Manhattan Country School will continue MCS En Casa, our distance learning program, for the remainder of the school year.

May 2018

Eighth-Graders Plant Their Legacy at the MCS Farm

Blog Type:  Dispatches From the Farm Date Posted:  Friday, May 4, 2018 Byline:  By John McDaniel, Farm Director

Eighth-graders riparian planting

One of the themes of Manhattan Country School’s final eighth-grade farm trip is that of legacy. Each graduating class is remembered for a variety of reasons and the mark they leave on MCS is quite significant. The Class of 2018 has been investigating and discussing global and local water needs and issues during their three farm trips this year.

Eighth-graders riparian planting

Our kids are in the unique position of being stewards of the New York City Watershed as MCS students and consumers of that water in New York City. Studying the two streams that flow through the MCS Farm, the problem of soil erosion is evident. We’ve experienced several torrential rainstorms over the past decade that have undermined the stream banks, eroded the stream floor and in some places changed the entire course of the stream. One of the remedies to this issue is riparian planting. The riparian zone is the interface between land and river or stream. A plan was created to plant native trees and shrubs to create a buffer. Working with Catherine, the Catskill streams coordinator at the Watershed Agricultural Council, MCS' Nature Teacher Annie put a plan in action. The Watershed Agricultural Council (also known as WAC or the Council) works with farm and forest landowners in the New York City watershed region to protect water quality on behalf of nine million residents. The MCS Farm has benefited from both their expertise and funding for several projects in the past.

Eighth-graders riparian planting

The eighth-grade class spent a morning laying out the design, digging holes, placing plants and surrounding them with protective tubes to prevent animals from browsing. The work was not easy, given the nature of our Catskill Mountain soil. It was obvious that the old-time saying “two stones for every dirt” is accurate. The sun was beating down with temperatures in the low 80s. It was an extraordinary change from the cold and snow we endured two days prior.

Eighth-graders riparian planting

Native species of trees ranging from red and sugar maple, silver and paper birch, spruce, ironwood and sycamore were planted. The shrubs included buttonbush, silky and red dogwood, elderberry, chokecherry and meadowsweet. In time, the roots of these plants will spread and take hold of the surrounding riparian soils. Much of the soil erosion from heavy rains or rapid snowmelt should be prevented by this project. The legacy of the Class of 2018 will not only be the protection of their beloved streamside, but the creation of a stunning shaded area for generations of MCS students to enjoy.

Eighth-graders riparian planting

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MCS Upper School Kids Campaign to End Domestic Violence

Blog Type:  MCS Activism Date Posted:  Friday, May 4, 2018 Byline:  By Carolina Drake, Upper School Spanish Teacher

Activism Community Teach-In

Last week at Manhattan Country School, the seventh- and eighth-graders led a community activism teach-in as part of their “Shatter the Silence, Stop Domestic Violence” campaign. Before the event, the activism committee brainstormed ways to talk to students and parents about how to fight domestic violence.

They focused their campaign on three demands: Keep guns out of the hands of abusers, teach healthy relationships and increase funding for domestic violence shelters. They prepared to address challenging questions such as:

  • Why do we want to lobby?
  • What does abuse look like?
  • How common is domestic violence?
  • How does domestic violence happen?

The assembly started with students introducing basic facts about domestic violence in America. “One in four women and one in seven men are victims of domestic violence,” said an activism committee representative. They played a short video about abusive relationships titled “That’s Not Love”

Afterwards, an activism representative asked, “How can you build relationships that are respectful and healthy in the digital world?” Parents and students in the audience shared their responses, including:  

  • “You should try to be respectful about what you are sending to each other”
  • “Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t say to them. Sometimes when you text, you are emotional and might be forgetting there is a real person on the other side.”
  • “It made me think about how powerless the other person must feel, the one who needs to control so much.”

Then the students shared a short part of the film “The Mask You Live In,” which focused on male roles in the media.

Following the film, an activism committee rep asked the audience, “What are these examples teaching?” Adults raised their hands to share responses, including:  

  • “That they [men] are supposed to be superhuman.”
  • “The idea that if you want something, take it.”
  • “They are teaching that the correct response to pain is violence.”
  • “In the video, it seems like men respond with anger.”

The assembly ended with the students sharing examples of what they plan to do to address this issue. They are running a drive to support Sanctuary for Families, a non-profit organization that supports domestic violence survivors. They held an assembly with the entire Upper School, and are planning to present workshops about healthy relationships to younger people. They have a social media campaign and are starting a podcast centered on this campaign, and they are organizing and fundraising for their lobbying trip to Albany.

Please support our activism campaign!

2018 SingAlong Showcases Growth of Our Youngest Students

Blog Type:  Curriculum Spotlight Date Posted:  Friday, May 11, 2018 Byline:  By Susan Harris, Lower School Music Teacher


2018 Lower School SingAlong

The 4-5s through 7-8s shared songs and dances with their families at the annual SingAlong on Wednesday, May 9, 2018. The program theme, "Everything Grows," featured songs of the natural world, and illustrated how science touches our lives.

Drummers accompanied selections from Nigeria, Cuba, Zimbabwe and Appalachia. The main event, of course, was the children, who threw themselves into singing and dancing, taking ownership of the music and bringing us joy.


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Fourth-Grade Pen Pal Project Builds Urban-Rural Bonds

Blog Type:  Dispatches From the Farm Date Posted:  Friday, May 11, 2018 Byline:  By John McDaniel, Farm Director

MCS/Roxbury Pen Pal Exchange

The Manhattan Country School Pen Pal Project with Roxbury Central School has connected students for more than 30 years. The project takes advantage of the MCS Farm’s location in the town of Roxbury. It’s now become a multi-generational project, as current MCS fifth-grade student Layla (’21) and her father, Sean, have both had this experience. At Roxbury Central, several parents have expressed fond memories of being a pen pal.

The original mission of this exchange was to help fourth-grade students, from one rural and one urban school, see people beyond stereotypes. It begins in November with kids writing introductory letters to each other. Over the years, students have written physical descriptions of themselves in order for their pen pal to then create a drawing based on that description. This exercise ties directly to the creative writing process each class has been working on. They’ve also shared book recommendations and reviews and family holiday traditions.

MCS/Roxbury Pen Pal Exchange

In the spring of each year, while the MCS 9-10s are at the Farm, the children from both schools get to meet in person. One half of the MCS class goes to RCS for the day and the others spend the day at the MCS Farm. The next day the groups switch. It gives everyone a chance to live a day in the life of their pen pal. For MCS students, the Roxbury school building is a huge contrast to their own. The building hosts students from pre-K through 12th grade. The massive gymnasium, cafeteria and outdoor athletic fields and courts are quite a distinction.

MCS/Roxbury Pen Pal Exchange

A day at the MCS Farm provides a unique experience for many RCS students. One would think that living in a rural community, farming life would be common knowledge. In fact, there are very few farms left in the Roxbury area. The once-thriving dairy industry in the region has all but disappeared. For some Roxbury kids, it’s their first trip to a working farm.

In June, the RCS students, teachers and a few parents travel to New York City to spend the day at MCS. There is a tour of the MCS building, which for RCS kids is in striking contrast to their own. A trip to a museum often takes place. In the past the group visited the Museum of the City of New York because of its proximity to East 96th Street, where MCS was previously located. Now that MCS is on the Upper West Side, a trip to the American Museum of Natural History is in order. Walking through the neighborhood, playing and having a snack in Central Park, and experiencing the sights and sounds of a city are unique encounters for many people from Roxbury. For our community, it provides the chance to share a day in our life with others.

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Baby Animals, Forrest Exploration, a Fancy Dinner and More: A Look at the Sixth-Graders' Week at the Farm

Blog Type:  Dispatches From the Farm Date Posted:  Wednesday, May 30, 2018 Byline:  By John McDaniel, MCS Farm Director

It’s often difficult to describe a typical Manhattan Country School Farm trip. There are only so many superlatives one can use to explain the authentic work and learning students experience. The recent sixth-grade spring trip was jam-packed with special activities, visitors and new experiences. Let’s not forget, the kids also had a farm to operate.

Upon arrival the kids were charged with naming our milk cow Daisy’s new calf. Several suggestions were offered. In the end the week-old heifer was named Dairy Queen. On Tuesday morning the students hosted a sixth-grade class from South Kortright Central School (SK). The SK students were in the middle of a farm-to-table curriculum and their teachers felt a trip to the MCS Farm would tie in nicely. The two classes were split into six groups for a tour of the Farm and to participate in gardening, cooking, textiles and nature studies classes. With all the kids working diligently in collective groups, they planted numerous broccoli plants in the upper garden; pumpkins, sunflowers and popcorn in a bed near the solar array; and several trees along the stream to control erosion. While this was going on, students in the cooking class prepared a taco lunch for 50 people. The taco bar featured several choices, including ground beef, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and milk to drink, all from the MCS Farm.

Studying the soil at the MCS Farm.

On Tuesday afternoon after the SK kids left, we hosted a soil scientist from The Watershed Agricultural Council. Taking the entire class from meadow to forest he explained and exhibited different soil structures. The students dug several holes to examine the mixtures of sand, silt and clay that comprise soil. They conducted a rate-of-flow experiment to determine if water runoff was faster or slower due to the amount of organic matter in a specific area.

Tuesday evening was spent at a pool party at the nearby Catskill Recreation Center. The class won this party by selling the most Farm Festival raffle tickets among Upper School classes last fall. The party was supposed to occur during the winter trip, but a huge blizzard forced the class to leave the Farm early.

Studying mushrooms at the MCS Farm.

On Wednesday, John Micheloti of Catskill Fungi spent the day at the Farm. He explored the forest with half the class in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. The kids found dozens of varieties of fungus on their walks. Some fungi were quite common, while others were rare or even unknown to John. He and the kids started work on a MCS Farm fungus/mushroom guide to help educate students in the future.

Washing sap buckets

While one group was on the mushroom walk, a group of five students washed all 250 sap buckets on the greenhouse deck. The buckets had been taken down by the 9-10s at the end of maple syrup season and needed a good scrubbing before being put away.

Picking flowers to decorate the dinner table at the MCS Farm.

Wednesday evening was time for the annual sixth-grade “Fancy Dinner.” This long-standing tradition had kids rearranging the dining room like a café, complete with flowers and candles. Students arrived in clothes dressier than usual farm-trip attire and enjoyed grilled steak, baked potatoes, a tossed salad and sparkling grape juice.

On Thursday morning we received a call from our local post office informing us that they had two “peeping” boxes for us. We knew our baby chicks had arrived! The MCS Farm has ordered chicks from Hoffman Hatchery in Pennsylvania for years. When ready, the chicks are shipped overnight and arrive healthy. Many kids pitched in to give the different variety of chicks their first sips of water at the Farm. They then gently placed them in the “brooder box” under warm heat lamps. Twenty-five of the chicks will be raised as egg layers and 50 will be raised on the pasture for meat.

Soon after the bus pulled away on Friday, a few Farm staff members stood together on the farmhouse sidewalk. It was one of those speechless moments when we shook our heads in disbelief about all that had taken place over the past three-and-a-half days.