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Curriculum Spotlight

A Place-Based Study of Culture Through the Lens of the 9-10s

Date Posted: 
Thursday, June 15, 2017

9-10s Tertulia

In their last Lower School Spanish class, the 9-10s took time to reflect on the meaning of culture. Here is an opportunity to listen in.

  • “Culture is what you believe in and what shapes you.”
  • “Culture is who you are. Family, beliefs, heritage and history”
  • “Culture is how you approach things and how you see things in different ways than others.”
  • “Traditions and/or celebrations that a family has. It could also be values and/or beliefs.”
  • “Culture is tradition and it’s how you think of things.”
  • “Culture is something that you have. The traditions, food, dancing, praying and different things that other cultures have. Everybody has a culture.”

At Manhattan Country School, place-based learning extends beyond our students’ physical environments. It reaches into a study of their local values, practices, traditions and beliefs. Then as students gain a deeper sense of the nature of culture, the balance between continuity and change, they begin to see themselves as active participants in the process. And as transmitters of culture within our school, for example as Reading Buddies to the 6-7s, there is added responsibility and a question that all groups and societies face. Are there aspects of our classroom or school culture that should be changed?

In the 9-10s, students question, are there ways to be more inclusive, cooperative, creative or healthy? If so, who are the experts? What and where are the resources we can turn to in our community? Should we visit the art room, library or a local museum? Who can we interview to gain a deeper understanding of immigration and the city we live in? As critical and creative thinkers, students are empowered to question, strengthen and reimagine their local spaces and communities. Then naturally, this investigation of culture expands their sense of place to include history and social responsibility. That the 9-10s' learning and work has led them to be thinkers, risk-takers, open-minded, caring, balanced and reflective is captured in their answers below to the question “How does where I live and go to school shape who I am?”

  • “It makes me normal and whole.”
  • “MCS has made me feel like an activist.”
  • “It’s affected me in a good way because I like who I am.”
  • “I am from Brooklyn, New York. It shapes who I am because I can be me wherever I am.”
  • “Where I live there are a lot of different people and families. And where I go to school there are also a lot of different people. So who I am is I’m friends with everyone.”
  • “My school shapes me in a way so that I’m smarter and sort of tougher and same with where I live.”

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2017 Spring Concert: A Journey in Music

Date Posted: 
Friday, June 2, 2017

2017 Spring Concert

On Thursday, June 1, the Manhattan Country School community gathered for its first Spring Concert in our new home. Under the direction of Donavon Soumas and accompanied by piano played by Nehemiah Luckett, students in the 8-9s through eighth grade offered a performance that included songs both familiar and new.

The students opened with “Aya Ngena,” a traditional Zulu folk song, followed by “Woven As One.” Nehemiah invited the audience to join in on “We Shall Not Give Up the Fight,” the first of two freedom songs performed in the concert. The other was “Walk Together Children.”

In Spring Concert tradition, the 8-9s and 9-10s performed songs on their recorders--”Lightly Row” and “The Donkey,” respectively. As a gift to the students, Donavon and Nehemiah played a four-hand piano duet titled “There Is a Happy Land.”

For the third portion of the concert, the chorus was accompanied by the MCS Rock Band, featuring Tai on drums, Jonas on electric guitar, Jonah on bass and Aaron G. and Brandon on rhythm shaker and tambourine. Together they performed a collection of contemporary songs: “The Climb,” “Don’t Stop Believing,” “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” and “Heal the World.”

Representatives from the Upper School chorus offered the following message prior to the closing number:

From all of us in the chorus, we say thank you for coming to our annual Spring Concert. As Upper School musicians, we’re learning how to contribute and blend our individual musical voices to our vocal sections—and from there to the collective chorus.

In recent weeks, in our class rehearsals, each vocal section began piecing together the melodies and harmonies, verses and choruses, tempos and dynamic levels in order to achieve a mini musical community or chorus that can operate in many ways like a thriving community at large. We know that if we work at something together we can make improvements and therefore a bigger difference.

Each song we sing is a unique message with sometimes close, dissonant, challenging harmonies and other times pleasant, consonant, easy-to-manage harmonic passages. As musicians, we’re learning to open our voices for others to hear while simultaneously navigating through all types of harmonic situations.

In the least, as individual neighborhood/communities of sopranos, altos, tenors, baritones and basses, we can continue to lend our voices to provide hope for peace, fairness, kindness, equal rights, happiness and justice for all—each individual expressing and contributing their musical line with similar yet different inflections and personalities.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our songs of freedom and encouragement this morning. But most of all, we hope you’ll join our musical intent to heal the world by being like a melody or a harmony—working together one voice, one vocal section, one chorus, one song and one concert at a time.

Again, thank you for your support in our music program.

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Data Fair Showcases How Students Are Using Math to Address Social Justice Issues

Date Posted: 
Friday, June 2, 2017

2017 Social Justice Data Fair

On Thursday, June 1, Manhattan Country School hosted its seventh annual Social Justice Data Fair.  The event, which features student work and a keynote address, highlights the role of math in exploring and addressing social justice issues.

For the eighth-graders, the data fair is a capstone project. Students research an issue of their choosing and hone their visual storytelling skills, preparing a compelling collection of graphs, info-graphics and maps to draw attention to the key concerns they want to raise awareness about for their issue. This year’s topics included:

  • Gentrification
  • Intersectionality in the gender pay gap
  • Asthma rates and environmental racism
  • Endangered species
  • Immigration
  • Mass incarceration in the United States
  • Gun control
  • Sexual harassment
  • Factory farming
  • Public education
  • Access to healthy food

Seventh-graders served as docents for the event, touring our youngest visitors around the fair. Their work from our percent change unit was also on display, through which they investigated changes in the number of black congresswomen, the average coming out age of LGBTQ people, global temperature, black female physicists, deportations, racial demographics of professional athletes, teen pregnancy and more

Sixth-grade work featured at the fair illustrated what they have learned about the disproportionate representations returned by web searches. Image search terms they've investigated included mathematician, nurse, people, police officer, doctor, banker, Muslim, Harlem, lawyer, Asian, Hispanic, parent, transgender, student, homosexual, scientist, athlete, military, Jewish, pilot, senior citizen and teacher. Fifth-graders' work showcased how they visualized their class' water usage.

Attorney Praveen Fernandes gave the keynote address at our annual Social Justice Data Fair. He spoke about why LGBT data should be included in the Census. You can read his position on this issue in his recent New York Times op-ed piece.

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MCS Model Congress 2017: Five Out of Seven Bills Passed, Two Honorable Mentions

Date Posted: 
Friday, June 2, 2017

MCS 2017 Model Congress

On Saturday, May 20, 12 student delegates from Manhattan Country School attended Model Congress at Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, New York.

The delegates that proudly represented MCS and their families this year were Aaron G., Layla H., Anais O., Jory L., Roxanne S., Ricky C., Malik S., Madeleine L., Gabriela M., Jack T., Stella A. and Lillian P.

After three months of classes, these delegates were prepared and excited to defend their seven bills. During the event, delegates broke off into separate committees based upon the content of their bill. These committees are meant to resemble actual congressional committees and include judiciary; education; health; housing & urban affairs; and science, space & technology. Bills that were passed in the Morning Committee Sessions were then reviewed in one of four Full Sessions: House I, House II, Senate I and Senate II.

  • As always, our student delegates presented bills that address a variety of domestic issues that have global impacts. The titles of our students’ bills were:
  • An act to overturn Citizens United so as to protect the future of American Democracy
  • An act to legalize sex work
  • An act to make the energy companies transition from using fossil fuels to using energy sources
  • An act to raise the federal minimum wage
  • The Abortion Access Rights Act
  • The Assault Firearm Restriction Act
  • An act to prohibit conversion therapy of gender or sexual orientation

At the end of the day, five of our seven bills received passing votes and three of those bills were nominated to Full Session. During Full Session, our student delegates delivered strong arguments supported by narratives full of facts, percentages and confidence.

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Fifth-Graders Agree on I Dissent as the 2017 MLK Living the Dream Book Award Winner

Date Posted: 
Tuesday, May 23, 2017

2017 MLK Living the Dream Book Award Winner

On Monday, May 15, fifth-grade students from Manhattan Country School, Central Park East II and Children’s Workshop School presented the 2017 MLK Living the Dream Book Award to the author and illustrator of I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, in a ceremony at Manhattan Country School. The Living the Dream Book Award culminates a yearlong private/public school partnership, initiated by MCS in 1990. The award is presented to a children’s picture book that embodies the values of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This year’s winning book, written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, is based on the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In the 1940s, Ruth grew up a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn alongside many other immigrant cultures. Her life was different in one crucial way. Ruth’s mother believed that girls should have the same opportunities that boys had at that time. Through several family trips, Ruth got to see how others lived and thrived, but she was also witness to racial and religious biases as well. This had a powerful impact on Ruth’s belief system as she went on to pursue and earn a law degree, which was a rare thing for women at the time. She then made it her mission to fight for the rights of women and people of color. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed her to the U.S. Supreme Court. She continues to fight for the rights of many people from varied backgrounds and provides inspiration for young girls, as well as so many others.

2017 MLK Living the Dream Book Award Winner

During the award ceremony, Levy and Baddeley talked about their creative process and answered students’ questions. Levy, in her remarks, quoted King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Ginsburg used these words from King in her dissent from the 2013 Supreme Court opinion that gutted an important part of the Voting Rights Act, adding, “…if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion.” There are no better words to describe the yearlong commitment of work by the young students involved in the MLK Living the Dream Book Award.

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Tertulia Showcases Lower School Spanish Curriculum

Date Posted: 
Friday, May 19, 2017

Lower School tertulia

On Friday, May 5, Manhattan Country School held its annual Lower School Tertulia. A tertulia is a gathering of people united by a common interest. Our tertulia brought together students, faculty and staff, and families around a common focus on the Spanish language. Through songs, poetry, art, games and examples of activism, the students highlighted some of what they have learned this year working with Lower School Spanish Teacher MariaTere Tapias Avery.

Tertulia Highlights

Los 4-5s Se Visitan

The 4-5s sang “Los 4-5s Se Visitan,” inspired by their home visits curriculum.

Movimiento en el Yunque

The 7-8s sang “Movimiento en el Yunque.”

(The week following the Lower School Tertulia, a trio of 7-8s could be heard singing this song while they worked on their wood shop projects. This is just one example of how students incorporate what they’ve learned in Spanish into their everyday work and play.)

Cuida el Agua

The 6-7s sang “Cuida el Agua,” an adaptation of a song written by musician and educator Bernardo Palombo.

As part of this curriculum, the students created a book of illustrations to accompany the lyrics.

Las Arpilleras

The 9-10s shared the arpilleras they created, and offered the following explanation of this curriculum in English and in Spanish.


Arpilleras in Chile and MCS | Las Arpilleras en Chile y MCS

In the 9-10s we learned about the history of arpilleras in Chile.

En los 9-10s aprendimos la historia de las arpilleras en Chile.


Arpilleras are newspapers on cloth.

Las arpilleras son periódicos en tela.


In Chile, women created arpilleras to show the world what was happening in their country.

Mujeres cocieron arpilleras para mostrar lo que pasaba en su país.


They also protested and marched at night.

Tambien habían protestas y marchas por la noche.


At MCS, we are all activists.

En MCS, todos somos activistas.


Our arpilleras show how we create a better world!

¡Como creamos un mundo mejor!



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Seventh- & Eighth-Grade Activists Lead Community Meeting on Climate Change & Divestment

Date Posted: 
Thursday, May 18, 2017

Community Activism Meeting

Tuesday night, Manhattan Country School's seventh- and eighth-graders hosted a community event to share their activism campaign: Divest from corporate greed, invest in the future we need. Students shared details about guest speakers, trips, protests, and curriculum on climate change, environmental justice and other related issues.

Students in the activism elective then led a workshop on the divestment movement, which began by highlighting why we should divest from fossil fuels and the success of the campaign. It turns out that this global movement has influenced the divestment of more than $5 trillion in just over five years.

Students and parents were divided into groups and went to separate rooms to learn about how fossil fuels impact governance and democracy, war and conflict, health, and, of course, climate change. They then wrote letters to Mayor de Blasio urging him to divest New York City pension funds from fossil fuels and to their State Assembly members urging them to vote on a bill that would divest state pension funds from fossil fuels. We looked up everyone's state assembly member in advance so they would know who to write to. We are currently working on setting up a meeting with the mayor's office to deliver the letters by hand. 

The seventh- and eighth-graders invite you to join their letter writing campaign by using the following templates:

Before and after the meeting, students were stationed outside the gym with flyers and information for parents on how to divest their own money from banks that support the Dakota Access Pipeline, switch their electric utility to renewable energy, and order t-shirts with our activism logo.

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Annual SingAlong Celebrates Diverse Cultures

Date Posted: 
Thursday, May 18, 2017

2017 SingAlong

The 4-5s through 7-8s shared songs and dances from around the world with their families at the annual SingAlong Wednesday, May 17. The theme, "Celebrating Diverse Cultures," brought together songs and dances from 15 musical traditions.

Drummers accompanied selections from Nigeria, Colombia, South Africa and Puerto Rico. The main event, of course, was the children, who threw themselves into singing and dancing by taking ownership of the music and blowing us all away.

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Seventh- and Eighth-Graders Take On Planning and Preparing Food for the School

Date Posted: 
Friday, May 5, 2017

Upper School Cooking Elective

This spring, the MCS Kitchen team has been leading a seventh- and eighth-grade elective called “Food for Thought.” The students have completed several food-related activities, such as helping to prepare muffins for the whole school’s Friday morning snack, making scones for Grandparents and Special Friends Day and watching a documentary about our country’s food system.

A few weeks ago, I had the group help me write a week’s worth of lunch menus. We began by brainstorming our favorite lunches and a few new ideas for future lunches. Then we examined all the factors that go into planning the MCS lunch menu. We talked about only serving beef once a week so that we can use the MCS Farm supply over the course of the whole school year. Although, we don’t follow a strict Meatless Monday program, typically one lunch per week is meat free. We also try to buy as much local and seasonal produce as possible. The students looked at availability lists from our vendors who source from farms in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to get an idea of what vegetables are available in early spring. We also discussed the various considerations necessary to meet the different needs of our community. One example is making sure that people who are vegetarian will have plenty to eat on days when meat is served. After much debate and consideration, this is the menu we came up with, that will be served the week of May 8.  Good work seventh- and eighth-graders! Bon appétit!

Menu brainstormingMonday, May 8
Chicken Tenders
BBQ Tofu
Oven Fries
Celery and Carrot Sticks with Ranch Dressing
Fresh Vegetables
Fresh Fruit

Tuesday, May 9
Pulled Pork Tacos
Rice and Beans
Fresh Vegetables
Fresh Fruit

Wednesday, May 10
Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
Sautéed Green Beans
Garlic Bread
Fresh Vegetables
Fresh Fruit

Thursday, May 11
Hamburgers and Veggie Burgers
Lettuce, Tomatoes, Onions, Cheese
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Fresh Vegetables
Fresh Fruit

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Sixth-Graders' Museum Covers Four Centuries of Struggle for Civil Rights

Date Posted: 
Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sixth Grade Civil Rights Museum

On Thursday, April 20, the sixth-graders presented a Civil Rights Museum to showcase their months-long study of the Long Freedom Struggle and civil rights. Since November, students have been learning the complicated and sometimes difficult history of the fight for civil rights in America. In addition to the MLK Play that sixth- graders produce in January, the Civil Rights Museum is an opportunity for students to more deeply investigate stories and episodes in the curriculum.

Students elected to focus on one of five time periods: Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (1600s-1865); Reconstruction and Jim Crow (1865-1940s); Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968); Nationalism and Cousin Movements (1965-1980); and Modern Activism (1980-Today). Within each period, students developed artifacts and prepared historical information to educate visitors about their exhibits.

Artifacts included photographs and video charting the Black Lives Matter movement; data about how attitudes toward racism have changed over time: speeches and letters by prominent leaders like Frederick Douglass; models of lunch counters, railcars, and even a slave ship; objects such as a papier-mâché bus to represent the Montgomery Bus Boycott; and a recreation of the gay pride flag. Rather than tell all of history in each exhibit, students aimed to zoom in on a particular concept or event to help viewers understand small moments in what amounts to more than 400 years of history.