Environmental Panel Kicks off MB Expo Service

By Izzy R. and Julia P., upper school studentsAssembly

Environmental Science students in the Upper School have been inspired to share their knowledge and concern about Providence’s environment. With the help of environmental professionals, students informed the Moses Brown community about the necessity of watershed protection.  The class held a panel discussion on October 6 in Alumni Hall, which gave members in our community an opportunity to ask questions and learn how they can positively contribute.

Over 200 members of the MB upper school community will participate in cleaning up the Providence watershed during MB Expo, Oct. 16-17. We will clean storm drains and mark them to show the area that affects the watershed. The watershed is often disturbed when storm water due to rain and snow melt causes the sewage systems to reach capacity of water intake. The excess water, or runoff, travels downhill into York and Hockey Pond, as well as the Seekonk River. The problem with this, however, is that the runoff carries nitrates and phosphates that comes from fertilizer, soil, and streets. The abundance of nitrates and phosphates causes nutrification in the water sources, leading to increased algal growth. When the algae dies, bacteria decreases oxygen levels as it eats the algae. Oxygen depletion reduces biological life in the ponds. To advocate our cause, students will distribute posters to businesses, introducing the park and its benefits. Along with these posters, we will hand out informational flyers to residents, in order to teach about issues caused by runoff and how they can be reduced.

See related: AP environmental science students go beyond the classroom.

Students volunteer at Operation Stand Down Rhode Island

OSDRI-1By Rosemary M. ’16

My first thought when writing about this experience was, “how can I even begin to put it into words?” Operation Stand Down Rhode Island is an amazing organization that provides various services to homeless and at-risk veterans. Their motto is that they give a “hand up, not a hand out.”  Our Literature of War class spent most of the school day Friday, September 18 volunteering at their 23rd annual Stand Down weekend at Diamond Hill Park in Cumberland. The event provides legal, medical, financial, housing and general life services to veterans who spend the weekend in tents at the park. When we got there we split up into two groups. My group went to the clothing tent. We helped sort and organize different clothing and then also helped some veterans find the correct size or style that they were looking for. The veterans got a blue athletic bag to fill with whatever they needed from the tent. There are so many veterans in need that that they could only take as many items of clothing that would fit in their small bag. Seeing that really enlightened me that it is not just a couple dozen people in need in our state, it is hundreds. 


OSDRI-4Luis and I (photo above) got the best job possible, passing out cookies during lunch… we were definitely the favorites of the group! One group helped pass out various drinks and water, and another group helped maintain the trash cans so we weren’t leaving a mess in the park. To see these men and women smiling and saying thank you to me for handing them a cookie was so touching; they are the ones who need to be thanked for their service to our country.

OSDRI-3OSDRI-5For me personally though, the most touching experience of the whole day, the time when it really hit me, was during the formal Opening Ceremony, when a group performed the Fallen Soldier Ceremony. My eyes starting tearing up seeing the American Flag, helmet, boots, gun, and dog tags of soldiers who gave their lives for this country all in the shadow of the flagpole, upon which flew the American flag, the OSDRI flag, and a flag commemorating POWs. But the real tearjerker was when the family members of those fallen soldiers were recognized. Families have to deal with the loss of a loved one every day and it was amazing to see a community of strangers comforting and honoring them. Seeing all of those people in a group with sad faces engraved in my head that freedom is not free. There are brave men and women who have died in order to protect our rights and freedoms that come with being a United States citizen. 

MB teacher recounts experiences with two teenage Rwandan refugees in new book

By Christine Jenkins, MB math instructor, author

Christine and her daughter Sydney at the Yellow Umbrella book store in Chatham, Mass.

Christine and her daughter Sydney at the Yellow Umbrella book store in Chatham, Mass.

I was fortunate to recently have my first book signing in Chatham, Mass., where people vacation from all over the world. One woman was from the Netherlands, and she jokingly promised to post a review of my book and make me famous there. I especially enjoyed speaking to the children because they were curious about the process of writing a book. In fact, on separate occasions, two young girls convinced their parents to buy the book for them. I guess I now know who my target audience is!

About the book Fake Smiles & Lasagna

Book description:

one high school teacher…
two Rwandan refugees…
and a three-year journey of self-discovery

Christine Jenkins is a high school math teacher who has never heard of Kinyarwanda or Kigali. Sonia and Eugene are Rwandan teenagers who have just set foot on American soil. Assuming they need a parent, social worker, and miracle maker, Christine enters their lives with naïve notions of how their relationship will unfold. Her attempts to overcome cultural barriers come in the form of awkward conversations, forced smiles, material gifts – and lasagna. Lots of lasagna.

A series of life-changing events throws Christine’s plans off course, destroying her sense of security and control. As she slowly discovers what matters most, Eugene and Sonia gift her with lessons of faith, love, and resilience. Based on actual events, Fake Smiles and Lasagna is a tale of the transformative power of unlikely friendships – and how to find joy in unexpected places.


Collection effort will help children in local communities access books

By Maureen Nagle, Middle School EnglishMo

Did you know that in high-income homes in the U.S., children have access to approximately 200 age-appropriate books to enjoy? In middle-income homes the average is about 60 books. In lower-income homes, 60% of children have access to zero books.

During the week of our MB Book Festival, Paige Clausius-Parks, the Assistant Director of Pawtucket-based Books Are Wings, visited our middle schoolers during our weekly Meeting for Worship to share these figures and inspire us to help other young readers through a fundraiser and book drive. A group of our eighth graders then presented to our lower school students about the program, which led to a middle school-lower school collaboration that collected close to 600 books and over $350 dollars. This effort will help to ensure that students in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls elementary and middle schools will enter summer break with books to enjoy. During the months of May and June, Books are Wings volunteers will be holding “book parties” in these schools for students to enjoy reading-related arts and crafts activities and then choose two books to take home with them.bookwithwingsdrive

Research has shown us that when children who do not read over the summer return to school in the fall, they lose two entire months of instructional time while having to re-learn forgotten material. We are so proud of all of our middle schoolers for sharing their love of reading with others and helping other kids grow their own love of reading.


Holding veterans in the Light

galen cropped comm13From Galen Hamann, Director of Friends Education
I wanted to give an update on what I have been doing and learning this fall to consider how we as a school can live our peace testimony through relationship with those impacted by war, military families and education. This includes doing research on Veterans for Peace http://www.veteransforpeace.org/. I’ve learned a lot about Armistice Day and the history of Veterans Day and gained some ideas for how we might recognize it.

There also is the national network of the non-militarization of youth (www.nnomy.org). Although these groups do not have chapters in Rhode Island, they are good resources for how to recognize Veterans Day.

I also met with a current student and his father, who has served for 20+ years in the Army National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007. We talked about the climate of MB in relation to the peace testimony and explored ways we can build relationships between veterans and this community.

Last week, a new student group, Students Supporting Those Affected by War, had a bake sale to raise money for wounded warriors. They also have been collecting a list of names of those impacted by war in the U.S. On Thursday, we will read those names at the beginning of upper school Meeting for Worship and invite people to hold them in the Light.

This Monday, at MB’s JV football game, junior Adam R., a leader of this new student club, will invite people to pause for a moment of silence to hold in the Light all those affected by war.

What else can we as a school do in the future?

Many students in this new club have suggested ideas – perhaps organizing a Community Service Day site connected to veterans, considering an upper school assembly, or sharing veterans’ stories with the wider school community.

Upper school English teacher Abby Phyfe also is working on a trip to the memorials in Washington for her Literature of War class next year. This new TRIP was recently approved. We plan to support this by making connections to the Friends Peace testimony.

As a Friends school, Moses Brown School has a long history of activism, involvement and advocacy for peace in the world.  In fact, one alumnus, Rufus Jones (1863-1948), co-founded the American Friends Service Committee during the First World War, as a way for young conscientious objectors to serve without joining the military. At the war’s end, Rufus and others were instrumental in organizing the Quäkerspeisung, the large-scale feeding effort that saved millions in Germany from starvation. During the years leading up to World War II, Jones went to Germany as part of a Quaker delegation to plead for better treatment and emigration opportunities for Jewish people. In 1947, he represented the AFSC in Stockholm when the Quakers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

DSC01725More recently, Rob Wilson ’67 has worked as part of the Veterans’ Education Project to bring veterans’ stories to high school classrooms, including at MB. “It is gratifying to help these amazing men and women develop their stories, and to see them healing war’s emotional wounds through sharing with appreciative students,” Rob says. “I hope that VEP’s student and public audiences come away from our speakers’ stories with new understanding about war and its consequences and new empathy for veterans and military families. I hope they develop an eagerness to think critically about policies related to war and veterans’ issues and act on their conclusions, whatever they may be. The world would be a better place.”

As a Friends school, we have a responsibility to engage in relationship building, to have honest conversation about the ways in which war is impacting our communities, and to brainstorm how we work to live in a world without war and the militarization of society. This effort of engaging in diplomacy, of seeking to remove the causes of war, and efforts to end war is a way of honoring the sacrifice of veterans so that no one will have to be in harm’s way again. As alumni like Rob and Rufus, teachers like Abby Phyfe and Jules Burrows, and students like Rosemary, Adam, and Tyler work toward healing the wounds of war, I look forward to hearing more ideas from our community as to how we may do this. Please email me at ghamann@mosesbrown.org to share your thoughts.

Hear from students at MB today on their recent efforts:

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.