On Saturday, May 20, 12 student delegates from Manhattan Country School attended Model Congress at Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, New York.
The delegates that proudly represented MCS and their families this year were Aaron G., Layla H., Anais O., Jory L., Roxanne S., Ricky C., Malik S., Madeleine L., Gabriela M., Jack T., Stella A. and Lillian P.
After three months of classes, these delegates were prepared and excited to defend their seven bills. During the event, delegates broke off into separate committees based upon the content of their bill. These committees are meant to resemble actual congressional committees and include judiciary; education; health; housing & urban affairs; and science, space & technology. Bills that were passed in the Morning Committee Sessions were then reviewed in one of four Full Sessions: House I, House II, Senate I and Senate II.
- As always, our student delegates presented bills that address a variety of domestic issues that have global impacts. The titles of our students’ bills were:
- An act to overturn Citizens United so as to protect the future of American Democracy
- An act to legalize sex work
- An act to make the energy companies transition from using fossil fuels to using energy sources
- An act to raise the federal minimum wage
- The Abortion Access Rights Act
- The Assault Firearm Restriction Act
- An act to prohibit conversion therapy of gender or sexual orientation
At the end of the day, five of our seven bills received passing votes and three of those bills were nominated to Full Session. During Full Session, our student delegates delivered strong arguments supported by narratives full of facts, percentages and confidence.
On Thursday, June 1, the Manhattan Country School community gathered for its first Spring Concert in our new home. Under the direction of Donavon Soumas and accompanied by piano played by Nehemiah Luckett, students in the 8-9s through eighth grade offered a performance that included songs both familiar and new.
The students opened with “Aya Ngena,” a traditional Zulu folk song, followed by “Woven As One.” Nehemiah invited the audience to join in on “We Shall Not Give Up the Fight,” the first of two freedom songs performed in the concert. The other was “Walk Together Children.”
In Spring Concert tradition, the 8-9s and 9-10s performed songs on their recorders--”Lightly Row” and “The Donkey,” respectively. As a gift to the students, Donavon and Nehemiah played a four-hand piano duet titled “There Is a Happy Land.”
For the third portion of the concert, the chorus was accompanied by the MCS Rock Band, featuring Tai on drums, Jonas on electric guitar, Jonah on bass and Aaron G. and Brandon on rhythm shaker and tambourine. Together they performed a collection of contemporary songs: “The Climb,” “Don’t Stop Believing,” “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” and “Heal the World.”
Representatives from the Upper School chorus offered the following message prior to the closing number:
From all of us in the chorus, we say thank you for coming to our annual Spring Concert. As Upper School musicians, we’re learning how to contribute and blend our individual musical voices to our vocal sections—and from there to the collective chorus.
In recent weeks, in our class rehearsals, each vocal section began piecing together the melodies and harmonies, verses and choruses, tempos and dynamic levels in order to achieve a mini musical community or chorus that can operate in many ways like a thriving community at large. We know that if we work at something together we can make improvements and therefore a bigger difference.
Each song we sing is a unique message with sometimes close, dissonant, challenging harmonies and other times pleasant, consonant, easy-to-manage harmonic passages. As musicians, we’re learning to open our voices for others to hear while simultaneously navigating through all types of harmonic situations.
In the least, as individual neighborhood/communities of sopranos, altos, tenors, baritones and basses, we can continue to lend our voices to provide hope for peace, fairness, kindness, equal rights, happiness and justice for all—each individual expressing and contributing their musical line with similar yet different inflections and personalities.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our songs of freedom and encouragement this morning. But most of all, we hope you’ll join our musical intent to heal the world by being like a melody or a harmony—working together one voice, one vocal section, one chorus, one song and one concert at a time.
Again, thank you for your support in our music program.
News about changes in staffing will be shared with students on Monday, June 5. We ask that families wait until Monday afternoon to discuss these changes with their children so that Monday's morning meeting remains a common experience for all the students in a class.
Every year, a few Manhattan Country School faculty members are ready to move on. Some have completed their training at MCS; others have personal and professional reasons. Our community has been made richer by their presence, making it hard to say goodbye. We wish the following colleagues well in their new endeavors:
- Yannique Benitez, assistant teacher 5-6s Sur, will work as a teacher in New Jersey.
- Olivia Kurz, Lower School science teacher, is moving to California.
- Nicole Kummer, 8-9s teacher, will teach 3-4s at Merricats Castle Preschool.
- Christy Riess, Afterschool assistant, plans to continue her education.
- Aimee Ostensen, farm curriculum and outreach coordinator, is pursuing new opportunities.
- Debbie Roth, 8-9s teacher, will be back in a part-time position.
- Dawn Newman, Lower School resource teacher, will be on leave for the fall and will return to MCS in the Spring.
A couple of the new faculty members will be assigned to additional classes planned for MCS’ growth. Others replace the faculty who are moving on. You’ll get to know them in September. In the meantime, here are brief descriptions of their backgrounds.
Gregory Rubin – Assistant Teacher, Lower School
Gregory Rubin is an educator, tutor and musician with many years of experience working with children. Greg’s journey into the education world began at Brooklyn’s ConstructionKids, where he worked as a senior educator leading field trips, after-school activities and summer programs. Following his time at ConstructionKids, he worked at Studio Creative Play as a teacher/facilitator for children ages 3 to 7 and as a private tutor. He is currently a kindergarten teaching assistant at PS 321 in Brooklyn, working with two different kindergarten classes on a rotating basis. Greg received a BA in English from Yale University and is currently working on his MSEd degree at Brooklyn College.
Amabel Japitana - Assistant Teacher, Lower School
Amabel Japitana is an educator with more than a decade of experience. After graduating from Ateneo de Manila University with a bachelor’s degree in communications, Amabel began her career in education working as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language first in the Philippines and then in Bahrain. After returning to the Philippines, she worked both as an assistant teacher and then as a head teacher at a progressive, Bank Street-inspired preschool in Manila. Subsequently, she enrolled at Bank Street Graduate School of Education and completed her MSEd degree. She is currently a 4-5s assistant teacher at the Bank Street School for Children.
Qing Zhuang - Resource Teacher, Lower School
Qing Zhuang is an educator, visual artist and children’s book illustrator with a wide range of experience. After earning her BFA in illustration from Maryland Institute College of Art, Qing worked in media publishing and distribution. Her love for children’s literature, storytelling and illustration led her to enroll in the School of Visual Arts, where she earned a Master of Arts in teaching. A lover of all forms of storytelling, Qing often draws from her experiences as a young immigrant from China to enrich her work, both in the classroom and the studio. She is currently the K-5 art teacher at Global Community Charter School in Harlem, where she introduces students to culturally diverse art traditions, and leads the production of costumes and props for the school’s spring musical.
Cosima Higham – 8-9s Teacher
Cosima Higham is an educator with many years of experience working with children. After earning her BA in art history from Bucknell University, Cosima worked in IT and graphic design. During her time working as a freelance graphic designer, Cosima enrolled in the Bank Street College of Education, where she completed her MSEd degree in childhood general education. While working on her master’s degree, Cosima completed her student teaching in both public and independent New York City schools in addition to working as a teaching assistant at Bank Street College. For the past two years, she has been teaching at Brooklyn Friends School as both an assistant and head teacher for third and fourth grades. She is currently the fourth grade head teacher at Brooklyn Friends School.
Ian Weill – Lower School Science Teacher
Ian Weill is an educator and agriculturalist who has been MCS’ Upper School resource teacher since 2014. Ian earned a BA in elementary dducation from Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. During his undergraduate years, Ian worked in a variety of roles around the Boston area, including swim teacher/lifeguard, summer camp aide, garden coordinator and campus ministry service trip leader to the Dominican Republic. After graduating, Ian worked as a paraprofessional in a fifth grade classroom at Cambridgeport School in Massachusetts. Ian’s love for travel then led him to China, where he taught English, and then to Thailand, where he worked as a farm intern at an elephant camp and organic farm. After returning to the U.S., Ian joined MCS as Upper School resource teacher. In addition, he taught electives, coordinated after-school sports and Upper School gardening, and led farm trips. He is currently working on his M.Ed degree in environmental education and sustainability at Antioch University New England.
One new position has been created: a Learning Specialist, who will work with Lower and Upper School directors as well as other members of the support team.
Bonnie Greenwald – Learning Specialist
Bonnie Greenwald is a special education teacher, tutor and learning specialist with more than two decades of experience. Bonnie’s career in education began after she earned her BA from the University of Massachusetts and her MS in special education from Bank Street College of Education. For eight years, she worked for the NYC DOE as both a special education teacher and an inclusion teacher at public schools around the city. Toward the end of her time working for the DOE, Bonnie enrolled at Bank Street College once again to earn her Ed.M degree and subsequently went on to work as a learning specialist at Cathedral School. She has been the academic liaison at The School at Columbia University since 2005.
On Thursday, June 1, Manhattan Country School hosted its seventh annual Social Justice Data Fair. The event, which features student work and a keynote address, highlights the role of math in exploring and addressing social justice issues.
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:
- Intersectionality in the gender pay gap
- Asthma rates and environmental racism
- Endangered species
- Mass incarceration in the United States
- Gun control
- Sexual harassment
- Factory farming
- Public education
- Access to healthy food
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 number of black congresswomen, the average coming out age of LGBTQ people, global temperature, black female physicists, deportations, racial demographics of professional athletes, teen pregnancy and more
Sixth-grade work featured at the fair illustrated what they have learned about the disproportionate representations returned by web searches. Image search terms they've investigated included mathematician, nurse, people, police officer, doctor, banker, Muslim, Harlem, lawyer, Asian, Hispanic, parent, transgender, student, homosexual, scientist, athlete, military, Jewish, pilot, senior citizen and teacher. Fifth-graders' work showcased how they visualized their class' water usage.
Attorney Praveen Fernandes gave the keynote address at our annual Social Justice Data Fair. He spoke about why LGBT data should be included in the Census. You can read his position on this issue in his recent New York Times op-ed piece.
The sixth-graders at the Manhattan Country School Farm last week enjoyed a mushroom hunt with our guest expert, John Michelotti—“The Fungi Guy.” John is a walking encyclopedia of everything having to do with mushrooms and fungi. He is eloquent and entertaining as he reels off one fascinating bit of mushroom lore after another.
First he gave a brief talk on fungi, mentioning that fungi usually is decomposing dead leaves and trees. But “just because there’s death that doesn't mean it’s not supporting new life.” The fungi help create new soil, which allows plants to thrive. Fungi can also exist endophytically, within plant tissues. Or they can be mycorhyzal, living among a plant’s roots. They can exist in symbiotic relationships with plants, where the plants provide sugars for the fungi, and the fungi free nitrogen and phosphorous for the plants.
John discussed how the actual living body of the fungus is called mycelium—tiny threads that work their way into wood or leaves or soil. In a single cubic inch of soil in the northeast forest, there is one mile of mycelium. Mushrooms, though much more visible, are merely the fruit of the mycelium, the way an apple tree grows an apple—which then spreads its seeds, or in the case of fungi, its spores.
The students then followed John up a trail into the Farm’s woods, and he encouraged them to look for mushrooms in a way different from how we look at plants. He said, “Look down, look under. Look in the dark spots, the moist spots.” He also advised the students to take note of how the mushrooms grow: singly or in clusters? On what species of wood or what kind of substrate? Are its spores held by gills or tubes or teeth?
Once the students started looking, it was astonishing how many mushrooms and fungi we found in just a few hundred yards. The big spotted shelf mushroom, “Pheasant Back.” The smooth white “Artist’s Conk,” on which any scratch or pressure leaves a permanent mark. Many LBMs (little brown mushrooms) of various species. “Violet-Toothed Polypore,” which has a purplish tinge to its edges. “Jelly fungus” and “crust fungus” and “slime molds.” The eerie “Dead Man’s Fingers.” Even one species that John couldn’t immediately identify, which was temporarily named “Alien Brain.” And endless clusters of visible white mycelium anytime we peeled back the leaf litter on the forest floor.
John mentioned that there are between 1.2 million and 5 million species of fungi in the world—more than all the plant and animal species combined!
And most importantly, John told the students to always double-check and triple-check any mushroom they ever pick to find out if it is toxic.
The students (and teachers) finished the walk fairly amazed at the hidden treasure—the richness and variety of life—right at our feet, amid the woods we walk in all the time.
For more information on John Michelotti, visit https://www.catskillfungi.com.
A Manhattan Country School Farm trip would never be complete without a good-bye meeting. After the luggage is loaded on the bus, students and teachers take a few minutes to share their experiences of the trip with each other.
This week, the MCS 7-8s experienced their very first Farm trip. Each child and adult took the opportunity to talk about some of the things that were memorable. The comments usually began with, “I liked…,” “I loved…” or “My favorite thing was…..”
These statements continued with the following:
- my textiles class
- jumping in the hay with my eyes closed
- cooking with Donna
- feeding Chippy his bottle of milk
- the food
- making mint tea
- the cool breeze on the porch
- swinging on the swing
- the bonfire
- meal time together
- all of the food we planted in the garden
- playing in the creek
- our walks in nature
- spending time with my friends
In their last Lower School Spanish class, the 9-10s took time to reflect on the meaning of culture. Here is an opportunity to listen in.
- “Culture is what you believe in and what shapes you.”
- “Culture is who you are. Family, beliefs, heritage and history”
- “Culture is how you approach things and how you see things in different ways than others.”
- “Traditions and/or celebrations that a family has. It could also be values and/or beliefs.”
- “Culture is tradition and it’s how you think of things.”
- “Culture is something that you have. The traditions, food, dancing, praying and different things that other cultures have. Everybody has a culture.”
At Manhattan Country School, place-based learning extends beyond our students’ physical environments. It reaches into a study of their local values, practices, traditions and beliefs. Then as students gain a deeper sense of the nature of culture, the balance between continuity and change, they begin to see themselves as active participants in the process. And as transmitters of culture within our school, for example as Reading Buddies to the 6-7s, there is added responsibility and a question that all groups and societies face. Are there aspects of our classroom or school culture that should be changed?
In the 9-10s, students question, are there ways to be more inclusive, cooperative, creative or healthy? If so, who are the experts? What and where are the resources we can turn to in our community? Should we visit the art room, library or a local museum? Who can we interview to gain a deeper understanding of immigration and the city we live in? As critical and creative thinkers, students are empowered to question, strengthen and reimagine their local spaces and communities. Then naturally, this investigation of culture expands their sense of place to include history and social responsibility. That the 9-10s' learning and work has led them to be thinkers, risk-takers, open-minded, caring, balanced and reflective is captured in their answers below to the question “How does where I live and go to school shape who I am?”
- “It makes me normal and whole.”
- “MCS has made me feel like an activist.”
- “It’s affected me in a good way because I like who I am.”
- “I am from Brooklyn, New York. It shapes who I am because I can be me wherever I am.”
- “Where I live there are a lot of different people and families. And where I go to school there are also a lot of different people. So who I am is I’m friends with everyone.”
- “My school shapes me in a way so that I’m smarter and sort of tougher and same with where I live.”
Embracing/Fighting for Change
Delivered June 9, 2017
This has been a year of change. Settling into this building took time, but also gave the students an opportunity to create new spaces. The other day I watched a few seventh graders play a game they created, where they run from square to square in the courtyard, tagging each other and ducking away. They’re growing comfortable in the space, squeezing through the gap between the column and the window when walking down the hall, running up and down the stairs, playing basketball in the gym and hunting for each other in brand new nooks and crannies during Sardines.
We’ve also explored our new surroundings. The neighborhood elective in the fall discovered the beautiful views of the water in Riverside Park, visited the giant dinosaur skeleton in the Natural History Museum, smelled the flowers in the community garden a few blocks away, toured a local food pantry and conducted a pizza taste test of the three closest pizzerias (T and R Pizza won).
Then, in November, a huge change. The election spurred many emotional conversations among the students, and the teachers. As adults, we wrestled with the complexities of discussing politics in a school. Once we decided that school could not possibly be a politically neutral place, what did that mean about how we shared our views with students? Communicating our shared values of celebrating diversity and speaking up for women, Muslims, immigrants, people with special needs, people of color, LGBTQIA individuals and other marginalized groups felt crucial. For the students, the election was a change regardless of their political views. They grew up with Obama as president. Most of them have only been aware of an African-American man holding the highest office. Their reactions reflected the enormous shift in their worldview. One student wrote:
Social justice is something that I hold dear to my heart, thanks to MCS. Honestly, I feel that I was spoiled having Barack Obama as my president for the eight out of nine years I’ve been here. Every time something important happened in the world, we would talk about it in morning meeting, then when I get home, Obama is addressing the same thing from the same perspective. That’s probably why the victory of No. 45 has shaken me up so much. Because No. 45 will most likely be president for my years in high school, that puts a responsibility on my shoulders to take action. And I think MCS has well prepared me for that.
The sixth-graders were at the Farm during the election, and Karen wrote the following in her farm letter:
We woke up this morning to face a new chapter in America's story. This Farm trip is special because we are here during the election, which is both challenging and fortunate. Whether you favor or despise the outcome, this is a seminal moment with effects that will reach beyond just the next four years. As you know, the class has been studying government and reading the Constitution. The students have been deeply engaged and articulate in conversations about the candidates, our government, and the direction of our country. Being at the Farm adds an additional layer of intimacy and openness; students have more time and freedom here to find each other, to listen and to think.
I watched the Inauguration with the sixth-graders, both to witness a national event and as part of their government study. Some of the reflections they shared:
“Protest. Use your voice to express your dissatisfaction. Remind people that we care!”
“Contact your representative.”
“Continue to live your life! Celebrate our America!”
“Help the people who will be affected by his policies. Donate, or make a foundation.”
“Speak your truth. Say what you think. Don’t feel like you have to follow others.”
As the world changes around them, students are also changing. Adolescence is marked by rapid change and development. Some assignments provide a way to explore these changes, as students delve into who they are and who they are becoming.
One student writes in her autobiography:
I am not a stereotype. I feel the eyes on me as I walk into high-end restaurants with my Caucasian friends. They are little pins pricking into my soul that remind me of American history. I can sense the tension between cultures when I sit down on the baby blue plastic seats on the subway as my thighs struggle not to spill out onto your seat and make you uncomfortable. I feel a wave of relief when I walk through the MCS doors because I know I will always feel complacent within those walls. I am aware of my surroundings and often find myself automatically sitting up and crossing my legs in the presence of a police officer, to come across as civilized. I listen to my mother’s words when she prohibits me from sitting in the seat closest to the subway door, the fear of being stabbed or robbed roaming in my head. I hear the stories about police brutality, hate crimes, countries stealing money from their own people who are currently dying of starvation, and presidents who are misogynistic, racist idiots. I am a part of this corrupt society.
The autobiography also includes identity poems, where students write about their heritage and families in Spanish:
Soy de Nueva York, la ciudad de oportunidades y segundas oportunidades.
Soy judía, huyendo desesperadamente del Holocausto.
Soy de irlanda, viniendo a América, buscando el éxito prometido.
Soy católica, soy judía, soy atea.
Soy de la Gran Manzana, donde se supone que la igualdad está en todas partes.
Soy del Upper West Side en Manhattan.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March gives eighth-graders an opportunity to speak about an issue that’s important to them, which also connects students to their sense of identity:
I’m speaking for myself and the black youth of America. Why is it that I, as a black male, have to care more about how other people see me than I care about myself? Why is it that there are unwritten rules I must follow with no explanation? How come when I leave my neighborhood, I have to put on a face that’s not my own? Why must I sacrifice my whole identity for another’s? Is it to make someone who does not associate with me feel safe? Are there unwritten rules to keep me away from the people who don’t understand me? Or is it because if I don’t, I’ll become another statistic, one of the tens of thousands of black males that are incarcerated? Or worse.
Another student writes about his identity as a youth activist:
I urge all the young people in the crowd who want change to be made on an issue that you care about to not underestimate the power you have as children. Martin Luther King, Jr., the organizers of the Lawrence strike in 1912, and my grandparents (MCS founders Gus and Marty Trowbridge) didn’t. I encourage you to take action on the issues that are important to you in any way possible, whether it be calling a phone number, signing or writing a letter to your elected representatives, or signing a petition proposed by my classmates.
Similarly, research papers give students an opportunity to explore critical analysis of a topic that relates to their personal interests. One eighth-grader wrote about colorism and intersectionality within the Young Lords movement, for example:
Women highlighted the urgency of addressing sexism within the organization and, because the organization’s focus was to serve the community, this also effected change in the community at large. According to an article from Colorlines.com, “The women began to caucus out of the group's El Barrio office.They talked about personal experiences and studied Puerto Rican women in history, from workers' advocate Luisa Capetillo to nationalist Blanca Canales. The line on revolutionary machismo became a focus of discussion—and sharp criticism.” By setting the example of asserting independence from men, and questioning the long-accepted tradition of male chauvinism and machismo, women from the Young Lords sparked the revolution within the revolution.
Sometimes the transitions within are most apparent when visiting the Farm, a place that changes seasonally but also remains a constant for students. At the beginning of their eighth grade trip, students were asked to reflect on a wish they had for their final venture:
For the past eight years I’ve been at Manhattan Country School, I spent seven of the eight years attending a farm trip with my class. For this last trip to the Farm, I have no requests. I feel like I’ve gotten to know the Farm well enough to determine what I should do to make my farm trip spectacular. Seven years ago, I remember leaving the 7-8s farm trip with a lot of questions going through my mind about what to do, where to go and how to do it. But it’s been a while since then and it is like the Farm is my second home. This trip is one of the many special ones.
The Farm shapes who they are while being a place where they are allowed to be themselves. Tom asks them to write personal essays about their farm experiences:
I knew that we weren’t allowed to climb the lean-to, but that was half the fun. It was my seventh grade winter farm trip and as I looked at Thyme Hill, slick with frost, I felt the cold nip at my uncovered face and wrists. Our class wanted to hike up the hill to hang out in the lean-to, so I waited outside the house with the rest of the group while a pair of kids searched for a teacher to alert them of our trip. After what felt like an eternity, they finally returned and we began our journey. As we walked up the hill I took in all the details: the slow movements of the glittering, frozen stream, the frozen mud hard against my feet, the shining rocks with murky green tendrils spreading over them. I could hear the crunch of the ice under our feet, the excited murmuring throughout the group, the light click of Knit’s claws as he padded on the ice next to us and I took in the clean, sharp scent that comes with winter, cold and refreshing. The whole experience was over too soon. This is one of my favorite and most memorable farm moments and even if it didn’t mean much to others, it did to me, because in my opinion it’s the small things that count.
I looked out across the farm's frozen landscape. I realized I’m going to leave this beautiful place soon – the place of my childhood, the place of laughter, the place of rosy red cheeks in the winter, and the place of private jokes I’ll remember forever. I didn’t want to spoil the mood, so I turned back around, stuck my tongue out and felt the cool, crisp water fall into my thirsty mouth. We took pictures and vowed we would never forget this. We climbed up the frozen water bank to the road leading back to the farm. We skipped down the road, frozen gloves in hand, rosy cheeked and smiling, ready to tell the world of our journey.
Along with the Farm, the other important constant for students at MCS is the focus on activism and their responsibility to fight for social change. This focus begins when they are very young, and in the Upper School they begin to articulate their thoughts with more depth. The fifth-graders write about their sustainability studies with an environmental justice lens:
I think that factory farming should stop and this is why. Factory farming pollutes the earth by letting out smoke and air pollution. It is not natural or kind to the animals by making them grow a lot faster and it is not healthy. It will have chemicals that make humans sick when the humans eat them. This is super bad for the environment.
Littering is very bad for the earth. You cannot just litter when you are done with whatever you are eating or drinking and you are just too lazy to put in the recycling or even put it in the garbage. It will destroy the earth every time you litter and some people litter A LOT. Garbage will wash into the river and then the fish will swallow it and then get sick and die or they will just get sick and we will probably eat the fish and get sick too from eating the fish who ate the garbage. Even if it doesn’t wash into the sewers, in a flood the sewers might get overloaded from all of the rain so the trash will still go into the river.
My project is about how a lot of foreign farm workers get mistreated every day at their jobs. Farm workers and their families have to live off of their pay. The goal of their work is to make enough money to live off of and give us food. But most people aren’t grateful for what they have because you have never experienced what a lot of farm workers go through. Most people get paid an unfair amount of money compared to how much and hard they work. They work in hot and sunny fields all day with a small amount of water. That small amount of water sometimes leads to dehydration, then passing out and sometimes even death. Have you ever thought about how your tomatoes or grapes got to you? No, you haven’t. I’ll tell you who gives you those things. Mistreated undocumented farmworkers.
The sixth-graders learned about a new issue, lunch shaming, through their current events discussions during morning meeting and decided to take it on as their activism project. They educated the school community, asked people to sign their petition, held a bake sale to raise money for food security by donating to a local food bank, and wrote a letter to the mayor:
Lunch shaming is a problem that is ever so common in the public schools of America and is something that must be eradicated from our society. Lunch shaming is just another example of people being unaware of the struggles of people who have less of a voice and power in our society, and showing that we feel that their everyday struggles are of less importance. Lunch shaming is the act of shaming a child for not having enough money to buy a normal lunch from the school. Sometimes workers will put stamps on children to let the families know that they need to pay, but in doing so, it lets everyone in the school know that that child is unable to pay, usually resulting in that child being bullied. They sometimes have to work to get that food and they barely get any food for doing the work, not providing a child with a nutritious lunch. This is also ethically wrong because it affects learning capabilities. It is very unhealthy and embarrassing for the child who has to skip lunch because they don’t have enough money to pay for it.
The seventh- and eighth-graders took on climate change this year, particularly focusing on advocating for divestment from fossil fuels. They are going to the mayor’s office this afternoon to deliver the letters they collected from the MCS community telling Mayor de Blasio why this issue is important to us. The Activism Committee wrote the opening of the letter and then invited individuals to add their thoughts at the end:
Divestment is a huge movement that has already removed over $5 trillion from fossil fuel companies and, with your help, that number can grow exponentially.
It is crucial that New Yorkers like us do not stand idly by and allow the greed of the fossil fuel industry to destroy the planet, change the climate, and impact our air quality. New York is on the frontline of climate change and is among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Now, more than ever, we need bold climate action at the local level. Divesting from fossil fuels means investing in our future, our health, and our city.
Fossil fuel companies have been blocking climate action for too long. The reason they have so much power right now is because they have so much money. Let’s remove our money from their pockets. Let’s divest from corporate greed and invest in the future we need!
There are so many other examples from the year of ways that students are exploring their developing identities or speaking out about the state of the world and the need for social change. Flannery worked with the eighth-graders in developing a new project where the students calculate the impact of replicable climate solutions across the country. Alaina led students in an in-depth project where they compared census maps to identify inequalities in New York City neighborhoods, looking at how various factors, including access to health care, quality education, healthy food, and clean air, intersect with race and class. She asked students, “Can we use maps to display how the places where we live reflect the systems of injustice in our society?” The fifth-graders at MCS, Children’s Workshop School, and CPE II chose I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark, by Debbie Levy, for their MLK Book Award recipient this year. When the author came to accept the award, she spoke about the parallels between Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsberg in their role as lawyers and justices fighting for sweeping change. Students and parents engaged in discussions about an all-gender room at the Farm to help make our own community more equitable and gender inclusive, an initiative we plan to extend to the entire Upper School next year. We hosted speakers who talked to us about the detention centers in Dilley, Texas, volunteering at refugee camps in Greece, and advocating for counting LGBTQ individuals in the next census. The Social Justice Data Fair speaker outlined the importance of collecting data to ensure certain group’s experiences are seen and recorded so we can identify areas of inequality. He confessed that he was nervous to talk to middle schoolers, but after hearing the students’ thoughtful questions and seeing their work at the fair, he observed that he sees hope in the next generation and is excited for their leadership 20 years from now.
During the last week of school, in addition to spending most of the day rehearsing for the play, each of the eighth-graders presents a portfolio of their work to a panel of students and staff as one of their graduation requirements. Their words speak best as to the changes that students undergo while at Manhattan Country School:
“That year was tough – when I would do something wrong, then I felt motivated…I was always looking for what was better in myself.”
“Here I found my creative abilities and I’ve found my voice. I’ve done so many things. I feel like I’m ready to teach other people.”
“[My Social Justice Data Fair project] was a good representation of how I put the math we learned in school into a real-life context.”
“It was really fun to think back…and it was the first time that I thought, ‘Whoa, I can write.’”
“Just in the short time I’ve been here, MCS has given me the tools I need to be a community leader.”
“Focus, progress and time – the more you do it, the better you get.”
“[Reading my speech at the MLK March] was a really big thing for me – I’m super shy, but when I did it, it was kind of easy.”
“One of the best things I’ve gotten from MCS is learning about the environment and environmental justice at the Farm.”
“I think the biggest thing that’s special is the activism and the community. That’s the thing that’s going to stick with me the most.”
“I definitely work best when I’m very interested in the topic I’m working on.”
“MCS encourages you to write about stuff that’s important to you. Teachers push you to think bigger and go past the surface.”
“Last year I showed up [as a new student] and I was like, ‘What is this?!’ but now I’m like, ‘This is me.’”
“Something that MCS teaches is to be passionate about your work and what you believe in. MCS teaches you to learn from yourself.”
Delivered June 9, 2017
For several decades now, the 9-10s have hosted the June visit from Roxbury Central School pen pals, teachers and parents, and I have joined their student-led tours of MCS for many years. They are always touching to witness as the children proudly share their school. However, little did I know the adults would be so entertained this time around.
In the basement, a 9-10s tour guide explained that the Shop is “where we work with tools and wood. It’s not a shop like where you go shopping, like where you buy celery.”
On the first floor, a 9-10 introduced the main office this way: “This is like our old Mezzanine office. It’s the place where the high-ranking people are.”
When touring the third floor, another 9-10 had this to say: “We pick books for our reading buddies ‘cause we partner up with the 6-7s. We learn about our buddies’ interests and pick good books for them. I remember when I was in that class. I loved my buddy.”
Over the years, these talks are meant to be a tribute to children. They are intended to be a tribute to teachers, as well. Teachers’ skill, passion and gifts enable children to learn and to thrive, through tough moments and easier times, to develop strategies, and to see themselves as capable individuals and group members who care for one another and their ever-expanding world which they encounter as they work together. For children, their interactive play will always be the most authentic work they do—it is joyful work, and it is also hard work sometimes. A child in the 5-6s put it best: “Work time should be called plork” (pronounced plerk) for play is work.
One of my greatest pleasures is visiting the classrooms and watching children engaged in their plork, in their writing, and in their dialogue with one another. If I am too busy to visit, I can live vicariously through the teachers’ wonderful accounts of your children’s days at school.
Clipboard in hand, a 5-6s child takes orders at her restaurant:
“What do you want? Pizza? Pizza will take a while….
Okay, two orders of pizza!”
Soon, the pizza is delivered with a song, “Pizza here, pizza there!”
Upon mixing corn starch and water to create magical Goop, a 4-5s child reveled in the experience: “It gets hard after a while. Look! The Ositos (the counting bears) are getting tucked in by the Goop.”
While reading My Father’s Dragon, a 4-5 wondered,
“Are there women knights?”
You can bet a lively debate ensued.
Recently, I had the pleasure of watching several 5-6s engage in science play with the soil in the planters:
“I’m making mud cupcakes in the mud factory!”
“With cherries on top?” Another child offers mud cherry balls.
“Sure! How about a mud tower?”
“Or a mud island!”
“I’m making a mud pond now.”
“Watch out! A volcano is going to explode!”
“Can we use this spoon, Olivia? Ohh, yeah, now it’s buried treasure.”
“The volcano is erupting now—watch out!”
“Ohh, no—it’s time to go soon. I can’t wait to come back.”
During a winter weather discussion, a 4-5 cautioned the class: “It’s going to be so windy! Don’t go outside, because if you do, you will fly up in the air. All of you will be like angels!”
Later in the year, while noticing signs of spring outside, one child offered, “Shoots are plants.They are stems that come up from seeds—the ones that make flowers before flowers are born.”
Toward the end of the baby study in the 4-5s, one child asserted, “I am not a baby anymore. I like being strong. When I am a grown-up, I will fight bad guys and keep people safe.”
Young children love to pretend to be grown-ups as they imagine what life is like for adults. One day I was taking a group of university educators around the school and we found ourselves lingering in the classrooms longer than we had planned in order to soak in the contributions of the children. In one class we lucked out with this lively discussion:
“I can’t wait to be a grown-up so I can do whatever I want!”
“No, you can’t! When you’re a grown-up you sometimes get called for Jury Duty and you have to do it. So, you can’t do whatever you want when you’re a grown-up.”
(When asked by another child what Jury Duty is, this child explained, “Jury Duty is when two people don’t agree.”)
As soon as the 6-7s’ Wings Postal Service began, a 5-6s child beamed during writing time: “I just want to write letters all day! I think I’m actually going to do that; I’m gonna write a letter to all the people that are in our class!”
While building with small blocks on the rug, a 4-5s child explained: “I am making a jail but it does not work anymore. You get a ticket for one dollar and see it like a castle so you can get out of jail.”
In a poem entitled, Spring Time, a 6-7s child wrote:
Spring is warm.
The flowers smell like peace.
In the air it smells like justice.
The trees smell like justice.
When asked about her poem, she said, “I was thinking about MCS when I wrote it, thinking about how nature is free and peaceful. And I was thinking about how my school started because MLK fought for peace and justice.”
During a class discussion one day, a new child had this to add:
“Martin Luther King made the world a better place. He marched and marched and marched because he did not like the rules. He studied lots and lots of laws.”
When reading Sometimes I’m Bombaloo, teachers asked children to think about strategies that could be helpful when they feel frustrated. One child stated, “You need to take a rest and calm down.”
This child’s sound advice is offered up to classmates arguing in the block area:
Why don’t you say, ‘I don’t like it when you eat my animal’
instead of saying, ‘I won’t ever play with you again.’
The 6-7s remind one another to Stop and Think:
Is it kind?
Is it helpful?
Is it necessary?
It is common for children at MCS to compose a class contract toward the beginning of the year. Here is one from older children that is particularly concise:
- Include everyone
- Treat people the way you want to be treated
- Keep your body steady and safe
- Try to solve problems before they escalate
- Treat our supplies, our classroom, our school and the Earth carefully.
Perhaps world leaders should consult with MCS children.
The 6-7s wrote reflections of the year, including parts they will never forget:
The post office and being a clerk
The bird study and the museum study
Blocks—the 6-7s is the last year of blocks
Read-aloud chapter books
My teachers and the chicks
Each year, children in the 7-8s come to their own definitions of family as they study about each other and their families and learn about history though their stories and artifacts.
“You are you and no one can change who you are.”
“Family is people who you love to spend time and have fun with.”
“You are you because of your family.”
“You are them and they are you.”
The 7-8s wrote about their favorite experiences with grandparents and special friends:
It was so much fun at my grandparents’ house. I wish I could go there again. I want to go for a walk in the woods because I find and make things. Last time I was there I built a fort. I want to see how much damage it has took.
I played with my grandpa in Central Park. My grandpa loves baseball. I want to be as happy as possible I love my grandpa.
Once me and my pop-pop were trying to find worms and lizards. Then we noticed a family of small lizards! It was so awesome. We also saw some worms.
I saw my first hummingbird at my grandma’s house.
At my grandma’s house we had a white Christmas. I sang, “I’m so excited!” for about 4 minutes. Typically it is too hot for snow.
The best trip was when I went fishing with my uncle in California!! [2 exclamation points] My brother was scared to go cause he was going to get sea sick. It was awesome!!! [3 exclamation points]
I caught a lot of fish!!!! [4 exclamation points]
In thinking about a book she had read this year, a 9-10s child poignantly noted that the author “changed things around. Not everything is going to be nice, happily ever after.”
When asked what they know about the election, this is what some 4-5s and 6-7s had to say:
I have a concern. Trump said he was going to be good for the country, but I am not so sure.
Well, sometimes the voting machine usually has pipes that show you which person was voted for, but if you press the button the pipe might suck up the voted into voting for the bad guy.
If Trump says something mean to you, you can say something nice back to him so he can learn to be nice.
5-6s contributed their thoughts to discussions around the election:
A president is someone who keeps other people safe.
I know Donald Trump said he doesn’t like women; does that include little kids, like little girls?
In a letter to the President, a child wrote:
“Can you keep our world safe? If you do, I will be your friend.”
8-9s also wrote letters following the election results:
I am so sad you lost. I agree with women’s rights. By a lot.
My parents voted for you because I was with them.
Oh, I am 9 years old.
Oh, and I don’t want a wall at all.
I am done with my conversation. I have to get back to social studies.
Bye for now.
Dear Donald Trump,
Congratulations, but I personally don’t agree with anything you said.
Now you might not care that I am saying this as me just turning 9 years old. But I have the right to tell you that you made terrible choices and that is not fair for other people! You do know that being president is about making a good life for the United States of America, not about you and your money.
Dear Mr. Trump,
I don’t think that you should build a wall because I don’t think that we should keep people from entering the country because people want to live here. And women should have equal rights. We all deserve the same rights.
In January, children wanted to make signs for protests. Some community members were going to DC and some were joining protests in NYC. Here are some of their signs:
Support Equal Rights
Be Open to People Who Aren’t Just Like You
Immigrants: We Get the Job Done
Black Lives Matter
You Don’t Have to Be a Bad Guy
Climate Change Does Not Discriminate
Don’t Stop Protesting
When sending a letter earlier in the year to Mayor de Blasio to encourage him to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Day, a child in the 8-9s wrote:
“I know I’m a bit small for protesting, but my ideas matter, too!”
A 5-6s child let us know that protest means “you’re waiting until something is fair, and if something is not fair, you’re not going to have it.”
Many children of all ages wrote postcards to the President on Earth Day:
From the 5-6s:
Dear Mr. President,
Keep beaches clean.
Don’t pick the flowers while they are still growing.
If we don’t take care of the earth, then we won’t have anywhere to live.
Don’t kill too many animals because then nobody will be able to discover them.
From the 8-9s:
Dear Mr. President,
I think we shouldn’t pollute because we need to protect where we live and it’s killing many people. So if you care about the world take a stand 'cause we need a good environment to live!
Dear Mr. President,
I think you should think about climate change a bit more. It’s not imaginary.
Dear Mr. President,
We love our earth. I think you should try to pay more attention to all the people you are now in charge of. We have to protect our environment.
MCS children know Robert Coles as the author of The Story of Ruby Bridges. Coles became a sponsor of MCS in 1966, even before the school opened. In April of that year, these were his words:
Manhattan Country School will have an impact on education because it is clear that truly integrated education, public or private, in Northern cities is still something of a rarity.
One wonders whether, if asked today, Coles would comment about his statement still being applicable today.
Not long ago, during one of our child development meetings, I shared a bit of an old interview on NPR with Robert Coles. As part of NPR’s introduction, Coles was described as having “spent his career exploring the inner lives of children. He says children are witnesses to the fullness of our humanity; they are keenly attuned to the darkness as well as the light of life; and they can teach us about living honestly, searchingly and courageously if we let them.”
Indeed, children can teach us a great deal if we let them, even when “not everything is going to be nice, happily ever after.”
In thinking about early Chinese immigrants and the Exclusion act of 1882, the 9-10s thought carefully about our history:
I never knew how much Chinese people were discriminated against. Did Americans get nicer to Chinese immigrants after the immigration ban was lifted?
Americans were being hypocritical because the Chinese took the jobs they didn’t want but then they wanted them.
Were there some Americans who stood up for the Chinese?
Chinese immigrants actually worked for lower pay! Then, if their families lived with them, how would they support them?
Everything pretty much started with Americans being mad and taking it out on the Chinese because they got no gold. It’s a silly thing getting mad because you’re not rich.
Were rich Chinese immigrants treated the same as poor Chinese immigrants by Americans?
I think the U.S. was supposed to welcome other cultures kindly, but apparently not!
World leaders should certainly consult with MCS children.
After reading Miss Rumphius to the older children, this is how they thought they could make the world more beautiful:
I am going to try to make the world a better place by helping the homeless people that need food.
I want to change the world some day and here is what I want to do:
Make sure that everyone will get along without having to fight or argue. And I try to help and so can you. Just try.
I think I can make the world a better place by making more public gardens.
Let’s make the world more beautiful by doing art!
Make sure to not just scribble scrabble and actually draw.
The 7-8s thought about some gifts that you cannot hold:
To be alive and well
People are different and that is everybody’s gift
To be depended upon
People bring you love
Joy—that is a gift you cannot hold
A 7-8s child wrote this poem not long ago:
In the Woods
I walk on a rocky path
First step in the woods
It is like a dream
Sweet songs of chirping birds
Butterflies coming out to play
My Mom calls me
It is time to go
I say bye to the animals and birds
I say bye to everything
Soon, this child and her 20 classmates will get to experience their first farm trip—the first of many trips in the woods of the Catskill Mountains. One 9-10s child described their favorite part of the November farm trip as “waking up in the morning to the fog.” How many children can say this about their school? How very lucky they are, and how lucky we are to be able to honor these years of their childhood, in the city and in the country.