Responding to Parkland


STEM K-8 Families,

It’s been a tough 24 hours for schools and families.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of Parkland.  The horror of what happened in Florida (and other school shootings) has reverberated in different ways for students staff and families.  It is a struggle for adults and children alike to try to comprehend why and how such a senseless and shocking incident can occur. Excessive and repeated media viewing can create increased anxiety and therefore limiting ongoing exposure is recommended. Talking about the incident can be a healthy way for families to process their feelings and reactions to an event of this nature.

How to help children cope:

  • Listen to and accept children’s feelings.
  • Give honest, simple, brief answers to their questions.
  • Make sure they understand your answers and the meaning you intend.
  • Use words or phrases that won’t confuse a child or make the world more frightening.
  • Create opportunities for children to talk with each other about what happened and how they are feeling.
  • Give your child an honest explanation. If you are feeling so upset you don’t want to talk about what happened, you may want to take “time out” and ask a trusted family friend to help.
  • If children keep asking the same question over and over again it is because they are trying to understand; trying to make sense out of the disruption and confusion in their world. Younger children will not understand that death is permanent, so their repeated inquiries are because they expect everything to return to normal.
  • Even if you feel the world is an unsafe place, you can reassure your child by saying, “The event is over. Now we’ll do everything possible to stay safe, and together we can help get things back to normal.”

I’ve also attached to the bottom of this letter Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers from the American Association of School Psychologists.

The well-being and safety of your children is STEM’s top concern.  We have procedures and plans in place to support school safety.  All visitors must check in through the office, and glass doors channel visitors that way.  We conduct at least one safety-related drill each month, and have a safety plan that outlines procedures for prevention, mitigation, response and recovery in the event of a crisis. We have practiced lock down and shelter in place drills with students, and reviewed those procedures today.

We feel deep sorrow for those who lost loved ones because of the tragedy Parkland yesterday. No words can explain the horror or senselessness of this deed. I understand this news brings anguish to parents and individuals around the world. It is a tragic day and our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those affected by violence.


Ben Ostrom

STEM K-8 Principal

Tips for Talking to Children About Violence




Black Lives Matter Week

February 5-9  is Black Lives Matter week in Seattle Public Schools (SPS).  We serve approximately 55,000 students that are diverse in every way.  Our school system has struggled to end the unacceptable educational disparities between white and African American students.  Educators, families, community members and students across Seattle are making a commitment to eliminate inequity and to ensure equal opportunities for greatness.  The first week of February, educators across the United States are marking “Black Lives Matter in School” to take a stand for social justice.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a non-violent peace movement that systematically examines injustices that exist at the intersections of race, class, and gender; including mass incarceration, poverty, non-affordable housing, income disparity, homophobia, unfair immigration laws, gender inequality, and poor access to healthcare.

The question of “Why Black Lives Matter,” rather than “All Lives Matter” is important to consider.  A number of analogies provide insight: a house on fire needs more water than a neighbor’s house that is not burning, or “everyone should eat” doesn’t provide consolation to the person who missed their dinner.  On Twitter from ManOfTheHour@djsoap92, “#AllLivesMatter is like I go to the Dr for a broken arm and he says “All Bones Matter” ok but right now let’s take care of this broken one….” Former President Obama explained, “I think that the reason that the organizers used the phrase Black Lives Matter was not because they were suggesting that no one else’s lives matter…rather what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities.” The historical context of racism experienced by African Americans in the United States makes Black Lives Matter an important movement towards creating racial justice and equity for other impacted communities.

On Monday, February 5 volunteers will be in front of the school to start the day sharing tables with resources and sign making and stickers for people who want to participate but don’t have a t-shirt.  You can find resources to discuss race and racism with children at many places including



STEM K-8 Middle School Math Pathway

Developing a vision for math at STEM K-8 involved planning and research into instructional materials and the scope and sequence of math skills students learn.  From the beginning our mission has valued challenge and preparing students to take advanced math courses in high school and beyond. Currently within Seattle Public Schools and nationally, completing Algebra by 8th grade is a common pathway to advanced mathematics in high school.

To support this aspect of STEM K-8’s vision we made important choices.  As a K-8 school, we are staffed to provide one primary sequence of math classes for students (students receiving Special Education services for math in middle school may follow a different course sequence). To complete Algebra 1 by the end of 8th grade, students entering 6th grade in 2017 will follow the “Accelerated Traditional Pathway for the Common Core State Mathematics Standards” laid out in the Common Core Mathematics Standards.

This pathway, detailed in Common Core State Standards_Mathematics_Appendix_A, pages 80-146 (attached to this email), lays out an accelerated math curriculum covering 7th and 8th grade. This pathway does not omit any content or Common Core Standards; instead, it compacts three years’ worth of standards into two years.  Students will learn seventh grade standards plus portions of 8th grade standards in 7th grade, and the remaining 8th grade standards plus Algebra 1 in their 8th grade year.  The research behind this pathway and detailing of standards is laid out in the appendix referenced above.

A compacted math pathway entails a fast pace and a high level of academic rigor. With this understanding, we are providing multiple supports, including middle school Math Empowerment Pathway classes designed to provide students with additional opportunities to practice mathematical skills. It will also require a strong commitment from students and families.  We are prioritizing preparation for advanced math, and students needing math support may have additional homework, need further support, or miss other opportunities. Choosing STEM K-8 as an option school is also making a significant math commitment.  Parents interested in discussing our middle school math pathway are invited to join me for a discussion before school on Friday, December 15 from 8:15-8:45.



STEM K-8 Capital Planning Discussion 10/24, 6-7 PM at the Cafe Boren (STEM Cafeteria)

On 10/24 from 6-7 pm, School board member Leslie Harris and SPS Capital leaders Flip Herndon and Richard Best plan to share and solicit feedback on West Seattle capital planning and STEM K-8.  My understanding of the current thoughts to be presented for discussion and feedback are below.

  • Constructing a new school facility to house STEM K-8 is being considered as a potential BEX V project.
    • Central or south West Seattle locations would be studied (most likely on the old Denny site; or in conjunction with Roxhill planning if that facility is rebuilt perhaps the Hughes Building with a major addition).
  • Planning and feedback would happen on a BEX V timeline (hoping for details on Tuesday night; with feedback, levy approval, collection rates, other projects, planning timelines, etc., this is a years-long process).
  • There are many program and facility benefits when a new building is constructed to meet the needs of a unique school program.
  • There would be no move to an interim site—STEM K-8 would stay at Boren until new construction is complete.
  • There is no consideration of STEM K-8 being moved to Schmitz Park for either a temporary or permanent location.

STEM K-8 has an active and engaged family community.  Your support is instrumental as we face the ongoing challenges of several years of growth and change.  Your voices were clear last spring that SPS capital planners need to think carefully about plans or impacts affecting STEM K-8.  I look forward to their response and follow up.

Ruler Key Strategy #2: The Mood Meter

Click on to the SPS Family Ruler Website to learn more about Ruler strategies. Below is information about the Mood Meter.

The Mood Meter is a tool used to recognize and understand our own and other peoples’ emotions. It’s divided into four color quadrants – red, blue, green, and yellow – each representing a different set of feelings. Feelings are grouped together on the mood meter based on their pleasantness and energy level.

Mood Meter
Red feelings: High in energy and more unpleasant (e.g., angry, scared, and anxious)
Blue feelings: Low in energy and more unpleasant (e.g., sad, disappointed, and lonely)
Green feelings: Low in energy and more pleasant (e.g., calm, tranquil, and relaxed)
Yellow feelings: High in energy and  more pleasant (e.g., happy, excited, and curious)

Here’s a Mood Meter Introduction Video to learn more.

Why recognize feelings?

Helping students recognize feelings helps them understand how feelings impact decisions and behaviors. It’s also the first step in helping students develop empathy, the ability to understand the feelings of another person.

Below is a list of family activities to put the Mood Meter into practice at home!




Rolling out RULER–STEM K-8’s new Social and Emotional Curriculum

At STEM K-8 we understand that emotions matter! This year, we are excited to be using RULER, an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning that helps school communities integrate the teaching of emotional intelligence into daily life. RULER teaches five key emotional intelligence skills:

  • Recognizing – Identifying emotion in oneself and others by interpreting facial expressions, body language, vocal tones and physiological reactions.
  • Understanding – Knowing the causes and consequences of emotions, including the influence of different emotions on thinking, learning, decisions, and behavior
  • Labeling – Using a wide range of emotion words, developing a rich feeling word vocabulary.
  • Expressing – Knowing how and when to express emotions with different people and in multiple contexts (nonverbal, written, and spoken)
  • Regulating – Developing strategies that help us manage our emotions to support healthy relationships and achieve goals.

RULER integrates these skills into the academic curriculum and provides opportunities for students and all the key adults involved in their education – teachers, administrators, and family members – to learn and apply these skills.

What are the positive outcomes of RULER?

  • Improved academic performance (11-12% increase in standardized test scores)
  • Reduced aggression (handling unpleasant feelings in socially acceptable ways)
  • Reduced anxiety
  • More supportive, productive, and compassionate classrooms
  • We look forward to partnering with you and sharing more about RULER. Please keep an eye on the school calendar and newsletter for RULER resources and workshops we will offer to help you practice the skills of emotional intelligence at home.

More detailed information on RULER:

RULER is comprised of four Anchor Tools. These are evidence-based tools designed to enhance the emotional intelligence of school leaders, teachers and staff, and students and their families.

The Anchor Tools include:

  • Charter Each classroom will create a Charter that describes how they want to feel in class, what needs to happen to support those feelings and guidelines for handling conflict.
  • Mood Meter A tool for recognizing and labeling one’s feelings.
  • Meta Moments A 6 step process that teaches self-regulation strategies and how to handle stressful situations.
  • Blueprint A problem-solving tool for navigating conflicts in which students consider each other’s feelings and identify effective solutions.

STEM K-8’s introduction (to staff and students) of RULER began with the Charter.  The Charter is designed to support a positive culture and climate. Unlike “rules” of conduct, an Emotional Intelligence Charter represents agreed-upon norms for how everyone will be treated, including (1) how leaders, teachers, and students want to feel in school, (2) what everyone needs to do to feel that way consistently, and (3) guidelines for how to handle uncomfortable feelings.

The process of creating a Charter involves responding to three questions:

  • How do we want to feel in school each day? Everyone is asked to think about what these feelings will look like in school in terms of specific, measurable, observable behaviors. In other words, what will the group need to do each day to ensure everyone experiences these feelings?
  • What will we do to have these feelings consistently and create a positive learning environment? The class first discusses (A) the uncomfortable feelings and unwanted behaviors they would like to avoid experiencing in school and then (B) how these feelings and behaviors will be handled and how conflict will be prevented and managed, including what happens when the Charter is breached.
  • How will we prevent and manage conflict and unwanted feelings?

Once all three questions are answered, the Charter is written or typed up, signed by everyone in the group, and posted somewhere visible so it can be referred to and revisited for amendments as needed.


Center for the Collaborative Classroom (CCC) Literacy Curriculum

Some notes on the Collaborative Classroom Literacy Curriculum students are experiencing this year:

Grades K-2 of Collaborative Literacy are comprised of three programs, or modules. Being a Reader is the module that helps children in kindergarten through grade 2 learn how to read. In whole-class Word Study lessons, students learn about patterns and parts in words. They sort words and discuss them with partners and with the class. Word Study lessons help students explore how words work. During the first few weeks of Being a Reader, students learn to work independently in reading, writing, and word work. Teaching students to work independently allows me to begin Small-group Reading within a few weeks of starting school. Small-group Reading is targeted reading instruction with groups of students who are working on similar reading skills. The students in each group get the individual instruction that they need, and they read books that are at their reading level.

Students K-2 and 3-5 will participate in Making Meaning.  This module is designed to help students build their reading comprehension. The students hear books read aloud and discuss them with partners and the class. They learn key comprehension strategies readers use to help them understand what they read, including wondering (questioning), using text features, and determining important ideas. At upper grades they learn strategies that including questioning, analyzing text structure, determining important ideas, and summarizing. They also practice reading independently every day during Individualized Daily Reading (IDR). The first unit of Making Meaning focuses on building a reading community. The students talk about what they like to read. They listen to, read, and discuss stories. They also practice the social skill of listening carefully to others.

Students K-5 also participate in Being a WriterBeing a Writer helps students build their writing skills. The students hear and discuss examples of good writing and write original pieces in a variety of genres. During the first unit of Being a Writer, the students practice the social skills of working responsibly, listening respectfully to the thinking of others, sharing their own thinking, and showing interest in and appreciation for others’ writing. These skills help the students build a supportive writing community.