A very. good. year.

September 08, 2014 by Bill Ivey

It’s already happened. I bumped into a random person, in this case one of my neighbours, who asked about what my students were studying. “They do have a theme question already,” I said. “It’s, ‘Why do people judge other people and themselves?’” After a short pause during which his eyes first widened and then went slightly unfocused while his jaw dropped slightly, he said, “Seventh graders came up with that question?” “Yup,” I responded. His eyes came alive again and his hand went to his chin as he began to see the possibilities in the question, and to talk excitedly about his thoughts.

I love these moments, and I especially love that it happened after only two full days of classes this year. And yet, the second full day was in some ways even more extraordinary than the first.

Filed Under: On Education, social justice, community, In the Classroom, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Education

Out of the Margins

August 23, 2014 by Bill Ivey

“So how do your students look this year?” The question was asked not, as many people might expect, by a colleague or even a parent but by three of my former students who are now juniors as we found a chance to talk at the annual Local Family Picnic. “They look great,” I said. “Of course. You know! Given the emails they’ve been writing me about the books they’ve been reading.” One of them laughed and said, “Your favourite Humanities 7 class of 2014-2015?” I laughed in return, responding “Absolutely!” knowing she was secure in the knowledge they were all part of my favourite Humanities 7 class of… 2010-2011. (For the record, I only teach one section of Humanities 7 each year, so the “favourite Humanities 7 class of...” line is something of a running joke.)

As I prepare for the imminent arrival on campus of my brand new students, as the middle school team prepares to bring together and start building this year’s community, I find myself focused not just on what the kids might be thinking and feeling but also on the parents. My son attended boarding school for three years and is about to start his junior year at college, so I know firsthand what parents are going through. The level of trust we parents place in a school when dropping off our children is powerfully and deeply touching, and part of what motivates me to do my absolute best each and every day is working to meet that trust (not that I need any more motivation than looking out at my students looking back at me!).

Filed Under: LGBT, On Education, activism, anti-racism, social justice, equity, On Parenting, community, discrimination, Acceptance, diversity, empathy, Feminism, Current Events

This Beautiful Year

June 09, 2014 by Bill Ivey

Each year, the students of Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School respond to writing prompts as they reflect on the year. Their words are assembled into a poem that closes the Eighth Grade Moving Up ceremony. This year, the poem was entitled:

Filed Under: Middle School, community, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Moving Up

Village

May 16, 2014 by Bill Ivey

In real time, it’s hard to be sure what’s sexism and what’s you.
- Ann Friedman

As you may have heard, Jill Abramson, the first-ever female executive editor of The New York Times has been fired. There’s no speculation on that point - the paper has been clear, and she has made no effort that I know of to deny it. What’s much harder to figure out is why, even with excellent analyses like “Jill Abramson Will Never Know Why She Got Fired” (Ann Friedman in New York magazine) and “Why Jill Abramson Got Fired” (Ken Auletta in The New Yorker).

Filed Under: gender, gender stereotypes, anti-racism, social justice, community, Acceptance, diversity, Feminism, Current Events

Security Blanket

May 15, 2014 by Bill Ivey

Founders’ Day is a middle school tradition originated by the 10 founding students of the program. In late spring of that first year, they proposed that beginning in the following year, the middle school have an annual holiday from classes in May, with all activities completely planned by students. Their goals were to honor the middle school, to have fun, and to remember the Founders. The seventh grade Founders, of course, were also able to participate in the first annual Founders’ Day as eighth graders, and so they helped set up a number of traditions including breakfast brought in from Dunkin’ Donuts.

This year, then, was the 9th annual Founders’ Day. The students began with an overnight in the middle school building. Their first activity was tie-dying, followed by laser tag and other games and then by a movie (they voted for the Lindsay Lohan version of The Parent Trap). Sleep came... when sleep came.

Filed Under: School Happenings, Celebrating Holidays, Beautifully different, community, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

National Volunteer Month, 2014

April 24, 2014 by Bill Ivey
  1. Why did you begin volunteering
  2. What impact do you feel your volunteer work has on your life?
  3. What do you enjoy most about volunteering?
  4. What would you say to encourage others who are considering volunteering?

Filed Under: On Education, social justice, community, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Education

Potential Lives

April 21, 2014 by Bill Ivey

Some years, if it suits a specific unit the Humanities 7 students have designed, I’ll do an activity where I will show them an image of Rodin’s sculpture “Celle qui fût la belle Heaulmière” (“She Who Used to Be the Beautiful Heaulmière”) and ask them for their reactions. Most years, their reactions will generally begin with either a generic “Ick” or surprise that a sculptor would have wanted to create that image in the first place. I then tell them the title of the sculpture and ask them if and how that would change their reactions. Finally, I read them a quote from Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land that gives one of the character’s perspectives on a great artists’ ability to simultaneously show people as they are, suggest how they used to be, and show how that contrast affects them, and why he thus views this particular sculpture as a masterwork. While the students may or may agree that the sculpture is in fact a masterwork, they generally do come to view the work from the perspective of the subject and in the process engage deeply with concepts of beauty and self-image.

I decided to try the activity with this year’s class, and from the very first comment, these students were thinking from the perspective of the subject of the sculpture, shifting smoothly into a discussion of beauty, feelings, and self-image. External judgment was completely lacking from the conversations, replaced by a predominant sense that the subject of the image had probably had a tough life. Giving them the title of the sculpture evoked some additional discussion, so by the time I read the quote, it served more as a commentary on one aspect of what they had already discussed than a stimulus to more discussion.

Filed Under: On Education, Beautifully different, community, Acceptance, empathy, In the Classroom, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Education

Revisiting Dress Codes

April 09, 2014 by Bill Ivey

T-shirts that had seen better days. Heavily patched cutoff jean shorts. Sneakers or clogs. And a bandana. That’s how I dressed during high school, at least when the weather was warm. Luckily, my school had a pretty lax dress code, so no one ever stopped me - except for the day I was walking around barefoot, unaware until that point in time that the health code forbade it. Lindsay O’Brien of Ms. magazine was not quite so lucky; on the day she wore jeans with holes in the knees to school, she was made to cover the holes with duct tape and received her first detention ever. In her recent article “Are my pants lowering your test scores?” she terms the rule “ridiculous” and continues to detail a recent dress code conflict at a school in Illinois. (O’Brien)

Administrators at Haven Middle School in Evanston banned leggings, primarily worn by girls. The reason? They were seen as too distracting for boys. As Ms. O’Brien put it, “Instead of teaching boys, at a critical age, to treat women’s bodies with respect, they chose to eliminate the so-called distraction and place the blame on girls.” Sophie Hasty, a 13-year-old student at the school, understood this well, saying, “The reason was basically: 'boys.' It’s a lot like saying that if guys do something to harass us, it’s our fault for that. We’re the ones being punished for what guys do." (quoted in O’Brien) Students swarmed the school wearing the banned item of clothing, and over 500 of them signed an online petition. The ensuing brouhaha made national headlines, and inspired a sort of “Point-Counterpoint” debate in the Los Angeles Times. Eventually, as reported in the Daily Trojan, the principal sent a letter home to parents saying the school’s true goal was “an effort to maintain a respectful learning environment for all." (quoted in Sayyah) Such situations, it may be added, play out far too often.

Filed Under: gender, social justice, community, Feminism, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Current Events

Standing in Your Truth

April 08, 2014 by Bill Ivey

As an option for weekend activities, I offered to take students to a GLSEN conference on April 5. (GLSEN is the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network.) Unfortunately, two of them ended up with conflicts, but the third student cheerfully said she would still like to go, and so we headed east to Madison Park Vocational Technical High School in Roxbury. After passing through the metal detector for “males,” an extremely un-GLSEN moment all around (though I don’t think it was switched on), and stopping at the registration table, we walked up the stairs to the opening celebration, where we were enthusiastically welcomed by three cheerleaders of various genders.

Eliza Byard, the Executive Director of GLSEN, welcomed all of us and spoke movingly of the experience of speaking (for two minutes, precisely timed by the TelePrompter) at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Given that Bayard Rustin, one of the organizers of the March who also served as a speaker, had been excluded from a meeting with President Kennedy out of the fear that J. Edgar Hoover, the homophobic Director of the FBI, might be upset, Ms. Byard’s participation was all the more moving.

Filed Under: gender, LGBT Support, On Education, social justice, Parenting, community, Acceptance, diversity, Feminism, Anti-Bullying

Truly Blessed

March 18, 2014 by Bill Ivey

Before Spring Break, Sophie, one of the 8th graders asked me if I had liked the play she had helped write in 7th grade. “Refresh my memory,” I said, and she responded with a twinkle in her eye, “Cross-dressing old man?” It all came rushing back to me. “Oh, yes,” I said. I remember your play was really solid when you took it from my class to the Theatre 7 class, and then it still went through several revisions. In fact, I knew about a lot of the revisions, and I was still surprised during the performance! But it was solid all the way through. People loved it.” And then, with a sideways glance at the 7th grader who was sitting right there, “People always look forward to the 7th grade plays.” Sophie said, “That’s right! All the former 7th graders come,” and I added, “And not just former 7th graders. People who were never in the middle school tell me they look forward to the 7th grade plays.” “It’s a rite of passage for 7th grade,” Sophie commented as the younger girl took it all in.

It takes an incredible amount of courage to put your voice out there not only as the performer of a play but also as the author, especially when you are actually a co-author with up to four other people who are just as creative and passionate as you are and have equally strong opinions about every word. That day was going to be the first time the Humanities 7 class read their scripts to Julia and Kim, who will be co-directing the plays this spring, and that, too, takes a great deal of courage. Julia and Kim were both excited to learn about all the possibilities that the plays provided, and they also both had a number of insightful suggestions.

Filed Under: Middle School, Teaching, On Education, community, In the Classroom, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Education