Give yourself permission to go back and take a second look

By Elizabeth Grumbach, lower school teacher

Give yourself permission to go back and take a second look. That’s the message DavidRoche-LSvisitthat David Roche, comedian and inspirational speaker, shared with our Moses Brown community on November 17. Born with a significant facial difference, David is familiar with the shocked stares, awkward look-aways and other uncomfortable initial reactions to his face. But he doesn’t hold people responsible for those first looks. Instead, he asks that in that moment we work beyond our initial discomfort and take a second, deeper look. When asked by a student “What advice would you give people when they see someone like you?” David responded, “Turn back, look me in the eye, give me a smile, and just say “Hi.”

With this message, David acknowledged our human instinct to be DavidRoche-USassemblysurprised by difference. He believes firmly in the goodness in people, and in their ability to see beyond difference to find common humanity. As he joked about his ‘gang of supportive friends- Freddy Krueger, Frankenstein, Two Face’ he allowed the students before him to notice, accept, and move beyond their discomfort. As David pointed out, within ten minutes no one in the audience was focusing on the left side of his face. They were focusing on his words, his smile, his twinkling eyes and his light step as he moved energetically around in front of them.  They were spellbound as his wife, Marlena Blavin, described their first uncomfortable encounter and ensuing love story.

David considers his face to be a gift. When asked, he says he wouldn’t want to go back and be born a different way. What a thought-provoking message for our students to hear. What a gift it was to have him spend a day in our community, encouraging all of us to believe in our own inner lights and in the light of each person we meet, regardless of first impressions.


Keys for surviving junior/senior year stress

Bake them muffins?

By Jessica Stewart, school psychologist

As if parenting hasn’t been challenging enough at times already, welcome to late adolescence and Junior/Senior years of high school!  There are so many things happening within and around your children that are developmentally normal, though no less stressful (to name a few): 

  • Spending less time with family and more with friends
  • Finding their passion for what motivates them;
  • Feeling lost or confused if they DON’T yet know what they want;
  • Balancing (and often struggling with) the emotions tied to all the changes, excitement, losses, and the uncertainties ahead;
  • The desire (often but not always) for more independence and “freedom”;
  • And the ability to more often actually BE more independent—translation: needing you less often.

With so many factors impacting your kids, there are also so many jrsandsrsaffecting you as parents (to name a few):

  • Understanding and tolerating all of THEIR challenges;
  • Understanding and managing all of your own feelings about this time and role as parent;
  • Your emotions (anxiety, sadness, relief, joy, jealousy, inadequacy, regret, loss…it’s all fair game!);
  • And knowing how to walk what I call the impossible, narrow line of the parenting paradox—the balance between doing and not doing, too much and too little, to get it “right.” Phew, good luck with that!
  • …oh, and your OWN lives, challenges, issues, joys, friendships, work, etc. as individual humans, yourselves.

That makes for a lot in the mix when talking about the stress in the air!  Here are a few thoughts, suggestions, and tidbits to think about that may just help you be more helpful to your child and survive—together—with your relationship intact—the conclusion of high school and “what’s next!?” process:

  • What is your biggest asset right now? Your relationship with your child!  Does it already include trust? Reliability? Humor? Openness? Safety? Acceptance? Like? Love? Judgment-free support?  Your relationship is the constant in all that is changing and will be what remains as they form their own adult lives.
  • Decide on a weekly “date” time, when you and your child can talk, be together without distractions and establish [or further develop] a good rapport. You want your child to feel that you are the safe person they can come to when they feel stressed and consistently showing they are important enough to have on your “schedule” helps with this.
  • Be their partner, advocate, or consultant, not their boss or interrogator. Try to communicate your observations, without judgment.
  • Let them stay in the driver’s seat—even if they want to jump out of the car! Supporting rarely means doing for
  • Limit the times that you talk about college stuff—especially try to establish times when it is off limits to do so. Ideally: have a set “business meeting” each week (just as you have the “relationship maintenance meeting.”
  • Encourage your child to seek out advice through other community members, too: advisors, teachers, friends, friends’ parents. It’s good to have different sounding boards (even though we want to be “everything” to our child).
  • You will need: confidants of your own, advice from experts, partnership from other adults, time away from the role as “parent,” humility to admit what you don’t know, tolerance and patience to wait out moments of madness (that can distract us from staying on course!), trust in your child, a sense of humor, and perspective on the future.
  • Make sure you’re not part of the problem—keep your anxiety separate from your child’s, as they have so much already! (Parents need outlets, too: spouses, friends, exercise, etc.)
  • Ask your child how you can help. You may need to offer specific ways you can (rather than a general “let me know if you want me to help you”), such as: a sounding board while THEY talk through career path options, materials gatherer, master calendar manager, and travel planner/financial backer (with real information about limitations, so they can realistically map out their process ahead). After a while, ask again.
  • Sometimes, as parents, no matter what you do or say we can’t win: our kids are so stressed, emotional, and irrational that they are mad when we do nothing and they are alone in the angst, but they can’t ask for help or even accept it. In those times when our parent instinct is to DO SOMETHING, just fill the house with the smell of something yummy and, without words, slowly approach and deliver a treat…you just delivered support, comfort, unconditional love, company, and energy in that muffin!
  • Standardized testing: With guidance from your College Counseling staff, help your child choose the best timing for taking SATs/SAT IIs/ACTs, and keep the meaning of these tests and what they are for in perspective.  Be careful what message you are sending if you are enlisting a “test tutor” or additional “college counselor.” Definitely reinforce that even some schools recognize these may not fully capture your child’s potential (as they are optional at more and more schools!).
  • Encourage that the common application and essay be written before school starts in September. Help your child plan for the timing and work of their additional various essays, as they will need to stagger the work in with their coursework, activities, etc.
  • Again: Be the consultant, not the taskmaster. It is their process because it is their end-goal, even if it is a goal you may not have or choose for them.
  • Students face a relentless onslaught of questions and suggestions about college. Choose your timing carefully and realize that there are lots of times that it would not be welcome (e.g,. don’t be the parent who asks other kids about their college search within the first minute in the door, on the sideline, etc.).
  • Help your kids have quick answers for well-meaning family members and friends so they can limit stress without feeling disrespectful (“I have a good plan.” Period. Or, “I’m casting a broad net so I’ll have a lot of choices,” and even adding “I would rather not talk too much about the details right now, thanks.”).
  • Well in advance of decision time, help kids know that denials are not a measure of their self-worth or amazing accomplishments. Not all successful people went to highly rated or highly selective universities — not even close.
  • Let your language about college and “success” highlight that YOU really believe there are many roads to the same place, and many schools from which to get a great education to pursue the career or life they want….you do believe this, right?!?! J
  • Be flexible as a parent to allow your child to find his/her way and best timing. Not all people are ready for college at the same time, and not all will be happy going where and when we want them to go. Working or developing a specific talent or traveling first to gain more experience may be a better choice.
  • This point raises another: begin teaching your kids about money and what it costs to have the lifestyle they dream of having. If work (as an obviously necessary experience) is not possible, you can still require them to “earn” money to encourage conversations about financial responsibility. After all, to a large extent the point of college is to help with setting up a solid career, which is about supporting oneself financially and bringing fulfillment to daily living.
  • Remember: a prestigious school is no good, really, if your child is overwhelmed, underprepared, and flounders.
  • I often ask kids: “so what do you want to do all day when you are 25 to pay your bills? And what do you want to do with your weekends and free time?” to encourage them to see what comes after college, as many may see college as the end point (which is what some of the pressure to get it “right” is about).
  • For freshman and sophomore families: start thinking and talking about colleges early — but not too early. Our freshmen cannot know who they’ll be and what they’ll want as seniors any more than they knew as fifth graders how they’d feel as freshmen. On the other hand, know your student. Looking ahead may help him/her comfortably explore goals (not SAT scores or grades!) while the pressure is still low. College tours can be good conversation starters for what may make them happy as adults, etc.
  • For lower and middle school parents: conversation about what your children want their lives to be like as adults (from work to fun, relationships, geographic location, etc.) helps to lay the foundation for a grounded perspective of this whole process (and so many others!) much later…and serves to foster their exploration of their passions and inner light now, which will help them navigate so many developmental struggles between now and then.

It is critical for parents to really begin to see their kids as independent young adults with their own goals and dreams—that may not be fully understood yet, and that is okay!  Engaging with our young adults in a way that values their right to define themselves and their dreams, and still be accepted and valued by the adults in their lives, gives them “a platform from which to jump beyond” themselves.

Afterall, don’t we want to talk about “success” and “direction” in a way that emphasizes HAPPINESS and fulfilling purpose and passion, rather than external expectations, labels, and names on letterhead??

It all comes back to what I said first and foremost: your relationship with these human beings, your children, has to remain a priority of far greater importance than college. If so, they will feel it…if not they will feel it even more!  Keeping perspective on what it is like to be them is important to help you survive all of the emotions and uncertainty.  It’s our job to be the adult, modeling tolerance, open-mindedness, optimism, humor, love, honesty, forgiveness…and all of the other character strengths of resilience. That is how you both will survive the stress!  And, if it helps to truly have the perspective of your children, I think this post is a fantastic reference point.

For additional thoughts, read How To Stop The Crazy Race For Elite Colleges.

And for specific college process guidance, see our wonderful College Counseling Center staff!

MB’s Civics In Action takes its peacebuilding message to DC

By Beth Lantz, instructor (with contributions from students)

Recently Moses Brown’s Civics in Action class traveled to Washington, CivicsInAction1D.C. The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) welcomed us and we began our lobby training on peacebuilding enthusiastically. We met with Senator Jack Reed (see picture) who listened attentively as the students asked for his support of Senator Ben Cardin’s upcoming bill to permanently authorize the Atrocities Prevention Board. Students shared personal stories about how their families have been affected by war, as well as what they have learned in their Civics and Literature of War courses at MB. Senator Reed stated that our students had convincing arguments and that the federal government must invest more in peacebuilding efforts. He agreed to have his staff look into Senator Cardin’s bill. The students will follow up with Senator Reed’s staff in upcoming weeks. In addition to Senator Reed, students had successful meetings with the legislative staff of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressmen James Langevin and David Cicilline.

We were at the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Franklin D. Roosevelt CivicsInAction2monuments when most of us heard about the Paris attacks that took place on November 13. While it was difficult to have students away from their families at such a scary time, we took comfort in each other and talked about how peace, humanitarianism and inclusion are still our best tools in working for a better world. We arrived back home exhausted, but still invigorated by our work in D.C., and the power that lobbying can have in our democracy.

I would like to extend a HUGE thank you to our Director of Friends Education Galen McNemar Hamann who was my fellow chaperone on this trip. At every turn she helped students see that our Quaker values can be lived through public policy. She was an invaluable resource connecting us with the folks at FCNL and others at the institute. I am grateful for her time, energy, and stamina.

Student reflections:

Kieran H. ’16:

From our trip to DC I learned a lot about peacebuilding. I know now that it is a process that takes time. Our government is not going to shift to peacebuilding overnight, but by promoting it we can slowly begin to move towards peaceful relations, prevention, and mitigation of conflicts. I learned that peacebuilding is not just an idea, but a process that in action, truly does help. It is clear more countries are responding in a positive light to peacebuilding initiatives, compared to military intervention. Through our lobbying it is clear that our government elected officials see peacebuilding as an efficient and productive way to prevent atrocities and genocides. I also did not realize that peacebuilding can still be effective once countries are already experiencing such atrocities.

Molly H. ’16:

Our world is currently undergoing troubling times all over, especially since the recent attacks in Paris. Congress and other government officials have the greatest power when it comes to preventing atrocities which means that persuading them is most important.

The purpose of peacebuilding is to prevent war before it begins and FCNL is determined to do so. Lastly, I learned that peacebuilding doesn’t just mean preventing war. Peacebuilding also means pushing for equal rights, helping our earth, diminishing all acts of violence, and fixing the nation’s unbalanced budgets. Prior to the trip I only thought we would be lobbying to stop war, which yes we did do, but there was much more to it.

Alexa S. ’16:

I really enjoyed the trip to DC, both in my newfound understanding of peacebuilding, as well as in the good-hearted fun we had. Entering the trip, I did not really have a firm grasp of what we would be doing, and what the meetings with FCNL would entail. However, after the first night with FCNL in our lobby training, I was able to connect the pieces and see the bigger picture in preparation for our meetings with the congress members. I learned a lot about peacebuilding and how we can use nonviolence to prevent deaths, mitigate conflicts before civil war, and reduce financial strains. This trip made me aware of the Atrocities Prevention Board, something that I would not have known anything about otherwise. I learned how to lobby, and how direct contact with our congressmen and congresswomen can greatly influence their actions and decisions in legislating. Overall, the major take away that I had was that regardless of how small a part of society I am as one person, my views and voice CAN be heard and make a difference. It sounds cliché, but this trip taught me that in order to exercise the full extent of my civic power, I must do anything I can to get involved in our government, one way being lobbying.

The class:

Kristen B.
Kyle C.
Nic C.
Anthony D.
Maddie G.
Molly H.
Kieran H.
Aria N.
Hannah O.
Aren O.
Alexa S.
Ben S.


We’ll calc-ya-later

Calculators are helpful, but they can become a crutchJeffCruzn_calculators_sm

By Jeff Cruzan, math teacher

We math and science teachers are prone to thinking up eulogies for civilization when our students reach for a calculator to do simple arithmetic. It’s partly because every touch of one seems like a missed opportunity to refine the neural connections of a promising brain, and partly because we know that premature use of a calculator can mask the simple beauty of a mathematical problem—and mathematics is far more than just arithmetic.

We want our students to be able to brainstorm as adults. (I thought I had a brainstorm once, but it was just a drizzle). We want them to be the leaders of conversations about new ideas. We want them not only to ask “what if …?”, but to be able to follow that reasoning from possibility toward probability and implementation. We want them to be relentlessly present in their work because they’ll be in charge of the world we’ll leave to them. That often means possessing sharp arithmetic and estimation skills, and having a strong sense of the relative sizes of numbers.

When the calculator becomes a digital crutch, we wonder what happened to all of that good foundation learning: the multiplication tables, adding fractions, mental arithmetic, estimation and number sense. In lower school, our students learn most of the basic arithmetic skills: adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, and the reasoning behind our methods of performing them. They’ll need those skills forever, whether for writing the family budget or calculating the best trajectory to Mars. Early on, students become aware of the usefulness of calculators for doing tougher problems, just as any adult would be.

It’s one thing to know that 120 x 7 = 840, but another altogether to work out 983.42 x 121.9. The latter is an example of what calculators are for, but here’s the rub: We’d like our students to understand that anyone at all can punch those numbers into a keyboard and get the right answer (119,878.9), but a mathematical thinker would quickly notice that 983.42 x 121.9 is just about the same as 1000 x 120, or 120,000, which is only 0.1% different than the actual product, and in most cases just as useful.

Middle school teachers are the first to expose our kids to the symbolic mathematical thinking that will form the foundation for higher math reasoning. To solve 2 + 3 = ___ is to solve just one problem. But in solving x + y = 5, you’ve solved an infinite number of problems with the same pattern. Pick any y and I can tell you what x has to be for x and y to sum to 5. Powerful stuff, I know. Because of the symbolic nature of math in middle school, teachers insist that new material be learned first with paper and pencil. It’s only later, say when practical applications of algebra involve multiplication of complicated numbers or when square roots arise, that calculators are justifiably used as timesavers, in the same way that any math teacher would use one.

In upper school, most math is symbolic and arithmetic is just a necessary byproduct of learning it. It’s important that flagging arithmetic skills do not bog us down as we explore new concepts. When multiplying 4/5 by 1/3 is a calculator task, a student can become distracted from what’s really important. Understanding new concepts in mathematical thinking can grind to a halt when arithmetic sharpness declines.

Not all is paper-and-pencil math in upper school, though. We teach our students how to use calculators and computers for things at which they’re really good. I can sketch the graph of f(x) = –e3x – 1 (and so will my Algebra 2 students, by February) but a calculator can do it with much more precision in a fraction of the time, provided I’ve entered it correctly. Calculators can do the kinds of repeated summing that are valuable when paper and pencil methods fail, such as in integral calculus. Calculators can’t think, but they can fill in for us in the speed and precision departments, and that’s their real value. Increasingly, we’re incorporating computer programming into our math curriculum, too.

It’s tempting to blame calculator over-reliance on learning to use them too young, but in researching this post, I’ve learned that teachers across all grade levels have the same basic lament: Kids use calculators because it’s easy and because they lack the confidence (that comes with practice) to know that they can do arithmetic correctly without one. I think that the real problem is that calculators, … well, … exist. So this will be a constant battle for the soul of mental arithmetic and to teach students when it is appropriate to reach for technology.