The 48th Mexican Exchange Program

March 15th, 2018
Category: News

After two weeks, our Fifth Grade Exchange students are on their way home as we write these words. In the past week alone, they have toured the world-famous National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, climbed a mountain to view the pyramid at the top and valley below in Tepotzlan, written speeches in the shadow of the 16th Century Cathedral in Cuernavaca, and, oh yeah, taken part in daily life with their Mexican host families.

Fifth Graders, accompanied by Leann, Genevieve, and Joyce, departed Thursday, March 1 for two weeks in Cuernavaca, Mexico, for Part 2 of the intercultural exchange program, now in its 48th year. Students see this as a time to connect with their buddies, who were in Philadelphia last month, and their host families—but we know it offers so much more. Experiencing similarities and differences between families and cultures firsthand, stretching themselves to communicate and make connections, being flexible and adaptable as new situations occur, this group of students is embarked on an adventure that will develop their minds and spirits and be something they will never forget.

Read on to learn more about the many facets of their adventure.

The 48th Mexican Exchange Program

Friday, March 2

Welcome Breakfast at Williams School and El Rollo Water Park
The Williams School hosts all of the families, students, and teachers who are participating in the Exchange Program at a buffet breakfast in one of the school gardens. Teachers, students and representatives from both the Williams School and Plymouth Meeting Friends School give welcoming speeches.
After the breakfast both Williams and PMFS students depart from the school for a trip to El Rollo. El Rollo is a water park in Cuernavaca filled with lots of water activities. Chaperones are visiting for the first time, but previous PMFS Fifth Graders have visited with their host families.

Saturday, March 3

Xochimilco
Located in a suburban area in the southern section of Mexico City, Xochimilco traces its history to Aztec times. The Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, was built on an island in a lake. Canals were the main arteries of transportation. In Xochimilco are the last remaining canals dating from the 15th and 16th Centuries.  The area is called The Floating Gardens which originally were the Aztec chinampas, gardens constructed of soil packed with mud and stakes. Willow trees planted on the gardens took root in the lake bed and the gardens became permanent plots. Xochimilco has become a tourist destination with colorful boats, called trajineras, that are poled through the canals. Mariachis, food vendors, and flower and rug sellers market their wares, while local residents transporting their goods travel up and down the canals. At the end of the main canal is a market with hand-made regional crafts.

The class spends an hour and a half on a boat traveling through the canals. During this time, they are serenaded by mariachis and then by marimba players, all on trajineras. The students are able to imagine how the Aztecs must have felt on the canals. Finally, they have time to browse through the outdoor crafts market with their teachers. As this is the first Saturday, the Williams School students come with us.

Sunday, March 4

Sunday with the Family
The weekend day revolves around family interests. This is a time for the friends to know each other better and to spend time together with the family. It is also a time for the students to learn more about the family customs and the neighborhood where they live.

Family activities may include having lunch with relatives, playing soccer with friends, dining in a restaurant, going to the movies, bowling, touring Cuernavaca or neighboring towns, swimming at a club or a family pool, going to a museum in Mexico City and/or inviting friends over to play. Most families live in houses with gardens (yards) and communities that are surrounded by walls. Children play, ride bikes and skate in these gated and walled-in areas.

Monday, March 5

Mexico City—Casa de los Amigos, Huerto Romita, and Secretaría de Educación Pública (Education building)
Parts of this trip are new this year. We will start by visiting the sembradores urbanos, the urban garden, at Huerto Romita. There will be a tour and a small project to help out the garden depending on what is needed.

After eating our packed lunch, we will head to Secretaría de Educación Pública (Secretariat of Public Education Building). Here are housed some Diego Rivera murals. From there we will head back to Casa de los Amigos where we will spend the night. First, we will have a tour of the Casa and hear about their different programs. We will walk to a local restaurant for dinner and we will tour the Revolution Museum, which is a treat. It gives a great view of the city.

Casa de los Amigos, a Center for Peace and International Understanding in Mexico City, was established as a nonprofit organization in 1956 by the Quaker community in Mexico, and its work continues to be rooted in Quaker values.

  • Each Sunday there is a Quaker meeting for worship and a potluck each Sunday evening for friends of the Casa. Through its programs, community space, and social and cultural activities, the Casa promotes peace with justice, fosters understanding between groups and individuals, and supports the human dignity of every person.
  • The Hospitality Program refers to the Casa’s community space, events, and activities, library, and social-justice-oriented guest house. The work that volunteers do in this program is the sum total of all the work that it takes to keep the guest house functioning smoothly, plan, and facilitate events, and most of all create, along with the guest, the simple, friendly atmosphere of social concern that the Casa is famous for. It takes a lot of people every day to make it happen, but it’s real magic.
  • The Peace Programs currently are focused in migration and economic justice. These two programs both have other projects connected to the Casa’s guesthouse and projects outside the house. Each committee meets regularly to coordinate work, plans, and progress; study and discuss relevant articles and themes; attend other events in Mexico City related to the programs; and more. The Casa works to treat the roots and realities of poverty and migration in Mexico, make an effort to alleviate the suffering caused, and to create alternatives to both.
  • Click here to read more about this fascinating organization.

When our class visits the Casa, we will be given a tour of the facilities. The students will have a lesson about what is a refugee and migrant and then have a meeting for worship with a query focused on what has just been discussed.

We will sleep all together in the top floor of the building on mats and with sleeping bags that the families have provided for us. We are excited about this piece of the Exchange, which started just last year. There are many reasons this is a great idea and one of them is because of the travel. It will cut out several hours of having to be on the bus and potential carsickness.

Tuesday, March 6

Teotihuacan
This ancient city was established in 200 BCE. From then until the First Century CE, the population soared and the building of the great pyramids, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Pyramid of the Sun, as well as the Street of the Dead and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, occurred. More developments continued until 450 CE where temples and apartment dwellings were laid out in carefully planned grids, accented by mural paintings, sculptures, pottery, and more. During the period 450 through 650 CE, the city reached the peak of its power and influence in a trading network that reached as far as the Maya region. Around 750 CE, the city was burned and abandoned; by then, Teotihuacan had influenced all of Meso-America.

We tour the site with an English-speaking guide, visit the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, walk on the Street of the Dead to the Sun and the Moon Pyramids, and visit the crafts market where our students shop with their teachers.

Get more info on this UNESCO World Heritage Site at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/414

Wednesday, March 7

Las Estacas
Las Estacas is a Natural Water Park, located in the municipality of Tlaltizapán, in the state of Morelos. Las Estacas is about 50 minutes from Cuernavaca. Here the bubbling Yautepec River flows; it is 12m wide with variable depth and crystal clear waters that are rich in minerals. The origin of its name comes from the stakes that were placed on the bank of the river to control the rise of the water and to irrigate the lands attached. We will swim in the river, go on a zip line, and have a meal together with our Williams School friends.

For more info: http://lasestacas.com.

Thursday, March 8

Cuernavaca (Ecological Park, Williams School, and Children’s Museum)
The Ecological Park Chapultepec has over 11 hectares of land. This park is located in the heart of Cuernavaca. It houses an environmental museum, a spider monkey habitat, and an aviary. It contains trees more than 250 years old, most notably cypresses, figs, guava, pink pumice, and other species. Students will spend part of the morning exploring the park.

The rest of the morning will be spent back at the Williams School to see the Fifth Graders in their presentation to the school of Mexico Lindo. This will include a song in the auditorium and a group of Baile Folklórico. Students will get to visit the stands run by Fifth Graders and try different Mexican dishes.

After this, we head to the Children’s Museum. Inspired by various educational and philosophical theories of art in art education, the museum is truly a place for kids to explore and have fun. There is a climbing adventure on spider web of tires, a giant iPod, a bubble room, a model of a Van Gogh painting to literally step inside and many more fun things!

Friday, March 9–Sunday, March 11

Long Weekend of Family Activities.
Families plan excursions around or outside of Cuernavaca

Monday, March 12

Cuernavaca—Cathedral, Turibus Tour, and Artisans Market
Cathedral of Cuernavaca: The cathedral was founded in 1529 CE by the Spaniard Hernán Cortés. The facade reflects the 16th Century European Renaissance style. Inside are murals depicting missionaries in the Far East. The garden includes a chapel with a gilded, hand-carved altar, an example of colonial religious art. We talk about the history of the area. Students write their thank you and farewell speeches here. They have their lunches in the Zócalo.

This year, we will be taking a tour on something called a Turibus. It will take us around Cuernavaca. This is new for us this year!

Artisans Market: After lunch, we go to the crafts market, located beside the Palacio de Cortés, where artisans sell their wares. This ends up being a highlight for students to purchase gifts for their families and for themselves. We break up into groups and each group walks around the market with a teacher to practice their bargaining skills and also to view the beautiful handmade items.

Tuesday, March 13

Mexico City
The capital of Mexico, this city is located in the Valley of Mexico surrounded by mountains. After the conquest of the Aztec city Tenochtitlan, by the Spaniards in 1521 CE, construction of the city began. This was the beginning of the colonial period that lasted for three hundred years. Modern Mexico City includes colonial churches and mansions, excavated temples, museums and galleries, an opera house, monuments, a large inner-city park (Chapultepec Park) mixed in with modern office buildings. The main boulevard, the Paseo de la Reforma, was modeled in the 19th Century to resemble boulevards in Paris.

The Zócalo: The heart of the city is the Zócalo, the second largest city square in the world after Moscow’s Red Square. On one side is National Cathedral (the largest in North America). The Palacio Nacional with offices of the President is on another side. They’re both magnificent Colonial buildings. In the center is a huge national flag on a tall pole. Nearby is the site where the Aztec Templo Mayor (Great Temple) has been excavated. Archaeological work began there in 1978 after workers discovered an enormous Aztec stone disc. A museum at the site displays artifacts from the excavations.

National Museum of Anthropology: Located in Chapultepec Park, this museum is one of the world’s greatest museums, partly because of its collection of Meso-American artifacts and partly because of its design. Arranged around a large covered outdoor plaza, each room is dedicated to one of the ancient civilizations of Mexico: Olmec, Teotihuacan, Oaxaca, Maya, Toltec, and Aztec. The class has lunch in the terrace outside the museum. With an English-speaking guide, they then tour the Aztec collection seeing sculptures and artwork that they learned about in school, such as the Aztec sun stone, models of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, and the headdress of Montezuma.

From here, we head by bus to Museo de Arte de Popular. It is an institution dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Mexican handcrafts and folk art. Opened in 2006, this museum is a major showcase for Mexico’s folk arts and traditions. Contemporary crafts from all over Mexico are thematically displayed, including carnival masks from Chiapas, alebrijes (fanciful animal figures) from Oaxaca and trees of life from Puebla. The museum occupies the former fire department headquarters, itself an outstanding example of 1920s art deco by architect Vicente Mendiola.

Artisan Market: Located near the MAP (Museo de Arte de Popular), we visit a lovely market filled with crafts and also luchadora masks. A popular stop!

Wednesday, March 14

Tepoztlan and Farewell Celebration 
Tepoztlan: This village, about eight miles northeast of Cuernavaca, is situated in a dramatic valley ringed by volcanic mountains. Many of the inhabitants of this region speak Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. In the center of town is a Dominican ex-convent constructed during the early colonial period. Beside the convent is a market where, on weekends and Wednesdays, local people bring their produce and crafts for sale. Tepoztlan is said to be the birthplace of Quetzecoatl (an Aztec god). There is a terrific park that houses Tepozteco, a pyramid perched on the rocky cliffs, a hefty climb for hikers wanting a spectacular vantage point of the entire valley. We may or may not climb depending on our energy level and the heat.

In the market they walk through the vegetable and meat sections, watch tortillas being made, and observe the large varieties of beans, herbs, and other products. Afterwards they divide into groups and visit the craft displays. They are treated to a local favorite, Tepoznieves, a local ice cream.

When the class returns to school they have the Farewell Party Celebration with their friends: swimming in the Williams School pool (which is used for physical education there), eating a pizza lunch in the courtyard, and finally, once parents arrive, being entertained by a traditional group of mariachis. The day ends with thank-you speeches and flower presentations by each PMFS student to their host family and friend.

Thursday, March 15

Departure Day from Cuernavaca
The class meets at the Williams School, says goodbye to their families and friends, and then takes a chartered bus to the airport in Mexico City. After going through security, the group boards the plane for their destination in the United States, where they will go through immigration and customs before connecting with the flight to Philadelphia.

Update from Building Bridges

March 14th, 2018
Category: News

Building Bridges is a group of PMFS community members who meet to support each other in learning and action around issues about which we care deeply. During this meeting time, members check in about people’s needs in relation to social justice work, as well as share ideas about a collaborative community activity to put our thoughts into action.

At our Building Bridges meeting on last week on March 3 we identified some of our goals:

  • Bring our values as a Quaker school into the world.
  • Give our children opportunities to engage with their larger Philadelphia community.
  • Enhance existing service projects to service learning and social justice opportunities.
  • Be open to diverse political views and perspectives.

We chose as our specific project to start with: deepening the school’s relationship with Historic Fair Hill, a “peace making green space in North Philadelphia, using the burial ground of human rights activists to carry forward their work for justice and peace through greening, school partnerships, and community events.” Click here for more information on Historic Fair Hill.

Our vision, at least to start, is that we would organize opportunities throughout the year for the school community to engage with Fair Hill in a variety of ways. We have identified two concrete projects for this spring and sketched out some ideas for next year.

Sunday, April 29, 3:00 – 5:00 pm at the Heiders’ house

Family garden party with Historic Fair Hill to learn more about the community and HFH’s programs there.
Opportunities for involvement include:

  • Come to the party!
  • Invite your friends.
  • Work on promotion.
  • Help set up or clean up.
  • Contribute refreshments.

Saturday, May 15, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm at Fair Hill Burial Ground

Community work day, with a Philadelphia Quaker history tour and taco truck lunch. Kids encouraged.
Opportunities for involvement include:

  • Come!
  • Work on promoting the event.
  • Drive a carpool from school.

Click here to read more. Send any questions or comments to Rebecca HeiderTrina Berk, or Sarah Sweeney-Denham.

African Studies in Kindergarten

March 1st, 2018
Category: News

Kindergarten’s thematic social studies curriculum is often inspired by the students’ interests and is enriched through involving students’ family members as resources for learning. The class’ most recent study of Africa was sparked by one student’s expertise and experience of living together with his family in Ethiopia over the last school year. Sami’s dad Ermias, who grew up in Ethiopia and Eritrea, shared stories, photos and videos, as well as musical instruments and traditional Ethiopian foods with the class. Georgia’s aunt Colette, PMFS `96, shared photos from her visit to Rwanda and told Kindergartners all about silverback gorillas. On Tuesday, Kindergarten welcomed members of the modern dance company Danse4Nia, who led the students in an African dance and storytelling workshop. Our students loved acting out Anansi folktales, playing their own homemade instruments, dancing, and singing the welcome song “Funga Alafia Ashe Ashe.”

Ermias Sharing with Kindergarten (left) and Colette Presenting to Kindergarten (right)

Dancing with Danse4Nia

Learning to Trust and Discover Through a Fourth Grade Circus

February 26th, 2018
Category: News

Adults think of childhood monsters as frightening elements of the external world—the monster under the bed, something lurking in the closet that can be banished by daylight or the warmth of a cuddly blanket. Believe!, this year’s circus from Plymouth Meeting Friends School’s Fourth Grade, explores the idea that sometimes, the things that we are most afraid of are part of ourselves.

Every year since 2003, PMFS’ Fourth Grade class, under the direction of Will Starr, has performed in a Circus. From unicycles and silks to tight-rope walking and juggling, the performance is filled with all sorts of traditional circus acts, but the skits go far beyond the basics of that. This year’s production, Believe! tells the story of The Sailor, who is unsure of her own abilities, and lacks the confidence to take risks or stand up for herself. She and her companions embark on a sailing voyage, finding themselves on an island which they slowly realize might not be deserted after all.

The audience becomes aware that there is a mysterious creature who may be experiencing a struggle of its own. The creature reflects The Sailor’s own ambivalence, and is almost the manifestation of her feelings about her own potential. Is the creature something to fear, or is it something to embrace? Should The Sailor steer clear of risk, or push herself to see what she is capable of?

This tension between safety on the edges or immersing oneself in something unknown mirrors the students’ own path to the Fourth Grade Circus. For fifteen years, teacher Will Starr, now joined by Isa Hahmann, has understood that learning to believe in one’s self is essential to creating a circus. As part of this beloved PMFS rite of passage, Fourth Graders learn unicycle, aerials, and a variety of other challenging circus skills and are also tasked with preparing the stage, spotting each other, and learning to craft a cohesive production.

A performance of high caliber, the Fourth Graders are challenged both physically and creatively to stretch beyond their own imaginings, and to banish any fears and doubts about their own abilities. The result is a spectacular show that highlights not only their newly-found skills, but also their journey to the stage. At the heart of Believe! lies a fundamental truth: that the artistry and self-expression of children has a high value, and that this faith in their achievements can be transformative for performers and audience alike.

Evening performances run Friday, March 16 and Saturday, March 17, 7:00 – 8:15 pm. To purchase tickets ($7), click here to download a copy of the order form.

Fromage aux Papillons

February 26th, 2018
Category: News

Or “Cheese in Butterflies”

Butterflies Teacher Kate traveled to Paris recently and brought back with her goodies to share with the Butterfly students. In their very own Parisian Café, everyone sampled the colorful macaroons and various kinds of cheese, talking about their different properties. What a lucky class- while they just see cheese and sweets, their teachers are providing an opportunity for students to develop their cognitive skills to observe, notice, and compare.

Brain Breaks for Mindfulness in First Grade

February 22nd, 2018
Category: News

In First Grade, as in all grades at PMFS, students are encouraged to take Brain Breaks to be able to reengage with—or simply begin—learning. As one First Grader said, “Brain Breaks are something we do to get our energy out so we can focus. Like before Math, Jane will give us a Brain Break, like run laps or something, so we can get the job done.” Another remarked, “it lets us get the air out of our bodies so we can learn.” First Grade Teacher Jane has filled a mug with Popsicle sticks, each ascribed with a different idea for a Brain Break. Yesterday, a First Grader drew the “Water Pump Laps” stick. Students promptly left the carpet, lined up at the back door of the First Grade classroom, and ran out back to excitedly do 10 laps around the water pump behind the Emerson Building.

Water Pump Laps in Action

On the topic of the importance of mindfulness, Phyllis has shared the following resources on discussing this abstract concept to children: Mindfulness and the Brain—How to Explain It to Children.