The ripples continue

The community gathers for distribution of the filters

The community gathers for distribution of the filters

When Lower School Spanish teacher Vanessa Rivera started her service project with a small village in Guatemala, she never thought it would grow to what it has become.

“I thought small,” she said. “It’s growing and getting better and better.”

Rivera, looking to incorporate global consciousness in students, sold bracelets last year to raise money to purchase water filters for a small, rural village in Guatemala. The town has no safe water source and the filters are necessary to providing clean, usable water. Then, over the summer, she went to the village and worked with teachers, introducing them to new educational techniques.

The lines are long because the need is great.

The lines are long because the need is great.

But there’s more:

The community Rivera worked with is very invested in keeping the water filters and have created a mentoring project to help families that have the filters save money to purchase the parts that need to be replaced every three years.

An ex-colleague of Rivera’s, inspired by the project and how it teaches global citizenship to young students, is now working with an organization called Serving Soles to send good shoes to the same village.

Give and Teach, an organization that provides education to teachers in developing countries including Guatemala and with whom Rivera was working, recently added a link to its website where donors can purchase water filters to give to rural villages in the country.

Villagers with their filters

Villagers with their filters

In other good news, Ecofilter, the company that produces the water filters at a factory in Guatemala, is employing more workers as the demand for the filters rises.

One little pebble can make a lot of ripples.

Liggett spreads its robotic wings

Liggett’s Robotics team is barely five years old, but in that short time they’ve learned a lot and now, Knight Vision is using its experience to help others get started.

A few of the 21 or so students on the Upper School Robotics team have helped mentor a brand new Middle School team of about 10 students. The Middle School team — who named itself Too Liggett to Quit — did so well in its first competition they will participate in the state competition in Marshall this weekend. It is led by Upper School science teacher Kim Galea and Middle School math teacher Eunice John.

The Middle School task was to build a robot that fits into an 18-inch cube that could manipulate blocks by pushing or picking them up. Extra points could be had if the robot could turn a handle that raised a flag and could hang from a bar. The team won the Think Award, given to the group with the best engineering notebook and third place in the Inspire Award, given to the team that is the best example of what a First Tech team should be.

Galea said creating a Middle School team will make the Upper School stronger in years to come. In addition, the Upper School team is hoping to receive a Chairman’s Award this year and one of the criteria is that team members promote science, technology, engineering and math in the school and community.

To that end, Knight Vision is mentoring a rookie team from Harper Woods High School. Team members took last year’s robot to Harper Woods High and talked to students interested in the program. They also talked the fledgling Robotics team through organizational ideas and different ways to approach the various tasks that will face the teams when they hear their challenge on Jan. 4. Galea also worked with the Harper Woods coach to make sure his paperwork is in order. It’s a longstanding tradition in First Robotics that teams help and mentor each other.

Liggett’s Upper School Robotics team will hear its challenge for the year on Jan. 4, during a broadcast that goes to all schools at the same time. The first competition is in February and the second is in April.

A long distance get together for learning

It’s old home week at Liggett. The hallways have been peppered with alumni, home from college during the break,  reconnecting with friends, teachers and catching up.

No former student returned (sort of) for blogfrom farther away this week than Daniel Barta, who would have been a sixth grader this year if he had continued with Liggett. Instead, he’s living in China where his family moved for his mother’s job. On Thursday, he Skyped from Shanghai with his former classmates in Chinese class to give them an update on life in China.

The students on Cook Road cheered when they first saw Daniel’s face onscreen. After all, they hadn’t seen him since June when school ended. They exchanged ni haos and Daniel presented a PowerPoint describing his family’s adventure. Here are the high points:

He lives in what he called a compound, a group of homes for expats like his family. He says it’s a lot like Grosse Pointe. He goes to an English-language school across the street from the compound and is surrounded by other schools for French and German expats and a Chinese-language school. The food in his school is American, though sometimes they serve dumplings and other Chinese food.

He and his friends ride bikes wherever they want to go and Daniel says everything he could possibly need to live can be had within a mile of his house.

There is a very low crime rate in China because the penalties are so strict. “Don’t steal in China,” Daniel advised.

The most popular fast food restaurants in China are Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Subway. The least popular? McDonald’s and Burger King. That’s because the three popular ones have adapted their menus to the Chinese palate, explained Daniel’s dad, John.

At the grocery store, they sell live food. “You go up to the aquarium and you say ‘I want that one,'” Daniel said. “They sell shrimp and fish and eel and frogs and turtles.” He later admitted to not eating anything from that section of the grocery store.

What he does eat is what he called “Street Meat” — sold by vendors cooking on the street. “It’s very tasty. Not that healthy, but who cares?” He paused, perhaps taking in the photograph he used to illustrate the food. It’s of a shirtless man grilling food. “It’s not that sanitary, either.”

Daniel is learning Chinese from the same book as his Liggett peers, which they all thought was interesting.

The time was short, though, and Liggett’s students ended with a rousing “We wish you a merry Christmas,” in Chinese, which they had practiced just before Skyping.

Always thinking critically

The first of the five Curriculum for Understanding tenets is critical thinking.

It’s defined in the original document by Head of School Joseph P. Healey as “the elaborate process of examining what we encounter in our life and in our imagination and consciously embracing or rejecting  moving to another level of questioning. Critical thinking clarifies goals, examines assumptions, discerns hidden values, evaluates evidence, accomplishes actions and assesses conclusions.”

But the students aren’t the only ones who we want assessing and examining information; our Upper School Advanced Research Program teachers must do this regularly as they continue to shape the curriculum and, in particular the ARP.

This week, the teachers tried something new. Based on feedback from last year’s ARP students, who expressed a need for more opportunity to present their projects in front of a group.

“The practice in presenting the material forces the students to articulate what they have learned and where they will go from here,” said Shernaz Minwalla, who has been shaping the ARP for years. “Answering questions demonstrates understanding of the concepts and processes involved. More importantly, many of the questions asked by members of the audience can further enhance their research.”

The students were split up into three rooms with five faculty members in each room. They had no more than five minutes to present their work. This was strictly timed. Students presented their projects in PowerPoint using at max, 10 slides with no more than 10 words per slide and no more than 30 seconds spent on each slide. Then it was opened for questions.

“The students asked excellent, pertinent questions that reflected their interest in the work of their peers,” Minwalla said. “The teachers have modeled how to ask questions that will add to the academic conversation; it was great to witness our students engaged in this questioning practice.”

For their part, the students found the exercise to be a way to assess what they have done so far and where they are going.

“More than one of them said ‘Just when I really started to get really tired of the project, I realized how far I had come and how much work I had done.’ They found it reinvigorated them.”

Minwalla expects that the final projects will be stronger because of the feedback provided by last year’s students that led to this week’s mid-year check-in. And that next year’s ARP experience will be richer thanks to the feedback of this year’s students.

By Ron Bernas

Looking ahead

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

The Class of 1983

The Class of 1983

As the year draws to a close, it is time to start thinking about Alumni Weekend 2014! We hope that all alumni will save the date for this weekend’s festivities. Alumni Weekend will be held May 15-17, 2014.

If you are part of reunion class, now’s the time to get cracking on a dinner or reunion event. Milestone classes for 2014 include all graduation years ending in a 4 or 9. Examples include Class of 1964, who is hosting a 50th reunion bash, or Class of 1989, who will be celebrating their 25th reunion. If you are interested in planning your reunion event contact the Alumni Office at 313.884.4444, Ext. 415 or via email at

The University Liggett School Class of 1988

The University Liggett School Class of 1988

Not sure what to expect from Alumni Weekend? Check out photos from last year’s events on Facebook here.

The schedule for the weekend is now finalized and will include the following events:

Thursday, May 15 at the University Liggett School campus
-Distinguished Alumni Award ceremony

Friday, May 16 at the Country Club of Detroit
-Men’s Golf Outing and Lunch at the Turn
-Ladies Luncheon

Saturday, May 17 at the University Liggett School campus
-Campus tours
-Class Photo Session
-All-Alumni Cocktail Reception
-Class Cup Competition Award
-Alumni Loyalty in Annual Giving Award
-Reunion Dinners

We cannot wait to welcome everyone back to campus! For any questions about Alumni Weekend call the Alumni Office. Have you been to a recent Alumni Weekend? Share your memories and thoughts about the events in the comments section below.

If you seek a pleasant meal, look around you

Our Environmental Sciences students are working to make a difference and today’s lunch is the latest way.

Inspired by the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge, Environmental Sciences students under the guidance of Upper School students Russ Glenn have created a website discussing the honeybee collapse disorder, created an urban runoff garden on Liggett’s campus and sold those new lightbulbs designed to use less energy.

Our all-local meal included petite meatloaves, glazed carrots and honey-dijon roasted beets.

Our all-local meal included petite meatloaves, glazed carrots and honey-dijon roasted beets.

“Last year we did a project called the Food Miles Project and it determined how much fossil fuel is used per plate of food,” said Chris Buhler, who along with J.T. Mestdagh, Adante Provenzano and Jake Jerome came up with the idea to create an all local-food lunch.

Local food is generally defined as grown in the state, J.T. said, and they approached Director of Food Services Jody De Vee about their idea. It wasn’t as difficult as you might think, De Vee said, because he’s been working with local vendors for years. If you look at the menu, everything marked with a map of Michigan is locally produced.  All the meat for the cafeteria, for example, comes from Wolverine Packing Co., which is headquartered at Detroit’s Eastern Market.

So today’s menu included petite meatloaves (meat from Wolverine), honey dijon roasted beets (beets from Victory Farms in Hudsonville), glazed carrots (carrots from  Elmer Miedma & Sons, Inc. in Byron Center) and mashed potatoes (hey, it’s winter, we can’t have it all). His plan for an all-local cabbage soup was discarded after the cabbage came in frozen. The Gala apples, always available, are also Michigan-grown.

DeVee said it’s not more expensive to buy local, which is why he’s been increasingly exploring the buy-local option. But it’s not about cost.

“If we can reduce the amount of energy we use on food, that’s good for everybody,” said Adante Provenzano.

The students are working to determine how many food miles Wednesday’s lunch was compared to other lunches. And DeVee told the students he’d do another all-local meal in the spring when more local produce is available.

Essay scores a huge prize

Kelin Flynn’s grandma called him one day a few months ago. Channel 7 was holding an essay contest and the winner gets to interview Ndamukong Suh on television.

Grandma knew about Kelin’s love of football. His mom, Denielle Flynn says Grandma introduced the boy to the sport. Kelin has loved all sports ever since. He and his friends even started a sports blog, which was the impetus for entering the contest.

Kelin Flynn gets some pointers on interviewing from WXYZ-TV Sports Director Tom Leyden.

Kelin Flynn gets some pointers on interviewing from WXYZ-TV Sports Director Tom Leyden.

“I thought, wow, this could really get our blog going,” Kelin said. So he wrote his essay, ran it by some teachers, revised it and his mom sent it in. Then they waited. They got the call that Kelin had won last week. Kelin will interview Suh tomorrow at the Detroit Lions practice facility. Today, Kelin got some interviewing tips from the guy who thought up the contest, WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) Sports Director Tom Leyden.

Leyden and a film crew spent two hours at the school interviewing Middle School English teacher Stevie Stevens, who offered guidance with the essay and Kelin’s mom, Denielle, who works in Student Support Services. (As an educator and a mom, she said one of the best things about the process is that Kelin, for the first time, was interested in the editing process, a concept that is hard for young students to embrace.)

Kelin’s interview with Suh will air during the 7 p.m. newscast Thursday and Leyden’s interview with Kelin will air during WXYZ’s pregame show Monday night, running from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Until then, here’s Kelin’s award-winning essay.

By Kelin Flynn

What a play… Ndamukong SSSSSUUUUUHHHHH brings him down! My name is Kelin Flynn, an 11 year old sixth grader and HUGE Lions fan reporting live from Ford Field. My friend and I have a sports blog that is just taking off, I love writing for it because it lets me share my knowledge of sports with the world. Please check it out. An interview with Suh would help us get more kids to read our blog and get them writing back to us.

Football is my favorite sport. At my school I am known as the football genius because I am a Lions fan at heart and mind. Last year I was a crazy Lions fan for Halloween and this year I am going to be a football card. I have only been to one game, but I hope to go to more. Quarterback is my signature position. My favorite Lions players include Ndamukong Suh, Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Reggie Bush. I was very happy when we signed Reggie Bush because I think he is the missing piece from our offense. Our running game has been slow ever since Barry Sanders retired, but I’m hopeful our team will have a great season now that we have solid running backs.

These are some questions I would like to ask Ndamukong. Do you think this is the season the Lions get into the playoffs? Why? What are your hopes for the team and for yourself? What is your favorite celebration to do after a sack? How big of an impact will Reggie Bush have on the Lions? How did you find your passion for football? Is there anything you would do differently in your football career? What advice do you have for young student athletes? What is your daily training routine? How did your family affect your football career? How difficult is it to sack mobile quarterbacks? What are the keys to tackling them? How do you deal with being double teamed and is it frustrating?

I love how Suh can always get pressure on any QB. He is fast, strong and always ready to play. Suh is always a threat, double teamed or not. He is the anchor of our very talented defensive line. Suh is a very skilled, athletic and smart player and I would covet the chance to interview him. Go Lions!

A primer on keeping up

An old advertising slogan for a cleaning product had little scrubbers cleaning a shower and saying “We work hard, so you don’t have to.”

That’s very much the unwritten motto of our communications efforts at the school. We want to reach many different audiences — students and potential students, parents and potential parents, alumni and the community at large — which is why we have so many different avenues for you to find information.

The biggest source of news and information is the website, We keep that stocked with news, photos and videos that show class projects, school events, and more so you can see what’s going on all the time at 1045 Cook Road. And be sure to check out the great new video we put on the homepage. Share it with your friends who may be interested in exploring Liggett.

We also show you how the Curriculum for Understanding is being used in classrooms on a special page devoted to our signature way of teaching. We think this way of showing the theory in practice helps parents understand what we ask of their children so they can be helpful and supportive of their children’s schoolwork. We also have a page dedicated to the best work of our students.

This blog is another way to keep up on what’s going on at school. We generally keep this light and short and focus on the unique aspects of the school and our students, thereby giving a fuller picture of the school.

And for those who can’t do without social media, we have a Facebook page for both the school and its alumni. We have a growing YouTube channel and are expanding our presence on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

Of course the other important sources of news about the school are the teachers themselves who let you know about important things through email and newsletters. And don’t forget to read the Friday enewsletter that is sent at 4 p.m. each week. That includes information from each division head and lots of all-school type announcements.

We ask that you make a habit of checking out the various sources of news and information about the school, that way, you can make the most of your Liggett experience.

By Ron Bernas

Connecting yoga and Africa

Once a week we turn this space over to news for and about our alumni, who are such an important part of life at Liggett.

“What we achieve inwardly will change our outer reality.” This is a quote by Plutarch that alumna Charlotte Waldmeir ’09 has been reciting in all of her yoga classes.

Charlotte Waldmeir

Charlotte Waldmeir

Charlotte, who graduated from DePaul this summer and whose aunt, Maureen Zamboni, teaches in our Liggett Lower School, has been teaching yoga full time in Chicago. She says that her journey to inner peace has roots in her Liggett education.

“I believe that the path to my career is very much connected to Liggett and the amazing community I was a part of there for so many years. I was involved in the athletics program where I played field hockey, soccer, basketball and volleyball. I was also involved in the arts, painting and drawing every chance I could get in Mr. P’s art studio. The reason I gravitated to yoga post high school was because personally, I saw yoga as the union between being in the physical world and in the creative world that I had created while at Liggett.”

When asked why she loves the Plutarch quote, Charlotte explains, “The world starts with our own inner selves. In a way, we paint our experience with a brush dipped in our own character. Inner conflict, depression, self-doubt, anger — all of these personal burdens affect the outside world and the reality that everyone lives in. And that’s where yoga comes in. When you walk into a yoga studio you instantly dedicate yourself to inner peace. You remove disturbances and listen to your own breath. You focus on the truth of your senses and ignore your thoughts. Breathing through challenging postures, you practice patience, self-awareness, and compassion. Your newfound peace then radiates to those around you, creating genuine connections and a universal peace.”

Through this work, Charlotte is now embarking on a new endeavor to spread peace and provide support to those who need it most. She has teamed up with a unique nonprofit, the Africa Yoga Project, to use the teachings and practice of yoga to educate and empower people across East Africa. Charlotte will be travelling to Nairobi, Kenya, in February 2014 to work on service projects and participate in yoga classes with local Kenyans. She is also raising funds for the organization to directly aid the Africa Yoga Program.

The organization, founded in 2007, offers 350 outreach programs a week that reach 6,000 people. Activities on a weekly basis include: yoga practice, meditation, self-exploration through inquiry, performing arts as a vehicle for empowerment, health education (HIV/AIDS), relationship building and community activism. In addition, the organization trains locals to become yoga instructors and then hires them to teach many of the courses. More than 200 people have been trained so far.

Charlotte is so excited to join this amazing group on the upcoming trip, and we will follow-up with her early next year to find out more about her time with the program. Interested in more information? Visit the Africa Yoga Program’s site here and Charlotte’s own website about the trip here.

By Savannah Lee

Are you an alumnus/alumna involved in a cool project like Charlotte? We would love to share your story! Contact Savannah Lee, Alumni Relations Manager at 313.884.4444, Ext. 415 or to share your information.

Hub and spokes: Interconnectivity in the Lower School

Last year, the Lower School chose the theme “Every Drop Counts” to integrate into its curriculum in whatever way teachers thought would be meaningful for students.

Classes, in their look at the importance of water in Michigan, studied lighthouses, the Great Lakes, conservation, sea creatures, pollution and more in all grades and in all disciplines. The phrase “Every Drop Counts” was also used as a metaphor — every little bit helps, every vote counts — that was worked into other units of study.

The Lower School theme for this year is Hub and Spoke, and is playing out in many ways in the classroom.

The Lower School theme for this year is Hub and Spoke, and is playing out in many ways in the classroom.

It worked so well that this year, they are repeating the idea with a new theme “Hub and Spoke — Wheeling Around Detroit.”

Head of Lower School Sheila Chaps said the theme is about Detroit and its surrounding communities. The title stems from Augustus Woodward’s design for the city in a series of spokes fanning out from downtown Detroit.

“What it does, in part, is to unify a continuum of learning in the Lower School,” said Chaps. “It increases the connections in all classes.”

Students are studying the rich heritage and history the Detroit region offers with units on cultures, industry, economics, geography, environment, art, music, sports and more.

Students pose questions about their subject -- here it was farming -- and research through the lens of how these subjects shaped the Detroit area.

Students pose questions about their subject — here it was farming — and research through the lens of how these subjects shaped the Detroit area.

It’s playing out in the classrooms in various ways. Kindergarteners are learning about cities and urban areas and will be going to Eastern Market and studying buildings, including some of the iconic Detroit structures like the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Renaissance Center. PK4 students created a cityscape on a large cardboard box as they learned what makes up a city. In the second grade, they studied barns and the history of Detroit as an agricultural center. The third grade is studying Michigan history and visited the Mariner’s Church and will be discussing world religions, including those prevalent in Detroit. First graders visited the Belle Isle Nature Zoo during a unit on Michigan turtles and took a riding tour of the city to see some of the better known buildings.

Even projects that have been part of the curriculum for years are being looked at through the lens of the Hub and Spoke theme. The fifth graders, during their unit on the French Canadian trappers known as Voyageurs, studied what Detroit looked like at the time the Voyageurs would have known it, and researched the history of the area’s ribbon farms. Later this year, they will tour the Ford Rouge plant and learn about the plant’s unique green roof and explore Detroit’s vital role in the Underground Railroad.

The lessons are still evolving and more projects are likely to arise, Chaps said.

“We want students to know the history and the importance of the place they call home,” Chaps said. “Because we’re all connected in so many different ways.”

By Ron Bernas