The Model UN Trip – A Student’s Perspective

We asked one of our grade 12 students to share her account of the school’s trip to participate in the Model UN. This is Lili Coelho’s story.

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Last month, a group of Abelard’s politics students traveled to New York City for a three-day model UN conference. It was a short yet hectic trip; every moment was occupied, and the pace never slowed. It was something that many people never have the opportunity to experience, and as a grade 12 student, I’m infinitely glad that I did.

Our trip began with a bumpy morning flight and a day of sightseeing. While I had been to New York before, I’d never spent much time in the city—full of iconic landmarks and vibrant activity, it was quite spectacular. We walked through Times Square to Strand Bookstore, then to Greenwich village for a cozy Italian dinner. Our group spent the first day together, enjoying each other’s company, before we were launched into the conference proper. It was truly a great way to begin the trip—surrounded by friends, enjoying the sights.

We visited the Natural History Museum on the morning of our second day. I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say that the dinosaur skeletons and the habitat displays made us feel like kids again, fascinated by the natural world. It was a snowy day on the Upper West Side, but after the museum we leisurely strolled back to the Hilton, discovering shopping centers and incredible cafés along the way. Back at the hotel, it was finally time to prepare for the opening ceremonies at the United Nations Headquarters itself—we put on our best clothes and made our way out.

I wasn’t anticipating a wait of over an hour in below-zero temperatures, but that’s what we got. Airport-level security slowed the line down to a crawl, and we ended up huddled together for warmth beneath the unforgiving wind by the time it was our turn to enter. No matter how painful the wait was, though, it was worth it. As I walked through the halls of the UN to the General Assembly, all I was wondering was “whose footsteps am I following?”

The General Assembly itself was more grandiose than the pictures had made it seem. While we all wished that we could have had the closing ceremonies there so we could actually vote on resolutions, I think being there really got us all into the Model UN mindset. The keynote speaker was polarizing, so I won’t elaborate on that—but it was incredible just to be there.

That night, the conference finally began. The first committee session was a haze of networking, note-writing, and figuring out how everything worked. I think a lot of us felt out of place—many of the American schools in attendance had been to multiple other conferences in the past few months, and we had to pick up a lot of knowledge as we went along. However, over the course of the session I became not only more comfortable, but confident enough in my position on the issue being discussed to go up and speak in front of approximately three hundred people—as someone who has always been extremely anxious in public speaking situations, that was huge for me. The session lasted until midnight, and my partner and I left feeling satisfied and excited for the next day.

I think that, over the course of four more sessions, we all surprised ourselves. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to hear any of my classmates (apart from Randa, my committee partner) speak in their respective committees, and the next few days were so hectic that there was barely time to talk to each other. I went up to speak a

few more times, and we ended up writing an entire clause in the working paper that eventually became a resolution. Randa and I made friends and we made enemies as we became more involved in the process than we ever thought we would be. At the end of committee sessions, when our resolution passed, we were exhausted, but happy and satisfied with what we had accomplished.

On our final night, most of us ended up leaving the Delegate Dance (which was far from an Abelard-style party) to spend some quality time together in one of the hotel rooms. We shared our experiences from the conference and reflected on them. While we all accomplished different things in our committees, all of us enjoyed the experience.

Our final day was much like our first. After the closing ceremonies, we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, then walked around the city for the final hour before driving back to the airport. And that was the end of the trip.

Overall, I’m incredibly glad to have participated in NHSMUN. Those of us who went are, of course, extremely grateful to Mr. Blair and Mme. Rossinsky, without whom the trip wouldn’t have been possible. It’s strange to think that in just a couple months, I’ll have graduated—the end of an era is approaching. It’s experiences like this that’ll make me remember my last year of high school fondly years down the road. Thank you to everyone who made it possible.

Mr. Young Talks AP Exams

Some of our senior students are in the final leg of their prep for writing the Advanced Placement (or AP) Exams in early May. Abelard is an AP exam centre, and we are proud of our students’ track records on these competitive placement tests. Advanced Placement exams are administered by the College Board, the same organization that runs the SATs, and can be an important part of the Abelardian experience.

Our students should seriously weigh the value of writing these exams. Some European post-secondary institutions, particularly in the UK and Germany, require five AP test scores from applicants. Many universities in North America consider strong results on AP tests as equivalent to first-year courses. This means that, at some schools, students can either skip to second-year classes, leaving more space in their programs for electives, or they can use AP exams to fulfill program breadth requirements. Students who achieve a score of 5 (the highest mark possible) on at least five exams are recognized by the College Board for their accomplishment–a feather in the cap of any high school graduate.

Although there are many disciplines tested by AP exams, our students most frequently write the Calculus, English, French, American History, Psychology, Biology, Physics, and Latin tests. The exams are difficult and shouldn’t be attempted without preparation–both a 90% average in a grade 12 course along with approval from their teacher are usually a good indication that the student is up to the challenge. Students should start thinking about whether or not they would like to write the tests while they are still in grade 9, and can begin preparation as early as grade 10.

While we do insist on at-home study to get ready for these daunting tests, our grade 12 level courses cover much of the curriculum that is on AP exams. Students electing to write should feel well supported in their efforts. Mr. Young coordinates our students’ participation in the APs, so students should speak with him to express their interest. The exams cost around $150 each to write depending on the value of the Canadian dollar at the time of payment. Most students who take on this challenge will write three exams while in grade 11, and another three while in grade 12.

All this said, the AP exams are not required, and may not be the best fit for all students. Those who are interested in applying at schools in the United States, for instance, may find that an SAT or ACT is needed for admission. Whatever path our students choose, we are deeply invested in preparing our them for their best future. Students and parents should speak with us early and often about how we can help them excel.

A New Home for Abelard

We are thrilled to share the news that Abelard has a new home! At the end of this scholarly year we will bid adieu to our College Street location and take up residence in a very safe neighbourhood on the fourth floor of 557 Church Street. Strategically placed in between the University of Toronto and Ryerson, within a short walk of the Yonge/Bloor subway stop, and with dedicated bike lanes leading right to us on Bloor and Wellesley, we are going to be more accessible than ever. In September 2017, our classes will convene there.

There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the move. As now, Abelard will occupy the entire floor of the building, but our new school is more spacious and has more natural light. Before we take occupancy in August, we are having renovations done to carve out the exact facilities that we need. Students can expect a science lab that is as well equipped as in our current building, but with dedicated plumbing which will allow for more experimentation. Art students will work in a more spacious room. We will have a bigger assembly hall, and the students will have their own lunch room with a kitchen. There are excellent options for students who choose to purchase a lunch in the neighbourhood, including a large Hasty Market on the main floor of our new building.

We hope that you are as enthusiastic as we are. Parents will have a chance to check out the new facilities at their orientation night early in the fall. Alumni are always welcome to stop by for a visit; we hope to see many familiar faces starting in September. Until then, we’ll do our best to keep you up-to-date here!

The Model UN Trip

A group of our senior students recently visited NYC to represent Iceland at the Model United Nations. We are so proud of all the hard work they put into their preparation and for their ‘model’ efforts at the event! We’ll be sharing some students’ accounts of the trip in the next few weeks. Until then, here are some photos from the trip!

Getting Playful

Every year our drama class collaborates on the production of a show. This year we’re thrilled to be staging three one-act-plays: Charlie by Slawomir Mrozek, The Still Alarm by George S. Kaufman, and The Zoo Story by Edward Albee. Together these are funny plays that explore the ephemerality of life, our obligations to others, and the importance of being attentive to the world around us.

George S. Kaufman wrote The Still Alarm in 1925. It is an oddly prescient piece which the class has likened to a popular meme of a cartoon dog sitting complacently in a room on fire. In it, two businessmen are concluding a visit at a hotel when the bellboy arrives to announce that the hotel has erupted in flame. Rather than run to the nearest exit, they take the news in stride and continue to languish in the room. They note coolly that the floor is alarmingly warm and that a crowd has gathered outside the building. When the firemen arrive, the businessmen continue on as though they were hosting visitors. As flames consume the room, one of the firemen pulls out a violin and plays a tune while the play ends.

Charlie was written in 1978 by Polish playwright Slawomir Mrozek. At the time of its writing, Poland was still behind the iron curtain; there is considerable evidence that Mrozek hid pointed critiques of his government in his surrealist and sometimes grotesque plays. Charlie is no different. In it, we see a young man bringing his grandfather to see an optometrist. Grandpa is on a mission to shoot a person called Charlie and needs new glasses so that he can identify his enemy. As the play progresses we discover that Charlie can be just about anyone, and Grandpa–freshly equipped with glasses–is quick to label the optometrist as his target. Fearing for his life, the optometrist hastily finds a new Charlie to place in front of Grandpa’s gun. His target dispatched, Grandpa and his Grandson leave the office but promise to come back the following day to shoot again. In its dark humour this text questions where the line is drawn between the individual and the ‘common good,’ while demonstrating how fanaticism slips easily into repression and terrorism.

The Zoo Story is Edward Albee’s first play. It was written in 1958 and is still regularly produced. The play tells the story of two men who meet on a bench in New York City’s Central Park. Peter is a businessman with a family and nice home, and Jerry is a drifter who is desperate for a meaningful conversation. Through a series of provocations, Jerry gets Peter talking about life and its value and manages to shake Peter out of his complacency with a surprise twist ending.

We hope that you’ll join us the evening of May 19th at the Palmerston Library Theatre to see the fruits of all our hard work! Please be in touch with the school for details about tickets.

Athletics at Abelard

We wrapped up February with a school trip to Mount St. Louis Moonstone, a ski resort just North of Barrie. Many of our students are accomplished skiers, but even novices were confidently completing runs by the time we left the slopes. While athletics are not a major focus at Abelard, we do value and applaud students’ sporting efforts. Health Canada recommends that high school students get 60 minutes of daily physical activity, but reports that only one in eight actually get the exercise they need (Picard).

We recently sat down with some of the school’s more ambitious athletes to get a sense of why they dedicate so much of their ‘down’ time to exercise, and how they balance the rigours of an Abelard education with hours of extra-curricular training. Lavan Balendran is an avid runner and keen swimmer, while Carmina Cornacchia is a competitive swimmer who is up and training most mornings before many of her classmates are even awake. Elias Zaarour, now in his last year at Abelard, has recently transitioned from being a nationally-ranked speed skater to a crossfit athlete. Emma Adamson-DeLuca and Milena Loginova are both avid ballet dancers who train several evenings a week and most Saturdays. Roberta Vakruchev pursues several sports, and Jackson Levine is into competitive Olympic weight lifting.

When asked why they do what they do, the overwhelming consensus was that time spent exercising helped relieve stress and achieve a sense of personal balance. Carmina, Lavan, and Roberta, in particular, reported feeling focused and in-the-moment when pursuing their sport of choice; while training, their everyday worries were put aside because the physical activity demanded their full attention. Our athletes also reflected on the sense of accomplishment they feel when they achieve a goal, whether that ambition is beating a personal best or getting through the next class or training session. Milena noted that even though she only started dancing a few years ago, every newly acquired skill pushes her to keep going. Although it might seem counterintuitive, our athletes all also agreed that the time they dedicated to training ultimately helped their academic performance. Emma explained that with a limited number of hours to accomplish school work, she is less inclined to procrastinate and so is readily able to complete her assignments. Elias and Jackson spoke at length about how competitive sport taught them how to set goals and how to productively deal with failure.

There is considerable research that backs up what our students report – in addition to gains in physical health, regular exercise helps reduce stress and improve mental health as well (“Physical Activity”). As the weather turns and we return to warmer and longer days, we should all be looking for ways to get a little more exercise.

Works Cited:

“Physical Activity.” Health Canada. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/physactiv/index-eng.php

Picard, Andrew. “Only 1 in 8 Canadian kids get enough exercise, report says.” The Globe and Mail. 23 August 2012. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/only-1-in-8-canadian-kids-get-enough-exercise-report-says/article4189297/

Self-Portraits from Junior Art

Like the great artists of history, some of our junior artists have been practicing self-portraiture. It takes a keen eye, steady hand, and creative mind to achieve results like these!

Moments

by Anna Nabutovsky
excerpt from final project for EWC4U, The Writer’s Craft

Tears:

And I wept. The tears fell onto the canvas one by one, creating puddles on the bright display. And I hoped they would wash away the paint, leaving the canvas blank, fresh, clean, and ready to begin anew. And I wept, watching the tears fall onto the canvas not clearing a thing away but rather smudging the paint, leaving it a blurry, murky mess. And I sighed, knowing that tears would do me no good. So I took out my finest brush and my darkest shade of red, and painted over the canvas, covering the shameful blur with a powerful, deep, seeping, all consuming red.

Emptiness:

In the iridescent glow of the moonlight
In the outline of a palm on the glass
In the flickering of lights
In the moment of passion
There was beauty

In the fantasies you had
In the dreams that were not realized
In the sleepless nights
In what could have been
There was hope

In the days spent without care
In the sound of your laughter
In the lecherous thoughts
In the treacherous moments
There was desire

But when the flame burns out
When reality collides with vision
When you stand before me as you are
And I stand before you as I am
Nothing left unseen
And nothing left unspoken
There is emptiness.

Anger:

The moment was red. Thrashing wildly against the restraints of reason, tugging at the chains of social order, and entirely rid of the emotional consciousness which plagues day to day interactions. From tense voices to piercing screams in an instant. The shatter of wedding china, ceramics shredding into fine pieces, impossible to fix, broken apart for good. And then silence, the red fades to white. White hot rage, broken away from passion, fading to indifference.

Betrayal:

The beginning of a day
The coy playfulness of a wink
The excitement of risk
The treacherous sound of your heart beating

A moment of desire
A ballet of silhouettes
A soft whisper
A silky strand of hair

The movement of one hand
The cry of pain
The sound of water running
The ending of a story which never began.

Loneliness:

Four borders, fading at the edges. I look down. She sits alone on a rocking chair draped with a wool blanket. The room is small, poorly lit, with only a faint glow which casts menacing shadows. She is old, but more frail than befits her age, so frail in fact, that she blends seamlessly into her surroundings, becoming one with the battered, dusty furniture. A Persian rug is strewn across the floor, not exactly carelessly, just haphazardly. She looks up suddenly from her trembling hands, and we see her eyes. Vividly expressive. Now watery, but once a bright blue, filled with a zest for life. The room grows darker, as the wax drips from the lone candle in the corner. She looks down, with a half defeated sorrowful glance, and begins to rock in the chair. The candle in the corner drips again, creating a stain on the rustic wooden table, which shakes slightly. She looks up again, her thin lips twist into a half scowl which evokes more pity than fear. Her bony fingers reach for her cane, she trembles slightly, unable to grasp it, and gives up with a defeated sigh. Her eyes fall onto a photograph which hangs above the torn sofa. It is a mustard yellow colour from age, but that gives it a quaint sort of charm. It depicts a smiling young woman. Bright blue eyes. Her hair waves in the wind in an elaborate adage. There is much innocence in her gaze, a smirk plays on her lips, which shows that she has not yet shed all the layers of youthful conceit. Yet, she is a worldly sort of beauty. A becoming young man stands in a wool coat by her side. His blonde hair is covered with snow. He looks at her, not at the camera. She lowers her gaze from the photo. A single tear slides down her face. Not just nostalgia: regret. She shifts her gaze again, and looks out the lone window. It is already April, yet winter refuses to leave. There is something beautiful about the plush white carpet and black still night. They call forth memories of laugher, and fireplaces. It is too late for that now. It is springtime. Yet the snow persists, refusing to leave the past and make room for the future. The moonlight gives the still landscape an ethereal glow. She sees two men pass by, both wearing large spectacles and wool coats. They pass with a sense of impending purpose, yet simultaneously a cavalier air follows them. They don’t seem to notice the stars or the moonlight. She is glad when they pass, their briefcases sully the beauty of the night. I hold her gaze for a second longer. She is fading away at the edges. The picture crumples, and falls to the ground.

Belonging:

I dip my brush into the paint, watching each stroke find a home nestled amongst the others. The paint dries quickly in the blazing heat. I wipe my brow to stop the sweat from dripping into my eye. Alongside me the others work chirping away in a flurry of merriment. The giddiness twirls around me, engulfing me into its welcoming embrace, begging me to join if only for a second. Yet, for some reason I resist the temptation preferring sulky isolation to the surrounding joy. I frown, immersing my paint brush into the can and stroking the walls of the decaying tunnel with the familiar rhythm. Sounds of laughter echo around me again. Talk about pathetic fallacy, I think to myself bitterly. The high pitched squeals of delight go hand in hand with the admittedly glorious weather and vivid colours. I shake my hand, everything is almost offensively bright. Like a scene plucked from a children’s book, designed to fool the naive and innocent into believing in the lightness of momentary paradise. Their joy rains onto my parade. It is ironic considering I am the sole dark blemish on the purity and sunniness of our surroundings. Somehow that makes me feel worse. I dip my brush into the darkest colour available, a glaring anime purple, and shudder. I watch the young girl next to me spread the yellow paint generously over the walls. She has a butterfly tattoo on her ankle. I think its shamefully typical, but maybe she has it all figured out. Pink butterflies, ankle tattoos, silky blonde hair, and an infectious smile. I look up at the previously grim tunnel now painted to resemble a rainbow. Glitter, unicorns, butterflies, rainbows, and me, I think to myself. Name the thing the does not belong. I smirk and start to think about rainbows, the irony of sunshine and rain working together. I look to the herd of giggling girls next to me. Sunshine, I think to myself. Suddenly, I stop, feeling a genuine smile creeping onto my lips for the first time today. This rainbow wouldn’t exist without rain. I am grim, dark, and hopelessly past naiveté, yet I can’t help but giggle, and for one moment I feel as though I truly belong.

Monthly Update – January

We’re back at it! After a restful holiday, students and teachers at Abelard are tackling a dizzying breadth of concepts and learning exciting new skills.

In grade 9 science, students have been working through the study of optics. They’ve learned about curved mirrors and reflections, and how these are used practically (like on telescopes such as the Hubble). Ms. Nemr’s students are learning about quantities in chemistry; they completed a mini lab experiment where they calculated the number of H2O molecules they drank in one sip of water. Mr. Kilgour’s aspiring chemists wrapped up organic chemistry (a unit in which they did very well), and moved on to chemical kinetics. Dr. Schwartz’s grade 12 biology class took a trip to the research lab of Dr. Peter Roy in the Donnelly Centre at U of T. There they learned about how the nematode worm, C. elegans, can be used in drug discovery screens. They also carried out labs to learn about molecular biology. The grade 11 biology class did labs that introduced them to aspects of biological diversity, and participated in debates on ethical questions related to medicine, agriculture, and the environment. Mr. Luciuk’s students learned about electricity and magnetism; of note was an in-depth discussion about the microscopic origins of magnetism. Mr. Amatuni’s computer class modeled their first real, working prototypes on the base of Cisco network’s simulation platform after an intense immersion in the fundamental concepts of the Internet.

In English, Ms. Lefolii reports that they have been busy! Her grade 12 students have been studying the influence of William James’ Principles of Psychology on Virginia Woolf’s ground-breaking development of stream-of-consciousness as a narrative technique, and they’ve written fascinating essays on the concept of text in Moby Dick. In Grade 11 they’ve been discussing the thorny issue of Free Will in Milton’s Paradise Lost, and exploring Heironymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, a bizarre 16th c. visual counterpart to Milton’s poem. In Canadian Literature, they have been following the current controversy over award-winning author Joseph Boyden, and discussing how identity is a central concern of not only the literature of our own country, but of literature in general. Poetry writing with the Grade 9 English class is gaining momentum as students begin to get used to the idea not just of reading metrical poetry but actually writing iambic pentameter. Mr. Young affirms with enthusiasm that budding poets lurk beneath math and science aficionados! Our ESL students have been talking about everything from going on adventures in the Australian Outback to how we can be more responsible with our spending.

Among our other language learners, Mr. Klamph reports that in Mandarin they have been talking about illnesses, allergies, and seeing a doctor. They are getting pretty good at describing symptoms and talking about taking medicines. They are also on the way to mastering a unique grammatical structure (with no equivalent in English) for talking about changes to objects. Mme. Rossinsky’s grade 9 French class is working full blast on food/cafe/restaurant vocabulary; they are fully capable of ordering in French. In grade 10 French, students bravely fought their way trough an un-adapted (though shortened) version of Hugo’s Notre Dame. They also studied French Art and Artists and composed their own fairy tales. Grade 11 French students are studying what is, according to Mme. Rossinsky, the best unit of the course: they are learning how to declare their love (should they ever need to) to a French-speaking person. The grade 12 French Civilization class is studying the Enlightenment; Mme. Rossinsky is confident that all are now fully enlightened.

 

In the social sciences, Mme. Bratchuli shares that the geography class has just started exploring connections between landforms, geology, and human activity in Canada. They have learned, in detail, the factors that determine climate in different geographic regions all around the world and in our own country. Dr. Atallah is tackling psychology with her students; they have been on a mission to understand how neurons function – a fun challenge.

Of course, February will bring new and exciting projects. Among many other new ventures, students enrolled in Writer’s Craft will continue their exercises in imitation by penning their own “faux” Cormac McCarthy. Grade 9 French students are going to try to cook some traditional French food. The Grade 11 biology class will go on a trip to Allan Gardens to learn about plant diversity. Mr. Luciuk and his students will be building electrical circuits once they’ve finished learning all their theory. American history students are about to open the book on the Civil War.

We are all also marking the Chinese New Year in early February – the celebration kicked off on January 28 and continues until February 11. (Solomon, Constantine, or Oscar can teach you some Chinese New Year’s greetings!) We are also very excited about the Sears Festival and our school’s performance of an adaptation of Chekhov’s hilarious comedy The Marriage Proposal. The performance will take place at Bishop Marrocco High School on the evening of February 27th. Everyone is welcome to attend! For tickets and other information, contact the school.

Here we go!