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Big Mary

May 17, 2010

I was chatting to an ARTech parent prior to Friday’s performance of Big Mary and he reminded me of a key reason for the success of Bob’s spring productions.   That is, Bob always seems to be able to pick plays that challenge the students and have themes which enable the drama to act as a teaching vehicle.   It’s a very intentional process for our theater director.

Anyone who attended Big Mary would certainly vouch for the success of this approach.  We had almost a third of our student population involved in the play. 6th graders and 12th graders shared the stage.   Quite remarkable.   Bob guided them through a tale that touched on deep themes of racial segregation,  gender issues and a community divided.  It was powerful stuff.   

The wonderful play we witnessed was the result of hours and hours of dedicated preparation by  Bob and his ensemble group.  The Great Room was packed on both evenings.   I particularly appreciated the question and answer session with the audience afterwards.   The student responses to the questions were insightful, and showed a deep understanding of the story they had wrestled with over the past few weeks.

The story of Big Mary might have focused in on a community divided, but it was strikingly obvious that a community of student actors, director and parent volunteers were united in bringing it to us.



A Night at the Museum

April 19, 2010

Friday night’s auction was the culmination of months of planning by Rebecca and her fund-raising committee.   They created a great event, and we raised some much needed money for the school program.  Although we are all tired of having to deal with it, our new public school funding reality is that we are having to fund our program without 27% of state funding until the next financial year.  That puts a considerable strain on our finances.  It sure helps to have a community that donates time, energy and dollars to an event like this.

The Eagles club looked marvelous, bedecked as it was with student art work.   Karen O worked wonders once again orchestrating the food and bringing the famous cheesecake to the party.  Todd pulled together a band that featured two parents (thanks, Peter and Kyle), a former director (cheers Tim), Joel on bass, Dave on drums and Wendy on guitar.    They sounded great, you wouldn’t have known that they had barely had any practice time together.  Bob, our master of ceremonies, kept things ticking over.

Rebecca assembled an impressive group of volunteers.  Our thanks go to Marla, Tracy, Nancy, Julie K, Julie A, Mary and Nicole for all the time they dedicated to this project.  As well as raising funds to help our school, they created a nice evening out for our community.

Thanks also to all of you who donated items to the auction.


Big Mac

March 22, 2010

I had the good fortune to join fifty high school students in attending a performance of The Scottish Play at The Guthrie last week.  Quite wonderfully, that’s almost three fourths of our high school population signing up for a day at the theater.

The outing started with an entertaining introduction and synopsis of the play by one of the cast.   As part of his 15 minute summary, he reminded us of the tradition of avoiding using the tragedies proper title on superstitious grounds.   He suggested we refer to our tragic lead as Big Mac!   His synopsis was followed up with an outline of the historical context behind the play and Shakespeare’s ability to blend together various royal characters in the creation of his story.

After that, we took the chance to look around the theater and enjoy the spectacular view of the swollen Mississippi from the the viewing deck of the Endless Bridge.

The play itself was marvelous.   As I said in a previous post, the last time I saw Big Mac was back in my own school days.   I was reminded of why I like the play so much.  On the page, the poetry of the language is so rich that it’s riveting enough as a reading exercise.  Indeed, Scott’s seminar group was thoroughly engaged as they worked through the text together.  On stage, the sheer power and energy of the play is brought to bear.  It was a gripping,  two hour performance without an interval – a deliberate ploy by the director to avoid any interruption to the flow of the play.

Although our decision to stay for the question and answer with the audience meant that we missed our own stop at MacStop for a Big Mac on the way home (sorry students), I think it was well worthwhile to have the chance to quiz the cast of their performance.   Not surprisingly to me, this always happens, the ARTech students were asking the most questions and offering the most comments.  They were engaged.

A great play.  If you get a chance to get over to The Guthrie to see it before this run ends on April 3 I would strongly recommend you do so.   As for ARTech’s theater program, Bob now shifts our focus from Big Mac to Big Mary –  the ARTech spring production.


Immigration to the US

March 1, 2010

Last week, I persuaded my friend Jorge to visit Joe’s US seminar.   The week before, I was present when Joe led a compelling discussion focused on the issues relating to  immigration and the living conditions of latinos in the US.     The students were charged to take their lead from from statements taken from an article by N. C. Aizenman “Second-generation Latinos struggle for a higher foothold,” printed in the Washington Post.  Students were asked to prepare for further discussions and also provide a written response.

To help with the assignment, Joe led the students through a powerpoint entitled U.S. Immigration:  History and Controversy.  As an immigrant myself (Northern European variety) with a foster son who immigrated from Sudan (fleeing war), and good friends who immigrated to the states to find work, education and/or a better life for family, I was intrigued by the topic.    Particularly fascinating were the US maps that Joe had prepared outlining the Latino Diaspora over the last forty years.  As of the 2000 census, Latinos were the largest minority group in 23 states.  It will be interesting to see how the Latino Diaspora sits after the upcoming 2010 census.

After the seminar, I suggested to Joe that he let me invited Jorge in to talk to the students.   Jorge duly obliged, and spent about 40 minutes of his visit last Thursday  covering a broad range of topics relating to life as a latino in Northfield.   I think the students found his perspective interesting.  Jorge is very much a community leader in this town for the latino population.  He was able to give opinions and insights on college access, gangs, the inaccessibility of the middle class, parenting, cultural differences and the challenges of having English as a Second language.

Part of our mission is to encourage students to live as local citizens within a global context.  Joe’s seminar, and Jorge’s visit are small, but important, steps in helping us fulfill that mission for us.

This castle hath a pleasant seat…

February 25, 2010

I had a flashback to my schooldays yesterday.  I vividly recalled sitting in my A level English class some thirty years ago back in Manchester, England.  Mrs. Patrick was the teacher and she was guiding us, somewhat painfully, through a discussion of Macbeth.   I say painfully, because I was one of the few students in the group who actually seemed to like the play.   It wasn’t Mrs. Patrick’s fault, she was actually a very engaging teacher, who loved literature and the classics.   Rather, it was a group of students who were taking the class as a requirement, rather than as a choice, who were the problem.

Contrast that with the Macbeth seminar group I’ve been watching this week.   The seminar emerged after Scott and Bob started posting passages from the play around school, building up energy and excitement for a field trip to the Guthrie on March 17 to see a production of the play.   The twenty or so 9 through 12 graders who signed up meet in the Great Room three mornings a week to read and discuss the play.  Scott leads the group expertly, letting Shakespeare’s story and remarkable language guide the discussion.  It’s old-style, the students take turn reading parts.  And, it works.   The conversation is about the play and characters, the moral dilemmas encountered and  the complexity of the drama.  The discussions are rich and, unlike the students in my class, all present are engaged.   I’ve even been inspired enough to dig out my battered, high school copy of The Scottish Play, complete with embarrassingly bland penciled comments!

Theater is an integral part of the program here and staff collaborations form to support the process.   The middle school students and an elective group of high school students will attend a performance of Anne Frank on March 11.   This will support and inform the core class and project-based work happening this quarter.   On March 17, students will have the opportunity to go to the Guthrie to see a performance of Macbeth (follow this link to see a clip from the play).

On Friday evening, ARTech hosts it’s annual Particularly Short Play Festival at 7PM.   The theater theme pervades this week as groups of students practice their plays in various corners of the building.  Please join us to see the nine plays being performed in the Great Room.

Pancake Day

February 17, 2010

A day late, ARTech celebrated a great English tradition today…Pancake Tuesday.   Naturally, our social studies advisor and avid newspaper reader Joe prompted the celebration.  The Star Tribune carried a piece on the annual Pancake Race in Olney, England.  Dating back to 1445, the story goes that the race was prompted by a townswoman who, late for church, dashed down the street with apron on and frying pan in hand.

Joe brought back memories of pancake races that I participated in at school each Pancake Tuesday.   I also recall my mum making rather excellent pancakes (more like crepes, to you)  that evening and being called upon to toss them before smothering the well-flipped affair with copious amounts of lemon juice and sugar.

Joe and Scott made my day by hosting an impromptu ARTech pancake race after lunch today.  A motley crew assembled to leg it around the center of the school clutching paper plate pans and construction paper pancakes.   I was leading throughout until some shirt-pulling, alas not spotted by the judges, caused me to lose balance and drop the pancake pile.

A new ARTech tradition is born.

Pancake recipe and tossing instructions.

Exercising the brain

February 15, 2010

Yesterday, under sunny skies, on beautiful trails, I skied the Mora, Vasaloppet nordic ski race. Several Northfield folk participated, including two of ARTech’s students – Leif O and Peter B. Leif completed the 35K and finished some distance ahead of me. I reckon it was probably his superior knowledge of ski wax that made him go faster:)
Checking out the results and times last night on the Vasa website, I noticed that, despite my advancing years, I was far from the oldest participant in the race. In fact, many skiers were in their 60s and 70s (sadly, most of those finished ahead of me). Nordic skiing is a great example of a sport that attracts an attitude of health and wellness in people of all ages.
It’s an attitude of physical health and well-being that we are most interested in developing here at ARTech. Of course, without a traditional gym on site, the PE program has to be approached with some creativity. We consciously organize hikes, field trips to college gyms, downhill ski outings, dance, experiential learning camps and May Term activities that incorporate time in the great outdoors. At the moment, Sarah, Rebecca and I are in conversation with the good folks up at Manito-Wish negotiating a plan to make our fall visit up North a more extensive and sustainable part of our program.
This quarter, under the leadership of Jake and Todd, ARTech is in collaboration with the Northfield YMCA to provide health and wellness options for our middle school and high school students. Under the guidance of the YMCA staff and utilizing the Armory gym and the Wellness Center, students are participating in a variety of sports, learning yoga and using exercise machines. As part of the high school program, students are monitoring their heart rate and flexibility before and after exercise. We very much want to watch and see how this goes with the intention of making this a regular part of our programming. In the process, we have to navigate scheduling, transport details and cost but it should be well worth it. The students have already let us know how much they are enjoying it.

In his book Spark: The Revolutionary Science of Exercise and the Brain, John Ratey makes a powerful case for exercise as an antidote for overweight, unmotivated adolescents. The book makes the case for a link between exercise and brain development. Ratey cites emerging research showing that “physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage brain cells to bind to one another.” He goes on to make the claim that exercise creates “an environment in which the brain is ready, willing and able to learn.”
Ratey takes a look at innovative school PE programs that eschews the traditional sports model in favor of developing a greater awareness of what constitutes individual health and well-being. In support of this approach is the striking statistic that less than three percent of adults over the age of twenty-four stay in shape through playing team sports.
In his study of school exercise programs, Ratey quotes on program leader as saying: “it’s not my job to make kids fit. My job is to make them know all of the things they need to know to keep themselves fit.” It seems an appropriate, and manageable, attitude for a small school like ours, especially if the parents are partners in nurturing this positive attitude to physical well-being.
It’s important. After all, the book’s most frightening statistic is that 30 percent of US schoolchildren are overweight.