Taking Education to the Polls: One Student’s Experience Leading in Local Politics

By Rhys, a 9th grader

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November 6th marked an important day for transgender people across the state of Massachusetts. Ballot Question 3 gave voters the power – for the first time in a statewide election – to decide whether or not transgender people had the right to basic protections like using the bathroom that best matches their gender identity, get access to jobs, hotels, restaurants, and even healthcare. As a non-binary identifying 9th grader, I think it’s needless to say that this vote mattered to me – a lot.

I’ve always had a passion for treating humans equally. This has been both a wonderful strength, but also one of my biggest downfalls, as I can sometimes get hung up on things that aren’t really worth my time in the long run. It was this awesome, and sometimes illogical power that kept me going throughout this fall while working on a political campaign while balancing schoolwork and extracurricular activities.

Funnily enough, this whole experience for me started through school. In a project meant to “expose you [the students] to what it means to organize – what it actually feels and looks like,” according to Nathan, my teacher at the time, I found myself at a phonebank in the Keshet offices in the Brewery Complex, only a 5 minute walk from my school. At first, I was surprised to see how close to me something like this was – some preconceived notion told me that I would have to travel a significant distance to participate in something like this. That notion, as with many of my other expectations, turned out to be completely wrong, and I think that this physical ease is what kept me going back throughout the summer. The costs of going to a location and phone banking was more than worth the benefit that I, and other transgender people, now still have – basic human rights.

The true test of my dedication to the cause – and to my own inner morals – came only a month before the election. One of the field organizers asked me if I was willing to be on the leadership team for one of the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) locations. For context, GOTV is the last push in the final four days of the campaign to work to get voters out to the polls on election day. Leading one of these sites is like running a mini campaign office – it’s a huge responsibility, and looking back I’m so thankful for being given that opportunity by the campaign, and by Meridian, who granted me three days off from school to pursue this job.

As we all now know, Question 3 passed decisively. While I in no way mean to downplay the result that was achieved on election day, personally, it mattered less to me whether or not we won. I look back at that experience as an incredible learning opportunity. What I learned about political organizing, communication, team building, and my own limits have a similar long term significance for me. Of course my life would have changed with the other possible outcome on November 6th, but even with no legislative change in my home state, I still gained more than I ever would have expected doing this work.

This inspiration continued for me after the campaign ended, even on the same issue. The Friday after the election, I presented an abridged training taken from folx within the campaign to try to make Meridian a safer space for transgender students. My aim, of course, was to make the school a safer space for all, though most of what I focused on was with transgender students and teachers in mind. If I cultivated one primary value from this experience, it would be to never give up, and never let down my pressure to achieve what’s right.

You Think School is Hard Work?

By 10th grader Eric

On Wednesday, October 10, the Division 3 students went on a field trip to Lowell Mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. As part of the Industrial Revolution unit, students learn about how 19th century factories worked, and what life was like for the workers both before and during the revolution. My experience going to Lowell Mills was very different from what I had expected. I had expected to walk through museum galleries for hours, looking at photographs, documents, and scaled-down models. The experience was much more than just a museum. For the first part of the day, we experienced the “Workers on a Line” program. This program was designed to simulate a 19th century factory. We dressed up in aprons and clocked in. Each of us was assigned a position on an assembly line, making “tea towels.” It was very difficult and stressful work, containing faulty machinery, low pay (we were paid in “Boott Bucks,” named after mill owner Kirk Boott), and a very strict boss! In the end, we formed a union and negotiated better working conditions. I am a strong believer that the best learning comes from experience, and the simulation certainly supplied that.

After having lunch, we walked through a museum for about 15 minutes. The museum was nothing like I was expecting. There were full-scale machines that had been in industrial factories, as well as plenty of hands-on activities, so visitors could try their hand at the type of work that was done in the factories. One of the final parts was what really did it for me. Before we left, we passed through a functional factory floor. The first thing that hit me was the noise. There were about a hundred machines in the room, and there were only about 15 running, but it sounded to me like all 100 were running! I can’t imagine what the sound must have been like when the factory was fully operational. What also fascinated me was the complexity of the machines. Each machine was a huge mass of belts, gears, and metal. Although the machinery was entirely automated, just seeing the machines made me imagine what it would be like working there, with constant noise, cramped workspaces, and dangerous complex machines. Overall, the experience of being at the mills helped me gain insight about workers during the industrial revolution, much more so than learning about the same concepts from a textbook or in a quiet classroom. Lowell is something you have to see – and hear – to believe.  

Secchi Discs and Plankton Tows: Division II Goes to Woods Hole

By 8th grade student Anna

On October 19, students in Division 2 got into a van and drove to Woods Hole in southern Massachusetts. Our teacher Tasha told the class we had to arrive at school at 7:45am in order to get to Woods Hole on time to accomplish everything we wanted. It was an early – and chilly – morning for all of us!

The first thing we did when we got there was go to the Zephyr Education Foundation, which was housed in a little building on the water, near the docks of Vineyard Sound. There, we met the host who would lead us around, and he told us about rules and expectations for our time at Woods Hole.

Then we stepped onto a large fishing boat, where we met the captain and the first mate before heading off. After going at full speed for about 10 minutes, we slowed down and cast off our first experiment. One of the first things that was deployed off the side of the boat was a machine with a camera that would be dragged along the sea bottom. The point of this was to see what the ocean floor looked like in that area and to examine different ecosystems. There was a TV inside the boat where we could see what the camera was seeing. First we saw lots and lots of seaweed, and then all of a sudden the camera went dark. The first mate and our host pulled up the camera, and it was completely covered in seaweed! They pulled it all off, and we went a little further. After going for a little more time, we hit huge waves (3 - 4 feet tall!), we slowed down and put the camera machine back in. We dragged it on the ocean floor a little longer but this time we could see that there were muscles and clams littering the entire floor.  

After we discussed the difference between two ecosystems, we decided to put a new device in the water: a net that would collect sea creatures. Some of the sea creatures we caught were huge sea stars and sea urchins. After being able to touch and look at the creatures, we threw them back into the water.

A little while later, we put in another device called a Secchi Disc. It looks like a black and white cookie, but split into 4 triangles, 2 black and 2 white. Connected to this was a long rope. The object of this is to figure out how far we could see into the ocean. We would uncoil the rope and drop the Secchi Disc into the ocean, slowly letting it fall until we couldn’t see it anymore. On the rope there were markings with numbers, and the numbers measured how far you could see down. My group’s Secchi Disc went all the way down until the tape showed the number 8 ft. This meant that light from the sun reaches 16 ft down into the water.

The last thing we deployed off the side of the boat was called a Plankton Tow. It was a long net, and at the bottom there was a tall cup. The plankton would go through the net into the cup and were caught there. We caught zooplankton, phytoplankton, and even some Comb Jellies!

After examining the plankton, we put them back into the ocean and made our way back to the dock. After leaving the boat, we went to a building with a lot of ocean touch tanks that held lots of different types of animals, including sea urchins, lobsters, horseshoe crabs, sea stars and moon snails. Then we went to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Exhibit Center where we got to see several exhibits, including one about the Titanic and how the scientists from Woods Hole were the ones to find it.

When we were done at the museum, we made our way back to the Zephyr Education Foundation building to have lunch. The Foundation had 3D augmented reality sandboxes. We got to experiment with the sand boxes for a little while and make all sorts of shapes and land features.

When we were done with that, it was time to go. We said goodbye and thank you to our host, got back into the van, and drove back to Meridian. All in all, even on a chilly day, this field trip was fun and adventurous!

Stringing, Carting, and Churning: Division II Gets Hands-On with Colonial New England

By 8th graders Grace and Zayna

Have you ever wanted to churn butter? Well, we did…and we got the chance to do just that on a recent field trip to Deerfield, Massachusetts. Throughout this trimester, Division 2  has been learning about how and why people organize themselves in society. We began by reading Lord of The Flies and discussing how human nature affects our behavior in groups. We then moved on to how people have organized themselves in the past. To do this, we investigated and analyzed many aspects of colonial America. We examined passages from various sources, such as These Truths by historian Jill Lepore. These Truths digs into the background of colonial America and how writing shapes our history. When someone has the ability to write, they also have the ability to write history and shape perceptions of the past. One of the specific events we zoomed in on was the Deerfield Raid. Learning about this raid gave us an opportunity to look at the history of colonial America from many different perspectives, giving our class a more complete image of life in this time period. However, we did not only read about colonial America – we experienced it. With our knowledge of the Deerfield Raid, we boarded a van and headed off to Deerfield to live like colonists for a day.

The first thing we did when we arrived at Deerfield was climb Mt. Sugarloaf. When we reached the summit and looked out onto the land below, we were given perspective on the area around us. We then hiked back down and made the final leg of our journey to Deerfield. We had a little bit of time to explore the area prior to starting our colonial experience, which meant wandering in spooky graveyards in the October chill, which was definitely a lot of fun. Before we began working, we dressed up in period clothing to embody the persona of the colonist. Seeing everyone in their heavy layers of clothing – vests, skirts, knickers, and bonnets – was one of the most fun aspects of the trip. After we all got decked out, we began some traditional chores. Half of us prepared dinner while the other half were taught chores such as carting wool, stringing pumpkins, and, yes…churning butter. Halfway through these tasks, we switched so everyone could experience each activity. As we learned, cooking on a colonial stove is trickier than it looks! But in the end, eating by candlelight in true colonial fashion and laughing around the table made it all worth it.

When nighttime rolled around, we were told a narrative by our group leader. The story was from the perspective of a colonist captive during the Raid. In the candlelit room, with the wind seeping in, the narrative was only enhanced by the somewhat eerie atmosphere. The next morning, we were told the same story from a new perspective: that of a Native American. At the very end of the day, our group was given one last task: to tell stories ourselves. We acted out tales using our bodies and voices to change the mood of the story. The next morning, we talked to David Brule, a Native American history researcher, and learned about other perspectives during the Deerfield Raid. When we returned, we got to work on our own stories and decided which we will research and tell. We were all very tired from such an exciting trip, but it was truly an experience we will never forget!  

Division I Humanities: Weaving together layers of New England labor history

By 6th grader Ezra K.

In late September, during their field trips to Sturbridge Village and the Lowell Mills, Division I Humanities students asked questions and learned about labor in the 1840’s. To start off our unit, we read a historical fiction book called Lyddie, by Katherine Paterson. The story follows a young woman on her journey from the Vermont farm where she grew up to the Lowell Mills where she finds both challenges and opportunities. After we finished the book, we each choose a character we’d like to “interview” about their lives. We were divided into pairs and developed a series of questions for our characters, all the while anticipating our visits to Sturbridge Village and Lowell.

Our visit to Sturbridge Village began with a hands-on workshop on printmaking. Where we learned how to write with a quill and ink, and had the opportunity to create marbled paper. In addition, we each printed a picture at the printing press. After this, we started to explore Sturbridge Village. The students split into two groups depending on what kinds of information they hoped to find. My group was creating an interview with Diana Goss, a fictional worker activist in the mills. In our conversations with people at Sturbridge Village, we learned about why girls would leave the farms to work in the mills and their limited rights during this time period. It was instructive to roam from building to building, meeting the actors representing different people from the time period. Some of the more memorable buildings were the tavern, the law office, the print shop, the tin shop, the Quaker Meeting House, and the farm. I really enjoyed visiting Sturbridge Village and learning so much about the 1800’s in a fun and interactive way!

The following week, we visited the Lowell Mills to continue learning about labor in this time period. First, our guide brought us to an interactive mill room, where we experienced a range of jobs, along with worker responsibilities and mill conditions. We discussed the consequences of pay cuts and lack of representation, and finally the workers organized a strike. Next, we learned about child labor all around the world. It was shocking and disappointing to learn that child labor persists today. Next, we went to the weaving room where we heard and saw real powered looms in action. Then, we visited a boarding house where mill girls would have stayed at, and we answered a few more question there. Finally, we went downstairs in the boarding house and met two awesome park rangers who gave us time to ask any remaining questions. I had a fascinating time at Lowell, I learned many things about child labor, mill life, and strikes.

Overall, these two field trips where a productive start to our year and helped us learn how to report on people, ask good questions, and find out about daily life in the 1840’s. These intriguing field trips to Sturbridge Village and Lowell National Park have left their mark. History can be transmitted in many ways, and these field trips were exceptional experiences!

Learning to Lead at Becket

By 11th graders Marty and Nadia

A highlight of every Meridian student’s academic year is our annual trek to the Berkshire Outdoor Center, in Becket, MA. The whole school gathers on the streets of JP at 5:30 AM to embark on our adventure. After leaving our homes at the crack of dawn, we all arrive in Becket early, on a Monday morning. After a quick icebreaker, we break off into small groups, where we spend the majority of the time during our 30-hour experience. Other highlights include the annual s'more fest, musical celebrations at night, and perhaps Head of School Josh’s renditions of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,” from Oklahoma!

Each of these small groups traditionally has had ten students, a Meridian teacher or two, and a Becket facilitator, who takes the group through various fun games, and team-building events. This year, Meridian added Leaders In Training or LITs to the group. Every member of Division Four was eligible to become a LIT.

After nervously agreeing to become LITs, we quickly got excited about our pre-Becket training. Johnny, an experienced facilitator came to Meridian a week before Becket to train us. We discussed what it meant to be a leader at school, and what a leader means in general. After these discussions, we shifted outside to play a variety of team building games that we might incorporate at Becket.

One of our favorite games was called “Remix.” In Remix, one person from the group leaves the room or goes somewhere where they cannot hear the group. Then, the group makes a big circle, shoulder to shoulder. Each person forms a partnership with the person on their right and one with the person on their left. Each partnership chooses a line from a pop song. They split that line into a half, so together, they can sing that line of a song. When everyone is in their proper place in the circle, it sounds like a medley of song lines. But here is where the fun part comes in, the circle scrambles into a random arrangement. Each person holds out their two fists in front of them. Then, the person who was outside of the room comes back in. Their goal is to arrange the people back into the correct order, finding the pairs. To do this, when the “organizer” taps someone’s fist, the person sings their part of the line that corresponds with the fist tapped. It turns into a really fun game of match.

Once we arrived at Becket, we met with Johnny to discuss our plans. In building our group plans, we decided to start with some icebreakers, before moving into a game which involved trust and communication; both skills we would have to use as leaders ourselves. To play the game, we divided our group into teams of three. The object of the game was to collect as many objects which were on the open field as possible. One person was blindfolded, and they were the one trying to get the objects. Another person could instruct the blindfolded person with their voice, but could not see the blindfolded person. The final person could see the blindfolded person, but could not speak, so they were forced to use physical gestures.

This game was a hit, and we played many variations. Each round people came up with better strategies. After we finished, my partner and I led a debrief, something which happens with the group leader after every game. We discussed what strategies went well, and which didn’t. We also talked about how some of the skills and group dynamics might be present in school, or in other parts of our lives. Leading the discussion was probably one of the hardest parts of being a LIT. The debrief required a lot of participation from our group to be able to function. This was the part of leading which required listening and thoughtful support, two of the more challenging skills we got to practice.

After we led, we agreed that it took patience to lead with a group of people, and also to lead with someone else. We also needed to know how to evaluate a situation. A lot of our plans had to be adapted, due to space or materials we had. After this summer, we both only have one year left at Becket. Having this opportunity to play a leadership role in our school made us a key part of helping to create a strongly knit community at the beginning of the year, and we felt really glad we could do it.

Living with Uncertainty: Graduation 2018 Keynote Address

By Nathan Sokol-Margolis

You may know the name - Wislawa Szymborska, she’s a poet, - and when she accepted the Nobel Prize (in ’96) - she said "'I don’t know’ flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended. "

I want to repeat a critical phrase here: "'I don’t know' flies on mighty wings." Szymborksa was born in Poland in 1923, survived World War II, as a railroad laborer, and lived through the socialist People’s Republic of Poland.  She recently died – 2012. Writing throughout her life, in all of these varied environments, she recognized that not knowing was a subversive act. Not knowing was an act that contradicted or reversed the values and principles of a system. Not knowing could transform an established social order. This makes ‘Knowing’ the realm of dictators, fanatics, and demagogues; they present themselves  - as holders of knowledge. For Szymborksa, power and its corruptions rested on one side having the corner on truth and denying anything that questioned it. 

Making the idea of “I don’t know” a core part of one’s life is challenging. Not knowing does not satisfy our egos. It feels good to have the answers. In fact, through much of my life, not having an answer to a question didn’t seem like an option. Regardless of my state of knowledge, I frequently had an opinion and thought that you should be interested in knowing it. In high school, my friends even dubbed it “Nathan-ing.” verb: to offer an opinion confidently, sounding as if you know what you’re talking about, despite the fact that might not. They joked and we laughed, but this phenomenon plagued me for much of my life and can still occur. I find myself doing it at the dinner table with my family, when my brothers and I argue over real estate renovations. I still do it with my friends, when we discuss filmmaking and whether or not a director is making the right choices. More dangerously, it can rear its head in the classroom. A student might ask, “How does Kant’s categorical imperative apply to euthanasia?” and I answer the question but how much do any of us really understand the implications of Kant’s categorical imperative?

But, I’m just a teacher and an administrator at a small school here in JP, however, this widespread phenomenon poses a grave danger when it’s employed by those who have real authority and power in our broadest culture.  

Nicholas Carr, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist text The Shallows, has written about how in our culture of instant media, as issues arise personalities are forced to pass judgement and voice conclusions with little time to collect evidence or express the nuance that subjects deserve. There’s no time for a politician to say “I don’t know. Let me get back to you.” In this climate, positions are reduced to talking points that lack intellectual rigor and partnered with our egos, this phenomenon creates a dangerously polarized political and social climate.

Luckily, you all are Meridianites.

As graduates today, you’ve struggled with many moments of “I don’t know” when it comes to completing projects. “What medium should I work in for this creative expression project?” “How can I say what I want to say in this other language?” “How am I supposed to write a paper about math?!” And in not being able to answer a question, you’ve learned the lesson that in the quest, and sometimes, in failure, answers are often found. This willingness to admit I don’t know, to explore the unknown, this comfort with the temporary state of “I don’t know” is key to life as a Meridian student. I’ve observed that many of you even find your greatest fulfillment and joy when you acknowledge you don’t know something, and dare to explore the myriad of answers available, building and deepening your understanding of yourself and your place in this world.

I’m grateful for your attitudes - because the world today is an uncertain place and needs people who are comfortable with the realm of “I don’t know.” In the past seven years, you’ve seen the economy rocked by wealth inequalities, which challenge our devotion to finance and capitalism. You’ve seen the rise of Black Lives Matter, which drew back the veil of racism that many of us wrap ourselves in. You’ve watched the #metoo movement come forward and force us all to confront the trade-offs we have so willingly made to be entertained. And perhaps most similarly to our Polish poet, Szymborska, you’ve seen a wave of nationalism sweep politics and the rise of leaders across the world who not only deny scientific facts such as climate change, but also refuse moral truths, such as basic human principles of equity.

These struggles can make it difficult to get out of bed, let alone, take action.

But we can look to another poet, Rebecca Solnit, for advice. In her 2003 book Hope in the Dark, she writes: “People have always been good at imagining the end of the world...It is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end.” 

When we’re presented with today’s headlines, the dismal certainty of an upcoming apocalypse, is the easier path to travel. We all claim to “know” where our problems are going to lead us. We mumble that our actions don’t matter since the sheer quantity of problems seems to be insurmountable.  

However, this is not the route of resistance, or a subversive act, perhaps more important to recognize: this dismal certainty is not the path of history. History has proven that it does not move in a predictable pattern, but edges unevenly across landscapes of pain and joy. To explore these landscapes with curiosity – to seek to understand - is the critical subversive act. 

When you leave here, and find yourselves not knowing the answers to all of the questions you encounter - bask in this unknown - allow yourselves to admit that you don't know. Ask questions that you don’t have answers to and discuss your questions with those around you. Danielle Allen, in her 2014 book Our Declaration, gives us the grandest vision of why our questions, and the conversations they inspire, matter. She writes that: "this country was born in talk."

So, when you’re looking for a way to survive, when you’re searching for a better world, when you want to consider yourself a member of the resistance - sit down with another person, ask a question that you don’t have the answer to and live in the curiosity that it inspires. Discuss and then talk some more: it is here that innovation, change, and revelation exist.

 

Making Sustainability Visible: One Student's JRPS

By 11th grader Izzy

In 2050, the global population is estimated to be about 10 billion people. More than 70 percent of those 10 billion will be living in urban areas. This level of change inspires many questions, such as: How can we adjust our urban development practices to cope with these increases? What were our urban and suburban practices in the past? Who is the most at risk with these changes in urban areas, and what can we do to help protect them?

It was with these questions in mind that I started my Junior Research Project. As a student at Meridian Academy, a small independent school in Jamaica Plain, I have the opportunity to dive deep into a topic of my choice for full year. I get to work closely with an advisor to do academic research and then produce a project that extends my learning.

Although I ended up fascinated with urban planning, that’s not where my interest began. Fighting climate change is a major passion of mine, and I originally wanted to study how the American housing system evolved through the 20th century. I started my research by examining green movements such as the Tiny House Movement, the accessibility of those movements to people of different economic backgrounds, as well as the role these movements play in combating global climate change.

One of the most important lessons I learned this year centers on the complexity and importance of the word “sustainability”. Prior to this project, I only perceived this word in the context environmental sustainability. During my research, however, I found out about the “three-legged stool of sustainability” which includes environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Because all of these “legs” are most easily and commonly addressed in dense urban areas, I decided to focus my remaining research on city-wide sustainability.

When it came time to use this research to generate a final project, I used the knowledge I gained from my study of urban planning: community input is a key way to maintain sustainability. In light of this, I wanted to create an interactive and informative exhibit that would be open to the public. After working with many local organizations and people, and receiving a grant from Eastern Bank, I was able to create two kiosk-like structures that are located on the lawn in front of JP Baptist Church on Centre Street. The exhibit examines the environmental justice movement, the history of sprawl, urban renewal, and modern sustainability practices, both nationally and locally. The structures are painted with chalkboard paint and visitors are encouraged to respond to the questions posed on the labels and share ideas and questions of their own.

The questions that spurred my project still feel deeply relevant to me today, and the knowledge I've gained helps me see their importance even more clearly. But not everyone has a whole school year to delve into research. I hope these structures will encourage others to examine these questions, and that we can imagine together how we can create a sustainable 2050.

From JRPS to Josephine Baker: A Meridian Senior Reflects on a Self-Designed Interdisciplinary Class

By 12th grader Celine

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A lot can be done in a school year, especially in a class of one. When I found out I was going to have an entire French class to myself, I was excited to work with our teacher Sonja to create a curriculum.
At Meridian, seniors are allowed to choose whether or not they would like to pursue a personalized interdisciplinary course or continue taking a language class. For me, I was in the position where I could combine the two options.
My main goal for the interdisciplinary course was to work on my Junior Research Project Seminar (JRPS) from last year, in which I interviewed about 15 organizations relating to prison reentry and created a website called the PROMIS Project, where I displayed my findings. This year, I was able to interview five more organizations, with each interview lasting about one hour. Each week, Sonja gave me some time in class to transcribe these recordings so that I could update my website. I have also been working on a page where I can post recent articles, podcasts, or videos that I come across on my own or with the help of teachers. (If you find anything interesting pertaining to prison reentry or the criminal justice system, please send them my way at thepromisproject@gmail.com.)
During classes when I am not working on the PROMIS Project, I continued taking a language class by diving into the social aspects of French history and learning about the racial, religious, and cultural ties that led France to be what it has become today. Since these topics were rather broad, and there wasn’t a whole lot of time for me to do thorough research, my trimesters were split into three parts: Francophone outreach, racial identity in France, and the life of Josephine Baker. Some of these subunits intertwined with each other throughout the year, so whenever Exhibitions rolled around, explaining the overall unit of French D became a bit challenging. But, here is what I would generally say:
We started the first semester watching the documentary Trop Noire d’être Francais, directed by Isabelle Bon-Claverie, in which Bon-Claverie described her upbringing as a black middle-class French woman. What she gradually noticed as she got older was the daily oppression black people faced due to the power structures implemented since the African slave trade. The lack of concern she sees in the French government regarding race and religion was demonstrated through the insensitive jokes made by higher officials, the lack of acknowledgment that racism continues in France, and the absence of conversation even when protests were in session.
After watching the documentary, I wanted to see whether contemporary students in France were thinking about the racial inequalities that Bon-Claverie faced at a young age. Were these conversations taking place more or less frequently than in the U.S.? In an attempt to answer these questions, Sonja and I decided to create two surveys – one in French and another in English – asking French students about their high school experience. We emailed four to five schools in France and distributed the email to as many people as we could.
Unfortunately, the results were not as diverse as I would have hoped. Many of those who answered the survey were majority white from an older generation where religion, gender, sexuality, and race was not generally spoken or thought about in school.
In the second trimester, Sonja and I watched and analyzed two movies, La Noire de…, directed by Ousmane Sembene, and La Haine, directed by Mathieu Kassovitz.
La Noire de…  takes place in 1966 and follows a Senegalese woman, Diouana, who is flown to France from Dakar after being hired as a caretaker by a French white bourgeois family. What sadly follows thereafter is the progression of Diouana’s depression as she becomes a domestic slave more than anything else. La Noire de… in English is “Black Girl.” The “de” in the title is lost in translation because it can indicate that she is owned by someone or something (so a more accurate translation would be “The Black Girl of...” instead of “Black Girl”). This speaks to the question of not only determining the power dynamics and racial identity in a postcolonial society, but what it means to be objectified as a form of ownership. After watching the film, I wrote a reflection and analyzed symbolic scenes with Sonja. Surprisingly, she later told me that the points we brought up during discussion was similar to a conversation a class at Brown University had after watching the same film.
La Haine was also an amazing film. With directed shots similar to that of Spike Lee, Kassovitz tells the story of three friends, Vinz (Jewish), Said (Arab Maghrebi), and Hubert (Afro-French), who live in a suburban housing project in France. Their mutual friend, Abdel Ichaha, is killed by police during a riot, thus ingraining hatred towards the police in Vinz early on in the film. The three young men live aimlessly around the neighborhood, almost in a state of limbo, until Vinz comes across a lost gun from a police officer in the prior riot.
Suddenly, an adventure progresses revolving around the gun. The prolonged scenes that took place in the beginning of the film became quick paced and intense after the friends’ lives are on the line. There was a lot to analyze in the film, but my main takeaway was the role that youth play in society. If the younger generation is treated as though there is no future for them – that they are given a place to survive, but not to prosper – then this cycle of hatred will persist.
In the third trimester, Sonja and I finished reading a 500-page comic book on the life of Josephine Baker. Baker, who lived from 1906 to 1975, was the first African-American woman to become an international dancer, the first American woman to receive the Croix de Guerre (she was recruited a spy as a part of the French Resistance during World War II), and the only female speaker in the March on Washington. Baker also adopted 12 children from different countries and ethnicities – including Finland, Japan, France, Belgium, and Venezuela – whom she called her “Rainbow Tribe.” Near the end of the year, I was able to watch the movie she starred in called Zou Zou.
We read Josephine Baker throughout the whole school year, and Sonja and I took turns reading aloud. Sometimes, I would be assigned to read pages on my own for homework and explain the chapter to Sonja during the beginning of the next class. I found this type of exercise not only fun – because I was learning about the life of Josephine Baker – but also effective, because I was able to tackle areas of French that I had found especially challenging. Subsequently, I am now able to digest French words more quickly, speak with a more understandable accent, and write more proficiently than before.
This combination of my continued JRPS work and an in-depth study of French culture made for an eventful year. Sonja structured my classes so that I could pursue the PROMIS Project, reach out to people I might’ve not spoken to before, and learn about the different perspectives and ideologies in France about which I had been completely unfamiliar. Thank you, Sonja!

Je me souviens...notre séjour à Québec

By 10th grade student Ally and class of 2017 alumnus Twyla

Ally:

When I woke up the morning of the Québec trip, I had very little time for anything except a snack and saying goodbye to my dog. I was half-asleep until I got to Meridian, which is when I saw some other students outside, piling stuff into the surprisingly small trunk of the eight person van I would spend far too much time in. Of course, Leisa, one of the teachers coming with us on the trip, gets the passenger seat next to Sonja, our French teacher, leaving the back seat and the “basically it’s the trunk” seats to the students. After a relatively short and tired debate, Theo and I are seated in the far back, with Luke and Clary in front of us.

The trip was long, but enjoyable. Starting off with discussions about what will happen in Québec, dumb coloring games on my phone, and a word game called “Contact,” we left the area and made our way to our first stop: a coffee shop. Sonja, as we all realized on this trip, cannot survive more than three hours without it.

Things were smooth until we get to border patrol, where a man horribly mispronounces as many names as he can while eyeing the six half-asleep students in the back of the van. Unlike other trips, though, we got through without any trouble.

This led us to our next stop, a Tim Hortons, where we would speak the first French to fluent French speakers of the trip. It was simple -- order food -- but apparently everyone forgot we were in Canada, and no one got their Canadian money from their bag. A good start.

Now, other than the GPS telling us to drive into a couple of rivers, we made it to the Airbnb we would call home. It was much smaller than advertised, and does not comfortably fit the amount of people it claimed. In fact, there were six beds, and seven people. We made the best out of the situation by creating a pillow bed in a small hallway, which I ended up staying in.

Once we’d recuperated from the eight-hour journey, we drove to Old Québec and enjoyed an amazing meal at a crêpe place that I now crave every day. After, we stopped by a supermarket to grab things for our breakfast. This, of course, did not go so well, considering the recipe required ingredients we’ve never heard of in English, let alone French (thanks, Clary).

In the morning we attempted to cook quiche with the ingredients from the night before, but the severe lack of ventilation was a bit of a setback. In the end it turned out well, and we left the house with full stomachs.

Sonja was very insistent we check out the train station, as it apparently had beautiful architecture and history, so we went along with it. Arriving there ready to see the beauty it held, we were surprised by something -- someone -- else. Twyla, alumnus, class 0f 2017, and a previous French student, was waiting for us to get there.

Twyla:

Surprising the group of Meridianites was amazing! It had been incredibly fortunate that the Quebec trip had coincided with my reading week, because it allowed me to share in some really great experiences with the group. After a lunch of pastries and coffee, we got to visit one of my favorite museums of all time: La musée de la civilisation (Museum of Civilization)! No two trips there have been the same for me, as the museum rotates their exhibits impressively frequently, and what was a gallery of mythology-themed ancient Egyptian artifacts two years ago was now a crazy, funky collection of bizarre objects representing humanity’s progress through time -- or at least, that was my takeaway. The exhibit on brains and cerebral function and development was also quite engaging; the whole group spent a lot of time on an interactive piece that showed how touching a plate of alternating warm and cool bars could trick your brain into thinking it was being burned.

Later that afternoon, we visited the classic sightseeing stop: the Funicular! The rides on the old, cable supported elevator overlooking the river (fleuve!) were breathtaking for some and scary for others. The next classic we visited was the Chateau Frontenac, which was as stunning as always. Every time I see it, it refreshes my goal of staying in a room there one day. And that evening: the Remparts game! I’m generally not one for watching sports games, but live hockey is always a blast. Especially in Canada. Between the front row seats, the Timbits half-time game (in which numerous very small children held a very exciting demo match of their own), and the fantastic last names (one player’s jersey boasted the French term for ‘the raspberry’), it was an awesome night.

The next day, we packed everything up, got breakfast, and then visited the oldest market in North America, Épicerie J.A. Moisan. There, we bought cool gifts and souvenirs for people back home (and snacks for ourselves, of course). And at that point, I had to leave to catch a flight home, so I said my goodbyes, entrusted a jar of jam I had just purchased to Sonja to drive across the border, and got into my Uber.

Ally:

After Twyla left, the next stop was a restaurant that students are taken to every Québec trip: Frites Alors. This small restaurant was packed full of the most amazing fries I’ve ever had. Along with this, they made burgers, grilled cheese, and sandwiches, but the main events were the fries and their homemade dipping sauces. These sauces came in many different flavors, and all of us loved them. By the end, Luke and I were basically asleep because of the food, and, according to him, he will never feel full again unless he eats at Frites Alors.

Once we arrived back at the van, we made our way home, saying goodbye to Québec. The trip was less energized but still amusing. I spent the whole ride playing Plants vs Zombies and occasionally chiming in to conversations. We arrived home around eleven, thus ending the journey.