Sunday, March 6, 2016

Adventures in the Lower East Side

            We met at the Horace Greeley statue park, a sweet reminder of the moments before the last day of the Warrior Vision Quest, when we were still untainted City Semester novices. This time around, however, we felt a little more like we knew what was coming, even if only to a small degree. The wind was whipping and the dark clouds were growing. We were already, unfortunately, prepared to accommodate for rushing.
            In anticipation of this trip, a self-organized tour of the Lower East Side, we all, as always, prepared group presentations. The point of the trip was to actively learn about immigration and the trying journeys that come along with it. A rather relevant theme, given that we, America, still haven’t figured out exactly how to handle it... However, our current curriculum only revolves around the first immigration wave to NYC, from mid 1800s to 1900s. Our groups’ focuses ranged from inter/intra-ethnicity behaviors and social politics, housing, culture (focus on food), economics and employment, and markets and commerce.
            While walking around, we were faced with an exemplary representation of a New York characteristic. There are so many different types of places/neighborhoods in such a small radius. Throughout the whole trip we travelled maybe a collective 1.5 miles. But, we walked through the outskirts of Chinatown, found ourselves in industrial areas, “financial” areas, and calm, well-off residential areas, to name a few.
            After a couple presentations that took place in areas students thought to be most appropriate to their topic, and after running into a Fieldston alum (Gotham class alum, no less), we made our way to a nice 10:30am dim sum lunch. Mr. Meyers claims it’s some of the best dim sum. It was the first time I’d ever had dim sum, so I concur. I will say though, that the adorable toddler who plopped down in the seat next to me also influenced my opinion. In terms of the restaurant itself, English was essentially absent; communicating with the waitresses about food was mostly a series of nods and shakes and pointing, and we only vaguely knew what we were eating. My favorite dish was a type of sweet pork(?) bun with onions and other things.
            We left and walked to our next stop, while beginning to endure the ice rain that had just started. We taught each other about the feuds between the Irish, German, Chinese and “whites”; we taught each other about the windowless tenements the immigrants attempted to cope with; the shocking conditions of the factories they worked in; newspapers that they created and propagated; the rich guys who helped them; finally, the food that they ate.
            The weather rudely prevented us from completing our journey, but we came to a pleasant end at Kossar’s Bialys and The Pickle Guys. These two shops reminisced of the community that the immigrants found in the wild and mean monster that New York could be to them. They’re quaint neighborhood spots, and both extremely welcoming to the bombarding of hungry high schoolers.

            We all then rushed home to get out of the freezing rain, and once finally dry, settled with full stomachs, tired legs and stirring minds.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Mott Haven: Trip #1

The Bronx Experience continues in City Semester. My name is Benjy (but you probably already knew that), and here's what there is to say about week number 3 of City Semester 2016. Fresh off of our experience with the Warriors Vision Quest, we started a new sort of vision quest. Mott Haven is the neighborhood of the South Bronx. Some refer to it as the "Piano District" because of its history of having piano factories. Right away, after getting off of the bus, we were greeted with an interesting opportunity. An opportunity to get a "Brazilian Butt Lift."

Brazilian Butt Lift Billboard

It was a very interesting offer... But seeing as how we had business to attend to, we passed on it. We started off visiting an old factory, so one group could present on Mott Haven's history. Prior to the trip, we were broken up into 6 groups, and we were each given one specific part of Mott Haven to research. From its history, to community projects, to gentrification, we had a lot of grounds to cover. Unfortunately, not every group got to present this time, but we will be returning there soon, so those groups will present then. Anyway, we learned about Mott Haven's history with pianos, and why it is sometimes referred to as the "Piano District." We later stopped by a restaurant that I believe was called "Charlie's." There, another group presented. An interesting topic they brought up was how not everyone in the neighborhood could afford going to that restaurant, but other richer people from other neighborhoods often came in to that restaurant. From there, we walked to some public housing locations, and another group talked to us about public housing. From there, we walked to Brook Park. There, we met Harry Bubbins. He talked to us about the park, and how it was funded, taken care of, and the Friends of Brook Park organization that he belonged to. He also gave us a sample of their own hot pepper sauce, and honey. One was very hot, the other was sweet and delicious. You can likely tell which is which. We did an activity where we sketched out the biomes and plants of the park for Mr Waldman's science class.

Rough Sketch of Brook Park plants, part of Mr. Waldman's activity for us there

After Brook Park, we went to a restaurant called "La Morada." A restaurant that was famous for a dish known as "mole." I tried it, and it was very delicious. The spanish speaking students talked a bit with a lady at the restaurant, Natalia. She told us about how she and her husband came from Oaxaca, Mexico, and how they ended up at the restaurant. As we were leaving the restaurant, we met with Michael Johnson, head of South Bronx Unite. He took us down to the waterfront to talk to us a little bit more about gentrification, and how several corporations, such as FreshDirect, are trying to use the neighborhood for projects. It was very fascinating, and very much worth talking about. Unfortunately, at that time, it had started raining very hard. We were all getting incredibly wet at that point. But regardless, after that, it was time to go. We had to make it back to school in time for our history and english classes, as this was not a full day trip. We returned. Our first trip to Mott Haven was a great time, and I am definitely looking forward to going back later! Week 3 was also supposed to be the start of Unit 2, "Immigrant Metropolis." But the true start of it felt like the week after. Mott Haven was great, regardless, and I look forward to whatever else we will be doing there.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

THE WARRIORS: The Legend of the Y Chromosomes

My feet are tired, belly was full and I had seen more of New York City in two days than I had in the 16 years of my life. We were only five days into City Semester and I had already had one of the best school experiences of my life.

On Monday we were assigned our Spirit Guides, who would be leading us through our NYC on our Vision Quest. My group, The Y Chromosomes, were assigned Herman Melville, Joseph Pulitzer, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. After lots of research and thought our group decided on the three different gifts that we would present to our guides. For Herman Melville Jeremy #1 constructed a scene from Moby Dick, his most famous book, for Joseph Pulitzer Jeremy #2 wrote a poem that summarized his life and impact, and lastly for Elizabeth Cady Stanton some bozo brought in a modern feminism starter pack that consisted of nipple pasties, and even more ridiculous Hillary Clinton propaganda. While the nipple pasties took some explaining, the gifts were eventually accepted and the first hint was given. After 10 minuets of back and fourth with our medium we finally discovered that the first place we would be visiting was The Columbia University School of Journalism, which was started by Pulitzer.

Once we arrived our medium sent us into the admissions office and told us to request a application form, so of course Jeremy #2 bursts in and announces to the head of admissions that all 5 of us high school students are applying to The Columbia School of Journalism and demands that we have 5 forms. Disclaimer: if anyone has any interest in applying, do not put write that you were in City Sem on your application because you will not get it. Anyway, after a prolonged awkward conversation we snapped this pic and got the hell out of there. (I just realized I don't have the photo, but I will try and get it and add it later).

From there we were sent to the statue in honor of Pulitzer on the south side of Central Park and asked to take a video reading a sensationalist headline. Mr. Drybala offered extra points if I read something bashing conservatives, but...

After that we were sent to a few more locations then ate lunch at AG Kitchen, where I ate the best burger of my life. The thing was a work of art. It tasted so good that it made me hate vegetarians.

After lunch we headed down to Pearl street, which Melville named after a character in the Scarlet Letter, which is a book written by Hawthorne, who was 100% Melville's gay lover. There is literally a 0% chance this is false. Anyway once we got to Pearl Street we went to Starbucks, which was named after a character in Moby Dick, and were asked to buy a Starbucks beverage to bring to the ship down the street that Melville came to America on. But I'm cheap so I got a water. Anyway we headed down to the ship and snapped some awesome pics in front of the Brooklyn bridge, which I also do not have.

Next we pretty much rapped up the day and went home to rest up for day 2. Day 2 started right near the Brooklyn bridge, which my group walked across and it was really amazing because it was cold and after rush hour so we were pretty much the only people on it, which is a rare thing. After crossing the bridge we made our way to plymouth church, where we learned about Henry Ward Bleacher and the crucial role he played in the underground rail road and the abolishment of slavery. We also learned that Walt Whitman spoke his famous "Oh Captain, My Captain" poem here after the death of Abraham Lincoln. We then head towards our second location where we met up with Ms. Oberman-Breindel aka Ms. OB aka HOB aka the Hobbit. Next instead of going to our third location we went to go get pancakes, which in hindsight, while they were amazing was a bad idea because I was already stuffed for the Russian food. Anyway, while we were at the pancake place Jeremy #2 just out of nowhere asks HOB to get a beer with him. To Ms. OB's credit she handled it really well, but that doesn't take away from how awkward it was.

After finishing our food we made our way to Coney Island to close out the trip. We walked down the board walk to Tatiana's, a Russian restaurant that got a C from the health inspection that doubles as a strip club at night, but that also may have fed me the best meal of my life.

All in all, it was an amazing experience that I will never forget that set the bar really high for City Sem, so from now on I am expecting nothing but excellence from this course.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Our Day at SSBx

City Semester’s day started out in Nature with Mr. Waldman, where we had an interesting conversation about sustainability and resources. We had all researched a particular research on, and some had a chance to present to the class. After science, we walked outside to the rock to await our bus to Sustainable South Bronx. Unfortunately, it was nowhere in sight, and we had to wait for about 20 minutes. However, after a late start, the day went smoothly. We arrived at SSBx at 10, and were welcomed warmly by Nina and Miranda.
            We had been wondering why exactly tree guards were needed, and that was the first thing they addressed. Miranda explained that it wasn’t just to prevent trucks from hitting the trees; people often throw trash, walk on the soil, and train their dogs on the trees, causing the bark to get scratched off and the tree to die. Tree guards will protect the trees, and the signage we make will help make the neighborhood understand the importance of the trees. We also discussed the idea of community involvement and ownership of the project. Upon urging from Rachel, Danny read a paragraph that he, AJ, Jacob, and Kate wrote, describing the project and our goals. After our brief discussion, we left SSBx to take a walk around Hunts Point and find locations for tree guards.
            It was cold and rainy, but we braved the weather and walked through a community park near SSBx. There, we saw examples of tree guards and litter surrounding many trees.
Photo credit to Tashi

We split up into three groups to evaluate nearby blocks and their need for tree guards. My group went to Costner Street. It was a residential, low-traffic street with 39 trees. Many had well-maintained iron tree guards, but were still littered on. The group came to a consensus that it was not a priority to build tree guards on Costner Street, since the neighborhood seemed to be able to maintain the trees fairly well on its own. We returned to SSBx for lunch and met up with the other groups, who had gone to Bryant Street and Menida Street, to compare notes. Jeremy and Jacob H. reported on Costner Street. Ruby reported that Menida Street was close to a school, but its trees were mostly full grown and did not need protection, and Erika told us that Bryant Street had young trees which were getting damaged, and was near the school we want to work with. In a nearly unanimous vote, we decided to make building tree guards on Bryant Street a priority.
            Next, we discussed what kind of signage to put on the trees. We decided to use the laser cutter that SSBx has in their Fab Lab, and make stencils for neighborhood children to paint in. Finally, we arranged for our upcoming visit on March 14th, and chose group members to communicate with SSBx. We said goodbye to Miranda and Nina, and boarded the bus for Fieldston.
            We arrived with seconds to spare before H Band, and many of us sprinted for math. In math, we watched an interesting movie about natural resource consumption, which was very relevant to our discussions in Nature about sustainability. After math, a few members of City Semester (including me) went to rehearsal for Cabaret, and the rest went to English to discuss our new book Netherland. All in all, it was an great day in City Semester.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

Just a Regular Monday? I Think Not...

The day started off like any other Monday, a free first period. As per my natural instinct, Jennie, my fellow H band free-er, texted me if I would like to join her in the clubhouse. For those of you who don’t utilize clubhouse, you truly are missing out on the possibilities. Not only are there two massive comfy couches, but also a coffee machine, smartboard, and speakers. Now you ask, what can you do with all of these things? A personal movie theater with free coffee. Yes I said it. Free coffee (tuition not included). And you can even put your feet up without getting yelled at by the moviegoer in the seat in front of you! After completing the last bit of a homework assignment, we started up the movie theater production, Andy Meyers in the mix. Netflix is the website of choice. We finally decided on Ally Mcbeal, highly recommend for those who don't watch. We also discussed last nights Oscars- Rooney Mara looked drop dead gorgeous while Meryl Streep, no matter how much we love her, was wearing a dress that yelled 'Hi, I’m an old lady'.

After a mug of earl gray tea and a daily dose of Ally Mcbeal and celebrity gossip, we headed to Upper School Meeting in support of our fellow citysembers (City Semester members) Tess (sporting an adorable new bob) and Charlie. The meeting was planned to get people hype and create awareness about the cause, and to gain volunteers to come to the Special Olympics event, Saturday march 4th (come if you can! Highly recommended. Life hanging experience noted by Kevin Fich).

After the assembly we gathered in the clubhouse for some more academic time. The class was spent finalizing discussion ideas for our initial meeting with Sustainable South Bronx, an organization

we are working with to create tree guards for the newly planted air purifying systems known as trees. The project involves coordinating with the local community, fundraising, if possible, $10,000 for the materials, building and installing wood and steel guards, and designing the signage around them. This project has been much debated about due to our dedication. The argument arouse over the discontinuation of our original solidarity projects, which were to work individually with an organization or possibly create your own organization to create change in a subject of your own choosing. Another highlight of the debate is whether or not some people are doing the project to do just do the physical work or to actually create a connection with SSBx and join the cause, a topic that had been previously discussed in solidarity class before this debate even took place. In today’s class we split up into our original groups, mine being Project Outreach, and discussed what we will present to SSBx about reaching out to the Hyde School, a local high school in the South Bronx that we would like to get involved in the project with us.

Biana writing the meeting's agenda

After Solidarity, we split off into our math or free period- I had math. A typical day in math speaking about second differences in arithmetic sequences. A quote from my teacher, Mr. Anhalt, that I would like to share with the world is this: “It's like mental math, but you don't have to think about it.” Just some food for thought...

After sending a fellow citysember off to the cafeteria for some bananas, apples, and peanut butter to hold us off until lunch while I saved her a seat on the couch, we started the first day of Settlement in the third unit- Immigration. A very un-Fieldston un-progressive class occurred: Andy lecturing us on his theory of why New York was an immigrant metropolis. He spoke about the Cholera outbreak and Croton Aqueduct, the subway systems of New York, and the Erie Canal.

After Settlement we headed to Science, where we continued our discussion on carbon footprints versus ecological footprints. We also analyzed the idea that had been brought up last week about comparing how many earths it would take if everybody lived like the USA does compared to another country such as Colombia (click Ecological Footprint Calculator if you would like to compare for yourself). We also watched a few minutes of a movie that went into more depth about the ecological footprint of the United States versus other countries including China, Japan, and Australia.

Following lunch, we headed to our respective language classes- mine being Spanish. We participated in our weekly ritual of going for a walk before class to get our bodies and minds moving (double period at the end of the day, it gets rough) and observed a new pizarra (blackboard) located in the center of an outdoor classroom behind the biblioteca (library). In a few weeks we plan to return there for classes! In class we split into pairs and analyzed bits of Micos en el Polo by Jorge Franco Ramos. The book is about a man named Marlon and his immigration story from Colombia to New York and the life he leads there. (Notice how it all connects to immigration, eh?)

Oh boy, that was a long day! How about another one tomorrow! Now that’s the City Semester Attitude!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My NY Project

Hey everyone, I know that today's Gender Day played some tricks with the schedule, so I wanted to bring people up to date on how to get the 'My NY' project to me.  At some point tomorrow, bring the project to Mr. Meyer's office or to me (my office is room 133).  We'll discuss them on Wednesday.  If you have an electronic project (i.e., photos or film in a file), try to burn it onto a CD, DVD, or a flash drive and get that to me with the write-up.

Thanks and e-mail me with any questions.

Monday, February 13, 2012

From the Ground Up: Student and Teacher Make the Rules Together at City Semester

Today there were no field trips, no special guests, no scavenger hunts around Fieldston in search of the secret tunnels. Nope, today was just a regular day of school, complete with classes, lunch, and the rest of the student body to socialize with. And yet, today wasn't a regular day of school. It was still a City Semester day, through and through.

A regular day wouldn't have students help make the rules about scheduling, or on an upcoming assessment. And yet, that was the core of today: the students didn't become teachers as much as become autonomous in multiple situations. I was reminded again and again of how progressive this program is, as my preconceived notions on what constitutes as an "education" were stretched and expanded and twisted and flipped upside-down.

It all started with me sitting in assembly. I was thoroughly enjoying the hilarious and heartfelt kick-off to foreign language week (that Chinese music video had me in stitches) when Erika turned to me with a text from Bianca, telling us that we had Morning Coffee, and NOT Upper School Meeting. Confused because none of us had been notified beforehand, Hannah, Erika and I made our way to the Clubhouse, where they were--sure enough-discussing the protocol for subsequent Upper School Meetings. Yet it wasn't Mr. Meyers explaining the "rules"; instead, it was the students and teachers working together to come up with a proposal, one that would respect both the idea of City Semester as an "abroad" program as well as the fact that City Semester students do work with Fieldston outside of the City Semester program. This is what's so cool about City Semester: How trusting the teachers are with students to make decisions on scheduling and programming, that our opinions, after being in the Upper School for 3-to-4 years, are valid and hold weight.

After Morning Coffee was Solidarity in the City, in which we did a reflective dialogue activity which combined our recent readings (Eve Tuck, "Ethics of Indifference", "Remember the Lobster") with our trip to Hunt's Point. We all chose a quote from one of the readings and responded to it with a few ideas/anecdotes/opinions relevant to our trip. Then we swapped papers and responded to someone else's quote and response, and so on and so forth. The exercise was an interesting way to think about last week's trip, and helped me take what we had learned in class and apply it.

After Solidarity, we had History and Science. In these classes, the students were told to come up, as a collective, with questions we felt needed to be addressed in the upcoming Big Apple assessment and tasks with which we would address these questions. A very large list was generated, and yet again we witnessed the power of City Semester: We weren't so much learning facts and figures but instead we were discussing what the best way was to learn these facts and figures. Students discussed the merits of group work versus individual assessment, and our ideas ranged from historical biographies of food to proposals for a new fish market. It was made clear to us that we needed to include history and science in some way, and in Mr. Waldman's class, we discussed how we include science in our projects, be it quantitative, through laws, or explaining the physical systems.

Then was lunch (and senior portraits for Hannah and I!), followed by language. I sadly had to leave EspaƱol early due to the Championship Swim Meet, but when I left, we were going over the "doubts/disbelief" section of the subjunctive, which was to be followed by what I'm sure was an awesome food party.

Overall, today was a day that really made me think about how we view education, assessment, and the student's role in the classroom. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?!?!

Matt Gottesfeld