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Photo: Ira learns about prominent figures of the Civil Rights movement on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

We honored Martin Luther King Jr. Day this past Monday with special programming that focused on history, justice, identity, and equity. These themes were woven into every part of the day, with activities centered around research and reflective writing, introspective art projects, and farm and outdoor community work.

It was a day filled with thoughtful conversations about how we can recognize the past and cultivate inclusive communities, both within our own mountain campus and in the larger world. Watching students from all over the globe come together with open-mindedness and compassion was an amazing way to begin the week, and a wonderful reminder about the power of young people to bring about positive change.

ACADEMICS

Top: Elyssa explains the Xocolatl recipe to the 5th-grade social studies class. Middle 1: Lucy and Julia raise their hands in social studies class. Middle 2: Jacob stirs the Xocolatl. Middle 3: Landon enjoys his Xocolatl. Middle 4: David presents his propaganda poster to the 7th-grade history class. Bottom: Cherry’s propaganda poster.

In 5th-grade social studies class, students have been learning about different Mesoamerican groups, including the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan people. In order to cultivate a shared experience with the communities they’ve been studying, the class held a special lesson this past week in the Teaching and Learning Kitchen where they prepared Xocolatl—the Aztec predecessor to our modern-day hot chocolate—using honey and hot peppers from the NCS farm. The class also read about the significant role the cacao plant and Xocolatl held in ancient Aztec culture as both a revered plant and as currency.

Our 7th-grade history students, meanwhile, are learning about the role propaganda played during the American Revolution and the Boston Massacre. In order to apply similar concepts to modern life, each student designed and presented a persuasive poster on the issue of their choosing using propaganda techniques such as vague or loaded wording and unreliable testimony. Students considered issues carefully, demonstrating critical thinking and a growing understanding of how to seek out reliable sources and verify the information presented to them.

Top: The 6th-grade class watches the film The Children’s March on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Middle: Nadya and Katie help redesign the NCS Stand for Justice t-shirts. Bottom: Justin holds an information sheet from the Speak Up at School training on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Our Equity and Inclusion Committee planned a day of special programming Monday in honor of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout the morning, students and teachers gathered in groups to learn about different social and racial justice topics. Our youngest students learned about Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech before brainstorming and writing their own “dreams” about how to create positive change. Other groups studied famous figures of the Civil Rights movement including the young activists involved in the Children’s Crusade in the 1960s. Our older students discussed ways they could elevate their own voices and the voices of others, as well as take on the role of advocates and allies in the face of injustice. We loved seeing the open-mindedness and level of care for one another on display throughout the course of the day.

ARTS

Top: The 6th-grade photo class learns how to make a pinhole camera. Middle 1: James in ceramics class with his wheel-thrown bowls. Middle 2: Salama and Camila work on the metal kraken sculpture. Bottom: Inspiration for the kraken sculpture.

It was a busy week in our art studios, with students learning new skills, pushing their creative boundaries, and working together on large-scale installations. Our 6th-grade photographers began a new unit that builds their foundational photography knowledge by constructing pinhole cameras using cardboard, black paint, and duct tape. Each photographer will use their homemade camera to carefully take timed exposures before transferring their captured images onto light-sensitive photo paper. Next door in the ceramics studio, students have been working on their wheel throwing skills, learning how to use larger amounts of clay while throwing their vessels. We look forward to seeing projects like James’s nesting bowls once the students’ creations have been bisque fired and glazed later in the term.

Over in the Walter Breeman Performing Arts Center (WallyPAC), the large metal kraken sculpture continues to take shape. This week, students in the class worked together to assemble the creature’s two remaining legs. Once completed, the installation piece will serve as another example of how reclaimed materials—which in this case include old kayak parts and found scrap metal—can be turned into dynamic and engaging works of art.

Top: Mateo and Koga work on their silhouette collages for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Middle: Mateo’s silhouette collage. Bottom: Tyler with her silhouette collage.

As part of our Martin Luther King Jr. Day programming, a group of our older students created collages inspired by the concept of identity. Each student cut out a silhouette of their profile, then used this silhouette as a template to attach images from magazines, discarded books, newspapers, and other media they felt represented their unique story—where they come from, what they identify with, and what they think about. This introspective activity was guided by the idea that having an honest understanding of self, and being willing to share those inner thoughts and values, are important parts of connecting to others. 

OUTDOORS

Top: Fred, Tyler, and Amon in Outdoor Leadership class. Middle 1: Alejandro snowboards in Outdoor Leadership Class. Middle 2: Outdoor Leadership class on the NCS Ski Hill. Bottom: A group shovels the ice-skating rink as part of our Martin Luther King Jr. Day programming.

For students in our Outdoor Leadership Program, the Winter Term culminates in a multi-day backcountry ski adventure in the New Hampshire White Mountains. In order to prepare for this rugged excursion, the group has been learning how to camp in cold weather and how to trek through deep snow while carrying their camping and ski gear. This past week the class met up by Hike House—the building where we store communal outdoor gear—to pack up bags with what they would need to go backcountry skiing and snowboarding. They then hiked up our campus Ski Hill and took some runs in the deep powder while wearing their gear.

The afternoon component of Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day programming brought students to several different outdoor spots around the NCS campus to enjoy time working together as a community. One group trekked over to our Ski Hill to help pack down the snow to create better ski conditions, while another group shoveled a foot of new snow off the surface of our ice-skating rink. These activities are reminders that fun activities like skiing and skating are often more fulfilling when you are a part of the work that makes them possible.

Top: A student group at Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort. Middle 1: Skiing at Whiteface. Middle 2: Students at the lodge at Whiteface. Bottom: Siblings Matías and Vivián bundle up on the lift at Whiteface.

We at NCS feel incredibly lucky that the mountainous region we call home provides us with not only our own campus Ski Hill, but access to skiing opportunities in the greater Adirondack Park. This week we marked the start of one of our favorite parts of the academic year at North Country School—Whiteface Days. For five weeks of the Winter Term, our school community spends half of the day on Tuesdays skiing and snowboarding at nearby Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort. Students spend part of their time at the mountain taking lessons, and the rest free-skiing and snowboarding in groups. The first Whiteface Day was a huge success, with memorably cold temperatures and inches of new snow that fell earlier in the week. We look forward to the upcoming weeks of skiing and snowboarding at this beautiful local resource.

FARM AND GARDEN

Top: Garden Manager Kim discussed food justice with her group on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Middle 1: Joseph cooks collards on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Middle 2: Emily and Olivia mix food scraps with wood pellets. Middle 3: Vivián and Olivia break up food scraps. Middle 4: Amon pushes food scraps and wood pellets into the composting drum. Bottom: Compost sifts out of the composting drum as it rotates.

One of the sessions offered to our older students during this Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. day programming explored how food is connected to larger themes of access and justice. Students spent the morning in the Teaching and Learning Kitchen (TLK) with Garden Manager Kim and Farm Intern Melody. They began their learning by reading a piece by prominent writer and culinary historian Michael Twitty on the subject of Black food culture in America. They then prepared a few recipes from Bryant Terry’s book Black Food. The group sampled the tasty treats while watching the film Follow the Drinking Gourd, which shares insights from Black farmers in California and discusses food sovereignty and the importance of food to our past, present, and future.

Our own campus food system took the forefront during one of the afternoon community work activities this Monday. One group helped the NCS community by processing our dining room food scraps into nutrient-rich compost that will fertilize our crops this spring. At North Country School, we process our food scraps using a closed-system rotating drum composter. First, food scraps are mixed with local wood pellets, before larger pieces of food are broken up into small ones. Students then check the temperature of the decomposing food inside the drum to make sure it is getting hot enough to break down. The new food scraps and pellets are added to the front of the drum, which is closed and rotated several times. After twenty-five days in the drum—which sits at a slightly downward angle in order to move the food scraps forward with each rotation—fully broken down compost is sifted out the other end.

For students at NCS, helping with this process is a regular part of our community work program. Composting our food scraps and farm waste not only keeps trash out of landfills and methane out of the atmosphere, it also helps us close the loop of our campus food system by producing the natural fertilizer we need to grow our crops. We love that our students can be part of every step of the incredible process that brings food to our plates here at North Country School.