Inspiring Service: Jake Bliss ’93

With Moses Brown students having just returned from their annual March DR trip, we’d like to share a beautiful piece that young alumna Kayla Imperatore ’12 wrote about Jake Bliss ’93, who passed away in the fall of 2012. Jake worked with Kayla and other MB alumni leading trips to the Dominican Republic with his sister Molly ’86. After MB, Jake attended Yale, then went on to get his M.D. from Tulane and become an orthopedic surgeon. Jake was a lifelong Quaker who generously donated his time to helping the homeless of Santa Barbara, California and migrant Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic. As we reflect on the work MB students did in the DR this year, we remember Jake’s work and impact, still felt. In fact, an award is now in place at MB, in Jake’s name. Two students will be selected each year in honor of Jake and his commitment to adventurous service. Here, Kayla shares with us what it was like to meet and know Jake:

Image“I met Jake the first morning of our medical service trip in the Dominican Republic. He was tall with red hair and a scruffy red beard. He was one of the doctors on the trip and was with his sister, Molly, another doctor, and his best friend, Jesse. Watching Jake walk to his seat on the bus, I noticed there was something off about him; his walk was normal but slow, almost robotic in a way. His voice, like his walk, was also noticeably slower than normal. I have to admit, his actions startled me but also intrigued me at the same time. I wanted to what caused him to speak this way, and I quickly found out the reason. As he sat down on the bus, he introduced himself. ‘Hello everybody, my name is Jake,’ he said in a slow but deep voice. ‘You may wonder why I talk funny,’ he joked. ‘I was diagnosed with ALS, also know as Lou Gehrig’s disease,’ he continued. The fact that he was so up-front about his disease and even joked about it, instantly comforted us. Jake explained that he used to work as an orthopedic surgeon, but could no longer operate because his hands were too weak. He was here on the service trip because it was something he had always wanted to do. Later, I found out that his friend Jesse had taken the year off from work to be with Jake, to travel and to accomplish tasks on his bucket list. They had already been on some crazy adventures like sky-diving, and now they were on to the next task on the list: joining a group of ten Moses Brown students, Dominican doctors, American doctors, and translators to set up medical clinics in the poor villages of La Romana.

“Being in the company of Jake became very special, as he made each person he talked to feel important. He always told stories about his days as a surgeon, usually in a gory, sarcastic way that made us cringe and laugh at the same time. Each morning it took about an hour on the bus to get to the poor villages where we set up the clinics, and each day he tried to sit next to someone different. Though the bus rides were long, they were always entertaining in the presence of Jake. It wasn’t until I worked with Jake though, that I truly understood him.

“My job was to be Jake’s scribe. He was the doctor, and I watched him and took notes as he observed the patient. I wrote Imagedown everything Jake told me; the symptoms, diagnosis, and suggested treatment for the patient. I also helped the translator, Juan Carlos, because his English was in its beginning stages and he often needed help understanding what Jake was saying. Juan Carlos then translated Jake’s questions into Spanish so that the patient could understand. After seeing a few patients, Jake began to ask me if I could come up with a diagnosis after seeing the symptoms, or what medications I would recommend. I wasn’t always right, but I felt so appreciative that he trusted me and wanted my opinion, even though he was the doctor. I remember for one patient, Jake was listening to a woman’s lungs through his stethoscope and he asked me to come listen. ‘Here,’ he said, handing me his stethoscope. The sound through the stethoscope was raspy and coarse. ‘Now listen to my lungs,’ he said, turning around so I could put the stethoscope on his back. ‘Do you hear how wheezy her lungs sound compared to my lungs?’ he asked. I was so excited and so grateful that he trusted me, and went out of his way to teach me as he tried to help his patients. Even though I was just a scribe, I felt so much more important in that moment.

“After each patient, I would grab my Purell bottle and put a small dollop in my hands and then hand the bottle over to Jake. As the bottle became almost empty, Jake struggled to squeeze the liquid out and joked at the condition of his disease, ‘You know it’s bad when I don’t even have the strength to squeeze a Purell bottle anymore.’  His sister Molly overheard him and gave him a disapproving look. ‘My sister doesn’t like when I say things like that,’ he explained jokingly. I laughed, but I couldn’t help but think about how Molly felt whenever her brother joked about his deteriorating condition.

“Later that day, Jake and I worked on the worst case of the week; an elderly man with a severe form of gangrene on his leg, which might have needed to be amputated. Since the case was so bad, the other doctors had to assist us. My job was to hold all of the materials and to write down the diagnosis and treatment of the patient. The smell was so bad that we had to rub minty Vaseline-Imagelike gel under our noses to resist the putrid smell. Since Jake could not perform the procedure on this patient, he calmly and confidently directed his sister Molly and his friend Jesse as they took over for him. Though the sight and the smell of the procedure was enough to make someone want to look away, I was mesmerized by Jake’s positive spirit.  He was unable to do the procedure himself, but he told jokes and entertained us the whole time.

“I admired Jake’s ability to just enjoy the moment; to laugh, to take risks, and to make others smile. I am a person who overthinks everything, who worries constantly about things beyond her control, who often thinks about the negative things before the positive. Therefore, I appreciated Jake’s ability to let go of his worries; to know that he may not have much longer in the future, but at least he has now. I think back to that life-changing time spent in the Dominican Republic and even though I only knew Jake for a week, he came into my life for a reason. I needed someone to show me the importance of the present, of being happy, smiling, laughing, learning, helping others, taking risks, of feeling free of any stress or worry. To this day, living in the moment and not letting my worries dictate my happiness has been a struggle. In some ways, these worries help me to achieve success and to have a determined work ethic. However, I often struggle to enjoy my moments of success, and instead find myself thinking about what I must accomplish next.

“The combination of helping the Dominicans in need and being around Jake’s lively, positive spirit made me so incredibly happy. I don’t really know the words to explain the feeling that I had while I was in the Dominican Republic. All at once, I felt relaxed, Imagepure, happy, and passionate for life – a feeling I had never really experienced before. Amazed by Jake’s ability to live in the moment instead of dwelling on how much more the future might hold for him, a part of me changed. I have always heard people say the clichéd expression ‘life is short,’ but being in Jake’s presence gave the expression a new meaning. Sure, life really is short, but it’s what you decide to do with it that matters most.”

Kayla Imperatore, MB Class of 2012, is now a student at Northeastern University. “My trip to the DR changed my life and so did my time with Jake and Molly,” Kayla says. She continues to return to the Dominican Republic every year and is even thinking about working there for her four-month Northeastern co-op. Kayla made her fourth trip to the DR in March.

 

Each one teach one: music to Steve Toro’s ears

Each one teach one. It was beautiful to see that philosophy in action, as our students realized they could teach and become mentors so easily.”

At the heart of Moses Brown’s faculty cohort system are cohort projects, each teacher’s big idea for personal research to be shared in the classroom. Instrumental Music Director Steve Toro’s project turns music students into teachers, with the philosophy of “each one teach one.”

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When Steve Toro arrived in 1995, Moses Brown’s music program was limited to chorus and handbells. There was no formal instrumental music program: “I had six kids,” he recalls. Two decades later, instrumental music is thriving: over 200 lower, middle and upper school students take part in nine instrumental ensembles, student-run groups, winter and spring concerts, overnight music trips, private lessons, MB Rocks and the Student Performing Arts Festival.

Last spring, MB parent Wendyll Brown told Steve about San Miguel School, where she was a mentor. An independent boys’ Lasallian school for grades 5-8, the school had reached its 20th anniversary with an excellent record of achievement, but had no music program. How could they get one going?

Steve visited San Miguel and saw both the need and the potential. He met with school leadership and offered to volunteer with their fifth graders a few times a month, with the ultimate goal of starting a school band. The task was considerable, Steve knew: “At Moses Brown, we start instrumental music in third grade. Mary Pollart teaches our lower school students to read music and play the recorder. At San Miguel, I’d have to teach what Mary does, before I could build it to the next level.”

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A few weeks after he began at San Miguel, Steve’s faculty cohort launched its year of collaboration and evaluation. “I knew right away what my cohort project had to be,” he says. He proposed to design an instrumental music program at San Miguel School, beginning with a fifth-grade curriculum of elementary music theory and recorder, evaluating student achievement by class performance and written testing. Steve would bring MB students to San Miguel with a “traveling instrument petting zoo,” demonstrating instruments. Reciprocally, the San Miguel students would visit MB’s ensemble class. Students from both schools would benefit from performance-based interaction with their peers.

San Miguel’s music program launched in September. Steve met with the fifth grade twice a month, as much as his schedule allowed. By February, the boys were ready to host the MB students: beginning and advanced lower school wind ensemble and middle school jazz band. “They played their recorders for us, and asked us to play for the whole school. I told our students, ‘here’s your chance to inspire these brand new musicians, kids your age,’” Steve recalls. “And it worked! The San Miguel students listened intently. The next time I saw them, they were ready with a list of the instruments they wanted to learn to play.”

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More opportunities for growth and mentoring came on March 12, when the San Miguel fifth graders visited Moses Brown. They spent over an hour with an upper school wind ensemble. After enjoying the wind ensemble’s performance of Cuban dances – one with a salsa beat – the San Miguel boys broke into groups to try out the instruments they’d chosen, guided by the MB students. “Each one teach one,” Steve says. “It was beautiful to see that philosophy in action, as the MB students realized they could teach and become mentors so easily.” The upper school students’ proud encouragement matched the pure delight on the youngest faces. Over lunch, the San Miguel boys got reacquainted with the lower and middle school students they’d hosted in February.

Video: MB musicians introduce San Miguel students to their instruments

Where does San Miguel’s music program go after its successful first year? “I hope I can continue to work with them,” Steve says. “The physical setting of San Miguel is different from Moses Brown, but the eagerness of the San Miguel students to learn and become young musicians is equal to that of my MB students. It’s an absolute joy to teach in both settings.” His larger goal of building an instrumental music program at San Miguel will take time, given the challenges of providing music lessons and time for frequent, consistent practice.

Yet thanks to Steve’s cross-divisional approach to the project, and MB’s commitment to service learning, several students want to keep working with the San Miguel boys. “I didn’t need to ask my students to volunteer. They said ‘I’ll do it! I’ll teach!’” A long-term partnership may have begun. “I’ll tell my San Miguel students, ‘if you make the commitment to practice and learn, we’ll get you an instrument of your own.’” A former MB family has donated a collection of instruments to this effort.

MB lower and middle school students have benefited from the exchange of visits with San Miguel, including a rare performance opportunity at a school different from their own. The enthusiastic response of the upper school musicians to each one teach one could open new doors for all.

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Moses Brown’s faculty cohort system is a professional development and evaluation program for veteran teachers. Evoking our commitment to lifelong learning, a year of transformational study launches a five-year cycle of professional development. A cohort of teachers drawn from all three divisions sets goals, serves as resources for one another’s evaluations and shares professional development plans at year’s end. At the heart of the program are cohort projects, each teacher’s big idea for personal research to be shared in the classroom. The benefit to students is clear: teachers are continuously engaged in deepening their expertise, refining their curriculum, bringing the latest research back to the classroom and partnering with colleagues to improve the learning experience. A pilot cohort of six faculty began work in 2011-12, and a second group of sixteen followed in 2012-13. This year’s seventeen have already integrated their cohort projects into their curricula.

Mindfulness and reading: a natural fit for Maureen Nagle

20130501_MB _085_P1At the heart of Moses Brown’s faculty cohort system are cohort projects, each teacher’s big idea for personal research to be shared in the classroom. Maureen Nagle’s project merges mindfulness with reading in a way that perfectly fits Moses Brown.

In recent years, middle school English teacher Maureen Nagle observed that books were losing the battle for her students. “They’d say, ‘I just don’t have time to read!’” Maureen laments, “but while it made me cringe, I really couldn’t blame them.” Students’ days and nights are over-filled with homework, after-school and weekend enrichment activities, and pressure to stay connected through social media. Seized with the desire to make independent reading more personal and inspirational, Maureen and her colleagues launched the CARS (Conversations Around Reading Sessions) program in 2013. Students meet monthly in mixed-grade groups of seven or eight to talk about their favorite books, with a simple, hands-on activity as catalyst.

20130501_MB _055_P1Yet Maureen felt a stronger connection could be forged between independent reading and Moses Brown’s Quaker principles. In this and many Friends schools, meetings and classes start with some silence. Maureen experimented with beginning each English class with ten minutes of silent independent reading. “Reading prepares the mind for learning,“ Maureen found. “It completes the transition from social setting to learning environment. It’s changed the class experience.” This shared experience of reading builds community and, like mindfulness, offers a refuge from technology-driven routines. “Kids don’t have enough time to read,” she says, “but we can give them ten minutes a day.”

20130501_MB _031_P1This success inspired Maureen’s cohort project proposal: to develop and integrate a mindfulness curriculum into the classroom. Her study and research included an online mindfulness course, collaboration with MB librarian Anne Krive, and developing her own use of mindfulness through weekly meditation practice with other faculty and staff. She introduced mindfulness on September’s team trip, and redesigned a poetry unit to incorporate mindfulness exercises.

20130501_MB _054_P1“More than any form of literature, poetry has the power to activate our senses well beyond what we can only see,” Maureen says. “Students sometimes have the misconception that there is only one type of imagery: visual imagery. To encourage students to explore a variety of imagery in their own poetry, I introduced a ‘mindful eating’ exercise. We sat in a circle, passed around a bowl of clementines and spent an entire class period examining the color, texture, fragrance, taste of the fruit, even the sensation as we swallowed. The kids loved it and surprised me: one student held a segment of the clementine up to the window, commenting about how the light shone through to illuminate the inner fibers of the fruit, while another chimed in that the outer peel smelled like…onions!”

She adds, “An intentional benefit of the mindful eating lesson is a heightened awareness of our own relationship with food. Slowing down the eating process added an element of frustration for many of the kids. Amidst the laughter and occasional moaning (‘Can we just eat it already?’), we discussed how slowing down a process that we typically rush creates a richer, more meaningful experience – which we can apply to reading and writing poetry.”

Building an affinity for lifelong learning is part of the mission at Moses Brown. “We have to understand the reality of kids’ busy lives, the competition for their attention. When it comes to their reading, we’ll be relentlessly supportive.“ Teachers and librarians can help students build the resourcefulness and confidence to choose their own books, and be readers for life. “If they continue to build their love for reading in the middle school years, they can become lifelong readers.”

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Moses Brown’s faculty cohort system is a professional development and evaluation program for veteran teachers. Evoking our commitment to lifelong learning, a year of transformational study launches a five-year cycle of professional development. A cohort of teachers drawn from all three divisions sets goals, serves as resources for one another’s evaluations and shares professional development plans at year’s end.

At the heart of the program are cohort projects, each teacher’s big idea for personal research to be shared in the classroom. The benefit to students is clear: teachers are continuously engaged in deepening their expertise, refining their curriculum, bringing the latest research back to the classroom and partnering with colleagues to improve the learning experience. A pilot cohort of six faculty began work in 2011-12, and a second group of sixteen followed in 2012-13. This year’s seventeen have already integrated their cohort projects into their curricula.

Straight talk on industrialization

by Grace F., grade 9

DSC_5150In our ninth grade world history class, we just finished a unit on industrialization’s effects on people. Three groups in our class worked on different topics: child labor in India, working conditions in Bangladesh and pollution in China. After we finished these projects, we were able to Skype with a political officer working for the State Department, James P. Feldmayer. JP works at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. During our Skype conversation, we asked him questions on our topics.

The group working on China asked about carbon emissions and pollution and JP explained to us how we all play a role in China’s pollution. He used the example of a pen; we want that pen to be cheap and in order to pay as little as possible for it, it needs to be manufactured cheaply. So it is a shared responsibility that we have. He told us that in order to stop carbon emissions, we all have to be willing to change our carbon footprint, to make better choices for the environment.

DSC_5135One topic JP talked to us about stood out to me: the social media advantage we have today. With one well-crafted message, we can raise awareness of these human rights issues. He also talked to us about how people working in harsh conditions or sending their children to work need to do this in order to make money; they send their children to work just so they can get by on a dollar or two a day. He told us that we have to help these people and try to understand their motives before we try to change them. JP taught us that if we work towards helping these people, we know we are heading in the right direction when we start by focusing on smaller issues, those that apply to every individual.

DSC_5152This Skype conversation was an amazing experience and has inspired me to work towards helping people who are experiencing these issues. It is by far the highlight of my year!

 

Bonjour Quebec!

By Jerrett Wilson, world languages

In February, sixteen upper school students visited our Francophone neighbor to the north — Quebec. My fellow world languages teacher Maureen Berger and I accompanied them. 185

Students honed their curling skills, visited the largest winter sports facility in North America, looked down from a 275 ft. waterfall, and even got a chance to show their line dancing skills. 117Of course, we still had plenty of time to learn all about the history of Quebec City.

We stayed at the Hotel Clarendon, within the old city. The weather was not bad for this time of year: highs in the mid-30s, and lows in the low-20s. We enjoyed the local cuisine at Restaurant d’Orsay, La cabane à Pierre and Le cochon dinge, where we ate a traditional quebecois breakfast: fruit, croissants, eggs and hot chocolate.  065La cabane à Pierre is a family-owned restaurant in the countryside. It was an authentic “country” experience: while we ate, two musicians played the fiddle and sang for us. After we finished our meal, they played songs for line dancing, and the students even participated in a limbo contest!

This type of practical learning experience is a valuable part of our students’ language learning, and we are looking into making it an annual event within the MB TRIPs initiative.

Rediscovering… Picasso!

By Elena Peterson, upper school Spanish

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Making Cubist portraits

We started our unit on Picasso just like last year. After covering his life, paintings, periods, technique, we watched a documentary about his life and works and students were able to make connections with other subjects. I thought: “This is it: connections.” This is what every teacher hopes for at the end of a lesson to do with History, Art and Spanish.

This year, I was able to bring in an artist so students could become hands-on “Cubist painters” for a day. The class experienced and produced some fun and creative Cubist works and reflected more deeply on Picasso. I felt this was the time when they became masters for a day. Students made Dani_03quick portraits of each other and drew one another in a Cubist fashion following our guest´s prompts. (photo above)

We then decided to get to know Picasso more in-depth and I asked the class: “How about designing a Cubist collage to express an idea in a Cubist manner?” Cathy Van Lancker and I met a couple of times regarding materials students could use, a Walk Gallery for their collages, etc. The new artists created very interesting compositions. La cara importante de las cosas (The important face of things), Autorretrato (Self-portrait), El ojo de Dios (God´s Eye) amongst many others. Daniel W. created an impressive and highly detailed Cubist collage of Napoleon. (photo right)

Recently, our unit culminated in a visit to the RISD Museum. We admired some of the RISDartists who influenced Picasso´s work, his own paintings and post-Picasso works. Someone accompanying us through the museum commented “I am impressed on how much the students already know!”

We learned there is a little bit of Picasso in all of us and that our lessons as teachers are rediscovered every year thanks to our own students.