A World Without Safe Havens

A World Without Safe Havens

Submitted by: Jennifer McGee, Principal of Atwood Primary School

June 12, 2016

Yesterday, when I woke up, I saw the news. There on the television screen, along the bottom, scrolled: 50 dead, 53 injured.   As the morning progressed, more news came out about the venue…a nightclub in Orlando…a safe haven for people who are gay, bi-sexual, transgender.

A safe haven? Is there any such place? Not a nightclub. Not a marathon. Not a theater. Not a workplace. Not a church. Not a school.

The words of Zoe Weil rang in my ears: The World Becomes What You Teach.   What is our role, as school administrators, raising children in a world that has no safe haven?

I often quote Randy Pausch from The Last Lecture. In his book he prophetically states: “Are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all you have.” As I headed out to my garden plot, where I do my best thinking, I thought about our use of time at school. How should we use time to explicitly work to make our world safe?

When I was a child, we used to go for Sunday drives. We would randomly stop at friend’s houses to visit…to share a pie or drop off a loaf of homemade bread…to catch up. Neighbors stopped in to visit us; we stopped in to visit them. Lives weren’t so full. There was time to visit. There was time to get to know our neighbors. I moved in to my new home in August, and ten months later I have not visited a single neighbor.

As school administrators, that is one thing we can do differently. We can insist that our teachers KNOW their students. We can make sure no one goes through our schools anonymously. We can prioritize relationships in the walls and in the halls of our buildings so children do not leave our schools feeling empty, alone, angry and alienated. And for those children who are difficult to bond with…we can create a plan to help them get what they need. As difficult as some of our students are in 2016, we have never had more knowledge about the brain, and we have never had more resources than we have today. Our job is to never look away from a child who needs help. Life is a journey meant to be shared. If our children are isolating, it’s a call for help.

We can teach kindness. If that sounds hollow, I mean it deeply. Although we cannot always control how our students behave…we can ALWAYS control the way we respond to that behavior. Our response to each and every situation should always be kind, humane, and respectful … always leaving students with their dignity. Children are watching…believe me…they are watching. I can always tell, the minute I walk into a classroom, if the teacher models kind interactions…because in those classrooms, the children are also kind. Lead with kindness. Insist on kindness.

We should teach children to value life. All life. Those who connect to the earth are healthier…mind, body and soul. Today’s children can more readily identify the symbols of Target, McDonald’s and Sweet Frog than they can name dandelions, chickadees, blue jays and daffodils. When a child spots a spider making a web, teach them to slow down and admire the work of nature, rather than to thoughtlessly tear apart the web or kill the spider. Connect children to the natural beauty of the world…plants, animals and human beings. There is wonderful variety in all of these species…find and notice and revere the beauty in all of it.

Because insecticides are not used on organic fruits and vegetables, they are often riddled with blemishes and flaws; however the taste and quality of the vegetables are just as sweet as the visually perfect fruits and vegetables. Our schools need to deliberately teach our students to look beyond the superficial and look more deeply into the value of human beings. We need to work very hard to find all of the ways every person can meaningfully contribute, and then honor those contributions. As teachers, every child should receive specific and thoughtful feedback that inspires and moves that child forward.

As our students watch and listen to the adults surrounding them, they should never, ever hear a statement that devalues a contribution. To hear a slur from a coach that a male player needs to “pull up his skirt” or to hear a teacher say a student will “flip hamburgers for a living” is unconscionable.   If a trusted adult is using phrases that devalue any component of our population, we are in essence giving carte blanche permission for cruelty, for bullying and for prejudice. Words hurt. We need to use them carefully.

When high school students graduate, I often give them a book called The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence by Gavin de Becker. Perhaps now is the time to actively teach our students to use the gift of their own intuition. Gavin de Becker teaches us: “You have the gift of a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you through risky situations.” So often, we talk ourselves “out” of the feeling when the “hair stands up on the back of our necks”. That feeling is our intuition, and as a nation, we need to start listening. When a neighbor is acting strangely, when a shopper is behaving in an unusual manner, when we feel fear, we need to report. If we are wrong, we are wrong…but if we are right…we could save lives. Homeland security, the local police, and the FBI have not been enough to keep innocent people safe. We all need to actively use our “gift” of fear.

In our schools we are teaching children how to respond to fire drills, but we are also having lock downs, lock outs, and hold in place drills…the time has come. Even Fenway Park had an emergency drill before a ball game last week. We need to start preparing ourselves for the unthinkable.

In summary, however, like Anne Frank, even on the eve of the horrific Orlando mass shootings, “…in spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.” As school leaders if we can ensure every child has an educational journey enshrined in kindness, acceptance, a connection with nature and a respect for life, and if we can promise every adult in our buildings is a positive and healthy role model who is committed to establishing meaningful relationships with students, we will have spent our time on the right things…moving our world to be what we want it to become.














May Principal’s Pen

From the Principal’s Pen

May 2016

Submitted by: Jennifer McGee, Principal of Atwood Primary School


I used to love May Day as a child. The first day of May was so exciting. My sister and I would craft May Baskets out of crepe paper and cups and pipe cleaners, and fill them with candy and hang them on the doorknobs of our friends. It was a lovely way to celebrate the arrival of spring.   Every now and again, I still see May Baskets. I know the Girl Scouts still hang them, but mostly, I think, it is a tradition that has passed.

Traditions come and go; they fluctuate and change with the times. When I was a child, Martin Luther King Day was not honored, there was no Earth Day, and we used to celebrate a day: Children’s Sunday, at church. Times change.

In schools, we traditionally have had our students make Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts. Teachers would search Pinterest endlessly and come up with a variety of wonderful ideas and crafts to honor these holidays. We decided not to do that any longer.

Although, Mother’s and Father’s Days in your homes can be lovely, special occasions, for many children, having gifts from school specifically for Mom and Dad, can be painful or stress provoking.

Imagine a child who has lost a parent. Bringing home a “gift” for a parent who is absent, creates a confusing and painful void. Some children who have two mothers or two fathers or stepmothers and stepfathers, feel forced to “choose one”. We need to be highly sensitive to children as we approach these occasions. This year, if your child’s teacher chooses to make a spring craft, it will be: for someone who loves me, plain and simple.

May is such a hopeful month. The sun begins to shine. Our spring bulbs pop through the earth in bright colors, boasting the arrival of spring. It is also a month filled with honoring those who serve. I invite you to celebrate these days of recognition in whatever manner you choose, but I will list them here for your information:

  • May 2 begins Teacher Appreciation Week
  • May 6 is School Nurse’s Day
  • May 10 – May 16 Police Officers’ Week
  • May 16 Armed Forces Day
  • May 17 – 23 Emergency Medical Services Week
  • May 30: Memorial Day/ No School

As my colleague, Nancy Reynolds, principal of the Bean School, shared with me: According to Laura T. Coffee, of Today’s Parent Blog, “One of the best ways to give kids practice in real-world kindness is to serve others. Get the whole family involved to serve people in need. Find opportunities to lend a hand with any place of worship, local scout troops, Habitat for Humanity, animal shelters, nursing homes, even the guidance department at your child’s school. When kids realize the impact they can make by serving and being kind to others, you begin to foster a servant’s heart in them, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

Enjoy the month of May. For your planning, remember there is no school Friday, May 27 and Monday, May 30…a four day weekend for you to plan your adventures! Please keep in mind, our annual American Cancer Society fundraiser parade will be at 9:00 a.m. on June 3. Wear purple and join us for our annual service project! Also, our second annual Atwood Primary Carnival will be held on June 10 at 12:30 here at the Atwood Playground. If you are interested in helping me make this an amazing day for your children, please be in touch with me by email (jmcgee@rsu18.org) or by phone (465-3411) or by dropping by my office!

Educationally Yours,


Jennifer McGee, Principal of Atwood Primary School


A very special THANK YOU to Joy Charles and her family for beautifying the entrance to our school over April vacation. It was a wonderful gift to our entire community. Thank you!








April Principal’s Pen

From the Principal’s Pen

April 2016

Submitted by: Jennifer McGee, Principal of Atwood Primary School

 One of my fondest childhood memories was a rescue I performed with my grandparents. During a weeklong stay at Empire Grove Campground, with my grandmother and grandfather, a tiny red bird appeared at our door stoop, injured. As it turned out, the bird was a scarlet tanager, a sweet little red bird with black wings.

The bird chose the right household! Both of my grandparents immediately went into action. My grandfather gently cupped his hands around the injured bird and delicately brought it into the house. My grandmother scurried around in her potting shed and emerged with a birdcage from days gone by. My weeklong stay became all about the loving care of this little bird, our new favorite feathered friend. My grandparents let me name him, and probably much to their disappointment, I named him Bobby Sherman (after a 1970’s teenage heart throb).

April 22 is Earth Day. The children of Atwood Primary School have decided to celebrate Earth Day by collecting donations for an organization named Avian Haven. The Brunswick High School Action Team will be visiting our school on April 1, during our school-wide town meeting, and launching the Avian Haven Fundraiser and Donation Collection.

Avian Haven is, in fact, a “bird hospital”. They are located in Freedom, Maine and operate through volunteerism and donations. The Avian Haven provides injured birds, throughout the state of Maine:

  • comprehensive medical care in modern, well-equipped clinic
  • rehabilitation in an environment designed to simulate natural conditions
  • research and education to other wildlife rehabilitators and wildlife professionals on a local, state and national level
  • opportunities for enhanced awareness and education to the general public and academic institutions

If you want to learn more about Avian Haven, go to www.avianhaven.org

On the back of this Principal’s Pen, you will find a comprehensive list of items and gift cards you can donate to Avian Haven. We will also accept money. As your child brings a donation in, he/she will be able to write their name on an owl to place on our donation tree, and each child will be able to place their donation in our giant nest.

By the way, we did heal Bobby Sherman. I remember the release of Bobby like it was yesterday. We opened little Bobby’s cage and he perched on the edge of his doorway, tipped his head in our direction, and flew away until he became a little red dot on the horizon. It feels so good to tend and nurture and take care of nature.  It is so essential to teach children to take care of all of Earth’s creatures.
Happy April and Happy Earth Day Atwood Families.

Educationally Yours,

Jenny McGee


April Dates to Note:

Friday, April 1: School-wide Assembly and Launch for Avian Haven…1:35 to 2:15…you are welcome to attend

Monday, April 4: No School for KINDERGARTEN ONLY….Kindergarten Screening Day

Friday, April 15 through Friday, April 22: No School/ Spring Vacation

March: From the Principal’s Pen

From the Principal’s Pen

March 2016

The finest hour I have seen

Is the one that comes between

The edge of night and the break of day…

It’s when the darkness rolls away.

  • Kate Wolf (songwriter)

I was bullied in school. At first she made fun of my height. Next she made fun of my clothes. She made fun of my laugh. Made fun of my grades and on and on and on. Made fun of my glasses. Made fun of my braces. Finally, I thought the grand finale…she jumped up on a table during school lunch and announced to everyone, the fact that I hadn’t been asked to the prom. But, it didn’t stop there. The last straw, when I finally told my parents, she kept running into the back of my car with her car.

I take bullying seriously. I have been there and know what it feels like to be the victim of someone’s hatred…not really knowing why, and being afraid day after day of what would be next.

Research tells us bullies behave the way they do for the following reasons:

  • hurt, anger and difficulty at home
  • lack of attention from friends, parents or teachers
  • trying to feel popular or tough or cool
  • they are victims of bullying themselves
  • in-sensitive to others and unable to empathize due to difficult up bringing
  • exposure to violent films, violent video games

Obviously, children who are bullied at school do not feel safe or secure. Schools are obligated to respond swiftly and aggressively to ensure bullying STOPS. However, schools also have the unique challenge of caring for the victim and simultaneously caring for the bully. You see, research tells us, “Young bullies tend to remain bullies without appropriate interventions.” (Olweus bullying study)

We have some bullying here at Atwood. Truthfully, not a lot. We work very hard to create an environment where children care about one another and treat one another with kindness. With that said; however, occasionally, we do have bullying. When that happens, I use research to respond. Research does not say that PUNISHMENT is the key to stopping a bully from bullying.

As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite. Punishment works for people who are able to respect and respond to rules…you know, for those children who quake in fear at the thought of being sent to the principal’s office or for that child who cries when spoken to sternly by an adult. But for the typical bully, punishment is not the key. I subscribe to the author Ross Greene’s philosophy, as articulated in the book: Lost at School. Ross Greene teaches us that some children have lagging skills, and in order to change their behavior, you have to actively teach those skills. I believe this is especially essential in elementary schools…when children are still malleable and eager to learn.

In the fall, during our Atwood town meetings, the children were taught about bullying, bullying prevention, and what to do if you are being bullied or see somebody being bullied. Each Thursday, Mr. Sean (Sean Landry) from the Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center and brought in his puppet: Rusty (the children love Rusty) to teach us in a gentle and fun manner. The children are very familiar with the terms up-stander and by-stander and M.O.O. (Mean, Over and Over and On Purpose).

Although we are well educated, there are still times when children are unkind to one another. I always say, “It takes a village to raise a child.” We are part of the village and so are all of you. Here are some suggestions if your child is being bullied:

  1. Talk to your children, really talk to them about their day. When they tell you their problems, offer suggestions for helping them solve their problems. Talk about different strategies for problem solving, and also tell them to report their problems to adults here at school.
  2. Remember at school, it isn’t helpful to tell your children to “fight back”. Fighting at school is never allowed, and retaliation is not the answer. They can sternly and firmly tell a child to STOP, they can walk (or run) away, they can get an adult to help, but “fighting back” isn’t helpful.
  3. Listen to your children and remain calm. Sometimes it is difficult to get the WHOLE story…children are sometimes hesitant to tell their role in a situation. Don’t be too quick to step in. Having children attempt to solve their own problems and work out their own struggles is healthy! Keep a close eye and ear but don’t jump in too quickly.
  4. Work together with our school. Sometimes it is difficult to hear that your child may be a part of the problem. (Believe me when I say, I have been there.)

Years later, after I graduated from high school and went to college, I had a chance to reflect on the situation I faced in high school…to think about the person who bullied me. When I think back, she really had nothing. I was the “principal’s daughter” (my father was the principal of my high school), and if she had a father, he was never in her life. Her life was filled with violence and crime and arrests and substance abuse. I am certain she fell into the bullying category because she had only been treated unkindly herself. Things may have been different if someone had reached out to her with kindness at a very young age.

As hard as it is, part of the anti-bullying campaign lies with our school families. When you have parties and you send out invitations, rather than leaving out the child who “bullies”, maybe invite the child and extend kindness. It may be the only kindness that child is shown. I know it is tempting to avoid doing so, but you may, in fact, be “the break of day” for that child, “when the edge of darkness rolls away”.

Educationally Yours,
Jennifer McGee, Principal

Dates to Note:

March 10: Early Release for teacher in-service/ 12:00 release

March 11: Full Day In-service for teachers/ no school


February: From the Principal’s Pen

From the Principal’s Pen

February 2016

Submitted by: Jennifer McGee

I remember when I was an English teacher at Lawrence Junior High School. Some days, the students could silently read a book of their choosing. I used to walk around that silent classroom and look at the titles of the books in my students’ hands: Jurassic Park, The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne of Green Gables, Hatchet, Go Ask Alice, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I loved the moment when every child had escaped into the world their book was presenting. One student would be at Jurassic Park while another was in Prince Edward Island and the classroom they were sitting in had disappeared. Magic.

The best news in our school comes in the form of a child breaking the English code! We get VERY excited at Atwood Primary School, when children become readers! Really, our life’s work here is to help children become true blue readers! Therefore, when it happens, we celebrate!

One of the highlights of my school day happens when a child wanders in to my office holding a book they want to read to me. The children almost always try to imitate their teachers, reading the words with expressive voices while holding up the pictures for me to see! Teachers send them to my office as a way of celebrating a child’s hard work and perseverance.

Learning to read is not easy or automatic for all children. Children learn at different times and at different rates.   We set “benchmarks” for children’s reading as a general guide to help us design our teaching in each grade level. Below, I am going to share some passages with you that come from the END of the school year benchmarks. These passages are to give you a very general idea of what we hope your child will be able to read at each grade level.

Kindergarten: Fox and Rabbit went to see Bear. On the way, they met Deer. (level 6)

First Grade: Lola wanted to play on a team. On Monday, she went to try out for the volleyball team. “Sorry!” the coach said. (level 16-18)

Second Grade: Together, they tugged and pushed and tugged some more. At last, they got the nest off his head. (level 28)

Don’t panic if your child isn’t “there” yet! Remember, these are simply guidelines; however, know there are ways YOU can help at home. According to the National Institute for Literacy, what parents do with their children at home is the number one determinant for a child’s success in reading! Here are the suggestions from the National Institute for Literacy:

  1. Talk with your child often…as you eat together, shop for groceries, walk to school, wait for the bus.
  2. Have your child use his imagination to make up and tell you stories. As questions that will encourage him to expand the stories.
  3. Have conversations about family photographs. Have your child look at the pictures and tell you about them. It helps children make connections between pictures and stories.
  4. Listen to your child’s questions patiently and answer your child just as patiently.
  5. Talk about books that you have read together. Ask your child about favorite parts and about the characters in the books.
  6. Pay attention to how much television your child is watching. Set aside “no screen” times!
  7. Tell stories about your childhood.
  8. As you read with your child, have them point out things they are noticing about the pictures or the words.
  9. Sing and say nursery rhymes and songs.
  10. Play word games. (example: how many words can YOU say that rhyme with bat?)
  11. Make an alphabet book with your child. Use pictures from magazines, or drawings, or cut out photographs. Read the alphabet book together, enjoying your creating and solidifying your child’s knowledge of the sounds letters make!
  12. Point out words and labels EVERYWHERE! Even label things in your house to help your children make important connections.
  13. Encourage your child to write notes, make lists, email, write letters, and send texts.
  14. Listen to your child read.
  15. Read to your child.

Together we can create a community of readers. We can open your child’s world up to a candy factory with a chocolate river, green eggs and ham, a talking pig whose best friend is a spider named Charlotte, a little mouse named Stuart Little, and a curious monkey named George and eventually to the page turning excitement of The Hunger Games or the anguish Of Mice and Men. The journey begins here, at Atwood Primary School. Come along and join us!

Educationally Yours,

Jennifer McGee

Dates to Note:

Winter Break: February 15 – 19 No School




January: From the Principal’s Pen

From the Principal’s Pen

January 2016

Submitted by: Jennifer McGee, Principal of the Atwood Primary School

The Gift of Failure

One of the foundational statements in our RSU 18 Guiding Principles is: “Learning is enhanced when learners are encouraged to take risks, understanding that mistakes are inherent in the learning process.” I happen to strongly agree with this statement and have often said, “You learn more from failure than from success.” However, as easy as this is to say, when failure becomes personal…it can be a difficult pill to swallow.

My daughter graduated high school and university with high honors. She was admitted to a one year Master’s program, and although it was very difficult, she graduated last May with her Master’s Degree and with honors. She made plans to move to southern Maine and began interviewing for jobs. By the end of July, she had two job offers to work in school systems, and before accepting the job of her choice, she just had to complete her board exams.   Well…you can guess the end of this story. She failed her boards.

When she called me after the exam, I could barely understand her words through her gasping sobs. My heart sank.   “Mom, I failed. I failed…”.

The day after her test, she had to call both school systems and decline the jobs, and any other jobs out there were no longer options. In order to receive her state licensure, she had to pass this test, and she could not re-take the test for 90 days…and no jobs were options without that all important licensure.

As we navigated her heartbreak as a family, I kept thinking about our guiding principle: “….mistakes are inherent in the learning process…”, so I worked very hard to come up with valuable lessons being learned through this experience with failure. It was hard. It didn’t make sense. Diana was a high honors student. She should not have failed. I came to a conclusion. It must have been someone else’s fault.

I blamed the University of Maine: They didn’t prepare her. I blamed the test: It was too confusing…too tricky…too ridiculous. I blamed the testing location: What no water breaks, no bathroom breaks? I blamed myself: I didn’t teach her how to take a test…we didn’t spend enough time talking about test taking. I blamed the universe at large: Why? Why? Why are you punishing her? And then I came to another conclusion: Blaming is not really helping the situation.

What I discovered is when you are in the middle of the failure experience, it is hard to see what lessons you are learning, but when you get to the other side and look back…there are SO MANY wonderful gifts that come from failure.

Angela Lee Duckworth speaks in a powerful Ted Talk about the ONE predictor of future success. The greatest predictor of success is GRIT. If someone has enough grit…not intelligence, not test scores, not wealth, not talent….but grit…they have the greatest chance of reaching their potential.   When you fail…in order to get past that failure…you need to access your grit!

Many years ago, when my middle son was in high school, he was the high school goalie. When his team was playing against Bangor, they were losing…badly. The coach benched Max. I didn’t like it. I wanted Max to play. It made me sad to see him on the bench, head hanging, sad, full of doubt.   I began blaming everyone else. The coach didn’t like Max. The defense wasn’t playing hard. He was being benched because I was a bad Booster Member…I didn’t work in the snack shack enough (ummm ever). Anyhow, in my mind, on the bleachers, I blamed everyone except Max. When we got home, I started making excuses for his performance, until he interrupted me. “Mom, I suck as goalie.” Oh, that hadn’t actually occurred to me. He went on, “ I didn’t even practice over the summer.“ He got it. It takes grit to succeed…practicing when no one is looking, hard work, and determination.

My oldest son Quinson, is our greatest story of grit. He came to us from New York City.   His life story is his own to tell, so I won’t go into detail, but I will tell you by the age of nine he lost his biological mother. When he was fifteen he very unexpectedly lost his step-mother, and the coach, who loved him like a son, died six weeks after his step-mother. At times, the only electricity he had was from threading an extension cord into a neighbor’s apartment for a lamp. He now is a college graduate, a husband, the wonderful Dad of three young children, and he manages the Target in Bangor. He has grit.

Last weekend Diana passed her board exam. The triumph was so sweet…sweeter than it would have been if she had simply sailed through yet another success.   What did she learn? Hard work does pay off. Never give up. Face your fears. Sometimes being humbled is good. Through the path of failure, she took a job working with adults with disabilities she never would have taken otherwise, and it has been wonderful and rewarding. She has been broke, and that has forced her to learn to budget wisely.   She has learned empathy. She will use that empathy, her whole life, to encourage and reach out to others.

Perhaps the most important lesson she learned came the night before the test.   She stopped by the house on her way to the testing sight, and before she left she looked at me and said, “Mom, even if I fail again, I will be okay.” That is the most important lesson any of us can learn. And before she experienced failure, she would not have known that.

Our deepest desire is to rescue our children from failure. We want to prevent them from being cut from a team, from failing a test, from friendships that sour, from bad grades, from being rejected…but failure fosters the growth of our children’s most important quality…grit.

As you enter the New Year, I hope for wonderful things for all of our Atwood families. I hope for joy and peace and success…but if one of the gifts you or your children get comes in the form of failure…know you will get to the other side, and the result of that failure will be sweeter than success.

Educationally Yours,

Jennifer McGee




January 1: No School, Happy New Year

January 15: Early Release, 12:00 dismissal

January 18: No School, Martin Luther King Day

January 19: No School, Full Day In-service

Brrrr….brrrrrr…..brrrrr…although it has been unseasonably warm, we go outside at 10 degrees or higher, so dress your children in ski pants, jackets, hats and mittens…pack a spare pair of mittens and socks in backpacks for those soggy days!

Dress Like An Elf…

Today at Atwood it was: Dress like an elf, bring food for the shelf.  Lots of food was collected and delivered to the Oakland Food Pantry.  The Atwood Elves are committed to ending childhood hunger in Central Maine.

From the Principal’s Pen

From the Principal’s Pen

December 2015

Submitted by: Jennifer McGee, Principal of the Atwood Primary School


“As you read my stories of long ago I hope you will remember that things truly worthwhile and that will give you happiness are the same now as they were then. It is not the things you have that make you happy. It is love and kindness and helping each other and just plain being good. ”
Laura Ingalls Wilder


We moved into a log home in Oakland this summer!   It was a dream come true for me. When I was a little girl, my favorite books were The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As soon as I began to decorate my new house, the first thing that went on the shelf was my dog-eared book: Little House in the Big Woods.


Miss Beadle, the schoolhouse teacher on the prairie, was my idol. There is a very good chance that she is the reason I became a teacher myself. If you ever come into my office, you will find three school bells lined up on my shelf. It is my humble tribute to Miss Beadle. As I struggle to grasp and conquer all of the technology of the twenty-first century, I often remind my superintendent that I was born in the wrong century!


The reason I am bringing up my Little House on the Prairie obsession is because of the timeless message it brings to us during the holiday season. As we are plunged head long into the madness of the American holiday machine…in order to help our children maintain some equilibrium, we have to center ourselves by remembering what truly matters during the holidays. I love the quote above: “It is love and kindness and helping each other and just plain being good.”


In the popular book, Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back Into the Season, the author, Jo Robinson, tells us about how children just long for simplicity…tradition, family, friends, and stress-free time together. Traditions are what we deeply etch into the memories of children when they think about the holiday season. What will your children remember?


Recently I attended a workshop called: Conscious Discipline. One of the overarching themes within this workshop was to reinforce: traditions matter. They matter in our classrooms, because they give children a sense of ownership and belonging and a feeling of safety through routines. More importantly, traditions matter in our families for the reasons listed below:

  • Tradition contributes a sense of comfort and belonging. It brings families together and enables people to reconnect with friends.
  • Tradition reinforces values such as freedom, faith, integrity, a good education, personal responsibility, a strong work ethic, and the value of being selfless.
  • Tradition provides a forum to showcase role models and celebrate the things that really matter in life.
  • Tradition offers a chance to say “thank you” for the contribution that someone has made.
  • Tradition enables us to showcase the principles of our Founding Fathers, celebrate diversity, and unite as a country.
  • Tradition serves as an avenue for creating lasting memories for our families and friends.
  • Tradition offers an excellent context for meaningful pause and reflection.

As I was typing this up…I felt like I might be a hypocrite. After all, what if my own children don’t have warm memories of the holidays? What if they just remember me freaking out over money and shopping or complaining about baking for a craft fair?   What if they remember me screaming at them for messy rooms when relatives were on the way? What if their only memories were of tangled Christmas tree lights and unanswered holiday wishes?

Well, I texted my children as I was typing and was greatly relieved and delighted at their memories. Collectively, not ONE of my children mentioned any gift or material thing, and just as predicted by the importance of holiday traditions, all of their memories were of small, yet important, childhood traditions:

  • reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas before bed on Christmas Eve
  • hiding the Christmas Pickle in our Christmas tree
  • leaving Santa milk and cookies and a note on Christmas Eve
  • finding shredded carrots and glitter all over our lawn from the naughty reindeer on Christmas day
  • Nanny’s famous childhood dessert
  • wearing holiday jammies to bed
  • decorating the Christmas tree together
  • opening Christmas stockings first thing on Christmas morning
  • watching A Christmas Story on television together (You’ll shoot your eye out kid…)
  • driving around to see all of the beautiful Christmas lights
  • candlelight service on Christmas Eve
  • shopping for the giving tree, homeless shelter, Veteran’s Home

None of their memories are very creative or difficult or expensive….but they serve as the indelible memories of your children’s childhood…and undoubtedly, they are what will be passed on to the next generation:


Little House in the Big Woods Quotes

“She thought to herself, “This is now.” She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods



Our Atwood Primary School Winter Holiday Traditions:

Falalala Fridays!

Friday, December 4: “Dress like an elf, bring food for the shelf!!” Dress your child in red or green and send them to school with non-perishable food for the local food pantry!

Friday, December 11:   Dress Up Day…dress your child a little more “dressy” today…we will attend the high school holiday concert at the PAC on this falalala day!

Friday, December 18: School-wide Cozy Pajama Day…send your child in cozy jammies for this falalala day! They will go on a school-wide stroll to see our winter door decorations!


MONDAY, December 21: Our Fabulous Atwood Primary School Holiday Show! 1:00 to 2:15…Atwood families are invited…limited seating so you may have to stand!!


From the Principal’s Pen November 2015

From the Principal’s Pen

November 2015

Submitted by: Jennifer McGee, Principal of Atwood Primary School

I remember when I attended my son’s parent/teacher conference when he was in kindergarten. I nervously adjusted myself in my chair, awaiting a glorious report. The teacher told me about an activity she had directed in order to learn more about each child in the room. She asked the children to “describe their mother.” At this point, I was blushing in advance, imagining the adoring words Max must have used to tell about me. I will never forget what he said: “My mother eats everything on her plate, and some of the stuff off my plate too.” Ouch…not the response I had hoped for…but honest nonetheless.

Anyhow, it’s parent/teacher conference season! At Atwood Primary School, we leave a large window of time for our teachers to hold their conferences. Basically, the classroom teachers will contact you between now and the Christmas break making sure they have ample time to sit and chat with you about your most important “possession”: your child.

Because these conferences may be your first in a longggggg line of conferences between now and high school graduation, I thought I would give you some guidance on what information to look for during your conference:

  1. Find out about your child’s strengths and needs as a learner. What is your child finding difficult and what sorts of challenges are coming more easily to your child? Ask to see work samples of the work your child is doing, and ask to see the type of work the teacher would hope to see by the end of the school year.
  2. No matter the age of your child, find out what the expectations are for the school year. Look at what your child is reading now (or the letters your child knows), and then look at what we hope your child is reading by the end of the school year. Do the same thing for math. What does your child already know…what are the “big ideas” in math for this school year? Adding, telling time, counting money, measuring, counting? Find out so you can be a support to your child throughout the school year.
  3. How is your child getting along with other children in the classroom? Is your child making friends easily? Is your child playing nicely? Does your child seem comfortable at school? Your child’s social interaction and growth are as important, and as essential to a healthy educational experience, as academic progress.
  4. All of our children are different at school than they are at home. Ask about your child’s behavior at school…in the classroom, in the lunchroom, on the playground. It is always hard to hear another person discuss our children’s behavior. I still remember being told my child was “whiney”…it offended me. But children communicate through their behavior. Rather than be offended by that description of my child’s behavior, it was time to dig deeper. Why was my child whining? Was she anxious? Was the content too difficult? Was she insecure? Listen objectively to how your child is behaving at school, and then problem solve together, as a team on behalf of your child.
  5. Finally, find out how you can support your child at home. What can you do at home to help your child reach all of their learning goals at school? Find out how you can best communicate with your child’s teacher: email, phone, text, or in person? Working as a team gives your child the best chance at meeting his/her highest potential at school.

Enjoy your parent/teacher conference. It is a wonderful window that allows you to see your child at school versus your child at home. I know since my very first conference, I have been very aware of my eating habits…at least in public.

Educationally Yours,

Jenny McGee, Principal of Atwood Primary School


Look for your child’s teacher’s announcement of the Parent/Teacher Conference Schedule! Our common day for Parent/Teacher Conferences is November 12 from 2:45 to 7:30. We work hard to make sure we have a slot that will meet your needs!


Sign up to go to the PTA Paint Nite on November 10 at Williams Elementary School by going onto the site:   http://www.paintnite.com


No School Dates:

November 11: Veteran’s Day

November 25 – November 27: Thanksgiving Break

If you have a desire to support our Mentor Text Project at Atwood Primary School, please go to the following link: