An attitude of gratitude

The Lower School doesn’t teach only reading, writing and arithmetic. Character education is woven into many different lessons throughout the year.

leaves of gratitude 2Every month, the students are introduced to a character quality of the month at an assembly. Fittingly, this month’s quality is gratitude. Helping students recognize four universal points of gratitude — blessings, learnings, mercies or forgiveness and protection — helps foster the ability to experience gratitude.

Students were asked to do more than simply think about what they are thankful for, they were asked to participate in an art project devoted to gratitude. They wrote what they are grateful for on paper leaves, decorated them then put them on a gratitude tree in one of the Lower School hallways. These Leaves of Gratitude make for heartwarming reading.

Today, in honor of Thanksgiving, we reprint some of the many things our Lower School students wrote.

leaves of gratitude 1“I am thankful for…

“…having a house and a loving family.”

“…for my parents for  letting me play hockey because I am good at it.”

“…being alive.”

“…all the friends I have.”

“…my mommy.”

“…having a big, healthy family.”

“…the food that is given to me.”

“…apples that grow in the fall.”

“…being able to go to Liggett.”

“…having a brother because it is awesome and it is fun.”

“…getting to see my grandparents every day.”

“…my pets.”

“…God, because he’s there for me when no one else is.”

Here’s to all you are grateful for this season.

By Ron Bernas

Gobblepalooza: All for a good cause

Students followed along as each prize was chosen.

Students followed along as each prize was chosen.

You could feel the tension.

The entire Middle School had gathered at the end of the day for what is usually one of the highlights of the year: Gobblepalooza.

For a little more than a week, students have been buying tickets and bringing in gently used clothing and canned goods. Tickets could be purchased for 50 cents or students received a certain number of tickets for donated clothing or food. All proceeds and donations were earmarked for Crossroads, a social service outreach  agency in Detroit. Founded in 1971, Crossroads exists to support the community at large by providing emergency assistance, advocacy, and counseling to anyone in need.

Mr. McTigue bravely agreed to be pied by a student.

Mr. McTigue bravely agreed to be pied by a student.

The Middle School conference room was packed with clothing and food and students, for a week, wrote their names on the backs of ropes of tickets they wore around their shoulders like scarves. Even as the students gathered for the drawing, some were furiously filling out tickets and dropping them into the ticket box.

What was all the excitement about? Prizes like this: Pizza party for your advisory.

And he was.

And he was.

Cupcake party for your advisory. Teach Mrs. Gast’s class. Throw something from the balcony (within reason). Ride in the elevator. A fondue party and, of course, the grand finale, throwing a pie in the face of Ms. Alles or Mr. McTigue.

As winners were chosen, other students in their advisories screamed advice: “Get the dress-down day!” or “Mini-sticks!” All 38 prizes were donated by teachers and

The happy pie-er.

The happy pie-er.


The event ended with the triple pie-ing. Three whipped cream pies in the faces of two brave teachers. Ms. Alles, an old pro at this, showed Mr. McTigue the best technique for protecting himself — lots of plastic garbage bags, only the face showing. The students gathered closely, not wanting to miss a second of it. And when it was over, you could see a smile through the whipped cream and graham cracker crust on the faces of the teachers. And the students, well, you can imagine.

Ms. Alles got it, too.

Ms. Alles got it, too.

There will also be smiles on faces at Crossroads, which received a donation of $945 from ticket sales and more than three carloads of clothing and food to serve those who need it.  This represents a near doubling of last year’s donation to the group and it earned the entire Middle School a free dress day today.

So everyone had something to be thankful for this week.

By Ron Bernas

Considering history in its rough draft

Fifty years ago today President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. For many, the moment they heard that news and how they heard it and what they did immediately afterward are still fresh.

But for our students, it’s history; an event that happened a long time ago. But a unique donation and some fast-moving Middle School history teachers found a way to bring the message to our students in a unique way.

front pageAndrew and Barbara Cleek, parents of alumni Susan Azar ’87 and Sarah Gilmore ’90, and grandparents to Nicholas ’15; Madeleine, ’17 and Alec ’19, recently donated six framed front pages from the Washington Post from Nov. 22 through Nov. 28. Journalism is often called the first draft of history, and these pages show that, detailing the reactions from across the country and around the world, even the confusion over what exactly happened and what would happen next.

Seventh-graders studying U.S. history with John Farris and Becky Gast examined these front pages and, considering them as primary sources, attempted to put them into context of what they are learning in class.

The students then created a timeline to tell, in shorthand, the story of the assassination and the aftermath. They also wrote reflections on what they read; a few are  reprinted below.

Students examine the historic front pages.

Students examine the historic front pages.

“I think these newspapers gave me a very different perspective on the assassination. It really shows the difference between the primary and secondary sources and how they inform the readers. The difference between these two is that the newspaper is giving the pure facts of what happened that day, and these books that are written now are giving more of an interpretation of the event. All of these newspapers gave me a much better understanding of what happened that day in Texas, and how the bystanders and country felt after this tragic event.”

“It was very cool working from primary sources because it would not be warped from the original documents. They also did not have all the information because they hadn’t learned all the information yet. Although it was cool, it was hard because it wasn’t like a Wikipedia article and didn’t point out the main facts and all the facts.”

“I learned that when JFK was shot, the Secret Service and everyone else had no clue what to do and their bodies were taken over with shock. When I read the article called ‘Painstaking Investigation is Lanched,’ I felt like I was watching JFK being shot and feeling in shock. What I gleaned from the primary sources is how much everyone cared about him, and I also learned the JFK’s funeral was on his son’s birthday.”

The pages are on display in the school’s main lobby along with an original framed front page from when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The pages — and the work they inspired — are on display for about another week.

By Ron Bernas

Flipping the classroom

You may have heard the term “flipped classroom.” It’s a new-ish concept in teaching that is being put into practice in some Liggett classrooms during certain units. But nowhere is it being used more than in Catherine Wilensky’s PreCalc Honors class in the Upper School.

On a recent day the students moved their desks together and worked on problems involving negative and fractional exponents and negative fractional exponents.

“Hey, what did you get on No. 3?”

“Eight over five.”

“Oh.” A baffled pause. “I got 10.”

The students then went over each other’s work to determine who did what incorrectly.

Every student in the class was engaged in math, discussing only math, and though there was the occasional frustration with a problem, they all had support of each other and Wilensky.

That’s how a flipped classroom is supposed to work. Students spend time in class doing what they used to take home to do as homework. At home, they learn the concepts they will be putting into practice the next day in class.

Wilensky uploads videos she made of concepts and examples and the reasoning behind it — all things teachers would traditionally lecture on in class — and the students watch and take notes at home on their laptops, tablets or even their phones.

It’s a practice developed by the Khan Academy, a nonprofit educational website dedicated to helping every student everywhere get a free, world-class education.

Wilensky’s videos are 15 to 20 minutes and contain examples of problems. They are shown through a website called, and she drops questions throughout; students have to show they have an understanding of the concept before they can continue.

Wilensky used a summer grant to attend a Building Learning Communities conference, where she learned techniques and the technology she is using in her flipped classroom.

While most of the students seem to like the practice, there are some who don’t, but those students are operating with a learning mindset that we at Liggett are trying to erase.

She is carefully watching the students’ performance and, right now, students in the flipped classroom are doing about five percentage points above last year’s students in the same class, which she taught in the more traditional method.

More engaged students and better understanding, too? Not bad.

By Ron Bernas

Everything Old is Cool Again

Last week, seventh-grade science students were dispatched around the school to collect bacteria for a project in John Bandos’ class. Two students braved the basement to gather what they would and unearthed something else entirely and it has created quite a buzz among the students.

The Apple IIe, unearthed from the Liggett basement.

The Apple IIe, unearthed from the Liggett basement.

It’s an old Apple IIe, one of the first mass-market desktop computers. And the kids think it is the coolest thing ever.

“We just thought it was cool, and I don’t know why but I always like retro stuff,” said Geoffrey Elmer. “Tuesday before school I got here early and some other people were here early and we wanted to see if we could get it working.” It took a while, and it took disassembling the computer a bit, but darn if they didn’t get it working thanks to the ingenuity of Julian Wray, who kept typing in codes while others checked the computer’s response.

But what to do with it now that it was working? Well, the boys asked Director of Technology Jay Trevorrow if he knew of any way to get a game to play on it. These old machines were essentially word processors and game consoles. He got a game almost as old as the computer: “Where in the U.S.A. is Carmen SanDiego?” It’s a game that has players hunting down criminal mastermind Carmen based on geographical clues. During a recent Advisory period, two boys sat and played that game using — get this — a book as a reference.

Old school computer games.

Old school computer games.

Bandos said he is amazed at the fascination with the machine, and his Advisory class presented the machine to the rest of the Middle Schoolers at morning meeting today.

It prompted lots of questions, including: “Does this thing even plug into a wall? How does it work?”

The Apple IIe was sold from 1983 to 1993, though they’re not sure how old this one is. It has a sweet 64 KB of RAM (hey the e is for enhanced) and uses 5 1/4-inch floppy discs. There’s no Internet hookup and the only color on the black screen is green.

The boys are hoping to get other cool games like Pong or Donkey Kong.

And, if their interest wanes, Bandos found another relic in the basement for them to try to bring to life: A printer.

By Ron Bernas

Back from the East

Once a week, we turn this space over to news for and about our alumni, a very important part of Liggett Life.

The Alumni Office had two extremely successful events on the east coast this week, and we were so glad to have so many alumni turn out to greet us!

In New York City: Christian Redding, Drew Brophy and Katherine Fitzgerald

In New York City: Christian Redding, Drew Brophy and Katherine Fitzgerald

Tuesday, November 12, alumna Mary Warren ’81 held a reception at her home in New York City. The event was attended by about 20 alumni from grad years 1960-2009. We had a large group of young alumni attend the reception including four people from the Class of 2009! They were Christian Redding, Drew Brophy, Chris Brownell and Katherine Fitzgerald. In addition to networking with their fellow alumni and catching up with Liggett’s Alumni Office,  the alumni guests were the first group to watch our new admissions video!  Everyone was also very excited to hear from Head of School Dr. Joe Healey, who answered questions about plans for the athletic fields, the Curriculum for Understanding and upcoming projects at Liggett. It was a lovely evening, and you can see pictures from the event on Facebook here.

In New Canaan, Conn., Elizabeth Kontulis ’79 and Sara Champion ’59 GPUS

In New Canaan, Conn., Elizabeth Kontulis ’79 and Sara Champion ’59 GPUS

The next morning, Wednesday, November 13, alumna Elizabeth Kontulis ’79 hosted an alumni reception in New Canaan, Conn. There were 15 alumni in attendance from classes 1959–1988. The attendees were very excited to hear about the Middle School improvements, the school’s upcoming campaign and the Grosse Pointe community today. Everyone was very excited about our C4U program, including the Academic Research Program, and Dr. Healey shared some great stories about our ARP seniors, and their research. You can enjoy photos from this event on Facebook too here.

Our trip to New York and Connecticut was the kick-off to our regional alumni events for the 2013-14 school year. Next up, we will make our way to Florida. We will check back in with updates as the travel season continues!

By Savannah Lee
Alumni Relations Manager

Rowing his way forward

Now that the rowing season is over, senior Dylan Goitz will be getting a bit more sleep.

Senior Dylan Goitz was part of the silver medal quad and double teams at the Head of the Hooch regatta earlier this month.

Senior Dylan Goitz was part of the silver medal quad and double teams at the Head of the Hooch regatta earlier this month.

That’s because he won’t have to get up to be at the Detroit Boat Club on Belle Isle at 5 a.m. Monday through Friday. He practices Saturdays, too, but that begins at the late hour of 7 a.m.

“Now that it’s cold, we can’t practice on the water,” Dylan said. “Plus, if we hit ice we could damage the boat.” They’ll still practice in the afternoons, running, lifting weights and on the rowing machines.

Dylan got interested in rowing by chance two years ago. He was wearing a shirt that said Harvard Crew on it and someone asked him if he was a rower. He wasn’t, but the person talked him into trying it and Dylan found something he loves.

He must love it to get to those 5 a.m. practices.

“I think it’s being part of a team that pushes you,” he said. “You have to have a real commitment from all the rowers and the cockswain. If one doesn’t show up, you can’t practice.”

The other people on his team come from across metro Detroit and that’s a plus for Dylan, who says he never really knew much of the area outside the Pointes and his hometown of St. Clair Shores.

Goitz, in front, says he is inspired being part of a crew team.

Goitz, in front, says he is inspired being part of a crew team.

He’s getting to see the world now, though, as he gets more into rowing. His tournaments take him to Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma and he competes in many places against rowers from around the world.

“The Coolest thing about rowing is that people connect with other people who have the same goals as you on your team, across the country and the world,” he said. “You have the opportunity to make friends — or enemies — from around the world.” He also relishes the opportunity to represent the United States as a youth rower in the development camps that provide training for young crew teams.

At his most recent tournament, Head of the Hooch in Chattanooga, Tenn., Dylan raced in a 5,000-meter races in quad (a four-man boat), double and single. Head of the Hooch is the second largest regatta in the country and athletes came from 30 states and four countries to participate in the two-day event and in the end Dylan’s team came home with silver medals in the quad and double races. In the single, he earned seventh place out of 68 oarsmen.

Dylan hopes to row himself into a college scholarship and has his sites set on the U.S. Naval Academy, Notre Dame, Cornell University and Harvard; he wants to study engineering.

For now, though, he’ll enjoy the extra sleep in the mornings.

By Ron Bernas

Seniors network with connected alumni

On Wednesday, November 6, Liggett hosted an alumni networking session to give the seniors an opportunity to speak with adults in the community about professions, experiences, possible outreach opportunities, and possible project ideas.

Daniel Ngoyi was among the younger alumni who spoke to the students.

Daniel Ngoyi was among the younger alumni who spoke to the students.

The goal was to enlighten our seniors about the importance of educational and professional networking by modeling the process with the Liggett community. In return, the alumni heard about current Upper School programs and saw the new Middle School. Each of the alumni sat with a group of seven students to share their journey and stories for approximately 10 minutes, at which time they moved to another table of seven students.

Stacy Buhler discussed advertising, a career she loves, but not one she expected.

Stacy Buhler discussed advertising, a career she loves, but not one she expected.

Senior Austin Sasser explained the benefits to the rotating program: “Today, I learned mostly about how connections are very important for the future. All the alumni came from different backgrounds (besides Liggett), which was really interesting to hear about. They also talked about how being nervous for college is okay because in the end, it’s a wonderful experience.”

Alumni who participated were
Stacy Buhler ’82               Advertising, W Magazine
Pahl Zinn ’87                     Law, Dickinson Wright
Ian Jones ’86                     Publishing, Autoweek
William Burns ’93             Engineering, Marines
Lauren Parrott ’02           Television Operations, WMTV
David Keys ’07                  Accounting, Grant Thornton
Daniel Ngoyi ’06                Recruitment, Quicken Loans
Robert Levi ’68 GPUS      Law, Private Practice
Doug Wood ’90                   Financial Planning, Wells Fargo

The varied professions and graduation years added dimension to the experience; all of the students heard something insightful.

Pahl Zinn offered advice.

Pahl Zinn offered advice.

Senior Anthony Simon explained, “The alumni gave us a good understanding of life after Liggett and how to pursue your goals in college and out in the real world.” And senior Vinnie Scarfone stated, “Today I enjoyed the experience very much. I learned that you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do right out of high school and college, to keep an open mind, and to network to open up connections for opportunities.” While senior Tiana Whitely took away a different message, “I found the session to be helpful overall because we had the opportunity to hear a wide spectrum of experiences. One piece of advice that I found to be most helpful was from Mr. Ian Jones. He told us, and I loosely quote, “Instead of planning your life starting from now to where you want to end up, start backwards from where you want to end up and find the path to get there. That way you won’t end up with a result that doesn’t satisfy you.”

Our helpful alumni were full of advice.

Our helpful alumni were full of advice.

Senior Julia DeRoo appreciated a story of changes in direction, “One of the biggest things I learned from all the alumni was that plans might change, but it is important to do something fulfilling to you.  I specifically liked meeting with Stacy Buhler. She graduated from college with a degree in political science and Spanish but now is in advertising. I thought it was interesting how different her job is from what she majored in in college, and even though her job isn’t what she was expecting it to be, she still loves it.”

In the end, we achieved the goal of the session, which was to allow the students to understand the value of educational and professional networking. Senior Joshua Dickens explained what he discovered from the session saying, “The experience was very eye-opening for me. I realize now how important and helpful networking can be once I get out of college. I also understand how easy it could be to just pick up a phone and call someone to ask for help or advice.”

The students, alumni and faculty all seemed to walk away feeling that they had gained true insights into each other, and the alumni remarked that they learned as much from the students as the students did from them.

These networking sessions are planned as a more frequent project for the future, and a session for the spring is in the works now. If you are an alumnus who would like to speak with our students please contact Savannah Lee in the Office of Alumni Relations at 313.884,4444, Ext. 415 or via email at

By Shernaz Minwalla,
Director of the Advanced Research Project

Alumna elected to Detroit City Council

On Tuesday, the voters of Detroit elected University Liggett School alumna Raquel Castaneda ’99 to sit on the city council in the newly created District 6.

Liggett alumna Raquel Castaneda-Lopez is the first Latina elected to the Detroit City Council.

Liggett alumna Raquel Castaneda-Lopez is the first Latina elected to the Detroit City Council.

Raquel received 6,781 votes from neighbors, friends and supporters in District 6. This district consists of areas downtown including Southwest Detroit home to the Mexican Town area where much of Raquel’s campaigning took place.

A well-liked student at Liggett, Raquel was the manager of David Backhurst’s soccer team, and the two have stayed connected throughout the years. He was a huge supporter of Raquel, and helped her throughout the campaign. Through their friendship, David was able to expose our current students to the inner workings of a political campaign, and his civics class had the opportunity to volunteer in Detroit for Raquel last Saturday.

Raquel will become the first Latina council member in the history of Detroit. She and her fellow council members are the first members elected to the new seven district council structure. Check out additional information on Raquel and her campaign on Facebook here. Raquel’s win has also been featured in the Free Press, which you can check out here.

Congratulations to Raquel!

A race to finish

The signs went up last week: Liggett Mile: Challenge your friends or teachers! Set records! Win prizes! It happened after school yesterday, when about 20 people — experienced runners and not — took to the track for a quick mile.

The Liggett Mile was really just an excuse to have fun, and they did.

The Liggett Mile was really just an excuse to have fun, and they did.

Yes, it was cold. Less than 40 degrees with the wind blowing strong, but that didn’t stop the boys from stripping down to their shorts and shirtsleeves to warm up before the event. The crowd watching the race was small, a few administrators and parents, huddled together for warmth.

It was the second year for the Liggett Mile, though last year it was less formal (if that’s even possible) and had fewer runners. This year, the posters around school and the announcements brought few runners outside the cross country teams from the Middle and Upper Schools. But that was OK; the event was really just for fun and if it’s one thing the cross country teams do, when not running, is have fun.

The girls took the race more seriously, but it was still all in fun.

The girls took the race more seriously, but it was still all in fun.

The girls race started at 3:43 — chosen because that’s the world-record time for running a mile — and it was a tight race between cross country coach Lindsey Bachman and sixth-grade cross country star Page Cassidy. Four laps around the track later, Bachman came out ahead, with Cassidy not far behind.

But the group was really behind Upper School science teacher Kim Galea who finished the mile in less than 10 minutes, heckled — with good nature — most of the way by her son.

The boys -- well, they're Middle and Upper School boys. Enough said.

The boys — well, they’re Middle and Upper School boys. Enough said.

While the girls race was straightforward, the boys race included a lot of talk: “My goal is 3:42” said Anthony Galea, who took off like a tiger, leading the pack that included possible future Olympian Aaron Bachman, who coaches with his wife Lindsey, and coach Trey Cassidy, who’s no slouch either.

That didn’t last long. Near the end of the first lap, Bachman took over the lead and no one could touch him, on his way way to a 4:44 mile he says was horrible. Anthony’s slowdown gave Kim a chance to give back to him what he had given to her during her run.

As much a display of running skills, it was also a display of camaraderie that is the hallmark of Liggett. Teachers, students from all divisions, parents and administrators coming together after school to do something just for the pleasure of each other’s company. It was good way to end a strong season of running — the boys cross country team ran in the state meet for the third year in a row and several girls qualified for states.

A group of people providing the warmth of friendship for each other on a cold, windy afternoon.

By Ron Bernas