Dear Manhattan Country School Community,
The summer of 2017 is almost in the rearview mirror. The 2017-2018 school year at Manhattan Country School starts soon, and I can’t wait. Never has a summer put a school, its mission and program, and the diverse community we build together in such sharp relief.
In early July, we were saddened by the news that MCS Founder Gus Trowbridge passed away. I will miss the stories he told about turning his vision into reality. Constant debate, adjustments and change filled those stories, as well as encouragement to have dreams and be resilient as one works to achieve them. This year we will have a chance to revisit the joys and challenges of establishing what still stands out as a unique learning environment. The 2017-2018 Manhattan Country School Calendar features photographs of our students juxtaposed with quotes from Gus on educational equity, diversity, progressive education, change and the Farm. His influence still anchors our evolving practices as the school grows to double its original size.
The Trowbridge family will hold a celebration of Gus’ life at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (1047 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY), on November 18, at 2 p.m. The MCS community is invited.
In late August, there were poignant reminders of the urgency of a school like MCS that makes central tenets out of ongoing education and activism in the fight for equality and human dignity. The violence in Charlottesville, Virginia is singular and demands that we add our voice to the chorus that deplores injustice and bigotry. We must also clearly and unequivocally condemn groups that espouse racial and religious hatred, white supremacist ideology and violence. We mourn the deaths in Charlottesville and hail the generation that includes young citizens like Heather Heyer, whose abbreviated life was about making our democracy more equitable and more just through peaceful protest.
These bookmarks on the summer of 2017 will be the landscape against which our 2017-2018 school year unfolds. MCS’ history began during the Civil Rights Movement and we have remained steadfast about the importance of an inclusive mission. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s influence on our founders is reflected in the songs we sing at assemblies, older students’ study of social movements and the speeches our eighth graders share on the MLK March. Students’ artwork hangs throughout the building, starting on the first floor with arpilleras composed of applique squares the 9-10s stitch on the theme of change. Continuing up the stairs is a banner that reads “Refugees Welcome Here.” A Gender Project initiated in the 1990s provides a foundation for re-examining our policies and practices with an eye to ensuring equity for LGBT children and families. A renewed interest in farm-school connections is evident in the apples and mural in the lobby, our Lower and Upper School trips to Central Park and the snacks and lunches we serve.
MCS’ continuing work will mean sharing strategies and resources about ways to help children gain insight into subjects adults don’t always feel confident discussing. Some of those strategies have been perfected over the years by dedicated MCS teachers. Others are a work-in-progress, taking into account changing demographics, new technologies and research on children’s gender development. In our work, we often find ourselves reaching out to like-minded organizations, including Teaching Tolerance, Rethinking Schools and Child Mind Institute.
Our program encourages multicultural dialogue, rich learning experiences and a rare immersion in community-building in classrooms and at the Farm. Opportunities to ask questions unveil common purpose among differences and the deliberate lessons about identity and empathy contribute to better understandings of the ways power and privilege work. Engaging children’s thoughts and questions is also what makes it possible to feel hopeful about alternatives that become habits lasting a lifetime.
Achieving all our goals is neither a small nor a dispassionate undertaking. The work happens in small meaningful steps along the way. In a few weeks we’ll start to see the tools in job charts and risk-taker charts. There will be signs reading “I feel ____ when you ____,” “What I would like is _______,” “Ýo puedo _______,” “Something I can teach is _____.” Some classrooms will have contracts posted on walls that each student will sign to establish agreements about ways of treating one another. Right up until June, those will serve as guides for learning from mistakes.
2017-2018 will launch MCS’ next 50 years with room for a sense of hope and possibility about the future. Expanding Purpose: The Campaign for the Future of Manhattan Country School supports our mission to create and serve an authentically diverse community and to train teachers to do the same. “Sustain,” “Cultivate,” “Grow” invites the partnership and generosity of our supporters. The commitment to children’s education in an equitable and economically diverse community is ours now, building on the vision Gus and his wife, Marty, articulated from the beginning. This year we have 268 students (our largest enrollment ever). They hail from 27 zip codes, speak more than two dozen languages and define themselves increasingly as multiracial. A hint of what lies ahead for them might be gleaned from reflections written by last year’s graduating class.
“I have had 10 years of learning how to think analytically, how to present an argument and back it up with facts, how to look through multiple perspectives and find my own within them, and how to be part of a diverse, inclusive community. We are taught to spread what we know about integration, freedom of speech, social justice, and so much more. We are taught to stand up for what we believe in and push indifference aside. We have been taught to not sit and watch but to act, march and peacefully protest.”
“MCS has helped me learn that meaningful action is action that addresses the root cause of an issue, and true commitments are more than simple charity. MCS is a community that genuinely cares about social justice and activism. In its genuine valuing of diversity, MCS teaches us to engage with instead of avoid real conversations about difference and inequality.”
In late August 1982, Gus interviewed me over Labor Day weekend for the Upper School Spanish teacher position at MCS. After hearing my stories about teaching children of migrant farmworkers in Indiana and researching bilingual language development in Puerto Rican communities of Boston and East Harlem, Gus asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” “Training teachers” and “influencing education policy” was the answer I gave then and remains true today. Now I ask Gus’ question of every candidate I interview. Each September, no matter what lies in the rearview mirror, I look forward to all that is to come.
Manhattan Country School