Create, explore, improve: inspiring senior projects

“Building on their Moses Brown experience, seniors design a project that exemplifies their passions and demonstrates academic curiosity, physical ability and creative problem solving, or one which addresses an issue in our school or  community and improves the situation.”   – Laurie Center, academic dean

Christopher '14  works on his electric Audi TT.

Christopher ’14 works on his electric Audi TT.

The senior project is a capstone experience beyond the classroom with a focus on independent inquiry and personal growth. May 15 through June 2, working at least 25 hours a week with on- and off-campus advisors, seniors challenge themselves with creative pursuit, career exploration, or community service. A written reflection and fifteen-minute panel presentation are the culminating opportunity to share.

The class of 2014 is engaged in a wide variety of projects. Creative endeavors include original works of art, music, film and fiction, as well as projects that combine art forms. Design thinking is at work in projects that imagine, build or restore. Service projects dedicate personal passions to the community’s need. Internships and job-shadows provide insight to future paths. Finally, several projects demonstrate the affection members of the class feel for each other, and for Moses Brown.

Here’s a highly arbitrary selection of fascinating senior projects:

  • develop, write and create a graphic novel
  • rebuild and refurbish a 1970’s motorcycle
  • research three decades of the relationship between stock market indices, commodity prices and weather patterns around the world using statistical data analysis techniques
  • intern with a chef, professional baker and caterer to create menus and meals
  • write, act in, direct and produce a short film featuring Quakerman, a pacifist superhero
  • compose, play and record original music
  • intern with a glass blower to learn how to craft blown glass art
  • complete a Wilderness First Responder course and shadow doctors at the National Institute of Health Clinical Center in Washington, D.C.
  • write, film, edit and produce an online mini-series set in Providence
  • preserve the history of the Narragansett Boating Club, archiving photographs and artifacts, gathering oral history and chronicling the results
  • design, build and launch a functional wooden rowboat
  • experiment and create prototypes demonstrating how hydrogen could be a sustainable energy source
  • take EMT training and volunteer at Rhode Island Hospital
  • intern with a Rhode Island gubernatorial campaign
  • interview and film classmates and their senior projects-in-process, culminating in an all-inclusive movie
  • research and plan an orientation for Moses Brown’s rising ninth graders that includes a cyber safety expert, a drug and alcohol safety expert, and the Student Leadership Training Program






How should we represent stewardship in a mural?

FriendsPanelBelow is a letter that Galen McNemar Hamann, MB’s Director of Friends Education and Service Learning, recently sent out to the community of Friends, as part of a collaboration with a middle school visual arts class. Those invited were asked to offer a brief description of the stewardship testimony, the ways in which they try to live this testimony, and to answer questions from the students. Stay tuned for more on this project as instructor Cathy Van Lanker’s eighth grade students progress on their mural project.


For the last four years the 8th grade class has designed a collaborative ceramic mural to represent one of Friends’ Testimonies. These four murals now hang in our middle school to offer us a daily reminder of Friends’ Testimonies and how we might live our lives as a community. Cathy Van Lanker uses this unit to teach both art and Friends education. The testimony that the students will represent in 2014 is stewardship.

This year we are designing it as a project-based learning unit as well.  Our driving questions are What are the essential elements of the testimony of stewardship? How do we convey the testimony of stewardship to others through a ceramic wall mural? How do we use the mural to deepen individual and community understanding of the testimony? How is each student represented in one mural?

Part of the PBL model is incorporating student’s inquiry into the process. We hoped by hosting a panel discussion of experts — Friends and MB sustainability committee members — the students would be able to hear directly about the testimony of stewardship in the life of Friends and our school.

Different ages, same classroom: poetry collaborations



In the last few months, a plethora of cross-divisional collaborations expanded Moses Brown’s annual visiting poet events, which welcomed former U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine and Rhode Island Poet Laureate Rick Benjamin on May 1. Upper, middle, and lower school students explored Levine’s poems and themes together, wrote original poems and forged new friendships. “Our poetry initiative resonates with Moses Brown’s Quaker philosophy,” says Ransom Griffin, English teacher and project director. “It manifests the interplay of art and science in the pursuit of personal understanding, communal responsibility and the ‘third way,’ the synthesis that may be forged between two opposing extremes, in all human endeavors.”

Tommy Chase, Leiton Kraut (brown-haired little boy), Gerry Gagnon (blond) and Mark BucknamIn February Abby Phyfe’s freshmen worked with her AP seniors to study Philip Levine’s poetry and to write about “the overlooked” as he does.

Crossword by Will ’14

A stocky 23-year-old collapses

onto the couch, crossword in hand, mind

whirring like conveyor belt gears.

He sinks into the cushions and releases

a sigh, expelling the five-day work weeks

that have chipped away his adolescence.

You see an average college guy, chest

chiseled like a weather-beaten

statue, skin tanned like the skin

of your friend who lounged in Florida

over spring break. But the skin of

your cousin, here, was bronzed

in Western Pennsylvania. His muscles

were fleshed out on factory floors, heaving

boxes of glass onto truck after truck that

he watched roll out of town. Your cousin grew

those quarter-sized calluses for his mother, divorced

and unemployed, unable to puzzle out the answer.

Your cousin snatched the steady paycheck,

running in place

while his little brother studied abroad.

Millions of boxes later, he returned to college, though

he lives a half hour away and commutes from home

to save costs. You read his Facebook post,

a straight A transcript, as he declares

“look who’s still got it,” a coyote howl

to the blissfully ignorant world. You watch him

here, an intent surgeon dissecting the

clues, pen tapping with mechanical purpose. But

he stops short at 21-across, frowning. When

you leave he smiles warmly and waves

from the couch, but as you accelerate away

he is staring at the crossword, stuck.


In April, the freshmen helped fourth graders write poems about what we take for granted, considering all they’ve learned from their Kenyan buddies. Here are some from Elizabeth Grumbach’s class.

Conserve Water by Harry

Water keeps us going. If we didn’t have it none of us would be here

I take advantage of water

I get it from a bubbler

It’s amazing

You walk half a mile to get it from a river or well.

Here, it just magically appears

I don’t like that.

Why can’t we conserve water like you?

Same and Different by Sadie

We are different

You walk far to get water under the hot sun

I walk to a sink to get water under a roof

You have some school materials

I have so much I cannot keep track of it all

You help plant, help grow, help harvest your food

I get most of my food at a large store

You feed many animals

I just feed my dog

You live in a warm place

I live in a colder place

But I realize

And I hope you realize too

That we are not that different

We both

Have a home

Have a sister to play with

Have survived 10 long years

Get to go to school

And have

Each other to talk to

Water by Brigid

I’m home from school.

My mom calls

“Fill up a pot of water

for dinner.”

Kenyan buddy home from school.

Her mom calls

“Please get some water

for dinner.”

I go to the sink

Fill up a pot of water

I put the pot

back on the counter

ready for my mom

to put it on the stove.

Kenyan buddy puts shoes

back on.

Walks out the door.

Goes back in to get

big yellow container.

Walks out again.




finally at

the bore hole.


the bucket down




by a string.

Bucket filling,

as heavy

as a rock

Pull it up.




back home

balancing container

on head.

Back at home.

Pouring water into

Putting pot

near open

cooking fire.

We are


but we are


What Does Matter? by Jaden

Education can be many things

a future

a job

a life

It doesn’t matter about the materials

the clothes

the building

their life

What they teach can be unique and wonderful




Where you are

Is a non-mattering factor.

Chebuyusi, Kenya

Providence, Rhode Island

Who you are

Is what matters

The Necessity of One Drop by Casey

A turn for me

Is a pull for you.

What I waste,

You nurture.

A cup from the drawer for me

A bucket down the bore hole for you.

I don’t realize

How much I waste

Until I think of you.

Although we may have differences

We both rely on the necessity of one drop,


Lenke Wood’s juniors worked with Sarah Cussler’s seventh graders, writing cinquains in groups in response to Philip Levine’s poem, “Among Children.” BEST DSC_5563

The Future


March to their work

Through the dim lights of Flint

The city’s blue collars  cloaked by promise

They wait.

The Cycle of Flint or Paradise

It starts

Tearing their wings

Stuck, unable to fly

Men, women, and children of Flint

It ends.



Watches over

The very smart children

Preparing for what is ahead

Wake up!


We’re #1! We’re #1! We’re #1!

Rhode Island was one of the 13 colonies in North America that rebelled against the British rule in 1775 and the first to officially declare independence from the British Crown. On May 4, 1776, the general assembly in Rhode Island passed an act which declared Rhode Island and Providence Plantations an independent state. The anniversary of this date has become a state holiday known as Rhode Island Independence Day. To commemorate this special day in history, the library has displayed books about our very own Rhode Island!

From the middle/upper school collection:

Rhode Island (Ted Klein) An introduction to the geography, history, government, economy, people, achievements, and landmarks of the country’s smallest state which is known as “The Ocean State.”

Rules to Rock By (Josh Farrar) Annabella Cabrera tries to start a rock band at her new middle school in Providence, Rhode Island, but has trouble when the members of a rival band bully her and she develops a case of writer’s block.

Rhode Island 101: Everything You Wanted to Know About Rhode Island and Were Going to Ask Anyway (Tim Lehnert) Provides information and facts about Rhode Island, covering slang, cities/towns, people, the natural world, weather, culture, food, economy, crime/punishment, history, and politics.  It includes illustrations, quotations, sidebars, and a time line.

Picturing Rhode Island: Images of Everyday Life 1850 – 2006 (Maureen Alice Taylor) Shows through photographs how the state has evolved over the past century and a half.

Traveler (Ron McLarty) Jono Riley returns to his childhood home in Rhode Island in search of the truth about a series of mysterious shootings that changed his life.  He looks to come to terms with his own role in the devastating events.

Haunted Rhode Island (Thomas D’Agostino) Tales of the haunted places in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island 1636-1776 (Jesse McDermott) Traces the history of Rhode Island through firsthand accounts of people who lived and worked in the colony from 1636 to 1776. Features photographs, historical maps, a time line, and a list or resources for further study.

You know you’re in Rhode Island when: 101 quintessential places, people, events, customs, lingo, and eats of the Ocean State (Ryder Windham) Many people worry that these United States are becoming too much like each other, but Rhode Islanders know better. Fun for all ages, this book highlights and celebrates the Ocean State’s history, traditions, cuisine, and lingo with humor. For example, you know you’re in Rhode Island when…All roads lead to memory lane, you root for the Pawtucket Red Sox, kids grow up drinking coffee milk, and the state bird is a chicken.

From the lower school collection:

The Rhode Island Colony (Kathleen W. Deady) An introduction to the history, government, economy, resources, and people of the Rhode Island colony.

R is for Rhode Island Red (Mark R. Allio) A to Z pictorial with poetry for younger readers and Rhode Island writings for older readers.

The Colony of Rhode Island (Susan Whitehurst) Traces the history of Rhode Island from the arrival of the first European settlers in the early seventeenth century through 1790 when it became the thirteenth state to join the Union.

The Rhode Island Colony (Dennis B. Frandin) Traces the history of Rhode Island to 1790 when it became the last colony to ratify the Constitution.

The Black Regiment of the American Revolution (Linda Crotta Brennan) Explores the African American soldiers and their participation in the American Revolutionary War, including their time in Rhode Island.

A Little Maid of Narragansett Bay (Alice Turner Curtis) This book tells the story of Penelope Balfour and her brother Ted, who live on a little farm in Rhode Island during the Revolutionary War. “Penny’s” bravery and presence of mind greatly help the American camp.

An action-packed day in lower school

by Carolyn Garth, fifth grade

On May 1, we had three fabulous visitors in the lower school.

ImprovSteve Kidd came for his first of six workshops with the fifth grade as they work on the fifth grade production, which will take place on June 6. He worked on acting skills, directing skills, and improvisation.

Steve Kidd

Sal Monteiro, from the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence, joined fifth graders as part of the six-week training they are doing together. Using cooperative activities, writing and discussion, they are exploring the six principles of Kingian nonviolence.


Rick Benjamin, our state poet laureate, worked with kindergarteners through fifth graders to learn and write poems. He wrote group poems with kindergarten, first, second and third Grade. He challenged fourth and fifth grade to write their own poems.


A highlight for Rick was when a kindergartener memorized and recited one of the poems he shared.

All three guests were dynamic and exciting visitors who had a lot to offer our students.

Help break India’s cycle of poverty and child labor: support CRY and the Girl Child Education Campaign

Freshmen in Beth Lantz’s history class co-hosted a dress down day in April and raised $155 for CRY’s (Child Rights and You) Girl Education Campaign. Read their powerpoint here.


by Elizabeth E., Abby M., Caroline M., & Josh B. ’17

We are a group of four ninth graders here at Moses Brown. For the past month, we have been researching and studying child labor in India in Beth Lantz’s history class. We have learned many of the struggles and hardships of the working children, including mental trauma, sexual abuse, and physical violence. We believe that, although child labor is believed to help India’s struggling economy, it is unacceptable for the workers to be treated as they are. We began our research attempting to find an answer to child labor, trying to eradicate this problem. As we continued to learn about India and its issues, we realized that child labor is not a problem that can be fixed with a simple answer, as India’s poverty is ever-growing. Many families in India need their children to work, in order to survive, despite their dangers. In India, the best way to stop poverty and child labor is through enforcing education for children of every age, giving future generations the opportunity to break out of the cycle and become successful. We are writing to the Moses Brown community because we believe that every child should be able to have a childhood and go to school, in order to give future generations the ability to survive.

Many children who work in India are subject to terrible working conditions. Children usually work in agriculture or in manufacturing, such as picking cotton or rice, or making carpets, brassware and bricks (“India”-Findings). In many cases, they are forced to work in severe weather, such as monsoons (Harris). Young children are exposed to dangerous chemicals and tools (India),and as a result, deaths are very common in coal mines and factories (Harris). On top of such tragedies, the children do not make a lot of money to bring home to their families (Harris). However, India recognizes the issues that are at hand. Over the years, there have been multiple laws that have been passed regarding child labor, attempting to make conditions better for those who do work, but none of them have followed through. For example, the Child Labor Prohibition and Regulation Act in 1986 stated that age 14 was the end of childhood. Part 2 of this act states where children can or cannot work. For example, they may not work near factories or train tracks. Part 3 outlined the conditions for child labor, including that children can work for three hours, then receive one break (“CHILD Protection & Child Rights-Child Labor”). Multiple other laws have been passed in India; however, child labor “masters”, and the government itself, ignore the laws so they get more of a profit. This lack of enforcement of the law is the main reason why India’s child labor laws have not been resolved. We found that approximately ⅔ of India’s laborers receive only $15 per week, and children usually work to provide help to their low-income families (Harris). With a population of 1,220,800,359 people, India is known as the second-most populated country in the world (“The World Factbook”), and 29.8% of this population is under the poverty line, causing child labor to be forced upon many families (“The World Factbook”). With 28 million children in work between the ages 6 and 14 (Harris), India has the most laborers under 14 in the world (UNICEF).

With these facts, we shifted our focus to a more general question, that could address these issues for the future, and work around the lack of response from the Indian authorities: “What changes in India can be made to working conditions for children that allow for more opportunities in their lives to succeed and improve their futures?”

We realized that, in India, the best way to stop poverty and child labor is through enforcing education for the working children. Education gives India’s future generations many opportunities to break out of the cycle, and become successful in a high income job. The cycle of poverty is never-ending. Once a child is born into poverty, they will likely go to work or be married while they are underage in an attempt to help their family. The younger the child is, the more likely they are to be subject to violence and sexual abuse. If young girls are educated, they will be able to marry later, have fewer children, get a job, and have power (“World Day Against Child Labour 2009: Give Girls a Chance”). Education, therefore, breaks the cycle of poverty.

While researching, we came across a non-profit and non-governmental organization called “CRY: Child Rights and You”. Child Rights and You has offices all over the world, and with one office in India, they are working in India to fight for children’s rights, and make sure the conditions they are working under are not harmful. In India, CRY has put 4,99,228 children between the ages of  6-18 into schools, in order to get them out of poverty (“Children’s Rights in India”), which is exactly the approach we wanted to take. The four of us believe that the way to get children into schools and out of work would be to make our local communities aware of the issues at hand. Child Rights and You has launched a campaign called: “Girl Child Education Campaign”, focusing on getting children, specifically girls, into school. Our group had a dress down day on April 29th, 2014 with the money collected going to CRY’s campaign. We are going to post this letter on the Moses Brown Website, in order to make the Moses Brown community aware of the situation in India and help to support CRY and the Girl Child Education Campaign.

We know that most of India’s population is too far under the poverty line to abolish child labor completely. Using this knowledge, we have found that the first step is to get children into schools, which would help future generations. Therefore, it is important we show you, the Moses Brown community, the issues that India is facing. It is necessary to take action that can change the future for current children and generations of children to come, rather than only focusing on the present. Changes that should be made for children in India all include education; which, if encouraged, would break the cycle of poverty and/or child labor. Children need to be taught valuable jobs in order to inspire future generations. With 28 million children (Harris) subject to losing their childhood to work, the time to change India’s society is now. With the help of the Moses Brown Community, we can improve the lives of Indian children, and break the cycle of poverty. Here is a link if you would like to donate online, or read more about Child Rights and You.

Note: If this is a topic you would like to share with your children, we encourage you to do so. Thank you for reading.