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Making Science Accessible for Young People

Wednesday, December 18, 2019


“At Contrast, partnering with Escuela del Sol and Harwood Art Center is another part of their continuous workforce development efforts. Each year, Nora, Mike and several employees from Contrast volunteer to create a science project for the junior high students at Escuela. One year they helped the students build a room-sized pinhole camera. Another year they lead a workshop series all about drones. ‘When kids are learning, if you can’t give them something tangible that they can touch or give them a great reason why making triangles is useful, then they’re not going to want to learn it,’ says Nora. By working on scientific projects from start to finish, kids learn that science and tech aren’t as daunting or unapproachable as they might seem.Read more about Escuela parent Nora Tocci’s commitment to mentorship and educational outreach in the Albuquerque area.

Anti-Bias, Anti-Racism Workshop

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


By Dana McCabe, Early Childhoood Program Coordinator

In early October, many Escuela staff members participated in a one-day workshop – Introduction to Anti-Bias, Anti-Racism Education, conducted by Crossroads Antiracism Organizing & Training. They are a non-profit dedicated to dismantling racism and promoting anti-bias education.

We were introduced to four education goals:

  • Strong, confident, self and group identity
  • To value differences
  • Critical thinking
  • Stand up against injustice


We learned the ages and stages of the development of racial/cultural identity and attitudes – which, unbelievably begin at birth! The considerations for implementing anti-bias/anti-racism education is acknowledging that it begins with self-reflection and being open to do the work it takes to understand how one might be perpetuating stereotypes in one’s environment/classroom.

The take away for many was teaching tools for classrooms regarding how to talk about similarities and differences within families, neighborhoods, and the wider community, without shaming children when they express interest in differences they see.
We received many resources to further our understanding, beginning with books that are chosen with a critical eye.

Some things that have already been implemented are finding books for the classrooms about the different foods people eat, where and how people live, or how babies are carried. This has sparked discussion about what are favorite foods, what type of homes our different families live in, and what makes a family.

In one classroom, questions arose about homelessness, prompting students to discuss how people live (and find shelter) in various ways – this fits perfectly with the discussion many Montessori guides have with children about the fundamental needs of humans, and how differently these needs are met.

One suggestion from the facilitators was designed to stimulate discussion about differences by asking families to provide family photos and for children to make associations about similarities and differences in family configurations with regard to skin, hair and eye color, abilities and genders.

We look forward to continuing the thoughtful discussions and the anti-bias, anti-racism work we have begun.

Escuela parents , Nora Tocci and her husband, Mike Tocci, founders of the tech company Contrast, Inc. believe investing in the community now helps to ensure a better future for Albuquerque.

Community Safety Meeting

Tuesday, October 22, 2019


By Friedje vanGils, Head of School

The Escuela safety meeting held last Tuesday was very informative; I think I speak for all that were there when I say we learned a lot! Lead City officials took time from their very busy schedules to speak to our community of parents, artists and staff, as did one of our own Escuela parents. What follows is a brief overview of the event.

City Councilor Pat Davis, Lieutenant Ray Del Greco, Traffic Engineeering Director Timothy Brown and Professor Maryam Ahranjani joined our Executive Director, Friedje vanGils, our Assistant Head of School Elizabeth Marcilla and our Harwood Chief Programs Officer, Julia Mandeville to provide information and answer questions.

Councilor Davis and Lieutenant Del Greco gave some background on what our city has experienced in the past and what the current administration’s goals are to address the problems of crime, homelessness and mental health issues. Lt. Del Greco is Captain of the Downtown area, so it was particularly great to have him here, knowing that he and his force are working in our neighborhood. The Lieutenant spoke about the change in policing approach (more relationship building and community based) and the move to address core issues via increasing services that are needed to prevent future problems. Councilor Davis presented a picture of the many needs facing our city. For example, in order to respond to the approximately 1500 calls per day that require police services, the city needs 1,050 officers plus another 200 to do proactive work in the community. Currently we are about three-quarters of the way toward getting all the officers we need; the administration hopes to fill the gap by 2020.

Members of the Escuela community have voiced concerns over traffic at the corner of Granite and Seventh Street, right where our parking lot exit is, where families cross to go to their parked cars, or walk from the neighborhood to Escuela. As most families have noticed, the City has installed a crosswalk and signs in response to our concerns. Mr. Timothy Brown, Traffic Engineering Division Director, gave some interesting insights into the processes and policies that guide decisions on traffic signage, lights, etc. One of the features many parents and staff of the school would like to see is an official “school zone,” complete with flashing lights. Unfortunately, that will not happen because per City policy, we do not have anywhere near the amount of traffic needed, and the majority of students do not walk in to school on their own without a parent escort; two factors that determine installation. Mr. Brown and Councilor Davis did, however, promise to continue to work with us on other avenues we could pursue as we continue to work on traffic safety. Be on the lookout for articles in the e-news for what we can do and where we need to work together as a community to make changes.

While this community safety meeting was planned months in advance (many thanks to Ms. Julia Mandeville for reaching out and scheduling our City officials!), the timing could not have been better given the recent incident in our parking lot. I am referring, or course, to the man who exposed himself at the playground fence — and who was apprehended and put in police custody in a matter of minutes.

As a result of this incident, I received many emails from you, our parent community. Most were supportive, some offered great suggestions, all were very much appreciated. One email in particular caught my attention, so I asked that parent, Professor Maryam Ahranjani, to speak at the meeting.

Ms. Ahranjani is a professor of law and a recognized expert, researcher and writer on issues of safety in educational environments. Ms. Ahranjani shared a traumatic experience she had as an eleven- year-old when there was a school shooting at her Chicago elementary school. Her interest in school safety and the law stems in part from this experience. She recently published a paper on the “Prisonization of America’s Public Schools” and has written a book and other articles. She can be reached via Escuela for anyone who would like copies of her work or some discussion about her research.
At the meeting I gave a quick run-down of the systems Escuela del Sol has in place to help ensure the safety of our immediate school community. These include:

  • An electronic lock-down system: at the push of a button many of the doors into buildings can be locked automatically.
  • A speaker system connected to the telephone system that can alert everyone on campus. Additional speakers are in hallways and outdoors. We use this system for a variety of safety drills; they are available for emergencies as well.
  • Entrance to the campus is limited to 4 points. The main entry, through the front doors of the Harwood building, is always locked and is monitored by an employee.
  • Cameras are strategically situated throughout the campus to allow monitoring of activity.
  • Facility maintenance personnel also serve as security. This team consists of 4 men who are all over the campus and in various building locations throughout the day.
  • This maintenance / security team is always reachable via walkie-talkies and/or cell phones. In fact, it was our facilities manager who immediately ran last Friday’s intruder off the grounds and stayed with him until APD had him in handcuffs in a matter of minutes.
  • Drills are a part of monthly activity, primarily fire drills; we do occasional lock-down and shelter-in-place drills as well.
  • Traffic safety: 3 – 5 employees are available every morning to ensure safe student drop-off.
  • The fencing around the campus was recently heightened to make it more difficult to gain entry (and painful, as well!).
  • The school recently participated in radon testing as well as lead testing of the drinking water, with an all clear for both.

Evaluating the physical safety of our campus remains an on-going process. We want to emphasize that safety is a collaborative effort involving the whole community. For this reason we often remind the families, employees, artists and others who use our facilities of the following:

  • Please don’t open the gates / doors for someone you don’t know. If someone wanting entrance does not know the code, he or she can buzz the office via the speakers at the south blue gate.
  • Visitors are asked to enter via the Harwood front doors.
  • Say hello and make eye contact with people you don’t know.

Your collaboration and support will help keep our children and everyone else for whom our campus is home-base, safe and secure. We know that homelessness and mental health issues are wounds in our community that must be addressed collectively.

Escuela del Sol’s deepest commitment is to cultivating an environment that is safe and generative. The physical, emotional and mental safety of our school community is integral to our mission.


City Councilor Pat Davis  gave some background on what our city has experienced in the past and what the current administration’s goals are to address the problems of crime, homelessness and mental health issues.

Lt. Del Greco is Captain of the Downtown area. He spoke about the change in policing approach – more relationship building and community based – and the move to address core issues via increasing services that are needed to prevent future problems.

Language Night

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


By Sarah Louderbough, Elementary and Jr. High Program Support

Human beings are wired to connect. Communication continues to be a vital tool, and the development of language links inextricably with thought and ideas. Young children absorb languages effortlessly; they are sponges. The drive to communicate, to engage with others, to express needs and desires, is potent. Elementary-aged children delight in taking things apart to better understand how they work, and language is no exception. They experiment with the power of words, often eliciting strong reactions, and develop skills that allow them to access and share information in new and exciting ways. In early adolescence, the brain experiences incredible change second only to that which occurs between birth and age 3. Skills and concepts are revisited and applied in sophisticated new ways; language is an integral part of absolutely every area of adolescent life.

Language acquisition and development is nurtured in a wide variety of ways in every classroom at Escuela del Sol, from Toddlers to Jr. High. As human beings grow, their needs and abilities evolve; classroom environments, and the ways concepts are presented and explored also change. Our collaborative presentation about language across the levels offered parents a glimpse into the complex and sophisticated ways we support language development at Escuela del Sol Montessori. Read more…



Language permeates the Primary classrooms as well; the hand continues to be prepared for writing. Children learn connections between sound and symbol, and are able to compose words with the movable alphabet before they are able to form letters with pencil and paper.

Throughout the six years of Elementary, language development is like a fireworks display, colorful, varied, and firing, sometimes spiraling off in every direction. Foundational skills solidify; children read for practice, for information, and for pleasure.

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