George School Alumna Shares Touching Thanksgiving Story

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by Alyson Cittadino, with permission and assistance from A.V. Crofts

Anita Verna Crofts ’88 writes about her love of travel and food in her new book Meet Me at the Bamboo Table. Anita is a bicoastal educator as well as writer on faculty in the Department of Communications at the University of Washington and Associate Director for the Communication Leadership graduate program. She also curates the blog Pepper for the Beast which covers everything from breakfast in war zones to best practices for pie transportation.

Meet Me at the Bamboo Table includes a touching story about Anita’s 2001 trip to Berlin where she celebrated Thanksgiving. Anita was kind enough to let us share this excerpt with our readers. As families across America gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, we hope you’ll read and enjoy this heartwarming piece.

Wishing the George School community health, love, and peace this holiday season.

Learn more about or purchase Anita’s book here.

Connect with Anita on social media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/avcrofts

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/avcrofts

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/avcrofts

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Five Reasons to Attend a TEDx Talk

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by Alyson Cittadino

Are you considering attending TEDxGeorgeSchool but aren’t really sure if it’s for you or not? This might help. Happening on December 3, TEDxGeorgeSchool features thirteen passionate and remarkable speakers that are doing innovative work in the fields of design, science, and engineering. Speakers include a Nobel Laureate recipient, the co-chair of Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans, and co-founder of BalletX. In addition to the great lineup of presenters, TEDxGeorgeSchool will feature informative breakout sessions and opportunities to interact with George School students.

But, if we still haven’t convinced you, here are five reasons to attend a TEDx Talk.

It will expand your knowledge base. TEDx Talks have a theme, but the individual subjects are usually relatively different, making it a well-rounded event. For example, TEDxGeorgeSchool is focused on innovation, but subjects range from opera to bean breeding to engineering toys that inspire learning.

Attendance at TEDx builds community. Network with likeminded individuals, industry professionals, or leaders just like you and grow your professional (or personal) network. Plus, adding the experience of a TEDx Talk to a resume, shows future employers a desire to learn and a real interest in the industry.

The breakout sessions. In between each speaker session, TEDx requires breakout or “brain break” sessions. These sessions can include anything from learning tai chi or singing to dancing lessons and chocolate tastings. Audience members will not be disappointed with the wide selection of choices designed to get the juices flowing just in time for the next fascinating speaker.

You will meet really interesting people. TEDx Talks encourage a diverse audience to mingle with the presenters. TED requires an application-based registration process to guarantee that a good mix of professionals, students, and community members are in the audience. The unique format of the talks also allows ample time for attendees to interact with speakers and each other.

Experience face-to-face communication in a digital world. TEDx Talks allow presenters the opportunity to speak directly to a live audience; not through a camera or chatbot. Interact with these speakers in person, in real time, face-to-face, and learn about the innovative work they are doing.

Learn more about TedXGeorgeSchool here.

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In The Mind of a George School Student: Voting for the First Time

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by Holdyn Barder ’17

Any member of the George School community can affirm that politics is a big chunk of the current discussion trends within the school, especially in the wake of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. As a George School senior, I stumble upon various opinions from my peers, teachers, and other sources regarding the election and I am forced to think one thing: “Wow!” I believe that one of the more important lessons George School has taught me is being able to consider all sides of any spectrum and then consciously form my own intellectual and meaningful opinions after looking at all of the facts. Personally, the origin of perceiving situations in this way comes from the still nature of the values and morals that guide George School, the backbone of Quakerism. Although I do not affiliate myself with The Religious Society of Friends, the ‘Quaker Way’ has been the cornerstone for my decision-making and motivation in my life. Let me take you on a brief journey to show you how my experience in Friends education relates to this election and why it is special to me as an American.

Looking back to when I was a little boy, I can clearly remember the cheers, the rallies, the campaign signs, the news, and everything that had to do with the elections (of the four in my lifetime, excluding this election). I regarded the Presidential Elections as the biggest events in the entire world (keeping into perspective the large scale of reality from a child’s point of view). Now, after examining this 2016 Presidential Election, I have come to the conclusion that I wasn’t too wrong after all–this very well could be the biggest electoral decision ever made in our country’s, or the world’s, history.

Let me take you back to when I was about seven or eight years old. Around that time, my father began his involvement with politics in Bucks County. As a young boy, I remember going to rallies, campaign events, and living the tiny political dream world of Holdyn Barder. I cannot exactly pinpoint the origin of my strong national pride. It could be my father’s service in the United States Marine Corps, the childhood memories of attending political events with my parents, my vague remembrance of September 11th, or simply my citizenship…but what I do know is that there is something different about this election than any other: My voice matters now.

This simple fact is exciting and true, but what is also correct is that I will be voting in the 8th Congressional District of Pennsylvania, which, by many, is considered one of the swing regions of this swing state. My vote matters…a lot. The idea that the outcome of the national popular vote falling into the hands of a small portion of Pennsylvania residents is mind boggling. There is pressure, and for an eighteen-year-old voting for the first time, I know that it is best to connect back to my cornerstone of Quakerism in these turbulent times.

Lately, I have been pondering over the recent drama, and adversities circumambulating both major campaigns, and I find that the most beneficial method to handle that drama is to simply shut off the station or device broadcasting it. I have discovered that the media strongly influences lives and opinions, as seen in the 2016 Presidential Election. It is important to stay true to who I am and to not be swept away by the drama which is something I believe many can agree on. I have seen all three 2016 Presidential Debates, attended several campaign events this year, and nothing has brought me more clarity than shutting out the noise simply by being.

This election is special to me – not only because it is my first time voting, but it reflects the forgotten beauty and freedom of democracy in this country. November 8th, 2016 is the day that I will be casting my first vote and I will be joining millions of other fellow Americans citizens. God Bless the United States of America.

 

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A Note on the Need for Civil Discourse

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By Head of School Sam Houser

Anyone paying attention to this election season, regardless of party affiliation or ideological orientation, would probably agree that the quality of much of our political discourse is not what a healthy democracy deserves. Across the political spectrum, we have heard presidential and other candidates—and their supporters—make claims and statements that are sometimes shocking, disrespectful and insulting to individuals and groups of people. Often, such claims and statements shed little light on issues confronting the country and the world and therefore are of limited value to the electorate.

I write to remind everyone at George School that as an educational community, we are obliged to model in our own behavior and cultivate in others the ability to engage in honest and well informed but also civil and respectful discourse about a range of topics, political and non-political. We do this in order to increase our understanding of one another, of humanity generally, and of the wider world. As a Quaker school, we are devoted to seeking the Light of God together and discerning and honoring the inner Light in each of us—all in the manner of Friends who prize respect for the individual, intellectual and personal rigor, integrity, and the health of our community.

We need to remember that our community is comprised of people and families holding a variety of political perspectives, who support various candidates for office and policy proposals for many different reasons. In light of this, we should be careful to treat each other with respect and avoid the temptations of snap judgments, name calling, and dismissiveness. If we choose to discuss politics (as with anything else), let’s talk honestly, thoughtfully, and responsibly about our interests and commitments, and the worries and hopes we have for the world. We may not agree on what we discuss, and we might not persuade others to our own point of view. But I firmly believe that substantial, respectful, and civil conversations strengthen our community as they advance our understanding of one another’s life experiences, concerns, and animating passions. At their best, they mobilize us to improve the world without being held back by our differences.

Thank you for keeping George School safe, strong, meaningful, and good.

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Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

By Amedeo Salamoni

_dsc8707-2I was asked to give a presentation on how I encourage and teach through failure. My initial reaction was not to do so. When asked what was holding me back, I thought, what if I messed it up… How ironic!

This summer at Maine College of Art, I took a class about working with new technologies and how they can be used as tools in the visual arts. What I came away with was not a vast knowledge of computer-aided design nor a comprehensive understanding of the software programs, but instead a greater empathy for what our students sometimes feel when faced with learning something new or getting outside their comfort zone.

Here I am in a class of ten art teachers from around the country, looking like a deer in headlights. While I had already incorporated 3D printing and other technologies into my classroom I wanted to learn more. But I still had a feeling of inadequacy. My instructor Bennett said something to me one day that I always tell my students. In response to a question I had about the automated CNC router and if it could be used to draw with a brush and ink he said, “I don’t know, let’s try to find a way and figure it out!”

Through a collaboration with Bennett and several other art teachers we figured out that we needed to turn off the spinning function of the router so we wouldn’t get sprayed with ink. When I wanted a variable thickness to the line Bennett suggested we alter the path speed, and so on. This is how new ideas and techniques are generated, through trial and error.

One of the things that students learn early on in my classes is that there are many ways (and techniques) to do something. I believe that the best art, design, and teaching come from people who embrace their ability to be flexible, adaptable, and vulnerable. I approach all of my work with a speculative curiosity and live for problem-solving and empirical learning. This is how I work alongside my students in class.

For those of you who have not visited the arts classes I encourage you to do so at some point, and you will see this collaboration in action, not just in my classroom but others as well.

I believe that to become proficient at making art, or anything for that matter, you need to push yourself to the point of failure to be able to learn from your mistakes. When working with clay a student needs to know and understand the material before they can make something.

I remember one time when I was in my studio in graduate school and I was working on the potter’s wheel making a series of pots. My girlfriend, now my wife, Diane was watching me work on one pot after another. She would say, “that’s good, that’s enough.” Ignoring her advice, and one pot after another, I would push the clay to the point of collapse.

This was my way of understanding the limitations of the material so the next time I made a vase I would know when to stop. It is this type of hands-on approach to a material that I teach to my students.

I incorporate many techniques and styles into my demonstrations. For example, in one of my Advanced Ceramics classes you will regularly see me ask my students questions about their project rather than give them the solution. The solution I might offer up may not be the only way to do something. Instead when a student asked if she should put a handle on her piece, my answer was “Where would you put it?” Because I answered her in this way, it prompted a conversation about balance, which led to discussing options on “how” to attach a handle.

I try to lead my students through a list of educational and artistic questions that they answer for themselves, thus instructing them to revisit and enhance the techniques they have learned. I am also encouraging them to take full ownership of their artistic work, rather than simply telling them how I would create the piece.

In my Advanced Ceramics class, this does not mean that I simply sit back and watch students grasp at straws as they tackle new projects. What it does mean is that I carefully demonstrate the techniques or methods for students to work on — ones that might not have only one possible approach. I then give them the space and the skills to work through the challenge and reflect on their process and struggles as they go. Powerful learning occurs when people have to struggle through challenging material and have the opportunity to fail a few times along the way.

My interest in focusing on this type of productive struggle in my class comes from a strong belief that people learn more when allowed to fail than when provided all the answers.

This type of learning forces us to put ourselves and our ideas out there in front of everyone, becoming vulnerable—Just like I felt in that workshop in Maine. One of the things that I do to try and make my students feel more comfortable is to do my own work right along with them in the classroom. This approach to my teaching has enabled my students to see me fail!

I encourage my students to experiment, and not be afraid if they do not succeed at first. I remember so clearly when I was working on one of my pots in the studio and I was trying to lighten the form by carving away some clay, I went too far and carved through the base of the pot, but I noticed the tool that I was using left a neat pattern in the surface of the clay. It was this accidental discovery that led to the texture and surface carving I do in my work today. It started as a mistake that I took one-step further.

I always refer to these as “happy mistakes” to my students. Taking risks can often improve one’s creativity. Taking a risk and going outside your comfort zone knowing that you may fail with your artwork is how new ideas are generated.

I read an article from the Washington Post about a teacher who told her students that failure is not an option, it’s a requirement. Too often teachers are told that all material must be “scaffolded” for students. While in the classroom, it is sometimes taken to mean that all material must be broken down into such small and simple steps or chunks of information that students are all able to be successful every step of the way. If a significant number of students in a class are not able to immediately find the answer, this is often seen as an indication that the teacher did something wrong either in presenting or breaking down the material.

Students, as a result, often get the message from very early on in their education that if they do not immediately grasp how to solve a problem or get the right answer, they must not be very smart or good at that particular subject. With years of training in this way of thinking, it comes as no surprise that students often respond to challenging work by either immediately asking the teacher for help or by giving up.

My main concern with this approach to teaching and learning is that it simply is not authentic to either the practice of art or just about anything else in life. Most real-world problems are complex and do not come with clear steps to follow to reach a solution.

If we are not equipping students with the skills to tackle such problems by supporting them in struggling with challenging work in our classrooms now, then we are simply pushing the issue farther down the road when students will come up against bigger challenges in future classes, in college, or in their careers.

Providing our students with the confidence and skills to approach challenging work without an overwhelming fear of failure, and the mindset to see the failures they will have as opportunities to learn something is far more important and transferable than any set of facts we could teach them.

Another aspect of my teaching has been building my students’ group work and process skills so that they develop their abilities to collaborate, try multiple approaches, and reevaluate an approach that is not working.

In my Sculpture class I usually assign a group project in the last term. I introduced the project to the students and let them run with their ideas. Students are assigned to small groups and allowed to brainstorm their ideas for the sculpture. Each group then has to submit their design proposal, just like a professional artist would when applying for a commission. Selected faculty and staff members serve as jurors on the design committee.

Once the design is selected, the project becomes more challenging. The entire class works together to solve problems of balance, construction, and cost. Working in smaller groups, based on each students particular skillset or talents, the fabrication process begins with delegation of responsibilities. All this is student run, with only gentle nudging or guidelines from me.

This project enables my students to put into action all the skills, techniques and methods that were taught in the first two terms. I provide them with opportunities before and after each significant group work activity to reflect on how their skills are growing.

As they are working, I have to be continuously mindful of my tendency to step in and redirect groups that are taking unexpected approaches. When I step back and allow my students to work through these problem-solving issues the most interesting student learning and work products have usually come from those groups.

While all of us at some point in our lives experienced the discomfort that can come with struggle, we’ve hopefully experienced the investment in solving challenging problems, the “light bulb moments”, and the deep learning that comes with struggle as well.

I have already seen the value in tilting my classroom more towards one focused on the skills of tackling complex questions. That of course does not mean that content does not matter, but simply that it does not exist in a vacuum away from the struggles and challenges that helped people discover it. If I want my students to tackle some of the big questions in art (or science, or math, or history, or anything), they need to be prepared to approach complex and challenging issues and to learn from their failures.

So, in the end I am glad I put myself outside of my comfort zone to tell you how I feel about teaching art.

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I Joined the Circus

by Colin Ganges ’16

In the summer of 2015 I joined the circus.

The Trenton Circus Squad to be exact. I had decided to volunteer in my neighborhood rather than participate in a school service trip because I felt that there was a real need in my own community. I was unsure about where I could help, but knew I wanted to interact with children.

I chose the Trenton Circus Squad because I thought it was a very unique idea, would give me the chance to learn new skills, and help in my neighborhood. The organization’s goal is to attract low income teens to help entertain children close to home. They also believe that performing arts are an effective tool to teach lifelong habits such as self-reliance and physical well-being.

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Photo courtesy of Steve Sarafian

Before working with the team I had never participated in any circus nor did I have any skills associated with the circus. While there I learned basic acrobatics and juggling.

Our days were divided in two—the first half of the day was devoted to skills training and the second half to our upcoming performance. This allowed me to try all different forms of entertainment and find which one suited me the best. After deciding to focus on acrobatics and juggling I was able to practice those skills the rest of the days in preparation for our upcoming shows.

While practicing my particular routines I was nervous that my first show was in a few days, and all the skills I was planning on showing I had learned less than a week ago. We would run though the show three to four times a day trying to figure out the order of the performances.

People walking by on the streets would see us practicing and would stop in to watch for a few minutes. I would see children run in, excited just to watch us perform.

My most memorable moment came when a homeless man walked in to watch. The man who ran the Circus Squad saw him and went over to talk for a few minutes. He walked away and came back with a red clown nose for the homeless man. He put the nose on smiling and laughing while he walked out the door, even more excited than the children who would stop by. This showed me how important this community service was and how it could completely change someone’s day.

Another moment when our effect on the community was evident in the moments following the shows. After our performances we would teach the children and the adults in the audience basic skills. Everyone would be divided into five different stations with the audience cycling through.

I either taught juggling or the tight rope. At first I was very worried because I remembered how nervous I was while learning these skills and now I had to teach others. The children were so excited to try that I didn’t focus on how new I was, but on how happy they were. Some chose to try every skill possible while others stuck to one skill and didn’t want to leave until they could master it.

This opportunity for community service allowed me to help my community while getting outside my comfort zone to entertain others. I think back on how much fun I had and how this community service helped me as well as the children for whom I was there to perform and make smile.

Want to join the circus? Just ask me.

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Reflecting on Lessons Learned Through Service

by Jake Malavsky ’15

This summer I have been following the service trip blogs posted by current George School students. Reading their reflections caused me to think about my own service trip experience and how it has shaped my life after George School.

Every George School student spends a minimum of 65 hours participating in service learning. Some work locally while others travel around the world to locations ranging from Washington DC to Vietnam. In the spring of 2015, I joined a group of George School faculty and students on a trip to Mississippi to work with Habitat for Humanity. This trip would prove to be one of the highlights of my senior year.

Mississippi is the poorest state in the country and we traveled to the Mississippi Delta, one of the most impoverished areas of the state. Our trip lasted two weeks and we split the time working at two local Habitat for Humanity sites.

Having grown up near George School for most of my life, Mississippi was unlike anything I had ever experienced. This was evident when a few of us walked into a gas station convenience store to find jars of “koolicles” for sale. The bright red color of these pickles soaked in Kool Aid was an immediate sign of the difference in cultures. Instead of shutting down in the face of these differences we were encouraged to open ourselves up to them.

For me one of the most rewarding aspects of the trip was our interaction with the communities that we were serving. Years of volunteering in this area had created a neighborhood of Habitat for Humanity housing. Every day after we finished working the children of Clarksdale would show up in front of our house wanting to play games. The youngest ones would try and tackle us to the ground as we joined in on their after school traditions. I felt that, even more than the assigned physical work, our real service happened during those afternoons of tag and hide-and-seek.

When I think back on what I learned, I can boil it down to one main idea—I learned to be open. Since leaving Mississippi and graduating from George School I have carried this idea with me. With all the fear caused by recent events, it seems to me that being open to different cultures, ideas, and traditions is a lesson worth learning.

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Our Final Day in Beijing, and China

Our last day in Beijing and our last day in China. We woke up and headed out for breakfast outside. Given the choice between Chinese breakfast and a bakery, almost everyone chose the bakery. After breakfast, we rode over to Coal Hill, a small hill strategically located just south of the Forbidden City. The hill is just high enough to give a wonderful overview of the Forbidden City, a view afforded nowhere else. After going up and down the hill, we headed out to 798. This old factory was turned into artist studio and gallery space several years ago and offers a wonderful viewing and selection of modern Chinese art. After wandering around there for several hours we headed back into the city to meet a number of Chinese George School families for dinner; typical Beijing cuisine. Since we had to get up so early the next morning to catch our flight, we called it a night around 8 o’clock.

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Beijing Day 3

Another beautiful day in Beijing; quite seriously, blue skies and sunny, hot weather. We set off this morning by subway to have dim sum, Cantonese brunch, consisting of various steamed buns and dumplings, chicken’s feet, and other delicacies. After breakfast, we walked about 15 minutes to Yonghegong, or Lama Temple, a temple of Tibetan Buddhism. After another 15 minute walk and a brief stop for green tea ice cream, we arrived at the Confucius Temple. Temple is perhaps the wrong term for this complex, which was a place of learning and the place for the Imperial examinations, which determined who would become the highest-ranked officials. We next walked through the winding hutongs, or alleys, to arrive at a wonderful vegetarian restaurant.

The interesting thing about Chinese vegetarian restaurants is that the foods are made to appear and even taste like meat and fish. After lunch, we got on a bus and headed south to Tiantan 天坛, or the Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Heaven is where the emperor used to communicate with heaven, and is now a large, beautiful park. Across the street from the east gate is the Hongqiao Pearl Market. Everyone enjoyed shopping in this very Chinese market, full of clothes and shoes and accessories and electronics and bags, and where you can bargain until you get the deal you want. Above back of the hotel where everyone put their stuff away and got a quick shower before heading out again for a dinner of Beijing duck. This is a specialty not to be missed when visiting Beijing, and we were not disappointed.

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Beijing Days 1 and 2

We arrived in Beijing after a ten-hour overnight train ride from Yangzhou. Fresh from a good night’s sleep for some and a not so good night’s sleep for others, we boarded the bus for a short ride to the hotel where we dropped our bags before heading out to do a full day of sightseeing. We drove over to the south side of Tiananmen Square, where we marveled at the sheer size and scale of the square. We looked north toward Mao’s portrait and then headed to walk underneath it on our way into the Forbidden City. Continue reading

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