Faces Around SLLIS — Meet Jeff Lash

Who are you and how did you get to SLLIS?

My name is Jeff Lash, and I’m the Founding Head of The International School.  My path to SLLIS started with me growing up as a Marine brat moving from country to country, and took me into my college and professional years, where I continued to succumb to the travel bug and developed a love for teaching, experiencing new cultures, and learning other languages.

What drives you to work at a school/serve children?

I enjoy working with children, I am a life-long learner who is never satisfied, and I suppose on some level I can relate to middle schoolers.

If you could have dinner with 5 people (dead or alive) who would they be?

I would want to meet up with both my grandfathers, one of whom I never met and the other only when I was too young to make any valuable connections or learn anything insightful about why I am who I am.  Bob Dylan, Shakespeare, and Robert Altman have also been big influences on my sensibilities and appreciations.

In your opinion, what is St. Louis’ best kept secret?

Having lived here for a whopping three months, I am certainly not as qualified as my colleagues in this regard – I do know that The International School is one of them, though!  Oh, that and Nacho Mama’s (on Manchester near Kirkwood?) is a good spot for Mexican food.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I play games or read with my kids, try to learn as much as I can about whatever I can, play soccer, run, sing and play guitar…oh, and lots of laundry, cooking, and cleaning!

Tell us about your favorite vacation.

Going way back to pre-marriage years, it would have to be either the summer I spent trekking around Europe before doing a Study Abroad program in Paris, or a road trip to the dune deserts to the south-east of Marrakesh.  Flash-forward to post-marriage/family years, though, and I think last year’s 11-day trip through Costa Rica tops the recent list.

Any advice for prospective parents?

Never say “hurry up”, and make it possible for your children to learn another language in an immersion setting while their brains are still young and spongy enough!

Describe your favorite meal.

It would occur at the end of a full day of fasting, and would need to include elements/courses of Asian, Indian, and either Ethiopian, Moroccan, or Afghani (don’t make me choose) cuisine.

What are your hopes and dreams for SLLIS?

To become a 2500+ student charter network of well-articulated IB World schools from K through 12 that sends 100% of its graduates to college with IB Diplomas.

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

Just try not to ask me about how it’s been to be a Cowboys fan for the past 15 years.

Relinquishing guest status: Rhonda’s Eisenhower Fellowship

Today I rubbed noses with a complete stranger. Not by accident or in passing like those intentionally-awkward scenes in romantic comedies. We shook hands to greet in western convention, looked each other in the eyes, then he told me “nose-to-nose.” I had never heard of this custom before, so I just kept staring into his eyes while he repeated himself several times. Eventually his colleague explained what I should do for this Māori greeting and I happily obliged with a slow, deliberate nose-to-nose, forehead-to-forehead touch. Inhale. Exhale. Silence.

I had been greeted by Māori women with a cheek kiss and a hug, but this was my first nose salutation. I asked the group if that was unique to male-female greetings, looking for patterns and expectations. The female colleague replied that it wasn’t gender-linked at all and she and I could have done nose-to-nose instead of the cheek kiss. This custom, hongi, is meant to bring people into community. Let us share this slow breath together and erase separation between us.

Typically my reflections on my fellowship are about the work, the great exchange of ideas, and new questions and expanding my community of thought partners. But underlying all of these meetings and conversations is the notion of hongi, really allowing ourselves to be most candid with complete strangers. In contrast, one of the dozen Finnish words that I learned last month was vieras, guest. It was on my name badges and told me which lines to use and gave me an excuse to not follow Finnish cultural cues. I spoke about the opportunity to relish vieras status and be an outsider, the impetuous American, with my Finnish colleagues. I had permission to hug and kiss relative strangers as welcome and thanks.

But here, the Māori perspective is to bring you first into intimacy and teach you the cultural expectations so that you can meet them. I still get to be the American who asks pointed questions and broaches taboo topics. I look forward to seeing how much, if any, hongi will change the quality of relationships that I build over the next few weeks.

November Enrollment Tours

  • Tour of The Chinese School: Wednesday, November 5th, 6PM
  • Tour of The International School: Wednesday, November 5th, 6PM
  • All-School Open House: Saturday, November 8th, 10AM-12PM (Papin Campus)
  • Tour of The French School: Wednesday, November 12th, 8AM
  • Tour of The French School: Thursday, November 13th, 6PM
  • Tour of The Chinese School: Tuesday, November 18th, 8AM
  • Tour of The International School: Tuesday, November 18th, 8AM

SLLIS will begin accepting applications to Kindergarten, 1st grade, and 6th grade for the 2015-2016 school year on October 1, 2014. If you are interested in enrolling your child in grades 2nd through 5th grade, please see our revised enrollment policy below (passed by the Board of Directors in November 2013).

Kindergarteners and 1st graders have the opportunity to choose to attend The Spanish School, The French School, or The Chinese School. Families can select one of three schools or rank each school by preference when applying.

6th grade families applying to The International School have the opportunity to choose between the Spanish and the French partial language immersion program. The partial-language immersion program is available to any incoming 6th grader living in an eligible area. We do not require any language experience prior to enrolling.

To receive an electronic enrollment application, we ask that our families attend an enrollment event. We invite you to attend one, or all, of our engaging and fun events. Students applying for The International School will be asked to spend a shadow day prior to acceptance and write a reflection about their experience.


First view of inquiry learning in New Zealand: Rhonda’s Eisenhower Fellowship

Scenic Detour
After landing in Auckland, I met with Bernardine and we began an unanticipated scenic drive to visit Stonefields School . Due to backed up traffic on the motorway, we drove through Mangere to Mt. Wellington. The drive route and duration gave Bernardine and I time to start conversations about socio-cultural and political implications on education access. During my flight I watched the top-selling New Zealand film, Boy, a coming-of-age story of a Maori boy from my generation. I was really struck by how similar the social issues in this film were to Native American narratives and even growing up Black in Lafayette, LA. The armchair anthropologist in me wants to start a side project comparing experiences and depiction of poverty for marginalized people of color in majority culture countries. As we drove through Mangere, a lower income Maori and Polynesian community, Bernardine explained how the Treaty (of Waitangi, but you’ll learn that while New Zealand has many treaties, “The Treaty” typically refers to this one) established protections and respect for Maori people, power, property, language and culture. I look forward to learning more about all of the perspectives on the Treaty and issues relating to promoting & protecting Maori culture, integration vs. assimilation, and education access. The schools in Mangere are lower decile schools (high poverty census tracks) and tend to have lower academic performance than the national average. In previous generations Mangere had a more working class New Zealand population with several famous sons graduating from their schools. We could apply the American term “white flight” to the Mangere context, but I’m sure the experience here is more nuanced.

Land of Inquiry
Stonefields is a new, growing school in Auckland, located in a growing new construction residential community in Mt. Wellington. Mt. Wellington has many new higher-priced residential developments and is home to professional New Zealanders and migrants from all over the world. Stonefields has been receiving great interest for their intentionally deep inquiry practice. Educators from across the country and the world flock to Stonefields every Tuesday (limited to 45 participants) to learn how this school has created such an amazing learning community since 2011. I can’t think of a better way to have begun this part of my fellowship.

Sarah Martin, Foundational Principal, presented their beliefs about learning and how they value student voice, parent voice, and teacher voice in their program design. Not only are students inspired, engaged, and articulate about their learning (check out these student voice videos) but teachers are equally engaged in this deep reflection on their own learning. Stonefields organizes there space by Learning Hubs, the equivalent of three classes per grade level, that have the same amount of traditional staffing, roughly 1:25, but a very fluid organization. Students work with all of these teachers for different parts of their learning, enjoy a significant amount of student-directed small group learning, and may have specialists support unique learning needs (ie ESOL, speech, literacy, etc).

After Sarah’s overview we visited lower and upper school Learning Hubs (K-8) to see the community in action. Students were busy, purposeful, and working in groups primarily seated on the floor. The Learning Hubs were designed and furnished to match the pedagogy. There were tables and stools, but at every grade level most students worked on the floor or on cushions and small couches, migrating to a table for writing activities. Mobile tech labs had a flatscreen with HDMI that teachers used for projection and also housed tablets or laptops for student use. Stonefields has a one-to-one technology infrastructure which we saw today more in the upper grades. For literacy students were typically using print books and using digital resources in place of textbooks. They adopt a SAMR perspective that the use of technology tools is not the end-goal, but that students and teachers experience choice based on their audience. The Learning Hubs are noisy. Students are expected to make meaning through interaction and that often sounds like talking it out with a classmate. While we visited the 5/6 year-old hub students were spread out over 2,500 square feet, around corners, in small breakout rooms with glass doors, accessing their own materials and a few were working directly with a teacher. When a teacher noticed that some 5/6 year-old students weren’t making progress in their work, she asked “Do you need to be self-aware as a learner and go off to work on your own?” To signal transition time, one teacher rang the class chimes and achieved absolute silence across the entire space (students laced their fingers atop their heads to listen) and announced that read alouds would begin in the next minute. She gave them a choice of locations but didn’t announce the texts or teachers or ask students to share their choice. Students didn’t ask any questions, but turned to begin their clean up.

In addition to their embedded inquiry, Stonefields also engages all learners in Breakthrough Learning. Students decide what they would like to learn and begin independent study. They may combine with peers and community volunteers for their Breakthrough projects and about 30% of students undertake projects with social awareness/benefit component. Time is allocated weekly for all students to work on their Breakthrough projects. Imagine if every student did an exhibition every year and how that might transform their learning! Next week I’ll return to Stonefields and am excited to go deeper into the structure of their model for students, teachers, and parents.

Coffee with the Currents

Please join us for a “Coffee with the Currents.” Parents of St. Louis Language Immersion School students will share their experiences. In casual conversations, ask your questions and learn more about things like: What is language immersion education? How will I help with homework if I don’t know the school’s language? When and how do kids start reading in English? How can parents get involved? What changes when students enter middle school? What’s a charter school? What’s an IB school? See you soon!

Please note that Coffee with the Currents is hosted by The Spanish School, but all prospective SLLIS families are welcome.

Coffee with the Currents dates and times:

Thursday October 30th 7:15pm (after TSS SAC meeting)
Saturday November 8th 12 (after Open House 10-12)
Monday November 17th 8:00am
Friday December 12th 9:15am

Weekly Overview 10/27-10/31

  • Monday, Oct. 27: No School for all schools (Parent-Teacher Conferences)
  • Wednesday, Oct. 29: TSS Grandparents’ Day celebration
  • Wednesday, Oct. 29: TFS Coffee with Conrad
  • Thursday, Oct. 30: TSS SAC meeting
  • Thursday, Oct. 30: TCS Fall Festival/Costume Parade 9:30-11am
  • Friday, Oct. 31: TCS Assembly – Reading Celebration
  • Friday, Oct. 31: TSS Halloween Celebration
  • Friday, Oct. 31: TFS Halloween Parade


Inquiry learning in New Zealand: Rhonda’s Eisenhower Fellowship (part deux)

Kia ora!

As you read this, I am embarking on my 17-hour trek to New Zealand for the second half of my Eisenhower Fellowship. I feel very fortunate to have had two weeks at home to process my Finnish leg with colleagues, friends, and family. My promise to myself and the dedicated team of educators at SLLIS is “no new ideas.” We have so much to learn from and share with our international colleagues, but I don’t intend to shake up any of our practices at home just yet. Learning occurs in reflection and I want to give myself ample time to reflect before proposing “new ideas.”

When I began researching PYP in 2005, the first thing that I learned was that the programme’s foundation is in inquiry-based teaching and learning. The second thing that I learned was that New Zealanders, “kiwis,” are naturals at teaching inquiry. During my fellowship I will be focusing on three contexts in New Zealand:
1) teacher preparation and development. How are university programs structured to prepare teachers for inquiry?
2) language immersion standards and politics for Maori medium schools
3) use of National Standards for learning in a highly decentralized school system

I will spend the next three weeks on the North Island and South Island in Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton, Whakatane, and Queenstown meeting with
-scholars: Judy Parr, John McCaffrey, and Stephen May at University of Auckland; Bronwen Cowie at University of Waikato; Professor Wiremu Doherty and Distinguished Professor Hingangaroa Smith at Te Wananga o Awanularangi; and Wainuimata College
-politicians, nonprofits, and Ministry of Education leaders
-government officials: US Counsul Jim Donegan
-and of course visiting schools: Stonefields School, Finlayson Park School, Newtown School , Richmond Road School,

As in Finland, a study of New Zealand would be incomplete without a perspective on local culture. My program includes time to visit traditional Maori villages and geothermal activity Rotorua, the real “Middle-earth” from The Hobbit Trilogy (shhhh, I haven’t read the books or seen the movies yet), and debrief it all over dinner with my local education guides. Great thanks to Bernardine Vester, EF Fellow from Education Plus for arranging my program.

Kia ora! is a Maori greeting used across New Zealand like “Hi!” A more literal translation is “be well, be healthy.”