Category Archives: Events

2015 Graduation Remarks


  •  by John Potter,    Headmaster

    Because of the depth, color and wide ranging accomplishments of our graduates, I often imagine The New School over time as a tapestry, that colorful woven cloth so often descriptive of important people and events.

    Tapestries are made on a loom. The rectangular loom has a warp, tightly pulled, strong yet thin threads running parallel with the sides of the loom. It is designed to support and help define the energy in the tapestry it holds and nurtures. Ours is a big, big tapestry, 25 years along and growing.

    Tapestry loomThis means that it has to be built of strong conceptual stuff. And it is. Included in its structure is the work of Ted Sizer and Howard Gardner, in addition to Paulo Freire and others upon whose work we have built. The loom provides the conceptual and philosophical underpinning of the tapestry.CoalitionofEssentialSchools711The loom would be useless were it not for the many strands of the warp running vertically with the frame. Everything is woven around the strands of the warp. Those strands are our teachers._I2A2177 Always there, always willing to support the weft the students weave around them…while understanding the educational brilliance of those minds making up the frame of the loom.The weft is comprised of the various strands intertwining the warp to create the picture, the work of art that is the tapestry. The weft can include green, gold, yellow, red—any color, in almost any weavable material.1280px-Bayeux_Tapestry_scene23_Harold_sacramentum_fecit_Willelmo_duciEvery student, every teacher, every parent who has been part of this wonderful effort is, in one way or another, woven into the tapestry that makes up The New School. Yes, every graduating student, every parent, every grandparent, every brother, every sister somehow has helped shape our graduates. Everyone who helps make up the school has their particular energy and support woven in.

     Some background on how The New School was started:

    In 1989, inspired by some of the great educational minds—Sizer and Gardner in particular—I found a small abandoned day care center in Vienna, Virginia and took out a $5000 loan to start a school—my second.  I needed help and students. Slowly the crucial support began to arrive.

    Two teachers, both with advanced degrees, volunteered to work for a year for no pay.

    Several parents from our 10 enrolled families took brooms, mops, paint and brushes and gave the building a completely new look before we started in September. Yes, we were poor, but I had a strong feeling that this very humble effort would transform into something that might prove to be as unstoppable as it was beautiful to contemplate.DSC_5407

     Those two teachers and that small cadre of parents breathed life into our fledgling school. The teachers devoted themselves to the students, believing that ideas like ownership, equality, a sense of oneness, critical thinking and the complexity of intelligencemultipleintelligences2 would stick, mature and thrive. A quarter of a century later, the tapestry is rich. We left the small, run down day care building in Vienna after three years and slowly built what you see around you.2015 Graduation hats up

     Two weeks ago we held a 25-year reunion here at school and I learned more about this tapestry than I ever imagined. Members of our school family in their twenties, thirties, and forties reconnected as though no time had elapsed.

    Here are some of the brilliantly colored threads woven in over the last 25 years:

    Purple and gold weft threads from Billy and Joanna, New School graduates, each of whom has worked here just shy of a decade, rooting us wonderfully in our own history.

    A red weft thread from Jacques for establishing a brand new restaurant, maybe 18 years ago, in Brooklyn.5323935538_b30aa2a125_b

    And a blue weft thread from Charlie, working toward a doctorate in clinical psychology. I suspect KC, a primate specialist at the national zoo, would provide a weft thread made of orangutan hair.

    And then there is Kara, recording oral histories of South American migrant communities now in this country. Felipe, who works with the European Union, and Sarah, a consultant on Middle Eastern affairs. Becky, an art therapist, goes to South Africa twice a year to help people in impoverished local townships. The threads they add are rich, multi-textured and exotic in color.

     Alan, a robotics specialist for the Navy, takes time out to help high school kids master the basics of robotics. Carlos is a builder, renovating houses and apartment buildings in Washington, D.C. Their threads are thick, sturdy earth tones.

     Jamie is the Senior Effects Artist at Microsoft Games. Working in the Unreal Engine he has created waterfalls, fireballs, and a bazillion additional effects.

    And Jake, one of our first students,images-2 a video artist who earned a Masters at Columbia then went on to write a play that ran off Broadway for many months. Their colors sparkle and sizzle.

     I could go on and on. The students who have graced us with their presence continue to add more and more brilliantly colored wefts.

     So, to you, the class of 2015, you have already added color and richness to this cloth of the mind. The Laramie Project, this year’s major theatrical production, is an example of that richness, as are the math competitions, debates, musical events, science fests, and myriad community events. As are your unique personalities. Your writing. Your art. Your self discipline. Your wisdom.

    laramie_project_designWe celebrate you today, but keep in mind that you will continue adding to this widely admired tapestry even after you have moved on. You are an indelible part of our design, which simply keeps growing more beautiful.

     I look forward in one year or five years or ten years to seeing the amazing things you have added to our New School tapestry as you weave in your new weft threads around the warp supported by the frame built on the foundation of great educational minds.

     

    Exchanges: From Facebook to Face-to-Face

  • by Virginia Palmer- Fuechsel

    MuensterPanoram1600(0)Münster

    While preparing for one of our school’s first international exchange trips, I thought a lot about the nature of communication and friendship in today’s world wide web. Social networks are bringing more people together than ever. The internet is flooded with personal photos, memes, videos, news, gossip, games, covers, profiles, and selfies. Some people seem to practically live their lives on the internet. They share, post, comment, twitter, chat, skype, log, blog, vlog, reshare, and overshare. And what would we do without YouTube? The biggest social network by far is Facebook, and that brings me back to the possibilities and limitations of online exchanges.

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    Three years ago, when I was challenged with the task of re-starting a German language program at The New School, I spent a lot of time searching for up-to-date, teen-friendly internet content to supplement the otherwise excellent Langenscheidt immersion curriculum. It didn’t take long before I stumbled on a YouTube channel called “Easy German” (you know, that European language that has the reputation of being really hard to learn). Easy German started in 2006 at the Schillergymnasium (a college prep school) in Münster, where, under the leadership of a creative, global thinking media instructor, students have been producing increasingly professional, very cool street interviews, language lessons, and cultural exchange videos. Through watching their episodes, my students learned loads of new vocabulary, but even more, enjoyed glimpses of different cultures, dialects, concepts, places, and faces. Some faces became familiar over time. But they were still just faces on the screen. So when Easy German created a Facebook group, I joined, hoping to learn more through participating in this international language learning and sharing community.

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    One day last summer, I noticed that the English subtitles on one of the recent uploads were a bit wonky; obviously, someone had taken the Google translator short cut. I made a friendly comment and gently corrected the text. This led to an offer to help out with more episodes. Before long, Janusz Jamerski (Schillergymnasium’s media guru), Carina Schmid (manager of the affiliated non-profit, The Global Experience), and I were busily exchanging notes and subtitle scripts back and forth, and while doing this, getting to know each other. Finally, I plucked up courage to ask the question on my mind, “Would it be possible to bring some of our students over to your school, to work with and learn from you and the German students in your media classes?” The answer that came back was, “Ja! Let’s figure out how to do it!”

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    So, to make a long story short, after months of preparation we assembled an exchange group of five students who were totally excited about spending face-to-face time in Münster, Hamburg, and Cologne with their new Facebook and E-mail buddies. Nine days were just too short for everything we wanted to do, but we packed in as much as we could. It was wonderful to finally hug our exchange hosts and Easy German friends! We came back stuffed with faces, places, exchanges, experiences, digital footage, and skills that will help us produce our first Easy English-American Edition videos.

    Easy Languages Colleagues

    But let’s hear from the students themselves, for this is their trip, and they have been involved from the get-go in making this exchange a reality. And, because it was a media workshop trip, their contributions to this blog are in video form. Here is a friendly video in which some of our Schillergymnasium Münster student hosts are inviting us to visit their school:

    Schillergymnasium Intro Video

     

    This was our students’ video response about themselves and The New School:

    NSNVA Intro Video

     

    But it’s easier to tell you about our trip with excerpts from my daily iphone log and two of our first videos for the Easy Languages channel:

    Our day in Cologne (Sunday, April 6)

    We arrived at the Köln Hauptbahnhof with German punctuality at 11:29 AM. After finding a comfortable café for today’s home base (Starbucks, in the hopes of better wifi access), we talked through the day’s schedule and video shoot assignments. Our team of 5 American and 4 German students then left our gear with Janusz Hamerski, our Video Meister, to see the sights around the Kölner Dom. After a brief glimpse inside the cathedral (we couldn’t go in, due to Sunday services), we walked to the train bridge over the Rhine. I don’t know when this “locks of love” fashion became the vogue, but we found the high, heavy-duty wire fence separating the pedestrian walk-way from the train tracks completely covered with every sort of decorated padlock that you can imagine. All colors and shapes, inscribed with countless names. We inspected them closely as we walked across, then under, back up, and over on the other side of the bridge spanning the Rhein. The views of Cologne and the river were simply splendid on this fine day. Before heading back, we decided to attempt the climb up the cathedral tower. Needless to say, I wasn’t the only one who needed occasional breathers while struggling up the 533 (!!!) steps to the observation gallery around the pinnacle’s base. The views were incredible! When ready, we walked carefully down the seemingly endless steep, narrow and stony, spiral stairs. As I later told the kids, we’ll have memories and bragging rights for life.

    Once back at our Starbucks base, we packed up our gear and got to work. Today we split into 3 teams. Janusz took Brian and Nikolai to finish our political Easy-German video, asking passersby, “What should Obama do?” The girls (Käte with a local friend joining her for the day, Vi, Valentina, and Queenie) shot imaginative footage for a “Verbs in Aktion” video. Lennard and Anil had a great time working together under Vince’s camera direction on a very funny but instructional video, “Doing Verbs in Köln.” I followed the boys and sometimes Janusz, capturing images of them at work on camera and “film.” It was good to see how much they learned from our video shoot in Hamburg yesterday and how well the German and American students are working together.

    Here’s one of the first results from that day (including footage from our shoot in Hamburg):

    Obama question video

     

    But, as we learned during the next few school days, video production is a time consuming and tricky business. Four days were impossibly short for the amount of footage we had to process.

    Video Workshop with Janusz Hamerski, Day 1.
    Technical Difficulties.

    Yesterday’s session started later than planned, because we couldn’t get in the media lab. So we hung out in a corner bakery and enjoyed German breakfast pastries. TD #1. What? No phone signal? Argh. Once we were all there, Janusz gave us his standard introductory lecture: relax, have fun, stay focused, be professional, and don’t forget Murphy’s Law. Prima.

    First off, he got Queenie and Vi going on their project. Anil was next. Brian worked on storyboarding a mini Film Noir spoof for Janusz’ pet project, a local video contest for students. I was frustrated with TD #2; I can’t open my video footage with iMovie, as planned, which means that I’ll have to try out Adobe Premiere, which I bought in January, but haven’t had time to use yet. Poor Vince. He didn’t just have TD#3, it was a Total Fail. His video files from the Köln shoot just wouldn’t read. We tried all kinds of decoding solutions, but nada. Janusz said that’s the main difference between the amateur and a pro. The pro’s been burned badly like this before, and is very careful to make sure that it never happens again.

    Despite numerous glitches, Queenie, Vi, and Anil were able to make the first raw cuts. The next phase went to the German students, who pitched in after lunch together. Vince took a crew out to the park and a playground to re-shoot their video, “Doing Verbs.” We continued cutting, with breaks for silly YouTubing and making music with Janusz’ guitar and keyboard. The girls swapped hosts for the night; little by little tired students left for home.

    Enjoy the video that Vince, Lennard, Anil, and Brian made that day:

    Doing Verbs Video

     

    There’s so much more that we could tell from our jam-packed trip. Our students also enjoyed visiting their friends’ English classes and sharing common teenage activies, such going out for lunches in nearby bakeries and pizzerias, getting snacks in a corner grocery, taking walks in the park, singing favorite songs, exchanging selfies, playing video games, and shopping  downtown. Münster is known as the bicycling capital of Germany (with easily three bikes per car), so on Wednesday I took a group out for a tour of the former city wall, which is now a beautiful park and promenade.

    Bicycling in Münster

    Our time went by swiftly, and there were a lot of tearful farewells at the train platform that Thursday evening. Now we’re back to e-mails and Facebook posts, and hoping that everything works out for the next phase of our exchange. We’re really looking forward to introducing our new German friends to our school, DC, and NYC in the fall!

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    Reflections on Culture

  • by Suzanne Stluka

    As I prepare to lead a group of New School students on a trip to France, I’m reminded of my own first visit abroad. I was 16 years old, and I signed up with an international agency to spend three weeks that summer in France. We would spend one week in Paris getting acclimated to the country and seeing some sights, and then we’d travel to a two-week homestay with our French host families.

    paris-city-lights

    Surreal Paris

    During our week in Paris, my new friends and I visited local cafés and boulangeries, went to museums, and basically soaked in the vibrancy of a new culture.  By that time, I had had three years of French in junior high and high school, so I knew a lot of “textbook” French, but I had never had the chance to use it “in real life.” That first week, I got to use a lot of the language I had practiced: buying croissants and Metro tickets, asking for directions to the post office, and navigating my way through an unfamiliar city. But I was just starting to see the deeper aspects of French culture that I really couldn’t learn back in the U.S.

    Manifestation-CGT-a-Marseille

    Political passion in Marseille

    That week was my first experience with a French strike. For the French, a strike is as normal as a breakdown of a Metro escalator is for Washingtonians: it happens all the time, and you just learn to work around it. The French believe strongly in social justice, and feel that the strike is their rightful way to express their displeasure with a situation in their country, whether or not it achieves the change they seek. While people from other cultures may not understand the point of a French strike, it is a deeply important part of French culture.

    So all the language-learning I did in my French classes at school was important and valuable, but the truest part of my education came once I was immersed in their culture, seeing firsthand how others lived.

    1206-Arche-de-la-Nature--Le-Mans

    Kicking back in the sty

    The cultural immersion deepened as I departed Paris for my homestay. Each of the students in my group stayed with a family in a rural part of France, near Le Mans. Apparently, the homestay coordinator was a bit desperate for host families, and my homestay ended up being two weeks on a pig farm. The plumbing was primitive, the food was unlike what I was used to, the family spoke no English, and there were no neighbors for miles. Compared to my comfortable suburban home in Fairfax County, it was quite a culture shock.

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    It’s different!

    Culture is a soup that we are swimming in; we know it’s there because it’s all around us, but it’s constantly changing, being stirred up by new ingredients that are added. How do you characterize a soup to someone who hasn’t tasted it? You can tell them what the ingredients are, and compare it to other soups they may have tried, and even describe its color, flavor, texture, and consistency with the words you have in your vocabulary, but they really can’t understand what you mean until they’ve actually tasted it themselves. And THAT is the value of a study-abroad experience, particularly one with a homestay component.

    I had to learn how to interact–with real, live human beings–entirely in a language that I had previously only used in a classroom. I had to advocate for myself when I realized that my host family had no other children near my age, and make arrangements to spend some time with another host family nearby. I saw how a certain set of people–people completely unlike myself and my family in many ways–lived, every day, and realized that although their ways were different from what I knew, they were not wrong. And that is a very important concept, particularly in our politically divided society.

    I came back from that trip not with any particular love for pigs or for farming life, but with an appreciation that the world was bigger than the comfortable suburb I knew. And I could not have absorbed that just from reading a book, or even from talking with someone. Some things can only be learned through direct experience.

    A French friend of mine once told me how they could spot Americans a mile away, even if they weren’t wearing “fanny packs” and cameras around their necks:

    Americans always have beautiful, white teeth.dusty-sneakers-i-welcome

    Americans take up a lot of space.

    Americans always wear sneakers.

    Are those cultural stereotypes of the U.S.? Sure. Are they right? Not exactly, but they have enough truth in them to be recognizable. But the best way my friend could find out for herself was to actually come here and experience our culture, and draw her own conclusions.

    I can’t wait to see France through my students’ eyes on this trip, as they begin what will hopefully be a lifelong journey through the different cultural soups that surround us all, wherever we are.

     

    Outdoor Adventure

  • by Peter Kornmeier

    “This was the best day of school ever!”

    Korn-Hikers

    In Shenandoah National Park

    It wasn’t so much that my student had enjoyed missing a day of classes, but that he and his friends had just completed the strenuous nine-mile hike and rock scramble to the top of Old Rag, the highest mountain in Shenandoah National Park.  The trip was the culmination of my Outdoor Adventures class, where the students exercised and learned technical outdoor skills while participating in several rock climbing and hiking field trips.

    Boulder prop

    On Old Rag

    Fortunately, my least favorite question was not asked during the class.  No students asked, “When am I going to use this in the real world,” because, well, we were in the real world.  As a math teacher, I am constantly striving to engage my students, but outdoor education is the one venue where I never have to try.  My favorite day was when a student announced he had learned the Prusik knot and wanted to teach the class how to use a Prusik to ascend a rope in case of emergency.  I just sat back and watched.  This authentic sharing of knowledge—common at our school—was still a refreshing change from me assigning a presentation and the student attempting to discuss the topic well enough to earn a decent grade.  When a student does not feel like she is doing work for a class, it creates a fun and collaborative atmosphere where she wants to be present.

    going up in Great Falls National Park

    going up in Great Falls National Park

    According to Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, there are many ways to teach and learn new information, and every student has his or her own unique pattern of intelligences.  Traditional classroom learning is heavily biased towards students who possess strength in what Gardner refers to as logical-mathematical and linguistic intelligences.  At The New School, we strive to incorporate each of the intelligences into our methods of instruction and assessment, which has a profoundly positive effect on the level of student engagement.

    going down

    Going Down

    One day I took a linguistic approach toward teaching the students the steps to tie a figure eight knot, an essential knot for rock climbing.  Most of the students easily followed the instructions I had written on the board and quickly mastered the figure eight knot.  However, one student was particularly frustrated and confused.  The next day, I took a visual-spatial approach and drew him a diagram of the steps, and he understood it instantly.  That visual-spatial strength also helped him excel at mapping complex climbing routes up a rock face.  I was amazed to watch him transform from a quiet and relatively apprehensive student into a confident, vocal leader who was eager to help out his classmates on climbing trips.

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    Homeward Bound

    At the end of a class, I always hope that I have inspired my students.  As they were leaving on the last day, they thanked me and told me about their plans for their own adventures outside of school.  I smiled and reminded them to double check their figure eight knots.

     

    The New School Talent Show

  • by Virginia Palmer-Fuechsel

    Late fall is my favorite time of the year at The New School. Why? As Thanksgiving nears, students and faculty begin gearing up for the annual Talent Show. It starts with a few announcements, and little by little unexpected talents emerge and converge. Classical strings, modern dance, comedy, original compositions, martial arts demonstrations, poetry readings, Korean karaoke, piano pieces, rock bands, theater skits, African drumming, show wrestling, unicycling,  juggling… the list goes on.  I’m always surprised by the variety of performing arts that come together for the show. But the best shows are those that benefit others.

    My first days as a teacher here were overshadowed by the shock, tragedy, and loss of 9/11/2001. The school became a safe haven for cultural exchange, inquisitive discourse, emotional release, and artistic response. The idea of pulling together a concert to benefit survivors simply provided an impetus for action. After months of rehearsals, fundraising, and preparations, the entire school community crowded into a nearly rental hall for an unforgettable evening of heartfelt performances.

    Talent 1

    A heavily backlit Talent Show singer

    As a musician I have been privileged to work under and with many master artists who believe deeply in giving back and paying forward. A benefit performance fosters individual talent and ensembles. It provides space for faculty, students, and parents to collaborate. Beginners can try out short pieces for proud families. Shy students find courage in larger groups. Stars can shine. Older performers get to share favorites, polish up audition pieces, or risk something new for an audience that is welcoming and appreciative. And everyone is happy when we are able to raise money and goods for the chosen cause.

    My first History of Rock and Roll class decided to learn about the business end of live music by putting on a rock concert/dance in our new gymnasisum. Our first all-school rock concert showcased an emerging professional band as well as school groups and ensembles. Inspired by this event, Michael Denny, then just a Freshman, decided that he could do it better.  He dreamed of transforming our new theater into an intimate through-designed rock club experience. Michael asked me and Billy if we would coach and sponsor him. Of course! The first Yeti Fest was a enthusiastically raucous, rocky experience. Yeti Fests Two and Three demonstrated how Michael and his team were learning and growing not just as musicians, but as entrepreneurs. They put out Facebook pages, designed the stage, produced art work for the space, wrote and published ads, worked out the light and sound, composed and recorded music, made promo videos, ironed logos on yellow t-shirts, rehearsed in and after school, recruited outside bands, sold tickets, schlepped in the gear and spent hours setting up the space, and then worked together late into the night to clean up everything. Whew! The Yetis were not only loads of fun, they raised funds for new amps, drums, and other band equipment. Half of the proceeds went to the Red Cross for Haitian, and the following year, Japan disaster relief. Michael and Co have since graduated and gone on to their respective music studios and colleges, but memories of the Yetis remain to inspire new students.

    Talent-2

    Over the years, New Schoolers have pooled their talents to benefit a wide variety of causes, including tsunami, hurricane and earthquake disaster relief, local food pantries, the Peru Club, and even books for a South African elementary school. They have hosted benefit events in outside galleries, rental halls, our courtyard, the old common room, and in the new art room, gym, and theater spaces. I am really looking forward to this year’s Winter Benefit Concert! We are hoping to again collect a vanful of goods for local food pantries, as well as raise as much money as possible for those suffering in the wake of the typhoon that recently battered the Philippines. And I am sure that this year’s crew of artistically involved students, faculty, and parents will produce yet another heartwarming event for the entire school community.