Monday, November 21, 2016

Affecting eternity

Looking west across the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. 6:15 PM. Photo: JH.
November 21, 2016. It began as a beautiful weekend in New York; sunny and warm-ish in the low 60s. Then on Saturday evening the rains came and with some winds, sweeping through the foliage and washing much of it out of the trees, creating a collage of yellow against the black macadam. I took a photo from my terrace of Mother Nature’s Artwork on Saturday night about midnight. A perfect rendering of change occurring before our eyes. We woke up Sunday morning to a much colder day, more clouds and wind.
The sidewalks, the cars, the avenue under the falling leaves on Saturday night's heavy rains and winds.
I haven’t been in midtown since Wednesday when the traffic around Trump Tower was heavy and there were crowds. It was orderly and things kept moving. I can see how constant traffic like this will be very bad for the businesses along this lane. I’m sure Mr. Trump is well aware of these matters.

Although I did not see any on Wednesday, there are, I am told, still “protesters” around the Trump Tower.

A friend of mine told me she had to go to midtown on Saturday and there were women protesting topless and men wearing only their “underpants.” I sort of get the intent, taking all factors into consideration. I laughed when she told me as I was trying to imagine the response. Like the Kardashians on Strike. 

Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern campaigning in 1972.
I was involved in (peaceful) public protests when I was a young man: the War in Viet Nam, Civil Rights, Women’s Liberation. New York City was the place of frequent, many, scores, of protests over the War from the mid-'60s into the early '70s. It was, among other things, a cultural phenomenon. In a very real way, it created fellowship and a sense of pride in one’s country if not always in specific people. George McGovern was our hero. He was trounced by Mr. Nixon, famously known as Tricky Dick by his opposition – which often included the press. But nudity in the canyons of Manhattan is a new twist, and a funny one when you think about it. My friend, a close friend, is very reliable in recounting what she sees. I say that only because there is something unbelievable about such a scene. 

There goes the neighbornood. Last Wednesday morning, my friend Eve Stuart took me up to the East Harlem School on East 103rd Street between First and Second. Eve is on the school’s board. I’d heard of the school vaguely because another friend Bronson van Wyck was honored by them at one of their fundraisers.

The school is located on the site of Exodus House which was founded in 1963 by Dr. Lynn and Mrs. Leola Hageman as a drug addiction center. In 1984, out of “concern for the welfare and well-being of the community’s many underserved, at-risk children,” the Hagemans converted the site into an after-school and summer program facility. Then nine years later, the Hagemans’ sons Ivan and Hans Hageman opened a year round middle school on the original site as way of better addressing the needs of these children and their families.
Students from the East Harlem School acting as emcees, open the evening once everyone is seated.
The East Harlem School (or EHS as the kids call it) is chartered by the New York State Department of Education and accredited bythe Middle States Assocation of Colleges and Schools. EHS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. I add that bit of information because if there is a thought of helping the young ones get a better grip on their futures in this miasmic world of ours, this is one to consider.

I’ve “covered” a lot of charities and philanthropic ventures on the NYSD as a regular reader knows. I am especially drawn to those organizations that assist people with their day-to-day survival with matters of food, care, children and the animals. I grew up in an emotionally and financially stressed household. I remain sensitive to the matters that children confront -- especially today.
The East Harlem School's Ivan Hageman, greeeting the guests with his thoughts about the school.
I was fortunate. I had a mother who did everything in her power (and while working) to keep  us fed, clothed and sheltered. She also was a reader by nature and got me on the road to reading by reading to me before I went to sleep – until I could read myself. I also had sisters and aunts who looked after my welfare and assisted my mother. All children need this to progress in life. I had a father who had more problems than I can enumerate and was deeply troubled by them. This brought a lot of friction into the household and some of it violent. Fortunately my father was never unkind or cruel to me.

I relate these matters of personal experience because they are commonplace. They are very often at the center of what confront children growing up in what is many ways a very hostile world, often both in home and outside; and they can be decisive in a child’s future. Unless ... the child gets assistance in the form of attention (kindness) and affection (kind attention), so they can learn about something better out there.
Julia and Rusty Shepard accepting their honor and also contributing another $100,000 to this great school.
Eve Stuart loves this school and really wanted me to see what it was like. I had no expectations and morning appointments are not appealing to me since I have late nights with this site. But I went because I knew it woiuld be good for me to tell you about it.

We were met by one of the school’s staff who introduced us to Alejandro and to Camille -- both were my tour guides of the school. Both are in the eighth grade and in the process of preparing to graduate to high school next year. Alejandro lives in the neighborhood and Camille has a fifty-minute commute from her home in the Bronx.
4th and 6th graders attend swim classes at Asphalt Green one morning each week.
The school has 150 students from Grades 4 to 8. There are never more than 18 in a classroom. Because it was in session we couldn’t go into any classrooms that were in use. Although we did see the Science room where they learn about growing hydroponically and study modern science. I was thinking: what a great environment in which to be a student and learn. We also saw the cafeteria where the lunches are prepared with the help of the students (in the kitchen) and the menu is entirely vegetarian. We also saw the art classroom and some of the works of the students where talent becomes recognizable. The entire school starts the day with a “moment of silence.” Then everyone is transported to Randall’s Island nearby where they have an hour and a half of what we used to call Phys Ed. Then it’s back to the class rooms.

We happened to be there when there was a change of classes. While Camille was showing us the lockers and explaining how they had no locks on them, a class  broke; the hallway filled with students moving to their next classroom. They were orderly and matter-of-factly quiet. I never saw that before. In my life.
The Science program at EHS is based on experimentation. Here, 8th grader Carlito waters seeds as part of a unit on plant life.
In the fall and spring, 7th and 8th graders harvest vegetables to learn about plant life cycles, and to supplement their lunch program! Here, students weigh green leaf lettuce after also harvesting red butterhead lettuce, bibb lettuce, arugula, and kale in their indoor greenhouse.
EHS offers a vegetarian food program that includes mostly organic, locally grown, and seasonal ingredients. Breakfast and lunch is provided for each student daily.
What impressed me most was that these children were being taught ordinary responsibility and obligation to themselves and to others -- as well as the idea that challenge strengthens commitment, and they are capable of meeting it. The school sends home a report every week on every student. If there is an issue, the family comes in to discuss it. Everyone is in on the solutions.

The school year runs through July. The program is altered to accommodate the time of year. Ivan Hageman, who runs the school now, told me that they often accept children whose numbers are not so encouraging. Hageman is naturally drawn to the challenge of transformation and providing it for the children. Admission is based on character, not a lottery or test.When the time draws near that they will be moving on to high school, they are all prepared to take their SATs and succeed. All of their graduates – 100% go on to college.
7th and 8th graders have 90 minutes of Fitness four mornings a week before classes. Students travel together across the foot bridge to the fields on Ward's Island.
Organized sports teams also practice at Ward's Island every morning.
All families must pay to attend this private school which is neither a charter school or a public school. Ten dollars a week if that is all you can afford. I’ve been told that some have paid in change because it was about scraping together that ten bucks. Self-respect is promised. Others pay more when they can afford it. But the main source of running the school is through fundraising.

Last Thursday night, the East Harlem School held their annual Autumn Fundraiser. This year’s was held at 583 Park Avenue. Members of the classes were the emcees. They started the evening by announcing that like the school in the morning, we would have a moment of silence.  They clapped their hands and we all fell silent until the moment was up, with another clapping of the hands.
The day begins with meditation and concludes in stillness before the students leave for the day.
Fourth graders take turns reading aloud with their homeroom teacher.
EHS initiated a new Visual Arts program in the 2013-2014 school year to teach foundational skills in sketching, drawing, and painting to all students.
8th graders work with Dean of Faculty and 8th Grade Math Teacher Anne Ross. Students often work in small groups.
The choir club performing at their end of year recital. Students have the opportunity to participate in various club offerings including chess club, guitar club, community service club, dance club, and newspaper club, to name a few.
They honored Julia and Rusty Shepard who have been big proponents of the school. Mr. and Mrs. Shepard honored the honor by donating another $100,000 to the fund. Lydia Fenet, a vice-president of Christie’s, conducted the auction. Lydia is an intelligent woman with a clever personality and a gentle honesty that can charm a potential donor out of a handsome contribution, and everybody enjoys it. They raised several hundred thousand dollars. This is necessary for the school budget. You can send something if you’d like. These organizations work hard for the big contributions but every dollar of five or ten or twenty or one hundred (or more) makes the difference.

Ivan Hageman
East Harlem School
309 East 103rd Street
New York City, New York 10029-5603
Each day comes to a close with Circle, where students and teachers have the chance to review important matters.
My visit to the East Harlem School came a week after the election. Many in my part of the world were very upset by the results and worried about the results. They were shocked and thusly outraged. The anger was directed at the opposition, the winner, of course. But it left a murky atmosphere of anger and resentment almost as if it were universal. A reflection of the times. Grim. Then that morning I went up to the East Harlem School, was greeted by very young people, probably 12 or 13, who gave me a tour of their school. Two different personalities, a boy and a girl, who were clearly carrying out a “responsibility” and doing it seriously. They have a life there, a good one, full and enriching on many levels. They are the future, helped by the past (us).

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