MCS reopens it doors: Putting our garden back together

By Michèle Solá

From the almost perfect attendance at MCS on Monday and my conversations with families about Hurricane Sandy on the sidewalk in the morning, I think it’s fair to say we’re ready to be back.

I walked around the school several times, assessing the initial impact of the storm on students and teachers. It is only the first day back; here are a few highlights:

203 out of 205 students were in school, 1 sick, 1 visiting a high school.

All but 2 of our staff and faculty were in. Those 2 are still cleaning up and repairing damage to their homes from the storm. Transportation is steadily improving, but there are still big challenges in the Rockaways, Long Island, Hoboken, and other parts of New Jersey where some of our staff lives.

Many children, families, and staff were very animated in describing things they had already done as volunteers in the recovery effort. Virtually everyone is asking the question, “What more can we do?”

After school, I met with the faculty and staff to hear how the day had gone. Routines were very welcome. The routines kids are used to come in handy at times like this.

In the younger groups, a lot happens in morning meetings, work time, and dramatic play. One of the benefits of progressive education is that these are already valued, practiced, and regularly scheduled parts of the day.

Kids at MCS are used to comparing explanations of why there was no school, and sharing some of the ways they spent that time. They ran out of fingers counting how many movies they watched, how many got to wear their Halloween costumes all day, and how many families had welcomed relatives in their homes. They drew pictures of wind and rain, using markers and watercolor. They also speculated about the science of hurricanes, the properties of glass windows. Many said it seemed like the television news was never turned off.

Dramatic play reveals how much kids know about people helping one another. There were plenty of acted out scenes with walkie talkies, food and water distribution, making sandwiches, and cleaning out closets of warm clothing and blankets.

In older groups, there is more curiosity about climate, storms, and the resources we depend on heavily. Curriculum across the upper grades can be shaped to take engage kids’ questions. A unit on fossil fuels and sustainable energy will have different significance now, raise even more questions, and relate directly to our own experience.

One class combined plans for making cards for senior citizens at Union Settlement with helping to clear debris and “put the garden at El Sitio Feliz in East Harlem back together again.” Older students had assignments to follow the issues related to the storm in the election.

The faculty and I crafted a few initial recommendations in answer to the question, “What more can we do?” At this early stage, we prefer small-scale local activism that is meaningful for children. We think it’s worth waiting for a student-generated activism project to engage us as a community.

The importance of activism at MCS has motivated parents to share ideas, suggestions and thinking about how we might get involved in supporting hurricane relief work as a school/community. All of the suggestions are aligned well with our mission, but so far they have come primarily from adults. We have a lot of respect for larger organized efforts that are required in these kinds of situations, and would love to hear about MCS families’ participation.

Hurricane Sandy was very real, but the ways children will respond might be more like a play in multiple acts. We know something about how it begins, but there is surely more to follow. Scene: Teachers will communicate directly with families about the things they are observing in classroom, using Haiku or e-mails, through class reps, and in conferences.

ACT #1: HELPING LORRAINE & HER NEIGHBORS IN THE ROCKAWAYS CLEAN UP. Some 6th grade families with the day off tomorrow made this plan. MCS is donating plastic bags and cleaning supplies, and the Farm’s generator is being deployed for power. They may be able to use additional volunteers, but getting out there is difficult — no trains; gas in scarce supply.

ACT #2: STAYING ENGAGED IN LOCAL COMMUNITIES: The diversity of MCS is reflected in the myriad of ways families and staff found ways to engage in widespread New York City neighborhoods, especially over the weekend. Those stories are local and meaningful for pre-k through 8th graders. It would be good to collect them, as an illustration of the range and diversity of our community.

ACT #3: CLASS BY CLASS: Over the coming weeks, more connections between ongoing curriculum and activism will emerge. We are open to a community-wide project, spearheaded by students. Stay tuned.

ACT #4: KEEPING UP WITH NEEDS:  These change frequently. Clothing needs change with weather conditions. Many people are following websites with useful information. Jay shared a great resource he’s been using for figuring out how to help:

Visit the MCS and Odyssey Initiative blogs to see what MCS students were singing about in music class when Todd Sutler and his team visited in October. His video and interviews with MCS educators will give you a glimpse into what motivates me to vote and to carry on.

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