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.

An Amazing Woman…

November 5 2012

I wanted to have a picture with the “cook”, the head of the Freedom Academy high schools cafeteria.. Very special woman, she took it upon herself to make an extra special real family style expanded breakfast menu.. eggs, sausage, grits and more. She knew the students and teacher would enjoy. For some maybe the first really good meal they have had since the hurricane. Everyone in the building has been affected by hurricane Sandy..
Thank you Chancellor and Mr. Mayor – it was great that we could all get back to school today. The free cafeteria meals for the student.. very nice

The Healing Power of Respect

“In Search of Love Update” On-line Dating!

Objective: Find Mr. Perfect..
Way back in January I made some lofty goals when I announced that I was ready for a new relationship in my life. I had my laundry list of key items. Someone who can make me smile, who appreciates my interests, my dog Monty and my children. To be swept off my feet by a handsome man who appreciates me, and who appreciates life. Likes my friends, I’m looking for a partner who can turn off his thoughts about work and simply focus on the joy of being together. Someone who is truly “present” for me. Who appreciates life and wants to embrace it as much as I do.  I want a man who is comfortable in his own skin and truly able to connect, to let down his “Berlin wall” when it comes to his emotions.  A man like that is able to express and experience love, and understands the importance of commitment. Also, I love music and I love to dance, and I want a partner who shares those pleasures too.

I was well aware that relationships don’t happen overnight, of course. My friends told me how hard to find someone. I needed to lower my expectations. I was prepared.  Let’s “get real” when you reach this point in life if you don’t have any baggage — previous marriages or relationships, children, and so on — then you haven’t lived much of a life. I heard too many horror stories.  I knew a large percentage of the men were looking for a good time, a physical relationship with no strings attached. I really didn’t want to do it. Was convinced that it would not be a good experience. I was NOT going to meet any one.

On-line Dating the New Blind Date! Why not?

First profile pictureMy first step was to sign up with Match.com for only one month and Jdate.com 6-months – it was the best bang for my dollar. Set up a profile on OkCupid, which is a free dating site. I didn’t devote attention to that site, I wanted to get the full value out of the sites I paid for. All my profiles and pictures were the same. I had no idea how it worked.  (Important tip for first timers: make sure you check the unsubscribe box.  If you don’t you are locked in at the price you paid for a year.)

Can people see my profile?

How I thought it would work is that guys would do the “department store” thing” and reach out asking me for my number. Duck soup from there it would be like back to the old fashion traditional way. Didn’t think I would have a problem. How wrong was I? That month my conversion rate Match.com 28% and JDate.com 23%. To calculate conversion, add all contacts like Emails, Winks, IM’s favorites divided by the total number of views. Match.com site boys appeared to like me more.  All of those contacts were not Jewish. That didn’t surprise me because I was never a big hit with the Jewish boys. Some things never change I guess.

What amazed me was the quality of the contacts on both sites. I was not prepared for an over alarming number of “Yummy”, “I know, I know, I’m too young. Still can’t help but stop by to say that you are absolutely gorgeous.” Please it baffled me why someone similar in age to my children would be remotely interested in someone my age. “How would you like to come to PHL for lunch say Thurs? I love the Fountain Room at the Four Seasons. After lunch it will be easy”. For the first time, I felt like a piece of meat. I thought that was not acceptable behavior; I didn’t like the way it made me feel.

So this is where I discovered I’m not popular on-line!

The first month on on-line dating sites was an eye opener. Everyone I knew on the dating sites was doing much better than me. They were getting nice emails from boys and actually talking on the phone. Getting asked out on dates. I came to the conclusion that I was just not popular or the type of girl you wanted to take out based on on-line dating standards.  I needed help. With my BFF’s support and encouragement I took a different approach. Only having to focus on one site JDate.com was less overwhelming. 5 months to go. Back in high school my friends and me would take out the yearbook and pick out the boy we liked. The new updated grown up 2012 version “dinner and a bottle of wine” going on-line and check out boys on JDate.com with your friends. I have nothing to say and failed at flirting. My BFF became my Cyrano de Bergerac emailing the cute boys. Everyone I knew had luck doing this. None of those boys respond to my emails. Who cared we had blast doing it!

My profile is not working. Why not stretch the truth?

A year, 2, ok 4!

I changed my profile description several times. Boys don’t like to Moving the tree from Harlem to UWSread too much – less is more is a much better approach. Changed the pictures and added a few. You need to be on the site all the time, be an active participate. I couldn’t and did not do that. Discovered my age was a problem too. NO one is looking for someone my age 55. Except the young boys that think women my age are interested. It did not matter how good I presented myself they were not looking for me. I lowered my age to 51 to see if that helped. Come to find out everyone does it. Don’t be surprised if the guy you are dating is actually 6 years older than he says he is.  Pictures are never as current as they say. Wish the whole on-line experience was more honest and real.  Think the actually success rate would be greater. Michael Buble “Haven’t met you yet” became my theme song.

To my surprise I developed some email friendships with a few nice boys: all geographically undesirable not romantic just flirtatious friends. I started to enjoy talking to boys again via email. I never was good at it and needed to not let my shyness get in the way. I’ve been married with children so long I guess I stopped having funny silly flirtatious conversations. I learned to talk about simple things like movies or favorite food, to exercise schedules, and baseball. Their emails made me smile and blush in a good way.  Like when I was a teenager.  That is when I started to notice the change in me.

I fell in love with ME………

I was clueless and understood something was missing in me. What was missing? More important can I get it back?  I wanted it back! I asked all my dearest friends to help. I had a village… The past few summers I spent in Europe. I really never embraced New York. I have been hiding, afraid, delaying re-entering the world as long as I could. My world was safe, I was protected from being hurt. I was so busy focusing on work and finding me. Yes, healing too. I needed to start being single in New York City. I was so ready to have fun. Life is too short, fun and happiness are just too important. This summer I promised myself that I would stay in New York and look for romance.  Making New York City home my priority. I started playing a lot of tennis at Central Park actively expanded the people I play tennis with. I started playing doubles, which I had not done since I starting playing back in June of 2010. Biking, hanging with friends. Working hard to have a nice healthy balanced life. Laughing a lot. Started dressing like I did in Europe. We always wore sundresses. Even got heals! Dressing like a girl again. I made Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe” my new theme song. Boy! It gave me courage. I started to have fun! I made sure I took pictures everywhere I went. You could see me transform. Finally, I had the perfect profile picture. From the instant I posted that picture I became much more popular. The perfect profile picture!Regretfully, the contacts are still discouraging but I have met some nice, interesting boys.  Yes, I have even had some really great dates.

Advice from one on-line dater to another….

I have come to the end of the JDate.com subscription. I will not be renewing my subscription. Why? It’s not for me. I learned a lot in the last 6 months.  I have changed.  What was missing was my “groove”.  That something special inside that makes me sparkle.

Glad I did it though.  It was a very positive experience.  I recommend that others try online dating too.  It takes 6 plus months. Don’t get discouraged. Do it with someone if you can.  Share because it makes it fun! When you give them your number, like in the old days, they don’t always call. It has nothing to do with you. Don’t worry, there are some really nice guys too.

“No sex before the third date,” Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmo, a great rule about not rushing into anything. I agree never rush into anything. Dating at this stage of my life is completely different. Recently, a male friend talked to me about how men envision the natural stages of dating.
Meet…. Get to Know…. Do you like?…. Pleasure…. Key love each other do or dead..  Guess that means you’re going to see where it goes..

On-line dating was a huge help in understanding the male perspective, I realized there is a miscommunication between men and women. This miscommunication causes unease in the beginning of relationships. With the women I know the order of the natural stages of dating is different. Pleasure is last… Pleasure for most women is for committed relationships only.

It’s important for you to remember the man sitting next to you at that moment may not have your best interest at heart. Especially when you’re not together. The only thing they really want is physical relationship. You really don’t know him.  DO NOT EVER do anything that you would not be able to look your self in the mirror the next day.  Nothing is worth that.

Be prepared to go on a lot of first dates. There is nothing wrong in ending a date early if it’s not working for you.  Be nice and kind but if doesn’t work don’t try. Go with your gut instincts it’s always right.  Have fun! No expectations.

Who will be the next Mr. Perfect?

My friends were right it hard to find someone. No never lower your expectations. That laundry list of key items is “must”. I like to believe that there is special someone. I’m going to continue enjoying my adventure; now open to trust and believe in falling in love. Romance … Happy ever after… Mr. Perfect will make sure I notice him.. I have a feeling he will be able to swept me off my feet… it’s still all about that special chemistry between two people that make it perfect magic….. A bonus, like the icing on the cake.
At this stage of my life that would be amazing!

!

Jewish Woman Magazine

Jewish Woman Magazine

Jewish HERores – Incredible Jewish women doing inspiring work in their communities and beyond.

Susanne Veder Berger has parlayed her passion for inspiring others into life- changing mentoring work at Brooklyn’s Freedom Academy, a struggling inner- city high school.

Meet Susanne Veder Berger, a hero to the students of a struggling Brooklyn high school, and no stranger to challenges herself. This author, executive, mother, mentor spent decades literally hiding her face from the world because of a large “port wine stain” birthmark that covered half her face. (The mark was eventually removed through laser surgery). After enduring a bitter divorce, she reinvented herself and supported her children by becoming a successful marketing executive for a number of companies and organizations. Berger did find love again, but lost her husband to heart disease in 2010. She channeled her grief into writing and soon discovered how fulfilling it can be to share words of encouragement and inspiration with others. Berger now writes a popular blog, “Create a New Life with Susanne,” and her memoir, Getting Naked, is scheduled for publication in 2012.

In fall 2011, Berger parlayed her passion for inspiring others into life-changing mentoring work at Brooklyn’s Freedom Academy, an inner-city high school that most would agree has been forgotten by the city. On her own time and using money out of her own pocket, she is encouraging and preparing students to graduate and go to college, and taking them on field trips to meet successful entrepreneurs in New York. Berger spoke with JW about providing disadvantaged students with first-ever guidance for taking the SATs, exploring career paths, and learning about business in the real world.

How did you wind up working with kids in this inner-city school?

Last summer, Joyce Freeling, director of the New York City chapter of Communities in Schools (CIS), asked me to speak to teenagers in the CIS program—to offer them inspiration and let them know that they can believe in themselves and create an empowering future. Freedom Academy students attend Advisory Class—a half hour, three times a week—that prepares them for college and SATs and covers home economics and a little bit of dating and socialization. I was asked to be a guest speaker for the 9th grade class on the topic of self-esteem. I walked into this classroom with no windows, in this school that’s in an old warehouse building in front of the off-ramp for the Manhattan Bridge. I was ready to give my Power Point presentation to the 80 kids in the room, but they started shooting questions at me, like, “What is self-esteem?” and “How do you get it?” and I quickly realized I had to change everything. It was a difficult class, but I captured their attention for 15 minutes, which is something most of their teachers couldn’t do.

Most of the 250 students at Freedom Academy are from the projects in Brooklyn and Bedford Stuyvesant. One out of every five of my students does not have a home. If the school closes, these students will disappear; they will be lost in the system. I asked to go back after that first day. I saw that somebody caring for these kids could make a difference. So I stepped up and adopted this school.

Are there any moments with these kids that stick out in your memory?

One day I had a small group of 12 young men, all 9th graders. We were discussing “The Moment,” an article I had written for my blog, about sudden changes in our lives and how we deal with them. We read the essay out loud and the boys and I discussed. After we read one particular sentence—“In that one instant, I could see what was right and what was wrong, and I knew with a certainty I had never known before that I didn’t feel good inside”—one of my students said, “When you have a gun pointed to your head, there is no moment. All you can think about is how terrified you are. You are never the same. How many of you have had a gun to your head?”

I don’t know the details of what happened to that boy or why. But I do know that four boys out of the 12 in that class—9th graders, 14 years old—raised their hands. Four of those children had experienced moments where they thought they were going to die. They trusted me and were able to talk openly and freely. It reminded me how much they need to feel safe and able to talk.

When did you realize the depth of your commitment to this school?

Just before last Christmas I started working with the 11th graders. As I was speaking to them, I realized that everyone I knew who had a child in 11th grade, including myself, was having that seasonal conversation about college. But many of these kids had parents who didn’t even graduate from high school, let alone college, and for a lot of them college wasn’t part of the dialogue at home. As I handed out folders to the class, I heard myself say, “Part of your Christmas gift will be me,” and I promised then and there that I would work with them until graduation—helping them find colleges, apply and prepare to go.

How are you engaging these kids in building their futures?

Over that Christmas vacation I designed “internships”: I set up a blog as a real company, with departments—marketing, IT, human resources… They had to select a job and write a description of what they would do: writing articles, making videos, bringing in guest speakers and preparing to interview. These students are not necessarily used to working as a team. When they do, it brings out certain skills and everyone gets involved. It was hard to get the blog off the ground, but we have several postings now, and my students wrote them all.

As for other activities, I arranged a school trip to Palo Santo Restaurant in Brooklyn to have a lesson with Chef Jacques Gautier. These kids don’t have a gym of any kind so I am working on opportunities for them to play tennis. And I started taking dance classes with the 11th grade students, which creates good bonding time.

I wish I could tell you I had financial backing for all this, but it’s just me.

Are you seeing the impact of your work?

This is changing the dynamics of the entire school: Not only are the kids more engaged, the teachers are becoming more creative. I don’t know what their lives are really like; I’m the “skinny white Jewish lady”—not even a teacher—who came from the outside. Writing and teaching corporations how to talk to customers, and being a mom of two successful children is all the training I have. But the fact that the entire school has accepted me, listens to me and has embraced me is amazing.

Other children have opportunities but these children do not. They have never been given the tools to succeed. I want to prove that if we give them some, it will make a difference. I see my students changing. They want to graduate. Most of these kids never have any follow- through, but I made a promise to them, and I would like to be remembered as the person who didn’t give up on them. I know that I have already made a difference.

“Health for a Lifetime” Part III

In the first two parts of this essay, I wrote about a new Harvard essay offering scientific proof for what many of us have known for years – that eating in a nutritious way and getting regular exercise can prolong your life.  After looking at why it’s so easy to resist this common sense approach to life, I explained how keeping a journal in which you record everything you eat and drink and the activity you engage in each day can help you make small changes that will enhance your health, energy and lifespan.

When seeking a motivating reason to improve their health, many people say “I’ll do it for my children.”  I’m not sure that this is such a good idea, however.  You really need to make these changes for you – and not someone else.  It’s great to be a role model for your children, to encourage them to develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime – but be sure to take these actions for yourself, not your children.  Do it because you acknowledge that you are important.  A lot of people – especially women – sometimes feel guilty if they spend even a moment doing something for themselves.  It’s time to get over that.

Also, support groups like Weight Watchers and A.A. can be helpful, of course, but I strongly encourage you to make sure that you’re making the changes in your life because you know that you deserve it and because you feel the results, not because – as part of a group – you’re “supposed” to be doing these things.  If you quit smoking for the benefit of your children, once they’re grown and out of the house, you may easily pick up those cigarettes once again.  If you’ve curbed your eating because you’re a member of a diet club, once your friend drops out of the club, there’s a great risk that you’ll fall right off the wagon yourself.

If you just look around, you can easily find plenty of reasons to motivate yourself to take action.  You can easily see what happens when people don’t limit the amount they eat each day, and you can see what happens when they don’t make exercise a regular habit.  You can also see medical photographs of the diseased lungs of lifelong smokers.  These are all compelling reasons to embrace a healthy lifestyle.  Also, if you’re not taking action for yourself, it can be very easy to join a friend in overindulging when life feels stressful – whether that means digging into a big carton of ice cream, or some other destructive behavior.  Misery loves company.

You need to step into these changes with strength and determination, and in a way that will last.  In the past, you may have told your friends that you were skipping dessert “because I’m on a diet.”  Chances are good that your friends were not surprised to hear this, because they fully expected that within just a few weeks you’d be back off your diet and joining them for dessert once again.  It’s time to stop this “yo-yo” behavior, and make a permanent change in your behavior instead.  Don’t “diet” because you want to fit into that special dress.  Instead, adjust the way that you eat on an ongoing basis, so that you can literally add years to your life.  Don’t experiment with “juicing” as a fad, but instead create meals that include plenty of fruits and vegetables with the intention that you’ll be doing this for years to come.  Embracing these new habits with the right attitude means that you won’t be slipping easily back into your old habits.

This is a “back to basics” plan for health and fitness.  I’m not asking you to run a marathon.  I’m asking you to walk up and down a few flights of stairs.  I’m asking you to be observant, not in denial.  Pay attention to the number of calories that you’re consuming at each meal, and be honest with yourself about how they add up.  I’m also not asking you to deprive yourself of the things that make life joyful.  In fact, I think you’ll find that by making a few simple changes, you’re actually adding more joy to your life.

I use the word “joy” because attitude and emotion are important ingredients if this plan is going to work for you.  Just as you’re making careful notes in your journal, notice if you tend to complain a lot.  Complaining often leads to the behavior we’re trying to address here – overeating, drinking too much, and indulging in other bad habits.  Instead, tell people what you love about your life and what you’re grateful for.  You may find that this takes a little effort at first, but soon it will come easily and naturally.

For those of you worried that I’m asking you to make big changes in your life, I have some good news for you.  I’m actually opposed to making drastic changes that are big.  Those who are passionate about running know that it can be dangerous to overdo it.  Making little changes, however, can put you on a great path.

Like the mice in the Harvard study, it’s time for us all to start adding years to our lives – and adding joy and energy.  As I’m sure you’ve concluded, the most important ingredient to making this plan work is you.  I believe you’re capable of great things, and I look forward to hearing your story, and to celebrating your new life!

 

 

 

“Health for a Lifetime” Part II

In Part I of this essay, I wrote about a new Harvard essay offering scientific proof for what many of us have known for years – that eating in a nutritious way and getting regular exercise can prolong your life.  After looking at why it’s so easy to resist this common sense approach to life, I suggested that starting a journal in which you record everything you eat and drink and the activity you engage in each day can provide a framework for the small changes that will enhance your health, energy and lifespan.

One small change you might make in your daily routine is to take the stairs at work, rather than the elevator.  You may notice a few people looking at you a bit quizzically.  Oddly, some people look down on those who walk rather than drive.  After all, they must be thinking, if you’re wealthy enough to own a car, why not use it?  If there’s a perfectly good elevator in our office building, why the heck are you using the stairs?  Years ago, when I first moved to New York, I used to walk everywhere and many people thought I was crazy.  They thought that perhaps I couldn’t afford a car.  It’s amazing how creative some people can be when coming up with excuses to avoid exercise!

At this point, if you’ve taken the bold step of avoiding the elevator and doing a bit more walking, it’s time to start measuring your distance.  When my son and daughter were young, and it felt like I was constantly running after them, I bought a pedometer.  With this handy and inexpensive device, you can see how far you’ve walked each day.  The next step, of course, is to increase that distance.  Stepping into health is all about making small, incremental changes and then taking it a bit further each week.

Now that we’ve made a small change to the amount of exercise you get each day, it’s time to look at what you’re eating.  Once again, let’s start with making one small change.  If you want to start eating healthier meals, the best thing to do is to make these meals yourself at home.  Many people imagine that cooking in their very own kitchen will be infinitely more complicated than going to a restaurant or – horrors! – stopping for a quick, fast food meal.  Cooking at home doesn’t need to be complicated, however.  There are many wonderful cookbooks and recipes that you can find online that consist of three simple ingredients.  It’s time to disengage from a life of “Super-Sizing” your meal and instead find how enjoyable it can be to prepare your own healthy meals.  This is also the only way that you can accurately keep track of calories, and that’s important.

Once you’ve started to make these simple changes in your daily routine, you’re going to start feeling proud of yourself – and you should.  But it’s not yet time to make bold announcements about the amazing way that you’ve reshaped your life.  Keep making notes in your journal about how you’re spending your day, but be patient about sharing your excitement.  You want to savor the rewards of increased energy and a noticeable change in your weight and fitness level.  I suggest that you wait for friends and family to start noticing the “new you” – and believe me, it won’t take long for this to happen.

If you’re a smoker, you may be hoping that I’d forget to address this important subject.  Sorry, but I’m here to tell you what you surely already know.  It’s time for you to kick the habit – and I know it’s not easy to do that.  I was a smoker too, and there was one day that was the turning point for me.  I didn’t try to taper off, but instead I realized that it was time to stop smoking once and for all.  I made a long list of reasons why it was “a must” for me to quit, and I did.  Just like the notes you’ve been taking in your journal, it’s time to take an honest and accurate look at what it means to be a smoker – from the smell of your clothes and the people who avoid you, to the harsh fact that you’re choosing to take years off your life because of this destructive habit.  It’s time to stop – and the benefits that you’ll experience (increased energy, the joy of rediscovering tastes and smells that seemed lost forever) will make you glad you did.

What’s required in order to make these gradual changes is nothing less than a shift in how you look at life.  There can be no doubt that we live in an age of instant gratification.  Infomercials promise us that we can develop “six-pack abs in only 15 minutes,” and commercials for fast food skillfully avoid the subject of nutrition.  If you’re really going to embrace a healthier way of living, however, you’re going to need to start thinking about the long-term effects of what you put into your body as well as the consequences of successfully avoiding exercise.  Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, you’ll start feeling the benefits of your efforts sooner than you might expect – and once you reach that point, it will be much easier to stay on track.

Needless to say – whether it’s eating nutritious meals or taking steps to have a happier relationship with loved ones — you’re the one who needs to take action to create a better life.  No one can do it for you.

It’s tempting to seek the help and support of doctors when we’re thinking about moving our life in a more positive direction – and there’s no doubt that there are times when medical treatment is vital – but I’d like to discourage you from seeking out a “diet pill” in order to lose weight or “a patch” to help you quit smoking.  Personally, unless you’re in a very delicate state, I’m convinced that we can each reclaim and improve our health through the kind of small, incremental steps I’ve been telling you about.  Instead of pills, we need decisions.  You need to decide that you’re going to take the stairs instead of the elevator, and that you’ll have water with your meal instead of that “Big Gulp”soft drink.

In Part III of this essay, I’ll focus on why attitude is so important to successfully adopting new, healthier habits – and how these changes can bring a new, joyous edge to your daily life.