The Odyssey in action with Abby Phyfe

Some of the most exciting and personal academic work at Moses Brown has emerged from the faculty cohort plan, a professional development and evaluation program. In a year of transformational study, a cohort of veteran teachers 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 continuously deepen their expertise, refine their curriculum, and bring the latest research back to the classroom to improve the learning experience.

PhyfeWhen students told Abby Phyfe that the most compelling part of high school English was reading The Odyssey, she pursued it. Her class had explored the classic through the lens of a war veteran’s homecoming, and so she invited local veterans visit their class.  When Abby connected with Rob Wilson ’67, whose Veterans Education Program trains veterans to tell their personal stories in classrooms, it inspired her to launch a new course — Literature of War — enriched with travel and service learning.

Literature of War was a popular success, featuring several veteran speakers. “Students read fiction and non-fiction that demonstrates the lasting impact war has on soldiers and citizens,” Abby says. “As a Quaker school, we highlight the need to end the causes of war so that this cycle does not continue.”  Under the aegis of Moses Brown’s TRIPs program, which offers students transformational educational travel experiences, they visited Washington DC’s war memorials in the context of modern war texts and the timeless aspects of the veteran experience. The class spent three days visiting the World War II and Vietnam War Memorials, the Newseum’s exhibit “Reporting Vietnam,” the National Japanese American Memorial, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and Arlington National Cemetery. They also met hospitalized vets at the VA Medical Center.

“We have a responsibility to support those who have been impacted by the atrocities of war, which includes our own service men and women,” Abby says. She reached out to Operation Stand Down Rhode Island, a nonprofit organization that supports homeless and at-risk veterans. Last fall, students worked at the Operation Stand Down Outreach Weekend at Diamond Hill Park in Cumberland. One student, Rosemary M., wrote: “The event provided legal, medical, financial, housing, and general life services to veterans who spent the weekend in tents at the park… We organized clothing and helped veterans find the correct size. There were so many in need that that they could only take what would fit in a small bag. Seeing that really enlightened me that it’s not just a couple dozen people in need in our state, it’s hundreds.” Later, to commemorate Veterans Day, the students collected food and monetary donations for the Thanksgiving baskets OSDRI distributes to veterans in need. This year’s Literature of War students will repeat the drive.

Abby continued to connect MB’s offerings and enhance the student experience. Last spring, award-winning poet Brian Turner, a war veteran, headlined MB’s annual Book Festival. “Members of Frequency Writers’ veterans writing workshop came to Brian Turner’s reading,” Abby says, “and we had the opportunity to raise awareness of OSDRI.”

 

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