Woolman Blog

by Thistle (Hannah) Mackinney, Student - September 12, 2014

I perceive the world through a construct of words
articulate my articles with literate alliteration
a carefully constructed concept of creation
coerced into calling my own
but my bias is based on beliefs
that pile up. Poignant presumptions
grounded on ideas and experience
of ethos, air, and education.

Some species sip the sunlight
a succulent subsistence
sentence structure is superfluous
when you’re older than the dinosaurs
sending out spores
and I am opening doors made of driftwood
and other things that I’ve forgotten.

Some things don’t need words:
the way the bark curls off the manzanita
falls at the slightest
pressure of my finger
as if it wants to be undressed, and that’s okay.
It’s totally fine
not to feel fine all the time.

That’s what I’m doing.
I’m walking with God.
I have just enough fear to keep me alive
as I strive to find the dragon.
Something is hidden in these woods
so I ask for love from the Archangel Michael:
you’re my idol and the only muse I need
cause everything’s inspiring
when everything is nothing
and everything is buzzing, humming
and all that love is part of God.

I met a water snake. I didn’t shriek
I simply followed upstream
swimming, sliding till I too became a snake
and I slipped through the silky spray
the safe suck of the current
swishing on my scaly skin
the silver satisfying surface tension
of the Yuba.

If I follow this path
I’m bound to get hurt.
If you walk barefoot sometimes you get splinters
and pain stings more than numbness,
the tingle when your foot falls asleep
but now it’s time to wake up!
and I’d swear every step brings me closer to God
but I don’t need to.
You have my truth
and I don’t give a damn if you don’t think I’m good enough.

I will sing a song of succulent surrender
and of sanitation cause it’s hard to remember
that even the messy bits
are part of God.
Spilled yogurt and microaggressions
the dirt in a wound and misguided perception
clutter and chaos and unanswered questions
Nothing can hide from the light.
You may feel insignificant
but deep down you are sacred
and it’s totally fine
not to feel fine all the time.

by Jena Brooker, student - May 5, 2014

     There was a guy on the side of the road holding a sign saying, "Farm Tours" painted along with an arrow and a strawberry. Intern Tom said, "That looks a little like Bear." (Bear was the guy who was giving us a tour.) So, we kept driving. And then realized ten minutes later, that was in fact the strawberry farm we were touring! So we turned around.

      Bear was very gracious about our tardiness. He welcomed us with three gallons of strawberry lemonade, which was much appreciated on the 82 degree day. We gathered around his pickup truck as he explained the basics of Swanton Berry Farm. 

     Swanton Berry Farm is the first organic strawberry farm. Swanton was also one of the first farms to change worker conditions in a positive way. A lot of farms pay for quantity; you get payed by the box. However, Swanton decided to try out paying by the hour and it greatly benefited them. In addition to paying by the hour, the pay is a livable wage. They are able to succeed because their berries are picked at a better quality, due to their workers not rushing. Another really cool thing about Swanton is their approach in the worker's ownshership of the farm. I didn't quite understand it all, but it's kind of like a co-op. It gives their workers security, completely opposite to the likelihood of being fired on the spot for whatever reason. The strawberry beds are also raised 36 inches off the ground. This minimizes the harm done to a worker's back, due to having to stoop over so low. 

     They also grow: blackberries, kiwis, artichokes, rhubarb, broccoli, and other berries. To help the abundant plant life on the farm, they have nine bee boxes. We got to check out the bees and I learned that there were different colored shapes on each box to guide the bees back to their home. Bees are incredibly smart. 

     When you grow a lot of one thing in the same area, your crops become much more prone to disease. Strawberries especially require a lot of chemical upkeep to maintain their potential. Swanton struggled with losing their strawberries to Verticillium. However, one year they found that planting strawberries in a field recently planted with broccoli got rid of the disease! So, Swanton is able to provide us with delicious berries without using non-organic harmful sprays to keep their crop alive. 

     After touring most of the farm, we got to the strawberries! We were given free range to pick as many as we wanted. When looking for the right strawberry you want to flip the strawberry over and pick the ones that are the most red, all around. Warm from the sun the strawberries were incredible. It also felt good that these berries were the product of social justice. 

      TIP: U-PICK strawberry fields are really gross, kind of like a McDonalds play place. 

by Cait Corrigan-Orosco, student - May 5, 2014

On the morning of Thursday, May 1st The Woolman Semester School visited the Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz, which is a non-profit that “provides job training, transitional employment and support services to people who are homeless”. Kate Pearl gave us a tour of the 3-acre organic farm.

One thing I found interesting about the farm was the system used to make soil that they have in place. Soil, compost and grass are the layers of the system. Separate mounds are in place for it to decompose faster.

After the tour we got into two groups 1) to help weed or 2) to pick strawberries. We volunteered working in the garden for 1 hour and it was awesome!

Visiting the Homeless Garden Project was such a rewarding experience. Knowing that places like the Homeless Garden Project exists gives me hope that by working together in communities we can overcome the economical issues in the world.

by Danya Morris, Community Intern - May 5, 2014

I don’t always wake up before 6 AM—but when I do, it’s probably Monday, when I make breakfast. Monday is special because we all try to show up and eat together. There are announcements, games, and appreciations, read out of the appreciation jar handcrafted by none other than Aria, a fellow community intern. All in all I’d say I have a great reason to be up before the sun (especially since I only have to do it once a week). This is what happened two Mondays ago—an ordinary Monday, the second to last of the semester.

Monday, April 21, 2014

5:30am: Wake up. Stumble out of bed and brush my teeth on the porch of my A-frame, marveling at all the yellow flowers that have appeared as if by magic in the last two days—they’re all over everything. I try not to get toothpaste on any flowers (with only marginal success), put on two sweatshirts and head up the hill to the dining hall.

5:41am: Interrupted by the quail (rushing intently about, as always). Look for a moment at the moon, still seated high in the lightening sky.

5:45am:  Reluctantly turn on the lights in the kitchen, squint a little, and start making breakfast. Whole wheat ginger pancakes today, with fried eggs and homemade ricotta cheese. Food processor not working again (or I’m not asking it politely enough, this early in the morning who can really tell?), so I chop candied ginger for what feels like forever and a day. It’s peaceful in the kitchen in the morning, though—it’s one of my favorite things, a space that’s usually so chaotic getting to rest a little—so I don’t really mind. I don’t like cooking with machines, anyway.

7:23am: Some students wander into the DH and start making coffee. We talk about their Peace Studies homework, a paper about different people from Assata Shakur’s autobiography. They sit in the kitchen and listen to Devil Makes Three with me while I scramble to finish frying the gluten-free vegan version of the pancakes while also not burning the ricotta, which isn’t setting as quickly as I might have hoped…

7:50am: 10-minute bell for Monday morning breakfast and homeroom. A student is leading it this week, so she rings the bell and sets up a sheet to collect announcements, fretting about the activity she’s planned to lead (it goes amazingly well, so she needn’t have worried). I set the last round of eggs on the griddle and shuttle some willing students in and out of the kitchen with pancakes and condiments. The ricotta looks surprisingly good, especially with some cinnamon sprinkled on top.

8:04am: We circle and hold a moment of silence before breakfast. Morning meeting takes off, and I hide in the pantry and drink coffee for a few minutes before sitting down to make the weekly food order.

9:10am: Walk to the office and call the local co-op to order our produce and cheese for the week. The order is uneventful, save a small mix up regarding the color of our potatoes. I hang up and head back to the kitchen to do inventory in the pantry and walk-in, then back to the office to order from our distributor. Camilla and Heather, two fellow community interns, are making burritos for lunch and I have a very hard time not sneaking some of the cheese they have painstakingly shredded as I pass through the kitchen. By now it’s close to lunch time, so I work on spreadsheets and do food research until the burrito bar is ready.

I’ll spend the afternoon first in the garden—it’s crunch time, and we’re bed shaping and planting today—then at student updates meeting, and then hanging out with one of my mentees on the couch in the dining hall.

All in all, a beautiful and typical (if I dare to call anything at Woolman typical…) Monday.

GINGER PANCAKES (adapted from the Joy of Cooking)

  • 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour (or gluten free flour)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar (brown sugar or honey are awesome, I usually reduce the sugar by almost half)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (melted) or oil
  • 2 large eggs (vegan option: 2 tablespoons ground flax + 2 tablespoons water)
  • 1 healthy splash vanilla extract
  • two pinches (about a teaspoon) ground ginger
  • some cinnamon, allspice, and cloves (ground)
  • 1/4 cup chopped candied ginger

Mix the dry ingredients together (sifting optional). Make a well in the middle and pour in the wet ingredients, and the candied ginger. Mix well, and fry in a little more butter than you think is really necessary. Enjoy!

by Jena Brooker, student - May 5, 2014

Located off the beach in Santa Cruz, California is The Homeless Garden Project. By far, this site was the furthest along in terms of planting, than all the other sites we visited on the Food Intensive trip. The garden was abundant in both vegetables and flowers. 


The Homeless Garden Project is an organization that hires people without homes for 20 hours a week, at minimum wage. This garden offers a transition period between no job, and a job, through work experience and the services they provide like basic job skills and resume building.

The product of all the hard work is sold at the Farm Stand and in CSA boxes. The Homeless Garden Project puts together 45 boxes altogether, but donates 24 of those each week to non-profit service organizations. This project is even looking to triple their size! It was evident there was dedication and care in the people and the land. 

Overall I was impressed and warmed by how kind everyone was there. Everyone we saw was happy and said hi and they were really excited we were helping. It was great to actually do some farming also, while visiting all these farms. My group planted Crimson Clover which will be dried and used in the beautiful wreaths they make. So, if you're in the area, stop by The Homeless Garden Project Farm Stand and purchase a wreath!

by Imani Sherley, student - May 5, 2014

Driving up to Veritable Vegetable in the iconic and distinctive Woolman vans, I was not at all excited. It was a hot California day and as I stepped out of the car I was faced with hot pavement, cars, and a warehouse. This was not the image that I was expecting to be presented with on our Food Intensive, which so far had consisted of feedlots, organic farms, and lots of produce. At first glance, it was nothing short of underwhelming, and as our guide led our group into a conference room, I was anything but jazzed. This seemed like just another typical company with typical policies feeding into the ever growing, ever more pervasive capitalist hierarchy. Boy was I wrong.

Veritable Vegetable is probably the coolest produce transporter since ever. They transport exclusively from organic growers and bring their produce to restaurants, grocery stores, institutes, and other places in California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. Their trucks are on the highest end of sustainable technology, and they map out their routes in order to be as energy efficient as possible. While of course wanting to run a successful business, all their decisions are made based on a set of core values that focus on healthy working conditions, helping the environment, and the support of their growers as well as the communities they service. People from many levels and job descriptions help make important decisions in order to help make things fair. Their staff is 60% women, and the difference in pay between the CEO and the workers doing manual labor is never more than a 5 to one ratio. They rock hard.

Yet those facts, which anyone could find by just looking at their website, don’t even compare to the experience of walking through their operations. As Woolman students and staff were led into the main warehouse, we were met with funky music blasting from wall to wall, and both men and women of all ethnicities, ages, and appearances working the floor. Our guide (who was way cool) took us on a tour of some of the different coolers where they keep produce, and explained exactly what the journey would be for all the mushrooms, bananas, peppers, and other tasty treats that filled each ice box. As we danced our way through the warehouse, jamming out to Veritable’s sweet beats, our leader talked to us about alternatives to wooden pallets and plastic wrap that were being used on a trial basis to help the environment. Then we took a look inside of their trucks, and a few of us took a try at screaming our lungs out in one of their storage spaces, which was so thick that no one could hear us. We asked a lot of questions, and got some honest answers.

Finally, when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we went back to the conference room we started off in, where we were greeted with two huge bowls of strawberries. It was magical. I was and still am completely hooked on Veritable Vegetable, and I wish that for every food producer, there was such a rad transport company. I would love to work there someday, and would love to see more companies move in their direction. However, until then, I’m happy to know a place so hip and cool exists. So the next time you’re in Briar Patch or another California marketplace, take a minute and find out if your vegetable are veritable.

by Hannah Rose, Lily Elder, and Zoe Dillon-Davidson, Fall 2009 students - May 5, 2014

Hannah Rose, Lily Elder, and Zoe Dillon-Davidson performing the Woolman Lane song at the Fall 2009 Graduation. Doug Hamm on banjo.

by Jena Brooker, student - May 1, 2014

These four rows will soon become rows of medicinal herbs. For my sustainability project I am working with intern Chloe on planting various herbs and harvesting them to use as teas here at Woolman! In addition, we will create signs to go in the garden along with a book filled with information on which teas to use for different ailments. We have met a couple of times and in that time have decided what information to put on the signs and planned out the beds. Our next step is to purchase the seeds/ transplants. Just some of the herbs we’re planting are: Nettle, Alfalfa, Echinacea, Catnip, Astragalus, Hyssop, Marshmallow, and Valerian. In the last few years I have made the personal decision to stop using prescription and over the counter drugs. I firmly believe in the effectiveness of natural alternatives, and it’s important to me to learn about natural medicine in an applicable way. I’m so excited that I’m going to have firsthand experience in the planting and harvesting of medicinal herbs, and I’m so excited to learn all that Chloe has to teach me!

by Imani Sherley, student - April 7, 2014

On Thursday night, April 3, many students stayed up way past tuck-in, decorating the Dining Hall with posters, signs, and giant hearts. They declared Friday, the day before Spring Break, "Woolman Day," celebrating the half-way point of the semester. Here, student Imani Sherley performs the song she wrote for the occasion.

by Jennifer Stone, Peace Studies Teacher - April 5, 2014

What is justice? What kind of world do prisons create? How has the prison system changed over time? What are alternatives to prisons, and how do they work? How will I create justice in my life? These questions guided our Peace Studies and Global Issues trip focusing on the prison system and alternative forms of justice. In this jam-packed week, Woolman students and staff visited individuals and organizations in the Bay Area who address prison issues from numerous angles: from the American Friends Service committee and the Human Rights Pen Pal Project organizing solidarity support for prisoners on hunger strike, to educators such as Jeff Duncan-Andrade who understand that we cannot have justice in our world without justice in our schools, to MetWest High School, where restorative justice practices create healing in communities deeply impacted by systemic violence. Art, and performance poetry in particular, became a lens through which to process our experiences and speak our truths. Check out these pictures and students' blog posts on some of their highlights of our trip!

by Heather Livingston, Community Intern - April 5, 2014

On Friday, March 28, Woolman students, teachers, and interns attended the fourth annual Green Schools National Conference thanks to a generous donation from Conserve, a semester school in beautiful Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin. Although in past years the conference has been in Florida, Colorado, and Minnesota, this year the conference was conveniently located only an hour and a half away from us in the heart of Sacramento. Woolman students and staff were excited to have the chance to sneak away from the woods for the day to learn how corporations, politicians, educators, and students across the nation define what “green” means.

Our students had the opportunity to attend workshops with high school and middle school students from all around the country. Staff and interns also attended a wide variety of workshops that discussed sustainability and wellness in schools. During the breakout sessions all of the Woolman participants scurried back to their table in the main hall to chat it up with prospective students and curious adults.

Sustainability is one of Woolman’s buzzwords. Although we often do use this word in reference to ecological sustainability, we also extend this definition to cover the sustainability of societal, community, and individual prosperity for this generation and generations to come. The conference mainly focused on the ecological aspect, sparking the attention of Woolman students to analyze the pros and cons of this limited definition. After a debrief of the conference, Woolmanites agreed that attending the conference was valuable because it not only gave them an opportunity to talk to other people about their Woolman experience, but also allowed them to witness a range of groups coming together to discuss a single topic that has infinite interpretations. 

Global Issues teacher, Amelia Nebenzal, with S14 students Imani Shirley, Aria Khan, and Jena Brooker wearing their new Woolman sweatshirts at the Green Schools National Conference!

by Dontae Sharp, student - April 2, 2014

The Berkeley Poetry Slam was the best poetry slam I have ever been to. There was this guy who wrote to Marshal Mathers a.k.a Eminem. He talked about how he is so homophobic and tries to make a living off of dissing the LGBT community. The poem was dope and got a 10 out of ten from all 5 judges.

There was this other guy who wrote to the D.M.V about how they drive him crazy and make him get out of character. He spit his poem as if he had two personalities: one that was a really nice guy who just want a little bit of understanding, and the other guy who was mad and didn’t care about hurting anybody feelings. He got mostly 9 from all the judges.

This one guy who was black and white had wrote about his life. He lived a life where people told him he wasn't black enough. He said as basically his course in the poem “I'm black and I'm white and I'm white and I'm black what the f--- you gonna do about that?” This guy was so deep. He made me think about all the time I made fun of light-skin people for portraying themselves as blacks. Who was I to tell them they wasn't black? Why should color identify who we are as people? This is the overall message I got from this great poet.

Overall I had a great time. There were more poets I can talk about but that will last forever. I learned a lot about different cultures. I wish I could've attended the next round that took place last Thursday at the same place.

by Miguel Avila-Macias, student - March 31, 2014
When driving down International Boulevard in East Oakland, you will see liquor stores, prostitutes, and dope dealers at just about every intersection. Take a turn up Montclair, and the scene changes entirely. Liquor stores become organic food markets, community organizers replace prostitutes, and the dealers become friendly neighbours. How is it that these communities can reside in the same city, and yet be so different? Part of the answer can be found in the availability of healthy food. Unfortunately, healthier foods come at much higher prices than fast food and other affordable options. In the neighborhoods of East Oakland, where residents live off of an average annual household income of roughly $32,000 (Bass, et, al.), these healthier foods can seem too expensive. Even if the decision to purchase these foods were to be made, finding a market with organic products would be nearly impossible. Instead, neighborhood liquor stores and fast food restaurants litter the streets, where the healthiest choice would be purchasing the baked potato chips over the regular ones. In this paper, I will attempt to illustrate the exact way in which this inequality exists, unveil the history that created it, and propose solutions which, if expanded upon, could quite possibly solve this great dilemma.
The first aspect of the problem is access. In California, a state well known for its vast farmland, one could safely assume that fresh produce would be at everyone's disposal. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As stated above, the poor communities of Oakland do not have access to healthier, organic food. East Oakland resident Gregory Higgins stated, “It’s easier to stay drunk than it is to eat” (Bass et, al.). In communities like these, it is much easier to gain access to drugs and alcohol than a decent meal. Supermarkets here are a rare sight. If a community member wanted to buy healthy food they would have to travel long distances, which would be an additional expense to their already small budget.
The existence of this “food apartheid” (Parame) in Oakland has its roots in a long history of disinvestment from certain parts of the city. As wealthy people began to move out of central areas of Oakland, businesses and supermarkets left with them. Poorer families occupied the remaining homes, causing banks to “redline” these once thriving areas as locations where investment would be risky. Patricia St. Onge, a member of The Hope Collaborative in West Oakland stated, “The effect is that today it’s still easier to get a loan to open a liquor store than a supermarket in low-income neighborhoods of Oakland” (Bass et, al.). Many supermarkets have stated that West Oakland is “a neighborhood that… isn’t able to sustain a full-functioning store” (Field & Bell).
Despite the fact that these corporations and banks have opted to pursue profit, community members and organizations are fighting to bring organic, healthy foods back to East and West Oakland.  The Hope Collaborative is a food policy organization working towards establishing Oakland communities with independent community gardens. Through Hope, many community members have taken action and turned once abandoned lots into thriving community gardens. By doing this, not only will these families have access to healthier food options, but most gardens will give away the produce to those who worked the land (Bell et, al.).  
Another food justice initiative is People’s Grocery, a supermarket with the mission to bring nourishing and delicious food to its community. They were founded with the Black Panther Party’s breakfast programs in the 1960’s and quickly learned that feeding the children is just as important as any revolution. Executive Director Nikki Henderson believes that People’s Grocery is a space “to raise the consciousness about structural racism and the role it has played… in creating and maintaining food deserts” (Field & Bell).
Although these amazing organizations have managed to bring healthy foods back into the poor communities of Oakland, it’s still not enough. For many living there, accessibility is still a great obstacle. The gardens and markets currently in existence don’t even come close to fully meeting the needs of the population of East and West Oakland. However, organizations like The Hope Collaborative and People’s Grocery are taking steps that if expanded upon, could lead us to a more just future.

“No Grocery Store in Sight” by Angela Bass, Puck Lo, Diana Montaño.  Oakland North. http://oaklandnorth.net/few-food-choices/

“Food for Body, food for Thought, Food for Justice: People’s Grocery In Oakland,California” by Tory Field and Beverly Bell. http://www.otherworldsarepossible.org/food-body-food-thought-food-justice-peoples-grocery-oakland-california

“Food Justice In West Oakland” by Parame

by Jena Brooker, student - March 30, 2014

     Woolman has a partnership with MetWest, an alternative public high school in Oakland, CA. We visited this sister school on a recent trip to the Bay Area to explore prison and education systems and how they tie together.

    As we drove up to the school, Dontae (a student of MetWest and Woolman), was yelling and whooping with excitement and begged for the windows to be opened so he could yell out to his friends. There was great excitement from everyone to learn more about MetWest by vistiting the school.

     The Woolman crew, along with MetWest’s school counselor, restorative justice leader, and students of MetWest, gathered in a circle and introduced themselves. Then, instead of saying, “Hi, I’m Jena from Michigan and my favorite color is purple.” we said our name, where we were from, and a recent conflict we had resolved. That felt different in a really good way.

     Current MetWest students whom were considering attending Woolman had the opportunity to ask us questions about our school. One question we got was, “Are there showers?” A Woolman student answered yes, but how often people utilize them is variable from everyday to once a week.

     Next, we asked them questions about their Restorative Justice class and practices. MetWest believes in healing wounds, and not punishment. For students who find themselves involved in a fight, they are given the option to do a restorative justice circle, or suspension. Most students at MetWest are open to restorative justice, and see the value in it. The Restorative Justice teacher (Malik) said most of the circles they do are because students come to the teachers with an issue, and request the practice.

     During the visit we learned Malik was trained by Marshall Rosenberg in NVC, a class we have here at Woolman! We hope to learn more from MetWest about their restorative justice practices among other things, and further develop our relationship with them. The weekend following spring break, some MetWest students are coming up here to visit us!



by Jena Brooker, student - March 30, 2014

     After a long day we students were excited the next activity would be in the home we were staying at for the week. We migrated to the comfy basement for a workshop with LJ.

    All us sprawled out on the couches and carpet to watch a video about At The Crossroads. At The Crossroads is an organization LJ works for by doing outreach for to homeless youth and young adults. At The Crossroads provides various services such as handing out food/condoms/toothbrushes, counseling, helping set up interviews, etc.

      When the video ended we partnered up and considered all of the different situations real people are in that would prevent them from getting a job. It was surprising to me how many obstacles a homeless youth would need to overcome such as: no internet access to learn about the job, not having the correct documents, being recently incarcerated or accused, and avoiding notification of truancy to authorities.

     It really resonated with me that At The Crossroads meets people where they are, and as an organization does not try to persuade people to stop living the life they are living. I think giving people agency is so important in trying to help them.

     My heart aches every time I encounter someone who I perceive as homeless. I am filled with sadness, curiosity, and a longing to help that person. However, I don’t know which strategy or approach is the best in helping them. Especially after LJ’s presentation I am interested in exploring a job in homeless outreach, enabling me to know how to help in the desired way. 

by Cait Corrigan-Orosco, student - March 28, 2014

“Igniting a generation of young people to bring forth a thriving, just, sustainable world” This is the mission statement of Generation Waking Up, an organization that Students of the Woolman Spring 2014 Semester were introduced to during the Global Issues Peace Studies Trip last week.

We met with two ambassadors for the organization, Barbara and Mary, whose goal was to first AWAKEN, second EMPOWER, and lastly MOBILIZE the public.

We watched inspiring videos, danced to calming yet energizing music, and discussed the issues in the world and (when I didn’t think things could be any better) we thought of ideas about how to create positive change for the negative issues.

After a week of learning about the injustices of the prison system it was a great and inspiring refresher to think, hear and discuss positive change in our hometowns that we can facilitate ourselves. I came up with the idea of helping make NYC a greener atmosphere by planting grass, trees, gardens ect… on the roofs of the NYC skyline!

Even though I’m not too excited about leaving Woolman in about a month and a half, I am extremely motivated to go back home and be a leader and organize positive change.

by Imani Sherley, student - March 28, 2014

As I walked into the room at the Berkeley Battle of the Bay Poetry Slam, I was instantly filled with excitement. The Dion was covered with dark red, blue, and purple light, while the space itself burst with people and food and conversation. Everyone at Woolman was pumped to be there, and extremely impatient for the show to start. Not only were we about to see a real poetry slam, but this slam was the qualifying round for the National Poetry Slam, so the teams were really going to throw down. I was especially antsy because I was performing in between rounds, along with other teens from a big group of students who came with their teacher.

So there we all were, seated in the first three rows of a crowded room in the dark evening, listening to people laugh and poets prepare, watching the musicians tune their Instruments on stage waiting for the MC to arrive. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he came running onto the stage fill of energy and enthusiasm. What came to follow was amazing. 

If anyone reading this has never been to a poetry slam, you ought to turn off your computer right now and go. It was amazing. There were poems about Black Kids and Dinosaurs, Love, Pain, Oppression, Race, Chess, Youth, and Parking Tickets. There were four teams total, and they were all great. The judges were random audience members, and our own Rob The Intern was one of them. He did a pretty good job (even though he refused to give higher than a 9.1). One team was called New Sh*t and some of their poems were only minutes old! As an audience member, it was amazing to feel what, and just go where, the poet wanted us to, and to be so intimately a part of their art and performance. We all has a great time, and at the end if the night, it really didn't matter which team won. 

Obviously the other really amazing part of going to the slam was performing at it myself. I was the last student to go after a long line of other teens who performed pieces that, in all honesty, were very clearly not meant for performance. The audience was supportive and kind but these were no up and coming slam gods or goddesses. Then it was my turn. Somehow that day I has managed to write a poem that was close to my heart, and decided to perform it. I had never done slam before, but I was well versed in theater. To be blunt, I killed it on that stage. Somehow I felt so safe and seen that spilling my ink heart to strangers felt freeing and natural. It was an amazing experience, and I loved it. After the show I was interviewed by a college show and I talked to a bunch of the competing poets. As proud as I am it was also a humbling experience. The poets I spoke to were amazing and extremely skilled, so their encouragement made me want to work harder to get to their level, rather than give me a big head. All in all, it was a great night.


by Sharon Stewart, Clerk of the Board - March 25, 2014

Dear Friends,

We are writing to share that Marjorie Fox has resigned as Head of School at The Woolman Semester School and Sierra Friends Center. She served as Head of School from January 2013 to March 15, 2014. Our former Head of School, Dorothy Henderson, has returned as Interim Head of School, beginning March 16, 2014 through June 30, 2015.

In her resignation, Marjorie stated: “It is with my deepest respect for Woolman’s founders, supporters and those who have worked long and hard over the past 50 years to guide youngsters toward a peaceful and sustainable future, that I submit my resignation.”

We are grateful to Marjorie for her hard work, dedication, great care and concern. We appreciate all that she did to undergird the stability of the Center, especially her focus on improving administrative and financial accounting practices. We wish Marjorie a smooth transition as she moves on to the next chapter of her life.

After a careful discernment process, in which she sought spiritual and practical guidance, Dorothy Henderson embraced the opportunity to return to Woolman as Interim Head of School. We are very grateful to Dorothy for her willingness to return now, so that the Board has time to conduct a robust search for a new Head of School.

Members of the Board met with staff and faculty on March 9th to share the news of the leadership transition. We left deeply inspired by the love, creativity and resourcefulness that characterizes the Woolman community. There was a shared sense of hope and a commitment to working together, with Dorothy, to move positively into the future. We ask you to hold the students, staff, Dorothy and the broader community in your hearts as we move through this transition and continue to empower young people to find their path and help create much-needed change in the world.


Sharon Stewart, Clerk
College Park Friends Educational Association,
governing body of the Sierra Friends Center,
​The Woolman Semester School and Camp Woolman

by Tom Vogt, Community Intern - March 9, 2014

This semester, we decided to stay right here at Woolman for our service day and work on our own land. We widened and flattened the Pottery Trail, making it more accessible to people with a range of physical abilities. Once we work on the two bridges on the trail, we will have an accessible loop, connecting the Art (Pottery) Barn to the Fire Road, to Mel's Pond, to Woolman Lane, and back down to main campus. Thanks to our wonderful community intern Tom for these photos!

by Jennifer Stone, Peace Studies Teacher - March 9, 2014

One of my favorite parts of teaching Peace Studies is the opportunity to read and discuss Assata, the autobiography of Assata Shakur. The book raises critical questions about race and racism, prisons, violence, social change, and resiliency and hope in the midst of tremendous injustice—themes that unfortunately are all too relevant today. Here, students Imani Sherley and Sophie Tuchel share some of their first impressions:

“It was amazing the number of people who said they were too Black already” (Assata, 25).

This part of the book and this quote in particular resonated with me in a myriad of ways. Even today, years after this book was written, there is still a huge divide within the black community along color lines. People still value European features over our own, and they especially value light skin over dark. I know for a fact that I have received better treatment from people in my life because of my lighter skin. Darkness then and now is seen as a burden, and both white and black people treat it as such. The lighter you are, the more others will associate you with something other than black, which unfortunately can give you privileges over other black people. Skin whitening is still a huge industry, and even Dove sells skin bleaching products in Asia and Africa. The crazy thing about this quote from Assata though isn’t the cultural ideal she is introducing, it’s the fact that these people are on the beach! That is how deep this runs.

“I was supposed to be a child version of a goodwill ambassador, out to prove that Black people were not stupid or dirty or smelly or uncultured” (Assata, 37).           

Code Switching! Respectability politics! This quote has it all. Assata is referencing something so real here I couldn’t help but start snapping when I read it. The way that she describes her middle school experience and the attitudes of her teachers and the black community was some of the best writing thus far in the book. In this chapter she basically tells her story in a way that defines some key concepts in black survival. The need and expectation of talking, walking, and looking like white people is a form of code switching, or learning how to function in one part of society while still maintaining your authentic identity elsewhere. Use your slang on the porch, but cross your t’s and dot your i’s in the classroom. This way of thinking which her grandparents presented her with is also known as respectability politics. It is the expectation that those black people who are often in white owned spaces ought to act a certain way in order to preserve the respectability of the race a whole. Assata was definitely not down with that plan. This is because respectability politics take away the individual’s right to self-authenticity for the sake of being  “acceptable” and uniform. Nevertheless, respectability politics are still a huge part of black survival today, just like code switching. I code switch. Other black kids at my school constantly either rebel against or expect others to perpetuate respectability politics. I didn’t realize how much I had in common with Assata, or how much has not changed within the black community and the American School System.  

- Imani Sherley

It is so crazy to me that so many people grew up thinking that white, straight-haired, and thin-lipped was the most beautiful way to be. Sure, most children, teens, and even adults have insecurities and long for different features; that’s not at all uncommon. But to grow up thinking that the color of your skin is less beautiful than another race’s? Or putting a clothespin on your nose to make it thinner? I think it was that part that made me realize how privileged I have been in my growing up. Like I mentioned earlier, most kids have insecurities; I wished that I was taller, blonder, and better at sports, amongst other things. The differences between my insecurities and Assata’s are that mine were more or less something that I could make happen. I was going to grow, I could always dye my hair, and if I really wanted to get better at sports I could have practiced my butt off. But you can’t change the color of your skin or the texture of your hair (very easily). That, my friend, is called privilege.

I could relate to a surprisingly large number of Assata’s experiences as a child, such as teachers who gave homework as punishment, and watching T.V. shows depicting what families are ‘supposed’ to be like. I think that is why I loved this book so much; everyone has a little piece of Assata inside of them, and reading some parts of this story felt like reading an entry in a diary from my younger self.

This book is so emotional, and it just makes me feel so many overwhelming emotions all at the same time. I felt joy and love for Assata when she was happy or even being stubborn, and I loved anyone who helped her succeed. I felt an extreme amount of sympathy for Assata, and I was amazed at how resilient she was throughout all of the challenges she faced. I felt as though she was a good friend of mine, and I wanted her to win every battle and just be happy and carefree. I am, and always will be rooting for her.

-Sophie Tuchel