The students in the 7th and 8th grade spent the beginning of the year exploring and discussing possible activism topics. The Activism Elective narrowed the options down to four and created presentations for the rest of the group. Those four options were: habitat destruction, the immigration crisis, police brutality, and sexual harassment. Students voted first for two topics to explore further which were habitat destruction and the immigration crisis. They then went home and discussed with their families and had several conversations as a whole group and, in an exciting run-off election, chose habitat destruction.
Students seem to be primarily concerned with a sense, supported by evidence, that the life support systems of our planet are being stretched beyond capacity and while they are all moved by, and outraged by the mistreatment and scapegoating of immigrants by our current administration, they chose to face what they perceive as a more existential threat.
I am working to explore intersections between those two topics and connections with our history curriculum as we continue to learn about this issue and plan our campaign. For example, many of the people in the "caravan" of migrants currently hoping to apply for asylum in the United States, as is their right by international law, are fleeing Honduras because of violence, government corruption, and economic hopelessness. Honduras is also a country that has seen the murder of many environmental activists, most infamously Bertha Caceres, carried out allegedly by corporations in cooperation with governmental security forces. These companies, and the political elites, are seeking to exploit natural resources to the detriment of communities. The combination of exploitation and destruction of natural resources, the loss of agricultural land to climate change, and the prevalence of violence and impunity constitute "push factors" forcing people to leave their countries and seek refuge in our own.
Meanwhile, our current events updates in morning meeting have included plans by the current administration to open the Arctic refuge and millions of acres of public lands to oil exploration and mining.
The students will decide in the coming month or two on a more specific focus for our topic and find organizations working on these issues to partner with. As always, our campaign will advocate for policy changes and seek to engage the MCS community in student-led activism for a more just future. Perhaps our New York City representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's call for a Green New Deal will interest the students. As a history teacher, it certainly helps make historical connections clear and reminds students that a nation with a shared sense of purpose can face catastrophic challenges with courage and transform society for the better.
Stay tuned to see what direction the students will choose and feel free to reach out with any resources, connections, or ideas that might help them in their process.
Seventh and eighth graders recently joined Rocking the Boat, a Bronx-based “on-water classroom,” for a hands-on examination of the Bronx River while rowing wooden Whitehall 14s. Along the way, students spied schools of fish, colonies of mussels and barnacles, a snapping turtle, and great blue herons.
They examined several oyster colonies that are part of an environmental restoration project. Students and teachers also donned waders to seine for fish and crabs before identifying their catch using a dichotomous key. This field study allowed students to examine the complex interactions between members of this estuarine environment in their natural habitat as well as discuss how species’ diversity promotes resilient ecosystems. Students also explored the influence of anthropogenic impacts on the environment, including the dredging of the river and the draining of the marshes, as well as the variety of restoration work currently underway.
Rocking the Boat was founded by MCS alumnus Adam Green ‘87. In addition to hosting school groups and offering apprenticeships for high school students in boat building, environmental education and sailing, the non-profit hosts free community rowing and sailing days on the Bronx River between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
The MCS Seed Bank is an eighth grade project at the Farm. It will be a year-long study on seed saving. During the students' recent fall farm trip, we discussed what a seed is and the importance of seeds in the history of human civilization and agriculture.
By saving seeds from plants in our garden, we will have seeds to plant next year at the farm and to share with our community.
We are saving seeds from our gardens as an act of resistance to the increasingly commercial seed businesses, which are working to privatize a natural resource that should be inherently common, that all should have access to collect and share.
The eighth graders walked through the garden and chose specific crops from which to save the seeds. These included tomatoes, zucchinis, delicata squash, green beans, echinachea and cucumbers. Each crop calls for different seed saving techniques, whether it is fermenting or drying the seeds before storing. We worked together to clean the seeds and leave them to dry. During their winter farm trip, the eighth graders will design packets for the seeds they saved!
In addition to collecting seeds from crops in the garden, we collected the seeds from Pigweed, a species or the genus, Amaranthus, a common weed that grows in the garden beds. This is for a study being done at Columbia University by an MCS alumnus. The study is examining the changing genetic traits of the plants, which are allowing it to resist herbicides and pesticides. The students collected seeds from different Pigweed plants in our garden and around the farm and labeled them accordingly so that they can be used for this research.
Manhattan Country School Curriculum Night will take place on Thursday, October 4 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.. The evening provides an opportunity for families to become acquainted with their children’s classrooms and learn about teachers’ plans for the year.
A reception and community meeting will take place in the gym beginning at 6:00 p.m. Tours of the new sixth floor Upper School classrooms will also take place during this time.
Class presentations will begin at 7:00 p.m. in your child’s classroom. Prior to this meeting, parents will receive curriculum letters via email that will provide an overview of programs planned for the year. Teachers will discuss curriculum in more detail at the event and parents will have the opportunity to ask questions.
Other Important Curriculum Dates
Curriculum Night is the first of three opportunities in the early part of the school year to learn more about progressive education, how children learn and grow at MCS, and the ways it prepares children for ongoing intellectual and social development and shapes engaged citizens. Parents’ Visiting Day (November 6) allows parents to participate in children’s morning routines and classes. Fall Parent-Teacher Conferences (November 16 and 19) provide one-on-one meetings with teachers. More details to come.
On Saturday, May 19, 2018, 12 student delegates from Manhattan Country School attended the Middle School Model Congress at Packer Collegiate Institute in downtown Brooklyn.
This year’s MCS delegates were Madeleine L., Gabriela M., Stella A., Oscar U., Dominic O., Lev L., Luca C., Eli S., Arlo C., Josephine A., Charles G., and Joe R.
After three months of hard work in weekly after-school meetings, the MCS delegates were prepared and excited to defend their six 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 and 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.
Our student delegates presented bills that address a variety of domestic issues that have global impacts. The titles of our students’ bills were:
- Equal Access to Healthy Food
- An Act to Prevent Partisan Gerrymandering
- An Act to Have Kids Be More Healthy and Perform Better in School
- An Act to Encourage Companies to Reconsider Their Influence in Foreign Governments to Participate in Unethical Practices
- The Factory Farm Animal Welfare Act
- An Act to Increase Immigration to the United States from The Northern Triangle
At the end of the day, three of our six bills received passing votes, and one delegate received an honorable mention for best legislator in her committee.
Manhattan Country School’s 2018 Spring Concert, titled “Beautiful Dreamers,” was dedicated to MCS Founder Gus Trowbridge and all the dreamers striving to make a change in the world. The program featured an impressive collection of inspiring songs.
The 8-9s opened the concert with “Deux Oiseaux (Two Birds),” a piece featuring vocals and recorder. The 9-10s followed with a recorder piece of their own titled “The Music Box.”
This year’s MCS Rock Band featured Brickelle (ukulele), Gabi M. (ukulele), Anika (guitar), Jonas (electric guitar), Tady (piano), Leo (piano), Aaron W. (percussion), Arlo (percussion), and Maceo (percussion). They performed two songs: “Obstacles” and “So Much More Than This.”
The 8-9s through eighth-grade chorus performed a selection of contemporary numbers, including “Cantamos,” “Beautiful,” “Seasons of Love,” “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing,” and “Love in Any Language.”
To follow are video excerpts from the concert.
At the eighth annual Social Justice Data Fair, on Thursday, May 31, 2018, Manhattan Country School sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders showcased the work they’ve done using math to explore social justice issues.
For MCS 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, infographics and maps to draw attention to the key concerns they want to raise awareness about. This year’s topics included:
- The disproportional impact of police-perpetrated gun violence by race, gender, age and neighborhood income
- The pay gap
- Street harassment
- The experience of black youth in U.S. education
- Comparative access to health care, wealth and education in Israel and Palestine
- The role of renewable energy in meeting our current energy demands
- The intersectional experience of race and gender
- The impact of climate change on agriculture
- Representation of people of color and those in the LGBTQ community in the media
- Whether technology and economic investments can shift our impact on the climate
- Global access to clean water
- Access to sports
The seventh-graders shared their investigation into the disproportionality of action figures and dolls. They also presented mapping projects comparing social indicators. Sixth graders’ presentations addressed what they have learned about the disproportionate representations in web search results.
The Social Justice Data Fair also included a keynote address by Chris Emdin, associate professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University, and author of For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education. (Chris is also the parent of a child who will be starting in the 5-6s at MCS in the fall.) In an energetic and engaging presentation, Chris detailed how he uses data to improve outcomes of students of color.
Last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Comptroller Scott Stringer announced that they plan to divest the city’s five pension funds of approximately $5 billion from fossil fuel investments. It was news that resonated with Manhattan Country School’s eighth-graders, who dedicated a considerable amount of time last school year to raising awareness about this topic.
The seventh- and eighth-graders researched the issue and developed their position. Using the slogan “Divest From Corporate Greed, Invest in the Future We Need,” the students educated others in the MCS community.
“We knew the effect that [climate change] could have, especially in a city where there are so many people living and things distributed and made,” said Kyle ’18, about selecting the activism project topic. “It put us at risk.”
Students were moved by the January 10 announcement from the mayor’s office.
“I was very happy because me and the rest of the Fifth Floor worked really hard on that project,” said Cruz ’18. “Having one of your dreams become reality is very fulfilling and exciting for me.”
“I know that we weren’t the only ones working toward this—obviously there were lots of protests—but it’s always good to know you can make a difference.” said Stella ’18.
“I was surprised it happened so quickly because movements aren’t so successful so immediately,” said Emma ’18, who choose climate change for the topic of her Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March speech. “I was relieved because, like I said in my speech, it’s going to be too late very soon and we have to do something right now.”
The eighth-graders have a great sense of pride about this news because, as seventh-graders last year, they had the opportunity to meet with Mark Chambers, the director of sustainability for the New York City Mayor’s Office.
“When we talked to Mark Chambers, it kind of gave him a different perspective because most of the people he’s been talking to are adults,” said Cruz. “I think hearing the youth perspective on this was very impactful.”
“He called us the most woke group of seventh-graders he knew,” added Stella. “It seems like they were affected by us. I knew that it definitely wouldn’t be just us alone to make the difference but I hope that we did help tip him on that.”
As satisfied as the eighth-graders are in the recent decision, they know there is still more work to be done to address climate change.
“Divesting is really important, but so is putting limits on carbon emissions and making agreements on how much the global temperature can rise,” said Emma. “New York is a big step forward, but the United States as a whole is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, so the federal government would be the next step.”
On Monday, January 15, 2018, hundreds of people from Manhattan Country School and the broader New York City community assembled at the Eleanor Roosevelt Monument to kick off the 2018 Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March. The annual event, now in its 30th year, is organized by the school’s eighth-graders and illustrates one of the many ways MCS celebrates the man and the ideals that served as inspiration for the founding of the school.
“The origin of this 30-year tradition grew out of MCS founders’ desire to share the experience of our assembly honoring Dr. King with a wider community,” said Michèle Solá, Manhattan Country School’s director, of the school's MLK Assembly, which started the year the civil rights leader was killed. “This year’s march has special significance for our community because this march milestone takes place during the same year as the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination.”
(MCS MLK March in the News: WNBC-TV: Young People Honor Martin Luther King Across NYC, WCBS-TV: UWS Students March To Honor MLK's Legacy, Metro: Students Honor MLK With March as Part of 'a New Revolution')
The theme of this year’s march was “A New Revolution: Youth and Social Change,” inspired by the quote “Every generation needs a new revolution,” which is attributed to Thomas Jefferson. The eighth-graders selected the statue honoring Eleanor Roosevelt as the march starting point because of her profound work as an activist. Roosevelt’s grandson, Franklin D. Roosevelt III—a parent and grandparent of MCS alumni and a member of the MCS board for 40 years (including a stint as board chair)—addressed the crowd at the beginning of the march.
“I have to start with a confession,” Frank said. “When I was in eighth grade I had no idea who Eleanor Roosevelt was.... I didn’t realize until I was halfway through college that she was not your ordinary grandmother…
“I inherited her values….Those values inspired me to join the group of college students who went to Mississippi in 1964—Mississippi Freedom Summer—and I worked to register black voters in that difficult period when three young, idealist college students were murdered…. It was those values that inspired me and my wife to send our three children to Manhattan Country School.”
William, the first of the 22 eighth-graders to speak, explained why he draws inspiration from Eleanor Roosevelt.
“She was someone who lived for action and for cause,” said William. “She was an activist to the point of being considered radical in her ideals, simply for speaking her mind, especially when it came to race, sex or class….
“Eleanor’s life was defined by her defense of fair wages for women, equal social benefits regardless of skin color, promotion of cultural diversity, recognizing the talent of black female artists and educators at a time when that was not something high-ranking officials did. She wisely warned us against ‘the great hysteria against minorities.’ Today, we’re witnessing how transcendental that warning is and was.”
After listening to four additional speeches delivered at the Roosevelt Monument, the crowd set off on a two-mile route that included stops at Strawberry Fields and the James Baldwin Residence, the New-York Historical Society, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial and the Joan of Arc Memorial. At each location, the eighth-graders spoke eloquently about a host of civil rights issues, including sexual assault, police violence, mental health, DACA, education, homelessness and racism.
The march concluded in the gym at Manhattan Country School. Eighth-grader Emma closed the march with a passionate speech about the environment.
“We can each do something [about climate change],” Emma said. “It is not fair that we were born into this world that is already so threatened by climate change. But it does not matter what is fair. It matters that this is reality. We cannot change the past or undo the damage caused by past generations. All we can do—in fact, what we must do—is take action now.”
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March illustrates how the school’s progressive curriculum and commitment to social justice help students develop into articulate, compassionate activists. Under the guidance of English Teacher Tom Grattan, the eighth-graders spend several weeks planning the march, which includes selecting the march theme and route and writing their own speeches. Through this process, the students develop a host of skills, such as brainstorming, collaborating, negotiating, conducting research and writing persuasively. What’s more, they learn from the experience the importance of literacy and leadership in producing public outcomes.
“The concept of a student-organized march has galvanized the graduating class to work together in a unique leadership project,” said Michèle. “‘A New Revolution: Youth and Social Change’ is a message not just for our community nor just for our time. One of the hardest lessons to teach young people about activism is how to maintain momentum when change doesn’t come quickly. When eighth-graders reread Dr. King’s words, they find the passages that seem relevant to issues they are impassioned about changing in the pursuit of a more just society today.
“Negotiating a theme for the march frames twenty-two individual voices, and this year’s, like so many others, provides a foundation on which a lifetime of participation in democratic society can be built. Choosing a route reveals other parallel lessons from history, this year from Eleanor Roosevelt to Joan of Arc. The route is long and the weather is usually cold, but one never tires of seeing education be this intentional.”
The eighth-graders’ speeches can be viewed in the video section of Manhattan Country School’s Facebook page. A publication of the students’ speeches will be available in print and online in March. To view pictures of the march, visit the online photo gallery.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March is just one example of the academics and activism work supported by generous contributions to The MCS Fund, which is part of Expanding Purpose: The Campaign for the Future of Manhattan Country School. To make a donation and to support the education of future generations of activists and critical thinkers at MCS, visit our online donation page.
On Monday, May 15, fifth-graders from Manhattan Country School, Central Park East II and Children’s Workshop School presented the MLK Living the Dream Book Award to the children’s book I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, in a ceremony at Manhattan Country School. The award is presented to a children’s picture book that embodies the values of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Students write their own criteria for the award: a main character fighting for equal rights, a meaningful message relating to what Dr. King fought for or what he would fight for today and expressive illustrations. They measure several children’s books against the criteria, debate the merits of the final selections and choose the award-winning book. Throughout the process, each student participates in active discussions with children from each school. Themes of racial and social justice, LGBTQ rights, advocacy and inequality are an important part of the focus of these talks. This process not only allows students to use their voices to express their opinions and insights, but also provides them with space to grow as writers, readers and listeners.
This year’s honoree, I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, is based on the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ruth grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn in the 1940s alongside many other immigrant cultures. Her life was different in one crucial way. Ruth’s mother believed that girls should have the same opportunities that boys had at that time. Through several family trips, Ruth got to see how others lived and thrived, but she was also witness to racial and religious biases as well. This had a powerful impact on Ruth’s belief system as she went on to pursue and earn a law degree, which was a rare thing for women at the time. She then made it her mission to fight for the rights of women and people of color. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed her to the U.S. Supreme Court. She continues to fight for the rights of many people from varied backgrounds as well as providing inspiration for young girls and so many others.
The Living the Dream Book Award is a project of Manhattan Country School’s Public Outreach Program, in collaboration with Central Park East II and Children’s Workshop School. Manhattan Country School was founded in 1966 as a place where equity, social justice, diversity and the inspiration of Dr. King would form the basis of children’s education. Today, MCS is a progressive, independent, co-ed school with broad racial and socioeconomic diversity fostered by sliding-scale tuition.