Peggy Procter's Blog
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.
Reflections on Our Educational Philosophy by Peggy ProcterPosted by Peggy Procter on 10/11/2019 11:15:00 AM
Despite the fact that I have been back at work for almost two months, I continue to savor a little bit of summer, still hanging out on my balcony in the evenings and going to bed a bit too late. I wanted you to know that I will accept no accusations of procrastination as you think, “What took you so long to write this opening blog, Peggy?” Deep reflection takes time.
Over the summer months, we take time to reflect on learning and education as we watch our children’s routines and learning environments change. Summer is filled with lessons and growth, but it looks and feels different from the traditional school year schedule. Sidney had lots of fun and learning this summer, but there was one very powerful learning experience that really inspired her—a trip to the NASA Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for a weeklong Space Camp. Sidney has been obsessed with space for as long as I can remember, and going to Space Camp was a dream come true. Having never studied space myself, nor been to Alabama, I had no idea what Sidney would encounter. What she experienced over the course of the week was truly impressive—a collaborative, team-based learning environment where students were treated like aspiring astronauts. They were invited to solve real problems that exist for space professionals, challenges where their decisions could mean life or death if the mission was a real one. Sidney’s team of 15 young scholars was challenged with leading a mission to the International Space Station. Sidney was assigned the specific role of being a payload specialist, and she and her teammates made every decision about docking and landing their rocket without the support of any adults. They had successes and failures along the way, many of them due to their ability or inability to effectively communicate and resolve disagreements.
So much good can come when we give students the skills and dispositions they need to think deeply and critically, and then get out of the way. Getting out of the way isn’t always easy for us as educators and parents, and it often means that our children will face roadblocks and struggles, but this is where they truly learn and the learning sticks. And this, I believe, is something that we do exceptionally well at Echo Horizon, and support via our well-thought and inspirational best-of-both-worlds philosophy and curriculum.
Here is how we define the best-of-both-worlds educational philosophy and curriculum:
At Echo Horizon, our best-of-both-worlds curriculum combines the strongest structures of traditional education with the best researched and evidence-tested innovation. We carefully assess each developmental stage and the needs of each individual student as we build the optimal learning environment for our scholars. We remain open-minded and flexible with our approaches while also understanding that some skills must be mastered as building blocks for deeper learning.
Our best-of-both-worlds philosophy is supported by the research of experts in the field of education. These experts guide our thinking and our pedagogical decision-making. One overarching theme that our changing global world has taught us is that the skills our children need to succeed are quite different from the ones needed when we were in school. The educational system put in place during the Industrial Revolution may have served us, but it no longer serves our young people. This reality forces us to evaluate and adapt both our definition of success and the dispositions we need to teach and practice with our young people.
- In the words of Dr. Denise Pope of Stanford University, “our current fast-paced, high-pressure culture works against everything we know about healthy child development. While there is content that must be mastered, our singular focus on results has led to a lack of attention to other components of a successful life—the ability to be independent, adaptable, ethical, and motivated critical thinkers.”
- Dr. Tony Wagner posits that to create the next generation of innovators and changemakers, we must not “double-down on outmoded, formulaic solutions—but embrace the principles of play, passion, and purpose.” Children need time and space to wonder and discover, make mistakes and try again and again, and be accountable for their own learning (not just do as they are told). It’s our duty as educators to provide children with the conditions under which they can be challenged, find joy, and explore the world around them. Why do so many children dread school and count the minutes until it is over? Because we fail to create dynamic spaces where learning comes to life.
This year, our eldest scholars, the sixth-grade students, will embark for the first time on an elective entitled “Purpose Learning,” which gives them time and space to consider and act upon their interests, their passions, and the impact they can have on our community and our world. Our youngest scholars, the Pre-K and K students are using literature and field trips to explore what community means and how they might become contributing positive members of the Echo Horizon and Culver City communities.
At Echo Horizon, we are committed to creating these “dynamic spaces where learning comes to life.” I hope that you all had wonderful summers (and Septembers and Octobers!) filled with learning, reflection and growth. We commit to continuing that growth for you and your children in diverse and engaging ways!
1 Pope, D., Brown, M., & Miles, S. Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids. John Wiley & Sons, 2015.
Reflections on the College ScandalPosted by Peggy Procter on 5/31/2019 10:30:00 AM
As the flurry of news spread this spring about the unbelievable and widespread college admissions scandal, I must admit I tried to disconnect from it by thinking “Thank goodness I don’t run a high school anymore.” But my efforts to brush it aside failed, because I knew deep in my heart that the pressure and anxiety don’t start when students reach high school, but much earlier. It’s vital that elementary school educators and parents reflect thoughtfully on this scandal and examine our own beliefs and practices to ensure that we aren’t planting the seeds that ultimately lead to such distress and unethical behavior.
One of the first places I turned to for wisdom and reason after the scandal broke was Challenge Success, a program at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education that partners with K– 12 schools, faculty, families, and communities “to embrace a broad definition of success and to implement research-based strategies that promote student well-being and engagement with learning.” Roger and I spent many years leading the Challenge Success initiative at our previous school, so we are well-connected with this phenomenal organization. Stanford GSE Research Associate Paul Franz wrote with wisdom and courage in his recent blog:
“The admissions scandal is sad not just because it represents a violation of trust, but because it lays bare how harmful our assumptions about higher education are. Many in our society sincerely believe that the difference between admission to an elite college and rejection from the same is the difference between success and happiness, on the one hand, and poverty, misery, and failure on the other. That’s simply untrue. . . . We can do better by our students . . . by changing the narrative around success and scarcity in our culture. There are many kinds of success, and many roads to get there. If our definition of success costs us the health, well-being, engagement, and emotional development of our children, or our own personal ethics, we should reconsider that definition.”
As an elementary school leader, I am excited to have the opportunity to work closely with parents, students, faculty, and staff to challenge this dangerous narrative of success early on, ensuring our Echo Horizon graduates a better chance at engagement, well-being, and a healthy self-awareness and confidence. Echo Horizon’s motto, which I adore, is “Joyful Engaged Learning.” Learning should not be a tedious or painful experience. While yes, it is often challenging, hard work, it should excite and inspire our children to question, imagine, and better understand themselves and the complex world in which we live. Our teachers, leadership team, and counselors work closely with parent/guardians to understand developmental benchmarks and suggest positive strategies as we navigate the elementary school experience together.
Over the past two years, I have been honored to work with our dedicated faculty on initiatives like creating inclusive classrooms where all students feel safe, valued, and heard; creating cultures of thinking where inquiry, questioning, and exploration are welcomed; developing a mindful social-emotional learning initiative that values character and kindness over personal achievement; and instilling in all students a growth mindset in which mistakes are viewed as an important and necessary step towards learning, discovery, and self-improvement.
At Echo Horizon, we believe the powerful words of Martin Luther King: “intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.” Our teachers seamlessly weave academic learning with character development: mathematical lessons reinforce the character traits of curiosity and optimism, science lessons incorporate the SEL traits of interconnectedness and kindness, MakerSpace lessons emphasize growth mindset, and literature lessons encourage introspection and gratitude.
Students are more likely to retain and engage with concepts that they connect to and relate with. When learning is connected to feeling, the learning is deeper and more relevant. At Echo Horizon, we create dynamic and balanced classrooms because we know how important trusting relationships, emotional safety, and engagement are for children. A report by the National Research Council Institute of Medicine reinforces this belief: “Children grow and thrive in the context of close and dependable relationships that provide love and nurturance, security, responsive interaction, and encouragement for exploration.”
Last year, I loved engaging with our fourth-grade students during their unit that revolved around the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Roger, Meg, and I partnered with the teaching team to create vibrant discussions and lessons around inclusion, friendship, relational aggression, similarities, and difference. In our effort to support our students during this unit in building empathy, we partnered with the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust to learn about Jewish life before the war and to explore concepts of identity, diversity, stereotyping, and resistance. The students also participated in a bread-making and braiding activity with Holocaust survivors and learned about their families and their childhood stories. Finally, we headed downtown on opening day to watch the newly released movie Wonder with the rest of the upper grades. Our fourth graders enjoyed this wide variety of activities while also focusing on the foundational skills of vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, and writing.
There is a quote from the book that stays with me always, and that seems important right now when this scandal demonstrates that society is struggling to make good decisions about what matters. “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” Just like Auggie Pullman inspired me in the book and the film Wonder, our Echo Horizon students and teachers inspire me each and every day with their unwavering commitment to doing and being better—as friends, role models, citizens, scholars, and human beings.
- Challenge Success
- Paul Franz, “Reflections on a College Admissions Scandal: A Teachable Moment,” March 13, 2019, Challenge Success,
- John P. Shonhoff and Deborah Phillips, eds., From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development, the National Academy of Sciences, 2000.
- Elliot Haspel, “Here’s the best thing you can do for your kids, parents. (Pssst: it’s easy.)” the Washington Post, March 25, 2019.
R.J. Palacio, Wonder, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 2012.
Reflections from the Big Sur CoastPosted by Peggy Procter on 5/1/2019 7:00:00 AM
There is no place more stunning than the rugged Big Sur coast, with its green hillsides, jagged rocks and crashing waves, water in hues of blue and turquoise, and isolated coves that can only be glimpsed from a distance. I had the joy this weekend of spending a LONG time on the coast, savoring the views while pondering my existence.
I am not a runner. I have never been one; I don’t aspire to be one. But running has played a role in my life and taught me many valuable lessons. I ran for the first time in college, along the beautiful trails outside of Hanover, New Hampshire. I ran in Zermatt, Switzerland, as a means of exploring the trails that I would lead my students on during afterschool activities. I ran again during my year abroad in Spain in the Parque del Retiro of Madrid and in the towns and hills outside this great city. And just this past weekend, I ran along a 21.2 mile stretch of the Big Sur coast.
To me, running has always been about learning and discovering. What did the beautiful areas outside of the Dartmouth College campus look like? Who lived there? How did they live? Did their lives connect to the lives of the thousands of students studying at the college? In Zermatt, who were the men and women who walked in the mountains every day grazing their cows? (Yes, they had cowbells!) In Madrid, how did the families who lived in this big city escape the urban sprawl and connect as friends and families in their beautiful park? And finally, how might I explore the rugged California coast without doing it from behind the glass window of a fast-moving car?
Along with the exploration of new places, running for me has always been about connecting —with nature, with myself, with the people of the place, with a running partner. I met some of my best friends at college on those trails and I’ve deepened relationships with friends and colleagues through the challenge of a long run. I’ve met people from different cultures and backgrounds when I stopped for water along my route or when I knocked on a door because I was lost and couldn’t find my way back to the train station.
On Sunday, Saundra Sparks and I watched the morning turn from dark to light among the majestic trees of Andrew Molera State Park. There was a chill and dampness in the air that is rare in Los Angeles. At 6:30AM, the race began. While many runners sped along looking at their watches and clocking their paces, Saundra and I took our time, savoring the views, snapping a photo or two, cheering on the female marathoners who sped by us at an unfathomable pace. We had enough breath to chat along the way and I learned more about Saundra’s life journey; her first trip to Africa and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro; and what it feels like to be an African American runner amidst a sea of white. We paused here and there to snap photos and to listen to the music along the route—taiko drummers, a jazz band, and a pianist dressed in a tux at his grand piano! A high point for me was rounding a bend and hearing disco music blasting and then spotting a dancing Tyrannosaurus Rex. I gave Saundra that look and she rolled her eyes, and then yes, I sprinted to the dinosaur and wasted precious energy and time humiliating myself with some disco moves. No one else on the route stopped to join me, they kept their heads down, focused on their time and the ground beneath their feet. But that moment of connection and silliness served me well; I started up the hill after my dinosaur break with a big smile on my face and renewed energy.
Big Sur is a magical place that reminds me of all that exists both within and just outside of the beautiful and complex city we call home, Los Angeles. And running reminds me each day to slow down, observe all that exists around me, and connect with it. Why go fast when there’s so much to miss? We try to teach our young scholars at Echo Horizon that it’s not reaching the destination that matters, but the journey and all that you learn and experience along the way that truly transforms you.
Choosing the Right SchoolPosted by Peggy Procter on 2/22/2019
As I reflect back on my own search to find the right school home for my daughter, I am reminded of both the anxiety and the beauty of the process. I think of our prospective parents and of our Echo Horizon parents who are considering middle schools, and the questions they are asking. Do we have enough information to make this decision? What will it be like to go to x school? How well will our precious child do at x school? None of these questions are fully answerable, as the future is unknown and who and how your child will react to any situation is impossible to predict. As parents, all we can do is our best—ask good questions, explore our options carefully, and ultimately to trust our instincts that we know what is best for our family in this particular moment. As G. F. Bradenberg, teacher and blogger, stated in a Washington Post article to parents seeking schools for their children, “Nobody is a better expert than you are.”
The anxiety: My daughter walked into her interview and visit day pretty overwhelmed. She picked a fight with her dad right outside the building, and proceeded to share her negative vibes and energy with—yes—the Director of Admission. When my husband told me I was horrified, and thought about what a terrible parent I was, as clearly, it was my fault that she was being bratty. How had I not prepared her? Why hadn’t I fed her a better breakfast? Luckily, she did recover and was able to show her positive self during the visit. The Admission Director reassured me that acting out is developmentally appropriate and normal during this process. Phew.
The beauty: The decision about which school to select is an opportunity to focus on what your family values and what type of environment you feel your child and you, as parents/guardians, will thrive in. Selecting a school helped me to hone in on a few key beliefs: that kindness matters, that diversity and inclusion matter, and that curiosity and scholarship matter. I wanted a school that would welcome all of the questions and wonder that my little girl has in her head. I wanted a school that saw her for exactly who she was in that moment and that could honor that person despite deficiencies and missteps. I wanted a place that valued community and that would challenge my daughter and my family to broaden our perspective and teach us more about the world and other people’s stories. I wanted a place where joyful learning was at the center of it all; a place whose graduates are confident, curious, and kind students. I encourage you all to take the time to reflect on your own family and what matters most to you, as matching your values to an institution’s values is so important.
In closing, I want to share with you some wisdom from an article in The Atlantic by Gail Cornwall. She states how important it is for parents to consider a wide array of factors when considering a school. She suggests that parents search for “better information—information on things like the relationships between teachers and students, how students interact with each other, and the degree to which students are engaged and happy to be there.” At Echo Horizon, we believe in academic excellence in a diverse and balanced environment, where all faculty and staff care deeply for children and where students and families are seen, heard, and valued. For our prospective parents: If our mission matches your values, we truly hope you’ll join us for a journey of Joyful Engaged Learning. And please, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or any member of my Admission or Leadership Team if you have any questions or just want to talk more with someone about this process and our school. We want what you want—the best school/home fit for you and your child and family.
1 Jay Matthews, “9 ways to pick a great school for your child,” the Washington Post, February 16, 2012.
2 Gail Cornwall, “Why Parents Make Flawed Choices About Their Kids’ Schooling,” The Atlantic, October 18, 2017.
On Loss, Love, and KindnessPosted by Peggy Procter on 12/11/2018
On October 24 in Catalina, after a long and beautiful day of kayaking, hiking, and enjoying our fifth graders’ company, I stared at a glorious California full moon. I wasn’t sure why, but that moon felt magical, meaningful, and important. As I looked up at the gorgeous moon, little did I know that my mother-in-law, Elaine Johnston, was at that exact moment making her journey from life to death. When I learned of her passing, I felt sad that I hadn’t been with John by her side at her home. But that thought was fleeting because I knew in my heart that I was exactly where she would want me to be: by the side of her youngest granddaughter and the 29 other beautiful fifth-grade children that I consider mine on their journey of growth and exploration.
Elaine was one of the kindest people I have ever known. She was deeply religious—her faith guided who she was and everything that she did. In my fourteen years of knowing her, she was always gracious and welcoming, thoughtful and sweet. Honestly, she never once raised her voice, not even when her precious son was being difficult. I certainly can’t say the same! Born in Chicago in 1923, she was the first in her family to go to college. She taught math to high school students until she married Thomas Johnston and went on to have and raise five children. John was the only boy and the youngest by many years, so Sidney was her late-in-life gift, the seventh and final grandchild, whom she loved with all her heart. She and Sidney spent many lovely days at her home by the San Francisco Bay, reading books, playing piano and dominoes, and feeding peanuts to the blue jays who frequented her rose-filled patio. The two things she valued most were her family and her church and thankfully, she spent her final days surrounded by family and the parishioners of St. Hilary’s Church. The priest who spoke at her service shared a story of a unique gift Elaine had sent to him last Christmas—a big box of Omaha steaks—and a card that wished him to enjoy this gift in the company of loved ones.
As the world around us gets more chaotic, more unkind, and less tolerant, I will think often of my mother-in-law and channel her spirit of gentle kindness. In the words of Mother Teresa, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are truly endless.” Elaine has affected me in endless ways and I hope to honor her memory through simple acts of love and kindness.
In loss one seeks community—a space of safety and warmth where one is surrounded by people who care. There is no better place to be at a time of sadness and grief than surrounded by the children of Echo Horizon, who like Elaine, make the world a better place through their joy and kindness. I see little glimpses of Elaine in all of their smiling faces. I will never forget returning to work on the Monday after the service to find a card in my box from a kindergartener, who likely knew nothing of my loss. It read, “Ms. Procter, Thank you for working so hard. You are so good at being Head of School!” Later that week, a third grader appeared in my office with a little gift, a lovely blue crayon she had made in the Makerspace engraved with my name and that of Echo Horizon. These simple acts have gotten me through sad days and help remind me to cherish and honor this gift of life. I am so grateful to our Echo Horizon children who continually lift me up and remind me of what it means to love and be loved! Please accept my heartfelt gratitude for all that you do to make Echo Horizon so beautiful and kind. Wishing you and your family much love, joy, and kindness this holiday season!
- Echo Horizon School
- Head of School Blog