Friday, June 10, 2016

LoMA Traditions



Dear LoMA Family,

            David Brooks of the New York Times wrote last week about how traditions bring enchantment to physical actions. I like this idea as I feel that the combination of music, decorations and activities make activities like holidays, birthdays and other rituals magical, maybe even spiritual. Done well by people who care, they evoke powerful feelings. For such a new school, LoMA has many traditions that I hope bring enchantment to our students: our Thanksgiving Feast with so many turkeys and hams, LoMAPALOOZA with our dunk tank, games and food, and the talent that is exhibited in our Majors’ Concert and Senior Showcase. For the students who care most, these events can bring joy, amity and inspiration.
            In two weeks, we will celebrate our most significant annual ritual – graduation. Like all schools, our ceremony is rooted in traditions that are centuries old and continents wide. The gowns go back to medieval, ecclesiastical universities; the mortarboard hats are a 17th Century Swedish tradition; and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March has been played at graduations for over a century. At LoMA we have added a few of our own touches: Awards such as the Ganas Award for a graduate who has had to put in extraordinary effort to overcome obstacles; dance and music performances; and giant slides of the graduates. All together with the scholarship money, the love of family and the decorations, the physical actions of the day become emotionally poignant and a bit magical with all of the pride of accomplishment.
            It is because we are so proud of our students that we call the ceremony a graduation and not a commencement as many other schools do. While our students are commencing new studies and new lives on that day, I like that we accentuate the original idea of graduation – marking a quality or quantity that sets something apart. Our graduates are different from those of other schools. As I say at every graduation, LoMA students should feel particularly proud that beyond a New York State diploma, they are earning a LoMA diploma. They have completed additional academic, artistic and extracurricular credits that mark them as more dedicated and caring than many of their peers. Because we give more homework, grade rigorously and demand critical thinking, our graduates are leaving us more prepared for college, citizenship and employment.
            Unfortunately, not all of LoMA’s students will earn this mark. As this year’s class is the largest we have had, it has been quite successful as the college wall indicates. Too many students, however, lacked the caring and effort to earn a LoMA diploma, and have moved on. The year is not over yet. Be sure to get all of your work to your teachers, and study hard for finals and Regents. Then come celebrate. Everyone is invited to LoMAPALOOZA and graduation, and the more you care the greater these traditions will feel for you.

Work hard,

John Wenk

June 13                                                Last Day of Classes
June 14            6:00                             Senior Showcase
June 24            11:00                           Graduation
June 27            12:00-4:00                  LoMAPalooza
June 28            8:40-9:00                    Last Day of School

Friday, June 3, 2016

Luisa's Graduation



Dear LoMA Family,

            My niece, Luisa, graduated from college last weekend, and I couldn’t have been prouder. My husband and I sponsored her to immigrate to America from Colombia when she was eight. I still remember how scared she was the first day when I brought her to fourth grade. She didn’t speak any English at all, and the school seemed huge and a bit crazy to her. But she worked harder than I ever had, earned straight A’s and got a nice scholarship to an elite college. That was all impressive, but what was even more surprising is how much she continued to grow in college.
            Primary and secondary school seem to be mostly about learning skills to grow – reading, writing, problem solving, but also how to collaborate with others, set and meet goals and work independently. College seems to be where one has greater opportunity to put those skills to work for a real purpose. Since college professors assume that students have the skills they need to think, the emphasis is more about using those skills to analyze the world, work towards solutions and create.
            In her four years at college, Luisa’s eyes were opened to social problems to a much greater degree than ever before. As a public health major, she studied how social class and geography affect health. As a French major, she explored the many insidious ways that colonialism destroyed the social structures of Africa. She became so energized that she worked with a group called Health Leads which worked to improve the health and social conditions of low income people in Providence RI. Then she trained other workers and held forums where young people studied how to help people while also empowering them. College gave her the understanding of terrible social problems and the opportunity to work on them to improve the lives of others. Through this, she awakened intellectually and then politically.  
            This is not to say that it was all work for her. She became more social through a large network of diverse friends from around the world, partied more than I’m sure I know; and traveled through study abroad. I want this for all of my LoMA kids. All of you should have the opportunity to grow as you see best. As hard as we push you at LoMA, in many ways, it is just a preparation for college. Through your homework, projects and tests we are giving you the skills to think independently, understand and, more importantly, change the world. Your high GPA and Regents scores along with a resume of extracurricular activities will show that you are ready to get into college. Just think of all that you can do when you get there.

Work hard,

John Wenk

June 8              4:30                 Sports’ Awards Dinner
June 9                                      Chancellor’s Day – no classes
June 13                                    Last Day of Classes
June 14            6:00                 Senior Showcase
June 24            11:00               Graduation
June 27                                    LoMAPalooza
June 28                                    Last Day of School

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Harriet Tubman's Example

LoMA Cares
                                                                                                                               May 9, 2016

Dear LoMA Family,

            I was thrilled to learn a couple of weeks ago that Harriet Tubman is going on the front of the $20 bill to replace Andrew Jackson, the slave owning, Indian killing 7th President of the United States. Then I realized that, aside from remembering that she had freed 70 slaves in 13 trips to the south as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, I knew very little about her. I fixed this by visiting her house upstate over Spring Break. What I found out made me appreciate her so much more for her bravery, courage and caring. She makes an extraordinary role model for all of us.
Tubman was born a slave in Maryland and was put to work caring for her owners’ children when she was only 6, and by 14 she became a lumberjack. She was never taller than 5 feet. Also when she was 14, her master threw an iron at another slave but hit Tubman. The injury caused her to suffer epilepsy for the rest of her life. While this was an awful disease, she sometimes used it to her advantage by faking attacks when her master tried to sell her away from her family.
            She was 18 and married to a free man when she escaped for the first time. A year later she returned for her family and husband, but Mr. Tubman had already married another woman. In all of her other trips to rescue friends, family and strangers she was proud to say that she “never lost a passenger” despite her growing notoriety in the south.
            Once the war broke out, she joined the Union cause and became the first woman to lead an armed raid which freed 7000 slaves. She also worked as a spy and nurse through the war. After the war, Congress appreciated her efforts so much that they voted to raise her war pension from $5 to $20 a month, which is why it is so fitting that she will appear on that denomination’s note.
            Not everyone, however, appreciated her courage and sacrifice. When she was taking a train home from the war, a conductor told her she had to leave the eating car for the colored car. When Tubman refused, it took four porters to throw her off the car breaking her arm in the process.
Other people did appreciate her accomplishments. England’s Queen Victoria awarded her a medal she wore to her grave. More locally, William H. Seward (yes, that Seward), was a good friend and gave her property and a house. Characteristically, she refused the charity and earned the money to pay him back by raising 70 pigs, churning butter and operating a brick factory with her second husband (25 years younger than her). When she saw that the old people in her community were suffering, she opened a home for the aged on her property for all who needed a home and food. Then she opened a hospital on her property. She continued to care for others while working for women’s suffrage until her death at 90.
She lived her life with the motto, “Keep going: children , if you are tired, keep going; if you are scared, keep going; if you are hungry, keep going; if you want to taste freedom, keep going.” These are inspiring words for all of us whether struggling for freedom or pushing for success .

Keep going,                                                                                                   

John Wenk


May 9              12:00               College Signing Day for Seniors
May 12            5:45-7:45        Parent Teacher Conferences
May 19-22                              Performances of the Spring Musical Starmites
May 19            6:00                 Parents’ Association

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Problem with Narratives

                                                                     May 2, 2016
Dear LoMA Family,

            I am fascinated by  how humans seem to be programmed to understand complex situations with simple narratives.  Neuroscientists say that our brain needs to see the world in the form of cogent, cause and effect stories, even when these stories can be false. We especially like stories in which purely good heroes fight self-righteously against evil demons. When we tell these stories about our own lives, guess which character we usually play? We have such an incredible ability for self-deception in our own narratives that I expect that even Hitler considered himself a good man in his own personal narrative.
            The need for narratives is what makes first impressions so powerful. If you start with a belief that a place, person or group is great, (or awful) you will remember everything that fits that schema and forget or negate what doesn’t fit. I had a terrible experience with a pick-pocket when I first arrived in Italy years ago and decided that I hated the country for years. In a more significant way, I have seen plenty of people continue dating the wrong guy or girl, or keep unhealthy friendships because they have created a narrative about how great these people are. Family or real friends may try to help them to see the truth, but they will never be able to overcome a narrative that says, “but he really loves me,” or “they are the only ones who understand me.”
The most dangerous narratives, however, are the ones we create about ourselves. For instance, every kid has a narrative about her performance as a student based on past history and biases. One may believe that she is a strong student who does not need to study in order to do well, or another that he is not good in math. Because he may have failed math in the past and attended tutoring a few times, he may have formed the narrative that “nothing will help.” If he would challenge his narrative by attending tutoring on a regular basis and completing his homework every night, he might see that he is not the problem, the narrative is. Similarly, if another student believes that she does not need to study before tests because passing classes is good enough, she may be satisfied with mediocre grades until she starts getting college rejection notices.
There is no way that we can live without our narratives; they are essential for understanding and making meaning in our life. The problem is that life is always messier and more confusing than simple narratives allow. People sometimes just make bad choices in relationships; with effort, everyone can be good at math; and Italy really is a wonderful country. We need to constantly question our own narratives if we are to grow and learn.

Work hard,                                                                                                     

John Wenk


May 6                                      End of the 5th marking period
May 9              12:00               College Signing Day for Seniors
May 12            5:45-7:45        Parent Teacher Conferences
May 19-22                              Performances of the Spring Musical Starmites

Thursday, April 14, 2016

College is Fun

April 18, 2016

Dear LoMA Family,

I was hanging out at the beautiful NYU student center the other night waiting for a meeting.  On nearly every college campus one of the largest buildings is the student center, a place for students to eat and watch movies, with club rooms, game rooms and spaces to socialize in.  Being there reminded me of why I liked college so much and why I’m always encouraging our students to go away to college.  Nowadays, most people talk about how college is important for financial reasons - people who don’t go to college work at less meaningful jobs and make only about half as much money as non-graduates.  While finance is an important consideration, I don’t think we talk nearly enough about the more vital reason for going to college – to find one’s self.
For me, college was hugely transformative.  When I was a teenager, I was not very happy with myself. I was unpopular, underachieving, and fat.  One of the great things about college is that it is a time when you can focus on your own personal development after you’ve met the challenges of adolescence.  Even though I had to work full time while in college, I was still able to concentrate on becoming who I wanted to be – intellectually, socially, and physically – in a way that would never have happened if I had stayed close to home.
College classes are very different from high school classes.  Because they assume that their students understand math and know how to read and write well, college professors can focus on interesting subjects like anatomy, psychology, political science, and statistics.  Studying these subjects changed the way I saw America, the world, and myself.  The best way to describe it is that college made me see how important it is to question my country, religion, and community. I began to see how corrupt our government can become when people don’t pay attention to it, how our bodies works and don’t work when we feel sick, and how important and interesting it is to read the New York Times every day.
Physically, I began working out and swimming on a regular basis for the first time in my college’s amazing gyms.  I began playing silly sports like broomball, which is ice hockey without skates using a broom for a stick and a basketball for a puck.  We also played wackyball - volleyball on a racquetball court with no out-of-bounds lines.  All this activity paid off when I lost 65 pounds by the end of my sophomore year.
These teams also gave me a chance to make friends.  As the years progressed, I got more involved in activities like the student council, the school newspaper, a massage club, and the hiking club.  I rented a great house with a bunch of friends and would host dinner parties and study sessions. In the end, I stayed in college for six and a half years and took so many classes that I earned two degrees. I went from hating school to loving how it transformed me into a smarter, healthier, and more interesting person. That, more than any financial pay-off, is the reason to go to college. But first you have to earn the 83.

Work Hard,


John Wenk

April 20                      Freshmen trip to the Cloisters
April 21                      Parents’ Association Meeting
April 25-29                 Spring Recess
May 6                          End of the semester 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Two Brains

 April 11, 2016

Dear LoMA Family,

Is it better to think fast or slow? Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winning economist and psychologist has a surprising answer to this. He says that evolution has developed two different and independent systems of thinking in our brains. These two systems are usually complimentary, but in modern times, they sometimes come into conflict. This leads to poor decisions based on insufficient information.
Centered on the lower part of the brain, System One is sometimes called the reptilian brain, as it evolved before mammals came into existence. Based primarily on emotions such as fear, love and hatred, it is amazingly fast and allows us to recognize faces, speech and movement in a fraction of a second. This system would have been important in prehistoric times when humans had to react quickly to human and animal enemies. Back then, we would have had to rely on intuition and quick action based on string emotion. If we experienced the death of a friend from a snakebite once, we would react quickly and even violently every time we saw anything that even looks a little like a snake. In this situation, being wrong would be better than being dead.
System One can lead to many positive reactions as well. It is why our heart beats so quickly when we see someone we love after a long absence, and it explains why we love some familiar melodies so much. The problem with System One, however, is that we don’t live in prehistoric times anymore and its instinctual, emotional way of reacting to threats can actually cause many problems in modern society. The same emotion that makes us instinctually jump from a snake can cause us to verbally or physically assault an innocent person we feel is a threat. When System One is in charge, we can become aggressively defensive. Even more pragmatically, is how it can lead to tribalism, a dislike for those who are different from us. There was probably a time in prehistory when tribalism made sense; it was safest to trust people who looked more like our family members, but in modern America, this can form an illogical basis for racism.
Of course, we have evolved from such primitive times and developed a new system for thinking. System Two, or the mammalian brain, slowly forms judgments based on conscious thinking and critical examination of evidence. It allows us to evaluate past actions and plan for the future. This higher order thinking allows us to understand how dangerous tribalism is in our multicultural society. It allows us to analyze and improve our relationships. System Two is what separates us from animals, allowing us to create and appreciate art and build civilizations.
If System Two is so good for us, than why do we still have a System One?  Kahneman suggests that it is because we remain lazy. System Two requires much more effort and energy than System One. The upper part of the human brain, where it takes place, is much larger than in any other animal and it requires a great deal of our blood flow. Emotionally reacting to the world when watching TV and playing video games is easy and feels good. Actually problem solving or creating something takes much more work, but that is what makes us fully human.

Work Hard,

John Wenk


April 11- 15                Spirit Week:  Monday - LoMA Day (school colors); Tuesday - Twin Day; Wednesday –
                                                Wacky Tacky; Thursday - Superhero Day; Friday- Famous/Celebrity 
April 14                      Talent Show (This is a change)
April 15                      Summer Youth Employment Program deadline:  application.nycsyep.com 
April 20                      Freshmen trip to The Cloisters