Ethical Leadership: Providence Friends Spring Break Service Retreat

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By Gara B. Field, PhD
Director of Global Education

We arrived at the Meeting House on the afternoon of March 22, 2017 for the 4-day Providence Friends Spring Break Service Retreat with a commitment to learning about and enhancing our community in authentic ways, being vulnerable to transform ourselves as individuals, and create a collective sense of social awareness in hopes of heightening our responsibility to one another and those around us. At Moses Brown, ethical leadership is described as living our core values of SPICES: simplicity; peace; integrity; community; equality; and stewardship. This immersive spring break service learning experience is a manifestation of our responsibility to learn and serve. It connects us with local non-profits, Providence Public Schools, and grounds our intentions to understand important issues of food insecurity in our city, and around the world.

IMG_2172We set up camp with blankets, sleeping bags, and aerobeds that filled every square inch of the Meeting House. Fourteen students and two faculty members began the retreat with a ride on RIPTA to a local supermarket in East Providence. Two groups of 7 students each divided into breakfast and dinner crews to budget, plan, and purchase food for the retreat. Senior Alasia Destine-DeFreece ‘17 remarked in our first night’s meeting for sharing, “It struck me that every single one of us had iPhones, yet one woman on the bus had no phone and was late to work because she missed her connecting bus. She asked us to help her figure out what bus she could catch next, and what time it was scheduled to arrive at her destination. I take for granted most days the fact that I have access to information 24/7 simply by accessing the internet on my phone. I was glad we were able to help her, but the realization of how many challenges working class and poor people face hit me in that moment.”

IMG_2226We were joined for a mac and cheese/chicken finger dinner by three Moses Brown parents who all work and serve in various capacities in Rhode Island, including Navyn Salem (Founder/CEO of Edesia https://www.edesianutrition.org; Cecily Zeigler (Immigration lawyer at Dorcas International – http://www.diiri.org; and Teddy Bah (Co-founder of the Refugee Dream Center with her husband Omar Bah – http://www.refugeedreamcenter.org. Each of these passionate and committed women discussed their varied yet connected experiences working with local refugees and those requiring support across the globe.

IMG_2205The next day, we went to visit and serve at Edesia and the Refugee Dream Center. It was an empowering and simultaneously humbling experience. We learned about four devastating famines that the world has not seen the likes of since World War II, and the work Edesia is doing to end them and save the lives of children in Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, and South Sudan. We spent time with Omar and his team at the Refugee Dream Center (RDC), helping them to organize and set up tables for a free yard sale where many refugees came for clothes, toys, and household items. Learning about Omar and his willingness to share his refugee experience as a journalist who fled The Gambia for investigating human rights violations was shocking. Perhaps as important, was coming to see and understand his unyielding dedication to the refugee community in Rhode Island. Ife Olubowale ‘19, Luke Dow ’19, Georgia Griffin ’19, and Collin McCormack ’18 listened intently as Omar described so much of what he had been through, and why he founded the RDC. That evening, Brooke Nyman ‘19, Lucy Tang ‘19, Andrew Dorman ‘18, Kayla Ure ’17, and Jacob Crisafulli ’17 led the charge to put together care packages with Mylar blankets, toiletries, and hygiene products for people in need who we would connect with the next night. Little did we know, one of the people who gratefully accepted a care package would teach us so much in a brief, but unforgettable interaction.

IMG_2270We spent the final day of the retreat in Providence at Pleasant View Elementary School (where I was a principal for 5 years from 2011 – 2016). We engaged in the morning advisory with students and teachers, and then we worked for several hours cleaning up and putting together new equipment for the PV playground. Retreat co-leader and school psychologist Jess Stewart led a small group of persistent students, including Brian Greene ‘17, Andi Stallman ’18, and Halle Salem ’19 in building a new see-saw for PreK students. Seniors Kile Grinai ’17 and Jacob Crisafulli ’17 built a storage bench while Alasia Destine-DeFreece ‘17 and Kayla Ure ’17 swept sand back into its rightful place, and edged the playground. Kile Grinai ’17 was particularly moved by one kindergartener who made a lasting impression upon him. He watched her struggle with each step that she took in her Physical Therapy session. At our meeting for sharing that night, Kile reflected, “I had a moment today, and it stayed with me. It stayed with me at lacrosse practice when we were doing wind sprints.  It will probably stay with me for a long time. I’ve never really thought about something as simple as walking being challenging for a child. I will never forget that little girl who worked so hard – just to walk. She was inspiring.”

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On the evening of March 24, we distributed care packages that we put together for homeless and food insecure individuals at Cathedral Square with House of Hope (HoH) Case Manager Megan Smith, and her friends/colleagues from HoH and Brown University. There was a gentleman, affectionately referred to as Sarg, who stood out among the crowd. It became clear that Sarg is a valued and beloved member of his community, and he spent time talking to a few of us. We learned that Sarg is a Vietnam veteran who did two tours of duty and served our country with distinction. We talked about the state of our nation, the horrors of war, the complexities of life on the street, and the lifeline that the HoH and Cathedral Square communities have become to him. We talked about his childhood, his family, his favorite books, and his passion for cooking. He invited us back on a night that he cooks up a “mean stew.” Just as he departed, he got on his bike and said, “What you kids are doing out here means a lot to people. Thank you. I hope to see you again someday. Come back … even if it’s just to say hi, and share a bowl of soup.”

IMG_2292Each night, we had a meeting for sharing where we reflected on the most meaningful parts of the day for us individually and collectively. At times, we laughed, and at times, we cried. We reflected on what we saw, learned, and experienced in terms of poverty, physical challenges, immigration, worldwide famines, and food insecurity in the U.S. We reflected on life chance, privilege, social entrepreneurism, stewardship, and the arc of social justice in a complex world. Sophomore Lucy Tang ’19 noted, “To me, even though we are visiting local sites, we are seeing how our community can have a global impact.”

As stated by author and educator Dwight L. Wilson, “Personal perspectives on justice have been known to change with one’s degree of comfort. In response to this phenomenon, the 18th century Quaker, John Woolman offered guidance when he said, “Oppression in the extreme appears terrible, but oppression in more refined appearances remains oppression, and where the smallest degree of it is cherished it grows stronger and more extensive.”  “Without social justice, there is no peace.”  Andrew Dorman ’18 summed up his thoughts about the retreat in an honest and reflective way, “When I first got to the Meeting House, I found myself eager to get the whole thing over with, not really expecting anything to come out of the trip. Yet, each hour of the day spent bonding with kids I don’t usually talk to, and interacting with people at each of the places we went, really stuck with me, especially after the whole thing was over. The trip was so fun and thought-provoking. It was about people and compassion. Honestly, it felt good to talk to people who were struggling, and hear their stories. It made me ask myself who I want to be as a person, and how I can benefit someone else’s life, along with my surrounding community. I recommend the trip to every student at MB, even though there are a limited number of spots.” The next Friends Spring Break Service Retreat will run from March 14 – 17, 2018.

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Faith & Play stories help students understand Quaker beliefs, history

By Galen McNemar Hamann
Director of Friends Education

In our lower school, I use Quaker Faith & Play as a means to help students better understand Quaker beliefs and help tell the history of Quakerism. Working with third grade at the end of the last school year, I used the tale of Mary Fisher, a Quaker who lived in the 1600’s, as a chance to teach about Quaker leadings and to demonstrate how we might approach others of different religions today.

The story explores Mary’s ability to follow a leading – a sense that one should do something. One of the leadings Mary followed, one which she is now famous for, was her leading to travel from England to Turkey to meet with Sultan Mehmet IV, the ruler of the Ottoman empire and a Muslim. Her desire was to share with him her understanding of Quakerism and to talk together about religion. Sultan Mehmet IV received her with hospitality and they were able to engage in dialogue, reaching a deeper understanding of one another’s religion.

These students, now in the fourth grade, will next study world religions and take part in a project based on inter-religious collaboration.

Rituals and Symbols

DSC_0033By Galen Hamman, Director of Friends Education

We often teach students about the importance of rituals and symbols in our teaching of religion and spirituality at Moses Brown. Wednesday’s topping-off ceremony provided an opportunity for students, faculty, staff, and parents  to participate in a ritual that has deep meaning for the tradespeople who are building the Woodman Center. We often define rituals as symbolic stories acted out. In this case, Adam Bellevance, foreman for MAS Steel, explained that topping-off ceremonies grew out of 8th-century Scandinavian home-building traditions, which would conclude by gathering the community who volunteered to provide laborers and the homeowner for a community celebration with food and beer – though at Moses Brown, we opted for hot chocolate and cupcakes.

DSC_0227.jpgBellevance shared that one element of the ritual is a tree placed upon the final beam of the structure as a symbol of good luck and continued growth, and that here in the U.S. when Native Americans were employed to build skyscrapers, they infused this tradition with their own belief that no building should be taller than the trees. 

These ceremonies often use a tree which is discarded after the ceremony, but it felt important for Moses Brown to include a live tree. Several trees were removed in the building process, and the tree from this ceremony, which will be planted on campus, represents the continued commitment we have to the stewardship of our earth as we begin the work of replacing them.

In general, Quakers try to avoid symbols, as they are representations of the truth, but not the Truth itself. This is why our meetinghouses are usually plain, with a focus on turning in and seeking the Truth. It is also often the case that Friends Schools avoid flags. However, as we planned this ceremony, it was evident that we needed to have meaningful cultural elements from both the workers and the Moses Brown community. Thus, Shawmut chose to place a U.S. flag on their crane, and Moses Brown affixed a string of student-made peace flags to our new building.

It is our shared hope that this ritual ensures the blessing of this new community building, those who will gather, perform, and worship in its walls, and all those who have made it possible.

Among Friends

By Laura Hunt, third grade teacherLHunt

Sometimes people ask me how teaching in a Friends school is unique. The first thing that comes to mind is our weekly Meeting for Worship. People are intrigued by the image of 200 young children and their teachers sharing a half hour of silence together.

I must admit, not every Meeting I have attended has felt particularly impactful. Sometimes simply attaining a single moment of silence has been our crowning achievement. Feet shuffle, noses sniffle, little fingers braid each other’s hair. Friends make eye contact all the way across the room. They giggle. They squirm. They make shadow figures from the light streaming in from the window. All under the watchful eyes of their teachers. Who hush. Or give “the look.” Or model how to fold your hands gently on your lap. And not one message is spoken for the group to hear.

“Seriously?” “Why?” “What are they learning?” people ask.meeting-house_sm

Lower School faculty have grappled with those questions a lot in recent months. Their answers became clear during this week’s Meeting for Worship. Children’s minds run deep. They are filled with questions and they seek to make sense of their world. Their hearts are huge. And, indeed, they can be our best teachers. Silence creates space for reflection. Silence encourages rich learning.

Let me paint a picture of my most recent experience during Meeting for Worship with children.

Classes had filed into the Meetinghouse, and everyone had taken their seats. The room settled, seemingly on its own. I sensed a slightly unusual rhythm of calm. After several minutes of silence, a fourth grader rose to speak. She talked about how her class is reading the book, Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper. She explained how the main character’s disability led other people to make false assumptions about her. She reminded us of the importance to remember – just because people don’t have control of their bodies doesn’t mean they don’t have good minds. She told us that everyone is “smart.”

I smiled. Others did too. Everyone was silent. For a few minutes.

A fifth grader rose to speak. Her voice is familiar in our community. She has shared out of silence during many a meeting. This day she spoke about a special neck warmer she had received as a gift, but that she had unfortunately lost. She ended her message with these words. “I am sharing this with you today because I want you to remember – if you have something special, remember to hold it close.”

“Hm.” I thought. “I’ll remember.” I smiled. Others did too. Everyone was silent. For a few minutes.

Another fourth grader rose to speak. She explained that her class had been talking about emotions. She wanted to tell us what she was thinking about anger. She said that anger can be a funny thing. That sometimes when people seem to be expressing anger, they are actually feeling something else inside. Like worry. Or sadness. Or loneliness. Or hurt.

“I’ll try to be more mindful of that,” I thought. I smiled. I noticed a teacher tearing up just a little. Everyone was silent. For a few minutes.

Then a fifth grader stood up. We’ve heard his voice before too. On this day he told us that he was ready for a snow day. Not just because it meant a day off from school, but because snow days give him time to play. Really play. The kind of play that gets you outdoors and takes your mind off of everything else. Play like sledding. And snowboarding. And skating. And right now there are a lot of bad things happening in the world. Like war. And hunger. He wants to free his mind of them. He wants to really play. And have fun. He wants a snow day.

“Well, yes.” I thought. “When I think about it that way, I’d say I’m pretty ready for a snow day myself.” I could feel the warmth of my teacher friends’ smiles wrapping around me. I couldn’t wait to connect with them after Meeting. Everyone was silent. For a few minutes.

A second grader stood up. She’s new to our school this year. Seven years old. The fourth grader who spoke first was seated right behind her. She faced the fifth grader who had lost her neck warmer. The little girl’s voice filled the room as she told us about a book her class was reading. It’s called Roxaboxen. It’s one of my favorites. She told us about children who used rocks and boxes and things from nature to create an imaginary village for their play. Sometimes they play war games. And they use their imaginations. And that is important. She ended her message with these words. “I am sharing this with you today because I want you to remember – if you have something special, remember to hold it close.” She looked for the eyes of her sister’s fifth grade friend as if to be sure she had gotten her words right.

Anna Hopkins, our interim science teacher, explained to me later that some Quakers would call what happened a “gathered meeting.” All of the ideas that were shared are unique, yet they seem to be connected. You can string them together, like beads on a thread. This is not the kind of learning you find on a test. It is the result of a shared belief that words are important and that everyone holds their own truth. It emerges from a community that has committed to caring for its people. It builds confidence and character and respect for humanity. It is spiritual. This, to me, is what it means to be a part of a Friends school.

Light in the Darkness

By Galen Hamman, Director of Friends Education

Prepared for our All School Meeting For Worship December 18, 2015:preschool-light

This topic of Light is an important one to Friends as we were first named Children of the Light. George Fox, founder of Quakerism, himself said in 1646: “I saw that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.” Friends today continue to seek to live this experience of Light and love in the world and as a Friends school we teach you to seek out the good or Light in all people.

In recent weeks New England Yearly Meeting has made a public statement about renewing and sharing the love and Light at a time of darkness in our world due to the recent violence. While some in our county have been publicly sharing anti-immigrant and anti Muslim sentiment, those people do not speak for our MB community. As a Friends School we provide an education that nurtures the Inner Light of each child.  At MB, we are committed to educating, working with, and learning from people of all backgrounds including Muslims and immigrants.  In the 4th grade students engage in studying immigration and part of the unit includes learning their own immigration story.  In our 10th grade Religious Studies course  we have partnered with local Muslims at Brown and Imam Ikram at the Masjid Al-Islam in Smithfield. In the coming weeks division heads and I will work to engage faculty and students in preparing a gathering to explore these issues together and to help us find a way to see what love might do. As we begin our worship today, I would like to invite us to pause and hold in the Light all those who are being negatively impacted by Islamaphobic and xenaphobic rhetoric and actions.

In the Pre-Primary class, the students have been thinking about light and dark, shadows and reflections, man-made light and the light of the sun and the moon. They made suncatchers, and shadow boxes, they put on a shadow put on a shadow puppet play. They also read a book Light the Lights and the one they have chosen to share with you today: The House in the Night. When they read this book, a book of three colors black and white and yellow, they noticed the objects in each picture that were yellow, the pictures that held the light in the page.  The Upper School group Letting our Lives Speak group also read the book together and came up with the queries you will hear today for us to consider. Then the Pre-Primary and Upper School students got together to get to know each other and to practice telling this story for you. We hope as you listen to this story and the queries, you will also consider the Quaker belief of Light or Inner Light in each of us.

The Pre Primary students will be reading The House in the Night, by Susan Marie Swanson.

“Here is the key to the house.

In the house burns a light.

In that light rests a bed.

On that bed waits a book.

In that book flies a bird.

In that bird breathes a song…

all about the starry dark.

Through the dark glows the moon.

On the moon’s face shines the sun.

Sun in the moon,

moon in the dark,

dark in the song

song in the bird,

bird in the book

book on the bed

bed in the light

light in the house

Here is the key to the house,

the house in the night

a home full of light.”

During open worship we invite you to reflect on the following queries:

What in your house brings light to your life?

When have you found light in the dark?

How might we find light in this time of darkness for our country and world? 

What it means to be part of a Friends school community

The senior Peer Leadership class created this video to share with the Freshmen Studies classes to introduce Quaker values and help illustrate what is means to be a part of a Friends school community.  The peer leaders asked various community members, across divisions, what it meant to them to be a part of a Friends school. Here are the many responses…

 

 

 

Students learn about peaceful alternatives during DC trip

AFSC-cropBy Laura Gladding, Moses Brown Librarian

On June 15-18th thirty recently graduated fifth grade students traveled from Moses Brown campus to Washington DC. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit with the American Friends Service Committee. AFSC’s Jean-Louis Peta Ikambana and his colleagues graciously welcomed the students and their chaperones into a beautiful, classic, and simple workspace. Jean-Louis explained the origins of AFSC, their current mission of peace building, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights created by the United Nations.

Jean-Louis’ colleague, Jessica, shared a lesson on alternatives to violence, which has been used with students, professionals, and even inmates in prisons. Some great take-aways included the importance of recognizing and defusing a conflict before it turns violent and being able to see issues from different perspectives. Students participated in well-informed discussions about human rights and nonviolence, demonstrating the knowledge they gained during the school year on those subjects.

Chaperone and teacher Carolyn Garth said of the trip, “I loved spending time in such a comfortable and welcoming environment and learning from both Jean-Louis and Jessica. Thank you AFSC!”