Inspired experience based college preparatory education for creative and intellectually curious students
Early childhood through twelfth grade

I have loved quite a few toys in my life. A favorite recurring dream takes me back to my childhood home to find an entire floor of the house filled to the ceiling with toys and games of every kind. There are dolls and board games and Yo-yos and Hula Hoops, Easy-Bake Ovens and Thingmakers, bicycles with banana seats, Barbies, army men, pogo sticks, you name it. Liddle Kiddles, Gumby and Pokey, Chatty Cathy, Poor Pitiful Pearl. Coloring books, Colorforms, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys.

I like to pore over web sites that feature U.S. toys from the sixties and seventies just to recapture that feeling of spending quality time with a really great toy. It’s not that I was deprived of toys when I was little. I had a pretty lush life for a middle class girl growing up in Portland. But the TV ads were relentless, and my neighbors, Kimmy and Ted, had a basement rec room that was packed with every kind of plaything, including a two-seater surrey with actual fringe on top that you could pedal between the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and the inflatable bopping clown. The hunger was real.

The very best toy that I owned was a hand-me-down two-story dollhouse. It had stairs, cut-out windows, furnishings, and wallpaper patterns painted on particle board walls. There was odd furniture to arrange and rearrange, and there were dolls whose proportions did not match the scale of the dollhouse.  My most favorite thing to do was to make little accessories for the kitchen. Dishes, pots, and food items, especially cakes and pies, were sculpted out of Play-Doh.

The other childhood item that I loved almost as much as that dollhouse was my older brother, Matt. I couldn’t play with him the way I did with my dollhouse because he was an active guy who had his own ideas of fun. Very few of them involved having anything to do with me, a pesky little sister four years younger and light-years away from his level of sophistication. We grew up in a time and place when kids were expected to go play outside all the time, with little to no parent supervision. As soon as I was old enough to tag along with him and his friends, I begged to do so. He patiently walked with me to the Portland zoo or the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, where we would roam around the exhibits, feeding leaves to the giraffes with their long, purple tongues, or staring at the big diorama of Northwest industry that featured little logging trucks and trains and even an airliner on a wire pulley.

I’m sure that a lot of little sisters in the world think their older brother is the coolest guy around, and that I’m not the only one who adored her big brother. But Matt really was different. He stuck up for me when bullies hassled me, telling them calmly to “knock it off” with Lisa. He watched “The Outer Limits” with me when Mom and Dad went out, and he put on amazing puppet shows on our back deck that made me and my little sister, Maggie, laugh and laugh. Once, when I heard someone criticize him for some reason, I felt what it means to have your gorge rise. I wanted to hit that kid, whatever it was he said. No one was allowed to talk about my brother like that.

It’s not like Matt was a saint or anything. I often used to think he told jerks to stop being mean to me so he could pick on me himself.  His teasing could be merciless, made all the worse because he was often so funny. It’s hard to show righteous fury when you’re laughing.

There was one time, however, when I was forced to choose my allegiance. Matt used to make little 8-millimeter movies with his buddies, sometimes doing stop-motion animation and often showcasing their youthful acting chops. I was never invited to take part in those projects, and it was something I really, really wanted to have happen.

“Hey, Lis, we’re gonna make a movie. You wanna help?”

Are you kidding? Yes!

“We need to use your dollhouse. Is that okay?”

My eyes narrowed. “What are you gonna use it for?”

“Well, we need to show a house burning down, so we’re gonna set it on fire. That’s cool, right? It’ll look so neat.”

I could not believe it. How could this almighty big brother, my hero, be so clueless about the one thing that mattered to me more than anything? Could it have been that my beloved big brother was a little bit dense?

Yes, it could. That day I discovered boundaries. And the dollhouse survived.

By Lisa Groening, Middle School English Teacher, from an essay for the Bay Area Writer Project Summer Course “Teaching Secondary Creative Writing”



Next week is Thanksgiving and I have a story to share. Every Wednesday the junior class and I gather together for Wellness. Junior Wellness is centered around a discussion of what it is they believe, and some Waverly faculty and staff come in to share their own beliefs in an essay of 500 words or less. Some of the students are still at work thinking on the core belief that is true for them. As a brainstorming exercise, I asked the students to write down a number from one to ten on a sticky note. Then, I asked them to read their number aloud. “Now,” I said, “each of you is invited to come to the front of the room and share the things that you are grateful for, equal to the number you wrote down.” I am happy to report that whether they had number two or number nine, there were no complaints and nearly all of them (we ran out of time) came forward and shared with their classmates a range of things for which they feel grateful. I learned something from what they shared. There is so much worry about adolescents. So much of what we hear about them is negative.  We worry that they aren’t listening to the adults in their lives, are unaware of their privilege, and that they have no perspective. We worry that all they do is spend time on their devices. Below is a varied and overlapping list of some of what Waverly’s largest high school class, the juniors, are grateful for, and not one of them said, “my phone.” — Jennifer Dakan, Admissions Director, Wellness Teacher, Thankful Person

My dog
The outdoors
The mountains
Waverly and all the amazing teachers
My health
School (especially this one)
For having easy access to food and other resources
My home
For having people who inspire me
For being who I want to be
Being able to express myself
For not being born into a family that has a religion
My brother
The possum in my yard
My friends
My family
Private school education
Being able-bodied
Sza’s new album
Freedom of speech
Kindness and forgiveness
The Junior class at Waverly

I Believe in the Gift of Failure

October 26, 2018

As a science educator, I begin each year by giving my students explicit permission to fail, and explaining to them that failure is part of the game in science. As sci-fi author Isaac Asimov wrote, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but rather, ‘hmm… […]

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Waverly Alumna Moves Food Forward

October 12, 2018

Dory Bennett, Class of 2012, visited First Friday on October 5 to introduce parents to Food Forward, the non-profit organization where she now works. During Dory’s presentation we learned that Food Forward fights hunger and prevents food waste by harvesting fresh produce from backyard fruit trees and orchards and gathering donations from farmers markets and […]

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We Shall Overcome

October 5, 2018

What I love most about my role here at Waverly is having the opportunity to teach on all three campuses. Mornings with thoughtful ninth graders give way to afternoons with inquisitive elementary school students, and on Fridays after spending time with middle school students I have the chance to participate in All School Meeting. (And […]

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Reading as Social Justice

September 28, 2018

In the first weeks of school, I like to wander. Especially in the early weeks of classes, I am eager to learn about the students and the plans Waverly teachers have for them.  It is also exciting to see the individual arrangement of materials and the orientation of each classroom.  This year, I noticed a […]

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New Year Rituals

September 14, 2018

My new year always begins in September. I find I am more likely to set personal and professional goals at this time each year.  I enjoy rituals and find the school year is a good time to establish them. At the end of August, I make plans for healthier, more eco-friendly lunches, and announce to […]

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Unsung Heroes, Part One

September 6, 2018

Waverly’s summer break may feel long to students and parents, yet every day of it is very busy for those who remain. Tracey Fiss, Waverly’s Business and Facilities Manager since 2006, experiences long days during the summer overseeing an extensive list of renovation to the school. For Tracey and her crew, Carlos Aldaco and John […]

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Waverly Wonderful

May 31, 2018

 It has been a privilege this year to teach, among the 64 middle schoolers, a handful of eighth graders who were in Molly’s 3/4 class so many years ago when I subbed for her. She was on maternity leave for Aiben (who is now so tall and full of questions!), and I was taking on […]

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My Hair Speaks Louder Than I Can

May 16, 2018

I remember sitting in between my mothers knees, no longer holding back tears as she used a wide-toothed comb to untangle my hair. Bawling while simultaneously trying to pay attention to The Lion King because, an hour in and we were hardly a quarter of the way through. After each section she would take a […]

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