June 2016

Sixth-Graders Host Roxbury Kindergarteners at the Farm

Blog Type:  Dispatches From the Farm Date Posted:  Friday, June 10, 2016 Byline:  By Garth Battista, MCS Farm

For many years, the Roxbury Central School kindergarten classes have come to see the Manhattan Country School Farm during the sixth grade trip in June. The MCS students act as tour guides and take the kindergartners to see the animals, the hay jump, the frog pond and the classes. The kindergarteners have a chance to do something hands-on when they visit each class. So, in farming they planted some seeds; in cooking they helped mix some cookie batter and in textiles they got to handle the wool.

The MCS sixth-graders were gracious and proud hosts. The RCS kindergartners were enthusiastic guests. A good time was had by all!

2015 PEN Conference: A Milestone in MCS History

Blog Type:  From the Directors Date Posted:  Thursday, June 16, 2016 Byline:  By Michèle Sola, Director

“Access, Equity and Activism: Teaching the Possible,” the 2015 Progressive Education Network Conference, has been on the calendar for October 8-10 and on the minds of faculty, administrators, parents and the Conference Planning Committee for nearly two years. The planning committee, a coalition of educators from two dozen public and private schools, worked together during that time to create an exhilarating and energizing coming together of more than 830 progressive educators from across the country.

“Equity” and “Activism” became the motivation for inviting speakers at the forefront of contemporary civil rights movements. “I cannot stop thinking about the will to act (Huitzilipochtli)—the concept [education consultant and keynote speaker] Curtis Acosta translated from Nahuatl to English,” Paulo Arango, MCS 4-5s teacher, reflected. Acosta’s story traced the ongoing fight for Mexican-American studies programs. Fania Davis, co-founder and executive director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, told the story of working to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by introducing restorative justice to Oakland public schools. “It was moving to hear those stories, but also made me proud to be a part of MCS,” Paulo added.

“Access” made for productive tension from the early debates within the Conference Planning Committee and interactions with New York City organizations like NYCORE. Maiya Jackson, the conference chair, and PEN, as an organization, changed its traditional registration system to one based on a sliding scale. More commitment to fundraising by the PEN Board doubled the number of public school educators able to attend. That made a difference, and challenged us to do even more in 2017.

“Teaching the Possible” led to an impressive program coalesced around some of the toughest challenges progressive education faces today, and the implications for the role of education in a democracy. 

Visiting schools has traditionally been a part of PEN conferences, as one of the experiences educators value most is a chance to observe, ask questions and exchange ideas with their peers. Hundreds of progressive educators spent a day engaged in one of the many schools in New York City that embrace a progressive purpose. Site visits to MCS and the MCS Farm, as well as 30 other public and independent schools, were paired with afternoon explorations of curriculum in New York City neighborhoods and with community and cultural organizations

Four panels addressed The History and Future of Progressive Education, Educators as Activists, Authors as Activists and the Importance of Multicultural Literature, and Testing Resistance. This format demonstrated how multiple perspectives can embolden presenters to speak honestly about the tensions, contradictions and compromises faced by those of us committed to a progressive agenda. For me, sharing the stage with Debbie Meier, founder of Central Park East Schools in New York and Mission Hill School in Boston, was thrilling. These panels and keynotes are all recorded, and will serve us long into the future as resources and reminders of this year’s conference.

More than 100 workshops gave the floor to educators, community activists and organizations to share their work. Laughter, music and dancing, and the voices of student activists were prominent in the exchanges.

With 37 MCS faculty and staff members registered, PEN 2015 was professional development as it should be. The donors who contributed to the registration of such a large group are parents and alumni parents who have special appreciation for MCS’ particular interpretation of progressive education. One reminded me of a favorite quote from an MCS teacher, “I live for the day when society’s building blocks are a more perfect reflection of our ideals and the imagination of our children.”  She wrote, “It’s good to know that MCS is keeping [former] 5-6s teacher Toni-Leigh’s tradition, and is sharing it with the rest of the world.”

The whole MCS community rallied around the theme that was chosen. Dozens of MCS volunteers, from the staff and parent community, ensured that registration went smoothly, and that conference participants easily made their way around New York City on foot, and by subway and bus. A few volunteers managed to listen in on sessions they found to be moving, much like other experiences they’ve had at MCS.

I’d like to acknowledge those MCS staff members who played a role in making PEN 2015 a success:

  • Maiya Jackson who steered the ship as conference chair.
  • Flannery Denny, Jay Fung and Anna Sobel, who chaired planning committees, organized panels, designed the conference poster, booked speakers and tackled a host of additional conference logistics.
  • Mary Trowbridge, Ellen Porter, and Monica Amaro, who coordinated the site visit to MCS.
  • Aimee Arandia Østensen, MariaTere Tapias-Avery and Carolina Drake, who planned and led the walking tour of East Harlem that was part of the MCS site visit.
  • Ed, John, Donna, Aimee, Cathy, Stacey, Lynn, MaryAnn, Garth and Annie, who hosted the site visit at the MCS Farm.
  • Karen Zaidberg, Debbie Roth, Laura Swindler, Nassim Zerriffi, Susan Harris, Tom Grattan, MariaTere Tapias-Avery, Carolina Drake, Monica Amaro and Mary Trowbridge, who all led workshops at the conference.
  • Asha Avery, Savannah Perez and Maya Barbosa (Class of 2015), who shared the students’ perspective on activism projects and the MLK Walk.
  • Deirdre Hollman (Myles ’17), who moderated the panel of authors, one of the conference highlights.
  • Angela Johnson Meadows and Michael Gillis, who worked to ensure the event was documented in video and photographs, and Akemi Kochiyama, who assisted in securing funding to cover registration fees.
  • Thank you to everyone for making “Access, Equity, and Activism: Teaching the Possible” an early highlight of our year.

June 2016 Talks to Parents From Mary and Maiya

Blog Type:  From the Directors Date Posted:  Friday, June 17, 2016

On Friday, June 10, 2016, parents gathered in the Music Room to hear end-of-the-school-year reflections from Lower School Director Mary Trowbridge, Upper School Director Maiya Jackson and Director Michèle Solá. The written versions of Mary and Maiya’s remarks are available at the links below.

Mary’s June 2016 Talk to Parents

Maiya’s June 2016 Talk to Parents

Newsletters Referencing this Item

Reflections at the End of the 2015-2016 School Year

Blog Type:  From the Directors Date Posted:  Friday, June 24, 2016 Byline:  By Michèle Solá, Director

Dear MCS Community, 

Mosaic of Manhattan Country School's 96th Street Building The final weeks of a school year are busy–with many chances to observe Manhattan Country School as a vibrant community and a way of life that welcomes differences and experiences that teach what’s possible. The contrasts inside and outside MCS could not have been more stark against a backdrop of rancorous presidential campaigning, a deadly mass shooting targeting the LGBTQ and Latino communities in Orlando, and so much more.

In the MCS lobby, a mesmerizing collage of faces against an image of the façade of 7 East 96 Street captured what Karima Grant ’86 remembers about MCS. “Diversity is a way of being as opposed to something to achieve.” Just as countless alumni have taken the lessons learned at MCS into the world, we will bring the collage and the lessons learned in five decades to our new home in September.

In the library, a circle of 4-5-6s enjoyed stories their seventh grade child development partners wrote and illustrated. Wide eyes and pure joy were the result of months of observations and conversations about how children grow and change. Authentically child-like in many details, the stories were also filled with scenes of children facing challenges and then working to overcome them. These CD stories anchor enduring bonds within a diverse intergenerational community, and will be seeds from which their understanding of the definition of change will grow.

The Music Room was set up, and set up again, endlessly flexible for the countless end-of-year gatherings we held there. At a final meeting of the Parents’ Association, Mary Trowbridge and Maiya Jackson shared highlights of Lower and Upper School programs. It was also my chance to thank parents whose generosity guided a school year and a transition team. As the eighth grade prepared its final play, the set painted by seventh-graders revealed a farm and a giant spider’s web in front of which transpired three delightful performances of “Charlotte’s Web.” A final assembly congratulated each class, and united us once more through songs everyone knows.

In the Courtyard, two signs produced by seventh- and eighth-graders—“Build Bridges, Not Borders” and “Refugees Welcome”—hung as reminders that a defining feature of MCS is our commitment to social justice and activism. I observed Fifth Floor students as they asked hard questions of speakers, watched videos to learn more about topics seemingly beyond their years and made presentations to parents and to classes of young children throughout the school. I witnessed their excitement as the chance to take part in a Day of Action with the American Immigration Lawyers Association came together and they boarded a bus to Washington, D.C. They came back with a deeper, more nuanced understanding of democracy as a complex political process and energized by the conversations with Congressional staffers whose views were not the same as their own.

At Farm Outing Day, hundreds of MCS community members came to appreciate what a special place the Farm is for MCS students. New families were welcomed, as were the alumni who stopped by. The 7-8s confidently shared what they learned on their first farm trip this Spring about pond life and farm animals. Eighth graders showed off four hand-hewn cherry benches that will be their legacy to the Farm and our new home on 85th Street.

All the eighth-graders wrote final reflections, answering the questions, “Are you ready to graduate from MCS?” and “Are you prepared to leave MCS?” They wrote about each other, their teachers, the curriculum, the support they felt as emergent leaders, and the Farm. “Developed the skills to think deeply and critically,” “appreciate different perspectives,” “to understand myself,” “how to be a community member,” “have a voice” and “be an activist” are insights they highlighted.

Amina, like many of her classmates, made it clear that becoming a good student and a committed member of society is not always smooth. My resolve is strengthened by her parting thought: “I need to go off to spread the mission of MCS, continue to speak out against the wrongs in society and continue my progression on a path of compassion, growth and bringing about change.” 

What more can we do to ensure that all young people have the chance to be committed to that path? We have the summer to ponder the question. The work and the fun starts up again in September as we begin a new chapter in MCS history. As we celebrate our 50th anniversary in a new space that will allow us to reach even more families, we will remain steadfast in our mission of nurturing a community dedicated to diversity, social justice, progressive education and sustainability—a community that is committed to developing leaders who will make a difference in the world. 

A Celebration of Our Home and Our Foundation

Blog Type:  From the Directors Date Posted:  Monday, June 27, 2016 Byline:  By Michèle Solá, Director

"How wonderful it felt to be back where we all found life friends."

These words from a parent of two Manhattan Country School alumni so accurately reflect the sentiment of the nearly 250 people who attended our Final Rent Party at 7 East 96th Street this past Saturday. The event, a chance to celebrate the building we’ve called home for nearly 50 years and revisit the places where so many memories reside, brought out current parents and staff, alumni and their parents, former staff members and friends. In the tradition of Rent Parties of MCS days gone by, guests reminisced over the melodic sounds of live music—this time Broadway tunes, Latin music and rock and roll, all performed by members of the MCS community. Admission was free, but donations on a sliding scale slid from $19.66 to $196.60 to $1,966.00.

September 2016 will mark MCS’ 50th anniversary. But we couldn’t begin the next chapter in MCS history without taking some time to recognize and celebrate the families who laid the foundation for what MCS has become today. A Founders Celebration and Jazz Supper, held on Saturday afternoon just before the Rent Party brought representatives from the first 66 families as well as others who were instrumental in working to make Gus and Marty Trowbridge’s dream a reality. What a treat it was to see Gus and Marty together again with Carl Flemister, MCS’ first board chair, and Frank Roosevelt, another board member who was instrumental in creating the sliding-scale tuition model that supports the rich diversity we have today.

During a Jazz Supper program honoring the history of the school and the legacy of the founding families, Lower School Director Mary Trowbridge ’76 and Katharine Carroll ’72 (Gus and Marty’s daughters) read an excerpt from Gus’ book, Begin with a Dream: How a Private School with a Public Mission Changed the Politics of Race, Class, and Gender in American Education. Former Music Director Clint Ingram gave a moving performance of “Without a Song,” from the musical Great Day. In my remarks, I shared my thoughts about how the legacy of the founding families is still felt at MCS.

“Different opinions are a familiar thing at MCS,” I said. “No surprise, though, that the founders’ legacy is powerfully felt, in the makeup and relationships hewn into a close-knit community, in the curriculum, and in the endlessly challenging financial model, and in a now respectable 50-year history. Also in the interplay of despair about the state of our world and hope and faith in what solutions young people will create.”

Stephen Trowbridge ’73 announced the creation of The Gus and Marty Trowbridge Forum: A Community Dialogue on Diversity and Equity in Education. MCS will honor Gus and Marty’s legacy by leading discussions about the issues our founders were compelled to address in opening the school so many years ago. While progress has been made, there is still much discussion and work that needs to be done.

I am extremely grateful to everyone who made both the Rent Party and the Founders Celebration a success. I invite you to enjoy the photo galleries from both events on the MCS website.

As we prepare for our transition to the Upper West Side this summer, I am energized by the knowledge that we will be bringing such a supportive community with us. I look forward to celebrating with you in our new building next year.

Data Fair Highlights the Role of Math in the Fight for Social Justice

Blog Type:  Curriculum Spotlight Date Posted:  Monday, June 27, 2016 Byline:  By Flannery Denny, Seventh and Eighth Grade Math Teacher

Each year, Manhattan Country School hosts a Social Justice Data Fair featuring student work and a keynote address. This year’s event took place on Thursday, June 2. Conceived of as a piece of curriculum that would help highlight math as an important tool in our proverbial toolbox, the annual event is now in its sixth year.

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:

  • The impact of our food choices
  • The disconnect between public opinion around the health risks of abortion and the reality that far more women die during childbirth than from legal abortions
  • Elitism in New York City private high schools as compared to Ivy League colleges
  • Mandatory minimum sentencing and the racism embedded therein
  • The gender pay gap between male and female athletes
  • Mental health
  • Body image
  • Asthma rates and environmental racism
  • Giant Panda habitat loss and protection
  • Access to health care in the United States
  • Syrian Refugees
  • HIV/AIDS in the United States
  • Visual impairment in the United States
  • Segregation in U.S. schools

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 average coming-out age of LGBTQ people, childhood obesity rates, CO2 in the atmosphere, demographics of professional and youth sports, demographics of lead actors in Hollywood films, incidence of rape, motor vehicle deaths, the gender pay gap and more.

Sixth-grade work featured at the fair collectively focused on investigating bias in web-based image searches.  One student shared, “In this project, I investigated images with the term ‘person.’ Overall, seven percent of images showed females while 93 percent showed males…Two out of six women were black, showing that black women were the minority in the search. I’m surprised that search engines in this world think that people looking for an image of a person would rather see white men than women.” Other search terms investigated included mathematician, nurse, people, police officer, doctor, banker, Harlem, lawyer, Asian, Hispanic, parent, transgender, student, homosexual, scientist, athlete, military, senior citizen and teacher. 

“My favorite thing about the Social Justice Data Fair was how much we were able to impact the people attending the fair,” said one eighth-grader. “I believe we were being true activists during the fair.”

Another eighth-grader added, “I was really surprised by how interested people were in our projects. I expected the younger kids to be distracted, however they continued to ask questions about the topic.”

Mid-morning, parents, staff and students in fifth through eighth grade gathered in the Music Room for the keynote address. Seema Saifee, a human rights lawyer with The Innocence Project, spoke about The Role of Data in Exonerating Wrongfully Convicted Individuals and in Reforming the Criminal Justice System to Prevent Future Injustice. She was joined by exoneree David McCallum, who reflected on his experience of being arrested for and convicted of a murder that he didn’t commit at the age of sixteen and his struggle to restore his liberty during his 29 years of incarceration. 

The 45-minute presentation had a strong impact on the students. “I was kind of sad that the talk was so short because it was really interesting, important and eye opening…and a lot of people had more questions,” said one eighth-grader.

The presenters were equally impacted by the experience. “David and I were both so moved by the event,” said Seema. “The questions were incredibly thoughtful and the level of engagement was amazing.”

Social Justice Data Fair Reflections

My favorite thing about the Social Justice Data Fair was…
… being able to show the 7-8s around and helping them understand some of the projects.
… learning things I didn’t know.
… interacting with and talking to people. Some of our conversations were very interesting.
… being able to talk to adults and children about the data that I found.
… the keynote speakers.
… seeing all the projects that the eighth-graders worked hard researching and creating posters on.
… getting to put information into terms that were more easy to understand.
… working with my partner
Something that interested me was…
… how each eighth-grader went in great detail to explain every aspect of their topics.
… how hard it was to find data that was kind of related to my topic
Something that surprised me about the data fair was…
… that the WNBA player that is paid the most would be the least paid player in the NBA.
… how interested some of the little kids were in my project.
… the attention that younger children displayed.