Ethical Leadership: Providence Friends Spring Break Service Retreat

IMG_2237

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.”

IMG_2219

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.

A Letter to a Local Mosque, A Local Man of Peace, and a Beautiful Video

By Rob Pike, fourth grade teacher

The first social studies unit in fourth grade at Moses Brown is about world religions. As part of this unit, students learn about religious intolerance and also visit local religious institutions including a church, a synagogue, a mosque, and a Buddhist temple. When recent news reports detailed examples of hate letters being sent to mosques in Rhode Island and around the country we thought it appropriate that the students should be informed of these current examples of religious intolerance. The result was a class decision to write a letter of support to the mosque that had welcomed us with such kindness and allowed us to observe their afternoon prayer. We wrote a group letter on chart paper and then the student’s decorated edges with designs and missives of their own. img_1824

The chance to visit the North Smithfield mosque was profound for teachers and students alike. Imam Ikram, who heads the mosque, does amazing work welcoming school groups of all kinds. Watching him explain Islam to our students with patience, openness, and humor made me realize how hard the vast majority of the Muslim community has been working and continues to work, to make themselves known to the rest of us as safe, moderate, and reasonable people. It cannot have been easy for that community to allow a whole class full of strangers come in and watch them as they do something as intimate as praying, but by doing that they gave us an experience that allowed us to understand them in a way that made them no longer the “other.” We could see how ordinary they were. We could see that they were shy. We could see that, although they prayed in a different way to many of us, in so very many ways they were so very like us.

Shortly before the winter break, Laura Gladding shared with the fourth grade a link to a short video that is intensely hopeful for religious tolerance and peace in our country. The video details Christian and Muslim religious communities coming to terms with each other. Watching this video may make you cry and is likely to make you believe in humanity more than you did before.

The Path, a poem

Gallery

This gallery contains 1 photo.

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

The value of PBL

In a world where knowledge is growing at a rapid pace, tomorrow’s leaders need to be experts at using available information rather than merely memorizing facts. The Expert Thinking Model teaches children to integrate skills, apply knowledge, and work in teams to solve real-world problems.

Ohl

Dan Ohl, middle school math

“It drives the kids crazy,” says middle school teacher Dan Ohl with a wicked grin, when speaking of project-based learning (PBL). This longtime faculty member, who recently completed the Friends Council on Education’s two-year leadership development program, embraces PBL in his classroom. “PBL asks students to use classroom skills to solve real-world questions,” he explains. Students don’t receive an assignment; they design it. “At first, they want me to tell them what to do,” he laughs, “but before they know it, they find they like building the process, and they’re even prouder of the result.”

When it was time to introduce the Pythagorean Theorem, Dan withheld the well-known formula (a2+b2=c2), instead challenging students to discover it on their own.  They could use any resource, with one exception: a teacher could not ‘teach’ them.  Students raced to the Three Oaks Woodshop; others searched online woodworking forums. One phoned an uncle who worked construction and before long was explaining the time-tested carpenter’s ‘3-4-5’ rule to her peers. Using their new knowledge, students were soon creating right angles on the floor with lengths of wood.  The resulting discussion of Pythagorean primitive triples held deeper and more lasting understanding for each individual.

“With PBL, students stretch outside their comfort zone and wrestle with difficult questions with no clear answers,” Dan says. “I’m inspired by the skills and confidence they gain.”

Learning the slow art of making ham

By Eboni S., camper

Until our visit to Daniele Inc., I never thought about how ham is made. I was surprised by how much salt was used and by the fact that they didn’t cook it in an oven. These raw pork hams came down a conveyor belt and butchers trimmed some of the fat off them. Then the hams went onto trays, where they sat for a few hours until they were salted. Robots moved the trays around the factory. The hams hung from racks and the salt leached water out of them. In the drying rooms, the temperature changes the way it would in nature as the climate changes with the seasons. (The factory does what cavemen would have done in pre-historic times.) The raw red color changed over the course of the year of drying. Some sort of fat was put on in the process to soften the muscle. There was no scent in the cooler rooms, but as the hams dried, you could smell the salty meat. Inspectors look at and feel the hams; if they are soft, they are not ready. Hams that are ready have no bacteria in them and are safe for eating because they have no water in them.

Chez Innovation is an overnight business-school-boot-camp focused on the food industry.

Chez Innovation campers learn about running a successful poultry farm

By Chase H., camper

The Innovators and I went to Baffoni’s Poultry Farm, where we received an insightful tour from Mr. Baffoni himself, who was very exemplary of the hard work and preparation that goes into owning and maintaining a successful business. For instance, as we explored what it is like to work with living animals in the food industry first hand (we were allowed to see and hold some of the young turkeys!), we began to realize that every little nuance affects the well-being of both the living animals and the final clean, fresh, healthy product that is sold to local people and companies. We learned that with such strict government regulations, it is essential for the Poultry Farm to adjust their system all the time and to be open to new ideas and improvements in order to continue to put out the best product possible, and maintain a certain level of success. Additionally, we learned that entrepreneurship can often be both stressful and rewarding—as a business person you have to put a lot of money in before you can even see your results, and get a hold of that net profit that your business might seek to obtain over time. From what Mr. Baffoni told us, you might go through ups and downs, but it is crucial to be determined, to stick with it, to focus on improvement, and to embrace new ideas and new means of making your business more successful.

Chez Innovation is an overnight business-school-boot-camp focused on the food industry.

Spanish students find a delicious way to immerse themselves in language

Three upper school Spanish classes recently visited the Viva Mexico restaurant in orderingdowntown Providence for a culinary experience, ordering all of their food in Spanish. Before their excursion, they performed restaurant skits in class to practice ordering. (see video below)

“Students learn best when they are presented with authentic and creative scenarios. At Viva Mexico it inspired me to see all students so committed to ordering their food in Spanish and enjoying their culinary experience,” says teacher Elena Peterson. “No book can bring that to you and the community around us is so rich in culture we need to tap into it!”

What did the students think of the experience?eating

“I had a lot of fun! The food was really good! We got to apply our Spanish skills to real life situations.”

“The skits and field trip were very helpful because the best way to learn a language his practice. Speaking in real life situations really supports my understanding of the language.”

“I think the field trip to Viva Mexico enriched our experience in the classroom because it showed a real world application of Spanish and how we can use it in our own life”.

“It gave me a ‘taste’ of real life experience of a day of being in a Spanish place. It was very fun!”