K students, and as admission ambassadors. They lead assemblies and all-school lunches, they run service-learning opportunities, and they are role models on the sports fields and courts. They take these jobs seriously and we seriously believe in their ability to lead. We hold them accountable for this leadership, give them feedback, and have high standards. Time and time again, the middle schools to which they matriculate comment that Echo Horizon students are wise beyond their years, mature, creative, and know-how to advocate for themselves. With all they do as leaders, it’s no surprise that they adapt so well at their new secondary schools!
The final benefit is one that is not directed at our students, but rather at the parents. As a pure elementary school, parents are fully part of the experience. They are welcomed on campus and we love having them around. Parents, you don’t need to sneak on campus and hope that we don’t see you. Middle schoolers may not want you around, high schoolers definitely don’t want their parents around, but elementary schoolers—they LOVE seeing you, and so do we! At Echo, parents can fully immerse themselves in activities and events; they make our school a better, more enriching, and vibrant place. Echo Horizon is their home too and we couldn’t imagine it any other way.
Thank you for our parents being such an integral part of this amazing Pre-K—6 community. We look forward to more wonderful years together!
1. “Students spend their school hours bored, covering irrelevant material, doing mindless tasks, taking far too many standardized tests, and having the creativity and innovation schooled out of them. Our focus shouldn't be to give all kids equal access to the same bad education. We need to reinvent education and give all kids a fighting chance in life.” Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith, Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era, Simon and Schuster, 2015, p. 58.
2. Sir Ted Robinson, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”, Apr 25, 2018, https://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_do_schools_kill_creativity
A Time of Deep GratitudePosted by Peggy Procter on 11/20/2019 9:00:00 AM
Each year around Thanksgiving, I pause to write my annual gratitude blog. Some years I look outward at the world around me. This year, my blog is deeply personal.
In April, my eldest sister Prudy was diagnosed with stage three/four ovarian cancer. As you may know, I have three sisters—Ellen and Katie from my mom and dad, and Prudy, my half sister from my dad’s first marriage. While Prudy did not live with us growing up, she was an integral part of our family. As she was 10–14 years older than the three of us, she served as our hip, cool older sister, frequently babysitting, coming to the house with her boyfriend, now husband, Bruce, and sharing stories of college. Whatever questions we were too embarrassed to ask our parents, we asked Prudy, who answered us thoughtfully, without ever making us feel juvenile or silly. I imagine that it must have been hard at times to be her, feeling left out of our close trio of sisterhood and distanced from our larger-than-life father, but she never complained. She cherished her moments in our home and in our tight knit family circle, and embraced her life as an only child of a single mom.
On the first day of April, we learned of her dire diagnosis, which had gone unnoticed for quite some time. There is a reason that ovarian cancer is called the “silent killer,” as you often don’t have any signs that you have it. Prudy, not surprisingly, was open, upbeat, and strong throughout her battle. She took on the most aggressive treatment, which included chemotherapy and surgery. She lost her hair and her appetite. She spent months on the couch, feeling terrible with little or no energy. But throughout, she remained positive and calm. When my sisters and I would visit, we’d spend hours at the breakfast table filled with food she couldn’t eat and tell stories, share laughter, and tears. If she got tired, she’d excuse herself quietly, without a fuss, leaving us to keep the party going.
On November 15th, I received a message on my phone from Pru in her steady, thoughtful voice. “Just a quick update to let you know that I got the results and I’m cancer free. No need to call back. Just wanted to let you know so you’d stop worrying. Big hugs to John and Sidney from me.” No hysteria, no big announcement, just Prudy sharing news as if it were another day.
Having lost both of our parents, there’s no doubt that Prudy quietly assumed the role of elder stateswoman of the Procter clan, quietly looking over her three baby sisters. Even when it was hard to ignore that we might lose her, she somehow assured us every step of the way that everything would be okay. How lucky we are to have been given the gift of however many more years with my beloved older sis.
At this time of thanksgiving, I feel deep gratitude for all those whom I call family—my biological family and my Echo Horizon family. You fill my life with joy, friendship, and love, and for that, I am eternally grateful. May your break be restful, peaceful, and full of heartfelt connection with self and others.
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