Monday, December 22, 2008

Alpha House After Care Project

I want to thank all of you whose children took part in the after care activities to benefit the Alpha House for Mothers and Children. This two-week, multi-faceted project included cooking, a bake sale, buying gift cards at a local grocery store, making multicultural ornaments, visiting a tree farm and cutting down a tree, and finally bringing it all together by setting up the tree at the Alpha House shelter, decorating it with the ornaments, and giving the residents the gift cards funded by the bake sale. Phew. That was a lot of work, and our students were enthusiastic and dedicated throughout the process. Some of them were there for a little of it, some were there for all of it - every child who participated did wonderful work to help homeless families feel supported and cared for this holiday season. Congratulations to all of you! I applaud your kindness and your energy in helping others.

The Ann Arbor News sent a reporter to Braun's Tree Farm, and the article she wrote can be found here:

(You may need to copy and paste the link into your browser.)

Thanks to Shan and Sabriena for leading this project. Thanks also to Braun's Tree Farm for the donation of the tree, and to the Alpha House for allowing our children to participate in this wonderful experience.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Writer's Workshop

Today I had a rare opportunity to work with the students in Will's room on writing. I love this kind of work - it is so inspiring to see children developing their unique writer's voice and learning to trust their instinct for language. They have been doing some pretty interesting work (through the mythology theme) on creation stories, and the creation of new worlds, so we combined that idea with an exercise on atmosphere and mood development in writing. The students all generated notes, and from that point worked on a piece of writing more like a painting of words than a story or logical progression of thoughts. They all got absolutely caught up in their writer's bubble, creating their own thoughts in their own way with some striking results. I had so much fun reading their work, I wanted to share some of it with you. (Please bear in mind that not everyone had a chance to fully correct for spelling and punctuation. I have not corrected unedited work.) These are snippets, to give you a flavor, and names have been omitted to protect the artists from paparazzi.

'...They reek of sadness
angry at nothingness
sad at everything
the core like bread being ripped
the forest so sad
blue forest...'

'You think of lime as beaing calm. You think of red as anger. You think of blue as beaing sad but I beg to differ...'

'...I see a young shadow of me, he hums and walks away - I try to follow but a huge drop of water falls and... my ears hurt as they are listening to metal scraping the edge of nothing...'

'...I see a bleached, bright
yellow, then comes
a calm blue. A burning
red comes flaring
at me...
tapped me. It was
a great warrior,
he said: The people need you. So bring me there I said...'

'...Only bubbles popping on the brook
dare disturb the sacred peace
The trees beside are still
all is still, all is still'

'The beach is flotty with its pretty blue water. It makes me feel so wonderful and happy. I hear a bird chirp, I hear the wind blow...'

'The tiger is stuck in the tree. Crying. Yelping. It's madness. I try to help but I can't. The tiger can't get out... It's yellow red and orange swirling and swirling...'

'If you look down the sea looks blue when you swim in it. It might look clear or white to you. The sun bright yellow the cherrys ripe red...'

'...Then it breaks into tiny particles of snow. But it is still very dark out. Then it gets darker and darker. Black now. Then my head goes blank.'

Thank you to all the students for making my day!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Two Great Events

Zara Zangana, from Will's class, is dancing in 'The Nutcracker' with Ann Arbor Dance Classics Ensemble. The performance is on Sunday, December 14, at 2 p.m. at Milan High School auditorium, 707 Marvin St, Milan. Tickets are $12, available by calling 734-302-4248. I won't be able to see this myself - I'll be out of town for the weekend - but I'm sure it will be beautiful. Good luck, Zara!

I also wanted to mention an event which has nothing to do with Summers-Knoll specifically, except that all families from anywhere are welcome. It sounds so lovely, I wanted to bring it to your attention:

Community Menorah Lighting and Sing-a-long: Families are invited to a Community Menorah Lighting and sing-a-long on Friday evening, December 26, 2008 at 7:30 p.m. inside
St. Clare's Church / Temple Beth Emeth, 2309 Packard Street, Ann Arbor (near Stadium Blvd). Refreshments, musicians, choral works, and sing-a-long with the children's choir, cantor Annie, and Rabbi Levy. Bring a menorah and candles if you have one, for the largest menorah lighting
celebration in the city. All are welcome.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Our organic lunch program is about to begin a new era. Rather than having lunches brought to us, we will be making them ourselves, and involving the children as much as possible in the preparation, serving, and communal eating of the meals we provide.

Our children love to cook! The bake sale last Thursday is a wonderful example of what happens when they get inspired. They baked breads, cakes, custards and cookies from different cultures and traditions, and sold them to benefit children at the Alpha House shelter. They were passionate about what they were doing, took it very seriously, were proud of their work and their cause, and were dedicated cooks, organizers, and salespeople. Now they will take the $70+ they made on the sale, and use it to buy holiday gifts for homeless children. This coming week they will complete the overall project by making multicultural holiday ornaments, cutting down a holiday tree (generously donated by Braun's Farm), setting up the tree and decorating it at the Alpha House, and leaving their bake sale gifts beneath the tree for the children.

The power that our students feel when they are able to do something so effective for others, and to use their skills and time to such clear good purpose, is palpable. They glow with it. They move and speak with authority and resolution. And, especially where cooking is concerned, they have so much fun! So, from here on, we will be enlisting their help in cooking lunches, and we will be serving the lunches family-style, to enjoy the community spirit that comes from a job well done and good food to share. The children have been great at cleaning up after meals for some time; now they will have the chance to cook and serve the meals also. We will also have occasional after-care shopping field trips to local ethnic grocery stores, and to the Food Coop, where the children can buy local organic produce, sugar, flour, and other bulk foods. When spring comes, we will make some trips to the Farmer's Market on Wednesday mornings.

If you have any thoughts as to meals you would like to see on our lunch menu, please share! We want to reflect the cultures and lifestyles of the many different families in our community - we want to try recipes from all around the world, as well as experiment with regional American recipes, vegetarian and vegan, and regular gluten-free meals to enable all our children to participate. And if you would like to come in and help cook, and be an honored guest for the meal, you would be very welcome! We would be delighted to have you there.

Please remember, we will only be able to cook food that is peanut and tree-nut free, so please bear that in mind as you share your favorite recipes.

Monday, December 1, 2008


I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. It was well-timed to give everyone a chance to relax, revitalize, and get healthy. So that in itself is something to be thankful for!

As an Englishwoman, I find the festival of Thanksgiving fascinating. It is such a lovely idea; people reconnect with their loved ones and families, sitting down to enjoy unabashed comfort food and remember how much they care about each other. Many people have told me it is their favorite day of the year, and with good reason.

It also has a dark side, and it is hard for me to think about it without the complications of its history kicking in and confusing me. The story of the first Thanksgiving is attributed variously to the joy of the first good harvest brought in by the Pilgrims, after training in good agriculture from the Wampanoag; to the gratitude those first settlers felt towards their God who enabled them to survive and enjoy the fruits of the earth; to the triumph of a huge massacre of Native Americans, including the helpful Wampanoag, in which horrible atrocities were committed by the white settlers; and to the good thinking that led the first settlers to abandon their failed attempt at communist principles and embrace the beginnings of capitalism, thus enabling the crops to thrive and the harvest to prosper.

Everyone who takes a particular angle on this seems absolutely sure that they are right. They know the origins of the tradition, and they have a monopoly on the truth. I would have to go far deeper than I have into the documents of the time to be able to say who has more historical evidence on their side, but I am sure they all have some basis in fact. How the facts translate to today, how thanks are given now, how blessings are counted, how injustices are remembered and resolved, these are things that each person and family will think through to their own satisfaction.

The conflict of opinions here strikes me as being one of those golden opportunities to show children that sometimes different versions of the truth co-exist. Sometimes things are not just one way or just another. Sometimes it's important to listen to other people's versions of things and take them into account - even if you don't abandon your own version in the process. Sometimes other people's stories are worth looking into for the sake of truth and accuracy - not to make one person right and one person wrong, but to find out what is real. And sometimes it's there are seeds of reality in many places. Our children have a hard time with that concept sometimes, and take any disagreement with their own opinions very personally. It's good to find opportunities to help them see that people don't really have a monopoly on the truth, and finding out what the truth really is can be more satisfying than simply holding on to an attitude. Let's encourage them to consider shades of gray, and look for higher truth over that instinct to be the one who is right.