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Staying Motivated Amid Uncertainty: The Winter Track Team’s Unique Training Approach

Photo by Ada Yeomans

As COVID-19 cases rose and GFS transitioned to remote school, many winter sports teams were forced to switch to all-virtual, individualized training. However, the winter track team took on a different training approach to preserve a sense of community: Head coach Conrad Haber designed a hybrid winter training program to allow for a balance of both safe, in-person practices and structured virtual practices. 

The Wissahickon has been affectionately dubbed the “GFS COVID-19 Training Base,” since most of the team practices there each week. Haber thinks it is important for people on the team to meet up because “the track team is like a giant family and it sucks to be separated from your family for a long time.” These informal practices allow for the team to support and encourage each other. Haber also acknowledges how important athletics are in contributing to a sense of normalcy. Simon Donovan ‘23 agrees: he appreciates how these informal in-person practices allow his teammates “to all push each other to do our best and strive for better.”

When kids do decide to train together, all COVID-19 mitigation protocols are followed. 

The team is doing its best to stay motivated even amid all the uncertainty. Simon is working on keeping the team morale up with consistent training and a positive mindset. Haber is trying to be there for the team when they need it, but says “the motivation has less to do with me and more to do with the team itself.”

Even the team’s virtual training goes a step further than other sports teams. The team uses an online training portal that delivers individualized workouts to each runner, with the expectation that they train either alone or with a group 5-6 days a week. Even when the team is training at home, Haber says, “some are training with their parents/siblings, some are meeting up in the morning in small groups to train with teammates who are their neighbors” to maintain that sense of community.  

The team is also focusing on competitive goals for the future, including developing high-level racing skills and qualifying for high-caliber competitions, such as the Penn Relays and the PAISAA championships. 

When they can compete again, the Germantown Friends track team will be ready. 

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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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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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Going with the Mountain Elevation: How to Stay Calm and Cool on Four Scenic Bike Routes Just Outside the City

Photo Credit: Amar Mohamed

I first started mountain biking over two years ago when my dad’s friend, Mahesh, took me on my first ride on Thanksgiving day. And boy, am I thankful for that ride, because mountain biking has become an integral part of me. As we were riding through the trails, I was scared of all the obstacles including sharp rocks, slippery roots, and steep drops which could send me to the hospital if I negotiated them incorrectly. All I could think about was the worst case scenario, but halfway through the ride, I tried to find the flow of the trail. I adapted my riding to ride with the trail, instead of against it. In this way, mountain biking is almost meditative because the only thing a biker focuses on—in fact, the only thing a biker CAN focus on—is the trail, lest they make that trip to the hospital. All the worries of the “outside world” vanish when the tires meet the dirt. On the trail, it is just the rider, their bike, and the trail. I had clearly fallen in love with the sport.

I returned to school after Thanksgiving break, feeling special and unique for having tried a sport no one else had. I soon learned that I was wrong. Other riders have come out of the woodwork. Now, we have a small mountain biking community at GFS. We planned and went on rides on most weekends. I learned that even the head of the upper school, Matthew Young, is a rider! 

As much as my first trail experience was a wonderful introduction to mountain biking, there are a couple of tips and tricks I wish I had known when I started, and I would love to share with the GFS community.

Gear

Cadence Cyclery is a good place to rent a bike in Philly. Make use of your local bike shop by talking to the people who work there. They are invariably friendly and always willing to share information about local trails, gear you will need, etc. 

Make sure you wear good protective gear. I recommend a sturdy helmet and knee pads, elbow pads, full-fingered gloves, a water bottle that fits a bottle cage, and a bike rack for your car.

If you wish to buy a bike, start out with a beginner bike and work your way up to the best bikes. Doing this will allow you to determine if you like the sport enough to invest more of your money (or your parents’ money!). Mountain biking is not an inexpensive sport!

Locations: Easiest to most difficult

Belmont Plateau (Fairmount Park): This is a good place to start mountain biking in the city, as the trails are mostly hard-packed and flowy with minimal roots and rocks. It is a 9- to 10-mile loop with several places to exit the loop. Since there is not much change in elevation on this cross-country style trail, it is not too physically challenging. They have a pump track (a short loop consisting of humps and banked turns) and a jump line (a series of jumps) which is fun to do before or after a ride. Caution: The Belmont trail system is a bit confusing. I got lost on my first ride there. 

Wissahickon (Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill): The Wissahickon (or the Wiss) is a great cross country riding spot that has trails for both beginners and advanced riders. It features flowy sections, a 14-mile loop, rocky sections, and a few jumps here and there. There are plenty of unique and fun sections to be explored, so boredom is not a concern. It is very easy to ride certain portions of the loop by connecting them with Forbidden Drive, which is a gravel road. The trail system at the Wiss is well-marked and is fairly easy to navigate, but it is still useful to have a map. There is a fair amount of elevation change, making it physically challenging at certain points. I recommend you complete a difficult stretch and then reward yourself with a snack or a meal at the Valley Green Inn

Mt. Penn (Reading, PA): Mt. Penn is a trail system that is geared towards advanced mountain bikers. The trails are very rocky and have technical features and extended jump lines. This trail system requires you to pedal up relatively smooth access roads and trails to get to the top. From the top, the trails that bring you down vary in difficulty. If you like flowy trails and getting your tires off the ground, I recommend the A-line trail. Mt. Penn has a fair amount of elevation change, making it physically taxing. 

Spring Mountain (Montgomery County, PA): Some of you might know this place as a ski resort. But when it is not ski season, Spring Mountain becomes a destination for mountain biking. This place is not for the faint-hearted. It has obstacles and features, such as 6-foot drops and rock gardens, that are hard to navigate on two feet, let alone two wheels. But if you are an experienced rider, this place offers challenges that few other trails do. The runs are short here, but after multiple laps of 400ft of climbing,  you will want to go to Wawa, which is 4 miles away, to replenish your calories. 

Pure adrenaline, pure speed and pure feeling. These are the things I experience when I fly through the trails, seemingly at mach two. Mountain biking has changed me for the better…well, mostly. It has introduced me to a whole community of riders. A community that accepts me no matter how skilled or unskilled I am, no matter how expensive or inexpensive my bike is, and no matter the color of my skin. Everyone is equal. Actually, Fabio Wibmer is an exception. He is beyond human! You have to look him up.
Please enjoy this video I made of ride at the Wiss.