Wednesday, November 22, 2017


LoMA Cares
                                                                                 November 27, 2017

Dear LoMA Family,

Too many students fail to understand bullying. At one extreme some people think it is any time that someone insults or makes fun of someone, and at the other extreme some think that bully doesn’t count if it is “funny” and the target is laughing. In fact, bullying has a very specific, legal criteria. It always involves some kind of PAIN.
P – It reflects an imbalance of Power- the person engaging in bullying has a real or perceived power over the person being bullied (i.e. age, size, popularity, role, group, etc.)
A – Bullying is Aggressive – (it can take the form of physical, emotional or relational aggression)
I – It must be Intentional – in person or via social media (cyberbullying)
N –It occurs Numerous times (Repetitive)
In other word, bullying is different from “normal” teenage conflict which usually does not involve power differences, repetition and intent. Because it is worse, the target (a better word than victim) can experience negative physical, school, and mental health issues. These may include:
        Depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These issues may persist into adulthood.
        Decreased academic achievement, attendance and school participation. They may also drop out of school.
        A very small but significant number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied. In fact, it is likely that the school stabbing in the Bronx last month was a result of a homophobic bullying.
Bullying usually takes one of the following forms:
        Physical violence
        Threats, taunts and teasing
        Exclusion from peer groups
        Derogatory language, name calling and slurs
Unfortunately, most bullies do not see most of this as bullying. Nearly every bully I have spoken to gives the same lame excuse – “I was just joking around.” Then, he or she may add that the target was laughing, so it couldn’t be bullying. Of course it can. Targets laugh to deflect the pain that they are feeling, and there is nothing funny about making people feel bad.
With the growing popularity of social media has come the virulence of cyberbullying. This form of electronic aggression can be any type of repeated harassment or bullying (teasing, telling lies, making fun of someone, making rude or mean comments, spreading rumors or making threatening or aggressive comments) that occurs through email, social media (including blogs) or text messaging that involves a power differential. Fortunately, we have seen a decrease of cyberbullying as bullies have learned how easy it is to get caught. All the target has to do is print the message and bring it to Kathleen. In fact all bullying needs to be reported to any staff member the target feels comfortable with – Kathleen, Millie, Renae or any staff member. Ninety percent of the time, it does not need to lead to punishment. A quick mediation and discussion can usually clear things up because no one wants to be a bully; we just need to be more aware of how our actions are making other people feel.

Be Nice,

John Wenk
December 1                                         End of Second Marking Period


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!” 
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. 

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. 

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.
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,

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