Kids are pretty people

You might think it would be hard to top all the amazing music that’s been happening here over the past 10 days, but you’d be wrong. Tonight I saw something that was every bit as inspiring, and gave me a lot more hope for the future.

My friend Spero Michailidis teaches fourth grade at Genesee Community Charter School (GCCS). Tonight his class presented the results of their most recent “expedition” — a multi-month project that involved hands-on learning and field studies (not, as the kids are quick to point out, field trips), and resulted in a 35-minute film made by the students.

The film was truly magical. The expedition centered around the topic of personal power and community involvement. What was particularly fascinating was how every element of their education revolved around these concepts, from physical education to music to field studies.

In one of the most striking storylines of the movie, the students mobilized around a real issue — lifting the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in New York State. They met with city and state officials, mayoral candidates, and bureaucrats, even traveling to Albany to lobby state legislators. (The meetings with politicians led to one of the funniest — and most skillfully edited — moments in the film: a droning Bob Duffy campaigning for the fourth-grade vote.) Mind you, this wasn’t simplistic, dumbed-down stuff. These kids are smart, articulate and aware, and they brought all those qualities to bear as they pressured lawmakers, wrote and delivered speeches, and analyzed complex issues. (If you want to get involved, check out the Legislative Action Center at the New York State Charter Schools Association.)

Music also provided a platform for the idea of an individual voice and its application to collective goals. A talented teacher (Carrie Haymond-Hesketh) taught the kids about jazz and improvisation. The final result — a contrefact (zing!) based on “Three Blind Mice” — featured hip solos on the vibes, new lyrics and a real understanding of the music. So much cooler than the generic junk that passes for jazz education in most settings.

“Studies in state-sponsored terrorism — also known as gym class.” That’s how Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes) described physical education. Not at GCCS. Their phys ed teacher, Sarah Morell, is also a dancer and a fan of the Brazilian martial art Capoeira. What? You say your gym experience focused more on getting the snot knocked out of you with a dodgeball? Mine, too. But not these kids. They performed a Capoeira routine set to music, and related the movements to the themes of personal power, community and conversation that were at the heart of the expedition.

All I can say is that I wish I’d gone to a school like GCCS when I was a kid. There are so many different (read: better) ways to learn than the memorize-and-regurgitate style mandated by No Child Left Behind and other standardized-test-based education systems. Genesee Community Charter School is engaging its students in the world around them, and that always results in a deeper understanding of the subject matter, and a greater likelihood that these kids will break free of the Couch Generation and get involved in the world.

If you’ve got a child in the K-6 age range, check out Genesee Community Charter School (GCCS), and be inspired. I was.

Life without Wegmans and Tops

Jen and I are trying to start a new way of shopping for our family. We already do a fair amount of our shopping at Abundance Coop Market each week, supplemented by occasional runs to other places like Palermo’s Meat & Food Market on Culver Road (467-3950 / map) or The Ravioli Shop on Winton Road North (288-6420 / map).

A few weeks ago, we decided to try to go all the way, and cut out the big chains completely. Why? Several reasons: (1) it keeps more money in the community at the grassroots level; (2) it’s a great way to support local farmers and producers; (3) the quality of the food is often much better; (4) it’s rewarding to build relationships with local merchants; (5) the idea of shopping in neighborhoods from folks who live there fits in with our general economic and political philosophy.

All of that is easy to say, but it does actually take some effort to shop without the chain stores. The effort is leading to some interesting results, though. For example, we’re thinking more carefully about which things we actually need that we buy at the chains. The answer is that we need very few of them. In many cases, we can substitute healthier products, or cut things out altogether.

We do have some criteria for this experiment, the most important of which is cost. We have two small incomes, and we need to be very careful about how much we spend on groceries. Buying a $5 jar of mayo may be the earth-friendly thing to do, but having to eat it while living in our car isn’t the best outcome.

I’m interested in what you have to say on this topic. Where do you shop? Which little specialty stores do you use that everyone should know about? How do reconcile the various practical and philosophical concepts at issue?

At the bottom of this message, you can click on the link to submit a comment. Please do that, and let’s get the conversation started!

UPDATE: Please click on “View Comments” right below this sentence to see some of the great responses to this topic. Then submit your own comment!