Meet Liggett’s New Faces (Part 4, the last)

Here are a few more faces you’ll see around Liggett, just not in the classrooms. Be sure to make them feel welcome.

Anne Frame Sheppard, Assistant Head of School for Enrollment 

Anne Sheppard

Anne Sheppard

Anne first started her independent school career teaching and coaching cross country and track 20 years ago at the St. Edwards School in Vero Beach, Fla. She left after two years to attend graduate school in her hometown of Boston. While there, she worked in the Boston College admissions office as a graduate intern  and realized she loved admissions work.

“I still interacted with students and families, but also liked the challenges of the business side of school operations,” she said. “I’m happy to say I love what I do all these years later.”

What she does, she says, is “spread the word about the school in metro Detroit to ensure that the best and brightest students consider Liggett.  I also welcome families to the school to talk about the Liggett experience. Given our strong commitment to socio-economic diversity, a key part of my role is to encourage families of all backgrounds to apply for our need-based financial aid program and to answer all questions.”

Anne and her husband, Gabe, a Michigander, moved to Michigan with their two young children, Anna and Joseph.

“We love the sense of community and family feel of Liggett and feel fortunate to be here,” she said.

Kate Shannon, Assistant Director of Admissions

Kate Shannon

Kate Shannon

People who have been around Liggett for a while may remember Kate, who is an alumna of Liggett — the Class of 2009. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Notre Dame just this May.

That history with the school will be a great asset as she works closely with Anne Sheppard, for whom she interned at Western Reserve Academy in 2012. Kate will work on recruiting and processing applications for the Upper and Middle Schools and helping manage the Liggett Merit Scholars Program.

Kate’s younger brother is also a Liggett alumnus and she has two younger sisters who attend right now.

In her free time, she likes to run and practice yoga, spend time with her family and friends and watch Notre Dame football.

Donna Root, Front Desk Reception

Donna Root

Donna Root

That smiling face you see as you walk in the front doors of Liggett belongs to Donna Root. She worked for 24 years as a dispatcher for the Harper Woods Police where she was named the 2002 Michigan Telecommunicator of the Year. She also spent two years serving as the administrative assistant with the Harper Woods Recreation Department.

Donna knows the school well – her son, Bobby, is a sophomore, and she enjoys the daily interaction with students and their families.

In her spare time, Donna enjoys gardening, golfing and reading.

A sneak peek at Perspective, coming to your mailbox soon

Each week we devote one day to news for and about our alumni, such a vital part of live at Liggett.

Perspective Fall Cover 2013-14Hey alumni, make sure to check your mailboxes next week. Perspective, the alumni magazine, is on its way to you, and this issue is filled with interesting articles, a ton of photos from Alumni Weekend, class notes and much more. Here’s a small peek inside the magazine.

The feature story is an expanded version of our regular feature Cool Jobs. Five alumni are profiled in the piece, and their careers span from travel writer, Broadway carpenter, government service officer, organic farmer and even Liggett’s only (probably) professional caveman, John Durrant ’01. John’s new book about the Paleo diet and lifestyle titled “The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health” was released September 17. Currently on his book tour, John will stop by school next week to talk with Upper School students. Check out this article featuring John, and our other

John Durant

John Durant

alumni with cool jobs, and look for a follow-up post next week about John’s visit to school! (And if you think you have a cool job, let us know, you may be profiled in a future Perspective.)

If you keep yourself informed about the school, you’ve no doubt heard the term C4U. It stands for the Curriculum for Understanding, the hallmark of Liggett’s educational model. We encourage students to take ownership of their learning in an area of their choosing. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our Upper School’s Academic Research Program (ARP). The ARP projects from last year — the first year of the program — are also featured in this issue of Perspective, and chronicle the process of the ARP for last year’s 23 students enrolled in the program. Check out the article for a great snapshot of what’s going on in our Liggett classrooms today! Learn more about the Curriculum for Understanding at our website here.

Chris and Lindsay Brownell

Chris and Lindsay Brownell

Additional articles include one from current Liggett parent Shelli Elmer, a student perspective written by Taniesha Williams ’13 about her work at Focus: HOPE, and a story about Lindsay ’06 and Chris ’09 Brownell’s summer adventure on the El Camino de Santiago.  The magazine also has a plethora of class notes! Many notes focus on the fun had at reunion, summer trips, like alumnus Jody Jennings ’61 GPUS’s trip to Italy, and new baby announcements from alumni like Leython Williams ’03. You may remember that we featured a “pre-baby” post on Leython earlier this year. Read it here!

We hope you enjoy the fall issue of Perspective next week! In the meantime, catch up on the past issue of Perspective on our website here, and on the Alumni Facebook page here.

By Savannah Lee
Alumni Relations Manager

Something for everyone

No one can ever say Liggett doesn’t provide opportunities for students.

The African American Awareness Association gave out pie

The African American Awareness Association gave out pie

And we’re not just talking in the classroom. Last week, as part of an exciting new pilot project in the tenth grade, students explored Eastern Market, the Walter P. Reuther Archives at Wayne State University and got to run on the gridiron at Ford Field. More than two dozen sports are offered and there are opportunities for the theatrically or musically inclined to perform.

And then there are the clubs, which often bridge the gap between the classroom and after hours activities. Today, 17 Upper School clubs held what we call Club Rush, it’s like a college rush week but without the — well, OK, it’s nothing like a fraternity rush week, but the idea is that all the clubs make a pitch for new members in an organized, chaotic, fun event.

The Rowing Club display included a rowing machine.

The Rowing Club display included a rowing machine.

Some groups made it easy to sign up: The African American Awareness Association (called the 4-As) gave out pie. Le Cercle Francais gave animal crackers to students who could pronounce the names of animals correctly in French and a key ring with the Eiffel Tower on it if they could answer five trivia questions. The Robotics Cub demonstrated their robot’s ability to throw Frisbees. The bowling club offered Wii bowling.

There is, truly, something for everyone — which is good, because all students are encouraged to participate in at least one club. Clubs trolling for members Tuesday included those for badminton, books, chess, debate, the environment, film, rowing, interfaith awareness, improv theater, regular theater, ping-pong, service, south Asian culture, quiz bowl, skiing and snowboarding and women’s issues.

The Robotics Club showed off last year's robot.

The Robotics Club showed off last year’s robot.

What works about the clubs is that it provides a way for students to discuss a common interest and it also provides another outlet for students to perform service and develop leadership skills, said Upper School teacher Brad Homuth, who organized this year’s rush.

It’s the second club-centered event in a week. The first was Friday when students met in groups to discuss the summer reading they did. The books were selected by the clubs in the spring and students were to come to school prepared to discuss the book with students who share an interest with them. But like most book clubs, some people didn’t read the book, or didn’t read all of it, or didn’t like it. And the discussions, monitored by students, found various levels of success. Still, it worked as a way to introduce the clubs to the students and a way for students to find a group of people with a shared interest.

By Ron Bernas

Meet Liggett’s New Faces (Part 3)

We continue to introduce the new faculty and staff to our Liggett community. Today, we focus on the Upper School.

Bart Bronk, Associate Dean of Faculty

Bart Bronk

Bart Bronk

Bart Bronk has been working in independent schools since 2007, most recently as Director of Admissions at The Church Farm School, a grade 7-12 boys boarding school in Exton, Pa. In addition to admissions responsibilities, he taught SAT prep, coached JV tennis, served as an advisor, ran the Trivia Club, and was on the administrative council. Before working at CFS, he was the Director of Institutional Giving and Government Relations at The Franklin Institute, which he calls one of our nation’s great science centers and Pennsylvania’s most-visited museum, where he was responsible for generating $5 to $8 million annually in corporate sponsorships and philanthropy and government and foundation grants for annual funding, capital campaigns, and special projects. He has a B.A. in English and an M.S. Ed. in Educational Leadership, both from the University of Pennsylvania.

His educational philosophy is best summarized, he says by these words of noted Quaker educator and Guilford College Professor Cyril Harvey:  “Education is the process of one human being, coming together with other human beings, to discover the true meaning of being human.”

“Indeed, we educators are not only preparing students for college and career, but to live complete lives of meaning and purpose,” he says. “As such, I am heartened by the focus of the Curriculum for Understanding in developing in students’ vital skills like critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and life-long curiosity. I am excited to be in an educational community where understanding is prioritized over information, enduring lessons over fleeting familiarities, hard questions over easy answers, and relevance over rote.”

Originally from the greater Philadelphia area, he and his wife Chrissy moved to Grosse Pointe in June. They have a daughter, Emilia, 9, and a son, Charlie, 5.  Emilia is a new Liggett fourth grader and Charlie is just down the hall in kindergarten. Beyond spending time with family, he enjoys tennis, reading, and crossword puzzles.

Beth Freedman, Upper School Spanish

Beth Freedman

Beth Freedman

Originally from Rochester, NY, Beth earned a master’s degree in Spanish education from the University of Rochester. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sports medicine from Central Michigan University where she played Division 1 field hockey, as goalie.

Beth has taught Spanish for grade six on up, and into college and worked as a Certified Athletic Trainer in high school in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Most recently she taught a course called Focused Inquiry at Virginia Commonwealth University. The course centered around critical thinking, ethical reasoning, public speaking and writing arguments, which led her right into the Curriculum for Understanding.

“I teach because I love to learn,” Beth says. “To be able to work with the future of our society is exciting. It is wonderful to see a student figure out something with which they have been struggling, the satisfaction they achieve makes me smile. Learning is something we all need to do, in our own fashion. It is my passion to facilitate the process. To have second language proficiency in today’s world will open many doors and allow students to lead themselves down a more varied path within their chosen profession.”

Beth has been married for 19 years to Alan, whom she met in Rochester after she finished college. Because he’s from Virginia, they settled there and had two children, Miranda and Samuel. Her third child is their dog, Tillie.

In her spare time she works out, spends time with her family, stays connected with friends all over the world and cooks. She spreads her message of healthy eating after school as a Pampered Chef consultant.

Gail Harley, Upper School Administrative Assistant

Gail Harley

Gail Harley

Gail joined Liggett in late summer – a busy time for the Upper School – and has kept things moving smoothly since then.

She attended Michigan State University and spent many years working for the Rockford Public School District Rockford, Michigan. She and her husband moved to Grosse Pointe to be closer to their children.

Gail loves what she does because, she says, she’s a people person. “I love being with and interacting with the community, parents, students and staff,” she says.

Gail and her husband have three children who, like her, all attended Michigan State at various points during their college careers.  She enjoys reading, walking her dog Colt (short for Coltrane) and, of course, cheering on her beloved Spartans.

Fall Preview: University Liggett School hosts a variety of events for alumni

Once a week we devote this space to news for and about our alumni, such a vital part of life at Liggett.

The fall season is off and running, and the Alumni Board of Governors and the Alumni Office have a ton of events in store for alumni!

The 2012 class of the Alumni Athletic Hall of Fame inductees will be joined by several new members in October.

The 2012 class of the Alumni Athletic Hall of Fame inductees will be joined by several new members in October.

Our Annual Alumni Athletic Hall of Fame induction is first on the calendar. This year’s ceremony will take place on Friday, October 11. There will be a cocktail reception with the inductees from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. and then we will celebrate the 2013 class with a ceremony at 6:30 p.m. The event is in the Manoogian Arts Wing of the school and you can register for this free event online at

The honor will be bestowed upon four amazing athletes including John Patterson ’06 DUS, David Rentschler ’52 DUS, George Perrin ’64 GPUS and Laura Khelokian Byron ’87. In addition to the athletes, we are very excited to induct faculty emeritus Gene Overton. Read about each inductee on our Facebook page here where we chronicled each inductees athletic highlights over the last week!

We'd love to see you at Homecoming on Oct. 12.

We’d love to see you at Homecoming on Oct. 12.

To continue the tradition of athletic excellence, we will celebrate Liggett’s annual Homecoming the following day on Saturday, October 12. The day kicks off with an Alumni Football game at 11 a.m., and there is still time to register! Relive your glory days, and receive a free T-shirt for playing in the game. Alumni Pahl Zinn ’87 and Bill Listman ’87 (that’s him below) have been recruiting players for all years. We would love you to join! Register online.

There's still time to register to play in the Alumni Football Game.

There’s still time to register to play in the Alumni Football Game.

In addition to the alumni game, varsity boys soccer will play at 11 a.m., varsity field hockey will play at 11:30 a.m. and the varsity football team will round out the day beginning at 1 p.m. There are a lot of family friendly activities planned for the day as well, including face painting, a bounce house, obstacle course, pumpkin painting and a children’s parade before the football game at 12:30 p.m. Stop on by for a bit, or stay all day and celebrate Liggett athletics!

The Alumni Board of Governors will also be out supporting the event with an alumni cook tent filled with fall treats like donuts and cider, hot chocolate and hamburgers and hot dogs.

Finally, to keep the fall fun going the Alumni Office is planning a new local event! We will be hosting a bike tour in downtown Detroit for families on Saturday, October 19 from 10 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. The event will be a private tour for our alumni group facilitated by the Detroit company Motor City Bike and Brew Tours. The event is limited to the first 20 participants, and includes the tour and lunch afterwards at the Traffic Jam & Snug in Midtown. The cost is $30, and bike rentals are available for an additional $10. Come bike with Liggett! For details contact Savannah Lee, Alumni Relations Manager at 313.884.4444, Ext. 415 and

Celebrate fall with us all October long by coming out to these great events. We can’t wait to see you! Oh yeah, and GO KNIGHTS!

By Savannah Lee
Alumni Relations Manager

Meet Liggett’s New Faces (Part 2)

Earlier this week, Lower School parents met three new educators in their division, we think you will want to meet them, too.

Angela Amore, Lower School Learning Specialist

Angela Amore

Angela Amore

Lower School Learning Specialist Angela Amore has been in education since 1990. She has undergraduate and graduate degrees from Wayne State University and has worked in several districts across Michigan, but mostly in the Utica Community Schools. There, she ran a resource room  which focused on supporting the needs of special education students. Most recently, she worked for Oakland Schools as a contract employee in their Teacher Consultant division.

“What attracted me to this position at Liggett, in particular, was the Curriculum for Understanding,” she says. “I knew I could put my whole self into working for an institution that, as a community, believed in the value of learning through inquiry-based approaches and application of knowledge; that learning  critical thinking skills was at the core of not just learning, but owning concepts. After I read the C4U document, I said to myself, ‘I’ve found my tribe!’”

“I think I became a teacher because of my own love of learning. I enjoy sharing my passion for learning with children, and hope that I can ignite that same zeal in them.” Working in special education kindled in her a passion for helping struggling students. “I I truly believe all children can learn, but need to do so in their own way; we are wired differently and don’t march lock-step with our peers.”

Amore is married and has two daughters who attend Liggett. She loves to spend time with her family outdoors playing sports or in the kitchen cooking and baking. She enjoys reading, but also tries to catch as many episodes of NCIS as she can.

Donna Comstock-Herman, Lower School Librarian

Donna Comstock-Herman

Donna Comstock-Herman

Donna Comstock-Herman has always wanted to be a teacher. But when she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education from Northwestern University, teachers across the country were being pink-slipped so she ended up working at a hospital. She earned a master’s degree in library and information services and has taught kids from kindergarten to grade 12, most recently at the Farmington Public Schools where she had 1,600 students.

“The goal is teaching people how to learn: developing critical thinking skills, discovering how to communicate and collaborate with others, and growing in creativity,” Comstock-Herman says. “As an educator, I am a guide and I insist on a safe environment where it is acceptable to make mistakes and learn from them, and meet challenges. This includes constantly learning myself, working collaboratively with others (both staff and students), and encouraging others to do the same.”

Comstock-Herman lives in Flushing, in what she says is a semi-rural area and has been married for 30 years. She has four children – a 23 year old daughter and 21 year old triplets – two boys and a girl. As one might expect from a librarian, she loves to read all kinds of books and information. She also challenges herself “to find information and guide others to find information and evaluate it to make decisions.”

When she’s not reading, she enjoys making stained glass, needlework, scrapbooking, and playing computer games.

“I am excited to join the Liggett family,” she says. “This is the friendliest school that I have ever taught in!”

Rachel Houk, Lower School Music

Rachel Houk

Rachel Houk

Rachel Houk is something of a world traveler. Born in Dunstable, England, about 30 miles north of London, she comes to Liggett from California where she taught K-Grade 8 music. She has a bachelor’s degree in music in cello performance from the Trinity College of Music in London and a master’s in cello performance from Rutgers. She lived in Germany and performed in Germany for three years and received her training in Orff Schulwerk from the San Francisco School and the Eastman School of Music.

“My teaching philosophy is deeply rooted in the philosophy of the Orff Schulwerk,” Houk says. “This approach to learning, developed by Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman, builds musicianship through singing, playing instruments, speech and movement. Active music making is the core of this philosophy. My classes are full of playful, joyful musicians working together to create beautiful music. Nursery rhymes, Folk Songs from around the world, pieces from the Orff Schulwerk volumes and students’ own compositions are the core repertoire heard coming from my room.”

Houk has two children: Maggie who is loving life in PreK 4 and Thaddeus (aka T-Bone) who can be spotted in the PreK 3 class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In her spare time she enjoys playing cello, writing rock arrangements for string quartets and reading.

Meet Liggett’s New Faces (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of posts introducing the new members of the dedicated group of University Liggett School faculty and staff. Today, we focus on the Middle School.

Shaun McTigue, Middle School Dean of Students

Shaun McTigue

Shaun McTigue

Shaun is our new Middle School Dean of Students, replacing Jim Brewer who became the Head of Middle School this year. An Ohio native, Shaun is a graduate of Loyola University in Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He has been an educator for 11 years, seven of them at an independent school in Chicago – mostly as athletic director and dean of discipline. He comes to Liggett from Abu Dhabi, where he spent several years completing his master of education degree from Jones International University, and working as Middle School coordinator and learning support teacher at the American International School there.

“As dean of students, I take a pastoral approach to discipline,” he says. “I believe in helping students learn from their mistakes as opposed to simply doling out punishments. In essence, I see my role as someone who is here to help guide our students in a way that allows them to make their own wise choices. With that said, I understand that all students are unique, and, therefore, require different approaches. I embrace this uniqueness, and always take into consideration an individual student’s needs before making any decisions.”

Shaun is married and has two sons: Remy, 2, was born in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Rune was born last month.

As you might guess from someone who lived in the Middle East, Shaun loves to travel and experience new things. He’s also an avid sports fan – both playing and watching. When not at work, he spends his time with his family and “I love every minute of it,” he says.

Emmalyn Helge, Strings teacher for all divisions

Emmalyn Helge

Emmalyn Helge

Up North is home to Emmalyn Helge, who takes on the job of running the school’s strings program for all students from grades 3 through 12. It’s a big job, but Emmalyn clearly likes to keep herself busy.

She started playing violin at age 6 and earned a violin performance and music education double major from Western Michigan University in 2009. While in undergrad, she was a development intern with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra and the manager of the WMU Orchestra.  After that, she taught more than 325 string students in the Grand Haven Public Schools, obtained a master of arts administration degree from Indiana University, and taught sixth-grade orchestra during her graduate program in the Bloomington Public Schools. While at Indiana University, she was also the Communications Director of the Bay View Music Festival in Petoskey, a contributing editor for, a development assistant at the WonderLab children’s science museum, and the education director of the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra.

She moved to Detroit less than a year ago, leaving an adjunct professorship at Indiana University’s nonprofit management school where she taught arts administration undergraduate classes. Most recently, she has been working in development and special events with arts nonprofits (Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings, Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, Eisenhower Dance, and Detroit Passport to the Arts). As if all that isn’t enough to fill her days, she also gives private lessons.

“In many ways, a music classroom is different from a typical classroom setting,” she says. “It lends itself more easily to the Curriculum for Understanding, with room to experiment, be creative, make mistakes, and more. My teaching philosophy is centered around the idea that it is not only the end product (i.e.- the performance) that is important.  Every step along the way, each accomplishment, makes up music education. In a classroom where all the students have a ‘noisemaker’ in hand, routine and organization are key.”

Emmalyn and her fiancée – a law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy – recently bought a house in Indian Village. The two love exploring the city on their bikes and taking advantage of Detroit’s cultural institutions. She also likes to cook and garden, read and draw, sing and, of course, play violin.

Eunice John, Middle School Math

Eunice John

Eunice John

Eunice John grew up in California and earned her bachelor of science degree from the University of California Irvine. She has nearly completed her master’s degree in secondary education. She is in her fourth year as a teacher, most of that time spent at an independent school in West Los Angeles.

“I just love learning, and teaching is my passion,” Eunice says. “I am a reflective practitioner, and I see myself not only as an educator, but as a coach and a cheerleader for my students. I do not have to teach; I get to teach. I consider it a privilege. Being a teacher is not easy. It takes grit to be an educator, and I am grateful to do what I love every day and work alongside such innovative and hardworking individuals. I strive to empower my students to be advocates for their learning who learn to lead both themselves and their peers. I hope that my classroom will always be a space where students are thinking, learning, making mistakes, communicating … a classroom that is alive.”

Eunice was married in August and moved to Ann Arbor to join her husband, who’s completing his general surgery residency.

“As much as I love California, I am so grateful that only great things brint me to Michigan (especially the Liggett family), and I look forward to experiencing all four seasons for the first time in my life.”

In her free time, she enjoys reading, trying out new recipes (what she calls experimenting), catching up with friends and family, being in the outdoors, and traveling with her husband.

Yue Ming, Ph.D., Middle School Chinese

Yue Ming

Yue Ming

Dr. Ming taught Chinese full-time at Wayne State University (WSU) for 12 years and switched to a part-time faculty at WSU when she became a full-time Chinese teacher in the Grosse Pointe Public School Systems.  She initially came to the United States from China as a visiting scholar at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and later earned a master of science degree from Washington State University, a Ph.D. in entomology from Michigan State University, and a master of art in teaching from WSU.  She also conducted research in molecular biology and taught biology courses at various universities.

“The people I admire most are my K-12 teachers,” she said.  “This remains true even after I completed my Ph.D. in entomology.  A dedicated K-12 teacher can positively impact a child for a lifetime and I always wanted to emulate such educators. As a K-12 teacher, I would like to make learning a joyful experience for my students and help nurture their enthusiasm and foster their intellectual curiosity.”

Dr. Ming and her husband, a physician-scientist, have been living in the Grosse Pointe area for 14 years. They have two daughters, Sarah, 18, and Esther, 12. In her spare time, Dr. Ming enjoys ping pong, basketball, reading, sewing and gardening.

Now that you know who they are, be sure to say “Hi” to the newest members of the Liggett family next time you see them.

By Ron Bernas

Alumna heads to the silver screen

Most Thursdays we devote this space to news for and about our alumni, who are such a vital part of life at Liggett.

Stacie Hadgikosti-Mitchell ’00 is connecting with her Liggett theater roots in a new major motion picture set to be released in 2014. Stacie is playing a supporting role in the new film “Opening Night” starring some big time stars. Anthony Rapp of “Rent” fame and Cheyenne Jackson from “30 Rock” round out the cast of “Opening Night.” The film is being directed by Jack Henry Robbins, son of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.

opening NightTaking place entirely during the opening night of a high school’s production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Opening Night” chronicles the onstage disasters and off-stage drama of a group of students, their drama teacher and a visiting B-list TV star.

“I play Keyla” Stacie said, “the high school theater diva who adds fuel to the fire. I had such a fun time filming this project. Everyone on set was amazing, talented and down to earth.”

The film was shot in Los Angeles and is currently in post-production. See more details and stay updated on the film’s release by liking their Facebook page here. Also, check out a few great articles about the film that Stacie sent along to us here and here.

By Savannah Lee, Alumni Relations Manager

Red carpet and reviews

Dr. Phillip Moss, Chair of the Fine and Performing Arts Department at University Liggett School, takes a group of students every year to the Toronto International Film Festival for a weekend of premieres and fun. But it’s also an educational trip. Here, Moss explains how.

Film Works, part of the student-run Players theater organization, has planned trips to the Toronto International Film festival for three years. The project grew out of a desire to explore independent film culture while diving into the “festival circuit.”

Amanda Conti Duhaime, Ron Howard, and senior Henry Duhaime at the opening of Howard's new film "Rush" at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Amanda Conti Duhaime, Ron Howard, and senior Henry Duhaime at the opening of Howard’s new film “Rush” at the Toronto International Film Festival.

This school-sponsored trip provides students from our directing and production, introduction to film, stills to screen, and theater performance classes with the opportunity to experience the world of the “red carpet” and world premieres. Students volunteer for the trip each spring and spend the summer researching the films that have been selected for the festival.  In August the group selects which films to see and purchases tickets. The Players/Film Works group has seen the world premieres of “The Artist” and “Argo” which went on to win Academy Awards. This year there are high hopes among the group for “12 Years A Slave” as a possible award winner.

Following up on this kick-off activity, the students in Film Works develop trips to our own DIA Film Theatre to continue their explorations of the world of film. Each month, the student-led group selects films and arranges to meet at the DIA for special events. The highlight of the year is the February showing of the Academy Award-nominated short film selections.  In addition to seeing films, the Film Works group is also active in producing and is a major force behind the student-led film festival in May.

What follows are reviews of movies seen at the Toronto International Film Festival by our students.

12 Years a Slave, reviewed by Nicholas Wu, Class of ’14

Slavery has left an indelible black mark on American history, but very few films have actually covered that time period. Films that do involve slavery tend to gloss over its brutality or take the film’s violence to the extreme level as in “Django Unchained.” Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” however, is able to present slavery in a way that is both mortifying and moving without becoming numbing. Set before the Civil War, the film is the true story of Solomon Northrup, portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Northrup was a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, toiling for 12 years on Louisianan plantations.

As Northrup tries to survive his bondage with some semblance of independence and humanity, all the injustices of the pre-Civil War period are thrown into stark relief. That moral depravity is best presented by Michael Fassbender’s character, a plantation owner who strips away at his own heart with every lash he takes to his slaves. The excellent acting from most of the cast as well as the sound design truly help to transport the viewer to a world that seems almost otherworldly in its turpitude, even though we are merely 150 years removed. “Twelve Years a Slave” is a movie that will provoke introspection in all who see it, and it is a must-see when it is commercially released.

Only Lovers left Alive, reviewed by Jewell Evans, Class of ’14

This vampire romance film, featuring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska, and Anton Yelchin, was a stark yet beautiful depiction of love and its continuity in a place and age where love seems to be dead.

Named after the first lovers, Adam and Eve (Hiddleston and Swinton), two ancient vampires, love in the deserted areas of Detroit (Yes I said Detroit) and eventually near Morocco. Though the plot is slow and difficult to grasp due to its subtlety, the dialogue and filmic technique are worthy of scholarly discussion.  The film is definitely on the higher end of conceptual.  It is food for the mind of thinkers.  On a more personal note, it was lovely to see familiar places on the big screen.  Some shots were taken within driving distance of my house!  I do hope to see more cameras in the city of Detroit.

 Concrete Night, reviewed by Anna Rose Canzano, Class of ’14

Visually, “Concrete Night” is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, with its stunning black and white imagery. About identity, opportunity, and what we pass on to younger generations, it tells the story of Simo, a teenage boy who lives in Helsinki. His brother is going to prison the next day, and his mother leaves them on their own. Throughout the course of the day, what Simo sees verges from reality. After a slow beginning, the film includes a misread encounter with a photographer, a violent climax, and prophecies involving scorpions.

I left the theater unsure of what I thought of “Concrete Night.” But after ruminating a bit, I realized that it is a work of art. Like director Pirjo Honkasalo said during the Q&A, she left only the essential to expose the layers underneath. The minimalism allowed me to see profound meaning. For example, the film asks what is the one thing we should be afraid of: hope or fear?

 Attila Marcel, reviewed by Anna Rose Canzano, Class of ’14 

As I watched “Attila Marcel,” I could not stop smiling. The contagious happiness spread to the rest of the audience too, and the theater was full of laughter. The film tells the story of Paul, a mute pianist man-child who befriends an eccentric neighbor. There are ukuleles, hallucinogenic herbal tea, twin aunts, and a band dressed in frog costumes. It is comic and colorful; it is fun and magical.

From the first shot to the last, “Attila Marcel” is pure charm.

Cannibal, reviewed by Joe Pas, Class of ’15

When I entered Manuel Martín Cuenca’s “Cannibal,” I wasn’t expecting much. I’ve had a long-standing, albeit misguided, prejudice against foreign films, so I was prepared for the worst. Much to my surprise, “Cannibal” turned out to be my favorite film at the festival.

The film focuses on a Spanish tailor named Carlos (played by Antonio de la Torre) who also happens to kill and eat beautiful women. Eventually, a Romanian woman (Olimpia Melinte) moves in upstairs, and Carlos promptly befriends and eats her. When her sister Nina (also Olimpia Melinte) comes looking for her, Carlos begins to plot his next move. Over time, however, Carlos realizes he has fallen in love with Nina, and he is unable to bring himself to murder her.

I came out of “Cannibal” thoroughly impressed. The film made masterful use of the camera, and the lack of a soundtrack added to the uneasy feeling of the entire work. The contrast between Carlos’ life as a tailor and his secret life as a cannibal is striking and illustrates the fact that evil can lurk just below the surface. The movie captures you, and at the movie’s climax, Carlos’ plight may even elicit a pang of sympathy from the viewer. The movie does have weaknesses, such as an unexplained sub-plot involving Carlos’ work as a tailor, but overall, the movie is excellent, in terms of film-making, storyline, and quality of acting.

Shaping lives that shape lives, half a world away

Last year, the Lower School had a theme of Every Drop Counts. Teachers were asked to work water issues into their lessons. Students toured Coast Guard vessels, made movies about sea battles, studied waterbirds and the migration of the gray whales. In art, they made clay tables depicting underwater life that were auctioned at our fundraiser.

But the theme was intended to be about more than just water. Every person counts, too. Every good deed counts.

Vanessa Rivera, bottom right, with other teachers.

Vanessa Rivera, bottom right, with other teachers.

Lower School Spanish teacher Vanessa Rivera took the theme to heart and ended the year with a project that combined both elements of the Every Drop Counts theme: water and making a difference.

All year, Liggett students Skyped with students attending El Colegio Interamericano, a school much like Liggett in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Community service is an important part of the culture at El Colegio and Rivera heard about a poor mountain village El Colegio was helping. Rivera heard the village was in need of safe drinking water and that an new, inexpensive, all-natural product called the Ecofiltro could make that happen. She knew Liggett’s Lower School could make a difference.

Rivera got to know and help  the local children.

Rivera got to know and help the local children.

She purchased 2,000 bracelets made by a Guatemalan artisan and sold every one of them here for $1 each. She used that money to purchase 43 Ecofiltres for the village.

“These filters are life-changing for the people of that village,” she said.

But she didn’t stop there. Rivera used a Venture Grant to spend nine days in Guatemala over the summer overseeing distribution of the filters, getting to know the people of the village and, more important, teaching the teachers in the village’s school. She was part of a team that helped the Guatemalan teachers with new techniques on how to teach their children.

One of the 43 filters purchased through funds raised by Liggett Lower School students.

One of the 43 filters purchased through funds raised by Liggett Lower School students.

“I worked with the literacy aspect,” Rivera said. “Showing strategies on how to get students more involved in their education and encourage them to read more.” Vanessa received the training for this at the Think Tank for Global Education at Harvard.

This year, Rivera is telling the students about her summer vacation so they know that selling bracelets at the end of the last school year really had an impact on some families in another world.

This video will let you know a little bit more about Ecofiltro.

By Ron Bernas