Learning how to make and be a friend is one of the major developmental tasks of early childhood. It’s like learning to read – it’s a foundational skill for building later competencies that depend on this.

Oak Grove is thrilled to support an on-campus residency with Benjamin Mertz, composer, performer, and song leader who specializes in music of the Black Spiritual tradition.

Humans are social animals. Does the quantity and quality of our social relationships impact our state of health, future risk of disease, and our life span?  Are the effects of relationships via social media the same or different from those of in-person relationships? Please join our presenter Dr. Pathik Wadhwa in a discussion that will touch on the biological and behavioral science behind social relationships, both in-person and virtual.

Former Head of School, Meredy Benson Rice, now the Director of Teaching and Learning spoke about her personal journey as an educator and how students experience education at Oak Grove School as part of the 2015 Do Lecture Series.

If you were not able to join us for this timely Parent Education event, or would like to review, we have provided this recording of  parenting expert Dolly Klock’s  special presentation on the challenge of finding a balance between screen life and real life. The recording includes attending parents’ Q&A.

As educators and parents, we have an important role in contextualizing disturbing world events like the recent violent takeover of our country’s capitol. After a year of challenge after challenge, this will require reaching into our deepest reserves of energy and resilience. But we must do what we can to provide a sense of understanding and stability amid chaos. We are obligated to take an active role in building a healthier, more just future.

Our first Parent Education workshop in the series of the year looked a little different, but the content was equally  impactful. Organized and facilitated by High School history teacher Will Hornblower, Parent Education Workshops have been an incredible resource, and have recently been made available to the greater community.

Observing a pair of California Scrub Jays through binoculars with students and parents in the quiet early hour before school begins…

Witnessing the Pavilion transform into the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia of 1905…

Discovering the studio of Leonardo Da Vinci surrounded by student-crafted renditions of Mona Lisa and Self Portrait in the medium of candy (yes, candy!)…

Learning the process of sketching out a mural from concept to fruition, which is inspired by a group of high school students’ open-hearted immigration ideals…

All this happened this past week, and all were initiated and/or implemented by our parents. As Krishnamurti said the day before the school opened for the first time, “It would be right that the parents as well as the teachers and the students work together as a family unit.”

We ask parents to communicate directly with the teachers and staff, to attend parent education meetings, to actively read school and classroom updates, and to volunteer for projects and activities already established within the school. When parents move beyond this base-level of engagement and are energized by an idea for which the school can provide scaffolding for its implementation, we are able to provide something that might not otherwise be possible. When parents and staff can partner to bring form to a new idea, we are able to broaden our resources and capacity as a school, as a community, and as a family unit. Being a small school with a skeletal staff and a modest tuition, we might be limited by internal resources. But limited we are not! We have parents with an incredible wealth of knowledge, talents, and energies who choose to share those with our community. We rely on our parents to complete the circle so we can, together, operate a school “where one learns about the totality, the wholeness of life.”

March 31, 2019

by Christina Sbarra

Self-Discovery: Making Space for What Really Counts

The recent college admissions scandal, dubbed Varsity Blues, hit the news just a few days before the release of Turning the Tide II, the second installment of a report on the college admissions process from the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project.  As if part of a well-choreographed but tragic dance, a large portion of the report, entitled Ethical Parenting in the College Admissions Process, unabashedly calls out parents for “failing to prepare young people to be caring, ethical community members and citizens.”  According to students surveyed for the report, most parents place far more emphasis on their children getting into good colleges than on them being good people.  “In an effort to give their kids everything, these parents often end up robbing them of what counts.”

The report goes on to provide recommendations for parents guiding their teens through the college admissions process. Their first recommendation, ‘Keep the focus on your teen,’ centers around supporting the teen’s authenticity.   In order to be authentic, teens first need to know themselves.  In fact, identity formation is a primary facet of adolescence.  But when in the frantic years of clamoring to accumulate outstanding grades, AP credits, athletic awards, participation in clubs and leadership credentials, do these teens have time to get to know themselves?

Parents are not the only culprits here.  At risk of stating the obvious, Harvard itself is a major culprit.  In fact, Harvard is ironically leading the pack on both sides of this dilemma: as arguably the most elite university of them all (with a record low 4.5% acceptance rate this year) and also as head of a movement to re-write college admissions criteria.  Kudos to them for at least trying to be part of the solution.

All of the adults stewarding children through childhood play a role in this crisis and have the opportunity to be part of “turning the tide.”  In my mind, the best way for both parents and educators to support young people in the essential process of self-discovery and increasing independence is to get out of the way, to back-off, humbly taking our well-thought out agendas and our best intentions with us.  Schools can build in time in the regular schedule for pursuit of personal interests, for social interaction, and for quiet reflection. Parents can seek out and support these schools, eschewing questions about test scores, rankings, and college acceptances in favor of deep consideration of the culture of the school, the quality of the relationships, and the opportunities for self-discovery.  Together parents and teachers can build supportive communities committed to creating the space teens need to come to know themselves.

There are many elementary and high schools that intentionally provide opportunities for self-discovery.   Here are just a few inspiring examples from my own personal research this past year.

Oak Grove School in Ojai, California incorporates both time and space for a variety of contemplative practices into the regular weekly schedule and into the campus. These include meditation, council circles, quiet time communing with nature, and the 7th grade rocking chair circle pictured above.

Skorpeskolen Private School in Helsingor, Denmark offers Personal Time to students in the early grades and Talent Time to students in the upper grades.  These weekly periods provide opportunities to follow a curiosity, to pursue a personal passion, and to develop the capacity for sustained, deep focus on a self-directed project for an extended amount of time.  Open in Google Chrome for a translation of the website.

The Green School in Bali, Indonesia identifies sustainability as one its primary values.  They believe that the practice of sustainability starts at the individual level.   For that reason, teachers are free to set aside all academic demands whenever an individual child needs extra social-emotional support.

You can access the full report from Harvard here.
Harvard’s class of 2023 acceptance rate reported in The Crimson.

You can view Christina Sbarra’s original post here.

Tobi Jo Greene of The Empowerment Workshop joined some Oak Grove parents a few weeks ago for a discussion on how to have healthy and productive conversations with children and adolescents about sex and sexuality. Here are a few of the key points from the discussion:

How do I start conversations about sex and relationships with my kids?

  • Everyday life provides plenty of moments for talking about sex and relationships. Here are some common “teachable moments”:
    • When you see an advertisement for tampons, condoms, or birth control.
    • When puberty, dating, LGBTQ issues, love, or sex comes up on a TV show, in a movie, or in a song on the radio
    • When someone you know announces that they’re pregnant.
    • When you see a portrayal of an unrealistic or oversexualized stereotype.
    • News stories that talk about sex.
  • When a “teachable moment” arises, make sure to ask open-ended questions like:
    • “What do you know about how pregnancy happens?”
    • “Would you want to date someone who acted like that?”
    • “Do you think s/he looks like that in real life?”

What if you feel awkward about bringing up sex with your children?

  • Leave books around the house for them to find and let them explore them on their own.
  • Find a trusted surrogate to talk about these issues with your child.
  • Admit your discomfort as a first step in the conversation. The more you talk about it with your child, the more the conversation will be normalized.

What if you can’t find the right time to have “the talk” or your child refuses to engage with you?

  • Use car rides and other times when your child might be more receptive to a conversation. While riding in the car, eye contact is naturally indirect and uncomfortable topics can feel easier.
  • Speaking in generalities and talking about other peers might be more comfortable than personal questions. For example, ask “At what age do you think it’s ok for kids to start having sex?” as opposed to “So, are you having sex?”

Foster closeness with your child

  • Research shows that adolescents who have better relationships with their parents tend to have a lower likelihood of “early sexual intercourse initiation.” On the other hand, the same study showed that lower relationship quality and less parental monitoring increased the odds that a teen would initiate sex. More importantly, adolescents who are educated with comprehensive sex education are better equipped to make strong, positive decisions regarding their bodies and their sexuality, therefore, when they do engage in sexual activity, it is more likely safe, positive, and involved informative consent.

Don’t make assumptions and make sure to debunk myths

  • Kids are picking up information from peers and the internet that is frequently misinformed. The ubiquity and availability of pornography has led many adolescents to have an unrealistic and unhealthy image of what a sexual relationship looks like. In addition, a child might be very knowledgeable about one aspect of sex or sexuality but have large gaps when it comes to other aspects.

Don’t be afraid to start discussing sex and sexuality at an early age:

  • Always use the proper terms for anatomy and teach your children to use them too. Use these terms from the very beginning — so that children are as comfortable naming their genitals as they are their elbows and ankles.
  • Lessons about respecting personal space and asking for permission easily transfer into lessons about consent and personal boundaries.

Focus on do’s instead of do not’s

  • Teaching your child to have a healthy and positive outlook on sex will help them throughout their lifetime. Teach them that it is normal to have sexual urges, to masturbate, and to desire intimacy. Learn about sex positivity and move from that direction, rather than from fear. The idea of our children being sexually active can be scary for most parents, but the alternative, not discussing these topics, can have a negative impact on their sexual health and well being.
  • Most parents naturally trend toward discussing what not to do and often forget to place emphasis on what to do when it comes to sexuality and personal safety. If your child learns how to react when stuck in a dangerous or uncomfortable circumstance, they will be much more likely to remember it in the heat of the moment.
  • When teaching assertiveness, be very clear, that speaking up about what you DO like or want, is also very healthy.
  • When people feel that they are in charge of their own bodies and their sexuality, they are more likely to communicate with sexual partners about protection, testing for STIs, and safety. They are also more likely to feel comfortable talking with a doctor about their bodies or a trusted adult when something in their relationship doesn’t feel right.

Learn with your child

  • Don’t assume that you know everything about the topic. If you don’t know the answer to something, you can look it up on your own or together. You can say, “I’m glad you asked that question. I’m not sure how to explain it/what the answer is. Let’s look it up!”
  • Be honest with yourself about areas of sexuality you find offensive, don’t agree with, or make you uncomfortable, and educate the ignorance out of yourself. You can do real damage to a human being that you love with your spoken or unspoken messages about something they may be personally dealing with.

Links to resources that discuss sex, sexuality and healthy relationships.

For parents and kids seeking reliable information:

Specifically for teens: