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

Hunts Point: From Land To Mouth

We rose before the sun, and met at the rock at 5 A.M. Fieldston was deserted; yet one classroom light was still shining. Our first stop of the day was at Hunts Estate, where a cemetery lay. Here Tess, Lena and Sam told us about "the Grange," which was the first house built in Hunts Point The cemetery held people such as Hunt, Leggetts and Willetts who influenced the development of the Bronx. After all being scared out of our minds, we got back onto the bus and proceeded to the Fulton Fish Market. Here, we were greeted by owner David Samuels, who took us inside and showed us the ENORMOUS market. The market appeared to be old fashioned in the sense that many of the workers smoked cigars/cigarettes, not worrying the health hazards. Samuels told us about how he loves the new fish market, because it is clean and efficient, but the workers hate it because there is no bar nearby or sense of place. He also explained that he paid the fisherman more for better service, and they gave him better fish in return. Before heading to the produce market, Hannah purchased 3 pounds of sea urchin for a bargain price.

Our next stop was the second largest produce market in the world. It’s the largest in America, and sells fruits and vegetables year round. The business is now run by the Katzman family. The fruits and vegetables come in from all over the world and are imported by truck, other than the potatoes which come in by train. The workers spoke a variety of languages (up to about 80) so that people from all different nationalities would feel comfortable speaking their language and interacting with others. Like the meat and fish market, there is "a consumer for every product" no matter what condition the fruits and vegetables are in. The softer, more rotten food they sell to low end super markets or restaurants that are willing to buy it for a bargain price.

After the produce market, we made our final food stop at the meat market. Here we dressed in lab coats, goggles and hairnets to go inside and see veal and lamb going through the assembly line to be sealed up and sent away. The director wanted no pictures and avoided any questions that he felt might cause problems, but he was very direct. We started at the carcasses in the back, where the animals came from farms all over the U.S. The meat was then taken to the first section where it was split by body part. From there the meat was separated, put through machines and eventually packed. Every piece of the animal was used in some way. Many of us observed that the women only worked in the back of the factory in the packaging section. It was later inferred that these jobs were the lowest paying, but our guide either wouldn’t or couldn't answer when we asked about salaries.
Before heading back to Fieldston we took a stop at Sustainable South Bronx, (SSBx) which is a non-for profit organization that works for "environmental justice and to make the South Bronx more sustainable. They told us of their project to supply the Bronx with more green roofs and to try to eliminate the pollution caused by the Hunts Point Market and the trucks going in and out all of the time. They raised extremely interesting issues about one way that poverty effects the health of the South Bronx: When these markets existed in Manhattan, the upper class was able to hire lawyers and make a case to get it moved, but the people who are in the South Bronx don’t have that power. They also don’t benefit from this market because the food is not sold in the Hunts Point neighborhood, but the residents still have to deal with the air pollution. The Bronx had the highest child asthma rate in the country due to these markets and other factors. Jacob K. pointed out the irony of having a "food desert" right next to the largest wholesale food market in the world.

To conclude the day we met with Angelo from Flik, our food service company at Fieldston. He told us that the Fieldston kitchen is almost 100% local and all of our chicken is free range. We are now a 3 star green kitchen. Most of us didn’t know how much care the staff put into our school cafeteria. Hearing about the effort put into making our kitchen as green and healthy as possible made us appreciate school food much more. Even small efforts such as encouraging students and teachers to go trayless make a big difference in the long run. It was a great way to wrap up such a great field trip because it connected everything we learned back to something very familiar to us. Waking up at 4 A.M was definitely worth it! 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

February 1st: Awesome Day at City Sem

Today, we started out with Nature in the City, which focused on the systems at Inwood Park. All of us had written short paragraphs about these systems, so we had a great in class discussion about them. We learned about the different types of relationships between organisms, including symbiotic, parasitic, competitive and mutualistic. We also listened to a great Green Guide presentation from the Starz Group, covering everything from the status of green taxis to LEED certified buildings.
We then had Morning Coffee, which is always great. Our collection of mugs is growing and we even restocked on coffees and teas! We definitely need to establish a better water refilling system though...
We then had our second Apple Core, in which we jumped right into a discussion starting with Forever. Mr. Drybala gave us a look at different ways of portraying New York City. In Forever, we picked out select quotes that illustrated geographic locations (such as the Collect and the Battery) and experiences of the early New Yorkers. We then put away our books and took a look at two poems, one of which was by Walt Whitman. The poems discussed traveling across the water and described many of the things we wrote about while at the Brooklyn Bridge. We compared our own thoughts to those of Whitman and decided on what we felt would be the most effective way to depict our perspective. We then listened to New York, I Love You, by LCD Soundsystem. This gave us a look at New York that seemed to contradict those that are presented in Forever. In Forever, New York is looked at for its potential while in New York, I Love You, New York is seen for what it once was. Both interpretations both express a deep connection with the city, but in completely different ways.
Then we got iPads! I look forward to seeing how we can use them in the field because I think they will enable us to record our experiences in ways we cannot with our placebooks.
Following this, we were presented with what would soon become our first Big Apple assignment: New York from our perspective. We watched presentations from all of the teachers that really showed all of their unique takes on the city. Senora Furfey told us about her Irish background and her love of Mexican culture. Mr. Meyers showed us a Woody Allen clip and Fantasia 2000. Ms. Banks played us Late Night with David Letterman and told stories about how she used to camp out to see it. Mr. Christiansen played us some Duke Ellington's Sounds from a Harlem Air shaft and we watched New York New York. Mr. Waldman then showed us a slideshow of his favorite parks and told us a few of us favorite stories about them. He even brought in pictures from when he was a ranger.
Great Picture By Lena!

Despite being very hungry, we all went up to the Clubhouse for Solidarity with the City. We started by defining what Solidarity meant, why the course was named that as opposed to Service with the City, and tied it all back to the Tuck article that we had read earlier. This lead to an incredible conversation, ranging from what kind of service we will be doing to what it means to be part of a community.
Then we had lunch, math or free and headed back to the clubhouse for Writing in the City. Our conversation of Forever followed the path that it has been taking the past few classes. Many people really enjoy the book, but frequently get frustrated by the mysticism or the seemingly 1-Dimensionality of the story. We still had an interesting conversation about what it is like to be stuck at 17 and what kind of relationships this allows you to have. There were a lot of disagreements regarding the roles and actions of certain characters, but I'm sure we all look forward to seeing how the story plays out.
Great day with City Sem!