Our Summer blog series continues through early September, as we share some of our favorite articles published this past year in The Bulletin. Enjoy!
Student Spotlight: A Brief Story of My Summer Internship
By Sam Wheeler, current Twelfth Grader
During the summer of 2016, between Tenth and Eleventh grades, I returned to my home city, Beijing, to attend an engineering internship. The internship took place at Tsinghua University, where my grandfather is a professor emeritus; he specialized in artificial intelligence and taught there for 40 years before he retired. I was lucky to have the opportunity to join the post-graduate robotics department for a whole month where my grandfather’s students, the robotics professors, were teaching.
First, I would like to give a background of Tsinghua University itself: Tsinghua University was established in 1911 using funds donated by the US and is a comprehensive research university with 20 schools and 54 departments covering disciplines in art, economics, education, engineering, history, management, medicine, law, literature, philosophy, and sciences. Its strong research and training offerings consistently place Tsinghua University as one of the top academic institutions in China, alongside Peking University. Of course, this leads to the belief in many Chinese people's minds that these two universities are the only two worth graduating from in China, in the same way that they consider Harvard and Yale to be the “only” two schools in the US.
Situated in northwestern Beijing, Tsinghua University’s campus has been named one of the most beautiful in the world. The campus, which was established on the site of a former royal garden, contains beautiful buildings that are over a century old, with Stalin-esque monstrosities modeled after Soviet era architecture, and beautiful modern buildings designed by incredible architects. It is safe to say that Tsinghua University is an incredibly unique university.
For my internship, my first task was to write an essay on the future of robotics, particularly the domestication of robots. I was asked to consider the current technology in the field and its availability, as well as the practicality of domestic robots and its possible impact on society in general. After a week of intensive research on the matter, I presented my report to the professor in charge, and he took it in for review. I was given two more tasks for the remainder of my internship, which were to assist the post-graduates with any experiments they needed help with, and to teach myself during the time in between.
Over the next few weeks, I would help with the experiments of the two main focuses in the department. One of the focuses was an autonomous bike designed for delivery through busy situations, like the streets of a big city. Not only that, the bike needed the durability to travel moderate distances with a heavy payload. I was told that a completely autonomous real time detection system needed incredibly complex code, and it required a great deal of adjustments. I assisted with these adjustments, and learned the improvisational capacity of post-graduates were almost limitless. Instead of properly setting up obstacles, they would place a bag of soccer balls, or even just run around the bike themselves to test the code.
When my professor returned my report, he said that it was a very useful insight on the future of robotics and that he would possibly use it in an investment pitch to potential donors for the robotics department.
During my time there, I discovered that as a post-graduate, it is entirely up to them to build their projects and to create a reasonable schedule. Of course, the professor will be there intermittently to be a guide, but the bulk of responsibility lies on the post-graduate to create the project, mark the deadlines, and to create a schedule so that the result is high quality. This extends to daily schedules as well; if confident in their own abilities, they can change their working hours to suit them, and in doing so gain the ability to self-manage more appropriately.
This Summer, we are sharing some of our favorite articles published this past year in The Bulletin. Enjoy!
Protecting Childhood in the Digital Age: A Look at Waldorf Education and The Big Disconnect by Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair
By Vanessa Lee, Bulletin Coordinator
Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair came to Green Meadow Waldorf School on November 1 and spent a full day talking and working with students, faculty, and parents. As a developmental and clinical psychologist, her views of children’s development echo Rudolf Steiner’s view of developmentally appropriate education. The Waldorf philosophy of meeting the children where they are is founded on the understanding that each child goes through three distinct phases of development: early childhood (birth to 7), grade school (7-14), and adolescence (14-21). In each phase, the child is engaged physically (willing), emotionally (feeling), and mentally (thinking); however, one aspect of this three-dimensional approach is emphasized based on what is developmentally appropriate. Early childhood is grounded in willing; grade school in feeling, and high school in thinking.
In The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, Dr. Steiner-Adair breaks down her research into five phases of childhood: The Brilliant Baby Brain (birth to 2); Mary Had a Little iPad (3 to 5); Fast Forward Childhood (6 to 10); Going, Going, Gone (11 to 13); and Teens, Tech, Temptation, and Trouble (Teens). Her book discusses the developmental needs within each stage and how media and technology can affect children. The following article discusses the phases of childhood, the GMWS media policy, and the research from The Big Disconnect about the impact of media and technology on childhood and on parenting.
Early Childhood (birth to 7): A Healthy Will (Character Skill Development)
The Waldorf approach to Early Childhood education focuses on creating an environment and rhythm where the child is able to develop, from within, what in Waldorf Education is referred to as a healthy will. A healthy will can also be described as a set of character skills, and those include impulse control, perseverance, reverence, curiosity, and optimism. This is nourished through self-initiated play, work, movement, and stories. Free, unstructured play develops emotional maturity through social interactions as well as developing a child’s attention span through problem solving and imaginative thinking. Imitation is also key in Waldorf Early Childhood education, as it is through imitation that children at this stage learn. The child’s imagination becomes activated by what is offered through oral storytelling and puppetry. The skills which are developed in the first seven years become the foundation upon which future learning takes place. The gift of a media-free early childhood protects the space within the child where the development of these character traits is taking place.
Early Childhood: GMWS Policy
In an effort to support this developmentally appropriate education, the GMWS media policy states that “children enrolled in the Early Childhood program at Green Meadow should be given the gift of a media-free childhood…” (p. 29, GMWS Parent Handbook)
You Can’t Reboot Childhood – The Big Disconnect
In The Big Disconnect, Dr. Steiner-Adair advocates for a tech-free infancy and toddlerhood. She says that “too much tech at any age, but especially too early an introduction to it – before age two – shortchanges a young child on the time and mix of experiences the sensorium [brain] needs for well-rounded development.” (p. 78, The Big Disconnect) The images that come through electronic devices come very quickly, more quickly than a young child’s brain is equipped to handle. Apps are made to stimulate but this stimulation is detrimental to a young child’s brain development. Young children also need to move and sedentary media does not engage a child’s will forces, which are at the center of Waldorf Education during these early childhood years.
Middle Childhood (7 – 14): A Healthy Feeling Life
Once a child enters first grade at a Waldorf School, the education shifts from a focus on willing to a focus on feeling. The child’s feeling life is engaged through a close connection to the class teacher who cycles with them, usually for several years. The child’s learning develops through their inner engagement with stories and art as well as movement and music. The world of science and math as well as language arts are taught by engaging the whole child and working with the feeling life. There is a rhythm of inner and outer movement and focus that nurtures the natural ebb and flow of children’s attention. In this section, Lower School (Grades 1-5) and Middle School (Grades 6-8) will be separated, as there is an important developmental shift around the age of 12.
Lower School: GMWS Policy (Grades 1 – 5)
At GMWS, our media policy grows with our children and recognizes a split in this 7-14 age group. “Consistent with Waldorf Education’s emphasis on learning through direct experience, children in the lower grades (1-5) should be allowed to develop new ideas and attitudes based on real personal interactions, without the distortion of mediation through technology. Children in the lower grades should not be exposed to electronic media in their daily lives. They should not watch television, movies, or videos, play video games, or use computers. Additionally, exposure to radio and recorded music should be limited and age-appropriate.” (p. 29, GMWS Parent Handbook)
Fast-Forward Childhood – The Big Disconnect
Dr. Steiner-Adair talks about the dangers of what she calls “Fast Forward Childhood.” “At a developmental time when children need to be learning how to effectively interact directly, the tech mediated environment is not [emphasis mine] an adequate substitute for the human one” (p. 135). Children need direct interaction with parents, siblings, friends, and teachers in order to develop social and emotional skills such as eye contact, understanding verbal cues, and understanding the impact of one’s words upon another person. Texting takes all of this away. At this age, children become more critical of themselves and others; social media and texting (in their one-sided, quip-style communication) can be easily misunderstood or used more maliciously as a platform for social cruelty.
When Dr. Steiner-Adair spoke to the parents at Green Meadow, she said that the World Wide Web is for adults, not children; and that a smartphone is not a phone but a handheld computer with access to the adult world of the web. Today, we are three clicks or less away from disturbing images that young children and adolescents cannot process. She cites many examples of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) in young adolescents who ended up on websites that were way above their developmental capacity.
Another important consideration for us as parents at this age are movies and exposure to TV. Many movies and TV shows have adult images of good and evil, as well as violence. When we read a book, our children create images in their mind. This in itself is beautiful and should be cherished and we have to consider when and if we would allow the images from a book made into a movie to usurp the child’s own imagination.
Another point Dr. Steiner-Adair makes is that the book and a movie are two very different experiences for children because “…a kid only imagines what his or her life experience allows, [and] watching violence is different from imagining violence.” (p. 127, quoting Michael Rich at the Center on Media and Child Health)
Middle School: Transition to Media
GMWS is currently implementing a Cyber Civics course designed for the Middle School to help transition our children from a Lower School “No Media” policy to the High School “Know Media” policy. Cyber Civics is a middle school digital citizenship and literacy program that meets an urgent and growing need to prepare students with the skills to be ethical, confident, and empowered digital citizens, and after much research and discussion, the program is beginning in January for grades 6-8.
Middle School: GMWS Policy (Grades 6, 7, and 8)
“During Grades 6, 7, and 8, it is appropriate for students to have a gradual and guided introduction to the applications and use of electronic media. During these transition years, use of and exposure to media should be very moderate, under clear parental guidance and participation, and not work to the detriment of the social and educational climate of the class. Media exposure can be a socially divisive influence in these years and often works directly against what is brought in the classroom.” (p. 29, GMWS Parent Handbook)
Going, Going, Gone – The Big Disconnect
In the chapter on Tweens and Screens, Dr. Steiner-Adair says, “The idea of middle school as a transition zone between elementary and high school was created to punctuate the notoriously complicated three-year period in which children by 11 or 12 are no longer thinking and acting like they’re 8 or 9 but they are also not yet the relatively more sophisticated abstract thinkers they’ll be at 14 and 15. It is the age of awkwardness and uncertainty.” (p. 163)
She says that the preadolescent brain is not ready for the level of responsibility required for unrestricted access to online media, where a message or image can go viral in seconds and have serious consequences for both sender and subject. “Hanging out, geeking out, and messing around all have a place in a healthy media diet for children this age. But as a therapist, [she] also see[s] the darker side as pre-teens struggle with … body image and identity and flex their social power and capacity for cruelty more boldly and often anonymously online.” (p. 174) She also cited research that middle school girls are the most likely group to give out personal information, including names and addresses, to strangers online. She encourages parents to educate early and continuously, to set up house rules on the appropriate use of media, and to install parental controls on devices during this turbulent middle-school period.
Adolescence: 14-21: A Healthy Thinking Life
In the Waldorf high school, the students are still engaged actively, emotionally, and thoughtfully; however, the focus shifts appropriately to thinking, which is developed through the subjects that are taught and through habits of mind that are cultivated. Each year of high school presents a different question, which awakens specific aspects of human intelligence. In Ninth Grade, the question is “What?” as students are asked to awaken their powers of observation further. The question of “How?” is the focus in Tenth Grade as observation is expanded to include comparison. Eleventh Grade brings the question “Why?” as the students develop powers of analysis and abstraction. And Twelfth Grade is the time to step back and observe the whole, culminating in the question of “Who?” or “Who am I?” (Jack Petrash, Understanding Waldorf Education)
High School: GMWS Policy
“The media policy in the High School recognizes that it is appropriate for 15- to 19-year-olds to learn to critically approach and effectively use media. The school recognizes the importance of media literacy, including educating students to understand the technological principles underlying (and the social transformations resulting from) electronic media, and seeks to meet this need through a curriculum that includes internet research skills, computer programming, the science behind new technologies, and the social consequences of the ongoing media revolution.
Because the inappropriate or excessive use of electronic media undermines teenagers’ living relationships to other people, the world around them, and themselves, however, parents should continue to monitor and limit their teenagers’ exposure to electronic and social media and should maintain an open dialogue with their teenage children about the role of media in their lives….” (GMWS Parent Handbook, p. 30)
Teens, Tech, Temptation, and Trouble – The Big Disconnect
“Teens…[must balance the] disconnect between what they feel compelled or pressured to do, what they are emotionally and developmentally ready to do, and the desire to stay true to their self.” (p. 198) This is true in all aspects of teenage life and heightened in the digital age. Adolescence is the time for impulsivity and tech can delete the pause between impulse and action. Additionally, “[t]he normalization of porn in teen life, the ease with which tech and texting are used as weapons of communication, the emotional intensity of the age, and the amoral environment of the online culture make it a dangerous mix in the hands of adolescents.” (p. 219)
“Our children are quick to use tech, but how to set limits and use it wisely requires more self-discipline and emotional maturity than most…children have…developed.” (p. 156) All technology can be addictive. Video games, especially for preadolescent and adolescent boys, are created to be addictive with their immediate rewards, and have skewed gender and race representations. Playing video games can adversely affect the developing brain by engaging the primitive brain which causes people to be reactive, less thoughtful, and unbalanced emotionally.
Parenting in a Sustainable Family
On the evening of November 1, Dr. Steiner-Adair spoke to about 230 parents and guests in Rose Hall, and focused on the effect of adult tech use on the family. She started the evening by telling us that we had chosen wisely in choosing Green Meadow Waldorf School for our children, as she was pleased by her observations around use of technology on campus and her conversations with the middle and high school students. While there are positive and negative aspects of technology, she said, she encouraged us to be conscious in our own tech habits, especially around our children. She cited examples of children trying to get their parents’ attention but unable to do so as the parent was texting or checking email. She also said that when parents say they are “just checking” email, it typically lasts between 25 minutes and two hours. In her research, children expressed anger, sadness, loneliness, and frustration when they were unable to get their parents’ attention.
She noted three signs that we may be psychologically dependent on our cell phones:
1. Someone else’s phone rings and we reach for ours;
2. Phantom ring syndrome: when we think we hear our phone ring;
3. Taking the phone into the bathroom.
She also cited brain research that shows that our primitive brain becomes engaged while using our devices, causing empathy and hearing to decrease. The challenge with not being able to read social clues, mentioned in earlier sections of this article, also applies to adults as we cannot read a person online in same way we can face-to-face.
Dr. Steiner-Adair cited five pivotal points in the day when it is good to be off of our devices:
1. First thing in the morning – she cautioned against using smartphones as alarm clocks as the temptation to check email/text is too strong and can activate our primitive brain too early. (However, she also suggested that we get up half an hour earlier to text/email before the children get up rather than being distracted once they wake up);
2. Drives to school – don’t text and don’t let children be on their devices; the car is a great way to talk about family values;
3. When children come home from school, as it is an important time to be fully present with our children and debrief the day;
4. When you come home from work, do not come home on the phone and do not check email as soon as you get home;
5. Bedtime and bathtime (for those with younger children).
Julie Scelfo, in her NY Times article entitled The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In (June 9, 2010) also cited children feeling hurt when their parents were on their devices instead of paying attention to them during three critical times:
2. Pick-up from school or extra-curricular activity;
3. Sports events.
There are positive aspects of media and technology, including the social element, as they help us stay connected to extended family and friends. We all know, too, that they can be time-savers, as we can get quick responses via a text or our GPS helps us not to get lost. However, as parents, we need to be aware of the dangers of technology as the values of many online activities, communities, and games are extremely toxic. We need to move from being “clueless” to being informed and realistic. Dr. Steiner-Adair also said that parents need to shift from being “scary and crazy” to being parents who are approachable and calm; we need to move from being a reactive parent to being a responsive one. (See box on page xx.) This applies to parenting with or without technology but the digital age has accelerated the pace of life and parenting and asks us to be even more conscious and responsive.
A positive outcome of having Dr. Steiner-Adair come to talk with our students, faculty, and parents is the information that was shared and the conversations that have ensued amongst the students, the parents, and the faculty. Green Meadow Waldorf School is a community of individuals and families who are all striving to do our best in raising our children in this digital age and we can recognize and appreciate these efforts in each other. As a family, we can protect unplugged time for all of us. Creating a capacity for solitude is a true gift to our children and to ourselves; a time to hear our inner voice and connect to ourselves. We can also look within our community for support in our approach to sustainable parenting in the digital age.
This Summer, we are sharing some of our favorite articles published this past year in The Bulletin. Enjoy!
Science in the Waldorf School: Developing an Ecological Consciousness
In the Kindergarten, children are active in wind, water, and soil conditions in every weather. These rich, holistic, practical experiences are not only joyous parts of childhood. They also give an unparalleled basis for comprehending the world in myriad ways. Upon this solid foundation of investigation into the natural world, scientific understanding can later build. At this age, the first ecological consciousness of the immediate environment forms through the children’s daily experiences of adults cultivating the natural world in healthy ways. One of the teachers’ primary goals is to model responsible citizenship in the natural world. Thus the importance given to garden work, tending the land by planting, watering and weeding in springtime, harvesting in summer, raking in autumn, shoveling snow in winter, and many more activities.
The curriculum of the first elementary school grades wisely includes extensive time for lessons on environmental awareness. In these years, students learn to “read the book of nature,” coming to recognize the wondrous range of animals and plants that live and land formations that form their surroundings. Imaginative descriptions form the basis of nature education at this age. For example, some years ago a First Grade teacher at Green Meadow named the low-lying area near the Arts Building the “Rocky Dell,” turning the area into an imaginative homeland for a generation of students, whose creative play has blossomed in this complex landscape.
Science lessons in these early grades center around stories of nature, bringing alive the wild and cultivated plants, the domesticated and wild animals, the streams and hills, the winds, and the stars, sun, and moon as intimately experienced aspects of our lives, just as the traditional stories of native peoples did for their children. After hearing a story about the mighty oak and the lithe willow, for example, students visit these in their natural setting. Ideally, the names and character of the elements of the natural world become a natural vocabulary for young children, so that by the time they are around nine years of age they should be able to recognize and name many of the local plants and animals, land formations, constellations of stars, etc., as naturally as they recognize and name each other.
In the following grades, the Waldorf curriculum leads students systematically further in their scientific understanding. This begins in Third Grade with an exploration of the ways humanity can take responsibility and care for the natural world of soil, plants, and animals. The Farming block in this year guides children to comprehend the farmer’s role as sustainer of the health of the Earth, balancing the interrelated needs of soil, crops, and livestock. They come to understand that healthy soil is the basis for healthy crops, that healthy crops are the basis for healthy livestock, and that healthy livestock and crops provide the manure and compost needed for healthy soil. The cycle is complete.
The Third Grade also includes a study of Building. Building depends upon understanding how the natural environment can be used to create stable structures, Understanding how different peoples developed unique architectural styles based upon the available materials illumines the natural environment from a new perspective. Building structures using at least one of these styles allows students to comprehend on a kinetic, tactile level the nature of materials and the principles of structure. As architecture advanced, building also came to depend upon the cooperation of a variety of people, each with special skills (masons, carpenters, glaziers, roofers, plumbers, electricians, etc.). Imagine if we each had to excavate, build a foundation, put up walls and a roof, insulate, glaze, plumb, and wire our houses! What would most houses look like if each was wholly built by its owner?! Thus building offers insight into the importance of the ecology of human interaction.
In Fourth Grade, students study animals. They quickly discover how each animal has a specialized form and particular way of life suitable for its particular environment. Comparing this to how human beings live—and recalling the many building styles they explored in Third Grade—they can discover that, while animals’ relationship to their surroundings is fixed, human beings can live in harmony with any environment. This flexibility is possible because we can both adapt our way of life and transform the environment. We rely on wisdom, where animals depend upon instinct.
In Fifth Grade, Waldorf students study plants. This usually begins with a broad survey of the simplest organisms—mushrooms, algae, and mosses—and proceeds through increasing complexity to arrive at the flowering plants. Each plant is suited to a particular soil and climate, so it is natural to study the climatic zones, and to see how these are affected by both latitude and elevation.
The study of plants offers a glimpse of the principles of sexual reproduction. This has wondrous consequences: the “offspring” of simpler plants, which use asexual reproduction, are exactly like their parents; however, through sexual reproduction, each organism is absolutely unique. This applies to them, too: each human child, too, is absolutely unique.
In Sixth Grade, the stones come into focus. These offer a fascinating plethora of form, texture, and color, all arising through three basic processes: intense heat (igneous rock), intense pressure (sedimentary rock), and a combination of both heat and pressure (metamorphic rock). Crystal formations are highly geometric, allowing connections to the study of geometry undertaken in this year.
This Summer, we are sharing some of our favorite articles published this past year in The Bulletin. Enjoy!
Diversity and Inclusion Update
Vanessa Lee based on an interview with Leslie Laboriel, Diversity Committee Co-Chair
When Leslie Laboriel and I met at the Café sharing warm tea on a toasty January morning, Leslie provided a glimpse into what the Diversity and Inclusion committee is up to this year. Leslie has been a member of the community for the last six years. Her first two years at GMWS were spent supporting a variety of activities. During the second year, she realized how diversity of thought could benefit the GMWS community which is what motivated her to join the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Last year she welcomed an invite to become co-chair of the committee with Vicki Larson and Maskit Ronen. The committee is willing to embrace the difficult work ahead by listening and learning from each other. During meetings, the goal is to create a safe room filled with love and respect. The committee corrects and supports each other as they continue to learn from one another and push towards full inclusion.
This year the Diversity and Inclusion Committee will focus on the following goals:
· Educate faculty/staff on the value that diversity brings, and the challenges to and urgency of being an inclusive community
· Offer practical support for faculty
· Improve support networks and advocacy mechanisms for current diverse students and parents
· Involve students in the diversity and inclusion work
· Evaluate the committees impact to the community
What has the committee accomplished this year?
Supported student activism club in chartering a bus to the Women’s March on Jan 21 in Washington DC.
The march provided an opportunity for our students to exercise their democratic right to a peaceful expression of their opinions. They created powerful posters and experienced firsthand the results of grass roots organizing.
Helped create the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Assembly
Diversity Committee Co-Chair and High School Science Teacher, Maskit Ronen, headed up a sub-committee of parents, teachers, and staff to create this collaboration of works from the grades. The assembly was performed on Tuesday, January 16th in Rose Hall. The Second Grade performed a hymn and the entire school sang “We Must Overcome”. Music played a significant role during the Civil Rights movement because it provided motivation during long marches, psychological strength against harassment and brutality, as well as a peaceful way to pass the time. The third and fourth grade recited Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” from the balcony. There was a eurythmy performance by two seniors, Utchaa Williams and Alexander Allen-Walden, to the song, Can U C the Pride in the Panthers, by the late rapper, Tupac Shakur. In a moving demonstration, the sixth grade recited “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The afternoon culminated with the visual presentation of the “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington DC. Mr. Karl Frederickson, a retired Green Meadow history teacher, told the audience how the “I Have a Dream” speech was originally unplanned. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. read a scripted speech and when he finished, singer Mahalia Jackson cried out, “tell them about the dream, Martin!” The iconic “I Have a Dream” speech is one of the most famous and moving speeches in our history.
Advocated for and achieved a professional development day in March 2017 on gender diversity
We are excited to welcome Benjamin Davis from The Ackerman Institute for the Family to our campus to deepen faculty and staff understanding about gender fluidity and working with trans and gender-fluid students.
Support for faculty on culturally responsive pedagogy
We shared with faculty/staff the presentation that Vicki gave at the June 2016 AWSNA conference to help them identify and articulate personal and institutional challenges, and develop a shared language and framework
The Diversity and Inclusion Committee created an extensive resource list for teachers for Black History Month. The list contained links to web-sites and reading materials to support the teachers of all grade levels.
Dr. Weldon McWilliams IV, a young community organizer in Rockland County, will attend High School Week to commence Black History month.
March 5 – 7: Undoing Racism Training at Rockland Community College
Green Meadow has committed to having all teachers, staff and Board members participate in Undoing Racism Training within three years of joining GMWS. Currently twenty-seven people have attended the training
Undoing Racism was developed by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, which is an organization focusing on the understanding of racism and its historical roots as well as why it persists and how it can be undone. When Leslie Laboriel attended, there were about 80 participants from a variety of backgrounds including social work, education, law enforcement, and legal. She found the training extremely informative, transforming, supportive, and engaging. She left with a feeling of what is possible after being rejuvenated.
Families of Color Lunch – March 5th
The Diversity and Inclusion Committee will have their second annual Families of Color Lunch on Sunday, March 5 in the High School common room. Families of color are invited to socialize, connect and share their cultural experiences. Our goal is to inspire people to share resources and support one another.
What are we working on for the remainder of the year and beyond?
· Each member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee will complete the Harvard University Implicit Association Test (IAT) surveys to identify hidden biases; they will use the results to have open conversation about individual findings.
· Deepen connection to Otto Specht School
· Focus on recruiting and selection practices
Women's March on Washington – Two Perspectives
Emily Lauer, Twelfth Grade Student
Sunday, January 21st will go down in history as an extraordinary day. On this day millions of women and men came together not just across our country, but across the planet to stand together, united, to show their support for each other and to rally against the mistreatment of women, in general and by the new administration in particular.
With the help of Bonnie Johnson and Vicki Larson, the Student Activism Committee organized a bus that brought 52 energized, powerful, and spirited souls to Washington for the march. On our way to D.C., we made signs, sang songs, and told stories. There was a buzz of excitement and a commitment to be heard. After fighting our way (peacefully) through the mad metro crowds we were greeted with roaring waves of sound from the thousands of March participants; the energy was palpable. It was wonderful having so many Green Meadow representatives walking side by side sharing in the smiles and tears of the masses.
Experiencing our ability to express ourselves in a peaceful but strong way highlighted one of the key foundations of our democracy and brought to life how truly fortunate we are.
Miana Johnson, Eleventh Grade Student
On January 21, I joined a group of students and community members and attended the Women's March on Washington, one of the many marches around the country and the world that took place that day. This was my first protest and I don't think I could have asked for a better, more peaceful one. After five hours on a bus we arrived and took a long very crowded metro ride, walked a few blocks, and then joined the march. As far we could see in front of us were people, there was a vast sea of pink hats and signs and all 50 of us eagerly joined in with our own signs and even our own chants. That day I felt I was a part of a community; I was marching in solidarity with thousands of protesters in D.C., and I felt I was part of something really cool and special. It was very inspiring to see such a large group of diverse and empowered people. Thousands upon thousands peacefully came together to spread love and support and stand up for what they believed in. It wasn't just about women, it was about anything and everything that people felt was unjust. Although many aspects of the day were unpleasant: the long bus ride, the ride in the packed metro, my sore feet, just being able to be a part of something like this was an experience I would not trade for anything. I felt like I was a part of something really inspiring, something so much more powerful than myself, and it gave me just a little bit of hope.
Faculty Spotlight – Educational Support at GMWS, Kindergarten through grade 8
By Suzanne Lynn, Educational Support Coordinator
Educational Support at GMWS spans kindergarten through grade twelve. The work of the Educational Support Coordinator primarily focuses on grades K-8, spanning all three sections of the school, helping to bridge both rising first graders and their parents from the kindergarten into the lower school and the rising ninth graders and their parents from the middle school into the high school. Joanne Monteleone, HS guidance counselor, coordinates support in grades 9-12.
Educational Support works with students, teachers, and parents to support each student’s academic success by understanding and supporting unique learning styles, strengths, and challenges. This is accomplished through bi-weekly meetings with each grades teacher, managing the in-house educational support team and outside tutors, overseeing or administering assessments, coordinating outside testing, helping develop and implement educational support plans for students, and meeting with parents. Parents are always welcome to reach out with questions or for guidance.
Over the last seven years our educational support program has evolved and continues to progress to meet the ever-changing needs of our students. Our school mindfully blends the core principles of Waldorf education, advances in assessment and support for cognitive and learning differences. Our work remains rooted in Rudolf Steiner’s model of the developing human being, placing assessments at key times in child development such as rising grade one, second grade, cognitive learning assessments of reading and math in grades three, four, and seven.
This is ongoing collaborative work with very dedicated colleagues in the early childhood, lower school, middle school and high school, including those on the Care Group committee who are dedicated to child study – all of whom work together to fully support each student. Class teachers and subject teachers bring this support to their students through their daily lessons and nightly preparation. Their consistent striving and keen observations are an essential part of our educational support program, surfacing questions about underlying learning differences that might require testing, adaptation of teaching methods, or specific support plans. In addition to these colleagues, we have a growing educational support team that works together to offer additional support that may be needed at varying times in a student’s schooling. We currently offer:
· Eurythmy therapy, to harmonize the whole child through orchestrated movement. This works constitutionally from the inside out;
· Occupational therapy, to harmonize the whole child through specific movements engaging students in earlier developmental stages to free hindrances and organize movement and sensory integration. This works physically from the outside in;
· The Extra Lesson, to harmonize and integrate the whole child through varied activities that bring about balanced breathing and support cognitive learning. Created by Audrey McAllen who took up Rudolf Steiner’s many lectures about the developing child and developed a curriculum of movement, speech, drawing and painting exercises;
· Homogeneous reading groups that meet students where they are in their reading acquisition, furthering their skills at a pace that meets them;
· Screenings and assessments to help uncover learning differences that may require further testing, and;
· When necessary, more direct intervention which is either brought in or referred out, such as reading, writing and math tutors.
The Educational Support Coordinator orchestrates the moving parts, bringing all the players together in ways that meet the needs of our students, allowing them to more freely develop to their fullest capacity. We are working in the present to meet the needs of our students while simultaneously building for the future—5, 10 years from now. We are working to create an educational support program that is woven into the fabric of the school that meets the diverse learning needs of all our students.
By Defne Caldwell, High School English Teacher
You may or may not have read a little book with a compelling title, Why Read Moby Dick?, by Nathaniel Philbrick. In it, Philbrick explores elements that are significant to Herman Melville’s novel, such as the disastrous tale of The Essex, a ship sunk by a sperm whale in 1820 which inspired some aspects of Melville’s tale (and Ron Howard’s recent film). Philbrick’s book also includes several essays on themes, characters and scenes within the novel, and a wonderful chapter on chowder. Margaret Atwood wrote a column in the “New York Times” (4/28/12) about what she would tell Martians wishing to understand America. Among other things, she tells them to read Moby Dick. Their response, “Holy crap! Does this mean what we think it means?” They understand the novel as a metaphor for North America’s 21st century role in the oil industry. In March, I will be teaching Moby Dick to the ninth graders in “The Novel” main lesson, so I too am thinking about why we read Moby Dick, and what the ninth grader has to gain by it.
In some ways the novel, a form of literature that followed epic, lyric, and dramatic literature by around 2,500 years, is a more contemporary art form. In the adolescent’s appreciation for what is real, what is present and now, this form of literature meets them where they are. Moby Dick has within it passages that are decidedly epic, lyric and dramatic, and in this way it encompasses all literature that has come before, but is revolutionary and new in the way that it takes them up. This is also the experience of the adolescent who is picking, choosing and recombining what she inherited, to make herself her own. The theme of independence runs through Melville’s novel, which speaks strongly to the 14 or 15-year-old who is close enough to home and school to notice the sharp contrast of moments of independence. And the young person’s desire to travel far from home is matched by Ishmael’s need to escape the weighty experience of land and go to sea. The novel also meets the adolescent’s experience of strong, dizzying waves of sympathy and antipathy. Moby Dick too is rich in polarities, Ahab’s selfishness and pride vs. Pip’s selflessness and shame, Ahab’s passionate monomania vs. Ishmael’s thoughtful open-mindedness, lulls vs. storms, descriptive passages vs. dramatic passages, the list goes on and on. In considering polarities, the adolescent’s thinking and feeling has freedom to move and to come into balance.
Melville’s novel is rich in symbols uniquely meaningful to young readers. The gold doubloon, promised to whoever spots Moby Dick, is regarded by many characters on the ship. Each view of the coin is in a way true, yet the truth lies somewhere in the combination of all points of view. This meets 14-year-olds who have an increasing appreciation for varied points of view, yet an increased interest in truth. Ishmael studies a loom on the ship used for weaving mats. Always on the lookout for meaning, Ishmael muses that fixed parts of the loom represent necessity and fate, while the moving shuttle must be free will, and Queequeg’s sword which pushes down on the weave to tighten it, chance. This is a rich subject for young people to consider as they begin to develop true freedom. Perhaps the most interesting and most elusive symbol is the white whale: A body of colorless void? An uncontrollable urge? Melville mentions that within the ocean is “the ungraspable phantom of life.” Is that it? What is it?! If you remember, becoming aware of the existence of forces one can’t understand or control is the mark of adolescence, it is what filled us with feeling and got us thinking.
When I taught the course in past years, the students’ conversations were a journey into an uncharted sea. Their writing was a kind of charting of a path of thought and feeling. Their essays were marked by strong, objective observations, clear thinking, emotional commitment, and beautiful language. To ground their thoughts and feelings, students learn how to tie knots, memorize parts of the whaling ship, chart the path of the Peaquod and work on an independent project of their own. They also spend two days at Mystic Seaport where they have an opportunity to climb rigging, row whale boats, throw harpoons, and speak to the world famous Melville scholar Mary K. Bercaw Edwards.
Lastly, Moby Dick is indeed a sophisticated read. Herman Melville’s language is elevating, and the students read it, speak it, learn it by heart, choose passages that they love, and begin to ingest it and make it all their own. Last time I taught the main lesson, we closed with a final conversation reflecting on the course where one student remarked that his own creative writing had improved during the main lesson. A girl called from across the circle, “It’s the language; it’s because of the language [of Moby Dick].”
I don’t think the ninth graders would be surprised by Philbrick’s book. Once they study Melville’s epic novel, they will have touched upon Philbrick’s ideas themselves. I did find one detail in his book that I treasure and will hold in my mind as I savor this course with the ninth graders. According to Philbrick, after Melville died his family found a piece of paper taped inside his writing desk inscribed with the words by Friedrich Schiller: “Keep true to the dreams of thy youth.”
Third Grade Farm Trip – A Parent’s Perspective
By MaryJoe Walikainen
My daughter Ava began attending Green Meadow in third grade. As if learning through play, free time outside every day, and helping out at nearby Duryea farm on Fridays weren't enough fun, she also got to spend 5 days and 4 nights with her classmates living on Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, NY.
While Ava spoke about the farm trip frequently, she began the official countdown three weeks prior. As part of the preparation for her trip, she received a packing list from her teacher. She brought it home and got right to work. She compiled all the items she’d need. One check mark went next to the items she already had on the list and put in a pile. A star went next to the few items she didn’t have and needed to get. She placed yet another mark next to each item on the list after she labeled it with her name. Then, as the departure day got closer and excitement built, she made a fresh packing list (the other one had too many marks on it) and checked off each item as she placed it in the duffle bag. The duffle bag got packed and repacked several times before leaving. I marveled at her independence as she took care of all her trip preparations herself. While packing for a trip may on the surface seem trivial, it indicates to me my changing role as she increases her self-reliance and responsibility.
Before she left on the farm trip she got a schedule outlining the activities and chores she would be able to do at the farm. She wondered what milking the cows would feel like. She questioned if she would really need to clean out the barn or, if she could skip that part. She said she wanted to get up early every day (instead of just one day as indicated on the schedule) to feed the animals. She expressed her excitement about being able to collect the eggs every day and the opportunity to learn how to make fresh butter.
While Ava had spent time away from home before, she was always with a member of her family. This trip would be her first experience without any family. Regardless, when the morning came to leave for the trip, Ava boarded the bus forgetting to say goodbye. I entered the bus to give my goodbye and found her already situated with her friends anxiously awaiting the journey. Before the trip she was able to write down a couple preferences for who she would want to bunk with while at the farm. Her teacher reassured her that at least one of her preferences would be honored. This provided a sense of comfort for Ava knowing that at least one of her closer friends would be with her. At the farm, she ended up with several of her friends bunking near her. And, she came to find through various activities at the farm that she got to know some other classmates better. This trip provided her first major experience that expanded her sense of place and belonging beyond her immediate family to include the larger class community.
One evening, Ava was particularly tired and was ready to go to bed before the rest of her classmates were ready. She struggled with deciding to either continue on with the group activities or go off to bed by herself. She ended up going to bed before the others. I believe this reinforced her trust in herself to listen to what she needs and to speak her needs even if it is difficult and unpopular. I think this experience nurtured trust in herself and was an important experience for her as she continues to navigate and explore her relationship with herself and others.
When she returned home she spoke about catching a countless number of frogs at the pond, riding a horse, going for a hike and rolling down a grassy hill, splashing around in a creek, and her rekindled love of eating sweet potatoes as well as some of the chores she got to do. She loved being able to cook soup for everyone one day. She explained that on another day she had the much less exciting job of serving and cleaning up after dinner. Then, I could feel her sense of confidence strengthening as she reported that milking the cows turned out to be fairly easy and that she was able to clean out the barn really well and take care of the smelly manure without a problem. While she didn’t articulate it directly, I know she understood through experience that some tasks are easier and more enjoyable than others and that what each person does individually helps everyone.
Being at the farm reinforced in a tangible way the lessons she had been learning all year long at school by providing positive experiences which challenged her with new tasks and opportunities. The trip provided many fertile opportunities for her to grow her confidence, independence, and sense of belonging—all in an adventurous manner, in a unique setting, among wholeheartedly supportive friends and teachers.