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15 09, 2016

Curriculum Connection: The Outdoor Learning Space

By | September 15th, 2016|Curriculum Connection, Experiential Learning, Families, Parent News|0 Comments

It takes a lot of people to build a garden. In fact, it will require the help of every man, woman, and child in the Ancona community for our new garden to bloom to life.

We called the first event in the garden’s life, held on Saturday, August 27, a “farm raising,” borrowing the iconic rural image of neighbors coming together to build a barn. It’s fitting we borrowed a metaphor, because we are literally borrowing everything else, too–including the time, talents, and tools of many generous people.

Over 30 parents and children came out in the rain and mud to lift, build, fence, and plant.

More than a few parents have since approached me and apologized for missing that event. “We’re so sad we couldn’t attend the farm raising,” they say.

“No worries,” I reassure them. “The farm raising isn’t over. The farm raising is now. The farm raising is always.”

There will never be a time when something isn’t being planned, built, or retrofitted for the garden. That’s the way it is with gardens and with agriculture in general. They are chronically improvised ventures requiring constant improvement.

Many community members have found other ways–other days–to share their time, talents, and tools. Parent Sarah Dunn, an architect by trade, has shepherded the garden from sketches toward reality. Kids in the summer eco camp built prototypes of raised beds. Haun Saussy, a new parent, donated a nifty, almost-new wheelbarrow. Radiah and Ben Smith-Donald donated stumps to serve as seats.

The next installment of the ongoing farm-raising is a harvest fete, set for Wednesday, October 19, 3:30-6:30 pm. All are welcome. We won’t have as many crops this year as in future ones. Still, we should celebrate the garden’s first harvest while continuing its construction.

As before, this event will be a collaborative effort. Faculty and families are loaning cider presses. The pre-primary students will pick apples for pressing. Ari is bringing a guitar (and expects you to bring instruments, too). Kathy Yates has offered daffodil bulbs. We need folks to put in next year’s garlic and spread mulch.

These kinds of pay-it-forward zeitgeist suggests how the garden will and should work, that is, as a joint venture of many hands. E pluribus unum hortum.

Students often ask me about the possibilities of raising live animals in the garden. When are the chickens coming? What about the pigs? They are eager, understandably so, for the garden to arrive, shiny and complete as a holiday package.

Yes, I explain, there will be animals, (though not pigs), but first there must be plants, more beds, tables and benches. Before they raise chickens, they must, like Thoreau, raise beans–and carrots, and tomatoes, and squash, and  . . . And before they raise beans, they have to help build a bean bed. The garden isn’t just a place; it’s a process.

So the building continues. Do you have benches or an old picnic table? A stack of old bricks or pavers? A trellis? Hand tools? Stumps? We can use them. We can use you. Whatever your skill or resource, it can find a place here in a former parking lot on South Kenwood Avenue.

Out of many, one garden.

Chris Weber

Outdoor Learning Specialist

1 09, 2016

Welcome Back Ancona!

By | September 1st, 2016|Curriculum Connection, Diversity and Social Justice, Experiential Learning, Genius Of Children, Love of Learning, Parent News|0 Comments

On August 27th I had the pleasure of participating in Ancona’s Farm Raising. From hauling lumber with a three year old, to shoveling soil into garden beds with grown-ups, I had the opportunity to speak with the entire spectrum of the Ancona community. While talking with a new parent at Ancona, I was struck by his enthusiasm and joy for our school. Even when the conversation led into other areas of our lives, he always brought the conversation back to Ancona and what an amazing connection his family felt with our community.

With so much stress in our lives, I am always happy to hear that Ancona brings joy into parent’s lives by providing an excellent education to our students. This education goes beyond the academic and brings the whole world to the classroom. An Ancona education intentionally fosters community, tackles issues of social justice head on, and brings student voice to the forefront of any discussion.  From day one, our teachers are educating our students to bridge the gaps that society has made. Where society separates, Ancona unites. As we start this school year,  I would like to take this opportunity to share how community, social justice and student voice are present at Ancona and why these hallmarks make us shine so brightly in Chicago.

This is a learning environment for children to learn who they are as individuals, who they are as a member of a group, and who we all are as a community. Children call their teachers and administrators by first names. They begin each day with a handshake as they enter the school and over the course of the year this tradition allows them to get to know all of our faculty. Advisors start each morning with a group conversation that establishes a sense of camaraderie that feeds into the learning for the rest of the day. This commitment to the joy and fellowship in learning is seen across the school. A long-time teacher once chided me for wearing a tie because the teachers here must always look ready to get on the floor and play with children on their level. While I’ve come to learn how to incorporate my tie into play, the sentiment from that conversation has stuck with me: educators at Ancona are fully present.

It is through this lens of community that our students understand social justice. Ancona educates children who will defend human rights in the face of a society that seems to revel in dismantling of them. Throughout my time here I have seen students march for equal access to healthy water, participate in reenactment scenes from the civil rights era, and research gun violence statistics. Last year, after researching water access for the Social Justice Data Fair, one of our eighth grade students became passionate about helping with the crisis in Flint, Michigan. With the help of family and friends, he created a campaign to help bring water to families in Flint. Classmates collaborated to design posters, family member drove the water out, and donations were secured from every quarter.  Parents at Ancona marvel at how their children’s learning is so often tied to illuminating greater problems in our society. Our student’s assign their imaginations to contemporary problems and their solutions fill us with admiration and hope.

Both community and social justice at Ancona are grounded in the elevation of student voice. When children choose their own work, they enact their best learning. The dignity of work is a Montessori principle: Children choose their work in a classroom according to what fulfills them. As they grow, they choose a balance of things that help them mature as learners. From engineering sound amplifiers, to building model bridges, to forming government policy recommendations, teachers provide complex sophisticated problems with multiple outcomes and students extend themselves to apply what they know to design solutions. Ancona students are innovators, collaborators, researchers, designers — they are problem solvers, they are “workers,” creating and fulfilling their own vision, then sharing that work and fulfillment with everyone around them.

What we want for our children is what we want for society – to feel supported by a community, to share in the work of equity and engage with life’s puzzles by leading solutions. Ancona is proud to be a space that fosters this hard work and acts as a “third place” — a place between home and work where your family learns and grows together. Thank you for becoming, being or remaining a member of the Ancona School! We are powered by the genius of children. We are powered by you. We can’t wait for this great year ahead!

Ari Frede 

Head of School

9 06, 2016

Preprimary Caribbean Island Festival

By | June 9th, 2016|Global Learning, Parent News|0 Comments


Each year, the Preprimary holds an annual end-of-year Caribbean Island Festival! The morning includes authentic Caribbean staples and dishes inspired by the Islands of the Caribbean and Central America. Enjoy music, dance and fun. If there is Caribbean-inspired dish you enjoy preparing or eating, please do not hesitate to share it with our community.

Friday, June 10 10:30 a.m. /  Outdoor Learning Space

11 09, 2014

Reading Workshop – A Research-Based Approach

By | September 11th, 2014|Curriculum Connection, Learning to Read|1 Comment

by Bonnie L. Wishne, Head of School

cms_file_28945617_medAs we ease back into school every September, Ancona’s language arts teachers are laying the foundation for a year of minds-on reading by launching the Reading Workshop. The product of over twenty-five years of literacy research, the Reading Workshop (like its twin, the Writing Workshop) is a robust classroom architecture that develops engaged, thoughtful readers who are ready for high-performance learning.

The single factor most strongly associated with reading achievement–more than socioeconomic status or any instructional approach–is independent reading, according to Stephen Krashen, linguist and educational researcher. (The Power of Reading)

Independent Reading

To cultivate the habit of independent reading, Reading Workshops give our students important reading time during their school day. Teachers begin the workshop with a brief and carefully crafted mini-lesson, one idea for the children to learn to use as they read. Teachers capture the important points of the mini-lesson on the anchor charts one sees hanging in the classrooms to remind children of the good reading habits we want them to practice.  IMG_0574

Then, each child finds a comfortable spot for reading his/her book, and while the children read, the teacher moves about the class, conferring with individual students to assess their comprehension and application of the lesson and to offer guidance and reading strategies. S/he gains valuable insight into each child’s tastes, perspectives and ways of knowing that helps her to guide their reading and tailor her mini-lessons.


Reading is Communal


Studies show that children read more when they see other people reading, says Kashen. In the classroom workshop, Ancona students not only see others read, they learn to converse about their reading with partners, and, beginning in 3rd/4th grades, in small book clubs. Ancona students are fortunate to have teachers who are great readers, and researchers have long known that children who love to read come from homes where adults are readers. Partnering with parents, we make thinking and talking about books a habit.


Mini-lessons teach the myriad habits of good readers. They apply to readers at varying levels of proficiency, including those who are reading mostly pictures. Young readers might learn about the parts of a non-fiction book or how to figure out words they don’t know while later readers may discuss character, setting, inference, figurative language or the characteristics of a particular genre. Some mini-lessons give ideas for how to talk about our book or be a good listener for our partner. Above all, they teach that good readers think about and interpret the meaning of the text.

Just Right Choices

photoVarious studies have shown that allowing students to choose their own texts fosters engagement and increases reading motivation and interest and that to progress in their reading, children need to choose and read lots of books at their just right level; in other words, books where they know 95-99% of the words. Every classroom (and the school library) has many books at every level so that each child has many books from which to choose. By reading many books at a comfortable level, children will enjoy reading, develop reading stamina and progress to more challenging texts.

Units of Study

To ensure a rich and varied diet of reading experiences for our students,  teachers at every level follow a curriculum of study units in Readers Workshop.  Study units may focus on a genre — biography, non-fiction or poetry –or they may focus on an aspect of being a great reader — Building a Reading Life or Close Reading and Interpretation.  Some units of study are integrated with social studies or science units — Narrative Non-Fiction of Colonial America or Mythical Creatures: Fact or Fiction?  Parents can find descriptions of the current year’s units on their classroom websites.

Assessing Reading

Working together with our Learning Specialists, our teachers assess each student’s reading in September to determine the child’s just right level. Assessments take word knowledge, word recognition strategies and comprehension into account in setting the correct level. Children will bring home books to read; parents can look for books of similar difficulty outside of school. Teachers will let parents know their child’s just right level when they come for conferences. Regular conferencing with children provides teachers with ongoing monitoring of each child’s progress, and they assess again periodically during the school year to track each child’s reading progress.

Reading Support

What if a child isn’t yet reading at an appropriate level or isn’t making the progress we would expect? Our learning specialists are available to further diagnose children experiencing difficulty and to provide specialized, supplementary instruction for children they identify as needing additional support. The learning specialist will notify the parents of children she is assisting.

Read Alouds

Read alouds are an important complement to the Reading Workshop. Using a carefully chosen text, the teacher models the internal thinking of a good reader as s/he reads a story to the class. Each read aloud has a teaching point–making predictions, for example–that the children can then apply in their own reading. Read alouds teach children to think about their own thinking as they read.

Balanced Literacy

The Reading Workshop is only one component of Ancona’s balanced literacy program. Word study, Writing Workshop, listening to read-alouds, conversing about reading and reading and writing for content all contribute to each student’s growing literacy.

Through the Reading Workshop, each child authors his/her own dynamic reading life.

Passionate Teachers

Teaching great Reading Workshops is an art and a skill that develops over years, and we are fortunate to have passionate teachers who make reflection and refinement part of their daily practice.. We’ve been sending our language arts teachers to New York City for summer workshops at Teachers College at Columbia University for over ten years. All of our teachers of reading have been to at least one training, and most have been back many times for advanced work, to renew relationships and to learn the latest research and practices.



20 03, 2014

Oaxaca, Days 3-4

By | March 20th, 2014|Experiential Learning, Global Learning|6 Comments

Lucas said today that our first day had been really long, and now everything is going really fast.  Agreed! It’s too fast for this blogger to keep up with it, but on the other hand, we do so much every day, that Sunday seems light years away.
Chocolate1Mexico is the home of chocolate, but as Lucero explained Tuesday evening, Mexicans use chocolate primarily for drinking.  It was the Europeans who invented bonbons.  For celebrations like Dia de las Muertes or birthdays, Oaxacan families go to a mill to purchase freshly ground chocolate, which they take home to make their family’s special chocolate.  We visited a mill to see how the chocolate is ground with cinnamon and nuts and to taste a few samples. Then, with chocolate in hand, we returned to ICO to make our own.  Our two chocolate-averse students had a great conversation with Señora Christina while the rest of us literally got our hands dirty.



Chocolate3        Chocolate4Chocolate 6

IMG_0636Following classes on Wednesday, we visited the gorgeous display of pre-Colombian art at the Rufino Tomayo museum and then the Soledad Church where we came upon the curious juxtaposed celebrations of Saint Joseph’s Day and the inauguration of a new garbage truck for the city.  This is a city of surprises.   The resulting traffic jam meant a shortened lunch and siesta before taking off for the soccer field and, as the temperature soared into the low 90′s, a hot game of soccer with our intercambio friends. soccer

The heat and the exertion could mean only one thing:  ice cream!  We headed back to the Zocalo to enjoy a relaxing break in the cool of enormous old trees.  Sitting in the cafes, we attract many peddlers, and our Ancona students do a tremendous job of remembering Señora Christina’s admonition to see the humanity in everyone. From the very young to the very old, indigenous people from the pueblos spend their days in the zocalo selling crafts and trying to earn a living.  It can be tempting to feel annoyed by the constant solicitations, but treating everyone with respect is essential.  We’re proud that our students have learned this lesson well.  
Fortified by our ice creams, we headed back to ICO, doing a little shopping (and bargaining) along the way.

19 03, 2014

Oaxaca, Days 2-3

By | March 19th, 2014|Experiential Learning, Global Learning|4 Comments

Oaxaca = color.  Coquito and primavera blossoms.

Coquito and primavera blossoms.

Our days in Oaxaca have been so rich and full that it’s hard to believe there have only been two of them.  I looked around on a short bus ride we took this afternoon, and everyone was so happy, I actually felt a little lump in my throat.  Mexico es fabuloso, Caleb told Señora Christina.  And this morning:  It’s all going by too fast.

Our morning check-ins confirm that everyone is doing well.  Students are appreciating the home-cooked meals they’re having in their families; Dallas and Julian are especially excited, because their familia owns a restaurant!  One student pointed out that all of the food is fresh; nothing is processed.  And while breakfasts are different from what we’re used to at home, the beans, tortillas, eggs, cheese and fresh fruit – especially mangoes – are much appreciated.  Because lunches are late at around 2:00, the hearty breakfasts really make a difference.

Ancona students are acute observers.  Several boys noticed how much lower prices are in Mexico and wondered how do the shopkeepers make a profit? Or perhaps we should be asking why are prices so much higher at home?  Caleb was surprised that a man could get on a bus, sing and people would give him money – something he couldn’t imagine happening in the U.S.  And Aiesha, like many other students we’ve taken to Mexico, commented on how friendly people are.

Sarah gets a photography lesson en español.

Sarah gets a photography lesson en español.

Our days begin with Spanish classes at ICO; students are grouped according to their degree of Spanish

Una classe de español

Una classe de español

proficiency.  We’re not the only students at the Instituto; there are students from the U.S., Canada, Germany, Japan and New Zealand. Nemo met one of the Maori high school students who are here for six months – he speaks English, Spanish, French and Japanese in addition to Maori.  Really makes you think about our American educational system’s limited attention to world languages.  The director of their school, himself part-Maori, explained to Señora Christina and I that he chose Spanish as a world language in his school, because it is not a language associated with a race; it is a language spoken by people of many races and nationalities all over the world.  We teach the same idea at Ancona.  Interesante, ¿no?

Sharing conversation with Oaxacan students.

Sharing conversation with Oaxacan students.

Everyone returns to his/her familia for the main meal of the day in the afternoon and then a siesta.  At 4:00, we return to ICO for intercambio, which is a wonderful opportunity for Ancona students to get to know Oaxacan students who are learning English.  They talk about whatever they like, helping each other with the two languages.

After intercambio, it’s time for cultural activities.  Monday we had a salsa lesson outside in the spacious courtyard.  ICO is in the large, gracious hacienda-style home of Lucero’s grandmother — not quite Downton Abbey, but still reminiscent of a very different era.    There were a few reluctant dancers, but everyone was a good sport. It seemed to be great fun for most and maybe a little awkward for some. I am truly impressed with this group’s willingness to cooperate and try even when they might not be totally comfortable.  They are confident risk-takers!

Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca

Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca

Following the Tuesday morning classes, students toured the Cultural Museum of Oaxaca, but I can’t tell you anything about it, because Gilad and I were on a money-changing odyssey, waiting in line in four banks and two currency exchanges until we were finally able to change everyone’s dollars into pesos at a reasonable rate.  Because of the very long, slow immigration line in Mexico City, we didn’t have time exchange in the airport, and dealing with currency limits and getting enough small bills to distribute back to the students was no small feat!  Gilad was in desperate need of a gelato when our ordeal was done. Fortunately, in this beautiful city of outdoor living, that was easily accomplished.

p.s. Parents, we read your comments on the first post to the students, and they loved them.  Keep them coming!

In the zocalo.

In the zocalo.

Only in Oaxaca.

Only in Oaxaca.

19 03, 2014

Oaxaca, Day 1

By | March 19th, 2014|Experiential Learning, Global Learning|0 Comments

We take modern air travel for granted, but it still seems like a miracle  to leave Chicago in a late night snow storm and arrive a mere eight hours later in  tropical Oaxaca, Mexico.   Our 22 intrepid Ancona 8th graders flew through the night and then waited a sleepy 90 minutes in the Immigration line as dawn broke over Mexico City.

Boarding the flight for Oaxaca.
Boarding the flight for Oaxaca.

After the short second flight to Oaxaca, they tumbled out into the bright morning sunshine and walked confidently off with the Oaxacan parents who met us at the airport.  Our adventure had begun.

After settling in at their new homes, getting some much needed sleep and having their first meals with their families, the students gathered at a cafe on Oaxaca’s famous zocalo. It was time to become acquainted with the city that will be our home for a week.  Our students were gradually making the switch to Espanol.  Sarah reported that she had spoken Spanish accidentally, and even in the airport, Julian said it was fun to try to order food in Spanish.

At Cafe La Primavera
At Cafe La Primavera

Oaxaca is a riot of color, filled with myriad new sights, sounds, smells and tastes.  We learned from Lucero, the owner of Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca, that Oaxaca is a completely colonial city, founded by the Spanish, and filled with beautiful colonial architecture.

Cathedral on the Zocalo
Cathedral on the Zocalo

Lucero took us to the great Cathedral on the zocalo and then for a long, slow walk on the Alcala, Oaxaca’s pedestrian mall.  We paid a visit to the Santo Domingo Church where we’re going to return later this week to tour their botanical gardens.  We gradually made our way to El Llana, a wonderful park several blocks long with fountains and plazas where, along with many Oaxacan families out for a Sunday afternoon, we watched children drive small motorized cars, petted puppies and just enjoyed being out in the beautiful weather with each other.  Senora Christina remarked that with no money to spend (we hadn’t been to an exchange), everyone was able to be truly present instead of thinking about what to purchase. (Maybe we should never change money too quickly?)  And we saw nary a cell phone as we settled into being in Oaxaca.

As if to prove the point, Olive asked if she could buy an elote with her change from an airport snack.  For the uninitiated, which included yours truly, elote is roasted sweet corn sprinkled with lime juice, spread with mayonnaise and dipped in parmesan cheese.  As Lucero walked us to her favorite elote stand, Senora Christina spontaneously decided on elotes for all.  It was a fitting cultural cherry on the top of quite an amazing day.  Elotes in hand, we trooped to ICO, the Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca, and as the kids went off for evening with their madres y padres, a stunning, deep orange full moon rose in the East .

Trying out a new treat.
Trying out a new treat.
Dona Angelina's Elotes
Dona Angelina’s Elotes
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17 03, 2014

Maya’s Argument

By | March 17th, 2014|Families, Learning to Write, Parenting|0 Comments

Writers Celebrations punctuate our school year giving festive endings to the studies of particular genres in our Writers Workshops. In a Writers Celebration, groups of students gather together with their parents to share completed and polished works after weeks of drafts, critiques and revisions. Parents and kids share comments, questions and accolades for each young writer.IMG_0120

Our 3rd/4th graders recently celebrated a challenging month-long workshop on personal essays. Each student writer chose an idea s/he cared about and used three pieces of evidence to construct a logical argument for the reader. Sustaining a single idea, supporting it through several paragraphs and completing the essay as a unified whole is truly challenging work for eight and nine-year-olds!

There was a very poignant moment when Maya, having explained why vacations are both fun and educational, read her third reason.Maya Reading

It is good for you, because vacation is about getting my family back together and spending time together. On the Disney cruise line, it got my family back together for 5 days, and then we stayed at a hotel in Orlando. Jacob and Dad went golfing; we (Mom and I) relaxed and watched TV and read books together. We spent a lot of time in the pool. When we are at home it is not like vacation, because we have to go to school and work and spend a lot of time apart. So vacation is important for family.

A great writer speaks to a timeless truth and makes an emotional connection to her audience. When it was time for feedback, more than one parent confessed to being a little teary. I was personally moved by the sweet earnest quality of Maya’s essay.

I thought of this moment the other day when I read a summary of psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair’s address to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) conference, taking place at just about the same time as our Writers Celebration. Steiner Adair is a therapist and instructor at the Harvard Medical School who researches the effects of technology on our kids and our relationships.

Are we living in a time in which we are more connected than ever and, paradoxically, more isolated? she asked.

According to Bridget Janicki, who blogged from the conference, Steiner-Adair interviewed kids, parents, school leaders, young adults and even preschoolers around the country. She was blown away by this finding:
Children at every single age group use the same words to describe being in a family — and they all speak to feeling alone. It’s sad, because they cannot get their parents’ attention. They feel frustrated that at a moment when they need a connection, their parents’ eyes are in the screen.

And then, a couple of days ago, I saw this headline from Don’t Text While Parenting — It Will Make You Cranky. The story described a study from Boston Medical Center showing that parents absorbed in their devices throughout an entire meal had increasingly negative interactions with their children. Since children learn their primary social skills from interacting with their parents, the researchers wondered what the long-term effects of such digital absorption on children’s social development might be.

In our fast-paced and digital world, Maya reminds us that children need and desire deep connection to parents and family. And even amidst all the attractions and distractions of Disney World, the most delicious and memorable moments might just be spent hanging out with your parents.

21 11, 2013


By | November 21st, 2013|Families|0 Comments

The abrupt arrival of cold weather and snow last week was a chilly reminder that the balmy days and beautiful foliage of fall are at an end, and the Thanksgiving holiday is just around the corner.
I imagine that for most of our families, Thanksgiving preparations are well underway. In our household, we are excited to be celebrating not only Thanksgiving, but also two engagements, one birthday and Chanukah, and we’re busy planning a feast that includes vegetarian, gluten-free and lactose-intolerant options as well as figuring out how to squeeze a growing and increasingly diverse family around the not-growing table.
Every family has different traditions and different challenges for celebrating the holiday, but it offers each of us a moment to reflect upon the good fortune in our lives, to consider ways to share with those who have less and to give back to institutions that have meaning for us. IMG_0569 In our 1st/2nd grade classrooms, reflections on homelessness and poverty are taking new shape in the form of our coat drive. IMG_0550As I watch the boxes fill to overflowing in the Umeh Foyer, I am very moved by the generosity of our Ancona families. And when they deliver the coats to South Central Community Services ( and receive their appreciation, our children will learn what researchers tell us – that giving stimulates the pleasure centers in the brain. Giving feels good and makes us happy!image
Just as every family has its own Thanksgiving traditions, every family has its own charitable traditions. Some families make a habit of sitting down together to discuss philanthropy as a group and to decide on their contributions for the year. Others volunteer time at a soup kitchen or food pantry to help ensure that indigent people share in the bounty of the season. Many do both.
As families think about institutions that make a difference in their lives and that of others, I hope that you will join me in giving Ancona a prominent place on your lists. Because I believe so strongly in what we do here every day, I make Ancona my top philanthropic commitment. This year, we’ve set and ambitious $170,000 goal for our Annual Fund, and we are trying out a focused and time-limited Annual Fund Drive to ensure that Ancona provides that margin of excellence every day. Four weeks into it, we have made some remarkable progress. As of today, we are just over half way to our goal with $88,000 pledged or received. We started the drive with gifts from 20% of our parents who pledged through their enrollment contracts. Just three weeks later, participation is doubled at nearly 40%. Room 210 is already at 65% participation with Room 208 coming up right behind! We’re looking for some gift, of whatever amount, from every family to reach our 100% participation goal. And we’re looking for strong participation, as well, from all of those friends, alumni and former parents whose lives have been touched by Ancona.
We have just a couple of weeks left to reach our goals for the Annual Fund for the current fiscal year. If your family has a tradition of planning year-end giving, please consider adding Ancona School to your list of worthy charities. Although the “public phase” of the Annual Fund Campaign will be over as of Thanksgiving, we will be gratefully accepting donations right up to the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2014.
Your can make your gift now at right here.

3 10, 2013

Buck Mountain

By | October 3rd, 2013|Experiential Learning|0 Comments

My office is unusually quiet today, because the 3rd/4th graders who live on the 2nd floor above me are off at Camp Edwards. Listening to the rain on my window, I am wondering if it’s raining in East Troy, but, even if it is, I know they’re having the time of their lives.

Camp is one of Ancona’s oldest and most beloved traditions. Every spring, when I do an exit interview with each graduate, I learn again how much Ancona’s experiential education program means to them. Camps dominate their fondest memories of their Ancona educations, and I myself have numerous powerful memories of being at various camps and outdoor learning programs with kids from third through eighth grades.

In 2008, I accompanied our 7th/8th graders on our first trip to Camp Chingachgook on Lake George in the Adirondacks. We chose Camp Ching (as I like to call it), because we wanted our uber-urban children not to leave Ancona without at least a taste of wilderness in a non-Midwestern environment. The mountains were aflame with the breathtaking brilliance of a perfect New England fall, and every day was beautifully warm and sunny – until the day of the final challenge, making the three-mile hike to the top of Buck Mountain. It was drizzling, and the rocky path was sometimes slippery. Not one of our students had climbed a mountain before. Many lacked the right kind of boots or rain gear. The camp had estimated three hours for the round trip; it took us five or six. There was plenty of complaining as we slogged our way through the woods and climbed hand over foot up the rocks at the end.

But the reward was awesome. Wet, muddy and hungry, with a scrape from a slip here and there, we perched on a rocky outcropping more than 2,400 feet above Lake George. We devoured our sandwiches and took in the 360° bird’s eye view of the lake and its islands and the many peaks of the Adirondacks surrounding us. It can be difficult to impress some of our tuned-in city kids with something as incredible as a mountain range, but even the dubious and the complainers were proud that they had “made it.” Many grads later recounted conquering Buck Mountain as one of the highlights of their years at Ancona.

Every camp offers our students developmentally appropriate learning challenges that are both physical and mental. There’s much talk nowadays about the importance of grit as a capacity we want to cultivate in children. Educational researchers are looking at how and whether grit can be taught. Well, it takes grit to hike up a mountain in the rain or to overcome your fear to get to the top of a climbing wall or to keep going in your canoe when you’ve never done it before and for some reason, you’re going in circles. From these experiences, children learn not only that their bodies can accomplish more than they imagined, but that perseverance, determination, grit – call it what you will – pays off in accomplishments and satisfaction. They learn that one doesn’t have to be completely comfortable or happy while learning something to feel great once it’s achieved, and because these lessons take place in authentic settings away from the comforts of home, they make a particularly powerful, emotional impact on the brain. These are fundamentally crucial lessons our students can apply to their lives, their work in the classrooms and their later educations.

Our kids return from each trip a little prouder, a little more self-confident, a little more mature – and full of great memories.