Atrium School

Excellence with Joy

Atrium's Third Eighth Grade Class Graduates

On June 7, seventeen Atrium students graduated from eighth grade. "These graduates are exceptional–they are kind, hard-working, and innovative thinkers,” said Marshall Carter, Atrium’s Head of School. “Whether they came to Atrium as seventh graders, or have been here since kindergarten, they've come together as a class and have been great leaders for Atrium. We look forward to hearing about their successes and adventures in high school and beyond–we're so proud and pleased to call them Atrium graduates."

The night before graduation, eighth graders and their families came together for a final class dinner at Casa de Pedro, before attending their Reflection Ceremony. During the Reflection Ceremony, Middle School teachers present reflections on each student in the class. The ceremony is a moving event that demonstrates how well each student at Atrium is known. From the reflection in rhyme to the final reflection ending in a song sung by all the Middle School teachers, each was insightful and loving–a touching testament to the students, their teachers, and the relationships they have developed at Atrium.

This year’s commencement speaker was Rabbi Shoshana Friedman ’95, rabbi at Temple Sinai in Brookline. In Atrium tradition, the commencement speaker is a graduate of the school. Rabbi Friedman began by telling students, “Atrium is alive inside of me every day–through my music, spirituality, sense of justice and devotion to the environment, service to something bigger than myself, my curiosity, and sense of myself as a life-long learner and teacher. I credit Atrium with empowering me to be a change-maker in the world.”

She continued, “In relationship to other people, working in small and large groups, we can each be in service to particular parts of the world, using the gifts we can best offer. We can’t change the world. We can do something better. We can live as gracefully as possible amidst the messiness of being human, and out of that grace we can serve others.”

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Students from Atrium’s eighth grade will be attending a variety of public and independent schools in the area: Cambridge School of Weston, Chapel Hill Chauncy Hall, Commonwealth School, Concord Academy, Gann Academy, and The Governor’s Academy, in addition to Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, Newton North High School, and Lincoln-Sudbury High School. Previous eighth grade classes have attended those schools as well as Meridian Academy, Arlington High School, and Watertown High School.

Climate Studies Combine Multiple Disciplines

Fourth and fifth graders recently completed their climate study research projects, a research study that integrates their science, reading and writing curricula with an element of engineering. The students began by learning the difference between climate and weather, and ended by creating a model of a house designed for a particular climate in tandem with writing a five-paragraph research essay about the effect of climate on lifestyle in their specific geographic location.  

Students began the project by learning the distinction between weather and climate, said fourth grade teacher Nia Lutch. “In theme, students had a science unit to learn about the science behind weather and climate. Topics covered included the phases of matter, air masses, convection currents, precipitation trends, how to find air masses, and what happens when air masses meet." 

She continued, "We talked about the different climate types and how some aspects of lifestyle, such as clothing and food, are related to climate type. We studied some houses around the world and discussed how the environments in which people live influence their decisions about how to build shelters.” 

As they learned about climate, students studied thesis statements and paragraph writing in their writing class. Students wrote three-paragraph persuasive essays on varied subjects with clear, articulate thesis statements before building up to a five-paragraph research essay exploring how climate affects lifestyle in their chosen location. At the same time, they studied features of nonfiction texts to launch their research for the essay.

While researching their climate and writing their essays, students were also designing and building a shelter for their location and climate type. Some students chose a style of house located in a specific climate, while others chose a climate and then built an appropriate house. For weeks, students were creating shelters out of recycled materials, building houses from Colombia to Indonesia, suited for myriad climates.

The culmination of the project was the Climate Expo, during which students displayed their houses with their essays to their fellow students and families. At the Expo, fourth and fifth graders were able to speak passionately about their houses, as well as the effects climate had on housing, clothing, jobs, work, and food in their chosen location.

Jonathan chose Mongolia as his climate, explaining, “People in Mongolia live a nomadic lifestyle, so this house is easy to carry and is portable. Two people and a camel can carry it. It’s made of animal skin, bamboo and wood. They move it almost every day.”

Camilo chose a Gasho house from Japan. “It looks like hands held together in prayer,” he said. “People have an expectation that when it rains or snows that the rain will go through the thatch, but the thatch is thick enough that it drips right off; it’s also at a 60-degree angle, so that helps it fall off. The thatch and the hearth keep it warm, and keep the bugs out.”

Molly built a houseboat from the Phillippines. “It’s in the water because there’s so much flooding you can’t be on land. Because the Phillippines is a poor country, there are not a lot of resources, so people use the wood cut from trees. They make blankets out of grey cloth to ward off evil spirits. This house is safer when the typhoons hit because if it rains and the water rises, you can loosen a string and cover the boat. It can also move around to go to markets or go fishing.”

Avery made an adobe house from New Mexico, saying, “It’s made entirely of clay and sticks. Clay is a natural resource. They have 297 days of sun on average every year and it’s such a hot and dry climate that they make walls of solid clay that are two to two and a half feet thick. You can’t do that with normal walls. It keeps the cool air in.”

At the Expo, students were able to talk at length about the effects of climate on various aspects of life around the world. Nia said, “By the end of this unit, each child became an expert on his or location and how climate type is related to features of a house. As teachers, it is rewarding to see the kids making connections across subject areas and becoming experts on a topic.”

Atrium Celebrates Field Day

This week, Atrium students celebrated Field Day, a long-standing school tradition. Students cycled through 13 different activities across the campus. Grouped by mixed age Constellation, children participated in chalk drawing, kush catch, parachute games, tic tac go and bubbles outside.

Inside, Constellations rotated through mini parachute play, origami and cups activities, circus arts, team walk, limbo, giant Jenga, temporary tattoos and a golf ball game. Honored during the day was P.E. teacher Emilia for her decade of service at Atrium, and the day ended with popsicles for all.

Famous Social Justice Heroes Inspire Atrium

In recent weeks, Atrium has been visited by an impressive array of social justice heroes, including Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, Cesar Chavez, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ruby Bridges!

 At the Hero Day assembly.

At the Hero Day assembly.

What made these extraordinary visits possible? For twenty years, students in Jill Ferraresso’s second grade class have been doing Heroism Studies: researching a hero from American history and then embodying them in a presentation before their class. While the project has transformed over the years, Heroism Studies are a hallmark of Atrium’s second grade curriculum; children learn how history is often driven by social justice visionaries.

Jill began the project 20 years ago to challenge a child at a reading level above her peers. Jill started her on a biography reading quest, and the student chose Clara Barton. She did a presentation for her class dressed as Clara and talked about her life. The class was captivated and a tradition was born. The project has changed over the years; now, the entire class participates and the subject matter connects to the history curriculum from the Underground Railroad to the Civil Rights Movement.

 Jill and George Washington Carver.

Jill and George Washington Carver.

Each spring, Jill assigns every child a hero and children spend the semester researching their hero’s life and contributions. Students read books and articles about their hero, seeking primary sources and learning to take notes as they collect the most accurate stories and facts they can find. For the presentation at the end of the year, students dress as their hero and emerge from a “time machine” in character.  

In the early days of the project, children could choose any famous person they found interesting, until Jill realized that she wanted them to research individuals who had helped to shape the country. In addition, she discovered that it was difficult to find comprehensive information about many of the heroes on the original list. Ultimately, she created a list of about 25 heroes, all of whom are connected to at least one other hero on the list and to the history she teaches. Most of the heroes lived in America, but the exceptions influenced what happened in the United States.

“Connecting the heroes and embedding them in the history study creates a powerful learning community for the whole class, giving us a shared story,” Jill explained. “It is thrilling for Sojourner Truth to have the chance to talk to Abraham Lincoln and for Rosa Parks and Dr. King to have conversations. It is also amazing to hear the conversations these heroes have across time periods. When we have our hero day after all the presentations, all the children dress up again, reviving their heroes and pretending that we have all met in a common time.”

 Jill and Henry David Thoreau.

Jill and Henry David Thoreau.

As time passed, Jill’s history study became a celebration of black history in the United States, and an explanation of the racism that continues in America. Jill explained that students learn about enslavement and the Underground Railroad, discussing the horrors of enslavement and the resilience, braveness and cleverness of cleverness of slaves who escaped or helped others escape via the secret codes and hiding places of the Underground Railroad.  

“When we study the Civil Rights Movement, children think about marches they have been a part of, such as marches for peace or against gun violence," Jill said. "Children ask more questions about groups like Black Lives Matter and they come to realize that racism is not over, and that the fight for equality is always in the hands of the young. Most of us will never be famous, just as most people who fought for equality during the Civil Rights Movement did not become famous. Not all heroes are famous people.  Every day ordinary people demonstrate extraordinary courage in the face of incredible obstacles.”

 Harriet Tubman.

Harriet Tubman.

In the first half of the year, second graders study what it means to be human. “Everything we learn is connected,” Jill said. “In the first semester in school, I teach children things that all human beings have in common. Children are outraged to compare our long list of human traits to the idea of bondage. If we all have feelings, smarts, and hopes and dreams, how could we do this to fellow human beings?  If we all need love, acceptance, friendship and opportunities, how could we deny these things to one another?”

As they study heroes, children keep in mind that all humans are flawed–even heroes–and anyone can make a bad decision. They also learn that anyone can be a hero, regardless of their background. “Every child takes something different out of these studies. Many are amazed that ordinary people can do extraordinary things in the face of incredible obstacles. They realize that they too, have the capacity to lead their lives in a way that spreads love. They can be an ally for other people, and they can speak up if something is wrong. They can march, protest and vote.  As Gandhi said, ‘We must be the change we want to see in the world.’”

The culmination of the children’s hard work is their hero presentation, during which students talk to their classmates for about 30 minutes about their hero. Each student writes questions for their classmates to ask about their hero, and Jill also prompts each hero to add information that might not be covered in the questions, or interesting anecdotes that help the class to better understand the hero. In the end, each student is so well prepared that he or she completely embodies their hero.

“Today Cesar Chavez presented,” Jill said. “His presentation lasted 40 minutes. His presentation told the story of his life. He infused it with his native language, speaking Spanish for some questions and then translating for us. He jumped up to passionately tell us his campaign rallying cry, ‘Si Se Puede!’ He told us incredible details about the hard lives of farm workers, the filthy conditions in which they worked, and let us know that the farm workers want what every human being wants, freedom and the chance to make a life for themselves and their families. The child doing this presentation never broke from his character, because he and Mr. Chavez had blended. I know he will never forget this day, or what Cesar Chavez has meant to him.”

 Cesar Chavez.

Cesar Chavez.

Even after the thrill of the hero presentations has ended, students treasure this project for many years. Jill explained, “I hope the children will always have their hero’s wisdom to draw on, and their hero’s example as a guide. I know that many children write about this project in their college essays. One child told me that he brought his Frederick Douglass poster to his college dorm room to remind himself of the value of learning, and the privilege of getting an education, even when it’s hard. Maybe one of the children I teach will go on to do great things for others. I hope they will all leave second grade caring about other human beings and striving for fairness and equality. No matter what happens, each of the children I teach touches my life and gives me great hope for our collective future."

Becoming a Reader: Kindergarten at Atrium

In Kindergarten (and in Pre-Kindergarten), children are already deeply involved in the complex task of becoming readers, which will continue for many years to come. Metaphorically, some have compared the process of learning to read with learning to drive, though learning to read well takes many more years to develop. In the same way that a driver must integrate and practice many separate skills, understandings, habits and awarenesses, so readers must do the same. It requires growing attention, stamina, working memory, self-direction and self-monitoring, and a healthy amount of independence, risk-taking, and confidence.  

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