Taboo Topics: Discussing with children

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

“Why are some people racist?” How do you answer that question to a 4th grader? What if you are a teacher? How would you address this question with 24 children staring up at you? Or, how do you respond as a parent when your child asks an awkward question in public?

While the question in this TED Talk was not specifically asked in our school, it’s a salient reminder of the importance of small moments that happen all the time in school. It’s also a reminder that teachers have to make many consequential split-second decisions throughout the day.

February is Black History Month. We have some special conversations and presentations happening in different age groups and classrooms to further children’s interest and understanding of topics surrounding race and black history. Perhaps even more important than these teacher (or presenter) initiated conversations is how we respond when children ask questions during any month throughout the year.

This could be questions about race, puberty, fairness, LGBTQ+ issues, homelessness, religion, something they have heard about politics, the list goes on… If we simply shut down the topic or brush past it, this can send the message that their question is too taboo to talk about. It's not our job to teach children what to think. As Liz Kleinrock puts it: "It is about giving them the tools and strategies and language and opportunities to practice how to think."

Getting comfortable with uncomfortable conversations is a hot topic that will be discussed in our March 2019 newsletter. Stay tuned for some more tips about what this means in a school setting. And, if you watch one Ted Talk this month, let it be this one: “How to teach kids to talk about taboo topics.

To sweeten, or not to sweeten, that is the question...

Written by Jacey Dexter, Elementary Principal on .

Critical Thinking in Writer’s Workshop

You may have heard that the USDA recently rolled back restrictions on healthy school lunches. Since 2012, schools had been required to meet healthier school lunch guidelines, requiring whole grain-rich breads/pastas, lower sodium levels, and phasing out high fat/flavored milk. Beginning in 2019, these requirements are being lifted, and schools can once again serve chocolate milk, as well as partial grains and higher-sodium foods. While the political debate wages on, so does the debate at WHPS. Some of our Upper Elementary students are taking a deep dive into this issue, using and honing critical thinking skills in the process.

Thinking Critically (there are multiple perspectives on every argument)
In Writer’s Workshop, Room 19 students have been learning what goes into a strong Argument Essay. This includes some pretty sophisticated work: collecting evidence, developing a position, outlining, using evidence to back up a claim, and unpacking quotes to show how they relate to your claim, all while learning how to convey this information with their own “author’s voice.”

Connected to the Real-World
The chocolate milk debate serves as a model for children in learning to develop and argue their position. Each student had an opportunity to collect evidence and develop a strong position about the issue, in this case chocolate milk. They then learned how to unpack quotes and present reasons for their claim. 

Debating & Disagreeing Respectfully (can someone PLEASE teach this to the adults)
The next step in this unit of study is a debate, in which students will practice the art of persuasion: backing up their statements with evidence while also applying what they’ve learned about disagreeing respectfully with one another.

Leveraging their Passion
All of this is a primer for the students to take a stance on a cause or issue they are personally passionate about. After the in-class chocolate milk debates, children will work to transfer the skills they have learned into their own writing project. They will develop and eventually publish their own Argument Essays, which they will share with an authentic audience of parents and peers at their next Publishing Celebration.

Third Grade Prepares for the Next Level
This is one of my favorite culminating units in Writer's Workshop. There is a lot of emphasis throughout 3rd grade on understanding and working with non-fiction texts and features (Table of Contents, Headings, Bold Words, Captions, Photographs, Graphs, Charts, Illustrations, Glossary, Index). It’s a sweet reward to see 4th/5th graders using all the information and skills they have gained in our program to go out and change the world.

Effective Parent-School Partnerships

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Like most families, you probably put a lot of thought and care into selecting the best school for your child(ren). After all that research, you have chosen to be part of a truly special community at WHPS, one that is known for unique and strong parent partnerships, deep understanding of child development, and a school where we pride ourselves on responsiveness to our families.

We are incredibly invested in your child’s success and your family’s experience in our program. And, this year we launched a new forum, Coffee & Conversation, to help ensure you are getting the greatest possible return on your investment (ROI) in our program.

Our February Coffee & Conversation topic is one you will NOT WANT TO MISS! On Friday February 15, our school leadership team will be facilitating a conversation on how to maximize your ROI through Effective Parent-School Partnerships. Whether you're a first-time parent or this isn't your first rodeo; preschool or elementary, or even if you have children in other school(s), I believe you will find this topic useful. 

We will be sharing out more information about this Coffee & Conversation topic on the WHPS Facebook page as the date approaches. So, please be sure you are following us on Facebook. And, remember to add February 15th (8:30-9:30) to your calendar. We will meet in the Oxnard Street campus Library.

Hope to see you there!

Seth Pozzi, Head of School

Diversity & Inclusion #SelfieStation

Written by Jacey Dexter, Elementary Principal on .


In our most recent Coffee & Conversation, we discussed some ways to raise kind kids and how to help our children grow into adults who will strive to make the world a better place. One of the main topics discussed was Inclusion. Often, the concept of inclusion/inclusivity is oversimplified to to mean including students with special needs or learning abilities outside the normative range in a classroom. However, our school's concept of inclusivity is really about valuing each individual’s personal beliefs, values, and cultural identity. To be inclusive means that you believe everyone has value and significance, even if they are very different from you. One of the greatest drivers of children’s academic success is the extent to which they feel a sense of belonging and significance as a member of the school community, and here at WHPS we strive to help our students feel this way each and every day.

To foster inclusivity in your child, one of the first big steps is exposure. So often parents aim to shelter their child from the overwhelming world around them. For example, when you see a homeless person on the corner asking for help, what would you do? I would encourage you to have a conversation with your child about that person versus simply telling your child not to look at them. If you see someone who looks different and your child has questions, answer them! A good rule of thumb is if your child is asking you about something, they’re already thinking about it, and you should answer their questions open and honestly in an age appropriate manner. Not doing so can indirectly send the message that something is “bad,” “taboo,” or “not to be talked about.”  Fostering this communication early will lead to your children growing into teenagers who communicate more openly with you.

This December, we are working on a school-wide collaborative art project to honor the wide variety of cultures and differences in our school community. This inclusive project will be put on display as a #SelfieStation when we return from winter break. 

On the morning of Friday, January 4, our leadership team will be outside at the Oxnard Street campus to greet and welcome everyone at the Diversity  Inclusion #SelfieStation, and we will have goodies and information to share with you about some very exciting events that are happening in January and February. We invite ALL parents and caregivers to stop by for some Coffee & Conversation the morning of January 4

Hope to see you there!


A Unique Skillset & Mindset

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Over the past few years, we have been talking a lot about all these “21st century jobs that haven’t been invented yet.” The Labor Department as well as many employers now predict as many as 85% of the jobs today’s preschool and elementary students will eventually hold have not yet been invented. Any school worth their salt can recite (or probably has somewhere on their website) the 4 Cs, which have been identified as the most critical skills for our children’s future success: Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical Thinking. If you are a parent (or teacher) in our school, no doubt you can rattle off the list of skills, but have you stopped to think about these yet-uninvented jobs? What will they look like? How are they so different from the jobs we already have?  It turns out there are some clues about this in the news and current events. Some of these jobs are starting to be…well…invented.

Two of the most significant emerging fields that are already looking for the next thinkers, inventors and entrepreneurs are Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Genetics. These are precisely the kind of jobs that require the aforementioned 21st century skills. Look at these stories from the past month’s news.
  • Cars making life or death decisions! This is no longer about Alexa playing your favorite game or Amazon predicting what you will buy before you even click on it (which is admittedly pretty cool). Self-driving cars are coming! They have the potential to save many lives, but they also conjure life-or-death questions: Hit the pedestrian or veer off the road and potentially harm the occupants? Do you want your car making that decision for you and your children? Engineers think of this as a real-life example of The Trolley Problem, which ultimately challenges us to examine all the ramifications of each option and think outside the box when making an important decision. In these cases, there is no textbook to consult. Furthermore, different philosophical beliefs might lead you to a different conclusion. Might self-driving cars in a different country be designed to act differently than in California?    
  • Are there really going to be designer babies? Researchers in China claim to have used CRISPR/Cas9 to produce genetically altered twins, and it’s causing quite a stir in the scientific community. In this case, the intentions are good: Give these children greater resistance to HIV. Even so, many ethics questions are being raised. As one researcher explained: “Some families need the technology to have healthy children…enhancing intelligence or changing hair or eye color are not things loving parents do and should be banned.”  

At the most basic level, sure, experts need to understand their field. The AI expert needs her knowledge of Coding, Programming and Robotics. The scientist or doctor needs a strong foundation in Genetics. Core knowledge matters, and in our program we believe knowledge of genetics, robotics and coding is non-negotiable. This is one of the reasons we have expanded to Robotics-for-all, instead of Robotics as an after-school option. Similarly, we strive to leverage the Animal & Nature Studies program to give our kids a basis in Genetics that we believe might someday inspire them to become a doctor, researcher or vet. But, what kind of people do we really want to entrust with these weighty societal decisions?

There are a lot of smart people in the world, but smart ≠ ethical. If decisions about AI or gene editing are going to be made, the people I would entrust with these decisions are ones who can think critically and creatively (outside the box). They don’t just shrug their shoulders and accept that life is full of binary choices. In our school, we focus a lot on the 7 Habits of Happy Kids; we call this Habit 4: Think Win-Win. We try to teach children to look at problems through multiple lenses for a third solution. I know this might sound quite simple in school when it’s about sharing toys or solving conflict between kids. But in fact, it leads to much more sophisticated thinking as children get older. In the two examples above, you can also see how the 21st century skills of Communication and Collaboration are vital. Imagine if we had a 1-person team programming our AI or tampering with our genes. This is, again, why we are avid believers in group work and Accountable Talk, which are critical components of our school.

WHPS is certainly not the only school to use Responsive Classroom, Columbia's Balanced Literacy Model, Inquiry-Based Learning, Emergent Curriculum, The Leader in Me, or to have a strong STEAM program that emphasizes Robotics and Genetics (though we are one of very few schools with our own barnyard). But, when you merge these carefully selected programs into one school, they work in concert to offer children something I would argue very few other schools can: A unique skillset and mindset to carry through life.

Other schools are starting to take notice of our unique combination of social-emotional and academic curriculum, and several schools have inquired if WHPS can offer professional development for their staff. This January, we are hosting our first international delegation of teachers and administrators from Kang Chiao Schools in Taiwan and China. Kang Chiao is a well-established school that serves over 12,000 children in preschool-12th grade. Even though we are nowhere near the size of Kang Chiao, they are coming to Los Angeles to observe our program and learn from our teachers. Their visit will be focused on:

  • Columbia's Balanced Literacy Model
  • Technology Integration
  • Character Education/SEL
  • Project-Based & Inquiry-Based Learning
High Quality Free Joomla Templates by MightyJoomla | Design Inspiration FCT