January, Message from the Principal

posted Jan 13, 2015, 1:59 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Jan 13, 2015, 2:00 PM by PFC Webmaster ]

Happy 2015 to you, Walnut Acres parents!


The new year is arriving with good news on various fronts. We have new tricycles and printers through DonorsChoose (thank you, Mrs. Vanderbeek) and I have set myself a resolution to learn how to tweet to enhance school  

communication. We also have important personnel updates to pass along to you.


1.We have a counselor! Joanne Finn will be joining us to support the social skills and emotional development of our students. She has written a little introduction to you:


Hello!  My name is Joanne Cosmos Finn and I am pleased to join the Walnut Acres community as school counselor. I love working with children and the adults who support them, and have had the good fortune of doing this work for more than 20 years. I worked in MDUSD as a school psychologist at elementary and middle schools and preschools around the district for 14 years. In the past few years I've moved the focus of my work from assessment to intervention, completing a Marriage Family Therapy graduate program and now working as an MFT Intern. In addition to being a school counselor at Walnut Acres, I am a family clinician in the Oakland area for families with disabilities. I have specialty training in spectrum disorders and expressive arts therapy. One of my passions is music, and I love to share music-making with children and families. When I am relaxing I'm likely to have a guitar in hand, be stretching on a yoga mat, or be walking the beautiful open space trails in the area. Here at Walnut Acres, I am looking forward to providing individual and group counseling to students, while supporting parents. I began this week by introducing myself to teachers and students in each classroom.


2. We have 2 new instructional assistants. They are Mrs. Erin Roeder, who is a dedicated Walnut Acres volunteer and parent, and Mrs. Jennifer Davis, who joined us just this week with a wealth of experience under her belt. The PFC is profoundly thanked for the funds you allocate to provide counseling and assistant support to our teachers and students! 


3.We have a new SDC teacher who will join us the third week of January when Mrs. Cerrulo retires. He is James McKeehan, and he looks forward to joining our team.


4.Our custodian, Consuelo Sanchez, successfully completed knee surgery over the holiday. She will be recuperating through June 2015. We will miss Mrs. Sanchez, but she has left us in good hands with our long-term substitute custodian, Alex Helton. He is happy to work with parent volunteers to meet your facility needs.  


With our counselor in place we are able to accelerate our social skill work with students. Our life skill activities, such as Sing-out, will continue, as will our Bee Awards and Positive Discipline Referrals. We will augment that positive life skills focus with a Soul Shoppe presenter leading an anti-bullying assembly on Friday morning, January 23. We will also focus on training previously selected students as peacemakers on January 23, 24, and 29 so they can support problem-solving on the playground. When implementing the peace path, students focus on the skills of active listening (which is about listening carefully and sharing with the speaker what was heard), I-messaging (which consists of giving an assertive message without attacking the listener), and clean-up (which is about apologizing and developing a solution so the problem will not recur.) I tell the students very sincerely that the skills they practice in problem-solving will be valuable to them for the rest of their lives!


We expect that our students will occasionally have some interactional difficulties with one another. It's often how they learn. Our job is to teach our children that when they make a poor behavior choice, they correct it as best they can and learn from the experience to make a more successful choice next time they are in a similar situation. As in all things, some children have intuitive strength in the area of social skills and some children need more scaffolded teaching. That's where our counselor will be so helpful to our children, and I am immensely grateful to you all as a PFC, for providing that support to our kids!


Since I seem to be very focused on emotional development in this newsletter, I am going to close with information from an article authored by our new counselor, Ms. Finn. "The Power of Play," which appeared in MDUSD's SpecialEdge, indicates that play, defined as fun that comes with smiles and laughter, is essential to human development. It reflects a desire to engage and negotiate with others so that the fun can be co-created with another person. It is also fundamental to every kind of learning according to neuroscientists. It even shapes the brain. Yet play time is on the decline in our society. Fears of leaving children unsupervised and increasing educational pressure are postulated to cause this increase, but Finn suggests tips for parents to encourage playtime in our busy and very scheduled lives.


1. Praise play. Let children know they are doing a great job with their play with specific comments, but avoid suggestions so you don't lead them on a particular path.

2. Schedule fewer activities. Enrichment isn't...if there's too much of it.

3. Set limits on screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1-2 hours of screen entertainment per day.

4. Don't protect children from boredom. Realize that boredom provides time for children to develop their own activities.

5. Schedule special time for play with your child. 15-20 minute play time periods can be a special treat for your child and for you!

6. Let your child lead your play time. Allow children's play interests to guide your play, rather than leading the way.

7. Let yourself be silly and creative with your child. You'll find that the play time is invigorating for you, too.

8. Be aware of sensory play. Enjoy cuddle-time blankets and pillows that provide deep pressure, but also enjoy a game of putting stuffed animals to bed, or creating a tent for camping.

9. Be a role model. Show your children that it's important to make time for adult unstructured downtime.


Or as famous psychoanalyst Erik Erikson commented, "The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery."


Here's to learning through work and play!



Colleen Dowd, Principal