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Have Yourself a Merry Little Zoom Call … and Other Socially-Distanced Activities to Enjoy Over the Holidays

Photo by Mark Skrobola

Despite frost in the air and streets lined with lights, rising COVID-19 cases have made it very difficult for families to gather together as they normally do this time of year.  Usually, in my family, our Thanksgiving dinner includes over 75 people. This year, we decided to find a new way to uphold our traditions and make the best out of our situation. My family held a Zoom call to express our thanks. As we all went “around,” each neon green highlighted box expressed gratefulness for the little things that we often take for granted, such as health, family, and the ability to see everyone together during these difficult times. 

As the December holidays arrive, our virtual world expertise will make it easier for us to come together and celebrate. So, here are some activity suggestions for you and your family to keep the season digitally jolly! 

  1. A family Zoom game night. Try Family Feud or a Kahoot with questions about your family for some trivia fun!
  2. Watch a holiday movie or your favorite show. There are so many ways to watch with your extended family, such as Disney+, GroupWatch, Netflix Party, or Hulu’s Watch Party.
  3. A phone call to your relatives (you can’t go wrong with this classic gesture!). This is the easiest way to check up on your extended family and tell them how much you love them. 
  4. A Zoom Christmas cookie baking party. (Santa decorated cookies would obviously have masks!)
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Diversity Dialogue Day: Meaningful or Performative?

Diversity Dialogue Day on October 22, 2020, was a day the entire Upper School dedicated to meaningful dialogue, inspiring speakers, and interesting workshops. Diversity Dialogue Day has existed for Upper School students in some form for about 20 years, but in recent years, it had become an optional day of diversity training. This year Diversity Dialogue Day was mandatory for all high school students. 

This came in response to a tumultuous year in terms of racial injustice issues in the United States. Coming off a summer that sparked activism, energy, and emotion, the school felt it necessary to put some new plans in place to show that the administration is “committed to making GFS safer and stronger with bold, swift, and direct action,” as Dana Weeks wrote. The school also felt it important to provide opportunities to educate students and faculty and mend the possible gaps in their knowledge, making them more informed and aware members of the community. 

Students spent a few weeks preparing for Diversity Dialogue Day in advisory; we thought about what was at the forefront of our minds at the moment and what important topics should be the focus of this day. For example, my advisory discussed how students and faculty must first be educated and informed about the topics that were the focus of the event in order to have a meaningful dialogue about them. 

On the day itself, we spent the morning listening to a student and expert panel followed by the keynote speaker, Keir Bradford-Grey, who is the Chief Defender of the Defender Association of Philadelphia. We then spent the afternoon either leading or participating in two different one-hour workshops. There were 26 workshops offered this year, and 20 of them were student-led. There were courses on surviving predominantly white institutions, mass incarceration, LGBTQIA+ misrepresentation in the media, and a whole host of other hot topics. 

I spoke to four students who participated in or led workshops in order to better understand their opinions on Diversity Dialogue Day. Despite the mostly positive feedback, there has been some conversation about whether this day was actually meaningful or if it was a way for the school to save face. 

On an individual level, students tended to get out what they put into it. Students who were engaged and participated thought it was an important, enlightening, and meaningful experience. Inevitably, there were also students who would rather be doing anything else than listening to lectures and participating in dialogues about sensitive topics. 

Annie Mclaughlin ‘22 explained, “It was challenging to have a meaningful dialogue with students who weren’t engaged or interested.” 

Unfortunately, this is to be expected at any mandatory school event and is nearly impossible to prevent. 

Looking at the event as a whole, the consensus from the students was that Diversity Dialogue Day was a step in the right direction, but it was by no means enough. Each student I spoke with echoed the same message. 

Ethan Jih-Cook ‘23 said, “This day was a good starting point, but it needs to be backed up by more time dedicated to this work.” 

India Valdivia ‘21 put it as, “It was a start, but it shouldn’t be praised.” 

Mike Whaley ‘23 said it was “a good building block.” 

Annie explained, “This day was necessary, but it should not be a one-time thing.”

Despite the mostly positive feedback that this is a step in the right direction, there are a faction of students who question if this day was merely performative on the part of the administration, if it was just to show they are doing something to educate and talk about racial injustice after receiving criticism from students and alumni over the summer. 

Mike, who agreed Diversity Dialogue Day was beneficial and extremely necessary, said the changes to the event this year was “a case of GFS getting pushback and responding with performative activism to show they are doing something.” He also pointed out, “It was, politically speaking, necessary, meaning if the administration hadn’t done something, they would have received major criticism.” 

However, it is important to keep in mind no one disputed that the day was effective in educating the student body and providing space for meaningful dialogue, therefore, achieving the immediate goal of Diversity Dialogue day. 

Andrew Lee, Associate Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and an organizer of the event, described the day as “a smashing success.” Lee was very happy with the feedback he received about Diversity Dialogue Day, and he said it was a very positive thing that the community is unified in making progress. He also explained that there will always be things to improve and he is committed to having more days like this in the future. 

Lee also made sure to highlight that making change is a whole school effort which takes time and intentionality in order to take the right steps. In closing, he stated, “It takes a long time to change institutions for the better.” Therefore, he encourages students to continue having dialogues with their classmates, families, and teachers, and to continue petitioning and sharing ideas to make a difference in our community. 

While this event quite possibly served the purpose of the administration showing they are doing something in response to recent events, it is still a step in the right direction as long as we continue this work. However, the students seem more concerned about what the next steps are, rather than the success of one event. It cannot be a “one and done” type of thing. The question now is, what are the next steps the school is going to take to address these issues of racial injustice that are so prominent in the United States today? Are they going to continue this hard work towards a safer, more equitable, and inclusive society? Because, as we all know, this day alone was nowhere near enough to get us to where we need to be.

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Practical Zillowing

Yesterday, I came across my dream home. I was browsing on Zillow through a slew of Washington Heights two bed, one bath, 500-to-700 square foot, 4th floor walkup apartments for rent in the $800 to $1500 price range, when I found the perfect fit. 

The guilty pleasure of scrolling through Zillow, a US based renter’s website, has occupied a large part of my free time this past summer. I have the routine down pat: I type Zillow into the search engine, click through to “rent NYC,” and set my preferences.

My most recent find had two cramped bedrooms (one for a roommate because I have a 30 Rock-based fear of living alone and choking on ramen), and had something resembling a strip of exposed brick, but upon further inspection, appeared to be a wall sticker. It was moderately priced, not too far from a subway stop, and felt perfect. 

Except it wasn’t. 

It wasn’t the type of place where one dreams of living in New York City. It didn’t look like Carrie Bradshaw’s Upper East Side townhome with a walk-in closet, or the Eat, Pray, Love firehouse. 

Even though this exercise in apartment hunting is purely for my own enjoyment—I don’t have any plans of moving to the city anytime soon, nor could I afford it—I always set filters before exploring my options. The alternative of unchecked boxes is too overwhelming, like going to a breakfast buffet instead of a bagel place, or listening to an artist’s discography instead of a singular album. What I’m left with when I filter aren’t dream homes, but realistic ones, and I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’d like to keep it that way. 

When I’m on Zillow, I’m in perpetual motion: modifying my searches, inspecting layouts, and crossing out possibilities. In doing this, I force myself to consider where I will be in five, ten, or fifteen years. Will I have a lucrative job? Will I be married? Will I know how to cook anything other than ramen? Attempting answers is daunting, yet deeply satisfying. 

I look through Zillow for the express purpose of “manifesting” my future life, whatever that may be. Or, alternatively, for the express purpose of figuring out what I want to manifest in the first place. 

I’ve started blaming this neurosis on what I like to call the “Covid and Gen-Z Mentality of Restlessness,” which is to say that I hope I’m not completely alone in thinking this way. I’ve had conversations with friends and seen numerous tweets and TikToks revolving around the activity of “manifesting,” which according to Oprah Magazine, means “bringing something tangible into your life through attraction and belief, i.e. if you think it, it will come.” In our ongoing period of social isolation, this pastime appears to be one of the only things keeping my generation sane.

It is precisely this freedom of manifesting that has made me reconsider my options and set fewer prerequisites. If I look at an unfiltered list of Zillow apartments, I recognize their existence at the present moment; I don’t need to verify their future affordability to enjoy their presence on my computer screen. At a moment when the world is placing so many constraints on my generation, it is an act of resistance to insist on dreaming and imagining alternative futures, perhaps especially those that seem the least practical and most impossible to attain. 

For the time being, I’ve decided to try and focus on the impractical and lavish margins of Zillow before I deem it unacceptable or naive to do so. This is the side where I splurge (in my daydreams and search box) on the French doors, original wood floors, and a whole damn wall of exposed brick. I shrug off my neuroses, arriving at a landscape of unlimited beds, baths, backyards, and square footage.

**Image Credit: Zillow homepage

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Can’t Vote? Phone Bank!

Photo Credit: Shawn Harquail

Theoretically, phone banking seems simple and straightforward: you call up prospective voters, tell them how important it is to vote, and convince them that they should cast their ballot for a particular candidate. How hard could it be? 

I had this exact thought process when my parents suggested I help out at a phone bank. Little did I know, there’s so much more to it.

There is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that you helped at least a few people come out to vote. In a world where we as teenagers often feel helpless, particularly in politics, phone banking is an amazing way to make a difference. 

At times, I have found phone banking to be pretty ego damaging. Many people simply do not want to talk to you and hang up on you quickly, some do not agree with you, and a couple are openly rude, but the few that respond well make it worthwhile. 

The position of teenagers in politics is unique; we are old enough to have developed opinions of our own, yet people rarely listen to us. Phone banking may not be the most radical or exciting way to make your voice heard, but it does create an impact. 

My dad took me phone banking for the first time before the presidential election in 2016. I distinctly remember dialing number after number and talking to these strangers, trying to make sure each of them was registered to vote. I quickly became discouraged and tired of being hung up on, but then I talked to one woman who didn’t know where her polling place was, and I was able to provide her with a website. This may seem like a small victory, but the feeling of accomplishment after I had helped this one person vote was incredible. 

I think that our generation is going to (and already is) making huge changes in this world, and this is just another way we can all contribute in a small way to better help our city, our country, and our world. 

So if you are a teenager who can’t vote yet, but is interested in politics and wants to make a difference in the crazy world we live in, volunteer at a phone bank! 

Right now, the phone banks are all virtual and they happen very frequently. It is very easy to participate — you can sign up through the PA Democratic Party or Back to Blue

I couldn’t find any Republican phone banks, but here’s a link to volunteer for the Philadelphia Republican party. 

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Talk, Donate, and Act: Five Student-Led Initiatives Fighting Racial Inequality

Photo of the June 3rd protests by Jay Nasser ‘21

History teacher Ted Oxholm announced today in an assembly that the Upper School History department is preparing a new, mandatory African American studies course that will make its debut in the fall of 2021. 

The news comes as a result of the GFS Commitment to Anti Racism Petition created by eight juniors and seniors: Dhmyni Samuels ‘21, Ryan Lewis ‘21, India Valdivia ‘21, Evan Weiss ‘21, Sophie Borgenicht ‘20, Tsega Afessa ‘20, Jillian Yum ‘20, and Gabby Schwartz ‘20. By Friday morning, the petition garnered 664 alumni, teacher, student, and parent signatures, along with 237 anonymous comments expressing support and encouragement of the students’ initiative. 

“Nothing opens doors and minds like a great education,” reads one note. “It’s how we are able to step through and move forward together as individuals to form a healthier society.”

The petition organizers responded to today’s news of curricular changes with gratitude and a call to further action. 

“We feel encouraged by this [step], but also know that a lot more action needs to be taken and our fight is not over. We hope the school takes initiative on its own in the future,” say the petition initiators. In addition to the call for educational changes, many other GFS Upper Schoolers and student organizations have reached out this past week to express solidarity and provide resources for contributing in the fight against systemic racism, and toward a more actively anti-racist school community. 

Below, Earthquake has highlighted five student-led initiatives that continue to serve as spaces for conversation, donation opportunities, and courses of action for all friends of GFS.

Talk: 

BSU Open Meetings

Though the school year is nearly over, Earthquake recognizes the achievements of the Black Student Union in creating a thoughtful, welcoming space for all members of the community to converse about ongoing police brutality in light of the death of George Floyd. On Friday afternoon, this week and last, students and teachers gathered on Google Meet to hear prolific poems, personal testimonies, and messages of solidarity. 

Donate:

  1. Watch “Grease”

Poster by Ana Branas ‘20

Tune in to the virtual, annual, (automatic, systematic, and hydromatic) senior musical, “Grease,” tonight at 8:45 pm. In lieu of selling tickets, the cast encourages anyone watching to make a contribution to an organization of their choice in support of and in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Click the link in your student email to watch the performance.

Check out this statement from the senior class:

“We, the Cast/Creative Team of the musical, think that it would be foolish to continue the show as planned without acknowledging the injustices coming to light in our society right now. In an act of solidarity, we would like to offer a link to many resources where you can learn, take action, and/or make donations. Though completely optional, it would mean a lot to this group if you could take action and/or donate on our behalf, especially if you plan on attending the premiere.” 

  1. Student Club Matching Event

The Education Justice, Human Rights, South Asian Student Alliance, and Lobbying clubs report that they are teaming up to match your donations to the American Civil Liberties Union and Black Lives Matter Philly.

“These organizations are taking action to unravel the injustices of our legal system and promote civil equality both nationally and locally. It’s up to you what organization you choose, but send proof of your donation to Coby Keren (ckeren20@germantownfriends.org),” says an email from the Education Justice and Human Rights clubs. 

They will be matching up to $1180 in donations. 

Act:

  1. Email Script to Elected Officials

Take a look at this statement from four underclassmen — Clare Meyer ‘22, Martina Kiewek ‘22, Allyson Katz ‘22, and Sam Zimmer ‘23:

“We put together an email script outlining specific reforms that need to be undertaken by the Philadelphia Police Department in order to ensure police accountability and end policies that allow officers to act on discriminatory biases (such as Stop and Frisk). 

This will take a literal minute – all you have to do is copy and paste the script, write in your name, and send it out to the official of your choice, with cmeyer22@germantownfriends.org in the bcc. It’s that easy. 

On the top script, we listed the emails of city officials we thought it made sense to send to — Mayor Kenney, Police Commissioner Outlaw, and City Council President Clarke. We also compiled a list of city council reps by district, so you can easily find the contact info for your rep.

Now is the time to put pressure on officials to act. Stand up and stand with the black community in pushing for reforms that will protect the life and dignity of black Philadelphians.”

  1. Resources for Support and Education

Here is a list of resources compiled by the GFS Assembly Committee:

Support Black-Owned Businesses & Civic Organizations

Anti-Racism Action Resources

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Nine Semi-Productive Things to Do Instead of Wasting Your Time

Photo by Laxmi McCulloch

As someone who is prone to overthinking and stress, it’s no surprise that quarantine gives me an adequate amount of anxiety. At first, I spent my quarantine lying in bed and enjoying the fact that I had nothing to do. But for me, like for most people, not having anything to do got old pretty quickly. So, I decided to develop ways to cope with the monotony of everyday life. Here are my top nine recommended activities  for when you get tired of binging Netflix shows.

  1. Spending time on Coursera

Coursera.com is a great way to start taking courses on specific or broad topics that you’re interested in.  I’ve been taking a course called “The Psychology of Popularity,” where I’ve been learning about how psychologists study popularity and cliques in teens and how it affects adult life.  You can take a course for credit (it costs money, and you get a completion certificate), but I’ve been taking classes for free. There’s a structured schedule for assignments and lessons, which is nice if, like me, you need more scheduled events during this up-in-the-air time.

  1. Watching improv

An old friend of mine, Julian Shapiro-Barnum, has been working on creating an improv show called “The Social Distance,” and it’s truly hilarious. It covers a wide range of topics from bleach, to puppets, to family dynamics. I’ve watched every episode, and it’s been totally worth it. 10/10 would recommend it if you’re in need of a good laugh. 

  1.  Museums, museums, museums!

I’ve never liked museums; I’ve always found them boring. But right now, they’re about the most interesting things I could possibly explore. The Philadelphia Museum of Artthe Eastern State Penitentiary, and other museums around the world have made their content completely virtual. It’s a great way to step out of your own world and experience the works of others.

  1.  Taking a dance class

For those in the GFS community, try joining the Drama Department’s Google Classroom with online resources about theatre and dance all across the country. For those not in the Classroom group, there are dozens of Philly-based and non-Philly based art and theatre companies that are going completely virtual. Koresh Dance Company has been having virtual dance lessons, which have been a great way to get some exercise amidst all this sitting around.

  1.  Writing the next great American novel

Well, no. Not really. But I have been spending a lot more time writing (e.g. this piece) and doing things I love that I normally wouldn’t have time for. Maybe for you that means finally sitting down and writing that story you’ve been dreaming up or the song you hear in your head before you go to sleep. Whatever it is, there is no better time than now to start.

  1.  Reading

Lately, I’ve had a lot more time to read, and read a lot. I’ve been keeping a reading list. Here’s some recommended books for those who haven’t gotten into it just yet: 

  • Normal People by Sally Rooney.
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  • Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  • Educated by Tara Westberg
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. 
  • The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Look up some great reads in your favorite genre and start reading! To make things even better, local bookstores like Uncle Bobbie’s and Headhouse Books are offering book deliveries. 

  1. Baking

Yeah, I know, everyone’s doing it, it’s so mainstream, basic, whatever you want to call it. But it’s a cliché for a reason: it’s actually pretty fun. Recently, my brother and I worked really hard to make an apple-peach pie using four different online recipes, and it actually was pretty successful. 

  1. Self care

Whatever this means to you. To me, it means making time for my skin care routine. It also means spending a lot of time looking up makeup tutorials to try to turn my less-than-basic skills into something actually visually pleasing to the eye. Take time to improve yourself, your mental health, your spiritual health, and your emotional health. To be able to relax and do things for myself, whether it’s trying out a new eyeliner look, or spending some time meditating with Headspace, has been a great way for me to make sure I stay sane.

  1. Making (and sharing) your own art

The Kimmel Center #ArtHappensAtHome campaign is a great way to get started! Lots of places are opening opportunities to people that will allow them to create and present their art to the world whether it’s a song, a skit, or a piece of visual art that you’ve made, quarantine inspired or not. I haven’t actually had a chance to participate in this, but I’ve been watching the submissions regularly and hope to see some familiar faces in upcoming weeks!