Service, Involvement, Community, and Fun
Parents’ Circle is the name of Black Pine Circle School’s Parent Association, a group of parents who get together every second Tuesday of the month during the school year to plan upcoming Black Pine Circle School events, organize volunteer opportunities, and discuss relevant issues pertaining to the school. The core group of Parents’ Circle is comprised of the co-chairs and the volunteer room parents from each class. However, all parents are invited and welcome to attend any of the monthly meetings. Each meeting also has at least one representative from the administration and a member of the faculty present.
The role of the Parents’ Circle co-chairs is to serve as the liaison between the school’s administration and the room parents to help disseminate important information to the school community about upcoming activities and volunteer opportunities. Participation in the life of Black Pine Circle School by our parent body is critical to the well-being of the school. Black Pine Circle School is teaming with multi-talented, creative and independent-minded parents and volunteering is not only a great way to become further involved in your child’s life at school, but it also helps to build strong community bonds among parents.
Volunteer as a Room Parent
Each class has two to four parents who act as liaisons between their class and the Parents’ Circle. Room parents attend monthly Parents’ Circle meetings (2nd Tuesday of each month) and help communicate with and organize volunteers from their class. Room Parents are also responsible for enacting the phone tree in the event of an emergency.
Classroom Curricular Enrichment Volunteers
Parents are invited to plan and celebrate events, share an expertise or skill, and/or to help with projects in your child’s class as needed. If there is something you would like to share with the class, please speak with to your child’s teacher. Other opportunities for parent involvement include volunteering in the library, the garden, and as parent tour guides for prospective parents. Parents have also volunteered to teach after-school classes or lead after-school clubs. Contact Laura Wolff, Head of Lower School or Bill Webb, Upper School Head.
Chaperones & Field Trip Drivers
In a given year, each class normally takes 4-5 field trips. We almost always need parent chaperones and drivers. Parents must meet minimum insurance requirements for these events and abide by chaperoning rules (see the “Good Guardian’s Guide”). Requests for drivers are sent home with students prior to each field trip. Upper School parents are needed to transport teams and spectators to sports events and to chaperone dances, too! Chaperones are solicited by email prior to these events.
Board of Directors Sub-Committees
Like other non-profits, Black Pine Circle School has a Board of Directors that provides leadership and support to the school. Occasionally, there are opportunities for individuals from the parent body to serve on sub-committees of the board, examples include: Technology, Development, Finance, Planning, Diversity, and Facilities & Land. For more information contact Anne Marie Sanders.
Join one of our Parent Committees
Joining a committee provides an excellent opportunity to be involved in Black Pine Circle school life, to help nurture our programs, and to connect with other families.
Families Make a Difference Committee: Participate in school-wide community service events for the whole family, such as Coastal Clean-up Day (Sept. 25, 2010) and collection drives for the Harrison House, a local shelter for the homeless, and Food Drives. Contact Steven Emerson.
Technology Committee: If you have an interest or expertise in helping Black Pine Circle meet its technology needs as they relate to parent communication, website development, or equipment to support our programs, join this committee led by Technology Director, Menna Stern.
Safety Committee: Members will coordinate emergency preparedness procedures at the Upper and Lower School Campuses and make suggestions on improving safety at the school. Members may also coordinate workshops and lessons for students on personal and school safety. To volunteer, contact Meg Wood.
Community Service at Black Pine Circle
Black Pine Circle School is dedicated to making volunteering real and meaningful, through Community Service Days organized by the school, and also by encouraging and facilitating students and families to continue volunteering throughout the year. Our school community also comes together in times of crisis to support international and local disaster relief efforts – such as the Haitian Earthquake relief effort and the shelter fire fund at the East Bay Humane Society.
On Community Service Days, the younger grades focus on activities on campus that serve our school community, such as clean up and beautification projects, and the older grades, accompanied by teachers (in groups of about 8-9 students), go off campus to programs that can benefit from volunteer help. Some of these programs are shown below:
Recent Volunteer Group Locations:
Alameda County Community Food Bank
Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay
Aquatic Park EGRET
Berkeley Youth Alternatives
California Coastal Clean-up Day
Center for AIDS Services
East Bay Humane Society / Berkeley Pound
Glide Memorial Church Meal Service
Harrison House Family Shelter
Harbor House Ministries
North & West Berkeley Senior Centers
Share Manna-Basket in Pinole (food & gift baskets)
St. Vincent de Paul Meal Service
Tilden Park Preservation
Verde Partnership Garden (a Project of the Tides Center)
Watershed Restoration Project in Richmond
Yeshede Tibetan Book-Binding Project
Annual/Recent “On Campus Drives”
Canned Food Drive for Alameda County Community Food Bank
Coin Drive for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Coat Drive for Verde Elementary School
Toy Drive for Harrison House Family Shelter
Bake sales for Partners in Health, Haitian Earthquake
Vickie Blomquist from “Share Manna Basket” appreciates the help from Black Pine Circle School 8th graders:
“I was very impressed with the students who came to work on the pantry. They were quite friendly and attentive from the beginning when we had introductions and then orientation about what Share Manna-Basket is all about. They worked well in teams of 2 doing the chores presented to them. They helped to dispose of any expired food from the shelves, wiped the shelves down and re-stocked the shelves”.
What’s the Story of Families Make a Difference?
Activism and community-building in our own back yard
To some of us, it may seem that Families Make a Difference has been around forever, with its red mittens at the holidays, tabling outside the school gates for the food drive, and continuous appeals in the PTN. But, in truth, the organization is relatively new to Black Pine Circle. So, what’s your story, FMD? I took a look and here is what I found:
Families Make a Difference began in the fall of 2006, following discussions between Liz McBee-Horner and John Carlstroem on how to offer the Black Pine Circle community meaningful and consistent opportunities for community outreach. It sprang from a desire for Black Pine Circle adults and children to engage together in community work that would enliven the school’s relationship to its immediate community, offer parents an opportunity in their busy lives to fill their own desires to volunteer, and, most importantly, create an avenue for teaching our children the value of working for the benefit of others.
When asked her motivation to start such a group on campus, Liz referenced a well-known quote (turns out to be Norman Vincent Peale): “The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.” Said she, “I crave being involved in something bigger than myself, that’s what keeps me going. And I want my kids to know that feeling, to have that sensibility. I really feel that the Black Pine Circle community is that way by nature.”
Mark Johnson, describes his decision to participate this way: “My wife, Jane, and I feel strongly that it is important to provide a model for our daughter of caring about others and working to improve and benefit the communities in which we work, live or attend school.” One of the earliest members of the group, Janice Sager, echoes this sentiment: “In relation to the rest of the world, our children live privileged lives (as do we). It’s very important that they understand how different are the lives of other, less fortunate folks – and what they can do to create a better world.”
So, FMD seems to have filled a need, and the community jumped on its offerings that that first year. There was California Coastal Clean-Up in September, a tool drive for Habitat for Humanity, an Alameda County Food Bank drive, and finally, a decorating party and holiday gift drive at Harrison House. In retrospect, it is impressive how many events have continued from that first year, given the group’s continual challenge to find appropriate activities for the community.
FMD has worked hard to balance its offerings, hoping to make volunteer opportunities available and fill charity needs without overtaxing the community. Discussions continually revolve around that issue. Yet, from the beginning, an effort was made to present events from which the community could pick and choose. Says Liz, “Everybody’s busy and it’s hard to take the time to step outside the management of our own lives. That’s why we built FMD as a low-pressure activity, knowing how challenging time pressures are for parents.”
As FMD grew, the second year brought with it a huge change—Liz was asked to Co-Chair Parents’ Circle, which meant she had no time left to shepherd Families Make a Difference. But with great serendipity, new leaders stepped in. Around that time Steven Emerson was pondering his options for greater involvement at Black Pine Circle. What ignited him was the idea of community service, and the option of combining this personal drive with a school program was a perfect match. Steven wanted a partner to work with and Bill Fleig stepped forward. Bill wanted to renew his “activist roots” that had inevitably gone dormant since having kids; here was an opportunity to get back to an important part of himself, as well as introduce his kids to his worldview.
The challenge for Steven and Bill was where to take the group next. While they continued some activities from the first year, they also researched new possibilities. What they found was dispiriting: very few volunteer organizations are willing to work with young children, at least as young as our lower school kids. And this has proved one of the constant challenges for FMD—how to find activities that our youngest students can join in on.
Not knowing quite what to do next, Steven and Bill rather spontaneously held a battery drive (collecting used batteries for proper disposal), which was enthusiastically received by the community. (Who knew?) This may have been when the group came to have the nickname “The Posse,” realizing that part of its modus operandi was to take off at high speed after a variety of needs as they presented themselves.
But the most consistent piece of FMD’s program has been its work with Harrison House, a homeless shelter at 4th and Harrison Streets in Berkeley. This relationship has deepened over time, with shelter staff and families now working side by side to plan such events as the upcoming Harrison House/Black Pine Circle Community Fun Day and BBQ. As Steven Emerson puts it, the relationship with Harrison House is tangible and direct, not just handing over goods to anonymous parties. For example, after attending the Community Fun Day and BBQ last year, one kindergartener said to her father, “I thought all homeless people had shopping carts.” The opportunities for education and understanding are endless.
What fuels FMD members is both the core relationship with Harrison House and the passion of newcomers who bring fresh ideas. Jennifer Kawar came with an interest in the Alameda County Food Bank and, voila, a new event was offered. Recently Lisa Romo (Maria, 5th) discovered a program in our own back yard, Aquatic Park EGRET, spawning a new event and igniting the interest of fellow FMD member, Jeff Williams. Says Jeff, “I’d like to see Black Pine Circle form a meaningful, long-term relationship with Aquatic Park EGRET. Here is this amazing riparian resource just two blocks from the school, and we have little awareness that it’s under perpetual stress.”
As FMD moves forward, it wants the Black Pine Circle community to understand that becoming involved doesn’t entail a mountain of work. In reality, there couldn’t be a more easy-going group. Steven Emerson points out that a good working model seems to have emerged over the last few years. There is a small core of organizers, yet when events and activities loom, the Black Pine Circle community steps forward to help and attend. The circle widens as events approach; it works. But if you want to take a look at the organizing meetings, Steven wants folks to know that they can do so without pressure. “The core group of organizers is really open. Anyone who’s curious about FMD or who’s got an idea to explore can come to a meeting without fear that they’ll be saddled with all the work.”
Despite the hard work that has gone into crafting an appropriate organization for the community, FMD has been characterized by a kind of informal and natural evolution that has yielded delightful surprises along the way. One such is the involvement of the Upper School Student Council. Last December the Upper School students, with the vital help of teachers and staff, jumped on the Harrison House Holiday Gift Drive. They held bake sales, donated part of the proceeds from their fall dance, and collected money at lunch for many days. This is something FMD is particularly proud of—providing an opportunity for Black Pine Circle students to take the ball and run with it, using their own ingenuity and motivation to do some good. Working more closely with both Upper and Lower School students is at the top of FMD’s agenda for next year.
It is precisely this kind of student involvement that lives at the heart of FMD’s goals. Says Bill Fleig, “Despite our name, we’re not trying to make a difference. What we’re trying to do is teach our children that they can make a difference. And in the end there will be a ripple effect, so that our efforts will have been exponentially successful if our children go out and become contributors and volunteers in their own lives.”
COMMUNITY SERVICE IS A FAMILY AFFAIR AT BLACK PINE CIRCLE SCHOOL
Just before the holidays, middle school students at Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley got a life lesson they would never forget—how easy it is to become homeless. Sixty-year old ‘Cindy’, a resident of West Berkeley’s Harrison House Homeless Shelter, took the stage at a school assembly to tell the kids how quickly she had gone from being a highly paid middle school teacher to a resident at the shelter. She walked among the children, asking them questions, probing their thoughts, and describing the attack by a student that put her on disability and workers’ comp, which caused her eventual slide into homelessness. The assembly ended with Harrison House directors explaining how they attempt to create a sense of community and instill hope in shelter residents who navigate life in cramped quarters, often juggling the emotions that come with a sense of personal failure.
Black Pine Circle School’s relationship with Harrison House, located just a mile from the school, has been building for four years as part of the work of Families Make A Difference, a parent-run community service group. What began as a holiday tradition – a holiday decorating party at the shelter along with a gift drive – has expanded into something much more significant. The relationship has grown close and organic, going far beyond the donation of money and goods, which is exactly what the two groups want. Families from the shelter and school now work side by side to plan joint community events, such as the holiday events and an annual spring barbeque at Harrison House. “It has been great to learn what our families are now doing on their own,” says parent Steven Emerson, an active member of Families Make A Difference. “At Thanksgiving one family delivered hors d’oeuvres to the shelter before dinner and another worked in the kitchen. One mother who sews is taking her machine to the shelter and sewing for people. Other families have brought their children for play dates with families at the shelter.”
Black Pine Circle School is a K-8 private school in Berkeley, known for its integration of arts and academics, and its use of the Socratic Method to promote academic inquiry and exploration. Although Black Pine Circle students are involved in community service projects at school, parents created Families Make a Difference to provide opportunities for families to engage together in service work outside the classroom. The enterprise has been wholeheartedly supported by school staff. It sprang from a desire to enliven the school’s relationship to its immediate community, offer parents an opportunity to fill their own desires to volunteer, and, most importantly, create an additional avenue for teaching children the value of working for the benefit of others.
“My wife and I feel it is important to provide a model for our daughter,” says parent Mark Johnson, “of caring about others and working to benefit the communities in which we work, live or attend school.” Another parent, Bill Fleig, wanted to renew his “activist roots” that had gone dormant since having kids; here was an opportunity to get back to an important part of himself, as well as introduce his kids to his worldview. In fact, studies on philanthropy show that if parents actively participate in service projects, rather than simply donating goods or money, their children have a far greater likelihood of becoming involved in philanthropy themselves.
While its program has been successful and well received, Families Make a Difference faces multiple challenges. Foremost is the fact that few volunteer organizations will work with elementary school age children. This has proved a constant stumbling block—how to find activities that the youngest students can participate in. Another challenge is offering the school community opportunities to donate and volunteer without overtaxing people’s time and resources. Economic times are hard for all, yet Families Make a Difference realizes that the need for assistance is dramatically high right now. Each month thousands of Alameda County residents don’t have enough to eat, and calls to the Alameda County Food Bank for assistance are rapidly rising. Every night in Alameda County between 6,000 and 8,000 individuals do not have a place to sleep.
Knowing that its constituents have diverse interests and capacities to give, Families Make a Difference attempts to provide something for everyone by putting forward a variety of service activities, including the California Coastal Clean-Up Day each September, Alameda County Food Bank Drives, and work with Aquatic Park’s EGRET program, among many others. But the most consistent piece of its program is the work with Harrison House. The shelter is part of the Berkeley-based BOSS organization (Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency), which assists homeless, poor and disabled people in Alameda County. Harrison House provides shelter for 50 adults and 17 families, with a total of 106 residents.
Harrison House is a unique and model program. Most homeless shelters close their doors during the day, only allowing residents to return in the evening. Believing that this perpetuated the cycle of homelessness, and without an increase in budget or staffing, Harrison House has managed to keep its doors open during the day to offer skill-building and educational workshops. “If people are in an emergency situation, the last thing you want to do is perpetuate the transience,” says Daniel Barth, a case manager at the shelter. “We work with people around six areas of what we call ‘Wellness Tracks.’ These include health, decision-making, income security, housing, community, and purpose or long-term goals. We feel this program helps create a path to self-sufficiency for our residents.”
“Black Pine Circle offers our residents a lifeline of community support,” Daniel continues. “We are out here by ourselves, not well-resourced, and the school’s commitment to us is modeling what it really means to take a stake hold in people’s lives. Here at the shelter we are trying to get residents to see that it’s about more than ‘me taking care of me,’ but is about ‘us taking care of us.’ Many of our residents feel overlooked by society and that they just don’t matter, so Black Pine Circle’s interest and very personal support gives people confidence and new faith. The more we can engage in partnerships like this, the more opportunity we have to bring about success for families who are truly overwhelmed.”
Involving students in the partnership with Harrison House is particularly important to Families Make a Difference. “During the holiday gift drive,” explains Steven Emerson, “the middle school kids found out about a girl who asked Santa Claus for a pair of reading glasses, which she desperately needed. They jumped on it and held bake sales and gave some of the proceeds from their school dance to raise $300 for the glasses.” To encourage this initiative and deepen the connection between children at the shelter and the school, middle school students will be in charge of joint events between the children this year. In addition, Black Pine Circle families hope to offer babysitting, take shelter families on field trips, and even have joint music or movie nights. Not only does this offer valuable support to parents who are stretched thin, it provides positive family role modeling for shelter families and valuable insights for Black Pine Circle children. After attending a barbeque at the shelter last year, one Kindergartener said to her father, “I thought all homeless people had shopping carts.” The opportunities for understanding and community-building are endless.
Black Pine Circle School and Parent Education
At Black Pine Circle School we offer several opportunities each year to come together as adult learners. We select our guest speakers and consortia in-line with our yearly theme (e.g. Connect The Dots, That’s a Really Good Questions, What’s Your Story), and based on recent research and burgeoning data coming out around learning, parenting, and life for school-aged children. We typically meet approximately six times a year, but always leave room for something wonderful! Examples of past Parent Education Events have included:
• Technology Use and the Family
• Being a Non-anxious Present as a Parent with Sheri Glucoft Wong
• Science at Black Pine Circle: A Demystification
• Understanding Black Pine Circle School’s Strings and Music Program Goals
• Do Boys and Girls Learn Differently?
• Mathematics as a Family Affair
• Film Nights with Our Local Parent Film-makers
• Kidpower: Avoiding conflict and how to manage bully behavior
• How To Talk With Your Sons and Daughters About Puberty And Sex