Meet the Teacher: Valerie


Valerie has been part of the Orchard community since 2012 when her daughter was in kindergarten. She began teaching art and movement electives in 2013, and in 2016, she took charge of the art program and became one of the school’s chefs.

Valerie said, “I truly resonate with Orchard School’s philosophy when it comes to mindfulness, and learning through experience.  I would love to ensure that each student explores and discovers their individual creative abilities.”

Throughout the years, Valerie has enjoyed helping on campus, volunteering in various classrooms, making costumes for our annual plays and for CircOrchard, and running the book sale at the May Faire.

She attended Montgomery College in Maryland for two years, has trained as an artist in various mediums, from watercolor to quilting, for over 20 years, and is a certified holistic chef.  She is also a certified mentor for young girls coming of age.

Valerie teaches sewing and art at the ART Factory in Aptos, along with private sewing lessons for all ages and art camps for children, in her home. She owns and operates a small business, IRIECYCLE, where she makes clothes and jewelry using recycled materials and hand-designed woodblock prints.

Valerie is truly a multi-talented individual!  However, she said, “Being a mom is probably the most rewarding experience thus far!”

In her free time, Valerie enjoys African dance, traveling the world with her family, practicing yoga, playing squash and the ukulele, sewing and lithography.

Alumni Corner

Karianna Crowder, 2007 Orchard grad, will be graduating from the Honor’s College at Oregon State University (OSU) in the spring with a B.S. degree in Zoology.  She has been accepted into the four year Veterinary program at OSU.  Karianna credits Orchard School with inspiring her passion and love for animals.  She currently works at a veterinary clinic on the weekends in Newport, Oregon, and at the animal hospital at OSU.  Last year, Karianna spent the fall quarter in Thailand working on the Highland Farm  Gibbon Sanctuary and is currently writing her thesis on the gibbons and communication, based on observations from her experiences with the primates.


First, Second, and Third Grades…………………………...…...………………………....……………………...….………...……………………...…..…………….………..Kenza Temsamani


I would like to thank all of my weekly volunteers.  In the 2/3 class:  Katey (Sascha's grandmother and Liz (Aoife's mother).  In the 1st grade:  Erin (Estella's mother), Elizabeth and Colby Smith (Juliet's mother and brother), and now Alyssa (Solomon's sister).  And of course, thank you to those of you who drop in from time to time.  



Fourth and Fifth Grades………………………...…...………………………...…………..……………...….………...……………………...….………...……………………...….………..Manila Bol


The big thrill of last week in math was making and eating fraction waffles.  In small groups, students made the batter for our waffle eating math experience.  Unfortunately, one of my waffle irons stopped working, but the students patiently waited for their waffle fifths.  

This is one of my favorite activities, not only because it is a much anticipated, fun tradition, but because it is a wonderful way to reinforce and provide a concrete experience with improper fractions and mixed numbers.

The children recorded on the class chart with tally marks after eating each waffle fifth.  The following day, we listed what each student consumed as a fraction and as a mixed number and colored a waffle diagram accordingly.

On Monday, Isis created and presented our logic problem.  The students were enthusiastic and interested as they narrowed down the possibilities, finally figuring the pattern and solution.

Science with Mary Ann Wilkinson


March has arrived and we will be focused on Science Fair/Invention Convention. Students have been working on their experimental questions or invention ideas. You should have seen a parent approval sheet by now. They have just received a timeline of expectations. My goal is to have their work done before the April break, as the Science Fair Open House will be on Thurs., April 13, with backboards  and inventions due in the science room on Tues., April 11.  This should give everyone the chance to enjoy and relax during that first week of April.

Fourth and fifth graders, in particular, will strive to understand the why and what-for of the scientific method. Second and third graders have been studying the scientific process by building and testing STEM rockets. In preparation for St. Patrick’s Day, students will be working on leprechaun traps. They will bring these home as I will be at camp with the fourth and fifth graders during the week of March 13 – 15. On my return we will alternate working on Science Fair / Invention.

First graders are fully absorbed in the idea of leprechauns. Like the second and third graders, they will be building leprechaun traps. They created rainbow chromatography and loved it. Try it at home – coffee filters, markers, droppers, and bowls to catch the water. Ask the kids for directions; they know how. A letter explaining the Science Fair/Invention Convention is in the works. We will do a float or sink STEM activity for the occasion. The Open House is Thurs., April 13th. Upon my return from camp, March 13 – 15, we will be focusing on these boats, the principles of floating, and spring-emerging insects.

Music Notes with Rolf Sandmeyer


Kindergarten:  Kinders learned to keep the “We Will Rock You” beat while reciting the words to “I Went Downtown.”  This activity built rhythm and vocabulary.  Kinders also played many singing and movement games, including the team building game “Shoo Fly”, in which students stepped forward and backward to the beat and worked together to turn the circle of their bodies inside out and right again several different ways.

First Grade:  First graders continued to learn the song “Junkanoo” on xylophones.  Students who mastered the introduction moved on the full piece, and ambidexterity with mallet technique was encouraged.  First graders also played many movement and singing games, including “All the Birds Sing Up in the Trees”, where a group of students got to be “birds” flying in and out of the circle of trees.

Second and Third Grade:  Second and third graders practiced clapping on the off beats with the fun song and game “Zodiac”.  Off-beat arm swinging was then added to reinforce this understanding of rhythm.  Second and third graders also sang “Chicken Soup with Rice”, tying vocabulary and the months of the year into their studies in Language Arts.

Fourth and Fifth Grade:  Fourth and fifth graders learned to build the four chords to the song “Renegades”, as well as identifying the notes of the melody.  This song praises “Pioneers”, and each student was encouraged to think of an important pioneer.  Fourth and fifth graders also practiced singing along to this song and began to learn its chords and melody on keyboards and guitar.

Drama / Circus Arts / Gardening with Rock Lerum


In circus classes, there is big excitement as many students are climbing higher on stilts. Some are exploring the more difficult unicycle, and the static trapeze. The classes start with an exercise or using a specific apparatus. Then it opens to free choice, which at this grade borders on free play. The goal is to be engaged with a circus related activity. Each student has selected a role/part for CircOrchard, and rehearsals will begin this week. Students are asked to include movements and expressions, give them names, and then we will use those in our circus pieces.


1st Grade

In circus, and drama classes we have been working on building CircOrchard skits. At this grade level, students still, largely, need direction in creating pieces. Line, form, sequencing, focus, storyline (if applicable) are all apart of a skit. So, they create elements, and the director makes sure they fit together. We are looking forward to CircOrchard in April.

The sun is popping and we have gone on weed patrol in the garden. The sunny days and rains have given us many weeds to battle. We have also been preparing our soil, adding compost, for planting time. Some of the students have already been planting some starts and seeds. We have filled two new planting beds with soil and compost, and covered with mulch.

Second/Third Grade

For much of the past month, we spent time working on our CircOrchard pieces, in both drama and circus classes. Each student is involved with creating choreography for the piece they want to be in. Rehearsals give us the chance to explore enhanced expressions within the framework that has been created, and to put that movement into muscle memory. They then show them to the director for tweaks and adjustments. At this level, the students are able to take on some of their own direction, giving them ownership to the piece, and the shared responsibility of a coherent presentation for an audience. Looking forward to CircOrchard performances in April.

The sun is popping and we have gone on weed patrol in the garden. The sunny days and rains have given us many weeds to battle. We have also been preparing our soil, adding compost, for planting time. Some of the students have already been planting some starts and seeds. We have filled two new planting beds with soil and compost, and covered with mulch.

Fourth/Fifth Grade

For much of the past month, we spent time in circus and drama classes, working on our CircOrchard pieces. Each student is given the choice to be in as many pieces as they would like, within reason. In each piece, students get to contribute movements or choreography. Rehearsals give us the chance to explore enhanced expressions, and to put the movement/acting into muscle memory. Looking forward to the performances in April.

In the garden, we have gone on weed patrol. The sunny days and rains have given us many weeds to battle. We have also been preparing our soil, adding compost, for planting time. Some of the students have already been planting seeds in flats for transplant in April and May. We have filled two new planting beds with soil and compost, and covered with mulch. This class has just finished their scarecrow - building unit. Each partnership of students created a scarecrow character with name and personality, and designed a look (clothing) to match their character.

Scarecrows are up and watching over the garden.

Art with Valerie Phipps

The past few weeks have been incredibly fun in the art room.  After all the auction art creation time, it was nice to focus on new elements and fun projects in all the classes. The kindergarteners and first graders studied fuzzy, baby owls and had a small chat on texture.  They made their own baby owl by collaging torn up pieces of paper.  Although each student had the same materials to use to create their owls, each owl resulted in uniqueness and extreme cuteness.  The 2/3 graders handdrew, beautiful greathorn owls and barn owls with great detail, including adornments and habitats, again with great focus on usage of lines as patterns, texture, tone  and dimension.  In the 4/5th grade class we accomplished a two-class project on winter birch trees.  This was a watercolor assignment that goes along with our present discussion on depth and shading.  We also went over a few brush stroke techniques and the usage of different types of brushes.  With a backlight of the moon, the students created shadows and used a single brushstroke to add shading on their trees.  Watching these kids create and seeing their artwork realized, has been amazing to witness!  

“ I dream of painting and then I paint my dream” —Vincent Van Gogh

Last week we welcomed spring (almost!) with Cherry Blossoms! The students used Japanese sumi ink to create a cherry blossom branch by blowing on the wet ink thru straws.  They also used bamboo skewers to make the blossoms and buds.  And to add a fun touch, the kids added their own take on a “Hanko stamp” By stacking their names or initials in red and in a red box.   Hanko Stamps are  found on Chinese and Japanese traditional paintings used as a signature seal for the artist’s name, rather than a handwritten signature.

**I was out of town for one week and missed the kids tremendously! They had the pleasure of having an art day with Kimberley.  She is an elective teacher for Orchard and spent the day with the kids creating jelly fish dream catchers and vision boards! I’m happy and proud to say that Kimberly told me the kids were helpful, supportive and had fun. ** Great job students!

I would also love to use this opportunity to give a shout out to several 4th and 5th grade students that submitted art to enter a calendar art contest for the Monterey Bay Air Resources District.  The deadline to send art in was this week! The Theme of contest was “Why we love clean air.” There are 13 winners and each winner receives $100 and to have their artwork used in the District’s 2018 Calendar.  These kids worked every free moment they had on their artwork for this contest, let’s wish them well!  


First Grade Leadership with Kenza:

In Leadership we have a few of my favorite books over the last few weeks, it seems I have many favorites:    Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling, which prompted a lot of scientific facts about snakes, and The Salamander Room, which caused our imaginations to soar.  We also read Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon, a book about understanding and resolving conflict peacefully, and baked Gluten free banana muffins, carrot raisin muffins, and made cream cheese frosting to ice them.  Thank you to Cambria and Alyssa for helping to coordinate.  I love cooking with children! I also told them the Indian story of The Rabbit in the Moon.

In Roxaboxen, we have new businesses.  Ezra had a large property and so converted part of it into a restaurant and another part into a hairdresser salon.  Other students work in the salon.  Estella has converted her store into a natural history museum.  There is also a massage parlor; Elena is the massage therapist.  I believe Sophie, Sofia, and Juliet have moved houses.  Everyone continues to beg to go to Roxaboxen on Fridays and it is a place where they let their imaginations flourish and practice conflict resolution and collaboration.  We often bring our lunch and picnic there on Fridays.  

Second and Third Grade Leadership with Liana:


Since the last leadership update, we continue to focus on mindfulness, service, responsibility, and ‘juegos en Español’.


The students continued to explore the 5 senses to practice awareness. We explored the sense of ‘sight.’ We observed colors, and noted how certain colors relate to feelings. Further, they ‘looked’ for places around campus that help elicit the feelings that the colors evoked such as calm (blue) or happy (yellow).


Also, we analyzed a read-aloud called Finding Winnie. We looked for examples of mindful actions that helped the main character, a real bear, who later inspired A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh character.


We continue to support the Santa Cruz SPCA. We had the Education Coordinator join us 3/10, and we look forward to her return 3/17 for a final presentation on animal feelings and behavior. The students are hosting a pet food drive 3/16 to support the SPCA’s Pet Food Bank.


We continue to help care for the Orchard campus, and our own cubbies and clothing.


We have transitioned to color words, playing a tag game called ‘arco iris’  (rainbow) which includes practicing all colors in Spanish.

Fourth and Fifth Grade Leadership with Manila:

In Leadership, the fourth and fifth graders began focusing on their senses.

The Mind Up curriculum points out, “That same ability to notice important details and differentiate among all the scents, sounds, visual images, and other sensory details your brain receives can also help you respond more mindfully to people and events around you.”

We began mindful listening with the “Mystery Sounds” activity.  I would make a sound such as opening and closing scissors.  The students wrote down details they noticed, what the sound reminded them of, and their guess.  They shared their responses and then I revealed the mystery sound.  It was fun, interesting, and surprising at times.

The fourth and fifth graders didn’t know it, but they were making their neural circuits stronger as they practiced focused attention in this way.  Their data sensory filter was activated (the reticular activating system) and the pathways to the prefrontal cortex.  

The following week, I read the story, “The Other Way to Listen”, a story about hearing the corn sing or hearing wildflower seeds bursting open.  “It takes a lot of patience and you can’t be in a hurry.”

Kindergarten with Rosy Weiser and Kathleen Avalon

Curriculum News:

Math — We continue to count by 2s, 5s, and 10s, and backwards from 10 and forwards to 100. Many kids are grasping these concepts; for some children it is still just rote counting, like a song they memorize. By counting hands, fingers, feet and toes, as well as bodies, some children are really starting to understand the concept of skip counting, a faster way of counting. We are also counting gems, coins and so on. I’ve also introduced the concept of tally marks, in the context of counting by 5s. We explored the number 10, 11, and 12, and the teens. We made bead rods with ten beads and then used loose beads to build numbers so they could really see that 13 means one ten and 3 ones. Most found this very confusing. We worked on number grouping and addition combinations with a set of 10 items (in this case, a literature-based lesson using the story Ten Flashing Fireflies).

All of these concepts, including the most basic like number identification, will be revisited in 1st grade. Kindergarten just serves as an introduction, a spark, a chance to take off with these concepts if you’re ready, and just as exposure if you’re not there yet developmentally. Following procedure, and multi-step directions, using fine motor skills, learning to copy from the chalkboard — these are also at play in every lesson and are important parts of academic development for the kindergarteners, even if the specific content doesn’t yet resonate.

Language Arts — The children had practice writing their last names. Some with their long double-barreled last names (Solomon, Leif, Katha…) had extra practice writing! We will later include middle names and I’ll teach them about their initials. We visited Liana and her 2nd/3rd graders and the kids partnered with their buddies to go on an ABCs of Orchard letter hunt, so U was for unicycle, C was for compost, A was for alpaca and so on. They’ve been working hard on writing recipe names in their family cookbooks and writing numbers too, as they number the steps in the recipes. Yesterday, Maxine’s grandma, Katy, who helps me every Tuesday morning, began a unit as our resident guest teacher. She showed them a beautiful wordless book called, “Sidewalk Circus,” and had the children collaboratively put their own sentences to the text. For the next two Thursdays we’ll be running small group centers and children will be working on letter recognition, letter order within word, examining the structure of sentences and more. This will be a differentiated activity so that those who are ready will have the opportunity for more challenging tasks. We are lucky to have Katy, a veteran teacher for years in the public school system, to run these activities.

Science — The kids made water cycle posters, after I made it “rain” in the classroom in a fun demonstration involving heating up water, like the sun does, watching it condense on a plate filled with ice cubes (representing the clouds), and then seeing how it precipitated as big drops of water fell back into the cooking pot. They recreated this with hot water in lidded jars with ice cubes on top, and then they made water cycle posters. Next, we talked about volcanoes, made volcano drawings and watercolor paintings, and then they built volcanoes in the sandbox and recreated a chemical reaction using vinegar and baking soda to mimic the chemical reaction of a real volcano. They loved this! We added red watercolor paint to the mix so the “lava” was red, and put buildings and animals at the foot of the sand mountains to become the hapless victims of the explosion. Lastly, they worked with droppers to see how many water droplets they could fit on a penny — the most careful and patient children with advanced fine motor control were able to fit on close to 30 drops. They tallied these with tally marks. Another fun experiment to recreate at home.

Special events: On Valentine’s Day, the kindergarteners performed our winter circle — students and teachers were amazed at how they remembered all of the words to this long song/story. We also listened to the older students read poetry, some of it original. And we went to the gym to watch the 4/5 graders put on a shadow puppet show. Orchard kids have so much excitement and fun in their school lives — they are very lucky!

Cooking — Kathleen made bread with the children, an ambitious feat, especially considering she did it on her own without an adult helper! Other cooking projects were Riley’s Apple Muffins and Maxine’s Latkes, both of which were wildly popular.

Gardening — Kathleen helped the kids weed the garden beds and plant strawberry starts. Soon, she’ll have them planting miniature fairy gardens with wheat grass and perhaps let some wheat grass grow in the large garden for students to harvest next year. We need plants — so any donations will be put to use.

Stories — The Grimm fairy tale, Mother Holle, was featured by both me and Kathleen in several retellings and then Kathleen’s puppet show. Ask them about this story, the virtuous daughter and the lazy daughter, the old lady who makes the seasons and makes it snow by fluffing her down comforters. I finished reading them “The Night Fairy,” by Laura Schlitz, a truly beautifully written chapter book that I’m sure many would love to own and listen to again. I’m looking for our next chapter book — suggestions are welcome.