The Path, a poem

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As part of middle school’s preparation for Sarah Kay’s event here today, seventh graders have been writing poetry. In class, they read poetry like Langston Hughes’ “Mother to Son” and various Sarah Kay poems. Seventh graders also wrote their own poems with metaphors. We’re pleased to … Continue reading

Rx for Winter Weather

Brrrr … cold to the bones and tired of it?

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Literally, many of us may be TIRED of the cold winter weather over the last few (too many) weeks. This may have to do with less exercise in the winter months, which can make us feel more lethargic, as well as the double whammy of less sunlight, which spurs increased production of the sleep chemical melatonin, and less vitamin D. All of this can combine to create an overall “blah” feeling – a.k.a. the “Winter Blues.” There’s the winter blues, and then there’s Seasonal Affective Disorder, a more serious condition similar to depression. So how can you tell which is which?

While the Winter Blues is a mood that can wash over us all during the confined winter months, it lasts hours, not days or weeks. Seasonal Affective Disorder is most often a significant drop in mood that starts in late fall and lasts through till spring (though for some people it can be the opposite and be present in the summer months instead), and may include some anxiety symptoms in addition to sadness. Signs of this condition include:

· a deeper level of sadness (even depressed) most of the day for more days than you feel “good”,
· feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness,
· low energy and fatigue,
· changes in sleep habits (too little or too much),
· loss of interest in typically enjoyed activities,
· feeling sluggish or agitated,
· difficulty concentrating,
· changes in appetite (not as hungry or eating too much).

While it is normal to have days where you feel down or less energized, if this lasts for several days and it is hard to get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, it may be necessary to check in with your doctor. This is especially important if sleep or appetite has changed, or if there are feelings of hopelessness, or thoughts of suicide. Often the treatment for SAD may include considering medication but also the use of specialty light bulbs or a “light box” that mimics the effects of the sun and produces similar chemical changes to lift mood.

If your “blah” feeling comes and goes and is more of a nuisance than a major concern, here are some suggestions for beating the winter blues:

· Maintain a regular exercise routine, even if this means kitchen dance parties!
· Try to maintain a healthy diet that includes fresh fruit as a source of sweets rather than dense baked goods and carbs (that interfere with chemicals related to mood and sleep).
· Purposely schedule social outings to keep you from isolating, and maintain fun social connections (not just school or work) that help to lift mood chemicals.
· Try not to increase reliance on screen time to “feel better”, as this can accidentally isolate you and exposure to light interferes with chemicals that help with sleep and mood.
· Plan weekly family or friend “game nights”, “movie nights” or karaoke parties for a break from the blah. If snow makes travel tougher, do this over Skype! (permission granted for necessary screen time J)
· Reorganize or look through pictures to connect to fun and energized memories.
· Play music much more often.
· Binge watch classic ’80’s and ’90’s sitcoms (‘Seinfeld’ reruns anyone?)
· Sit by a sunny window – if you can find one!

DSC_9010 Jessica Stewart is Moses Brown’s school psychologist.

 

Keep it simple

Several years ago I sat in wonderment at the National Athletic Administrators conference. Greg Dale Ph.D., a sports psychologist from Duke University, addressed the pressures on youth athletes. He offered a simple way to alleviate them: Let them play.

I invited Greg to visit with us at Moses Brown last month. His session with the students started the momentum for the afternoon, and involved the children as active participants. He advised them that pressure comes from within, and theIMG_0050 release of that pressure also comes from within. One technique Greg introduced to help students move on from making mistakes and avoid dwelling on them is to “flush” them away. Many of the teams have already reported that they are beginning to use this method.

Greg’s message in the coaches’ session was to be open-minded, and to keep lines of communication open. He pushed us to think about the culture that we create for our student-athletes. In one particularly interesting activity, Greg asked coaches to move to opposite sides of the room if we agreed or disagreed with a statement. Given the statement “openly gay students are fully accepted by their team,” many moved to the agreement side. However, when one coach suggested that “fully” is certainly not the norm, healthy dialogue convinced some that perhaps we need to think more carefully about this particular situation.

The parents’ session was by far the most lively and provocative of Greg’s presentations. With more than 70 parents in attendance, his message to them was simple: Get a life. He showed a slide titled: “You know you need to get a life when…” The first response was “You attend practices.” Greg asked which parents attend practices, and why. Raising his IMG_0030hand, one parent answered: “Because it’s fun.” Greg responded, “For you or your son?” He advised that parent to go home and ask his child if his father’s attendance at practice was fun for him. Another parent suggested that she attended practices to provide her daughter with comfort and to make sure she was safe. Greg suggested that this mother had “trust issues”. While Greg delivered some tough messages to the parents, his presentation was light, fun, and filled with energetic interaction.

In the days following, I received many emails and phone calls praising Greg’s presentations. Several parents attended because they’d been told to do so by their children. My most veteran coach (with over 300 wins) told me that Greg’s presentation was the best professional development activity she had ever attended.

As a community, we need to remember the messages Greg Dale delivered: Let them play, communicate, and get a life. Keep youth sports in perspective. Kids play sports to have fun. If we contribute to their experience in a negative way, then we need to re-think our involvement.

– Jeff Maidment

MaidmentJeff Maidment is director of athletics at Moses Brown School and first heard renowned Duke sports psychologist Greg Dale speak at a National Athletic Administrators conference. Jeff invited Dale to share his important message with MB students, coaches and parents at the start of this school year. Dale spoke to parents about helping their children excel at athletics while keeping things in perspective for long-term well-being and healthy development. He consults with collegiate and professional teams and organizations around the world, including The World Bank, Habitat for Humanity International, Airports Council International, and Pfizer. Dale has written four books on leadership and performance, including The Fulfilling Ride: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Athletes Have a Successful Sports Experience, and has offered expert advice in a series of videos for coaches, athletes and parents. Featured on Good Morning America, MSNBC and numerous national radio programs, Dale also is a member of the sports psychology staff for USA Track and Field.

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.

 

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.

Yoga is “undoing”

by Debby Neely, sixth grade

Debby and her class work with Joy Bennett,  learning some of the same breathing and movements Joy teaches veterans. Her program called "the Resilient Child" will be offered at Kripalu.

Debby and her class work with Joy Bennett, learning some of the same breathing and movements Joy teaches veterans. Her program called “the Resilient Child” will be offered at Kripalu.

When I came to Moses Brown School twenty-eight years ago, I brought my interest in yoga with me. I was introduced to yoga in the early 1970’s and immediately noticed how breathing could change my response to things. Calming my own breathing, and focusing on that, brought me to a sense of my own control over a situation. The ancient yogis said that breathing is a thousand times more important than movement. It’s no wonder to me that breathing is now used as a method to quell post-traumatic stress in soldiers. Middle school students may find it daunting to own their responses and responsibilities, but their mindful awareness of breath can be a friend in times of stress.

The movement of yoga has been meaningful to me, too. I have peppered my room with pictures of yoga poses: impossible contortions, or daring to dream that we can push ourselves and make the impossible accessible? I’ve always hoped the children would imagine the latter. As we move and practice, gently, our spines elongate and flex, the muscles slowly move and we can extend, relax and have mastery over ourselves in ways we thought impossible.

It is always a shock to the children that in the midst of creating active verbs or composing metaphor, I would say, “Now let’s do some yoga.” We create with our bodies, too. Our brains and our bodies are inextricably linked. We breathe, we move, we stretch and our minds relax. Sometimes that’s enough to jog the creative process. Recently I’ve been pondering a new concept: that yoga is “undoing,” undoing the stress and striving, the competitive edge and forcing ahead of daily life.

We can lie down and breathe and be. Even in English class.

Mindfulness, yoga at MB help get your attention back where it belongs

By Matt Glendinning, Head of SchoolPeaceGarden

Do you ever worry that the prevalence of digital devices and social media is eroding children’s ability to focus and concentrate?  With good reason.  This blog post from Mind/Shift highlights some of the drawbacks of being plugged in all the time, and quotes well-known psychologist Daniel Goleman, who advocates for more attention to mindfulness in school curricula.

Quaker schools have a built-in advantage here, where weekly Meeting for Worship encourages quiet reflection, pause and introspection.  And if that’s not enough, visit our meditation labyrinth in the Grove, or on Tuesday or Thursdays join our faculty/staff mindfulness meditation group at 7:30 am (school psychologist Jessica Stewart’s office), or yoga sessions led by Anni Barnard right after school (Sinclair Room).