Friday, November 17, 2017

Changing times for sexualities

Be the change that you want to see in the world.
 
                                                                                 November 20, 2017
Dear LoMA Family,

Members of the senior class wrote to me with specific recommendations for future newsletter. I appreciate their ideas and yours; please give any suggestions you have to any staff member who will pass it on to me. This one is a response to the request that I write about sexuality.
Twenty-five years ago I came out as a gay teacher in my classroom. At the time it was pretty scary. The year before a teacher in Queens had been fired for telling his students that he was gay. While New York now has laws protecting the LGBT community, it is still legal to fire or evict someone based on their sexual orientation in most US states. Part of me argued that it shouldn’t matter because my sexual identity was my own business and had no place in the classroom. Mostly though, I was afraid of discrimination or being labeled the “gay teacher.” Then one Valentine’s Day my boyfriend sent a big bouquet of roses to the school. When the students saw them and asked me who they were from, I dodged the question. Feeling embarrassed afterwards, I understood why “pride” is so vital to gay people and decided to come out of the closet. Hiding my blended family and not inviting my partner to school events only reinforced and sharpened the shame I and my students face when forced to deny a part of ourselves.
When I did finally came out to my students, however, I was pleasantly surprised by their maturity and understanding. They seemed to gain more respect for me while understanding that my sexual orientation is only a part of my identity. My students continued to see me as a demanding, caring teacher who also happened to be gay and white and tall and loud and pushy and….
            When I reflect back on what a scary time that was, I am astonished by how quickly and how much times have changed. I would never have imagined the possibility of marriage equality and the commonness of blended families. Perhaps the greatest shock of it all is just how ordinary and mundane being gay has become. In my lifetime we have gone from a time when people were sent to prison, given electroshock treatment and fired for being gay and lesbian to a time when most people simply don’t care.
            The revolution, however, is still sadly incomplete. Too many people still fear, mock or discriminate against transgender people. States are making absurd laws restricting their bathroom use, violence against transpeople is frighteningly high and discrimination in the workplace is rampant. As with most forms of prejudice, much of this is due to ignorance. Here are just a few of the most pertinent facts everyone should understand:
  1. Not all transpersons identify as male or female. Many of them refuse to conform to the gender binary, and many see gender identity as fluid, especially when they are young.
  2. Not all transpersons want to undergo a sex change and relatively few actually get surgery. Unless you know the person very well, it is rude to discuss his or her genitalia.
  3. Trans-folks can be of any sexual orientation.
  4. Trans-people do not choose what they want to be – they feel it as an essential part of their identity just as none of us choose who we are attracted to.
  5. Pronouns and names can seem confusing, but the rule is very simple- you call people what they want to be called. Period.
  6. All people have the right to use the bathroom they feel most comfortable in. No one has a right to harass anyone else in any way in the bathroom.
Here in New York City where we understand the value and benefits of diversity, I think we are leading the way in treating transgender people with the respect and compassion that they have a right to. As we do this, I expect that we will get to a place where it is as much a non-issue as being gay is.

Happy Thanksgiving,

John Wenk
November 21                                        Thanksgiving Feast
November 23 and 24                             Thanksgiving Break
December 1                                          End of Second Marking Period
           
Dear LoMA, 
This week’s Shaka entry is from a Senior Lesbian student who is sharing her experience of coming out and the support she found at LoMA.  While identifying as homosexual is obviously not the same as identifying as trans, the support and acceptance that she found at LoMA should be extended to all members of our community, and make us all feel, as she says, like “that’s cool, that’s good for you!” 
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In middle school, during eighth grade, I remember I would hang out more with the guys than girls, and they would always talk about girls and I would just be there like, “OK, this is not my topic, I’m not supposed to be doing this.  I’m not supposed to be talking about girls the way they talk when they see them.”  But I remember in the middle of that year, this girl came in (she was a new kid), and when I saw her, I felt something.  My hands were sweaty, I remember that, and I watched her walking to choose a seat in the classroom.  So from that day on, I remember I kept eyeing her for like a month, and I felt like such a creep.  At some point, she came up to me, and she was like, “do you have a problem with me?”  And I was just like, “No, I don’t have a problem with you, you’re just like—you’re pretty, and I want to be friends with you.”  She wanted to know why I kept staring at her, and I got really nervous, and I remember walking away in the middle of her talking to me.  We became friends, and this one time at lunch, she told me to go with her to the bathroom and we were talking, and out of nowhere she kissed me.  After that, we talked more and more, and decided we wanted to try dating.  A lot of people were looking at us, and kept coming up and asking “Oh, since when are you gay?” dah-ta-dah. 
I always knew, since elementary school, but I never focused on it, because I was never like, “Oh, I should think about how I like girls, how I’m into that.”  Honestly, I thought it was like a phase, so I never really wanted to let myself feel those feelings I would have when I was surrounded by girls.  Now that the other kids knew, some kids would kind of mock it, and I didn’t know how to take it back then, so I would shrug, and just be like, “OK”, but it was confusing, I questioned why they were mocking me.  Then others would tell me, “Oh, it’s OK to feel how you feel,” to which I was always like, “I know it’s fine.” 
In Freshman year at LoMA, I only told people that I was lesbian here and there.  I didn’t want everybody to know because I wanted to see what kind of school I was in before I started to tell people about myself.  I got a girlfriend, and I wanted to introduce her to my mom.  Before that happened, I had a talk with my mom, and I remember the feeling that I had—I was so nervous, but I knew I could pull through it.  I remember staring at her. She was watching TV, and we were alone, and I felt like that was my opportunity.  I asked her if she believed that people can like a person who is the same gender as them, and she went off to say that it was a sin, and kept repeating little sections of the Bible.  At the moment, I wanted to slap her, but I couldn’t because I was still scared of her.  After that, I was very hesitant to bring it back to being about me, but I did finally say it.  She literally gasped, “No!”  She didn’t like it at first, and kept talking about it being a phase and temporary, and I started crying.  It hurt me for her to say I was going to hell and that I was a sinner, because it was my f***ing mom, right?  I cried the rest of the night. 
At LoMA, I never told everyone, but people found out because of who I was dating.  Most people weren’t shocked, I guess because I think we have a large number of kids who don’t see themselves as straight, and even the ones who are didn’t really see it as unique. I expected a lot of people to be like, “Oh, I didn’t know you were a lesbian!  Why didn’t you tell me?”  People here aren’t really that worried about me being a lesbian or that I wasn’t straight. They were more like, “that’s cool, good for you.”  The fact that everyone respected it and the fact that sometimes it seemed that half of the school is LGBT made it not as nerve-wracking. I didn’t have to be on the low-low or worry about people finding out and freaking out.  The fact that the school is so chilled out helped my confidence, and now I don’t care if people see me holding hands with a girl in the street. 
As far as my mother, she’s doing way better than she did when I first told her I was gay.  She’s more comfortable, and it’s crazy because I asked her a couple months ago if she was more comfortable, and she says she is.  She still thinks I’m going to marry a guy, but I keep reminding her that that’s just not going to happen, because it’s just not me.  I honestly don’t know if I had gone to a different school if I could be this forward talking about who I am with my Mom. 
                                                                                                                                                                     Shaka 


Friday, November 10, 2017

A Life in the Arts

November 13, 2017

Dear LoMA Family,

It’s ironic that I have been involved in the startup of two of New York’s most successful arts school considering how utterly lacking in artistic talent I am. I’ve never taken an arts class, get nervous when I’m on the stage, and can paint a barn but not a canvas. My inspiration for harnessing the power of the arts is to improve lives. The reason why, I think, I enjoy working in arts school is because of one of my oldest friends, Kevin. His entire life is a model of my ambition for all of my students. I am less interested in teaching another Alicia Keys or Claire Danes than instilling in LoMA’s students a passion for the creativity, emotional intelligence and experiential wealth that comes from a life immersed in the arts.
Having grown up in Hawaii, Kevin never had the opportunity to attend an arts school and originally went to college to study pre-med. He soon fell in love with classical music and transferred to the New England Conservatory of Music to study piano. While doing so, he started taking acting classes, and fell in love with bringing an author’s script to life on the stage. To pursue this new dream he moved to New York to study drama and begin his acting career. He led a life typical to many New York Actors: a few free Shakespeare performances, paid work in schools with youth theatre, an occasional touring company, and lots of classes and coaching to hone his craft. Kevin fell in love with art. He studied Adobe Illustrator and got a job creating graphic design. He also went back to college and got a Bachelors in Fine Arts degree from Hunter College and began playing the cello a couple of years ago.
While Kevin’s talent never rubbed off on me, his love of watching the arts did. A master of finding cheap and free tickets, he sees at least four shows a week. With its pay-what-you-wish pricing, he sees every show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, dozens of free concerts at Julliard every semester, and concerts in public venues throughout the city. He has taught me the difference between Beethoven and Mozart, how to “read” a modernist painting, and to appreciate a weird Shakespeare production. Even principals need teachers.
It’s no accident that I keep using the word love to describe what Kevin does. The arts have made him the most passionate person I know. The arts add meaning and joy to life more than any amount of money ever can. They both broaden and deepen our understanding of the world, and more importantly ourselves, and enrich our creativity. I see it in Kevin and if we are successful at LoMA, I expect to see it in all of our students.

Work hard,

John Wenk

November 16                                      Parents’ Association Meeting
November 21                                      Thanksgiving Feast
November 22 and 23                           Thanksgiving Break                                         

Friday, November 3, 2017

How to really study

Text Box: Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do. 
Pele

 
                                                                                                                                   
November 6, 2017
Dear LoMA Family,

Which of these study patterns do you think is more likely to result in long-term learning?
1.      Study study study study – test
2.      Study study study test – test
3.      Study study test test – test
4.      Study test test test – test
Most of us will pick 1 Teachers and parents are always telling us the more we study the better we will do. Wrong. The most successful pattern is in fact No. 4. Solid research shows that having just one study session, followed by three short testing sessions – and then a final assessment will outperform any other pattern.

Generally, memorization is less about getting information into your brain and more about remembering where you put it among the billions of neurons packed into your skull. We learn new information by using our memory to improve our recall: the act of retrieval helps us remember things better. The best way to learn a phone number, find a friend’s house or learn dance steps is to constantly test yourself through practice and repetition. In the same way, we learn math formulas by completing problems, essay writing by through multiple rewrites- and science by working our way through experiments.

A little neurobiology can explain why this works. Learning occurs when our brain cells (neurons) make connections with one another, but not all connections are the same. For instance, when an actor is first learning her lines by reading a script, the neural connection is very tenuous because they barely touch. Each time she rehearses with other actors the connection literally becomes thicker. When she starts blocking the scene with action, the connection becomes a network of repeated and reinforced connections. Finally, by the time she is performing the scene to the emotional reinforcement of applause, those networks become rock solid and she will remember those lines for the rest of her life.

The problem is that when it comes to memorizing basic facts – historic events, vocabulary, scientific formulas – the practice can be much more mundane than performing in front of adoring fans. Nevertheless, the general rule is still true; you need to practice. That is why so many teachers encourage the use of Cornel questions, flashcards and studying with a friend who can test you. The most effective way to memorize a page of notes is to read it, then copy down what it said from memory, then check the original and add in what you missed and then repeat if necessary. This may not be as exciting as starring on the stage, but the emotional reinforcement of acing a test can still be worthwhile.

Ultimately, studying is like everything else; the more effort you put into it, the more rewarding it will be. Are you putting enough effort into your studies?

Stay Positive,


John Wenk



Dear LoMA,
Here are some thoughts on studying from three Juniors who have had myriad experiences with teachers and quiz studying styles. Hopefully you can identify with them and apply them to your experiences.
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I never really liked studying when I was younger; I thought it was a waste of time and had no real benefit until my lack of studying was reflected in my grades. I tried reading over my notes and trying to memorize them, but it was too boring and I couldn’t get myself to retain the information. I figured in order to really focus on studying, I would have to make it somewhat enjoyable for myself. I started to make study guides with the information I knew would be on the test, and came up with easy but catchy ways to remember the right answer, such as songs or riddles. This way of studying became my go-to and helps me so much on tests. I realized studying wasn’t a waste of time, I just had to find a way suitable for me.
I’ve always found index cards are the best way for me study for quizzes. I write the topic on the front, and the definition on the back. Using the topic, I test myself. I can feel this exercising my brain, and each time I test myself I get a little bit better until I feel like I have mastered the material. I also put on soft music in the background. Personally, it helps me concentrate and keep my mind from wandering. I know this only works for certain people because everyone’s brain chemistry is different—people think differently. I used to have a teacher that made us do outlines for essays that counted for credit. It didn’t help me mainly because I was doing it for the grade, specifically doing it to pass. A lot of kids already don’t think they’re here to learn, just here to pass, so once I finish my outline, I felt done. Instead, I work through small parts of the essay on my own, which helps me brainstorm how each part could go and then pick my best one. I still find the introduction the hardest part, because you can draw out your house, but that foundation is tough. Everything comes from my intro and thesis, because that’s all data and analysis, which comes out like ah-ah-ah. My methods won’t work for everyone, because I’m the type of person who likes to take creative approaches, and people who are more book-oriented will go at it from more of an academic standpoint, using facts to make ideas instead of my loose approach that I try to use to show my personality. For me it’s better, but people are different and you should do something that goes with you and your style of learning and don’t let teachers control your way of studying if it will destroy your learning.
I go over my notes to prepare for class. I literally read it top to bottom, and try to memorize the facts and connections. Sometimes I make flashcards, but it’s only useful if I read through a few times then I have a friend quiz me. Sometimes I go on YouTube videos, which are helpful for things like math or chemistry if I don’t understand the topic or how to do something. I feel most confident going into a quiz if I’m sure of what will be on the test, if I can’t find the connections or get help to imagine what will be on it.
Find what works for you,
Shaka

November 6                10:30-2:00      Freshmen trip to City College to hear the Orchestra of St. Luke’s
November 6                5:00                 Senior Dinner at Benihana
November 7                                        Election Day – no classes
November 16                                      Parents’ Association Meeting
November 21                                      Thanksgiving Feast

Friday, October 27, 2017

Fostering Positivity

Text Box: I think it's important to find the little things in everyday life that make you happy. 
    Paula Cole
 
                                                                                                                                    October 30, 2017
Dear LoMA Family,

Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, has a theory that verifies the quote above from Paula Cole. Fredrickson’s theory of accumulating “micro-moments of positivity” shows how daily positive interactions can, over time, result in greater overall well-being and happiness
Her point is not that anyone can avoid feeling sad, angry or frustrated at times; we all do and should. The problem, as she sees it, is how long it takes us to bounce back from such feelings and how we can retain good feelings longer. The good news is that even if we have morose temperaments, nothing is permanent. With practice, we can become happier people, but it does take effort. She offers a few specific ways of increasing our well-being:
  • Do good things for other people. In addition to making others happier, this enhances your own positive feelings. It can be something as simple as helping someone carry heavy packages or providing directions for a stranger.
  • Appreciate the world around you. It could be a bird, a tree, a beautiful sunrise or sunset or even an article of clothing someone is wearing. Try to find one thing to appreciate on your commute to and from LoMA.
  • Develop and bolster relationships. Building strong social connections with friends or family members enhances feelings of self-worth and is associated with better health and a longer life.
  • Establish goals that can be accomplished. When you work at improving your grades or singing better, the effort it takes will make you feel better, but be realistic; a goal that is impractical or too challenging can create unnecessary stress.
  • Learn something new. It can be a sport, a dance, an instrument or a game that instills a sense of achievement, self-confidence and resilience. But here, too, be realistic about how long this may take and be sure you have the time needed.
  • Choose to accept yourself, flaws and all. Rather than imperfections and failures, focus on your positive attributes and achievements. The loveliest people I know have none of the external features of loveliness but shine with the internal beauty of caring, compassion and consideration of others.
  • Practice resilience. Rather than let loss, stress, failure or trauma overwhelm you, use them as learning experiences and stepping stones to a better future.

Many of us will have the opportunity to practice resiliency this week. In order to provide more access and opportunity for students and to best utilize our changes in teaching staff, some students will be getting changes to their schedulesThis new schedule will be for the year, and will eliminate the need for nearly all mid-year schedule changes while ensuring that all students take the appropriate courses. I wish we did not have to do this at this point of the year, but no one should let it get in the way of his or her success.

Stay Positive,

John Wenk

November 1                9:00-3:00        Freshmen and Sophomore Health Day – special schedule
November 2                5:45-8:00        Parent Teacher Conferences
November 3                1:00-3:00        Parent Teacher Conferences
November 6                5:00                 Senior Dinner at Benihan

Friday, October 20, 2017

1st Marking Period

                                                                                                                                    October 23, 2017
Dear LoMA Family,

The first marking period is over and next Thursday night and Friday afternoon, your parents will be able to pick up the first report cards of the year at Parent-Teacher Conferences, but if you have been checking PupilPath, you already know how you did. Are you satisfied with your accomplishments?
As you reflect on your work over the first marking period, here are some things to think about:
  • Do you understand how the grades were calculated? Were there any surprises? Why or why not?
  • What parts of the report card are you most proud of? Where is your biggest disappointment?
  • Does this report card reflect your best efforts?
  • What could you have done differently?

If you did not do as well as you had hoped, consider how you will change things in the future. Don’t simply reply “study more” because that never works. That’s too vague of a solution to be actionable. Instead, you need to plan more strategically. Consider these questions:
  • What days of the week will you attend tutoring and for which classes?
  • Are you engaged in class and asking questions when confused?
  • How are you going to rearrange your leisure time to arrange for more study time?
  • Can you work with study partners even if it’s only by phone?
  • Should you stay in the art room for Credit Plus during lunch to cut down on the amount of work you have to do at home?
  • Will checking PupilPath more often help motivate you? If you don’t have access, ask your advisor to kill your account and print a new invitation letter for you to sign up again. Remember, the app is easier to use than the website.
  • Where will you study? LoMA’s most successful students stay at school late to get a solid start on their homework before they even go home – fewer books to carry and more friends to help. You can use any classroom or the library which is open late every day. You can also use the library during lunch.
  • Are you reviewing your notes every night? Have you tried using the Cornell Method to improve retention?

Remember that the first thing that colleges look at when considering an applicant is their GPA (high school average).  A four year college generally requires an 83 average. That, with good recommendations, a well written essay, and decent SAT scores, should be enough to get a student into a good college. At LoMA, we want to see all of our students make it. That’s why teachers stay after school tutoring and give students so many chances to succeed. But they can’t force students to study or take useful notes, and ask smart questions. Now that the first marking period is over, it’s time to ask yourself, “Am I doing enough?”

Work Hard,


John Wenk



Dear LoMA,
This week’s Shaka entry is from a pair of Juniors and a pair of Freshmen, respectively, with their reflections on their first marking period and goals for the rest of the year.
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I feel like I was terrible this marking period. Junior year is a big jump in work and expectations. I thought I could do all the same activities and stuff I did last year, but I just can’t. I’m so tired and stressed all the time. I really wanted to do better with managing time, but I haven’t found that balance yet.
The first marking period was a little rough. I thought I was coming into a marking period with less homework that was given, but there was more and the work got harder. You just have to get all of it done before doing anything else because it’s a lot. Now going into marking period two, I’ll finish my work on time because if Junior year is hard, then imagine college! I think I have done a dramatic change in my attitude. I feel as if I’ve become more mature but I still have some days where all I want to do is play. Still, I go harder in my school work way more than before. I’ve become way more calm and I don’t get mad as fast and I feel myself taking a deep breath when I’m gonna get angry. Before, I felt like I always wanted the last word, but now I don’t have to!
In the first marking period I think that I did much better than I did last year. I asked more questions and tried harder on my tests and even did some homework! I feel like I need to still work on being completely focused and completing all of my homework. I need to try harder and also start earlier on my projects and big assignments so they can be completed, look good, and have a bunch of facts on them on time. I’m planning to pass everything this next marking period and for the rest of the year. In order to do what I plan on doing, I have to put my mind to it and actually believe I’m going to complete it then push myself to do what I need to.
This marking period I feel like I tried my best to survive and learn as much as I can. I still need to improve on contour maps in science and think more deeply about civilizations that we study. I did better toward the end of the marking period than the beginning because I got used to expectations and the amount of work. That’s why I think I’ll have much better grades next marking period and for the rest of the year.
What are your goals, and how will you achieve them?
Shaka



October 26                  4:30-7:00        Halloween Dance      
November 2                5:45-8:00        Parent Teacher Conferences
November 3                1:00-3:00        Parent Teacher Conferences
November 6                5:00                 Senior Dinner at Benihan

Friday, October 13, 2017

Work for College

  
                                                                                                                                    October 16, 2017
Dear LoMA Family,

My first job after college was to drive a van cross country as a tour guide. It required a college degree which I thought was pretty silly. After all, I had studied philosophy which didn’t exactly teach me how to drive a van, and I had friends who dropped out of school who were better with cars. Just before I quit the job (after breaking a van), I asked the boss why he required college degrees that are useless for the job. He told me that he trusted college graduates could be responsible enough to find the best routes, figure out how to care for passenger emergencies and negotiate with hotels and service stations, and be motivated enough not to give up when the job got difficult. In his mind, college graduates had learned these skills because they had figured out how to do what was necessary to earn a degree.
Given how responsible many non-college students can be, I am not sure that he is right. Nevertheless, it is how most employers think and is the reason why college graduates are paid much more than non-graduates, have more freedom in their jobs and greater job-satisfaction. I think it is true that college provides the skills one needs to become a self-motivated, independent thinker. One of the reasons for this is that students only have about 15 hours a week of classes. The rest of the time is for homework, study groups and independent work. Teachers assume at least two hours of homework for every hour of class, and if students don’t do it, they fail tests and get expelled. In my college earning less than a C two semesters in a row led to expulsion. This is why about half of all students who attend college and almost 90% of students who attend community college fail to graduate on time.  
A company called IQS Research recently prepared a report called “Preparing Students to Transition from High School to College.” They found that the great majority of high school students entered college unprepared for the rigor of the work.  More positively, it alsofound that, “Students who perform well in college are those who maintain a realistic attitude about the challenges of school, develop study habits that reflect the demands of the coursework, and use resources on campus, especially professors and advisers when help is needed.” Through tutoring, LoMA students show that they have mastered using teachers as resources when needed, but I worry about how strong we are in developing rigorous, independent study habits. As in college, the number one reason students underperform at LoMA is the lack of homework.
There are some schools that require much less homework because students don’t like doing it, and it is so arduous for teachers to grade. As long as their students show up for the school day and pass their Regents Exams, they never need to complete any independent work. I think this is terribly unfair to students as it does not prepare them for success later in life. Therefore, when I read reports like the one from IQS research and hear from college students, I know that we are on the right track in assigning regular, rigorous homework. Because we care so much for our students at LoMA we need to ensure that our students not only get into college, but that they are successful once there. It seems to be working. While 75% of all college students drop out, about 75% of LoMA’s graduates are still in college 18 months after they graduate. That is why we must prepare our students to work independently and think critically through rigorous essays, complex math problems, multifaceted arts projects, and sophisticated labs. I know that the harder we work our students now, the more prepared they will be for tomorrow.

Work Hard,


John Wenk


Instead of a Shaka letter, I would like to respond to students who have asked me to be clearer about the fundraiser for Puerto Rico. The island has suffered tremendous devastation from Hurricane Maria, and is still struggling to recover. Many of our students feel a special connection to the people there through family and friends. In addition, many of our seniors worked with the Puerto Rican artist Chemi Rosado-Seijo for the Whitney exhibit. Chemi has told us that he knows of an excellent organization, El Cerro, that is helping people in San Juan recover. That is why some LoMA family members thought it would be worthwhile to raise money since we know that the funds will go directly to people who could use to it rebuild. As Ms. Zagoreos has a tradition of raising funds for people in need throughout the world through her advisory, she is spearheading the effort which has now become something of a competition between the grades. As of now, Ms. L’s advisory has raised the most. Yet it is not too late to beat them. We will continue to collect funds through advisory until this Friday.

The awkward part of any fundraiser is who you choose to give money to. In the season of tragedies, other LoMA family members are impacted by the earthquakes in Mexico and the hurricanes in Florida and Texas. Ms. Z has offered to help other groups fundraise as well. Please see her if you are interested. We are all a part of many communities, and the more involved we are, the better our world will become.

October 17                              Seward Park College Fair
October 19      6:00                 Parents’ Association Meeting
October 20                              Last Day of the Marking Period
November 27                           Transfer Applications due – see Ms. Dowridge
 
 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Optimism vs. Pessimism

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
-        Henry David Thoreau
 
                                                                                                                                   October 2, 2017

Dear LoMA Family,

Two weeks ago I wrote about how to figure out what your goals are and if what you are doing is actually helping to achieve these goals. This week, I want to look at why so many of us have difficulty in achieving our goals by looking at the work of New York University psychologist Gabriele Oettingen. Doctor Oettingen found that people pretty much follow one of three strategies for meeting their goals; two are almost never successful, and the third is used too rarely.
Oettingen found that optimists tend to indulge their imagination. They vividly envision all of the good things that will happen when they meet their goal. An optimistic student might imagine how happy his Mom will be to see straight As, how he’ll get scholarships to Harvard, and the respect of his peers. This will make him feel good for a while until he misses his first few homework assignments and then gives up on the dream and settles back into a reality of mediocrity or worse. 
Pessimists, on the other hand, have even less of a chance of meeting their goals. They dwell on all of the reasons they can’t possibly meet their goals and give up before they even try. This is the student who says “I’m just not good at math,” or “the teacher will never pass me.” Of course, a bit of honest effort would prove either statement untrue, but pessimists feel good when they have excuses for failure instead of reasons for working.
            Oettingen said that success comes when people combine elements of pessimism and optimism: realistic hope for the best, but also a critical awareness of the obstacles that must be overcome. If a history of failure in math is the problem, then work to overcome it through tutoring and more focus on practice homework problems. If you have bad relations with a particular teacher, work to overcome them by showing extra effort. She suggests that these kind of if/then statements can be strong motivators as they can create rules that will lead to success. If your problem is completing homework, you will probably not fix the problem just promising yourself to do better. Instead make a rule: I will not sign onto Facebook until I’ve finished all my homework, or, if I finish all of my homework at tutoring, then I’ll reward myself with an hour of video games as soon as I get home. Oettingen says that it is much easier to follow these kinds of specific rules than simply hope for the best. She also suggests that our friends and parents can even help us to follow them if we ask them to.
            I always hate watching awards shows where the recipient proudly intones, “Follow your dreams and they will come true.” There may be some truth there, but it is less than half of the story. I have seen three of my former students win major awards – Claire Danes (Emmy), Alicia Keys (Grammy), and Daisy Egan (Tony Award). I know that each of them did much more than follow their dreams. Each was an A student who also spent many hours every week honing their craft. They had their dreams, but they also worked extraordinarily hard to make them come true.
            Before I close, I would also like to say how concerned the LoMA staff is for the families of our students in Puerto Rico and other areas hit so hard by this season’s hurricanes. The conditions down there seem to be horrendous, and I worry that we’re not doing enough as a nation to help the victims. That is why LoMA will be collecting money for a community based organization that will be chosen by Chemi, the artist from the Whitney that so many of our student worked with last year, who is currently in San Juan. Julie, Holly and Ms. Z. will be collecting money until Friday.

Work harder,


John Wenk


Dear LoMA, 
This week’s Shaka entry is a compilation of Freshwomen’s thoughts on Optimism and Pessimism, inspired by a story of two twins, one an optimist and the other a pessimist.  On the twins' birthday, while the boys were at school, the father loaded the pessimist's room with every imaginable toy and game. The optimist's room he loaded with horse manure. That night the father passed by the pessimist's room and found him sitting amid his new gifts crying bitterly.  
"Why are you crying?" the father asked. 
 
"Because my friends will be jealous, and I'll have to read the instructions, and I'll constantly need batteries, and my toys will get broken," answered the pessimist. 
 
Passing the optimist's room, the father found him dancing for joy in the pile of manure. "What are you so happy about?" asked the father. 
 
The optimist replied, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere!"
  
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I define optimism as always expecting the best in a situation, being a pessimist is expecting the worst.  I tend to be an optimist about my grades when I leave school and a pessimist when I come back in. 
*** 
Which is a better mentality, optimism or pessimism?  When you’re positive and expecting things to work out and knowing things will be OK, that can set you up for depression and disappointment, but it also means you can always see hope in bad times.  When you’re pessimistic, you see the negative in everything and are starting from a depressed state, but it can keep you from fooling yourself into thinking everything is always hunky dory.  So which is better??  It seems to be optimism is better, right?  However, that constant positivity can blind you to reality.  Being pessimistic can make you be more realistic.  So what’s better?  One might think you need a balance of both. 
*** 
One day I was on my way to school and the trains were delayed.  I was being really pessimistic because I thought I would be late, and my day would be ruined, and I would get suspended.  My very optimistic mother told me I would get there on time, and even if I didn’t everything would work out and be OK.  We ended up taking three trains instead of the usual one, and I was literally on the verge of crying because of all of the bad things I kept imagining happening to me if I was late to school one more time.  My mother kept assuring me I would not be late and would not get suspended, and that time she was right.  That’s what makes us such a good team, I keep her down to earth, and she pulls me out of the holes I dig. 
*** 
I remember a time that I was very pessimistic.  It was when I had a dance competition coming up.  I thought my costumes weren’t going to be here on time or fit.  I also thought they were going to leave me behind because my mom was running late to drop me off at the bus.  Just a whole lot of negative thinking was running through my mind.  I made plans for what I would do if I was late or if the costumes didn’t come.  But then I found my thoughts becoming more optimistic, because I knew all of the negative thoughts wouldn’t change anything about a situation out of my control.  Luckily, everything worked as planned, so I was right to be more optimistic, but that pessimism also helped me make a plan in case it didn’t.  

Stay (realistically) positive! 


Shaka 



October 9                                Columbus Day –no school
October 17                              Seward Park College Fair
October 19      6:00                 Parents’ Association Meeting
October 20                              Last Day of the Marking Period