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!"
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! 


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


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Extracurricular Activities

                                                                                                                                    September 25, 2017

Dear LoMA Family,

LoMA’s Mission Statement opens by saying, “LoMA cares about the academic, social and artistic development of its community of learners.” Extracurricular Activities are a huge part of this mission. Our teams, performing groups, volunteer clubs and community-based partners are all focused on helping our students build healthy relationships, working meaningfully on things they value and having fun together.
In order to find out whether all of this really helps our students, I studied them for my dissertation. To earn my Doctorate in Philosophy, I wrote a 300 page book that researched how social capital affects high school graduation rates. Social capital refers to the valuable relationships that people have that help them get what they want. For students this may include tutoring from a caring teacher to help pass a test, counseling services from a social worker to help with anger management, or college advising that could lead to scholarships. My thesis, which seems pretty obvious, was that schools where students report having rich, caring relationships with their peers and school staff have higher graduation rates. Of course, this proved to be true. The more interesting finding showed that the single biggest contributor to positive social capital was the level of student participation in extracurricular activities. My statistical analysis of every high school in the city showed that the more students participated in extracurricular activities, the more likely they were to feel connected to their peers and staff, create safer school, graduate and go to college.
As a part of the study, I interviewed about two dozen LoMA graduates about social capital and their experiences at LoMA. Nearly all of them told inspiring stories about how staff and friends had guided, supported, and inspired them. What was most interesting was how they reported that they formed their most meaningful school-based relationships through extracurricular activities, and that the more intense the activity, the more intense the relationship. For instance, LoMATE, mentoring and internship showed up again and again as huge sources of social capital as these activities required so much time, effort and team problem solving. Only three students felt that they were graduating without having formed significant relationships. These were also the three who had done the least in participating in extracurricular activities. They regretted that they had not put more effort into extracurriculars as they felt ostracized from the LoMA family.
This Wednesday, our 7th and 8th period classes will host our annual carousel of extracurricular activities so that advisors and community partners can visit classes to explain their programs. Students will remain in their 7th period classes through DEAR. Students will turn in their selection forms the next day to their advisors and begin attending on the following week. They do not need wait for approval. We require every student to participate in at least two afternoons of activities every week. We believe that doing so will make it more likely that our students will make friends, graduate, attend college and enjoy school, and now you have the evidence to prove it.

Get involved,

John Wenk

Dear LoMA, 
Here are some current LoMA students’ experiences with Extracurriculars to help prepare you for Thursday’s carousel. 
Finally being a senior, I understand managing time is extremely important.  I learned this skill through my previous years in extracurriculars, especially in LoMA Cares and Stage Tech.  They both helped me learn to organize my time in order to still do well in school.  While it was definitely stressful, I learned leadership skills, time management skills, and even made some new friends. 
For the past four years I’ve been in Student Council.  It has been a great opportunity to meet people from other grades and make a change in the school.  We work together with the amazing Ms. L to create dances, pot lucks, and fundraisers.  Not to mention, it looks AMAZING for colleges! 
LoMATE is the extracurricular where we do the play and musical.  At first you get really nervous since you don’t want to mess up and fail.  But after you join, you start to feel welcome.  In LoMATE, we make a lot of friends and the relationships always last long.  LoMATE is always my safe space to be myself.  Performing is really not that bad.  We perform the play in the Black Box, and for the musical, we get to perform in the auditorium.  We never get too nervous because we always support each other. 
Being a varsity athlete with PSAL is really about dedication because in a sport like wrestling, you really have to be sharp minded and commit yourself to knowing the moves and strategies.  Mostly though, it’s about not giving up, because if you give up on yourself during a match, it’s basically an automatic loss, and you’re letting your whole team down.  My personality has changed because of it, I have a new approach to life.  I have more critical thinking, I’m more strategic, and it’s made me a smarter and better (not to mention stronger) person. 
Playing PSAL sports is long hours, tiring, and stressful, but it gives you good time management, and gives you something to look forward to—being a part of a team.  It’s nice to have supportive people, even though personalities clash a lot.  When that happens, we have to try to work it out or at least make sure to leave it off the court and out of the match.  Even though I don’t always want to go, I love being a varsity athlete, because it’s varsity! 
Playing a varsity sport is great, but man you gotta make sure you keep your grades up.  If that’s not something you can do, you’re better off in intramurals so you don’t let your team down.  Intramurals are great because everyone is super supportive, and there is less pressure and more fun (even though we obviously try to win). 
Getting credit for outside extracurriculars is great because I don’t have to see all the same people I see during the week.  Sometimes I need a break from school and school people.  It opened doors for me, like scholarships for later on and work experience.  It also gives me a chance to talk about real life things that I can’t talk about in school and have an opinion on things in the world.  I have some real long conversations with these people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and networking experience.  


September 28                          7th and 8th period    Carousel of Extracurricular Activities
September 28              6:00     Parents’ Association
Septmber 29                           Extracurricular Activities forms due in to advisory
October 2                                Extracurricular Activities begin
October 9                                Columbus Day - no school

Friday, September 8, 2017

Welcome back

                                                                                                                                                September 11, 2017

Dear LoMA Family,
One of the nice things about working in schools is that it is so seasonal. Unlike most traditional jobs, there are routines that mark our time together: summer vacation, the first day of classes, the three week-long vacations, prom, and graduation. On top of that, LoMA has many rituals that bring us closer together in celebration: five major shows a year, our Thanksgiving Feast, LoMAPalooza, four New York Theater Workshop plays and a half dozen other annual trips, and the extracurricular carousel which will take place three weeks from now. I find these routines and rituals to be powerful ways to break up the hard work that we do as we appreciate how unique our school’s culture of caring is. LoMA students work hard, but they also get more opportunities to play and celebrate together than any other school I know.

The start of the year offers the most hopeful and promising ritual of the year. Now is the time when you can reinvent yourself in your own best image. This is especially true for freshmen and fresh teachers, but to a lesser degree for everyone, the first days of school give you an opportunity to make new friends, achieve academically and grow artistically.

For the most part, your teachers will get to know you through your behavior in class and the work that you do. Virtually all students work to make a good impression during this early “honeymoon” period by completing all of their work, taking notes, attending tutoring and listening attentively in class. The challenge is how long you can go on projecting your best. When the work gets more difficult, the lessons get less interesting and the distractions more compelling, will you continue to do your best? The mark of a good student is not how smart he or she is; it is only concerted, continuous effort over the entire year that makes a student excel.

This is also a good time to reevaluate friendships. Consider if the friends you currently have make you the person you want to be. Do you want to do well in your classes, explore your talents, and laugh with people and not at them? The best way to get there is with a group of truly supportive friendships, and now is the easiest time of the year to form them. Real friendships are not found precast; they are formed in the forge of challenges met. That is why LoMATE, our sports teams, and volunteer groups form so many tight friendships at LoMA. It is scary and risky to create new friendships and limit old ones, but it is the way that we find the support to grow into who we are.

Ultimately, the start of the school year is daunting for us all –students, teachers and even the principal. Whatever grade you are in, there are new challenges and new people, but, most importantly, new opportunities. No one can give you academic achievement, artistic success, or caring friendships, but LoMA’s routines and rituals can guide you there if you’ll put in the effort.

Work hard,

September 21 and 22                          Rosh Hashanah - no school
September 28                                      Parents’ Association Meeting
September 28              1:40-3:00        Extracurricular Activities Carrousel
John Wenk

Dear LoMA, 
Every week, we publish a student response to Dr. Wenk’s newsletter called Shaka.  If you’re ever interested in writing the student entry, please let Mr. Ravdin know.  This week’s entry is a compilation of the thoughts of a current Senior, a current Freshman, a current veteran teacher, and a new teacher, respectively.  Enjoy! 
When I started 11th grade I already knew how hard it was going to be. Everyone told me what to expect, but I just thought that they were extending the truth and making it seem worse than what it actually was. Man, I was very wrong to think that. After finishing the hardest year, in my opinion, I'm quite relieved. I'm actually writing this on the first day of school and after actually realizing that I'm a senior, I'm ready to face whatever this school year is preparing for me. 
I didn’t sleep at all last night.  I slept all summer long, sometimes 15 hours a day.  But last night, I didn’t sleep at all.  I don’t even know why.  I wasn’t really nervous-I moved schools before and so that isn’t new, and I don’t hate school, but I don’t like it either.  I think I just think of all the things that can happen and the question marks kept me awake last night. 
It’s weird to be sitting at home the night before the first day of school because in some ways it is always the same but also always different.  The overall craziness and moderately controlled chaos will rule the halls, I’ll be directing new students to classrooms and going over the syllabus that has more or less remained the same for years, and at 3:00 I’ll feel like I ran a marathon, just like last year and the year before.  At the same, though, kids that I knew from last year have grown up, new colleagues are in the halls and old ones have departed, and students I’ve grown so fond of will have graduated.  Things I’m used to seeing will just be memories.  It’ll be the same, but different. 
As I gear up for my first day, I must admit that I’m probably feeling some of the same emotions as our incoming freshman students! A mix of excitement and nerves have certainly taken over, as I prepare for my first year with the awesome LoMA community. I’m looking forward to meeting all of my students as well as the rest of the staff who I may not have had a chance to meet this summer, while also feeling anxious as I think about what I have in store for my first year. I am hoping for a flawless first day, however I’m sure quite a bit of getting lost and forgetting names is in the stars for tomorrow. With this feeling of anticipation that myself, the incoming freshman, and probably many other members of our LoMA family are feeling, I am also filled with optimism and confidence, and feel more than certain that a productive and positive year is ahead of us all.