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Manhattan Country School Shares Approach to “Access, Equity and Activism” as 2015 PEN Conference Host

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

This week, Manhattan Country School steps into the national spotlight as host of “Access, Equity and Activism: Teaching the Possible,” the 2015 Progressive Education Network (PEN) Conference. MCS was chosen to host the event, which will be held October 8 through 10 at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge, because of its legacy of developing curriculum that addresses diversity, sustainability, social justice and partnerships with public schools. Upper School Director Maiya Jackson has served as chair of the coalition of two dozen progressive public, independent and charter schools that have developed what is sure to be a thought-provoking and inspiring event.

MCS Director and PEN Board Member Michèle Solá will be one of the panelists in Friday’s opening plenary, which addresses the history and future of progressive education. Nassim Zerriffi, MCS seventh and eighth grade history teacher and activism coordinator, will participate in a panel discussion about educators as activists.

Nine Manhattan Country School teachers and administrators will share their approach to progressive education and activism as workshop leaders. They join more than 800 educators, administrators and policy makers from across the country who will explore solutions to challenging issues such as standardized testing resistance, the school-to-prison pipeline, cultivating and sustaining true diversity, and the relationship between child-centered teaching and Common Core standards.

The following MCS teachers and administrators will present workshops at the PEN Conference: 

  • Karen Zaidberg, sixth grade teacher: “Encountering Harlem, Then and Now”
  • Debbie Roth, 8-9s teacher: “Hiking Through History at Inwood Hill Park”
  • Laura Swindler, 6-7s teacher: “The Museum Study: An Integrated Unit About Access to Art and Imagination”
  • Nassim Zerriffi, seventh and eighth grade history teacher and activism coordinator: “Activism and Advocacy with Adolescents: A Year-Long Student-Driven Project”
  • Susan Harris, Lower School music teacher: “Civil Rights with Young Children Through Song and Movement”
  • Tom Grattan, seventh and eighth grade English teacher: “Marching for Justice: Writing About Equality”
  • MariaTere Tapias-Avery, Lower School Spanish teacher, and Carolina Drake, Upper School Spanish teacher: “Making Connections That Matter to Children: Interdisciplinary Learning in Your Language Classroom”
  • Monica Amaro, Director of Admissions: “Developing a Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in Your Practice”

In addition to more than 100 teacher-led workshops, the three-day event features seven keynotes and panel discussions, site visits to dozens of progressive schools, 30-plus place-based experiences around New York City and a resource fair showcasing educational organizations with social justice missions. A group of conference attendees will visit the MCS Farm in the Catskill Mountains on Wednesday. Another cohort of educators will spend time in MCS classrooms and accompany teachers on place-based learning experiences in New York City on Thursday.

“Since Laura Swindler first attended a PEN conference in 2008, there have been few other professional development experiences that so energize our faculty,” Michèle. “Three days of solid inspiration are fueled by the keynote speakers and curriculum ideas gleaned from workshops or conversations with their peers. 

“Educator Deborah Meier’s comment, ‘We don’t have a crisis in education, we have a crisis in our democracy,’ has prompted reflection and debate at MCS. We can point to biannual PEN conferences as the origin of endless conversations about the purpose of education in a democracy and inspiration for our 45th Anniversary Teach-In. PEN conferences are also an opportunity to identify emergent leaders in progressive education. The coalition of leaders who worked for two years on PEN NY 2015 has done that too, and promises that our relationship with other progressive schools in NYC will endure long into the future.”

Conference Highlights

Thursday, October 8:

Visits to more than 25 progressive New York City schools

An address by Curtis Acosta on fighting for ethnic studies curricula in schools

Friday, October 9:

Panels: The History of Progressive Education in New York City, featuring Diane Ravitch (via video), Deborah Meier, and heads of public, charter and independent schools, and Activism In & Out of the Classroom, both moderated by Michelle Fine

Place-based workshops at cultural institutions and community spaces across the city

A resource fair featuring educational organizations with social justice missions, including Brooklyn Robot Foundry, Cool Culture, NYCoRE and Rethinking Schools

An address by Fania Davis on Restorative Justice and Stopping the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Saturday, October 10:

Panels: Authors as Activists and the Importance of Diverse Books, featuring Jacqueline Woodson, James Lecesne and Andrea Davis Pinkney, and Speaking Out Against High Stakes Testing, with teachers, students, parents and administrators

Workshops led by experienced progressive educators

For more information about the 2015 PEN Conference, visit the Progressive Education Network Conference website.