Each year, Dawson faculty and staff choose a throughline that helps anchor our greater purpose and keeps our community connected. Head of School Roxanne Stansbury shares her take on this year’s throughline, Stronger Together, and what it means to the Dawson community.
When the Hollifield family relocated from Washington, D.C. to Las Vegas in 2001, Lauren and Carmen joined the Dawson community in the School's second year as fourth and second-grade students, respectively. Lauren graduated from the eighth grade in 2006 and Carmen graduated in 2008, and now 20 years after they first became Dawson Bears, both sisters have pursued advanced degrees and careers in medicine, crediting the Dawson experience with making a huge impact on their educational and professional paths.
For the upcoming 2021-22 academic year, the School is incredibly excited to announce Dr. Brandon Wiley’s new title of Chief Academic Officer. The change for this position, originally Director of Teaching and Learning, is due to the large breadth of responsibilities and comprehensive understanding of student learning and success, educational research, and program integrity required and demonstrated to make ours a school ready for the future.
Modern learning concepts are illustratively woven throughout our quarterly seventh-grade genius hour insights course, a class where students working in small, collaborative teams apply the design-thinking process to solve real-world problems challenging our community. Students use their agency and important critical-thinking skills to identify a unique learning path and discover outcomes based upon one simple challenge: How can we all work together, in partnership, to make Dawson a better place?
A new and emerging trend throughout K-12 education is the creation of esports programs. At The Alexander Dawson School in Las Vegas, Nevada, our esports elective course is one of the most popular. Now, a question: Did you immediately envision students mindlessly playing video games in a classroom for 50 minutes? I wouldn’t be surprised if you did. In spite of its global popularity and exponential growth as an industry, the term esports still evokes for many the image of hypnotized children playing video games alone in their rooms for hours on end. But those of us who teach esports courses and run esports school teams and leagues know that it is not only a legitimate sport, it’s also a terrific vehicle through which to teach a host of valuable education-based and interpersonal soft skills.
Twenty-one years ago, I prepared for my first parent-teacher conference as a fifth-grade teacher at The Alexander Dawson School. With sweaty palms and a nervous stomach, I was intimidated to meet families who invested a great deal of time, energy, and money into their child’s education. Receiving the best education possible was a priority to these families, and I assumed this was their sole priority. I knew their expectations would be high and their questions would be tough. Those nerves lasted until I was about 10 minutes into my first conference when I realized we all shared the same endgame: We wanted their child to grow into the best version of themselves.
A Special Note (1/06/2021): Over the course of winter break, I wrote this blog about the challenges of keeping a school open during the pandemic, firmly believing that with some time away from campus to reflect on the year so far - more specifically, on the need to continue supporting each other through the next wave of the pandemic by “holding” one another - it would help me and others feel more connected and hopeful about the new year and new semester. I could have never anticipated that five days after we shared this blog, our community would suffer an indescribable loss with the tragic passing on New Year’s Day of a bright, vivacious Dawson eighth-grade student.
This blog uses tidal waves as a metaphor for the challenges that the pandemic has wrought; this was a different tidal wave to hit our campus and unlike all the processes and protocols we put in place to control some of the effects of the pandemic, there is simply no way to prepare for the loss of a life. Over and over, the sorrow and disbelief continue to slam into each Dawson student, family, faculty, and staff member who knew her. Our collective grieving has just begun, and the only way to work our way through it is together, as one school community. For me, the concept of holding is more real and precious than ever before, and we must continue to hold one another without judgment or expectation. It is in this spirit that we are resharing this blog post. While framed within the context of the pandemic, we hope the general emotions and thoughts the blog conveys are relatable on a larger scale and the resources shared on grief and holding are just as helpful.
When The Alexander Dawson School reopened in August, the leadership team made clear the important goal to develop competencies and take actions that continue to build diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the Dawson experience. More than ever, it is important to take the words of Dawson’s Diversity Statement and Core Beliefs to heart as we work together to model for our children what it means to be agents of positive change. Together, all members of the School community must remain unwavering in our commitment to helping our children build communities where everyone truly feels valued, safe, and accepted.
To help lead our community in this important work, Dawson faculty member Kelisha Everage has taken on a new role at the School: In addition to being a sixth-grade advisor and math teacher this year, she has stepped into a leadership position as Dawson’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) instructional designer. Learn more about her responsibilities and passion for this work in this Q&A.
When Dr. Michael Thompson, clinical child psychologist and New York Times best-selling author, began his Dawson Parent University presentation, he opened with a simple but powerful acknowledgement: In his more than 50 years of work with children and independent schools, this is one of the most challenging times for families he’s ever experienced. Whether a family is facing the loss of employment, managing health concerns, balancing working remotely in conjunction with a child’s distance education needs, or even grappling with the inability to see friends and family, the pandemic has made the grim trifecta of worry, stress, and fear a part of daily life for most of us. The demands on parents of young children in particular have grown exponentially, and a healthy work-life balance difficult to maintain, which makes how we care for ourselves and each other more important than ever. Yet, as Dr. Thompson notes, the most important thing parents must remember is they are not struggling alone.
Untold Stories. Brave Voices. Courage Over Comfort. Discover Your Voice.
To the uninitiated, it’s easy to assume these buzz words are trending hashtags you’ll find sprinkled throughout social media. But at The Alexander Dawson School, these phrases are our School’s thoughtfully developed throughlines, common threads that imbue our students’ learning with relevance and deeply connect us to our Mission, Vision, and Core Beliefs. In Dawson’s first Zoomcast of the 2020-2021 school year, Head of School Roxanne Stansbury and Assistant Head of School Andrew Bishop discussed this year’s throughline, Discover Your Voice, and why one common purpose as the foundation for what we do every day is more important than ever.
During a pandemic, when kids face canceled summer trips, postponed playdates, and missed celebrations, how do we equip them to pivot when plans and routines change? The solution is building their executive functioning – soft skills such as cognitive flexibility, stamina, and positive self-talk–that will serve them as they transition back to school and encounter uncertainties during this new academic year.
Situated at the edge of the Spring Mountains and the Red Rock National Conservation Area, our 33-acre Dawson home of flexible space and modern learning abruptly shut down in March. We left our classrooms filled with tangible remnants of the Dawson Bears spirit and headed into an indefinite distance learning reality. Hard questions emerged about how we might maintain who we are as a school while managing a crisis that was beleaguering our community. We grappled with so many uncertainties: What’s a Google Meet? How will we persevere? How do we still continue to provide safe spaces for our students? How can we build connections, provide a climate of care, and allow equitable access to educational experiences through devices? Will we be able to recreate what is unique about our Dawson community, virtually?
Dawson’s pivot to distance learning is a differentiator. From planning to execution to content, our faculty is leading the way in how to design a program that is best for kids. In our latest Zoomcast episode on distance learning, we hear from Assistant Head of School Roxanne Stansbury, Assistant Head of School for Advancement Andrew Bishop, and incredible faculty members Matt Reynolds, Nikki Baker, Hung Le, and Simon Hunt on how Dawson maintains authenticity and collaboration in an online setting. This blog post will complement that discussion and include key examples and links.
Roxanne Stansbury, Assistant Head of School for Teaching & Learning
After an extensive and thorough nation-wide search of several prestigious candidates, The Alexander Dawson School is pleased to announce the hiring of a new director of teaching and learning as a member of our leadership team.
Cognitive excess. Digital overload. Grief and rebirth. Connection and isolation. The COVID-19 global pandemic has closed the curtain on life as we once knew it, and everyone is talking about the latest article, blog, or website that addresses our new reality.
The National Association for Independent Schools (NAIS) recently hosted a webinar in which experts predicted one of the biggest secondary public health consequences from COVID-19: mental health issues. The coronavirus pandemic has caused extreme anxiety by adding stress on families, particularly financially and emotionally, and has forced us to ask ourselves what an authentic, virtual relationship looks like.
Amanda Murray-Musgrave, Director of Early Childhood
In the early twentieth century, American philosopher and scholar John Dewey said, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” Perhaps, as our country embarks upon a virtual education journey due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this statement is even more relevant now than it was at the time. Schools across the country have been forced to quickly pivot their educational plans without notice, and administrators are challenged with determining if curriculum should be synchronous (students engaging in real-time lessons) or asynchronous (students completing lessons independently).
K-8 Director Chris Estrella, Assistant Head of School Roxanne Stansbury, and Marketing Communications and Events Manager Shea Phillips
As schools around the world close as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, families face the challenging task of transitioning to at-home learning for an estimated or indefinite period of time. Some schools are quickly pivoting to a distance learning module, as we have done at The Alexander Dawson School, while many are still figuring out how to continue educating and feeding our youth in the midst of so much uncertainty. Whether a school has the ability to provide at-home learning or not, we know our children’s routines and expectations and family life as we know it are significantly disrupted. Although some situations may present challenging behaviors, it’s important to remember all emotions are OK. Parents can incorporate the common language used in school, including Social Thinking vocabulary and the Zones of Regulation, to support children during this time.
Social media. Just the mere mention of it can elicit a collective groan from all within earshot. It’s the thing almost everyone hates to love, yet the thing in which almost everyone loves to partake. From pictures of our daily meals to throwbacks of our most embarrassing photos, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole when perusing your newsfeed or dreamily reliving some of your most favorite memories. Even as adults, it’s difficult to draw the line; I myself must admit that I am guilty of experiencing FOMO (or, anxiety and apprehension caused by the “Fear of Missing Out” for those of you who don’t know) when I see others having what I perceive to be fun in their online posts. Yet, because I am an adult, I also have the knowhow to realize when it’s time to put myself on hiatus and take a break. But are kids capable of this same self-awareness and understanding? Through the many ages and stages of adolescence, children and teens vacillate from adult-like independence to awkward self-consciousness, from curiosity about the vast world around them to introvertly locking themselves away in their rooms, from enthusiasm over family dinner to only seeking the approval of their peers. So how can we, as the adults in their lives, help kids strike a healthy balance? Enter Rosalind Wiseman.
Dawson commits a lot of time and resources toward examining the student experience; every evaluation and decision begins with our students in mind. Whether it’s the class schedule, guest speakers, service-learning programs, facilities updates, recess, lunch menus, athletics, or homework loads, we constantly look for ways to improve and meet our students’ needs by asking, “How can we encourage our students to build self-efficacy and support their wellbeing while also showing parents the value of a Dawson education?”
My favorite of the questions we pose to applicants during their admissions interview is: What do you want to know about Dawson? I’ve heard some pretty great answers throughout the years, such as, “How would you describe the teachers here?” Others’ answers have made me laugh: “How did they get the bear to leave those footprints on the sidewalk?” And one, from a child who had spent the previous weekend house-shopping with his parents, stumped me entirely: “How many square feet is the Dining Hall?” But after meeting dozens of applicants, by far the most popular question is: “How much homework will I have to do?”
There are pros and cons to growing up as the daughter of two clinical psychologists. Pro: Listening to them dissect the behavior of people around me made me an emotionally attuned, empathetic person. Con: No video games.
“Atari turns your brain to mush.” That’s what they told me and my little brother, the lone kids on the block who couldn’t hold our own during Ms. Pac-Man tournaments in our friends’ basements, joysticks slipping around in our unpracticed hands like sticks of butter. It wasn’t until recently, as I began reading the emerging body of research regarding the effects of screen time on the young brain, that I realized my parents had given me a gift.
As an administrator, when was the last time you considered the state of your technology and engineering classes? Take a look at your course catalog. Your school probably offers computer science, a coding elective, an engineering-type course, and some kind of catch-all digital literacy class (yawn). Have you ever wondered why every school has courses similar to yours? Have you considered how to differentiate your electives from everyone else? Have you taken time within the last five years to evaluate whether or not they are what’s best for student learning? Are they even relevant anymore? My guess is no, they are not, not in the way we see them taught in many schools. Let me generalize here.
What is the difference between a great TED Talk and a mediocre one? Sure, we can all agree that speaking ability is very important, as is an interesting story. But those at TED would tell you, aside from speaking ability and a good story, the single most important element that distinguishes a successful TED Talk is the establishment of a throughline, which is the thread woven throughout a story that connects various themes to one central arc or greater meaning. Writers, too, from Toni Morrison to JK Rowling, understand the critical importance of establishing powerful throughlines that anchor themes or plots and help drive and shape the narrative of their novels. Without a throughline, there is no greater takeaway or idea for a reader or listener to hold onto, and the opportunity for deeper learning and reflection is lost.
At Dawson, we believe wholeheartedly in providing an education where the student is the driver of the learning, and the teacher acts as a facilitator and mentor. Giving our students true ownership over their educational journey is one of the primary differentiators of a Dawson education. This philosophy is threaded through every subject, though it is often visibly evident in our middle school technology courses.
There are two universal myths far too many parents believe: One, overall success in life is determined by which college their child attends and, two, experiencing failure is bad for their child’s self-esteem.
Through no plan of my own, I find myself looking back on a career teaching science, doing scientific research, and training others to teach science. It all started in 1994 when, as a middle school humanities teacher, I was given the opportunity to attend the National Science Teachers Association regional conference. Why? Who knows! At that time, I just thought, “Sweet, a free trip to Las Vegas.” Who would have thought attending one session at that conference would change the way I educated students forever?
Amanda Murray-Musgrave, Director of Early Childhood
Choosing an early childhood program can be both overwhelming and intimidating. The quality of instruction can vary considerably, so parents must become informed consumers. This requires investing time, energy, and research into making a decision that is best for your child and family.
Angela's Ashesrecalls author Frank McCourt’s harrowing, impoverished childhood living in 1930s Ireland. In this Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, McCourt writes of discovering Shakespeare as a critically ill ten-year-old. Struggling to recover from typhoid fever, young McCourt has access to books for the first time while in the hospital. In his poverty, fear, and loneliness, he is overwhelmed by the power of Shakespeare’s writing and finds himself repeating a speech from Henry VIII, "I do believe / Induced by potent circumstances / That thou art mine enemy.” The words of Shakespeare, McCourt writes as an old man, felt to his deprived and desperate young self, "like having jewels in my mouth."
This past September, I had the privilege of attending the Challenge Success Fall 2018 Conference at Stanford University as a Dawson parent representative. Ask any of my friends or family members: After returning, they jokingly thought I had joined the Challenge Success cult. Why am I so excited about what I heard there? It’s because I could not wait to share the eye-opening insights I heard from experts about common-sense approaches to the struggles our students and children face today, from both a social-emotional and an academic perspective.
At the beginning of each school year, Dawson selects a community-unifying theme that runs through everything from service learning and campus events, to parent education, community share presentations, and the grade-level buddy program. I am thrilled to talk about this year’s unifying theme: Brave Voices.
Some of the things I hear from parents when I make a phone call home as Dean of Student Life and Diversity include, This student has been bothering my child for years. Why are they still here? I will make sure to speak with my child tonight about this. I appreciate the call. I know my child was wrong but what the other student did was worse! What’s going to happen to this other student? I don’t know what to say to my child. What can I do as a parent?
Roxanne Stansbury, Assistant Head & Davida Sims, Director of Advancement
Uncertainty. This term continues to bubble to the surface of every article about student challenges. Many articles point to the struggles "students today" have in dealing with uncertainty. Experts in adolescence and psychology are seeing a growing number of students struggle to recover from minor setbacks. The feeling is students are not equipped to problem solve or advocate for themselves effectively in a world of uncertainty. Business professionals worry that, in this world of uncertainty, parents and schools are not equipping children to take risks, learn from failures or advocate for themselves. Is it simply information overload? Or are children really more fearful and anxious in these fast-changing and uncertain times?
A prospective parent called me recently and asked a great follow-up question a few days after she had toured the Dawson campus. She asked:
“You regularly discussed something besides literacy, math and science that Dawson emphasizes. Let’s call it X. You mentioned that this X is really important for kids to get before high school. Is X critical thinking? I can’t recall but I do remember that our discussion made an impression on my husband and me. Can you remind me of what X is?”
I vividly remember pacing the floors as a child, anxiously awaiting my mom’s return from my school’s bi-annual parent-teacher conferences. When I greeted her at the door, the begging began. “Tell me every detail. What did she say about me? How am I doing?”
Powerful learning argues that schools have clung to educational philosophies and techniques from a century ago, even though the rest of the world has radically changed in recent decades. In particular, educators have been surprisingly loyal to the classic teacher and textbook model, underpinned by lectures, discussions, and readings in spite of complete transformations in almost every other sector of our society. However, this “dominant paradigm” is starting to shift.
For years, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) has examined what works and what doesn’t work with regard to 21st century education. Jobs, communication and society have dramatically transformed over the last 40 years and, with the pace of change only increasing, it is hard to look ahead into next year, let alone what current grade-school students will need to be successful a few decades from now.
Although today’s kids are “born into a media-rich, networked world of infinite possibilities,” as Edutopia.org notes, “their digital lifestyle is about more than just cool gadgets; it's about engagement, self-directed learning, creativity, and empowerment.” Edutopia’s Digital Generation Project features videos and stories about engaged, self-directed young people that aim to help educators and parents see just how differently the kids learn, communicate, and socialize. Produced with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Digital Generation Project is a great early resource into how digital media has, and will continue to, transform children’s lives and educational experiences.
For parents, terms like “rote memorization”, “experiential education” and “project-based curriculum” can feel overwhelming. For many of us, when it comes to education, our own educational experience is our sole point of reference.
However, brilliant researchers and neuroscientists have spent decades trying to help educators better understand how children learn, how their brains develop, and what it really means to find success beyond education. At the heart of this research is the focus on deeper learning – the process of fusing content knowledge with real-world situations so the content is transferred and internalized, and not just memorized.
The Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain, an independent school located on 33-acres in the community of Summerlin, is Nevada’s first Stanford University Challenge Success partner school for students in early childhood through grade eight. Utilizing the unique Challenge Success framework, Dawson uses research-based strategies and programs that emphasize student academics, wellbeing, and a healthy school-life balance to create more engaged, motivated, and resilient learners and leaders. At Dawson, students achieve their individual potential while savoring life and meeting the challenges of the world.