On December 9, 2017, Waring’s First Lego League Team, the Brick Wolves, headed off to Revere High School for a day of competition. Fourteen nervous students, two teachers (Erin Thomassen and me), along with several parents, and lots of Lego, traveled south from Waring on a cold, snowy, Saturday.
Our journey toward the Revere tournament started in early August when many students came in to assemble our playing field, make the mission models, and build Waring’s first batch of Lego Mindstorm’s robots. Once the school year started Erin and I taught the students how to program in the EV3-G language used by the robots. We knew we would be up against teams with lots of experience and we would all be newbies. So, we scrambled to learn the language, came in for multiple full-day sessions on Saturdays and got our selves from zero to ready in 3 months.
When we arrived at Revere High we pulled out our carefully packed tubs holding the precious, student-built and programmed robots, and headed into the gymnasium where the other 25 teams awaited. It was a hectic day, but we learned a lot and had fun. When we ran our robots for the judges, we scored lots of points, but during the meet our robots had problems. Our teams placed in the 10th and 11th spots in the meet, receiving awards for our work, but we missed the cut off to move on in the competition by one spot.
Now that the official FLL season is over, we are running our own internal competition. We took apart our old robots, divided into seven teams of two and are in the midst of our own contest. The kids are almost done building their new robots and will start to write new code for them. We look forward to taking what we learned during the official FLL season and incorporating it into our new batch of robots and code!
When students are interested in pursuing their education at Waring School, we often times get questions about sports and the level of competition our students participate in. All members of our community are athletes in some way. One of the many beauties of our school is that we offer the novice athlete opportunities to become members of our sports teams, and under the same umbrella, we graduate some of the most competitive athletes on the Northshore. Our end goal is to create an environment here at Waring where being active in sports and activities transcends any school, institution or work place; where being active becomes a mainstay in our alumni’s lives, creating lifelong habits for good health.
Staying Active After “It’s Over”
I caught up recently with Waring alumna, and former two-sport athlete at Emerson College, Maggie Sheetz. Although Maggie has graduated from Emerson College and isn’t playing collegiate lacrosse or soccer any longer, staying active is still important to her. Maggie’s job as a sound technician at Gillette Stadium gives her windows of opportunity to get out and run. “I play in a women’s lacrosse league over the summer which is fairly competitive, but most recently I have been into running for the sake of running and staying fit. This past year I have participated in two half marathons, running them both with a former college teammate.” Maggie says that having an event to train for creates even more incentive than just staying healthy and being fit. “It keeps my competitive juices flowing, which for me is still important”, says Sheetz.
Maggie was a three-sport athlete at Waring, captaining both soccer in the fall and lacrosse in the spring, while playing basketball in the winter. Maggie went onto Emerson College where she played both soccer and lacrosse for the Lions. Maggie credits her time as a student-athlete here at Waring as the largest factor in her ability to participate in collegiate athletics and wanting to pursue a healthy lifestyle in her adult life. “Playing sports and being active every day at Waring became part of my identity, and I didn’t want to give that up in college and certainly not now in my adult life.”
Making Those Tough Decisions – From Judge to Statesmen
Waring alumnus Nick Wigglesworth is a Sophomore at Hobart College where his team made it to the final eight of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament for Division three soccer this past season. It is the second time in as many seasons that Wigglesworth has been to the final eight, only not with the same team.
Nick’s path to Hobart was not typical. Nick started his college career at Brandeis University (the Judges), where he was recruited by long-time coach, Mike Coven. Coven was not only attracted to Nick’s ability on the soccer field but really appreciated the fact that Nick was a student-athlete in the true sense of student. Coven commented on Nick’s love for writing, and spoke to the Boston Globe Scholastic Writing Award Nick won his senior year at Waring. “I love the fact that Nick is so well rounded, he makes our team that much more diverse” said Coven. Nick seemed to think the same thing about his coach. “Mike Coven was a father figure to all his players. He made you want to play better every day. He had a way of making corrections to your game and still make you feel good about it in the process. Mike was always open to talking outside of games or practices, where he wanted to know more about you, not just about your game”, said Wigglesworth.
The Judges went on to compete in the NCAA Final Four in 2016, losing in the Semi-Final to Calvin College. “I will never forget the experience I had at the Final Four. You play your whole life to get to that point and being one of the last four teams in the country still playing, you feel as if you’re on top of the world. The Hotel was decked out with banners for each team, rooms were customized for us, the key cards to the room said NCAA Championships on them, it was all surreal. In the end, I transferred for academic and community reasons. Although the soccer was first class, I felt like other schools could offer me a better Economics/Environmental Science opportunity as well as a more conjoined community experience.”
So once the season ended, Wigglesworth started a similar process to that of his senior year in High School. Fortunately, he found just the fit he was looking for in Hobart(the Statesmen). “I couldn’t be happier both on and off the field. I love my classes, my community, my teammates. This is what I envisioned the whole experience could be. Transferring was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, but it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I couldn’t be happier with my experience so far at Hobart.”
One of the Best at His Game
Waring alumnus and former Boston Globe All-Scholastic Aidan Wood is not only considered one of the best players in the most competitive division three soccer conferences in the country, the data actually proves it. Aidan led the NESCAC in total points and was tied for top goal scorer in the league with eight goals, three of which were game winners. He was voted First Team All-New England Small College Athletic Conference. His Hamilton Continentals lost in the conference semi-finals to Tufts and just missed out on an NCAA bid this year. Aidan goes above and beyond. He has a lifting regiment that he follows over the summer, plays competitively for the local U-23 Aztec Men’s team, follows his daily summer fitness training packet and has asked to work privately with me over the past two summers-solely focusing on his shooting technique. Aidan’s athletic quotient is off the charts. When you couple that with an off- season willingness to work even harder on your game, these are the results one can be capable of.
Making and doing has been an integral part of Waring’s approach from the early days of the school when a student’s day might include taking care of the goats, woodworking, baking or typesetting, as well as academic work. The opening of the Waring Industrial Park (WIP) this fall is a natural extension of this original vision of experiential, creative learning and gives students space and tools to work on their own projects, as well as the opportunity to participate in new initiatives such as First Lego League.
The opening of the WIP coincides with a second year in residence at Waring Downtown, our Cabot Street storefront. This fall, I wanted to bring some making energy from campus to downtown Beverly. With the encouragement of Tim, Robine and my colleagues, I decided to start an after-school club for local children age 7-10, inspired by the Duct Tape Network, a program I heard about through the Boston Mini Maker Faire.
The Duct Tape Network, which was conceived at the MIT media lab, is a series of fun, hands-on maker clubs that encourage children to use cardboard, tape, wood, fabric, LED lights, motors, and more to bring their stories and inventions to life.
This fall, 13 local children participated in weekly, hour-long Duct Tape Network meetings at Waring Downtown. I led the club with 4 Waring students, who opted to help as part of the Monday afternoon elective program. We experimented with cardboard linkages and built wobble bots and propeller cars, added light to our projects with LEDs and created cardboard automata.
Second grader Bella said, “I liked the Duct Tape Network because it was fun and I could make things with electronics and cardboard, and I liked working in downtown Beverly. I am proud of making a robot dog and a night light.”
As a final project, we created cardboard arcade games inspired by the short film Caine’s Arcade. Children made their own versions of skee-ball, pinball and basketball, as well as some totally unique creations. At our final meeting we invited parents, siblings and friends to play the games and win prizes.
The seven weeks of Duct Tape Network passed quickly, but I’ve heard from parents that the creative energy has just moved from the Waring Downtown storefront to the kitchen table as students continue to make things at home. We will have another session of the Duct Tape Network beginning in mid-January and are looking for more young makers to join us, so if you know any, please send them our way!
While home in Providence for Rosh Hashanah, I saw an elderly family friend in temple who asked me what I was working on. I told her that we were currently rehearsing Radium Girls, and when I started to tell her about it, she nodded and looked at me intently. Then she teared up. She knew the story, and not because she’d Googled “large cast plays for high school students.”
“I didn’t realize they made that into a play,” she said.
“Oh yes,” I said proudly. “Not a lot of high schools perform it.”
She touched my hand. “Well, I’m glad your students are. People need to hear this story. It’s so important.”
Important, I thought as I walked away. Important. I began to feel a tremendous responsibility to this woman, to the story of the play, and to all the Radium Girls. At its core, this is the story of women whose health, agency, and worth were marginalized and sacrificed for the sake of profit. As Grace Fryer, the play’s heroine, tells her fiancé, “They put lead screens in the laboratory for the technicians. Did they give us lead screens? 100 girls in a room and they’re going to spend that kind of money on us?”
Important? Without question. However, I often find theatre that is “important” can become precious and ultimately an idea rather than an emotionally and visually gripping experience. Actors risk being beleaguered by intellectual implications which prevent them from playing the visceral heart of their story. I began to fear that our students would collapse under the weight of their responsibility to the history, and that the play would become preachy and heavy-handed. Then I remembered what my thesis advisor told me when I was writing a play about a daughter making a last-ditch effort to forge peace with her mother, who was dying of leukemia. “Don’t play the illness, he cautioned me, “play the moment.” I knew that was what we would need to do here. We would play the moment when Irene’s mouth starts to bleed, heralding her demise. We would play the moment when the factory president must confront his culpability in the poisonings and his inability to forgive himself. We would play the moment when Grace breaks her engagement because she knows she won’t live long enough to see her wedding day.
How would we get there? We grapple with these questions every time we begin a new play. How will Tristan play forty-year-old serial killer Sweeney Todd? How will Ainsley play Gus, a teenage boy who does not speak? How will Emma play Libby, a woman who survives a catastrophic fall? We answer these questions using other questions to guide us. We ask what our characters want, from whom they want it, and how they will get it. We ask about the dire consequences of not fulfilling our characters’ objectives. When we warm up, I tell my actors to plant these objectives in their bodies, to let these desires drive them down the paths their characters travel.
I write this a week from opening night. As we finish painting our set, refocusing our lights, adjusting the levels on our sound cues, and setting our props, I see glimpses of our version of this story coming to fruition. I see our forthright, passionate, and empathic students collaborating, connecting, and creating, and I am so proud that we are able to share work that is brave, deeply-felt, and yes, important, here on the Waring stage.