Over the summer, I was a volunteer counselor at Camp Kulam. Camp Kulam is a two week day camp program at the JCC for kids with special needs ages 4-18. During my time at Kulam, I worked with the 8-12 year olds, and the 12-18 year olds. Prior to this experience, I had never worked with children with special needs, and I was quite nervous about the idea of working with kids who I (at the time) categorized as “different” than the children I had come accustomed to working with, through babysitting, and other child-related programs. The kids in the program all had some form of autism, but they differed greatly in their levels of functionality. Some kids were able to talk and play all day, and have conversations on a level that is similar to those of a typically developing child. While other children were completely non-verbal, and relied solely on hand gestures and incoherent noises as their form of communication. Whatever their level of functionality, each and every one of these kids added something unique and interesting to our group dynamic. While working at Kulam came with its fair share of challenges, especially in regards to communication with kids who have a hard time expressing their feelings, the experience that I had was overwhelmingly positive, which has led me to be an active participant in the JCC’s youth special needs programing throughout the year. I am so lucky to have been introduced to these amazing kids over the summer, some of whom I still see on a weekly basis through a similar program that I’m a part of. I had assumed that working with kids with special needs would be an interesting summer experience, but I can now say that the two weeks I spent as a counselor have persuaded me to continue working with kids with special needs throughout this year, and the years to come.
This June, I attended the Student Climate and Conservation Congress (Sc3) for a second year in a row. Sc3 is a six day conference at the National Conservation Training Center in Sheperdstown, West Virginia. It focuses on teaching high school students about different environmental issues that we may not have been aware of, and helping us think of ways that we can be active in our communities. Even more students showed up this year compared to last year (there were about 140!) The students were again from all over the country, and a few were international. Sc3 is run by the Green Schools Alliance (GSA), a worldwide network of schools that try to be environmentally friendly and active. Friends NYC is part of the GSA, and we participate in some of their environmental challenges each year.
There were again many conservationist speakers this year, and we got to listen to a few people each day. Among the speakers was Pete Dominick, a comedian and talk show host on Sirus XM radio returned for the week, and broadcasted his show each morning from the National Conservation Training Center. We also got to listen to the author of “Energy,” Tom Butler, Historian Doug Brinkley, author of “Environmental Debt” Amy Larkin, and creator of the NYC truck farm, Ian Cheney. Each of these speakers had a unique interest in conservation, and their presentations were interactive and kept us involved throughout. Ian Cheney showed a short movie about how he took a pickup truck and grew a garden in the back, while he drove around NYC selling his produce to local restaurants. I thought this movie showed how localized food products can be distributed in a city as big as New York, which was very powerful.
We also took a kayaking trip down the Potomac River, which was a great community building experience, and we even had a moment of silence while on the river, and I thought that was a really great reflection of the Quaker value that I am so used to at Friends. I had the opportunity to be a part of a TV broadcast/workshop with Pete Dominick and a NASA Scientist, who studies plant photosynthesis from satellites looking down on Earth.
Throughout the conference, we toured around different discussion groups, where we spent time talking about an issue before presenting on it in front of the conference. I chose the Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle group. We watched some of the movie “Bag It” and talked about ways to educate people on how to recycle different number plastics. On the last day, we did a recycling skit for our presentation, which was really fun.
For the second year in a row, one of my favorite parts about going to Sc3 was the extensive network of people whom I met. There were plenty of new students and the conference, and some old friends that returned. While there were kids from Miami to San Francisco, I was able to connect with some peers from schools around NYC, and we are hoping we can meet this year to talk about environmental issues at our schools. I became a GSA intern while at the conference, so I will be blogging at greenschoolsalliance.wordpress.com throughout the year, with around 30 other interns. I also got to talk more to Peg Watson, the President of the Green Schools Alliance, and I hope she will be able to speak at Friends sometime this year. I had another great week at Sc3, and I am excited at the possibility of returning next year.
For some of my in school service requirement, I worked with Bob sorting through thousands of pieces of music and organizing them by song title. Though the work seemed tedious at first, the longer I looked at the pages, the more I was able to notice patterns and understand which instruments and songs go with each. Before too long, I had developed my own system of organization, in which I was able to rapidly and efficiently organize all the papers, and I had large stacks of songs I had never heard. Through this experience, I also got to learn about Jazz music I had never heard, and composers I was unfamiliar with. Along with Bob telling me some things about the musicians and the pieces of music, just being able to look at the music gave me an understanding of the songs and the composers, and when I would see two different songs written by the same composers, I was often able to recognize them as the same composer without looking. Working with Bob was great fun, and I hope to do it again in the future. I learned a lot about music from my experience, and though I hope the music stays organized, I would not mind reorganizing it one day.
On January 16th, I assisted in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Concert hosted in the 15th street Meeting House. In addition to commemorating Martin Luther King, the concert was aimed towards raising funds for the Friends shelter (held in Friend Seminary’s common room nightly). The Concert exhibited Friend Seminary’s Jazz 1 orchestra, guest saxophone soloist Steve Wilson, and vocalists Pierre Cook and Libby Johnson. Additionally, New York City’s public advocate, Letitia James, read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Riverside Church Speech.
The Friends Shelter has been in service since 1983. With the help of two alternative volunteers nightly, it provides a bed, food, and provisions for fourteen homeless people seven days a week. Operating on a small budget (with less then $3.50 a year), the shelter relies on donations from various service events on the generosity from the community. The MLK concert was therefore a great way to raise much-needed funds for the initiative. To assist, I baked brownies and cookies with several peers that were sold at the concession stand during intermission. During the concert, we heard Letitia James’ reading of MLK’s speech coupled with her hope-inspiring success story, Shannon and Libby Johnson perform James Taylor’s Shed a Little Light, and a longer set from the 15th Street Orchestra. Aside from the fundraising, the event was a great way to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr and promote the 15 Street Meeting House’s cause via music and arts. As New Yorkers, it is often that we become so accustom to encountering homelessness that we grow comfortable with it. More than just entertainment, the music and speeches that were shared brought hope and inspired help. The individual stories and musical expression made homelessness a more real and comprehensible issue, leaving me (as well as others) with the feeling that action is imperative.
This past year I have been volunteering at GO Project almost every saturday. GO Project is an organization that provides school services on Saturdays and during the summer for kids who attend public school. Not only does GO provide learning to the kids, it goes further than that and reaches out to the families; they have workshops each weekend for the parents to attend on a range of subjects. I spent my time helping out in a 4th grade classroom, and though at times it was difficult, it was equally amazing to see the progress the kids had made by the end of the year. I became really close with not only the students, but with the other volunteers and the head teacher of my classroom.
I also became part of two committees at GO Project; the Student Sub-Committee and the GO Getters. The GO Getters is a year round program, that is made up of high school students who volunteer at GO, in which we discuss increasing visibility of GO Project, whether it be through fundraisers or recruiting volunteers, and also continuing discussions on educational equity, and how it effects our community. The Student Sub-Committee, also made up of high school students, focuses on similar topics, however we go more deeply into connecting the students of GO Project and the students at the host schools. Educational equity has become something I am really interested in, and having two groups of students from varying high schools to have open discussions about that topic has been really liberating.
The GO Project has been a large part of my life this year, and it has been equally challenging as rewarding!
On April 19th I decided to come into school on a Saturday to help out with the Friends big FAT service day. Immediately I found my self working with others in maintaining the tolerance garden in Stuyvesant park. First we weeded the plants and picked up any little pieces of trash we found, and then we added mulch to the soil to help the flowers grow. After a couple long hard hours working we were all treated to lunch by the school, and afterwards I spent some time decorating cards for Birthday in a box.
It made me incredibly happy to help make a small part of our city even more beautiful by helping maintain the flowers in Stuyvesant park. It was also quite satisfying to help make a few children’s birthdays slightly happier even if they are less fortunate than I am.
This past June, I attended the Student Climate and Conservation Congress (Sc3), which is a weeklong congress for kids in Junior High and High School. The congress is located near Shepherdstown, West Virginia at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC). Sc3 is run by the Green Schools Alliance, a global network of schools working together to educate the world about environmental issues. The goal of Sc3 is to “empower outstanding student environmental leaders with the skills, knowledge, and tools, necessary to address natural resource conservation challenges and better serve their schools and communities.” Nearly one hundred and fifty teachers and students from around the country attended this conference, and I’m sure that every one of them left with the ability to change their community.
When I first learned about this conference, my one reservation was that I thought “what if it’s just a bunch of tree-huggers wanting to protest for climate change?” However, the conference was far from that. The amount of diversity found at Sc3 was amazing. Kids from both urban and rural societies in dozens of different states participated. Just walking around the NCTC campus was inspiring on its’ own.
About half of the conference was focused on lectures by various speakers. These weren’t ordinary boring classroom lectures, but engaging speakers who interacted with us throughout. I consider myself to be more focused on the science aspect of the environment than anything else, but every talk that was given sparked a whole new interest in me — whether it was Comedian Pete Dominick talking about how the media portrays news, or PBS host Carl Safina reading excerpts from one of his many books written about parts of the ocean. When we weren’t listening to talks, most of our time was spent in project groups. At the beginning of the week, we roamed around to different rooms in the NCTC, and in each room there would be a discussion about a topic related to the environment. Each topic was led by teachers who came from schools equally as diverse as the kids. Some of the 10 groups I participated in were transportation, food, and government/media. Eventually, we decided which discussion we liked to participate in the most, and “Locked-In” to it. For the rest of the week, we worked with our project group to create a presentation for the last day. I chose to lock-in to the government/media group. We decided to put together a video that promotes action on environmental issues, and we interviewed many of the Sc3 speakers. In addition, we made a toolkit that each student could take home after we presented, and use as guidelines for taking action in their own community, and talking to local government representatives.
Many of the students I met at Sc3 I am still in contact with, and talk to about various sustainability issues. I also participated in campfires each night, a beautiful kayaking trip down the Potomac river, and a service project in Sheperdstown where we cleaned out invasive plant species from a stream. There were even workshops varying from learning about bats to watching bees under a microscope. Going into this congress, I never thought that I would come out with such a plethora of knowledge about a topic that seemed fairly simple to me before. The environment isn’t about everything that’s green — there is much more to it than that. During the congress, I had the opportunity to talk to Margaret Watson, President and Founder of the Green Schools Alliance. One of the main questions she had for anyone was “how can you make a positive conservation change in your community?” Thanks to my attendance at Sc3, I feel empowered to make that change.
I hope that I will be able to share the video my project group created with our Friends community, and figure out how we can take our own action through initiatives like writing to a representative about NYC sustainability, or protesting laws that aren’t helpful to the environment. I would also like to note that my participation at the Sc3 was made possible through the Friends Student Summer Scholarship, and I want to give a huge thanks to the donors.
A link to many photos I took while at Sc3 can be found here.
Bordados por la Paz, translated to embroidery for peace, serves to recognize the 50 million missing and dead Mexican victims of Mexico’s rampaging violence, a result of the futile “war on drugs”. For the movement, a group known as Rojas Fuentes, or Red Fountain, distributes the names and information of these victims, which is then embroidered onto handkerchiefs and displayed in public places of many major cities. The movement has created a community of those seeking a relief effort, and bigger audience to hear their message. They offer a form of non-violent protest. This is specifically facilitated by the practice of strangers also meeting face to face to embroider the memories and information of Mexico’s missing and dead. Gaining a larger following through Facebook, Friends Seminary became part of this community. The Spanish III section of Friends each received the name and information of either a missing or dead victim in Mexico and proceeded to embroider this on one of the handkerchiefs. I was given the name of Zane Alejandro Plemmons Rosales, and spent the next several weeks in Spanish as well as after school embroidering his name, information, and other designs. Once everybody had completed handkerchiefs, they were hung up in Friends Seminary’s gallery, resembling the display of these pañuelos in Mexico City and other major cities around the world, promoting recognition and the need for peace and change.
The process of focusing on a specific individual out of the millions of victims, served to make the situation more real and understandable. Rather than focusing on the statistics of a large community in need of aid, I was obligated to think about this one individual who disappeared, which grew to provide me with a larger and more empathetic understanding for the entire situation. I learned that Zane Alejandro Plemmons Rosales, a Mexican-American photojournalist, disappeared on May 21 2012 from Tamaulipas, Mexico. He was last seen attempting to photograph a shootout between rival drug cartels and has not been seen since. Recognizing this man through embroidering his name with green thread enhanced my belief in freedom of expression and caused me to honor the risk the Rojas Fuentes partake with each handkerchief they sew, as many news organizations throughout Mexico have been stopped reporting anything regarding the war on drugs due to intimidation, violence, and murder that has been inflicted by drug cartels on these organizations. This entire movement emphasizes the value of recognition and expression as a community, and the principal role it plays in social solutions.
In History Class this year we learned about the Millennium Development Goals. They are 8 goals created by the United Nations, focusing on improving the world, in many different ways by 2015. We each individually researched a goal and wrote a research paper on it. We also individually wrote a research paper on the Millennium Villages Project, which is a project with 10 participating villages in Africa fighting against poverty, focusing on its praise and criticism. This past year we also collaborated with the Kisyoro School in Ruhiira, Uganda. We sent key notes to them describing life in the city, including photos of ourselves and different city things, and they in return sent us the same about where they live. Interacting and learning about these girls lives has been a truly amazing, and eye-opening experience.You don’t acknowledge what privilege we have living in NYC, and going to such a great school on a normal basis, but through the 9th grade service learning project you are shown that in the best of ways.
Being a part of the Girl Rising screening was something I am so proud of, and when it was over, all I wanted to do was help even more people. Girl Rising is a movie that shows the life of girls around the world in different economical situations, and gets the word out of the different lifestyles of different people. Our school was chosen as one of the few places to premiere this movie, which alone shows the importance of it. The event eventually raised enough money for two girls to attend high school, which is incredibly gratifying. The idea that we have granted two girls a chance at an education, and a chance of a better future for them and their town is beyond amazing. Being able to share these girls story through premiering Girl Rising definitely made the project more meaningful to me, and I believe it was an amazing conclusion to the work we had done the whole year.
In 9th grade this year at Friends, I have had the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of service projects to contribute to our community. Starting with Hurricane Sandy Cleanup in Staten Island earlier in the year, to Service Day a few weeks ago, these experiences are an essential part of service learning at Friends. Throughout this year in my World History class, we have partnered with the Kisoyoro school in Uganda. The Kisoyoro school is part of the Millennium Villages Project, which is a project funded by the UN to build schools for countries in extreme poverty. Each school works with the families around it to get as many kids educated as possible. We got to interact with the girls at the Kisoyoro school through Voicethread, a program that allowed us to share pictures or videos along with an audio clip. They then posted responses on the shared Kisoyoro/Friends Moodle website.
One of the most interesting responses we got from Kisoyoro was their response to service at Friends. Some of us had talked about how Friends has a homeless shelter each night in the smaller gym, and how the cafeteria uses leftover food to serve them. The response from Kisoyoro was particularly striking, as they were surprised with the fact that there even were any homeless people in America. Their views of America were that everyone was wealthy, with no poverty whatsoever. This shows how the views of America from foreign countries are much different than we might expect. This learning project has helped me understand that not every other country may be exactly how we see it from ours.