Alumni Spotlight: Eric Toensmeier (’83)

April 22nd, 2021
Category: Alumni News

Eric Toensmeier (‘83) describes himself as a “plant geek.” But really, he’s an accomplished permaculturist, an expert in approaches to sustainable agriculture inspired by natural ecosystems. He’s also a policy advocate, award-winning author, international trainer, former appointed lecturer at Yale, and former Senior Biosequestration Fellow with Project Drawdown (an organization with the goal of reaching “drawdown” – the point in time when the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere starts to decline). Among other things, Eric has managed an urban farm project, run a seed company, and co-developed a farm business training curriculum that is now used all around the US and Canada. Eric’s most recent book is The Carbon Farming Solution. “This last decade I’ve been working on agriculture’s potential to fight climate change on an international level,” Eric said in summary. 

It all started when Eric was a student at PMFS. Eric credits an extended field trip to the Schuylkill Center for Education in Roxborough with awakening his love for the natural world. “It was great to be outside and in nature,” he recalled. “They had you do this thing […called] the ‘magic spot.’ You would sit quietly every day for five days in the same spot for fifteen minutes. Then you would draw or write about what you were observing.” Eric said the Quaker values he learned at PMFS and as a member of Plymouth Monthly Meeting about being still, present, and mindful continue to be important to him and to his work. “I don’t attend [anymore], but I am quiet sometimes,” he laughed.

After graduating from PMFS, Eric attended GFS, spent a year working at the Schuylkill Center, then went to Hampshire College and Goddard College where he created his own major, “Permaculture and Social Ecology.” In 2004, he and a friend turned a tenth-of-an-acre lot near his home in Holyoke, Massachusetts into an “edible garden oasis.” The garden features over two hundred types of edible plants, all working together to enrich their own soil, control their own pests, and keep weeds down, as they would in a natural ecosystem. Eric and his nine-year-old son Daniel now enjoy fruit from the lot for eleven months out of the year. “We’ve been eating citrus out of the greenhouse all winter long. Our garden is something we’re really proud of,” Eric said. The garden is the subject of Eric’s third book, Paradise Lot

With the pandemic putting his international lecture tours on hold, Eric has been able to focus on his writing and continues to teach, just virtually. One current project is a manual about cultivating trees with edible leaves “which, it turns out, are among the most nutritious vegetables in the world and are easy to grow.” Interested? Eric says that linden trees, which grow in the Philadelphia area, have tender young leaves that are good in soups or on sandwiches. Though be warned – some people find them slimy!

When asked if he has advice for current PMFS students interested in plants, Eric emphasized how much work there is to be done in his field by the next generation. Fifth and Sixth Graders at PMFS study farming and sustainability as part of their curriculum, so we might be growing the next “plant geek” right now! Eric also advises students to “Take Spanish seriously. It can really help you in life.” The start he got with Spanish at PMFS has helped him collaborate on perennial food projects with people all over Latin America, from Mexican agronomists to Mayan villagers. Not to mention, his wife Marikler was Guatemalan.

And to the rest of us concerned about global warming, Eric believes that investment in agroforestry systems, meaning growing trees alongside other crops, is “one of the best things we can do for climate change.” Although nearly a quarter of human emissions come from food production, agriculture “has great potential to fight climate change, too, if it’s done right.” And that has been Eric’s life’s work. You can see a full list of his books and read about his other projects at perennialsolutions.org.

Alumni Spotlight: Isaiah Barlow-McGee (’13)

March 5th, 2021
Category: Alumni News, News

Isaiah Barlow-McGee (’13) joined the Plymouth Meeting Friends School community as a Third Grader, and he thrived at Plymouth from the get-go. Now a young adult, Isaiah can look back at Plymouth and recognize how the school and its community helped build his character, his confidence, and his independence. He says he was taught to see the world with an open mind and to embrace differences, from immersing himself in another culture on the Mexican Exchange, to celebrating the diversity of his classmates. Isaiah appreciates the freedom Plymouth gave him and his friends to be creative and lead discussions about topics beyond academics, which helped him learn about the world.

After graduating from Plymouth, Isaiah went on to the DePaul Catholic School, then to Bishop McDevitt High School in Cheltenham, where he enjoyed playing football. At one point, when Isaiah felt his workload in high school was unreasonable, he navigated the challenge by communicating with his teachers. Isaiah explained that self-advocacy is a skill he learned at Plymouth.

Isaiah is now a Sophomore at West Chester University studying Respiratory Therapy. With this focus he will be an advocate for those with respiratory concerns like asthma or bronchitis. This is an especially important field now, as Covid is a respiratory virus. After graduation Isaiah is considering additional schooling for a nursing degree. Isaiah also spends his time focused on his hobby of singing, and joyfully recalls PMFS’s music teacher Frumi Cohen (now retired) and her brilliant rendition of the musical Wicked.

At Plymouth, Isaiah found he was treated equitably and was taught that everyone is equal. The real-world experiences Plymouth provided set Isaiah up for success for the rest of his life.

Blasting Off in Pre-K

November 12th, 2020
Category: News

A few weeks ago, Pre-K students were building with blocks when they began creating a rocket ship. This led into a discussion of how rocket ships are built, what they are made of, and where they go. The class took this opportunity to learn about spaceships, space travel, and the solar system. They used a box to design and paint their own spaceship.

As they discussed space travel and the solar system, they came up with some questions to investigate. Questions ranged from “How does the rocket push upwards?” to “How are planets made?” and “What’s outside of space?” The class also had an impromptu lesson in the sandbox on the principles of gravity.

Alumni Spotlight: Maria Price (’12)

October 29th, 2020
Category: Alumni News, News

Maria Price, PMFS ’12, is currently a Junior at Loyola University Chicago studying Public Health at the Parkinson School. When asked about her time at PMFS, she shared fond memories of outdoor play, speaking of her love for the playground and all the opportunities to play with the younger children on campus.After seven years at PMFS, Maria went on to Perkiomen Valley Middle and High School. This transition wasn’t seamless. Maria quickly recognized that her new peers and teachers prioritized good grades above all else. She found herself striving for academic accolades, but missing the PMFS focus on the well-rounded student and holistic approach to learning. By her Junior year Maria looked for a change and graduated from Abington Friends School in 2018.

Now at Loyola University Chicago (LUC), Maria has settled into city living. She gets much satisfaction from volunteering at her local church as a Youth Group Leader and working with Sunday school children, and from making time to write. She credits PMFS and the creative and reflective writing she did as a student with first instilling in her a love of writing. She remembers being presented with a writing prompt, similar to the query one might receive at the beginning of Meeting for Worship, and being given time to reflect and write in silence.  Maria liked this reflective writing practice; it allowed her to share her particular point of view, but also drove home the idea that there is not always one correct answer. She fulfills her writing passion now as a Newsletter Contributor to the LUC Parkinson School of Public Health Undergraduate Newsletter as well as by serving as the Director of Communications for the LUC Public Health Club.

After graduation, Maria plans to attend graduate school for a Master’s in Public Health and stay in Chicago. The value of lifelong learning, which she ascribes to PMFS, will surely lead Maria to much success.

Alumni Spotlight: Amanda Price (’08)

October 23rd, 2020
Category: Alumni News, News

Amanda Price, PMFS ‘08, grew up to work for Google, speak fluent Spanish, and travel the world. But when she first joined the PMFS community as a Kindergartener, she couldn’t yet read. She vividly remembers when it “clicked” for her, and the joy of finding books she loved in the PMFS library. Amanda credits her Kindergarten teachers for turning her into a voracious reader.

Amanda speaks highly of the Fifth Grade Mexican Exchange program. She says new friends and colleagues are always wowed when they find out she lived in Mexico for two weeks at the age of ten. This program helped lay the foundation for Amanda’s love of travel and the Spanish language.

Amanda still values the relationships she built with classmates and teachers at PMFS.  She attended a class reunion last year and was impressed to see the variety of fields her friends have ended up in, believing that it was PMFS that gave them the confidence and skills to pursue their dreams. As for her relationships with her old teachers, Amanda calls them “deep” and “meaningful,” even after more than a decade.

After graduation from PMFS, Amanda went on to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. As a Ninth Grader, Amanda had the self-knowledge and vision to apply to boarding school on her own. Determined to find a good fit, she did research and made the decision to transfer to St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH. Amanda had the opportunity to pursue her passion for dance and continue to improve her Spanish. The small classes and close relationships were rewarding, and reminded her of her experience at PMFS.

For college, Amanda went to Columbia University where she studied Political Science and Sustainable Development. While at Columbia she had an internship in Madrid, and a study abroad program that included a research project about tech entrepreneurs in Buenos Aires. Amanda also interned for Mastercard, then for Google.

Amanda now works as an Associate Product Marketing Manager at Google, a position that is part of a rotational program where employees learn multiple parts of Google marketing for different apps. Her focus so far has been on marketing YouTube subscriptions. The position requires strong communication skills – balancing different stakeholders and explaining how and why specific decisions are made.  Amanda says that as she’s doing this communications work, she often thinks of the “I” messaging techniques she learned as a Plymouth student. She attributes some of her success to PMFS’s early lessons about empathy and vocalizing feelings.

Amanda looks forward to a time when alumni can visit the PMFS campus again. She feels proud when she says, “my life’s journey started at PMFS and it has played a big role in who I am.”

Student-Designed Sensory Path

October 15th, 2020
Category: News

Fifth and Sixth Grades are working collaboratively to create a sensory path from The Little House to the Corson. They are designing and painting a colorful set of visual cues (jump from lily pad to lily pad!) on the existing pavement to encourage fellow students to move their bodies and travel with style. Kelly, our PE teacher, surveyed the First and Second Grade class about what kind of exercises they enjoy, and so our Fifth and Sixth Graders are including some of those ideas in the design of the path.