Amazing Women

My fellow Canadian and fashion designer Gilles Montezin is well known for his elegant haute couture style. You can find his stunning outfits in the closets of high-profile celebrities and featured in films, such as Sex and the City and Confessions of a Shopaholic. IMG_2754

I am very excited about Gilles’ new project, Women Artists of the World (www.womenartistsoftheworld.com). 

It’s the perfect virtual gallery space to make women look their best..

The project provides female artists with a platform to exhibit their work. Women Artists of the World creates the opportunity for artists to network and share their work to an international art world.  This collaboration reduces the gap between artists and fans /clients and enables artists to reach new audiences. How amazing is that!

I encourage you to visit and support Women Artists of the World.

Giardini Hanbury Luglio 2013 021Make sure to view the different virtual gallery space profiles. To my delight one of my favorite artists, Monica Vazio located in Genova Italy, has her virtual gallery space opened.  Love her work! Missed her last show, wish I could be at her next show in April. Excited that I can attend virtually…….

Make the Stars Work for You

I enjoy reading my horoscope while drinking my morning Manhattan-20130908-00181coffee every day. I like to believe. It’s fun to see what the stars have in store for me that day. I also read the horoscopes for people who are close to me. Sounds silly, but if it is not a great horoscope I may text them a happy, feel-good message… just in case they are having one of those days. Some days my horoscope is on the money. Then, there are the days it’s so off I have to laugh…

For all you non-believes, it’s okay…I get it.  You may think, horoscopes are too general and can be interpreted any way you want. But what is the worst that can happen? Reading your horoscope may give you an idea, provide insight into a relationship, help resolve a conflict, or forecast the approaching year.

Year in Review

At the beginning of the year, the astrology world does an overview of the year.. It’s a must read!  My overview from Astrology.com said this year I’m going to:

Broaden my Horizons.      With an emphasis on long distance travel philosophy and all forms of conscious awareness. Unprecedented adventure awaits.. Life is sure to take me on some important journeys (literally, figuratively or both).

Prioritize Work.     Work and career goals continue to be top priorities, according to the stars.

Love & Travel.    My forecast noted the possibility that I could fall in love with someone from a foreign country or at least while visiting one. The more I jet, the happier and luckier my love life will be!..

My Reaction…

IMG_1669It’s not too far fetched for me to travel long distances. Last year, my travels took me to Italy and Moscow. After loving Moscow so much,  I can’t wait to visit Saint Petersburg. How romantic, the possibility of falling in love! How fun me a jetter! Unprecedented adventure, that could be fun! There is no doubt, according to the star’s, I have an exciting year ahead.

Forecast Check-in

I encourage you to read what the stars have in store for your year. This is fun exercise:

Save your astrology forecast for the year (I print it & post it up). Throughout the year, if I need a smile or to center myself, I revisit my astrological forecast.  It’s also a great conversation at the end of the year. How accurate was my astrological prediction? How could I have better used my forecast to navigate difficult situations?IMG-20130704-00008_2

I would like to think my horoscope could happen. I will make a diligent effort to make 2014 the unprecedented adventure my horoscope predicted.

 

It’s that time of year again, the holiday season.

IMG_2561It’s been a “Good” year. I’m pleased to say, I have had some “Excellent” moments. I feel very lucky and blessed. I promised myself that I would continue on the same path, it seems to be working for me.

Celebrating this time of year to its fullest sounds like a good plan.  Both my children were born around Hanukkah and Christmas, so birthday celebrations are a part of my extended holiday season.  I start celebrating on Thanksgiving and continue until around January 10th.

This holiday season I plan on:

Cooking and Baking     Cooking and baking makes me happy; I smile through the process, and it makes my home smell inviting (added bonus!)

The oatmeal cookies I made (without raisins) for the ninth graders at FDNY High School Prep For Success’ after school program were a huge hit! I’m looking forward to spending more time in my kitchen this holiday season. Holidays, for me, are about the list of dishes that are “must have” favorites. It’s also a wonderful time to try new recipes. My friends are not shy about asking me to bring something to their place.  My Lemon Pound and Sour Cream Cakes are everyone’s favorite gift.Sour Cream Cake

Entertaining     This summer, while visiting with friends in Moscow and Italy, I was inspired to fix up my place.  From the minute I got back home, I had the remodeling bug. One day, I couldn’t look at the carpet in my place any more. So, I ripped out.  Once everything was gone I discovered a floor under the carpet! Getting rid of the carpet forced me to get rid of more “stuff”. . I now have room in my closets! I rearranged everything.   I still have a lot to do. But I am having the grandest time transforming my home to fit me.  For the first time, in a long time, I’m looking forward to hanging out at home with my family and friends.   IMG_0044

Getting out of the House     It’s been so long since I went to the movies that I forgot what I saw? I need to do new stuff too. It’s been too long since I crossed the park to visit the Guggenhuim.  I plan to be out and about this holiday season!

Starting with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade,  New York City has a special holiday energy. All the stores and buildings are decorated for the holidays.  The classic New York Christmas “must see” traditional spots: Rock Center Christmas Tree, 5th Ave Store displays, Macy’s. Madison Avenue store windows must be lovely at this time of year too- I’ll have to check them out. I’ve never ice skated in Central Park, maybe I’ll try that.

Closing out the Year    Year ending means goal setting for the New Year. Getting ready for the New Year is exciting.  During the holiday season, I assess my work year and think about strategy.  I reflect on what I did.  What I should have done differently. I’m glad some commitments have ended, excited to begin new endeavors, and I’m very proud of on-going projects that are moving to the next level- super cool!

Enjoying Downtime     Home spa days are a “must do” for girls any time of the year. On spa days, I love wearing the most comfortable clothes, looking through fashion and cooking magazines or watching Lifetime romance stories. This time of the year, how can you not watch all the Christmas classics?

Connecting with My “girlfriends”     Sharing the holidays with my girlfriends makes it more fun. Some of my closest friends live in different parts of the world. Getting together is hard. It is especially hard to stay in touch during this time of year with work hectic schedules family and holiday obligations. Modern technology has made it so easier to bring the world together. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, email, texting and phones make it so easy for girlfriends to keep in touch. It’s not the same as being in person, but it’s fun having coffee together via Skype.

IMG_0009Saying Thank you     I plan on making a conscience effort to thank people.  I discovered when you say and give from your heart it reverses the aging process, as well as, numerous other health benefits.  I suggest putting it into your daily routine.  This time of the year is the perfect time to get started by saying “thank you”, “you are the best”, “greatly appreciated”, “I’m grateful”,  “ I like you”, “I love you”.

Holiday Magic     I plan on making this holiday season memorable by saying “yes” to the out of the ordinary.  Say “yes” to unknown surprises or any unexpected spontaneous things that come up.  Friends from out of town visiting…yes.  Letting someone show me the holidays though their eyes…Yes. Go with the flow; Let it all happen like magic.

That’s a long list. I’m excited to start the celebrating and enjoying the holiday season to the fullest.IMG_0010

I want to wish you and your family a wonderful, healthy & happy holiday season.  Make a promise to yourself to enjoy the holiday season to the fullest. Make your own holiday “to do” list with all the things that will make the holiday special for you.

Join me on my holiday adventure @NewLifeSusanne or Facebook.

Hugs  Susanne

Happiness

Happiness

Being Happy is Not Always Easy

Being happy is not always easy. Life is never going to be free of challenges or stress.  Our lives get complicated. Complicated is not bad, unless your view of life is  “half empty”.  A negative outlook makes it even harder to see the bright side of a situation.  With a “half empty” outlook towards life, nothing ever goes your way; making it next to impossible to be happy!  There comes a point when you need to let go of inhibition or negativity and start enjoying life. We all have challenges and stress – why not be happy despite them?

Are you Happy?

It’s important when you do the below exercise that you are honest. If dishonest, the only person you are fooling is yourself.   Fill in the below graph by asking yourself, how is/are my __________ (relationships, friends, career, finances, health, your general well being) and rate them as: Excellent, Good, OK, Not Good, Bad.

 

 

If you have indicated “Not Good” or “Bad” for an area of your life.

With time and a positive outlook, happiness will return. Remain positive and work towards happiness.  It can sometimes seem easier to feel “Not Good” or “Bad”. Change is not easy, but the benefits of working on you far outweigh giving up.  Have no fear for the unknown!

If you indicated “Not Good” or “Bad” for more than one area of your life.

You need to work on yourself.  Prolonged periods of extreme negativity can lead to worse, sometime destructive, behavior to mask your depressed state. Be willing and open to accept change and humble enough to ask for help.

 If you have indicated “OK” for one or more areas of your life.

That is cool! A small change or adjustment will get you to “Good”.  Things could be better, but truth be told, everything is fine. Maybe there is room for improvement, small needed changes. You are moving in the right direction. Work on positive changes. Change can be slow; don’t let the small pitfalls inhibit your journey.

If you have indicated “Good” for one or more areas of your life.

Checking Good indicates that you perceive this area in your life to be secure. While there is always room for improvement, you are confident with your position in this arena.

If you have indicated “Excellent” for one or more areas of your life.

You are probably experiencing a high point in life. Falling in love, promotions, babies, graduations, and celebrations of any kind…. All the wonderful things that make us feel super amazing excited and happy.   If you are feeling Excellent in one or more area in your life – congratulations and enjoy!

The Objective of this Exercise

Checking “Good” for all the areas in your life is the goal of this exercise.  No ones’ life is “Excellent” all the time. Excellent is reserved for the wonderful highs. Checking good, indicates that you probably enjoy a wonderful balanced life. All the parts of your life are in check. You are in check.

Why are you unhappy?

When one part of your life is out of whack it can make your overall existence fall off balance.   It’s easy to fall trap to a downward spiral of negativity when one aspect of your life isn’t going as planned.

When you are unhappy, it’s best to isolate the area of your life makes you miserable.  Are you between jobs? Experiencing a life changing moment – like a divorce, death or loss of any kind? Are you lonely?  Has weight gain caused you to be insecure?  Are you bored?  Once you isolate the real reason you are unhappy – compartmentalize it.  Don’t use this shortcoming as an excuse for not seeking happiness and wallowing in negativity.   Address your issues; don’t let your issues consume you.

How do you get happy?

Once you admit you are unhappy you are the only one who can change.  Life challenges will always be there. It’s important to counterbalance the less pleasant aspects of your life with positivity.  Having positive outlets makes it easier to cope with the harder moments. Stepping away and giving yourself a timeout may also enable you to handle or cope easier with difficult subjects.  Don’t avoid your problems. Instead, increase opportunities to lessen negative pressures – make them less overbearing

Where do you go to get some of this happiness?

Stay busy with activities that make you happy.

Keep it simple- easy things. Try sitting in your favorite park and reading a book. Spend time doing something you love, like dancing in your PJ’s to your favorite tunes.  It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it’s fun and makes you feel good. Find activities YOU enjoy. Can’t come up with any ideas?  Walking is easy and you never know what you will get into.

Mutual respect

Start treating others like you would like to be treated. Being nice to others will result in people being nice to you.

Smile More

It’s hard to be unhappy when you are smiling. Not to mention, smiling prevents premature aging and wrinkles, that’s something to be happy about.

Making these small steps will make it easier to get to a happier place.  Stay upbeat, keep it positive, embrace health, LIVE HAPPY.

What is stopping you from starting a new fitness routine… NOW?

Fall is the best time to get started and get active. The weather is still warm enough to enjoy the outdoors.

Central Park Tennis Courts on a perfect Fall day...

Central Park Tennis Courts
on a perfect Fall day…

Not to mention, starting in the Fall gets you prepared for the holidays. If you start now, by the time the holidays are here, you will start to notice how the increased activity is making you look and feel. You will sparkle at all your holiday functions!  You smile more. All that positive energy motivates you to continue the fitness program into the New Year.

By the time Winter rolls around, if you stick with it, you’ll start to look forward to being physically active. Winter is much more enjoyable when are more active.  Instead of hibernating for the winter and gaining additional weight, you are working out and feeling good.  Too cold to go outside?  Create an indoor exercise routine. It can be something you are doing already or something that is fun and a bit outrageous. You are now dancing while cleaning now. Why? It makes you happy and keeps you physically active.

 Why make physical activity a part of your everyday life?

Physical activity makes you feel good. When you feel good, you look good and are more confident.

sea buckthornWhen you work out, you will find that you take better care of yourself and eating healthy will probably become part of your routine too. Bonus! Your lifestyle will be healthier.  All because you made a few small changes.

How do you start a fitness routine?

It’s easy to start. Start slow and have realistic goals.  Walking a few days a week is an easy way to get started. No fancy equipment required, you can walk anywhere.  Plus, walking is a great stress reliever.  All you need to do is take a 15 minute walk 4 days a week. 15 minutes is manageable too – no matter how crazy your schedule, you can spare 15 minutes.  Soon enough, you will look forward to “your 15 minutes”.

I recommend listening to positive fun happy music while walking or working out. The type that makes you dance! It’s ok to walk and dance. It’s your time, make it fun…Don’t forget to smile!

IMG_2228 So, get started, get active….

I promise by spring,

you’ll be thankful you started now!

 

Setting Goals and Achieving Success Series

In the comments section I welcome you to share: what has been your most rewarding achievement.

Part 3: Reaching your Goal & Feeling Good About It

Baby Steps

Everyone loves instant gratification, especially me!  But that is simply not how goals are achieved. If you start slow and keep it simple, you will make small but incremental strides towards your goal.  You will be surprised how the little successes will make you smile. When you smile it will make you feel better about yourself and your progress. You’ll find yourself wanting to set more goals to make you feel even better.  In no time at all you will be setting harder goals.

Some of your aspirations may take longer. Yes, you will have too many moments that you doubt yourself. However, there are the rare, but fulfilling, times where you are reminded why you are on the path you chose.  I often surprise myself that I have been able to achieve some of my most challenging goals. Those moments are wonderful and made me feel super special and outweigh all of my bouts of insecurity. What I’m most proud of is, I haven’t given up; nor should you.

How will that End Result Make you Feel IMG_1314

It doesn’t matter if your goals are big or small, it’s more important that at the end you feel like you have achieved something. Visualize what you think that moment will feel like when you achieve your goal- reflect on this when you are in a negative space, it will help get you through some tantrums.

IMG_1259Whether your goal is a weekend away, because you need a timeout, or that dress that went on sale that you will look amazing in… It’s important to know the end result will make you feel good. When you feel good you become more confident.  Confidence has a way of making you glow from within. Trust me, you will achieve your goals; the world is yours!

The Death of “Freedom”: Last Days of a Dying School By Emmanuel Felton

I first visited Freedom Academy High School on a dreary March day. The clouds were hanging low and there was a sprinkling of the last of winter’s snow. Despite the gray day, I felt an unusual air of excitement while ascending the stairs to Freedom’s sixth floor lunchroom. It was Spirit Week. It was Nerd Day.

Freedom Academy is in downtown Brooklyn, and inhabits the top three floors of a seven-story former industrial space that also houses a clinic serving patients with psychiatric disabilities. The entire school of about 175 students quickly filled into the eight-table lunchroom, which offers expansive views of Lower Manhattan.

In celebration of Nerd Day, the students were decked out in black rim glasses and short pants, looking not too dissimilar from some of the borough’s hipster class. Lunch was the high point of the day. During lunch, there would be a contest for best nerdwear and the taping of the school’s obligatory Harlem Shake YouTube upload.

The students were excited.

“Shanice, girl you look like a nerd,” one girl yelled excitingly as her friend walked into the cafeteria.

I initially suspected that as a stranger in this small school taking notes in the middle of the lunchroom, I was being overlooked because of all the day’s excitement. Chris, a tenth grader who commutes 45 minutes each way from East New York, later explained that strange observers are not an unusual sight at the school. Most of these visitors, Chris told me were, from the Department of Education.

Spirit Week’s timing, which had been planned back in the fall, was both fortunate and disheartening.

“We are just having fun,” Chris told me. “We don’t have to think about next year right now.”

The students were celebrating a school that had just six days prior been deemed a failure of such a magnitude that it necessitated the school being dismantled by this school year’s end. This story is a partial chronicle of Freedom’s slow demise—why it happened and how it feels to its inhabitants. A school is a community and like the death of any community, its passing has not been easy.

Birth

Originally an alternative school for some of the city’s hardest to educate, Freedom in its current form was born in 2002. Like the reform movement that advocates closing schools based on student scores on state administered standardized tests, the reform movement that opened Freedom was designed to finally close the achievement gap between black and Latino inner-city public school students and their more affluent peers.

During the second half of the 1990s, educators, school administrators, parents, community organizers and philanthropic groups all galvanized around a new idea to transform the urban school landscape in this country. The premise was simple. Large, impersonal inner-city schools were to blame for dismal academic outcomes. In response, these groups, broadly referred to as the small schools movement, advocated for large schools to be replaced by smaller schools, schools that fostered closer bonds between educators, students and parents.

These were the principles of Freedom’s founding, principles that remain ingrained in the culture of Freedom. Each student I talked to used the exact same phrase, “small school,” in defense of their school.

C, B, C, B, F, F

Data show that for many years, Freedom was doing a decent job at its tough mission of graduating low income, minority students. The school was posting above average graduation rates and from 2007 to 2010 received passing marks–C, B, C, B–on the all-important progress reports that are used in closure decisions. But these grades fell off a cliff in 2011. Since then the school has received two Fs.

In 2011, the school’s four-year graduation rate plummeted to 56 percent from 70.7 percent the previous year. That number slid further the next year to 50 percent. These numbers are DOE’s primary justification for closing Freedom. Freedom supporters counter that the school accepts any kid and often needs more than four years to get their students to graduation. They point to Freedom’s six-year graduation rates, which have continuously been above 80 percent.

Freedom students offered several explanations for the precipitous decline: a shrinking staff, the absence of any extracurricular activities, and the school taking in “problem kids.”

Jeremy Del Rio, the founder of 20/20 Vision for Schools, a non-profit group that brings resources into schools under the specter of closure, has been working with Freedom since it got its first F.

“I came to Freedom with promises that DOE would help turnaround the school by bringing in new personnel, funds and programs.” Del Rio said. “None of this has happened. These students come in two or three grade levels behind. They just need more resources.”

Students say that the only new resources at Freedom since last January is the arrival of unpaid advocates like Del Rio and Susanne Veder. Del Rio and Veder have conducted field trips, brought in Broadway actors, and started dance classes. Veder is at the school almost daily working with students and teachers to produce a blog about the students’ experiences at home and in school.

Susanne does her sweeps

Getting off the elevator on the fifth floor at Freedom, I found myself in a dim, almost prison-like, stairwell. In the stairwell, the cinderblock walls are painted gray and there is mesh fencing around the stairs to prevent falls. I walked through the double doors into Freedom, to a hallway of blinding fluorescents, inspirational posters, and bulletin boards. Susanne Veder was already there.

I first met Susanne at an Upper West Side Starbucks in early February. We talked for hours about her history working in corporate America, how she raised her two children, and her role at Freedom. Even after that four-hour chat, I had a hard time picturing exactly what Susanne did at Freedom.

Now Susanne was patrolling the hallway, though it was difficult to determine in what capacity. Not that the hallways were unattended. Freedom’s Principal Alyson Forde, a tough but graceful woman, who often pulls her hair into a tight bun, had long before assumed the difficult job of maintaining order at her school – with the assistance of four unarmed NYPD school safety agents patrolling the halls. Forde liked to handle discipline herself.

She would yell, “Gentlemen, I’m not saying this again, lets get a move on,” to two boys lingering in the hallway during lunchtime. This was not their first warning but it was their last. The young men, still trying to play it cool, picked up their pace and headed upstairs to the cafeteria.

In the hallway, Susanne spotted Duncan, a senior from Bed-Stuy, had been kicked out of class. Duncan was upset. Susanne asked him what happened and calmed him down. She asked him to escort me to the classroom where her always-changing group of students gathered to work on the various projects Susanne had taken it upon herself to launch at the school. Duncan, a lanky and mindful dresser, and I chatted as we climbed the stairs. We talked about our mutual hatred of the SATs and how he and his friends play keyboards on Sundays for their church.

Susanne overhearing our conversation chimed in, “Duncan, you’re a natural aren’t you?”

Duncan responded confidently, “We be killing it.”

“Why didn’t you play at the talent show?” Susanne then asked. “I just thought that everyone would…” Duncan trailed off.

After she spends her mornings taking it upon herself to do damage control, Susanne gathers with students in the afternoon. From this room, she runs her internship program that works with the students to create the blog, plans cultural excursions, and tutors for Regents exams.

Joining the group this day was Susanne’s son, Marshall, Marshall is a videographer and together with his friend, Carol, was working with the students on a short documentary about the end of Freedom.

Duncan was named the film’s “sound guy” and was given the “bootleg boom,” which was essentially a recorder attached to a long pole.

“You’ll get your first video credit,” Marshall told Duncan.

The plan was simple. Susanne, Marshall, and I would ask the students what Freedom meant to them and how they felt about its pending closure.

“The chemistry can be really powerful,” Susanne warned us, “but you never know what you are going to get.”

The students walked into the class in that unmistakably teenage way, appearing both confident and guarded. But their reserve soon melted away. This was still their space, and quickly we just became props in it.

Seeing Duncan’s newfound role as sound guy, the group clapped. “Duncan! I know him,” yelled Tasha from across the room.

Kevin, a 12th grader, and Kurt, an 11th grader, were two Jamaican brothers who looked as if they had planned their matching outfits before coming to school. They are charmers. Kevin walked up to one girl’s desk and asked half-jokingly, “Sontique can I sit next to you?”

The recording went on for two hours. Some of the students there were on free period, others, as the group expanded, arrived from classes from which they had been kicked out.

What did they like about Freedom?

“I came here in grade 10 and I met my best friend here,” said Angelique, a 12th grader. “I know everyone’s name here, even the freshmen.”

“The whole school knows your name within two weeks,” added Akin, an 11th grader.

“I was very antisocial at first because of my accent,” said Kevin, who has a heavier accent than his younger brother. “But I soon made friends here.”

“I’ve learned you can trust people here,” added Sandy.

Then came an exchange between Angelique and William, a Latino 11th grader, one of the school’s few non-black students.

“I’ve felt like an outsider even here,” William said. “I have struggled with depression and am very sensitive.”

“Is that why you make your masks?” Angelique asked tentatively. “Is it because of your depression?”

William smiled and said, “That’s one reason.”

In his free time, William, an aspiring artist, makes the sort of pre-Colombian folk-art masks often worn by Mexican wrestlers. The lead dancer on Nerd Day’s Harlem Shake video was wearing one of them.

The conversation turned to other problems. Sontique, a 12th grader, whose Far Rockaway home was flooded during Hurricane Sandy, was allowed time to vent about the troubles she was having with her grandmother. “She just thinks everything has to go a certain way,” she said.

Marshall then asked the students how they felt about Susanne, his mother.

“The first time she came, we were like who is this white lady? She is going to be gone in less than a month,” said Angelique. “But she really cares. She is on a level with my mother. Everything she says she will do, she does it.”

Finally, Marshall asked how they felt about Freedom’s closure.

“There are problems in every school, but they make it feel like it’s our fault,” Sandy said. She paused. “Maybe we should have worked harder.”

The tone then grew hostile and conspiratorial. Many of the students are longtime residents of Brooklyn, a borough known for its gentrification, and they suspected the invisible hand of developers were at work.

“There is nothing we could have done. They want the building,” said Angelique. “I hear they want to make it into condos, that’s why they are closing us. It’s all because of the Barclays Center.”

“They are going to put in a gym,” said Sontique. “But they never could put one in for us. You want to change this into condos, but you didn’t ever take the time to change it into a school.”

“The whole story is a farce,” added Akin, who wants to be a musician. “I really believe this was a setup. They wanted the building, so they didn’t give us anything, so that we would fail. We use to have a nurse and a Spanish teacher, now we just have the bare minimum.”

“The gym teacher has to bring his own equipment and take us to the park,” Angelique added.

“Some of these teachers try so hard,” said Sontique. The city, she went on, is “just throwing that away. They rush to close us down, but not to help us.”

A small hearing

The Department of Education held a hearing on Freedom’s closure on February 25 in Freedom’s cafeteria. It was clear from its setup that these hearings are usually contentious. Two bulky men were tasked with manning the microphone to keep speakers from going over their two-minute allotment.

Tom Bennet, a representative from the teachers union, insisted on holding his own microphone. When his request was denied he pointed at the window that overlooks Manhattan and yelled, “With this mayor none of us have a voice. The people do not have any kind of power.” Eventually people stopped using the microphone all together, opting to shout at the officials behind the table.

Behind the table sat a team of district and school level officials. David Weiner, a DOE deputy chancellor, and Karen Watts, the superintendent of Brooklyn high schools, were there to argue for closure. They shared the table with four parents on Freedom’s School Leadership Team who argued against closure and Principal Forde who remained silent throughout the meeting. There was also an empty chair. David Goldsmith, the president of the area’s parent oversight committee, refused to take part due to his opposition to all school closures.

Weiner started the meeting by arguing in favor of closure: “We must hold every school to the same standard of excellence because every child deserves it.” He went on. “We will hear some success stories tonight, and we honor those but we must think about the others, they deserve better.”

Weiner pointed to the graduation rate and the results of a parent survey that placed the school in the bottom fifth percentile of city schools in terms of how safe parents think their children are at school. However, nearly 80 percent of students and over 40 percent of the teachers surveyed reported feeling safe at Freedom, though that number plummeted last year.

Weiner then explained that current students who are not graduating this year would be offered spots at high schools in either Brooklyn or in their home borough.

But the long, combative meeting that DOE expected didn’t materialize. The meeting was over in less than 45 minutes.

Not one parent or student in the audience spoke. Instead most of the speakers were anti-closure activists there to protest all closures, not just Freedom’s. They were there to air their grievances against the whole of Mayor Bloomberg’s educational reform policies. “Why are you closing this school?” asked Mariana Russo, the Brooklyn representative on the Citywide Council for High Schools, the city’s parent oversight committee for high schools. “Aren’t we closing big schools to create small schools like this one? With funds and extra support this school will succeed.”

Some of the speakers did know Freedom well. “These kids come in two or three grade levels behind,” argued Jeremy Del Rio. “This is why you have to look at the six year graduation rate which is at 84.5 percent.” Del Rio also complained about the timing of the announcement in January, right before state tests. “Basically what they told the school community right before this big test is, ‘You’re a bunch of failures.’”

“We need to educate children,” Susanne shouted. “We cannot close schools. We cannot just throw children into 60 different schools. It does not work.”

All the while, as speakers insulted the district officials and praised Principal Forde — for her insistence on accepting any child and her hard work to get these children to graduation — Forde sat stoically.

24 schools are sentenced to death

On March 11 the Panel for Educational Policy met to vote on 24 closure proposals. There are 13 voting members of the PEP, five members each appointed by a borough president and eight mayoral appointees. The factions were clear the entire night. The eight mayoral appointees and the Staten Island borough president appointee voted in favor of all DOE’s proposals. The other four borough appointees voted against.

This meeting was largely ceremonial. No school has ever survived a PEP closure vote. But that didn’t stop the meeting from being contentious.

It was a beautiful place to make a last stand; the two-tiered Brooklyn Tech auditorium has gold plated fixtures and an endless amount of ornate molding. It was hard to believe that this public school, less than three miles from Freedom, could be so much grander.

There was a large crowd. Some were there to protest all school closures. Others were there to make last ditch efforts to save their schools. Freedom’s delegation numbered just five: Susanne, Jeremy, Principal Forde, Assistant Principal Collins, and Kathryn Russell, the parent of a 12th grader.

On at least half a dozen occasions, the crowd’s chants halted the meeting’s progress, turning a meeting with pre-determined outcomes into a seven-hour debate.

“Don’t phase ‘em out, fix ‘em up,” shouted the pack on several occasions. “They say shut down, we say fight back.”

Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan representative on the PEP, joined the crowd in calling the nine pro-reform members, “the mayor’s puppets.”

One non-voting student member of the PEP, a high school senior whose school in the Bronx has been on and off the closure list over the years and was just a week before again pulled off the list, asked “How can you learn when you are trying to save your school.”

“These are lives,” he said. “This needs to be about the students.”

Only two closure proposals called for the schools to shutter at the end of this school year, Freedom and M.S. 45, a small East Harlem middle school. The other 22 schools would be phased out, allowing students to graduate from their current schools but then shutting them. DOE argued that Freedom and M.S. 45 served such small populations that phase-outs were not practical.

Public comment began at 9:30 p.m. Susanne spoke just before 10:00 p.m. “I know you are going to close my school,” she said. “But I implore you to keep my kids together.” After her two minutes were up, Susanne walked to the back of the auditorium, where Principal Forde was sitting to talk about next steps, she then left the auditorium and asked one of the NYPD’s school safety agents to walk her to the subway.

After three hours of public comment – the high point being when a group of unassuming elementary schoolchildren accused the panel of “sabotage” and “educational murder” – the panel began voting at 12:45 a.m.

The clerk read out the title of each of the 52 proposals, at times sounding robotic.

“The Proposed Opening and Co-location of a New Elementary School (12X314) with Existing School P.S. 050 Clara Barton (12X050) in Building X050 Beginning in 2013-2014.”

The vote never changed, eight for, four against, but each time the clerk counted the hands and announced: “Eight for, four against, the measure passes.”

Finally at 12:55 a.m., they arrived at Proposal 20: “The Proposed Closure of Freedom Academy High School (13K509) at the End of Year 2012-2013.” The measure was approved by a vote of eight to four.

Schools don’t have life expectancies. As students that fact can at times feel unbearable but eventually offers comfort. You are a part of a community that is ostensibly timeless. But a sense of community is immeasurable and didn’t prove sufficient to save Freedom.

A Post-Mortem

I returned to Freedom, just a few days after the PEP officially closed their school. Marshall, who was still filming, Susanne, and I gathered on the seventh floor and sat down with a group of students.

The conversation was brief that day and focused on what the non-graduating students were worried about.

“I’m really actually very shy,” said a freshman. “I’m really scared. I can’t do another day one [at a new school].”

“I have made at least a handful of close, close friends here. I will make new friends but it’s going to be hard,” added Briana, another freshman. “No one liked me in middle school because how I talked. They said ‘I talked white.’” But Briana does not idealize Freedom. “90 percent of the kids are like 20, they are not supposed to be in high school,” Briana said. “They would be kicked out at any other school. I get that they need to be given second chances, but this is a small school and they are really bringing down our scores and stuff.”

Just as before, the conversation turned accusatory.

“They’re not hearing our voice. They should have come and met with us and gotten our opinion,” said Kevin, the older Jamaican brother.

“They don’t care. I’m angry but I didn’t expect them to come and talk to us,” replied Akin.

“But if you don’t consult with us how do you know what’s really going on?” added Duncan. “It feels like they didn’t want us to be heard.”

What comes after Freedom?

I originally thought that the small school rhetoric was just a talking point in favor of their school. But I have come to see that these students are close, so close that they like and, more importantly, trust one another enough to do wholly uncool things like the Macarena in the middle of the lunchroom.

The students told me that they were afraid of being bullied at their new schools and of losing friends and teachers. One important question, however, did not come up: will we end up at more academically rigorous schools?

Their fate is difficult to determine. As of mid-April, the vast majority of them did not know where they would be attending school next year. Two of the students I met at Freedom told me that they only transferred to Freedom after their original schools were closed. There is no data indicating whether New York students end up at better schools after their school closes, but research done in other cities have shown that students often do not. According to a study done in Chicago, the majority of students from 44 closed schools did not find placement in better schools.

Susanne believes that the DOE will scatter “her” students across the city and as a result some will fall through the cracks and never graduate. She is looking for funding for a program that will allow her to continue to work with former Freedom students.

But in the long-run Freedom’s closure is not just about its current students; it is an attempt by the city to save future students from what it has deemed a failing school.

But this is an abstraction for those directly affected by Freedom’s closure. For them, their community is being eliminated by powerful outsiders who don’t understand their ways and don’t want to.

“It’s like the government is coming in and breaking up your family,” remarked a usually quiet freshman. “Would you want that?”

http://projectwordsworth.com/the-death-of-freedom/

Emmanuel Felton is a New Orleans native and graduate of Emory University. After college, Emmanuel blogged about the first republican-controlled Mississippi Legislative session, did some political campaign work, and spent a year at the Southern Poverty Law Center. It was his experience living in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina that initially compelled him to tell others’ stories. He is currently interested in turning mind-numbing governmental policy into compelling, narrative human stories. He lives on Lower East Side, though he spends most of his free time planning a move to Brooklyn.

The 20-Minute Solution to Coping With Grief Recovering From Loss

ThirdAge.com

http://www.thirdage.com/widowhood/recovering-from-loss

By Susanne Veder Berger

Recovering from loss is always a work in progress. I speak from experience. When the marriage I expected would last a lifetime came to an abrupt end, I found myself in the position of having to reinvent myself and support my two children. Then I married again but lost the love of my life in 2010 to an untimely death. Since then I have been delivering my message of hope and self-improvement during presentations to various groups. In the course of doing that, I’ve found that my 20-minute solution for coping with grief resonates with others. The journey is ongoing, but you can make it possible 20 minutes at a time. clock

20 minutes of movement For example, walking for 20 minutes several times a day was the key that allowed me to assess my pain and think it through. Small blocks of time in the sunshine with positive music playing on the iPod can do wonders. I found that 20 minutes of this was all it took to put me in a better mood, so no matter that I didn’t feel terrific most days and didn’t want to leave my house, I forced myself to do it every day and I was surprised how much it helped. Suddenly not only was I feeling better, but I was looking better too. I shed that waxy indoor complexion, and then one day I looked in the mirror and I was myself again.

20 minutes of good talk Talking with your family and friends for 20 minutes every day is also important – and not necessarily about your loss. While everybody who goes through a tragedy needs people to talk to about it, I realized that if I kept talking about the same thing over and over eventually my family and friends wouldn’t want to hear it anymore. It was just too depressing. So I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to wake up seven years later and still be talking about the same thing, still be trying to find a reason to justify why my husband was taken from me so soon. When you talk to your family and friends, it’s important to focus on the future so they remain your confidants and not your lifeline.

20 minutes of self-assessment I spent 20 minutes every day taking stock in myself. How was I taking care of myself? Did I need therapy to deal with what had happened? Identify your areas of opportunity and put them in black and white on a piece of paper. I looked at my life and saw that I had all of the freedom and opportunity of a 21-year-old, but I also had a lot more experience and wisdom under my belt. I also knew that I still had a list of things I wanted to do with my life, things I wanted to enjoy. I had forgotten about that list for a while, but it was never really gone – I just needed to look for it. For example, I had always wanted to cook more, so instead of eating out as an escape, I went grocery shopping and cooked my own dinners. That’s a small accomplishment, but when you assess yourself the next morning, you’ll already be on your way to overcoming loss.

20 minutes of something new I needed something to keep me busy, so I started taking tennis lessons, something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a child. And tennis made me smile. I have met incredible people playing tennis and those new relationships have helped move me forward.

Sometimes after a loss we take a period of time and isolate ourselves to make ourselves stable. There is no shame in that. But sooner or later, often when things just seem too much to bear, lace up your jogging shoes and get out to the park for 20 minutes. You never know what you might find.

Susanne Veder Berger is an inspirational speaker and expert in building self-esteem at all ages. She is a successful corporate CEO and is the founder of the self-perspective blog, CreateANewLifeWithSusanne.  

http://www.thirdage.com/widowhood/recovering-from-loss?page=1

 

 

 

“Celebrating the Holidays in Your Heart”

“Celebrating the Holidays in Your Heart”

My first Christmas, I came home with a 14-foot live tree hitched to the top of my Chevy Blazer. Having grown up Jewish, I wasn’t quite sure how to properly string the lights on the tree, so I left that for my Presbyterian husband to do.  Instead, I concentrated on very meticulously hanging an ornament from each bough, and it wasn’t until my husband came home that I learned you’re supposed to put the lights on first.  Whoops.  So to all of you Jews out there celebrating your first Christmas, listen up: lights before ornaments.  That’s Christmas 101.

The holiday season is a very special time of year for me, albeit a busy time.  I ease myself into it each year with Thanksgiving, and then I prepare for the onslaught: my son’s birthday on December 14th, followed by Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years, then finally capping it off with my daughter’s birthday in early January.  Each year I find myself talking about the holidays with all of my friends pretty much incessantly until it’s over – what are you doing, where are you going, who are you spending it with, what are you eating, what gifts are you buying, and so on and so forth.  And all the while I have a smile plastered on my face, since I love this time of year.

It wasn’t always that way, though.  In reality, the holiday season can be a stressful period, and it’s not made any less stressful by the fact that we each feel like a failure if the holidays in our family don’t look a Norman Rockwell painting.  I spent many Christmases being very sad – when my family was going through a dysfunctional period, when I was divorced and alone for the first time, when a loved one had passed away.  That’s hard.  When you’re alone – or when you feel alone, even if you’re surrounded by people – the holidays are difficult.  I remember the year after my husband left me, all of a sudden I’m on my own and trying to make Christmas special for my kids, which is hard enough to do being Jewish and even harder considering that I had no money.  I was on the edge of despair, trudging through the snow one day, and I dropped my glove.  I looked down and was astounded to discover three crisp $100 bills lying right there in the snow. Knowing how much I would miss that money if I had been the one who dropped it, I tried to find the owner but there was no one around.  Eventually I just looked up and said, “Thank you.”  That money changed my entire world that holiday.

Despite my Christmas miracle, that was actually the last year I bought a tree.  At the end of that Christmas, my kids told me that they didn’t need such an extravagant holiday anymore.  They wanted me to be who I was, even if that meant no Christmas.  And their acceptance and love was one of the best gifts I have ever received.

When things get stressful this holiday, it’s important to remember that you create your own holiday spirit.  Leave the anxiety and the baggage outside the door and let go of your expectations of what a holiday is “supposed” to be.  Understand that the best gifts cost absolutely no money.  Instead, it’s the little things we do for one another that are the greatest gifts.  The emotional side of the holidays is truly priceless, so concentrate on being festive by being generous with your time and attention and love, instead of with your wallet.

When the clock strikes 2013, it will mark a new beginning for all of us.  We should be proud of who we are and should celebrate by remembering the people we love and the people we work with and the people that make our day-to-day lives better.  Let’s support the people who are there for us in our communities and show our appreciation for the little things they do for us.  Let’s all smile and believe that the happiness we see on all those Christmas shows is achievable and that we are deserving of it. And most importantly, let’s all remember that the holiday season is not about the gifts; it’s about the heart that gives them.