Junior School Closing Ceremony

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by Nancy Richards, Director of the Junior School

The Junior School Closing Ceremony provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon the past school year, for each Junior School student to receive their promotion certificate, and for all Grade 5 students to be recognized for their own personal excellence and their “right of passage” to the Middle School.

This afternoon is an opportunity to celebrate these remarkable children sitting before us today – all of whom have worked and played so hard and have accomplished so much – don’t they look smart in their number 1 uniforms!

Today, we also celebrate an outstanding year of academic accomplishment and joyful learning. Anyone who saw the Grade 3 pioneer projects, the Grade 4 habitat projects and the Grade 5 Gold Rush projects or, even more recently, attended the primary classroom Celebrations of Learning, can attest to the extraordinary ways in which teachers are facilitating meaningful and creative learning.

This afternoon I wish to recognize all of the Junior School teachers for weaving their magic as they keep in mind all the essential learning outcomes for their subject areas within an interdisciplinary context – all the while carefully and sensitively ensuring that each and every child finds the promise in themselves and the world. No pressure at all!

As we celebrate these rich and deep learning experiences for children, we must also celebrate their participation in – and the teachers’ support of – the many co-curricular and special events throughout the year. To name a few:

  • Our Grade 4 and 5 strings orchestra performances with Mrs. Smith and the Cross Campus Choral evenings at the Cathedral, conducted by Mr. Frater;
  • The numerous sporting events directed by Mr. Barber, including mini-rugby (led by Ms. Rees and Mr. Robinson), and the recent VISSA meet and last week’s successful and exciting Sports Day;
  • The Bell Choir performances, directed by Mrs. Goodman, along with the outstanding Grade 2 mini-musical, The Drum, directed by Mrs. Goodman and Mrs. Duffus;
  • The beautiful art displays throughout the school, including a number our students’ art being shown at the Independent School Art Show this spring, facilitated by Ms. Agathokolis;
  • The many service projects the children are involved in – with class visits to the James Bay Senior Care Home, our World Vision Project, the Grade 2 gingerbread project and student-initiated fundraisers, a craft fair by the Grade 4 girls for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Child Haven organization, and the most recent Grade 1 fundraiser called Nets for Malaria.
  • Last but not least, the extraordinary Grade 5 opera The Gypsy Baron, performed by our talented Grade 5 students and directed by Mr. Frater and supported behind the scenes by over 80 people, including every Junior School teacher along with Grade 5 parents and a volunteer orchestra – all of whom were deeply committed to bringing out the best in each student.

Amidst celebrating all of these many academic achievements and extracurricular involvements, it is particularly important to highlight a very special project we have been embracing and integrating more fully this year at the Junior School: the practice of mindfulness for young children. Educators and parents increasingly wrestle with the dilemma of ensuring a balance of academic excellence and other activities with the ever increasing trend of over-programming young children’s lives.

The Mindfulness Project came about as one way to help children live in balance – balancing children’s exuberance for learning and trying out new activities with their need to simply play.

Mrs. Sandquist, a Grade 4 teacher, has been leading the way by teaching the children and teachers the practice of mindfulness: how to keep their attention focused on the present moment so that they might connect with a deeper, calmer more peaceful part of themselves. Mrs. Sandquist has integrated the work into the character education program – The Virtues Project – and has provided faculty and students with a toolbox of strategies to use in classrooms which can be called upon whenever needed.

In preparation for today, I asked all the children to write to me about peacefulness.

Devon wrote, “As children, we need to let everyone in schools know that we need to have a balance between our studies and activities which are, of course, all fun but we need a calm centred space with time for reflection and tranquility.”

Tory agreed, “Everyday at school and at home we are so busy and even though it is exciting, I still need to calm and centre myself by practicing the mindful moment strategy of taking deep breaths and thinking in the present.”

Emily added, “When things get so busy in my life, I go to my happy place and take a mindful moment and take deep breaths. Participating in a yoga club brings me back to myself.”

And Connor stated, “During the busy times at school, I demonstrate peacefulness by taking small mindful moments before things begin to get really out of hand.”

Interestingly, many of the Junior School children wrote about connecting with nature as a strategy for dealing with their busy lives and for creating peacefulness & calmness within.

For Katie, peacefulness means “a sense of quiet within. It is spending time with trees and animals and all the pieces of nature.”

Markus in Grade 4 beautifully described his strategy for bringing peacefulness and balance to his day: “I am peaceful when I go on early morning walks with my mom and sister and my dog. I am peaceful because I love the feeling of a cool spring breeze blowing against my face and the feeling of hot chocolate gently rushing down my throat.”

Maggie wrote, “Peacefulness is always there within us to help you in your life. It can help you through the stressful times and when I close my eyes I listen to the sounds of the earth and actually see the colours in it.”

A mindful moment for Saba is when he “finds that peaceful place next to a tree, with time to think about how I might change the world.”

Patrick wrote about the technology dilemma – how useful a tool it is. But, he says, “I think that all the technology is actually making the world less peaceful and so I recommend more fresh air and time with nature to give the children an inner calm.”

In addition to connecting with nature, children need more unstructured time for creativity in order to balance their busy lives. For instance, Olivia wrote, “I demonstrate peacefulness when I am drawing or creating because that is when I feel the most welcome into the peacefulness space. I notice the little things around me like the chirping of baby birds in a tree or the feeling of wet clay on my hands.”

Addison spoke of being mindful of our focus on environmental awareness, which helps her find a sense of peacefulness. She wrote, “Peacefulness is getting more exercise and breathing in the fresh air while riding our bikes to school instead of driving.”

And many of the primary children found that simply spending time with their older grade “buddies” made school and life in general more peaceful.

As Mia commented, “Peacefulness is doing mindful moments with our Grade 4 buddies where we experience tranquility.”

Sophie said, “Peacefulness means having a mindful moment of reflection with the Grade 5 class and the beautiful rocks they gave us!”

Finally, Logan’s quote summarizes the Mindfulness Project’s essential purpose: “We can all make our lives and the world a more balanced and serene place if we practice mindfulness. First at home and then with our friends at school, and then within our neighbourhoods and cities… and finally within our province and the world.”

Today, we celebrate not only the children’s academic excellence and their participation in the many rich extracurricular events, but we celebrate their inner wisdom and insight about the importance of practicing mindful moments to balance their busy lives.

I ask the children to teach and share their wisdom with the adults in their lives, giving them permission to sit still, to take in their beautiful surroundings and to notice things they might not have noticed for a long, long time.

Parents, you may wish to take John’s advice to “Take three deep breaths after a hard day.” Or Tommy from Kindergarten’s suggestion: “The truth of it is that all people really need to know is when to take a break!”

I would like to leave you with the beautiful lyrics of a song we sing in Chapel on Monday mornings:

Come and find the quiet centre
In the crowded life we lead.
Find the room for hope to enter.
Find the frame where we are freed.
Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes, that we can see
All the things that really matter,
Be at peace, and simply be.

This speech has been edited and condensed. The entire ceremony will be available for viewing on SMUSTube by the end of next week. Photos are available in the SMUS photo gallery.

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