Manhattan Country School begins MCS en Casa, our distance learning plan on March 30

March 2016

Reflections on Tuesday's Actvism Event

Blog Type:  MCS Activism Date Posted:  Thursday, March 3, 2016 Byline:  By Maite Junco, MCS Parent

Fifth Floor Activism Community Event I was impressed by some of the materials shared, especially a simple yet powerful video about how conflict can turn upside-down the life of young Syrian girl. As parents asked questions and students and teachers answered them, we learned that unlike many immigrants fleeing poverty around the world, the Syrian refugees are a more educated and financially comfortable group forced to flee because of the civil war. The U.S. has offered to accept only 10,000 Syrians this year, a figure roundly criticized as ridiculously small. Nassim, MCS’ history teacher and activism coordinator, happily reported that his native Canada has been far more generous, but one MCS parent said our neighbor to the north has the benefit of not having been the target of terrorist attacks. In perhaps the night’s most poignant moment, a parent who hails from Turkey recognized that he has not always been sympathetic to immigrants in the area. But on a recent trip home he saw a group of fleeing refugees reaching land on a raft and the sight moved him to tears.

The MCS students are now finalizing a plan to raise awareness about the Syrian crisis and the Islamophobia that it feeds. We will surely hear about it when it’s finalized. Among their ideas? Traveling to Washington, D.C. or Albany to lobby, shooting a video to share via social media and talking with community groups already doing work on these issues to see how they can help. Kudos to the students and teachers for an interesting and thought-provoking presentation!

7-8s Family Brunch Celebrates Stories and Traditions

Blog Type:  Curriculum Spotlight Date Posted:  Friday, March 11, 2016 Byline:  By Nicole Joseph and Kerry Devine, 7-8s Teachers

Since September, the 7-8s have embarked on a journey of conducting research to learn more about their own families. On March 1, the 7-8s had the opportunity to share all their findings at the 7-8s Family Brunch, an annual event that comes at the end of the students’ Family Study. 7-8s’ families were invited to see the work that each 7-8s member compiled over time.

The 7-8s brought richness to the Family Study. Culture and traditions abounded through classmate biographies, unique stories behind names, artifacts of passed-down items and parent biographies. They wrote poems about what family means to them. In addition, letters from grandparents were sent from Texas, Mississippi, Columbia and right here in New York City to provide information about what life was like “back then.” The 7-8s Recipe Book, a compilation of family recipes, was shared as well. Nigerian Okra Soup, Haitian Pumpkin Soup and Maman Bozorg’s Lasagna were a few of the yummy dishes talked about during the event.

One of the most rewarding items shared was the 7-8s quilt, in which each 7-8s student contributed a piece of patchwork that told their story of what’s important to them. The 7-8s proudly displayed their beautiful work of art, which was constructed and sewn by each student. A lovely morning was had by all!

Seventh-Graders Help Gather Maple Sap at the Farm

Blog Type:  Dispatches From the Farm Date Posted:  Friday, March 18, 2016 Byline:  By Garth Battista, MCS Farm

This week at the Manhattan Country School Farm, the seventh-graders helped gather maple sap for making syrup. They learned through practice what the famous Roxbury naturalist John Burroughs wrote in 1886: “A sap-run is the sweet good-bye of winter. It is the fruit of the equal marriage of the sun and frost.”

MCS Farm staff hung about 200 buckets on trees a month ago, drilling holes with hand-cranked augers and then tapping in the spiles—which are a combination spout for the dripping sap and hook for a bucket.

Then began the waiting game: for maple sap to run, ideally nights should be below freezing and the days well above. But this year the weather has been unusual, with many warm days and nights consecutively above freezing…or then a cold snap when the days and nights were both below freezing. But luckily we have had enough weather in the Goldilocks “just right” zone that we have gathered 1,000 gallons of sap, which was then boiled down into 25 gallons of syrup…which then appears with the morning pancakes.

Gathering the sap involves a hike up into the woods, to the area of our big maple trees called the “sap bush.” All the students made the trek and pitched in on this old-fashioned task.

Our vintage Ford tractor pulls the “sub,” a 275-gallon steel tank mounted on trailer wheels. Students go from tree to tree, unhooking the bucket from the spile, marching it over and dumping the contents into the tank. The tractor makes a long slow circuit of the sap bush.

In addition to building our syrup-making stock, gathering sap is just a fine excuse to ramble around in the woods on these glorious early spring days.

Some people don’t wait for pancakes to enjoy this stuff! Sap straight from the tree tastes mostly like water, with only a hint of sweetness, and maybe a trace of something rocky and mineralic…the taste of water coming through the earth.

When MCS Farm Program Director John is making syrup in the sap house, he builds a fire from pine wood under the evaporator pan, and constantly tends the fire, monitors the inflow rate of sap and checks the sugar content of the syrup. Sap slowly flows through a series of linked channels in the evaporator pan, starting out pretty close to water and ending many hours later as sweet sticky syrup. At some of the intermediate stages the sap can be dipped out with a teacup and sipped hot: “maple tea,” a delicious and invigorating treat on a cool morning. The syrup-making process takes all day, and sometimes can be left halfway done and restarted the next day. John basically can’t leave the sap house while it’s happening, but students always enjoy stopping in for a chat and maybe a cup of maple tea.

John talks about how we benefit from the maple trees’ natural process of photosynthesis. All summer long the green leaves turn the sun’s energy into food (sugar) for the tree. The tree uses some of the sugar for growth, and it stores surplus in the roots. All that sugar stays in the roots, dormant through the winter, to be released for a new burst of green leaves with the arrival of spring—and its temperature fluctuations. Hence “the equal marriage of the sun and frost.”

John teaches the students how to know, through observation, when the evaporating sap has finally become true syrup: the consistency of the bubbles, the temperature of the solution (seven degrees Fahrenheit above the point of boiling water), the “sheeting test” where the syrup clings to a spoon and finally, by using a hydrometer to confirm that the syrup consists of 66 percent sugar.

In the end, it’s an extraordinary sight to see John pouring syrup by the gallon out of the large milk cans he uses to bring it back to the farmhouse for bottling. And once it’s bottled, it goes on a shelf in the basement, to wait for that sublime pancake breakfast sometime in the next year. Making maple syrup is a labor-intensive process, but the pleasure the students get from the syrup on their pancakes is increased tenfold by their taking part in its creation.


Lambs at the MCS Farm


But that’s a whole ’nother story…

Eighth-Graders Use Art to Express Feelings About the Iraq War

Blog Type:  Curriculum Spotlight Date Posted:  Friday, March 25, 2016 Byline:  By the Fifth Floor Teachers

Last Friday, the eighth grade had the opportunity to collaborate with Catalonian/Spanish artist Núria Güell. Núria was invited to visit New York to participate in a group exhibition of politically active artists. Núria’s concept for the show was to invite a prominent war veteran and activist, Mike Prysner, to talk to students about his experience in the Iraq war and encourage questions and discussions around patriotism. 

Mike spoke to us about growing up wanting to join the army and to be a war hero. He saw the army as an opportunity to be a part of something honorable and bigger than himself and to do good. He talked about playing with GI Joe and the video game Call of Duty. He also talked about the lead up to the Iraq war, and how hard it was to find any perspective on the war that differed from what the Bush administration was saying. He talked about how he followed his Commander in Chief to war. He then shared a lot about his experiences in Iraq. It was powerful, real and left the students feeling sad, angry, disgusted and outraged. He really brought home everything Nassim has taught the class about the Iraq war in Current Events. 

As part of the experience, the eighth-graders created reflections using modeling clay (a metaphor for how citizens may be modeled by established institutions). Each and every student created something and spoke about what had moved them to create it. The artist, the curator, the veteran and the teachers were blown away by their creations. 

The students’ artwork is now part of A Certain Urge (Towards Turmoil), an exhibit at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts that brings together seven artists, including Núria, from Mexico, Spain, Chile and the United States. You can see the students work from now until May 2016 at EFA Project Space, 323 West 39th Street in New York City.