Willow Room Blog

January, 16, 2020: The 2020 Upper Elementary Business Day was a terrific success! A wide range of products and services were offered, from expert lessons on how to use flight simulator software to delicately packaged handmade soap. It’s always tremendous to see the excitement flood the students’ faces when the first shoppers enter the classroom and their store is officially open for business.

Business Day is not only a great bit of fun for sellers and shoppers, it is also a very practical educational opportunity. The experience is split into four parts: brainstorming and finalizing a business idea, preparing their products and/or services offered, selling the products or services, and finally, reconciling the time and money spent along the way with what was earned from selling. A complete list of what the children learn would be nearly endless, but a sampling includes: supply and demand and how it relates to pricing, how to determine actual earnings versus expected earnings (hopefully they match!), marketing and salesmanship, and practice counting money and all four operations with decimals. 

We look forward to what these very talented children come up with next year!


October 3, 2019: Our fall camping trip to Oxbow Park plays a significant part in our academic plan for the year, and contributes greatly to the building of our community. Parents, staff and students invest a great of deal of thought and time into making this a productive and much anticipated, and usually fondly remembered, experience. We do understand that there are challenges for participants, and actually consider those as part of the benefit. Sleeping on the ground is not as comfortable as your bed, some still get homesick, and no-one loves outhouses. The students help each other through these challenges, and grow stronger as individuals and as friends.

Each year’s visit to Oxbow offers a different academic and experiential focus. Last year we visited the historic museums and homes in Troutdale. Next year we hope to visit Bull Run Watershed as part of our studies of rivers and water usage. Some years we take a hike in the gorge and study it’s geology.

This year’s focus is on salmon, starting with our visit to the Hatchery and fish ladder at Bonneville. We hope that the later date will mean that there is more breeding activity in the Sandy River, and will take our turn raising Spring Chinook from egg to fry in the classroom later this fall. This will also be the kickoff for our fall group research project on fish, reviewing the biology lessons and materials on body functions and external parts of fish, as well as a dissection and fish printing. 

Returning to the same campsite and park each fall also allows the students to build a relationship with a natural area that they grow to love. They observe and witness the changes that occur each year along the river and in the forest, but also enjoy its’s familiarity, as it comes to feel a bit like ‘home’. The opportunity to give back to the park by working every year on the trail adjacent to our campsite contributes to their sense of belonging.

As an example, an MSB alumni who is returning to Portland next week to launch her second book, disappointed that I would be unable to attend her reading, asked if she might swing by our campsite to say hello, as she has so many warm memories of her many visits to Oxbow Park. I also know parents of alumni who still return to Oxbow to hike and camp after their first visit as an MSB chaperone nearly 30 years ago!


March 19, 2019: The Book Sale led by this year’s sixth year students was a great success, thanks to your donations, and to your attendance and purchases. These students set up and maintained order for the many tables of books, determined the prices, made the signage, and ran the ‘cash register’. That last gave them a lot of practice with adding numbers abstractly, counting money and making change. They also managed the holds shelf, making sure that shoppers honored their agreement  in a timely manner. The sixth year parents volunteered to oversee their work during the main hours of the sale. 

Books were sold at half price on Friday, but at the end we still boxed up quite a few boxes of books. Unsold books will be donated to several public libraries. All of our earnings were profits as there are no costs to this event. This year’s earnings will make a sizable contribution towards our housing costs in Washington DC


January 29, 2019: Last week the we began a whirlwind study of ancient Egypt in order to get the most out of OMSI’s exhibit on the discovery of King Tutamkhamun’s tomb. 

Following is one student’s description of the revealing of the shrine(s) and coffin(s).

“There was a room called the burial chamber and the wall was actually part of a shrine which had been opened, but they discovered that there was another shrine within that shrine, and it was still sealed, meaning no tomb robbers had reached it. Nothing like that had ever been discovered before. Under the second shrine there was a third, and under that a fourth, but the fourth had a lid and it was stone. In order to open it they had to remove the three shrines on top of it. They spent 88 days of hard labor removing the shrines. Once that was done, they removed the lid to find a coffin, and inside of that another coffin, and inside of that another, and inside of that there was one more. They used a pulley system to lift the final coffin out because it was extremely heavy (400 pounds of solid gold!), and then took the lid off. Inside they found the Mummy of King Tutankhamun. It was wearing a gold mask. They unwrapped the bandages and found many more treasures within the layers.”


December 14, 2018: My great aunt was an active participant in bringing the Trick-or Treat for UNICEF program to California in the 1950s.  I myself trick-or-treated for UNICEF as a child  in the early 1960s. My students have continued this tradition for 35 years. 

Over the years it has seemed that fewer neighbors recognize or understand the good work that UNICEF does, so some of my students have chosen to write letters to their neighbors or prepare a short speech to explain the purpose of this collection, with great results. As many our students are first generation Americans, not all share or participate in the Halloween traditions, but most have chosen to donate some of their own money, or to just collect from friends and family. Several have created a tradition of collecting at holiday parties celebrating other cultural traditions in the same season. 
This year one student collected $243 at a family hosted party. Her parents decided to match her collection. Then, given that all the donors were fellow employees, they submitted their receipt to their employer who then matched that already doubled total. One student ultimately collecting $980! Wow!
The remaining $494 that the rest of our students and families collected and donated ultimately was tripled, quite by accident, as my attempts at on-line donations kept failing, only succeeding on Giving Tuesday! We still have a few checks to mail. And this was from only one class!
Over the years our students have appreciated the information regarding what our collected dollars might purchase and provide. In the past my students have set goals of collecting enough to provide certain items, for instance  immunizations for 100 children, or a well for a village. They have often decided to fund raise to achieve that goal, or even to increase the amount collected on Halloween.
Thank you to all of you who supported your child’s participation in this project this year. Our  young students now know that they truly can make a difference.


October 30, 2018: Every day after recess the students line up under the breezeway, shuffling through the oak leaves that have been piling up and blowing over the walkway. As I followed them in, I noticed an oak leaf with unusual markings and bent down to look closer. Intrigued by the surprising pattern, I brought it to the attention of the students and a wonderful conversation ensued, affording us an opportunity to share and review the entire process of scientific inquiry.

We noticed and described the pattern of concentric circles on the blade of the leaf, and wondered at it’s cause. Someone rubbed the pattern, and concluded that it wasn’t just a chalkmark or dust as it didn’t rub away. Another rubbed it, attempting to discover if the pattern had a texture. The results were inconclusive. A hypothesis was offered that it could be a fungus as they often grow in concentric rings, but there was doubt because of the perfection of the rings. One student, seeing the leaf for the first time, said “Neel’s shoes.” She remembered seeing that pattern on the soles of his shoes last week as we created a dichotomous may of all of our shoes. We were impressed at her observation skills and memory, but checked her hypothesis by matching the soles of a Neel’s shoes to the pattern. Not satisfied with that, they continued to wonder about how the leaf was imprinted, testing it by stepping on leaves, grinding down on the leaf, or stepping on it at a walk or a run. Ah ha! Someone was running on the walkway!!

We took the time to remember our process (observation, wondering, ideas, testing) and the steps of the scientific process (observation, hypothesis, testing, conclusion) noticing the need to repeat many steps. I took the opportunity to emphasize the importance of simply noticing, wondering, being willing to hazard an answer, and persistence.


October 10, 2018: After a busy summer break, Willow Room got right back to work to start the school year. The returning students had a chance to get some new lessons, catch up with friends and remember all the different classroom routines for a week, before we began introducing new 4th year students to the environment. It was terrific to see how quickly the new students took ownership of their environment, with the guidance of the older students – a prime example of the effectiveness of the mixed-age classroom.

Shortly after we had our full classroom, the preparations for our Fall camping trip to Oxbow Park began. Children were busy practicing setting up tents, cooking with our wonderful parent volunteers, and receiving a large variety of botany lessons they could use for plant identification on the planned hikes. Of course, students were also getting lessons on math, spelling, vocabulary, geography and compositions, in addition to the new students getting a complete orientation to the many classroom procedures.

Overall, it was a great start to the school year. We’re all very much looking forward to all that lies ahead!


Kathleen Berry


Gabriel Barber

Gabriel received his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Warner Pacific College and worked in real estate and marketing prior to pursuing a career in education. He has experienced Montessori as a child in a Primary classroom, as a parent volunteer at his sons’ Montessori school and holds AMI Primary and Elementary diplomas from Montessori Northwest, along with his Masters Degree in Education from Whitworth University.

Gabriel enjoys spending time with his two boys, cheering on his favorite local sports teams, snagging a few rebounds every Tuesday for his basketball team, spending time in the great outdoors, and curling up with a wonderful book. Something you may not know about Gabriel, is that he is in the process of writing a book for elementary children about a young heroine trying to figure out why all of her beloved stars are suddenly disappearing.


Shanna Irvin

Hi, my name is Shanna Irvin and this is my 5th year working at MSB. I have been in a variety of positions including elementary support, after school enrichment instructor and support, 2 years as a lower elementary assistant, and 1 year as an upper elementary assistant. I am so grateful to continuously learn from the MSB staff, parents and children, and to continue growing in this beautiful environment.

One of my favorite past times is to explore new music and music I have never heard. Sometimes, when nobody else can hear, I also love to sing aloud. I enjoy hiking, playing racquetball, building jigsaw puzzles, and cooking. When I have time to cook, I find it to be therapeutic and relaxing.