The people of our village

To paraphrase the old saying, it takes a village to educate a child.

Today, we saw that in action as parents, grandparents, siblings, staff, faculty and students came together for the annual Kindergarten Fairy Tale Ball.

A prince and his magic wand.

A prince and his magic wand.

Every year kindergarten teachers Lisa Cornell and Caitlin Talan do a unit on fairy tales with their classes. They study fairy tales from around the world and look at different versions of the same stories. They examine the elements needed to make a fairy tale and draw pictures of their favorite characters. They even create their own stories.

Today, dressed as their favorite characters and aided by lots of volunteers, the students made magic wands and frogs, played Bingo using fairy tale words and built castles — or maybe they were candy houses like Hansel and Gretel found — out of graham crackers and decorated them with candies.

They sang a couple songs — including one they wrote themselves about fairy tales, then it was time for the big show.

Our cast of characters.

Our cast of characters.

A group of parents and grandparents, staff and faculty put on a pretty darn good performance of “A Wolf Tale,” the story about a wolf trying to find some food. Outsmarted by several fairy tale characters, he finally got the food he needed, thanks to Red Riding Hood’s generous grandma, who told him he only had to ask politely, because it’s always nice to share.

The parents were completely into their characters and the adults not in the play showed their support by singing along with the Wolf on his little signature tune.

Even Head of Lower School Mrs. Chaps got into the spirit.

Even Head of Lower School Mrs. Chaps got into the spirit.

These parents and grandparents and staff and faculty took time out of their days to put on a silly costume and make a goose of themselves for a group of appreciative children. They helped make crafts that encourage the child to use his or her imagination when they play. They helped the students celebrate their learning.

These volunteers are committed, supportive, caring and nurturing, and the children felt that. How can kids do anything but learn with people like this living in our Liggett village.

By Ron Bernas


What to expect at your reunion

Every Thursday we devote Liggett Life to news for and about our alumni, who are such a vital part of life at Liggett.

Last year the Class of 1982 won the first Giving Cup award. What class will win this year?

Last year the Class of 1982 won the first Giving Cup award. What class will win this year?

Alumni Weekend is a few weeks away, and I wanted to share a little bit about the special things we do to help celebrate classes having reunions. While Alumni Weekend provides events and activities for all alumni, there are a few special things that we do for our reuniting classes.

Reunion classes have special dinners at school Saturday night after the Alumni Cocktail Reception. These dinners are held in areas that are memorable to our grads such as the Commons, Library and the Dance Studio. Each room features trophies won by the classes in athletics, arts, academics and the like. We also display old school newspapers, photos, yearbooks and senior class composites. Classes are encouraged to bring their own yearbooks and pictures and anything else of meaning to them too.

In addition to these items, each alumnus or alumna who attends the dinner receives a laminated copy of their senior page from our school yearbook. Alumni love looking at them and having classmates sign them during the dinners.

In addition to dinner, the classes then come together to enjoy dessert and music in the Dance Studio to conclude the spirited evening.

Another special event held for reunion classes is the Class Cup Competition. Each year classes having reunions compete against each other for a chance to win the coveted class cup by participating in the Annual Fund at University Liggett School. This year classes have really been getting into it! The winning class receives the cup to keep and display in their reunion dinner during Alumni Weekend (and bragging rights of course!). Last year the class of 1982 won the cup, and so far the following classes are in the lead for this year’s cup challenge:

1. 1963
2. 1973
3. 1958

It’s a fun way for classes to show their spirit and support University Liggett School at the same time! If you are reading today’s post and you want to help your class capture the cup, make a gift to the Annual Fund online here. Gifts have to be made by May 11 to count.

This year we have many classes coming together to celebrate their special class milestones. Whether it’s their 15th or 50th reunion, guests have already begun to register and contact their friends to get involved and come to reunite. To see a list of alumni who have already registered for their class dinner click here.

We hope to see everyone at Alumni Weekend, and we especially hope to celebrate reunion milestones with those classes ending in 3’s and 8’s. If you would like to register for your class reunion, and all other Alumni Weekend events please click here for online registration.

See you May 17-18!

By Savannah Lee
Alumni Relations Manager

Lights! Camera! Learning!

On Thursday night the paparazzi will be out in force as our fourth graders walk the red carpet before the second annual Golden Knight Awards.

for blog 3 for blog for blog 2It’s truly a celebration of learning as the students attend the premieres of the short films they have spent the better part of a month writing, filming and editing.

Most of the 5- to 7-minute films are based on books the students read in class, though one, titled “A to Z Liggett” talks about 26 great things at Liggett. Most are tied to the Lower School’s water theme for the year. They’re ambitious, too: “Powder Monkey” is set during the War of 1812 and depicts a sea battle, another is done in the often tedious process of claymation.

In addition to adapting the books into screenplays, students created the scenery, found the costumes, acted in them and edited them on iMovie. Everyone had the opportunity to try all aspects, but many of them found places to shine.

“In projects, it’s often about finding the best part of you,” said Laura Deimel, who came up with the idea last year. Some students found that they had the skills to be strong producers, others discovered they liked editing. Others enjoyed the challenge of directing. This year, it was expanded to include students in Jae Lee’s class. It also expanded to include a lot of parents who spent time in class and after helping the students hone their projects into the works of art parents will see Thursday.

“This project has been completely about the Curriculum for Understanding,” Deimel said. “These projects are complete collaborations of the groups of students. They had to use their creativity in acting and writing and they had to figure out how to adapt a book into a shortened movie form. They were thinking critically about how they needed to present parts of their story and were able to see how each small part becomes part of a cohesive, universal whole.

Everyone else is invited to see that, too. Red carpet begins at 6:15 p.m. Thursday night outside the Auditorium. The films and awards portion follow.

By Ron Bernas

Pleasant Lake: Challenging students for 41 years

Leaving for Pleasant LakeWell, they’re off. All 43 sixth-graders, the Upper School counselors and teachers left shortly after 8 a.m. for the annual Pleasant Lake trip. The students were excited and some even gave surreptitious hugs to the parents they won’t see until Friday.

The trip, the highlight of Liggett’s outdoor education program, has been around in one form or another for 41 years. They used to go to Proud Lake, where there was no lake, and for a few years they went to Mill Lake. For the past several years it’s been at Pleasant Lake, where there is actually a lake. And swamps, which the kids generally seem to fall in to at one time or another during the four-day exploration of the outdoors and Medieval life.

Teacher Becky Gast may know more than anyone else about the trip because she went on it as a sixth-grader, served as a counselor when in Upper School, prepares the students in her social studies classes, and has attended as a teacher. Though the trip has changed over the years, the goal is still the same: getting to know yourself, others and the great outdoors better.

Leaving for Pleasant Lake 2That’s probably an oversimplification, but that is what happens over the four days. The students have been divided into four guilds — long ago when the trip had a Native American theme, the students were divided into tribes — and the groups take part in events that promote team building and problem solving. All the events have a cool name that ties them to the Middle Ages curriculum. In the Journey of Fire and Water, students must canoe and build a fire. King Arthur’s Joust has students riding horses and participating in a form of joust. The Siege of Malta asks students to create a water transport system to get water from the lake to the castle. There is an orienteering portion that asks students to navigate the woods with a compass, and the Knights Challenge is a low ropes course.

Gast remembers when the Knights Challenge asked students to cross the Huron River walking on a single rope with another rope above their heads to steady themselves. Teachers Barb King and John Bandos (who’s at Proud Lake again this year) stood in the river in waders to gather up the students who fell in.

The week isn’t built around guild competition, Gast says, though that’s often what the students get out of it. There’s also a talent show where the guilds put on skits, and the counselors and the sixth graders get to show off their stuff. Plus, there are killer games of Capture the Flag.

“What’s missing is you look at the schedule or the curriculum is the work and traditions associated with the trip,” Gast said. “The Upper School counselors are invaluable to the program. It’s the things that are passed down from the faculty to the counselor who tells other counselors who tell the students that makes this trip so meaningful.”

Middle School Dean of Students Jim Brewer agrees, even though this is just his second year taking the trip. “I’ve seen a lot of outdoor education programs, and what makes Liggett’s different is the Upper School students. They play a  huge role. They serve as leaders and role models. For the sixth-graders, having that connection is key.”

He also says the length of the trip helps the students really grow to appreciate the outdoors and feel the experience in a deeper way.

Gast says it’s also important to note that Liggett created this program and is executing it, based on what we want the students to experience. It is not a pre-fabricated program that any school can attend. The program changes a little from year to year but those changes are driven by the Liggett faculty.

All this in four days. The kids have a lot to talk about when they return. And then they fall asleep.

By Ron Bernas

Liggett’s cause effect

Liggett students care.

Not just about each other, but about the world outside the school, both locally and nationally. Never has it been more clear than today.

People who walked into the main entrance of the school saw two tables side by side, each one promoting a cause.

The first one — which got a lot of attention especially from the Middle School — was a bake sale for Relay For Life, an American Cancer Society-sponsored event that raises money and awareness to fight cancer. Upper School students sold brownies and ookies and bags of snacks and the money will eventually go to the American Cancer Society after its May 11 event.

The school has participated for years in the fundraiser, held at Lakefront Park in St. Clair Shores. The 24-hour event draws all sorts of groups and lots of Liggett students who walk a course from 10 a.m. May 11 to 10 a.m. May 12. Walkers work in shifts, so it’s not as strenuous as it sounds. The teams also raise funds at the event by selling items. Liggett’s team is selling walking tacos. If you don’t know what they are, you’re missing a real treat: A bag of Fritos, topped with taco fixings and eaten with a fork. It’s heaven in a bag.

The group is doing a lot of fundraising in advance because this year’s event falls on another important event: Upper School Prom is on the evening of May 11.

No group is sponsoring the walk, but all the the Upper School students know about it and now so do lots of students who spent a little change supporting a cause while they snacked throughout the day.

Students pledged to do something this year to help the Earth. Their pledges will be on display in the school this week.

The second table in the lobby, not to be overshadowed, had bowls of M&Ms and Skittles to entice students. A little scoop of them were rewards given to anyone who signed a board that said “I pledge to …” Behind the table, Upper School science teacher Russ Glenn corralled students walking by to ask them to finish that sentence with something they will do to help the Earth. (It is Earth Day, you know, did you forget to get a card, too?) Glenn wants students to raise awareness of Earth Day and let students know that every little bit adds up. “All these little things will become, together, something much bigger,” he told students.

The students knew what to do — use less paper, turn off lights, take shorter showers plant trees, help animals — to help the earth, even if the younger ones couldn’t spell what they wanted to do. “Recycle” being the most difficult.

Speaking of Earth Day, about 20 people showed up Sunday night to watch “Do the Math,” a documentary from, about the need to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 ppm to below 350 ppm in order to sustain life on Earth. Other Earth Day events include a trip by Lower School students to the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House grounds for a series of lessons and a day of planting trees.

 Lastly, three organizations were the recipients of donations, thanks to the winners of Friday’s Upper School Treasure Hunt. The winning team of sophomores Courtney deRuiter, Carina Ghafari, Amanda Hamilton, Mackenzie Lukas, Hannah Marchese and Meg Shannon won $150 to donate to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Second Place Team of juniors Patrick Broder, Caitlin deRuiter, Hannah Hodges, Danielle Lorant and Antonio Malkoun, along with Upper School teacher Ben Lampe donated their $100 to Special Kids, Inc. Focus: Hope was the recipient of the $50 that went to the third place team of seniors Shatara Cleveland, Alec Josaitis, Beth Ottosen and Aaron Robertson with Middle School teacher Lyndsey Bachman.

By Ron Bernas

Everyone wins at the Upper School Treasure Hunt

“This is one of my favorite days of the year,” says Liggett mom Kelley Vreeken, even though she and committee co-chairs Connie deRuiter and Louana Ghafari have spent several sleepless nights recently pulling together the final strings of the Upper School Treasure Hunt she’s been planning since January.

The committee takes care of the final details of the Treasure Hunt.

It’s a job she isn’t doing alone. A committee of 16 has put in hundreds of hours gathering volunteers, getting food and drinks, planning games and creating dastardly clues for the annual road rally-style event. In the past week, three committee members have spent 20 hours in the Upper School hallway signing up teams for the event. (Vreeken urges future committee members not to be scared away: Subsequent years’ Treasure Hunts will take fewer hours of planning, as this committee spent a lot of time this year ironing out procedures designed to cut the work.)

Tonight at 6, 94 parent volunteers will meet in the cafeteria to be debriefed on what they are to do at each of the different activities the participants must perform to move on. The parents who drive the groups of students to the few off-campus sites will get maps as to how they must get there, and the unbreakable rules of not putting the car in gear until all the doors are closed all the seatbelts have been clicked. Of these volunteers, many are staff and faculty members, most are parents of current students, but several are parents of alumni who help out even after their children have graduated from Liggett because they have grown to like the event almost as much as Vreeken does.

Pink Elephant cupcakes are among the treats for tonight’s players.

They only have a half hour for the debriefing because at 6:30, the students start showing up in their teams, some in crazy costumes, but all with great enthusiasm. Of the 280 students in the Upper School, 204 are participating. That’s 34 teams of six, some of them with faculty members along for the ride. They’ll make short work of dozens and dozens of pizzas then it’s off to the races.

The teams get clues directing them to various sites on and off campus where they must perform a task — often one designed to be more than a bit embarrassing or messy — and move on to the next one. The winning team is determined not just by who finishes first, but by points earned on the challenges.

The Treasure Hunt has been a mainstay of the Liggett Upper School calendar for decades, though it went by the wayside for a while and was revived by popular demand in the 1990s. It’s now sponsored by the Upper School Parents Association and funded, in part, by the $5 entry fee from each participant.

“This is the one community thing we do for everyone — parents, faculty, staff — everyone,” Vreeken said.

“And how often do you have one event where 204 kids — in high school — are participating?” asked fellow committee member Louana Ghafari. And participate they do: You don’t want to be ambling through the hallway when a team realizes where it has to go, and this school is not the place for thoughtful reflection tonight, either.

And while everyone has fun — even Vreeken and her committee, many who have been at school today since 8 a.m. and won’t leave until after the Treasure Hunt ends at 10 — there are three more winners. The first-place team wins $150 for the charity of their choice and the second- and third-place teams win $100 and $50 respectively.

So if you’re not involved this year, keep it in mind for next year. We can always use help, ideas and bodies to make this truly Liggett event an evening to remember.

By Ron Bernas

From one alumnus to (soon to be) another

Every Thursday, we devote this space to news for and about our alumni, such an important part of Liggett life.

In just a few short weeks the Class of 2013 will cross the commencement stage and become University Liggett School’s newest alumni. It’s an exciting new adventure as our students spread out throughout the country this fall to start their freshmen year at schools like U of M, Michigan State, Boston College, NYU, Princeton and dozens of others.

For many of them, the idea of making new friends and navigating a new city is a completely foreign concept met with a bit of trepidation. That’s why the Alumni Board of Governors’ mentoring committee launched a new annual event last year to help our seniors in the transition to college. This event took place today for the Class of 2013.

Board member Biz Renick Bracher ’87 spoke with seniors during community time all about the challenges and triumphs that they will face in their first year away from Liggett. Bracher is the associate director of the Office of First Year Experience at Boston College. As a way to give back to Liggett students, and help strengthen their confidence heading to new campuses this fall, Bracher came to share tips, strategies and general words of encouragement for the seniors. She discussed everything from her own experiences graduating from Liggett and heading to school, to tips about time management and general campus life.

As we prepare to say goodbye to our senior class, events like this one make us feel proud. It is very exciting to see we are sending new grads out into the world to continue their educational careers in the same thoughtful, determined and inquisitive ways they have done so at University Liggett School!

If you are interested in being considered for a speaking event at University Liggett School, contact the Alumni Office at 313-884-4444, Ext. 415 or via email at

Savannah Lee
Alumni Relations Manager

Still connected with Detroit

Our oldest predecessor school, The Liggett School, started in a home in Detroit in 1878. Today, more than 130 years later, University Liggett School keeps up its strong connection with Detroit.

That was demonstrated in two unrelated events this week, one in the Upper School and one in the Lower School.

Andre Spivey, Detroit city councilman, discusses city issues with the ninth grade.

On Monday, Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey — whose two children are in our Lower School — was the guest speaker to all our ninth-grade students. The students, who embarking upon a project centered on Detroit in their required Research and Discovery class.

Spivey, who’s also an ordained minister, had a lot to talk about — but he told the students that he isn’t one to wring his hands over what happened before now. He says he asks himself “How do we go forward?” And he urged the students to think about this question:  “How do we work together to make the city a better place than it is?” The metro region needs to stop talking about “Us” and “Them” and look at the region as a whole, because our past, our future, even our identities are inextricably tied.

When he asked for questions, students asked a wide range, displaying a wide range of knowledge of the city and regional issues. One boy, son of Detroit business owners, asked what incentives the city is giving to business owners, another wanted to know how the city deals with stray animals. There were many questions about the emergency financial manager, many of them nuts-and-bolts type because they didn’t understand what it is, what it means or why anyone would oppose it, as Spivey does. Spivey said he believes the EFM negates the will of the electorate, but he adds that now that it’s a fact, the city council has to work with him.

It was a good introduction to the city from an insider and serves as a link to the ninth-graders and their R&D project, which will be to research a Detroit-based nonprofit and look for ways to help.

Today, in the third grade, T.J. Rogers, program assistant for Freedom House, spoke to the third graders about what the organization does. The third-graders have been studying world religions and discussed how sometimes people of certain religions are oppressed and must flee their native countries to seek asylum elsewhere.

T.J. Rogers speaks with the students about the work Freedom House does.

Freedom House, which has been in southwest Detroit since 1983, is a refugee shelter that tends to the physical, medical, emotional and legal needs of asylum-seekers during the often lengthy process of being granted asylum. Currently more than 41 people ages 2 months to middle age from around the world live in the house. Some came alone, some came with families — and live in the shelter during the appeal for asylum. The organization is the only one of its kind in the United States and is funded in part by the United Nations and donations. It is staffed by a few attorneys, people like Rogers and hundreds of volunteers. Students have been collecting nonperishable food and other toiletries for the organization for weeks.

A refugee from Rwanda came with T.J. She cannot be identified because of her situation, but she shared a message of hope with the students. We may all look different on the outside, she said. But inside, we are all human beings and we are all the same.

Again, the student question-and-answer session was telling. Students asked thoughtful questions and wanted to know about the nitty-gritty of life at Freedom House. A lot of thought went into the questions and the students seemed to learn quite a bit.

It’s connections like these — big and small — that keep Liggett a part of the city where it was born. That’s important because the history of Detroit is made of dozens of people who came through Liggett and its predecessor schools. And the future of the region will likely be made by the students here now.

By Ron Bernas

Liggett’s business community

The Lower School was a hotbed of business today as the first grade, testing their knowledge of money and making change, created a business district in the hallway outside their rooms.

One store sold candy. Another sold sidewalk chalk. Still another stickers and tattoos. There were pencils for sale and fancy erasers and tops for them. And the prices were right. Pennies, nickels and dimes. All money and products were provided by teachers Anne McCauley and Kristen Kalmink.

The project fed into a couple units the students have been studying for a while. First, of course, was math. Students have been learning about counting and how five pennies make up one nickel and two nickels — or ten pennies — make one dime. They also learned what

Squiggly things were a big seller.

to do when  someone gives you a dime and they only owe you seven cents. It’s math on a simple level, but also on a real world level, letting students know that what they are learning will affect them every day.

But McCauley and Kalmink have also had their students studying communities. “A community is a place where people live and work,” reads a sign on the wall just outside the classrooms. The businesses were created by the students and they had to come up with a poster advertising their wares and a storefront they designed on large construction paper.

Mrs. Chaps was a good customer.

“We have been talking with the students about how businesses work and are part of our communities,” said Kalmink. To help the students think about how businesses stay in business, they asked the students to keep track of what they sold and how much money they took in from their customers, who were students in other grades.

It didn’t take long for some of the record-keeping to go by the wayside, and a few businesses tried to drum up customers with tactics they must have seen in the community: Yelling “Stickers, five cents!” and another store took a nickel off your total if you picked a particular tattoo.

This is the first time for this project, McCauley said, but it seemed to be pretty popular among both the sellers and the customers. Students spent time discussing what it was like to run a business after the morning of buying and selling. And they had a little candy, too.

By Ron Bernas

A little color on a gray day

The Lower School didn’t know when they planned it that the just-for-the-fun-of-it Clash Day scheduled for today would come at the end of a string of cheerless, gray, wet days. Yet it was the perfect tonic for the end of a blah week. (Plus, it was chicken patty day, and I defy you to find any Liggett kid who isn’t happy on chicken patty day.)

The Lower School student council asked for it and Lower School Head Sheila Chaps approved it. Heck, she even came today in an outfit that included black pinstripe pants, a denim coat, flowers, plaids, a striped tie, mismatched socks and vinyl paisley clogs. (Yes, Mrs. Chaps owns vinyl paisley clogs.)

Anyway, we bring you the following photographs to brighten the end of your bleak week. Click on the photos to see the whole thing.

By Ron Bernas