Thursday, February 15, 2018

Rats in Ruts

February 26, 2018

Dear LoMA Family,

Albert Einstein famously said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Scientists in Portugal have recently been studying how humans become insane this way by experimenting with rats stuck in ruts making the same mistakes repeatedly. They have found that our brains are wired to deal with stress by digging ourselves deeper and deeper into ruts instead of thinking of new solutions.
For these experiments, the scientists put their experimental rats under physical and mental stress. For instance, they caged some of them with very aggressive rats and electrocuted others.  After four weeks, these stressed out rats were less able to find their way out of mazes as they took the same dead end routes again and again even though they should have known better from past mistakes. These same rats also became obsessive about pressing a bar for more food, even when they had had enough. On the other hand, unstressed rats apparently usually only “ask” for as much food as they need. As one scientist stated, the stressed rats became “cognitively predisposed to … run laps in the same dead end rat race rather than seek a pipeline to greener sewers.”
I have seen agitated students do this all the time. When they get in trouble, they keep on repeating the same inane comments (like, “I don’t care”) or yelling at people rather than sitting and calming down in an office. It is as if their brain is making them repeatedly hit their head against the wall rather than look up and find their way around the obstacles.
Less agitated students (and adults) also spin their wheels down into the same kind of rut of repeating stupid, counterproductive habits. Most of the time we are looking for immediate relief of stress rather than a true solution to what is causing the problem. For instance, because we may repeatedly gossip to win friends in the short term, we fail to make friendships that are more lasting because we are so untrustworthy, or we fail to complete projects successfully due to the immediate gratification of procrastination. What makes the problem worse, according to the researchers, is that “We’re lousy at recognizing when our normal coping mechanisms aren’t working. Our response to stress is usually to do the same bad habit five times more, instead of thinking maybe it’s time to try something new.”
There are only fifteen days left in this marking period. Most of our students have learned the keys to success: regular studying, tutoring and focusing in and out of class. Too many students, however, are stressing about their grades, but doing the same thing over and over again – missing deadlines, rushing through HW and making excuses. These students need to stop hitting their head against the wall, look up, and figure out how to get out of their ruts. Fortunately, we are not rats. As difficult as it is, humans can become self-conscious enough to recognize when their habits are becoming self-destructive, and they can break these bad habits. As part of our brain seems to want to keep on making the same mistakes over and over again, I think the answer may be to find friends, teachers and counselors who can show us our own ruts and guide us out of them. With fifteen days left in the marking period, now is the time to do it.

Work hard,

John Wenk

March 15         6:00                 Parents’ Association Meeting
March 16                                 End of Marking period

Dear LoMA, 
This week features the thoughts of two 9th graders who have adapted to the new stresses that High School brings and their efforts to balance their stresses to find success. 
Stress can be confusing sometimes.  It’s like if I’m super stressed, then I’m too stressed to even start to do anything, and if I’m able to get to a point where I have no stress, then I don’t get anything done because I can’t make myself care enough to start.  I have yet to accomplish having the perfect amount of stress that doesn’t trigger my anxiety.  In fact, I’m super stressed right now.  The way stress is for me is that I’ll start thinking about how stressed I am and then I’ll start thinking about everything that’s going to happen if I don’t get my work done.  Ultimately, all that thinking causes my anxiety to come out, and I end up needing tea and a super long bath.  While that makes me feel better in the short run, the second I’m done drying off, then it’s super late when I start trying to get some work done, and I end up either not finishing it or not really sleeping so then I’m tired and stressed all the next day and the cycle continues… 
Too much stress really makes it hard to complete anything you’re trying to accomplish.  Lately, I’ve been getting stressed, and it really slows me down, especially when it comes to school.  When stressed, I think about how much homework I have and how I’m never going to finish it.  When this happens, I really get out of my element and end up not completing my homework, which makes more stress.  It’s like the hormone cycles that Renae has taught us about when she comes into class.  I’ve also realized that when I am stressed I start to get really tense, especially around my friends and family, and I end up isolating myself, which adds more stress to my life.  This is why I believe that too much stress is bad and if you have too much stress it can affect your happiness and your grades and even your health (not to mention your relationship with your friends and family).  Still, I see other people in my class who seem to have no stress, and they don’t seem to be in a much better place than I am, so I guess the secret is what Siddhartha found a long time ago. 

Find your balance, 


Friday, February 9, 2018

Jobs, Internships and Responsibility

And in the end, the love you get is equal to the love you give
-        Paul McCartney
                                                                                                                                                February 12, 2018

Dear LoMA Family,

As a principal, I am always stressing the crucial role school plays in teaching responsibility, hard work and commitment. More than reading, writing and problem solving, these are the most vital determinants for success in school and in life. My experience, however, also tells me that school is not the only place that we develop these vital traits. Family life, extracurricular activities, internships and jobs can be just as effective at teaching us the values of timeliness, effort, teamwork, and determination, and they can often be more fun. 
            Many of our students have demanding duties at home such as taking care of younger siblings, parents and grandparents. Other students have plenty of chores that may give them a sense of fulfillment that comes from taking care of their household even if it can be difficult at times. The volunteer work other students do for community based organizations or churches can also feel good and teach responsibility.  
            One of the reasons we require students to participate in extracurricular activities at LoMA is so that students can learn from similar experiences here. The most important finding from my dissertation was that students who participate in extracurricular activities are more likely to graduate and go to college. Furthermore, the more intense the activity, the more positive the effect. My surveys and reviews of records indicated that the rigor of frequent and intense teamwork generated through rehearsals for LoMATE did the best at teaching responsibility and a strong work ethic. Similarly, the effort required by PSAL teams, LoMA Cares and Student Council also led to more success. Time and effort seem to equal greater sense in learning and responsibility
            When I ask our returning alumni what helped them the most at LoMA, they frequently cite their internship because it taught them time management, dependability and how to work with others in a professional setting. The experience of working with a professional arts company, with patients in a hospital or teaching children in an elementary school gains value as you see people improve and grow through your efforts. Similarly, about a third of our seniors had the chance to take classes at NYU or John Jay last semester and nearly all earned high grades as they rose to the high expectations of college-level work amongst older, more experienced classmates.
I regret never participating in extracurricular activities or an internship while I was in high school, but I did learn the value of hard work through part-time jobs and full-time summer work, and it paid better than school. I may have had some terrible bosses and some of the labor was arduous, but I learned to value dependability, effort and teamwork. In fact, I made my closest friends through the challenges of work. Unfortunately, there are not nearly as many jobs for young people today, but LoMA students to have access to a program I never had – Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). The deadline is early March, so apply now at or you can just Google SYEP application. If you have an IEP, you can also see Trece for additional opportunities.
It is certainly possible to work a job, intern for a great organization and participate in extracurricular activities and learn nothing. As with all things, the formula is almost mathematical in its precision: the effort you put into an activity = the rewards you get out of it.

 Work Hard,

John Wenk

Dear LoMA, 
Below are thoughts from two Seniors who have taken advantage of outside programs through Julie at real art museums working with real, professional artists.  All of our arts teachers have programs like these that are offered to students willing to put in the work to complete them.  Additionally, there are many opportunities to pursue academic or completely non-school-related programs like these.  Ask your teachers or advisors if you have an interest that you’d like to pursue and the drive to do it! 
Being an art major can be difficult at times.  From visiting galleries to trying to make our own ideas come to life, it is all very challenging.  Since I was an art major, I went to the Whitney so much that I sometimes thought I lived there.  At first it was okay.  The artwork was interesting and I was able to make brief descriptions of the pieces that I liked and what I thought of the art in a very general way.  But then we kept going, and going, and going, and now I get slightly irritated whenever we go, but at the same time, it’s kind of nostalgic, like I’m stepping back in time, and I can look at the art in a much deeper way.  Usually we go when it’s closed, so I feel like we own the place; it’s like going to Sunday School on a Saturday.  When I was chosen for the Whitney program, now that was a doozy of gnarliness.  I met new people (not usually my favorite thing) and made new art and felt more grateful than Justin Timberlake when he was chosen for the Superbowl halftime show.  I will always enjoy thinking of the time I spent in that program because I got new experiences, new ideas, and met new people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. 
During my sophomore year of high school, I decided to listen to Julie (for once) and enroll in the Youth Insights program at the Whitney Museum.  Honestly, it was an experience to remember.  I had the opportunity to work first hand with Academy Award-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras on my own film.  I also got to have access to the galleries after hours when the public was not there to bother me and I could be alone with my own ideas.  I bet you’ve never thought about visiting your local town or council meeting and letting your voice be heard, but I was encouraged to go to one of these meetings, be heard, and film it for my project.  This way, I was able to be aware of decisions being made that directly affect me.  After I created my film and completed the program, the Whitney held a ceremony for us to present our films.  You should join a program like this today, so you can be more like me!  [Symbol] 

Follow your opportunities! 


Text Box: February 13   Valentine’s Dance
February 16-23  Mid-Winter Break

Friday, January 5, 2018

Sexual Harrassment

LoMA Cares
                                                                                                                                                January 8, 2018

Dear LoMA Family,

A sea change seems to be finally occurring in the recognition of how rampant, dangerous and immoral sexual harassment is for too many women. There had been times in the past when I thought men were finally getting just how awful it is, but I was wrong. Clarence Thomas was still appointed to the Supreme Court after sexually harassing Anita Hill, and Donald Trump was elected President after bragging about being a sexual predator. Just in the last two months, however, powerful men are paying the price for their unacceptable behavior. The list of actors, politicians, business executives and newscasters who have been publicly shamed and fired is astounding. I hope that is a warning to all men that such behavior can never be tolerated. The reality, however, is that it is not just the famous and rich who are sexually predatory; it is something that far too many women have to deal with.
Just to be clear: There is no “sex” without consent. It is called rape is not sex. Unwanted touching is not sexy; it is assault. Sexual advances in a professional environment, particularly from a position of power, are highly inappropriate and when involving a minor are illegal. In fact, the power differential between an adult man and minor creates a sexually exploitive situation that is nearly always illegal.
It is that power differential that is creating such problems for many woman and some men. It has been reinforced in our culture which validates powerful, aggressive men and teaches women to be passive and careful. Most religions are built around the concept of protecting women’s chastity from uncontrollable male urges. Fundamental Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism all have had rules about how a women should dress and act around men lest they arouse they animal nature in men.
I felt how messy this situation has become when I had a very awkward, difficult conversation with my niece as I dropped her off at college. I told her that she had to be careful of the men there as I had friends who were victims of date rape. I gave her rules about always making sure she had sober friends with her when she went to parties, to never leave her drinks unwatched on tables lest someone slip her a mickey, to stay on lighted paths at night and I fretted over how she dressed. The more I thought about how some of the men at my college acted, the more I was scared for her.
The injustice is this is that power dynamic between men and women puts this burden to be careful on women. They have to worry about where they go, who they are with, what they wear and what they do in a way that men rarely even consider.  Yet, it should be the responsibility of men to ensure that women do not feel intimidated sexually. They need to be aware of how women may feel in certain situations. If they are not sure, they can ask. Finally, they need to be clear that they do not want to hear their male friends talk about women as sexual objects.
This last month has given reason to hope that things are changing. Women are calling out men in power, and for the first time, most men seem to be listening and believing them. Companies and organizations are punishing many famous predators. Now what can we do to fight against all forms of sexual harassment?

Take care of each other,

John Wenk

Text Box: January 11   Alumni Day
January 15   Martin Luther King Jr. Day – no school!
January 18  6:00 Parents’ Association Meeting
January 19   Last day of classes for the Fall Semester
January 22-Janury 25  Regents and Finals Week 
January 30   First Day of Spring Semester Classes

Dear LoMA, 
Below is a conversation between two juniors, one who identifies as a male and the other as female, that they allowed to be transcribed discussing the issues of sex and gender that have reached a head in society.  The italicized text with serifs is from a student who identifies as male, the sans-serif text is from a student who identifies as female. 
Male: I feel like the taboo of sex in this country has helped to contribute to the issues we have with sexual assault.  The country has a very uncomfortable view of ideas relating to sex, which, I think, leads to people being uncomfortable reporting this abuse when it happens.    
Female: I think America objectifies women so much that some people feel like it’s fine to be assaulting and touching women.   
Male: Yeah, and I also feel like that ties into gender roles too.  Like you said, we think of women as such a—we degrade women so much that it makes them feel weakened as if they can’t have a voice to express what just happened—so people just continue to do it. 
Female: I see a lot of stories in the media, with cases where the person who committed the assaults don’t really get punished, and it’s more so the victim who gets the blame put on them. 
Male: Ms. L taught us that we should move away from using the word “victim” for these types of crimes, and to use “target” instead, because “victim” kind of sounds like it was kind of accidental or someone who just happened to be there, but “target” emphasizes that the actions and the person they were done to was intentional on the part of the criminal. 
Female: I think it’s good that people are finally finding the confidence to speak up, because the more you hear these people speak up, it makes other targets feel that they’re not alone, and they find the strength to speak up as well. 
Male: One thing that is crazy is you know how they have all of this Hollywood assault charges going on?  I don’t understand how so many women can say the same thing about one person, and that one person can just deny it.  I mean if fifty people are all saying the same thing, then they probably did it, you know?  If it was only one or two, I might be a lot more unsure. 
Female: <Laughs> I mean I agree.   People want to deny it because they want to preserve their image, but with this many people, it’s over, you know? 
Male: People need to just own it and say I goofed, I messed up, and ask if I can please be forgiven. 
Female: No, just because someone says they were wrong doesn’t mean they should automatically be forgiven.  Just because some people are strong enough to forgive doesn’t mean that these criminals all get the right to ask for forgiveness, because their actions stay with the target forever you know?   
Male: Ah, I get you. 
Female: I feel like there’s not much that the “good men” can do that can cause a big change in this problem, because the act has been accepted and allowed so much throughout the years or whatever, that it’s just, I don’t know, like ingrained in people’s heads.  Even if they believe that it’s wrong, there’s still a type of… 
Male: brushing it off?  Even though they know it’s bad, they can dismiss it?  I also don’t know what we as men could do.  When I hear other men talk in this way about women, in what is called “locker room talk” or whatever.   It makes me uncomfortable, because the way they talk about women is just like, not right, because they’re talking about them like they’re toys, like this one’s good, that one’s bad.  And it makes me feel weird, because if they said it to the women’s face, they know that would hurt them, they know it would be negative. So it’s just like cowardly, you know? 
Female: I don’t think we can normalize this kind of talk, because it perpetuates the idea that it’s ok, when you can back it up with the locker room talk excuse.  It makes it seem ok to objectify women and to talk about them in that way.  Men need to step up and say that shit is not cool when they hear that kind of talk, you shouldn’t be talking about women in this way at all.  It shouldn’t matter if you wouldn’t say it to their face. You shouldn’t be saying it at all. 
Male: I totally agree with that, because it’s just the right thing to do.  It’s very hard because of everyone else having that mentality, and I feel like I can’t change everyone else’s opinion about it, but I guess the more I try, the more I keep talking about it. Hopefully people will start to understand and start to change their viewpoints about women. 

Friday, December 15, 2017


“Life is a feast and most suckers are dying of starvation”
                                    -Auntie Mame
December 18, 2017
Dear LoMA Family,

 It’s kind of amazing that every nation, religion and ethnic group in the world has holidays of one form or another. Whether they are about celebrating religious events, famous battles or simply the changing of the year, every culture throughout history designates a few, special days a year as times to break from routines in order to do something special with family and friends. As everyone has ten days off from school coming up, minus some homework time, I hope that all of our students take the time to do something special with their family and friends.

Holidays are made special by our rituals and traditions. These don’t all have to be very old or passed down for generations. In my own family, my mother reads the “Night Before Christmas” to us as her mother did to her and cooks delicious lasagna, just as her family did. But in other ways, our traditions change with time. My husband now cooks a Colombian feast for breakfast, my father and I go crazy decorating the house, my brother “surprises” us every year by stuffing of the stockings with silly gifts, and my sisters make crafty gifts. This year, we are adding a new twist to the festivities as we are all going over to my Dominican in-laws home for Christmas dinner. My point is, it is up to you to create your own holiday customs and traditions that make your holidays special to your own unique family, however you define it.

What is true for making your family events special is just as true for making your friendships special this season. As I wrote last week, collecting “friends” on Facebook, sharing pics and texting inane messages are no way to build long-lasting, meaningful friendships – you need to put effort in to special things that create memories. Take some time over the holidays to do something special with your friends – ice skating in the park, cook a meal together or visit the Christmas Trees - in Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park. You can also head up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Egyptian temple or visit the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History. They both have a pay as you wish policy, so ignore the big admissions signs and just pay a quarter.

I used to teach in a town of 500 people upstate. The students there always complained that there was nothing to do, and they were jealous of city kids who had so many options. The shame is that too few city kids take advantage of all that is offered to them. Don’t waste your opportunities. Ask someone today if they want to get together over vacation, and then make this holiday time special.

Enjoy your vacation,

John Wenk 

December 21                           Parents’ Association meeting
December 21                           Onesie Day
December 23-January 1          Winter Recess
Some of LoMA’s Families’ Traditions

-We play Ludi every year, when we’re all together.  It’s a Jamaican game.
-We always play dominoes, the games go late into the night.
-Even though we’re all grown, we still go and get into our PJ’s every Christmas morning, even if it’s not what we slept in.
-We go to church as a family, even though it’s the only time of the year we go.
-We all play Just Dance, even the grownups and old people.
-Every time our family gets together, we use it as an excuse to make tamales.  Sometimes I think that’s the only reason we spend time together.
-We celebrate Chinese New Year every winter, we go around to all of our relatives’ houses and get red envelopes full of money.
-My sister and I still go trick-or-treating every year.  She was 21 this year.
-We always cook Hot Pot on Christmas, even though we don’t really celebrate the holiday.  It’s a Chinese soup that is always different, which makes it always the same.
-We go to the Halloween parade as a family wearing a themed costume.  This year, we were the Incredibles.
-We play Wii Sports as a family, and the winner gets a legit wrestling-style championship belt.

Some Ideas from LoMA students of what they like to do around the City

-Go to the Lego Store or the Nintendo Store, they’re lots of fun, even if you don’t buy anything.
-Go see the Macy’s Displays
-Go to the New York Public Library, it’s like walking into Hogwarts.
-There’s a lightshow every night around Times Square.  It’s wicked cold, but very cool.
-Go see a movie at the Pier, but dress warm!
-I like to walk around the Holiday Markets they have at Union Square and Bryant Park.
-The Museum of Math is actually really fun.
-Go to the High Line, it’s better in the winter, especially if it snowed.
-Go to the travelling Cloud Museum, most people haven’t heard of it, but it’s awesome!
-Get some friends and do an escape-the-room!
-I like to bake.  Make a cake with friends or a Gingerbread House.
-Go to the Whitney or one of the small arts museums around Delancey.  Ask an Art Major or Julie!
-There’s a Science Museum in Queens that rocks.  Also, Queens just rocks!  Go to Astoria or Flushing!
-Laser Tag!  Paintball!  Some of them have cheaper prices during the day.
-Go see a Star Wars!  (wink)
-I like the Brooklyn Museum and the Wax Museum
-Go eat at a diner!  I love diners.

-There’s a rollerblade restaurant on Delancey that I love.