Thursday, February 15, 2018

Rats in Ruts

February 26, 2018

Dear LoMA Family,

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

Work hard,

John Wenk

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

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

Find your balance, 


Friday, February 9, 2018

Jobs, Internships and Responsibility

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

Dear LoMA Family,

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

 Work Hard,

John Wenk

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

Follow your opportunities! 


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