Roses & Thorns

April 2024

Typing Skills in Upper Elementary

Q: I am worried that upper elementary students aren’t learning to type. This won’t prepare them very well for middle school, especially when public schools are now issuing laptops to students as a matter of course. As a digital native generation, they will be expected to type in their professional lives. I personally consider typing a “practical skill,” like learning to zip a zipper or wipe a table, etc. There are great instructional apps that just focus on typing skills, and cheap computers. Could you / would you consider adding typing into normal work cycles in the upper el?

A: Absolutely, your concerns are valid, and addressing typing skills in Upper Elementary is indeed crucial. We have been thinking along these same lines and Jack has implemented a comprehensive approach to typing skills within our curriculum.

To ensure our students are well-prepared for the digital demands of both middle school and their future careers, Jack has adopted the Mavis Beacon typing program, a proven and effective tool for enhancing typing proficiency. This program offers structured lessons tailored to the developmental needs of Upper Elementary students.

Once introduced to the program, students are given the opportunity to actively engage with it. Through a flexible scheduling system, students can sign up for designated slots to practice typing. This ensures that each student receives dedicated time to hone their skills at their own pace.

To reinforce the importance of consistent practice, students are expected to dedicate a minimum of 20 minutes per week to typing exercises. The goal of regular practice is to not only enhance their typing speed and accuracy, but also instill a sense of discipline and responsibility in managing their learning.

Misalignment of Sunstone’s Calendar with PPS

Q: I would like to have Sunstone follow PPS calendar particularly when school starts after summer break. It makes it difficult to find childcare otherwise. Can we know the reasoning behind this?

A: We understand your concerns regarding the misalignment of Sunstone’s calendar with PPS (Portland Public Schools) calendar, particularly during the transition from summer break to the start of the school year. It can indeed pose challenges for families in need of childcare. Allow us to shed some light on the reasoning behind our scheduling decisions.

At Sunstone, we strive to support our working parents by providing comprehensive summer camp services for seven weeks, which is the maximum duration we can accommodate. However, there are essential operational tasks that need to be addressed as we transition from the regular school year to summer camp mode, and then back again to the school year.

To ensure a smooth transition and adequate preparation for both our staff and facilities, we utilize one week after the last day of school in June as an in-service period. During this time, our guides and staff wrap up the academic year, attend crucial meetings, finalize reports, and make necessary arrangements to close up the school for the summer. This includes preparing environments for the upcoming summer camp sessions.

Furthermore, it’s important to recognize the dedication of our staff who work tirelessly throughout the year, including during the summer camp period. To support their well-being and ensure they have time for rest and rejuvenation, we provide one week off after the conclusion of summer camp when the school is closed.

In addition to these operational considerations, we allocate two in-service weeks for our staff prior to the start of the school year. These weeks are essential for professional development, team building, and planning for the upcoming academic term. You can find more detailed explanations in this article provided in last month’s Roses & Thorns responses.

As a result of these necessary preparations and commitments to our staff’s well-being and professional growth, the start of our school year typically falls after Labor Day. While we understand the inconvenience this may cause for some families, please know that our decisions are made with careful consideration for the best interests of our students, staff, and the overall effectiveness of our programs.

If you have any further questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Lack of Communication

Q: Targeted, useful communication feels lacking. We receive many emails about illnesses in various classrooms, and reminders to order lunches. Meanwhile, we haven’t gotten a progress report this year, the most recent classroom update was in the fall, and we hear about staffing changes or subs via the children, if at all.

A: We completely understand your concerns regarding communication, and appreciate your feedback. Clear and timely communication is crucial for maintaining a strong partnership between our school and our families. Let us address your concerns and provide clarity on our communication channels and protocols.

Firstly, we want to assure you that we have established communication protocols in place to ensure that you receive important updates and information regularly. Here’s what you should expect:

  • Weekly Communications: You should be receiving a weekly communication that encompasses important news, events, and updates, including any staffing changes or significant announcements.
  • Fundraising: You will receive periodic emails regarding fundraising and events at Sunstone like the Gala & Auction. Like most nonprofit, independent schools, tuition does not cover the full cost of educating a student at Sunstone.
  • Lunch Orders: Twice a month, you will receive reminders to order lunches outside of the weekly communications. We have backed this down from four times per month.
  • Transparent Classroom Emails: Whenever your child’s Guide shares photos via Transparent Classroom, you will receive an email notification. Please ensure that your photo preferences within Transparent Classroom are set to receive these notifications.
  • Health Alerts: In the event of communicable diseases in our community, you will receive health alerts to keep you informed and help minimize the spread of illness that keep students and staff out of school.
  • Progress Reports: Every student receives a progress report from their child’s Guide in the fall. Toddler and Children’s House students receive an additional progress report in the spring. All Elementary and Children’s House graduating students receive an end of year report. Additionally, you will have the opportunity to meet and conference with your Guide twice per year to discuss your child’s progress.
  • Monthly Newsletter: Your child’s guide sends out a monthly newsletter to provide you with insights into classroom activities and upcoming events.

Most importantly, if you ever have any questions or concerns about your child’s progress or any aspect of their experience at our school, please don’t hesitate to reach out directly to your child’s Guide via email. They are there to support you and your child, and are more than happy to provide you with any information or assistance you may need.

Equity for Neurodiverse Children

Q: What kind of training do the guides and assistants have for supporting our kids who are neurotypical? I overhear some comments from other parents that makes me concerned that children who may act out their neurodiversity may not be treated with patience and inclusion, and I’m worried that harsh and unkind treatment towards the kids needing extra support could be modeling bad habits to the rest of the kids. If there aren’t any required trainings, what kind of assurance can you give us going forward that your staff will be up to date with sensitivity trainings going forward so we know our kids are in good care?

A: Our approach is rooted in the Montessori Method, which inherently fosters a nurturing and supportive environment for all children, including children with disabilities and neurodivergence. The Montessori pedagogy deeply values each child’s unique abilities and provides individual learning paths across a great spectrum of learning styles.

Our classroom environments are purposely cultivated for inclusivity. Our staff actively works to create a culture of acceptance fueled by positive communication. They model, every single day, how to treat each other with respect and compassion, how to uplift each other, and how every person deserves to be honored exactly for who they are.

While our Guides aren’t specifically trained in neurodiversity education, they are well-versed in Montessori pedagogy which allows them to expertly individualize instruction for all students, not just those with learning differences. Through the careful observation of each student, our Guides tailor their lesson planning to include accommodations for students who need support.

In many cases our Guides are able to provide that support within the structure of the Montessori pedagogy and classroom environment, however, we do acknowledge our limitations. We have an in-house support specialist, Carolyn McDonald, who works alongside our Guides to identify and support children who may need extra assistance with social or emotional challenges. We also have an in-house educational support specialist, Sara MacRae, who works with Elementary students that may benefit from extended time on assignments and guided instructional support for literacy skills.

For children who need support beyond what we can offer, we actively collaborate with families to seek out the resources and professional help that will meet the specific needs of the child.

To support our staff we have invested in professional development trainings, including trauma informed practice, non-violent communication, and equity and diversity education. We openly acknowledge that we are not professionals in neurodiversity education. We are, however, life-long learners, who care deeply about the well-being of every single child. To that end we will continue to offer professional development trainings and workshops so that we can continue to grow and serve the needs of ALL of the children to the best of our ability.

Regarding concerns about children not being treated with patience and inclusion, such behavior is not tolerated in our classrooms or on our campus. We are not privy to the specific comments that you are referring to but we encourage you to bring any concerns directly to us so we can address them promptly and appropriately.

School Closures

Q: Two questions were submitted concerning the number of days Sunstone is closed in the form of conference days, in-service days, professional development days, and federal holidays. The concerns addressed the negative impact school closures have on a consistent routine and structure for little children, and the burden this time off places on families to seek childcare and how it diminishes their quality of life. You can read the full submissions here.

A: We understand the concerns regarding the frequency of school closures and the impact they have on students who struggle with the structure of school. We also acknowledge the impact these school closures have on working families and understand the challenges they pose.

We do not take our closures lightly and we are continuously evaluating our scheduling to strike the balance that allows us to maintain the exceptional quality of education that we provide at Sunstone, while also supporting the well-being of our staff, and meeting the needs of our families to the best of our ability.

We are first and foremost an educational institution. As an educational institution, we prioritize providing the highest quality of emotional, social, and intellectual education. A large part of providing an education of this caliber inherently demands a commitment to supporting the growth, retention, and well-being of our staff who play the vital role of caring for and guiding our students. Supporting their professional development and allowing time for rejuvenation is essential for them to bring their best selves to this work, and to our students, both now and in the future.

While we are not a childcare service, we do extend our services to help working families to the maximum extent possible, while also ensuring our staff’s well-being. We offer childcare before and after school, as well as during Spring, Winter, and Summer breaks. Our goal is to provide support for our families while maintaining the high standards of education that define our Montessori approach.

It’s important to note that we are aligned with Portland Public Schools (PPS) in terms of  the number of school closure days (see comparison chart below). This parity ensures consistency within our community and reflects the broader educational landscape in our area.

For more on the reasoning behind the in-service days, conference days, and professional development opportunities, please read our response in last month’s Roses and Thorns which addresses this in detail.

We take your feedback seriously and will continue to strive for a balance that meets the needs of our students, families, and staff alike. Thank you for your partnership in creating a nurturing and enriching educational experience for our children.

Volunteering in Classroom

Q: Any way parents can sign up to volunteer hours in the classroom?

A: In Montessori education, the classroom environment is meticulously designed to foster independence, concentration, and self-directed learning among children. While parent involvement is highly valued, Montessori classrooms typically do not have parents volunteering during the school day. Here’s why:

  1. Maintaining the Prepared Environment: Montessori classrooms are carefully arranged to optimize learning experiences for children. Introducing additional adults during class time can disrupt the flow and harmony of the prepared environment.
  2. Promoting Independence and Autonomy: One of the core principles of Montessori education is to empower children to take ownership of their learning journey. Having parents present during class time can inadvertently inhibit children from developing self-reliance and problem-solving skills.
  3. Respecting the Child’s Focus: Montessori classrooms prioritize uninterrupted periods of concentration, where children can engage deeply with their chosen activities. Introducing new adults into the environment can be distracting and disrupt the children’s focus.

Despite not having parents volunteer during the school day, we warmly welcome parental involvement through various other avenues:

  1. Parent Education Events: We offer workshops and discussions to educate parents about the Montessori philosophy and methodology. Events like the Silent Journey and Discovery in October provide parents with deep insights into their child’s educational experience. You can find the full list of parent education offerings in the parent portal of the website.
  2. Observation Opportunities: Parents are encouraged to observe in the classroom to gain firsthand understanding of the Montessori approach. By signing up for observations in the fall and spring, parents can witness the classroom dynamics and their child’s engagement in learning.
  3. Room Parent Roles: Parents can volunteer to be room parents, actively supporting the classroom community by assisting with communication, organizing gatherings, promoting a sense of community and shared experiences among families, facilitating seasonal activities such as organizing Winter Solstice crafts, and creating auction projects with the children by fostering teamwork and creativity while supporting the school’s fundraising efforts.
  4. Going Out Chaperone: Throughout the year, parent drivers and chaperones are needed to support our Elementary Going Out program. When a child or a small group of children has exhausted the classroom resources, they need to “go out” into the world to find more information. This could take the form of interviewing an expert, going to a museum, visiting a specific location, or going behind the scenes at a business, the zoo, or restaurant. This is a wonderful way to support the classroom and engage with the students. Full details on how to become a Going Out Chaperone are in the parent portal of the website.
  5. Book Groups: We offer one or two book groups each year on a topic relevant to Montessori, parenting, and/or child development. The next book group is scheduled for the fall. Keep your eyes on the Communications for details and sign up.
  6. Sharing Your Expertise or Interest: If you have a particular interest or area of expertise that you would like to share with the students, please email your Guide and let them know. They may welcome you into their classroom, or connect you with a different classroom, for a presentation or demonstration.
  7. Committees: We have a few committees that welcome parents such as the Auction and Gala committee and the Development Committee. Being on a committee is a wonderful way to engage with staff, meet other parents, and support Sunstone.
  8. Campus/Facilities Projects Call List: We often have projects come up that require an area of expertise or skill set that we may not have on staff. You can offer your skills and experience by signing up on our Facilities Call List and when opportunities become available we’ll contact you.
    • Advertising/Marketing
    • Architecture Planning
    • Carpentry/Painting/Handy Person Projects
    • Computer/IT
    • Electrical/Mechanical
    • Gardening/Watering
    • Photography/Filming/Media
    • Plumbing
    • Transport Materials
    • Other?

While Montessori classrooms may not have parents volunteering during the school day to maintain the integrity of the learning environment, there are numerous opportunities for parental involvement outside of class time. Through education, observation, and collaborative endeavors, parents can actively contribute to their child’s Montessori journey, enriching the school community and strengthening the bond between home and school.


Feeling Fortunate:

Wanting to let you know how much I appreciate the family vibe from both Jack and Jennifer. We’ve been able to connect with each of them individually about social development stuff, in a way that felt like we were consulting a third parent. Teacher Anna was that third parent for us pre-pandemic. It is not lost on us that we are so fortunate to be raising these kids in a loving and capable village. Hurray!! -Roslyn Gray

Afterschool Enrichment:

We LOVE the after school enrichment options for elementary students. SO GREAT for working parents who aren’t able to take off work early. More please!

We are really enjoying the after school basketball class. -Renee Hayes

February-March 2024

Camassia Room

Comment: Everything coming out of Camassia has been exciting! Our son, Sage is thriving and really loves school. He’s devouring books left and right. Viewing his journal was really cool to see his progression. Overall, things seem to be going really well and we feel lucky to be at Sunstone. (plus I know I’m learning a ton too!)

Response: This is wonderful to hear! We are so happy Sage is thriving in the Camassia community under the guidance of Robert and Andrea, and love hearing that parents are learning too! This is the best of both worlds. Thank you for sharing your gratitude!

Bingo Night

Comment: Bingo night was great! I appreciated that Jack stepped in to help keep track of the numbers on the white board… that made it much easier for the audience to participate. Thanks for the fun evening!!

Response: Glad you had fun! Jack is consistent in supporting his students where and when needed! It’s one of the things we value most about him. Thank you for coming out to support the Lupine graduates!

In-Service Days

Q: There seem to be a lot of in service days throughout the year which is difficult for working parents. Is there a way to either provide child care on those days or utilize time during the 2 summer breaks (June & Aug) to run these courses? These professional development days are important but we need to find creative ways to find ways to do them without asking parents to find additional childcare on top of monthly tuition.

A: We understand the frustrations that arise when navigating the balancing act of work commitments and childcare needs, particularly on in-service days. Your concerns are valid, and we appreciate your feedback immensely.

Let’s delve into the reasoning behind the scheduling of these in-service days and professional development opportunities. State regulations mandate 15 professional development hours for most staff members. These hours are crucial for our staff to maintain their qualifications which allow them to be in the classroom, as well as providing care after school, during spring, winter, and summer breaks, and childcare during parent education events. Professional development encompasses a wide range of topics, from CPR/First Aid to Montessori curriculum training, child development, classroom management, anti-bias, antiracist education, non-violent communication, etc. These sessions are not only required by the state, they are essential for enhancing our staff’s skills and ensuring they provide the highest quality of care and education for your children. In-service days also provide the crucial time needed for classroom teams to work together, discuss challenges, align ideas, mentor, and grow the relationships that allow them to support each other, and work as a cohesive whole to support your children to the best of their ability.

Regarding the possibility of moving professional development days to the summer months, we want to clarify our summer schedule. While we do have two weeks dedicated to preparing for the upcoming school year, it is only the second week that all staff is present on campus. Condensing professional development into this one prep week would risk compromising the quality of our programming. These five days are packed with classroom setup, deep cleaning, staff meetings, programming, mentoring, goal setting, coordinating, planning, and student orientations. We also dedicate one half day during this work week for professional development. We maximize every moment of the summer work week to ensure that staff members feel supported, and that we are ready to provide the exceptional educational experience your children deserve.

Looking ahead, our 2024-25 calendar includes a total of five in-service/professional development days. Unfortunately we are not able to provide childcare as all of our staff participate in these days. We have omitted half-day sessions based on parent feedback, and the impact half-days have on our classroom’s daily routines and lunch program. The Toddler classrooms will have one 8:30 a.m. start each month (first Wednesdays). This provides our Toddler staff the time they need for critical team check-ins and classroom management. All other classroom teams will utilize after school hours for this vital coordination.

Our aim with in-service/professional development days is to strike a balance between meeting state requirements, scaffolding our staff so that they may deliver the best possible education to your children, and minimizing disruptions to your family’s routine.

Sibling Discount

Q: Have you contemplated doing a sibling discount to make hardship easier for families?

A: We used to offer a sibling discount. We now offer financial aid in place of a sibling discount, and typically the aid we are able to offer is higher than the sibling discount amount was.

Gate Closing at 8:20

Q: The gate closing in people’s faces at exactly 8:20 feels very punitive. I understand that teachers need students to be in class by a certain time (which I thought was 8:30?). But I have many times seen children walking towards the gate, just to have a staff member close it right in front of them and tell them to walk through the office. For the elementary students, I’m sure this ends up taking longer than having them run straight through the gate to their classroom. Can we help keep mornings positive experiences and only lock the gate when no one is actively wanting to walk through it? If this isn’t until 8:25, is that the end of the world? I’m sure your teachers wouldn’t mind—have you asked them? Everyone has rough mornings sometimes (indeed I regularly see staff coming in after the gate is locked) and having to go through the office when we arrive at 8:22 just makes a hard morning feel harder.

A: We truly appreciate your feedback and understand the importance of creating positive experiences for everyone involved in our morning routines.

This is a good time to remind everyone the reasons behind our set drop-off time of 8:00-8:20 a.m. Research, and our years of observation, show that consistent attendance and punctuality have a significant impact on various aspects of your child’s development, including social, cognitive, and emotional regulation, and academic success. Arriving on time allows your child to seamlessly integrate into the morning work cycle, fostering a sense of belonging and community within the classroom. We have built in a grace period for the children between 8:20 and 8:30 to provide them with ample time to independently change their shoes, stow away belongings, and settle in with their peers. This grace period promotes a positive start to the day which formally begins at 8:30am for everyone.

Regarding the closure of the gate at 8:20, we recognize your concerns about it feeling punitive. Rest assured, our intention is not to create a negative experience for anyone. However, maintaining a consistent drop-off time is essential for upholding the structure and routines that are fundamental to the Montessori approach.

While we understand that rough mornings happen, it’s crucial for us to maintain consistency in our procedures to ensure the smooth operation of our classrooms. In an effort to strike a reasonable balance, we have taken your feedback into consideration and have been allowing the 8:20 arrivals trickle through the gate before closing it completely.

We do recognize the awkwardness of late students coming down to the office only to go back up to their classrooms. We are exploring ways we can amend this transition while still supporting the fundamental structure of our classrooms. Any changes will be implemented at the start of next school year.

Roses & Thorns Form
We are continuously evaluating and adjusting our procedures to best meet and balance the needs of our entire community. We appreciate your feedback, partnership, and understanding in this ongoing process.

The Roses & Thorns form is available to you anytime. A link can be found in the Communications each week and below. We love hearing from you!