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Ilut Middle School students share their perspectives

What was surprising during your visit?

“Families wake up earlier here.”

“I was surprised by the creativity of the food. I saw fried pickles! I was confused at first!”

“American kids read and not just play sports.”

“I learned that American kids are sometimes serious.”

What was difficult during your visit?

“Speaking in English all the time makes me tired.”

The six Israeli Arab students who visited Brookwood from the Ilut Middle School were excited and full of energy when we sat down with them to talk about their experience during the two-week cultural exchange.

The three girls and three boys, who range in age from 12 to 15, and their teachers (Kefah Lahwani, Middle School English Teacher, and Nofuz Khateeb, Ilut Middle School History Teacher and Grade Seven Administrator), lived with Brookwood families during their stay, learning about life in American homes as well as sharing aspects of their culture. During the school day the students attended classes with their sixth and eighth grade Brookwood peers and visited classes in the Lower and Middle Schools.

In our interview, the overall message from the enthusiastic, engaging students was excitement – about Brookwood, making new friends, their host families, sharing their culture, and so much more.

Here are the six Ilut students and a few of their thoughts about America, Americans, and their adventure becoming a part of the Brookwood community.


“I was excited to see the school, meet new teachers, see a new life and make new friends.” Most surprising to Dana was, “People are so kind here. My host family is so kind!”


“I’m looking forward to meeting new friends, [and] learning in classes here. Brookwood has classes we don’t have like art and music …  I like it.” Adan added that she hoped to share “some traditions of our country. For example, extended family – aunts and uncles – live close together. Strong relationships.”


Before her arrival, Lama was looking forward to, “ Meeting my host family and eating American food.” To her, the biggest surprise was, “Brookwood School is so amazing.”


Hosam was also excited that he was able to share parts of his culture. “I taught some Arabic and Hebrew, and about how we learn at our school.” Like all the students, he added that one of the biggest challenges during the two weeks was that, “I miss my family.”


Mohammed, a very thoughtful 15-year-old, said he was looking forward to “sharing who we really are,” and noted that he found that there were many similarities between Ilut Middle School and Brookwood: “Teachers are kind and are like family. Kindness and connection are very important to help students learn,” he said.


Also 15, Ameen said he had been looking forward to, “seeing how other people live and how school is here.” He thought the after-school sports were tough until he switched to running, which he liked. “We have soccer and basketball all seasons,” at Ilut, he said.

// View the full photo gallery //

Reflections on hosting Arab Israeli visitors from Ilut Middle School

In early 2016, Brookwood sixth graders began sharing aspects of their lives and culture with a group of Israeli Arab eighth grade students from Ilut, a small village in northern Israel near Nazareth. Using an Israeli Ministry of Education website, food preferences, music, daily activities and school life were the staples commonly traded. The kids were excited to connect and learn from each other.

Then, during a trip to Israel in March 2016, I got into a car with my wife and 24-year-old son to drive two hours north from Tel Aviv to visit our new friends in person. Though I had lived in Israel decades earlier, I had never developed a relationship with any Israeli Arabs. I was very nervous, feeling like I was stepping into the unknown and taking a big leap of faith.

Any assurance I felt was due in great part to Kefah Lahwani, an English teacher at Ilut Middle School and Nofuz Khateeb, History Teacher and Grade Seven Team Leader. Kefah Lahwani and I met via after I sent a request for our sixth grade students to ask questions about the conflicts in Israel. Brookwood sixth graders study the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and we were hoping to gather perspectives from various students in that region. Kefah replied almost immediately and loved the idea! However, despite how sensitive Evan Diamond (Grade Six World Cultures Teacher and Upper School Division Head), Maile Black (Grade Six English and World Cultures Teacher) and I tried to be as we crafted the questions we wanted to ask her students, Kefah informed me that we had left out the most important question. I felt awful that we had missed something important but could not imagine what question we forgot. “Ask the students what it feels like to be an Arab citizen in Israel,” she told me via Skype. Her simple but important request reminded me that I still had so much to learn about the complicated layers that make up the history and people of Israel.

Kefah and Nofuz were gracious enough to invite my family to visit her school. As we approached the village of Ilut on a hillside, we were instructed to pull into the only gas station that served the town and text Kefah using WhatsApp. Kefah told me that Ilut had no street signs and it would be easier for me to follow her to school than try to locate it myself. As we pulled up to the parking area at the front of a large concrete building with a small asphalt playground, I felt that we could be in front of any typical urban, land-locked middle school with few resources and large class sizes. Students stopped and stared, filled windows and pointed at us as we walked from our cars into the courtyard and up the main flight of stairs. As I later learned, we were some of the first U.S. citizens ever to visit the school. Most importantly, I was the first person to come to their school because I valued their opinions, their voices about the Palestinian Conflict and what life was like for them as Arabs living in Israel.

Thinking I would simply be interviewing Kefah’s eighth grade class for 45 minutes, I was surprised at the ceremony and significance of our visit. We were officially greeted by the Principal and sat down for tea in his office, followed by a tour of the school with an entourage of teachers and several students. Finally, when I met with the eighth graders in a classroom, filled with many other teachers and the Principal, we were also greeted by the Mayor of Ilut. He had come to present me with a plaque for honoring his school and his students by our visit. It reads: “To our friend Doug… It was an honor to have you as our guest. We appreciate your efforts, partnership, and friendship.”

I was allowed to video groups of students as they addressed the questions we had prepared. The students were proud to share their opinions and I was honored to collect them. At one point during our interaction, one young man was encouraged by all to sing a song about the Palestinian conflict, which he did enthusiastically! After all students presented their views and I gave them gifts from Massachusetts (a picture book about New England and lots of salt water taffy), Kefah told us that the Principal had arranged a special luncheon at a nearby restaurant for my family, some teachers and about a dozen students. It was a generous and delicious multi-course meal of many traditional Arabic dishes. Most importantly though, it was a time that my colleague Kefah and I began to nurture the new found friendship between our schools and imagine where it might take us.

A few weeks later, back in the U.S., our students wrapped up their online project. Kefah then suggested that she bring a small group of students to Brookwood. I loved the idea! Very generously, Kefah informed me that her school and their parents would bear the cost of getting to Brookwood. As I have come to know Kefah Lahwani and Nofuz Khateeb, Ilut’s seventh grade Administrator and History teacher, I learned that they are two very dedicated teachers, generous with their love and time they devote to their students. As does Brookwood, they deeply believe in the education that comes from building bridges between people.

Fast forward to April 2017, and imagine a busy beehive of activity as Brookwood prepared itself to receive six Israeli Arab Muslim students (three boys and three girls) along with two teachers. Our host families spent time getting to know the children they would eventually welcome into their homes by using Skype and WhatsApp. In order to be gracious and respectful hosts, we learned about Muslim prayer practices, Halal dietary guidelines, and common Middle Eastern foods. Our students tried to put themselves in the shoes of our guests. What would make them anxious? How could we help our guests feel more comfortable here? How could we best make them feel welcome and part of our community? Everyone was excited and nervous. The preparation and planning would be nearly as rewarding as their visit.

When the time finally came for our eight guests to arrive at Boston Logan airport on the evening of April 3, Brookwood was excited and ready! At least 30 people were waiting at the customs arrival door with signs, flowers and even a ukulele to greet them. We exchanged texts every 10 minutes or so to gauge their progress through customs, until finally, they appeared through the glass doors and were greeted by cheers and hugs.

During their two-week visit, the students spent most of their time in classes with our sixth and eighth graders, and lived as new family members with their hosts. During the school day there were many opportunities to meet with different grade levels to exchange ideas, ranging from cooking to playing games. For example, our guests taught Pre-Kindergarten students how to bake bread with zaatar, a mix of middle-eastern spices. They also taught many of our students hand games and how to dance dapka.

And we all asked questions of each other. During one open question session between our seventh graders and our guests, a Brookwood student asked “did you have any stereotypes of Americans before you came here that you now think are wrong?” One of our guests, also a seventh grader, didn’t hesitate. “I didn’t think Americans were kind people. But it’s not true. You are all so very kind!”

Many gifts were exchanged, such as an official plaque for our school, delicious pastries homemade from their families or purchased from the Arab shuks, traditional Arabic clothing, and beautiful ceramic oil decanters.

Other gifts live in our hearts and memories as our friendships quickly grew over the course of two intensive weeks of activities and sharing. Kefah Lahwani, Nofuz Khateeb and Ilut Middle School sent us the very best global ambassadors we could ever have hoped to receive.

– Doug Fodeman,
Director of Technology

Should Brookwood offer straws in the dining room?

Jack ’21 and Addie ’23 W. saw a problem and started working to bring about change and make a difference.

Their efforts were initiated after seeing a photo of a sea turtle with a plastic straw lodged in its nose and doctors working to extract it.

“The straw was stuck,” says Addie, “and the turtle was bleeding.”

The children began thinking about the plastic straws used at lunch at Brookwood and decided that was something the community should stop and think about. They began to research plastic straws and learned that 90% of all trash in the ocean is plastic that never biodegrades, and that 44% of all seabirds and 22% of fish and other marine animals have eaten plastic. Straws are in the top 10 of all marine trash.

“Plastic straws never go away so they can go from one animal and then hurt another animal,” explains Addie.

“I’m a fisherman, and I don’t want plastic straws hurting the fish and wildlife,” adds Jack.

The pair decided to see if they could encourage change at Brookwood. They shared their research and proposal with Ms. Caron who suggested they gather community opinions and talk to Chef Chris. Jack and Addie went to work.

Jack surveyed his class, sharing the stories of animals hurt by plastic materials. Nearly all students surveyed chose to eliminate straws from lunch. He also talked to many adults in the community, from Mrs. Evans and Ms. Johnson to Nurse Paula and Ms. Drury. Most adults were also on board, choosing to eliminate straws or switch to a biodegradable option.

They observed straw use at lunch and saw unused ones thrown away and that, “some kids use two straws at a time just for fun.”

They also spoke with Chef Chris who looked into usage and found that the community uses about 250 straws a week. Most are used on “chocolate milk Wednesdays.” He also found some eco-friendly straw options, and suggested using a dispenser that allows people to take just one straw at a time.

The duo brought all the information back to Ms. Caron and is now working to finalize their efforts. They hope their work will ultimately foster change in the community.

Pictured: Addie W. and Jack W. with Chef Chris



First graders’ claymation brings “The Snowy Day” to life

In 1962, Ezra Jack Keats, a Jewish immigrant, published a simple story about a young boy going outside to play in the snow. The Snowy Day was one of the first children’s books featuring an African-American character that wasn’t about race, segregation, marginalization or inequality. His iconic, red-suited boy, Peter, represented universal winter experiences – smacking a snow-covered tree with a stick, dragging your feet slowly to make tracks and plopping down to make a snow angel. It is a book about childhood wonder, curiosity and innocence. Who hasn’t experienced that feeling of disappointment when you discover that you can’t preserve a snowball in your pocket?

From the collaged backdrops, plasticine figures, expressive narration and special features, such as floating bubbles and falling snow, my first grade students staged all of these scenes, moved the characters inch by inch and used the Koma Koma app to document it all, one photograph at a time. Pretty extraordinary! They widened their life lens as they built paper cityscapes of a New York neighborhood and molded characters with different skin tones from their own.

I am often asked what my “favorite” project to do each year is. Honestly, I don’t have a perennial favorite.  The Snowy Day ended up being an unexpected jackpot as it fused creativity, collaboration, diversity and literacy skills. We are so proud to share our efforts with you. Enjoy watching on this snowy day!

– Sarah Dawe
First Grade Teacher

Click to watch: A Snowy Day
Password: snowyday

The Creator and the Story Behind Fluffy the Three-Headed Dog

I first met with Debbie Gantt (Performing Arts Coordinator), Alex Edwards (Lower School Music Teacher) and Andrew Luman (Music Teacher) at the beginning of October, and it was there that Alex showed me her drawings for the set and asked if I would be interested in making Fluffy the Three-Headed dog. In her drawings she had three heads coming out of the wall as well as the front legs. I was intrigued by the idea but asked if perhaps it could be the entire dog. Andrew gave me the parameters, and I went away to stew on the idea. Exactly a month later I presented them a scale model of my proposal. The model, made of pink foam rigid insulation, was exactly to scale and showed a five foot girl walking under the legs. They were sold.

December 6, a month later, I sent them a picture of the first head with my daughter Bimba standing next to it to show them how big it was going to be. My hope was at that time they would call me in and say it was too big and we needed to reconsider the project. Instead all I received was their praises. For the next two months all I did was work on Fluffy.

I used almost 1000 sq. ft. of two-inch rigid foam insulation to create the entire dog. Each head takes about 135 sq. ft. Thirteen cans of spray adhesive, seven bottles of Gorilla Glue, and three gallons of paint were used. The body has a core made of two-by-fours and plywood. The front legs have a steel frame which was then covered with the foam. In my studio I built the top half, the heads and top of the body first. I then took them off raised the body to the ceiling of the studio and built the lower half. After spray painting it a golden yellow, I took it all apart and delivered it to Brookwood in three trailer loads. It was there that Alex brought Fluffy to life with her paints. It took all of Friday and part of Saturday to assemble it on the stage.

The most difficult aspect of building this was figuring out how it was going to stand up and be guaranteed that it would not fall down. The solution was the steel used in the front legs and the triangular support I built behind the wall to carry the hind end. I needed to be sure that the dog could not fall forward or push the wall over backward. The other aspect of the project that required the most thought was the tail and how to make it wag. Debbie was determined that the tail had to wag. It is very simple, but it took me a long time to get there.

The sheer size of this could make it very scary to young children, so to tone it down I made the heads to resemble Mr. Peabody’s and gave the body the playful pose of a puppy about to spring forward. Alex then added to that with soft expression around the mouth.

 – Sebastian Carpenter ’79
and Parent ’13, ’14, ’17

30 Drawings in 30 Days

February is of course the perfect month for fun activities like sledding, skiing, ice skating, and snowshoeing. At Brookwood it’s also the time for drawing.

This month, the entire school community – students of all ages, faculty, staff, and parents, and grandparents – is engaged in the 30 Drawings in 30 Days Art Challenge, which runs through March 4. All who are participating take a break from their routine, tap their creative energy, and draw daily in a sketchbook that the Art Department has supplied. It’s an entirely voluntary undertaking – sketching is not assigned.

According to Visual Arts Coordinator and Art Teacher Kathy Stewart, the reasons for the shared community undertaking are many: “It promotes great, creative habits of mind.  It’s good for the soul, helps to calm a chattering, busy mind, and honors the many artists in our community.  It helps us to build observation skills by slowing down and really noticing the world around us, and it’s fun to try something new.”

“The idea comes from a book that I’m reading, Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory,” explains Kathy. “As artists, drawing each day helps us to establish a positive creative habit – practice makes you a better artist.  It is taking time for yourself to do something that you enjoy.”

Need some inspiration? Look to This Week at Brookwood, where Kathy shares weekly thoughts, sketch ideas and prompts. Some of her ideas so far have included:

Do a sketch of the ultimate tree house;
Design a three-tiered birthday cake for your pet;
Create a stylish spacesuit for your first trip to Mars;
Show your little one how to draw something or have them show you how to draw something;
Do a drawing using one continuous line;
Draw with your other hand;
Draw to music with your eyes closed;
Illustrate a poem or book;
Sketch a loved one.

For more inspiration, Kathy suggests these websites and books:
Tangle Art and Drawing Games for Kids, by Jeanette Nyberg
Art Before Breakfast, by Danny Gregory

Be sure to stop and enjoy some of the work that’s being created and displayed on the 30 Drawings bulletin board in the lobby across from the Faculty Room.



Brookwood alumna and her Yale a cappella group perform at School Meeting

Brookwood School alumna Phoebe Gould ’11 returned to campus in mid-January with her Yale University a cappella group Something Extra to perform at School Meeting. The group wowed the audience with their talents and especially with one piece that was a medley of songs from long-time favorite Disney classics.

Thank you to Phoebe and Something Extra for treating us to a great performance!

Middle and Upper School ‘cubers’ compete in Rubik’s tourney

On Saturday, January 21, physical education teacher Bill Schneider and I took two teams to the New England/Concord Rubik’s Cube Challenge. This was the seventh year in a row Brookwood has participated in this competition, and we also hosted it for two years as well.

Beginning in fifth grade, as a part of the math curriculum, every student is schooled in the algorithms in order to solve this internationally acclaimed puzzle. Students who become the fastest at solving it try out for the teams.

There was a team for the Elementary Division made up of fifth graders, and there was a team for the Upper Level, made up of sixth, seventh and eighth graders, most of whom have competed in the past. All team members and alternates also compete in the “Solo Solve” competition. Our grade five solo solvers only had about 60 seconds between our slowest and fastest times … that’s a tight field! Rae H. and Cole P. as well as Jack D. and Lyla S. both had times only two tenths of a second apart. Wow, that’s close!

Al B. and Bobby M. were favored going into the tourney, and then our call-up/walk-on Lila D. stepped up and helped us sweep the Elementary podium, the three getting 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in the division respectively. When asked about his win, Al replied, “It was cool.” Second place finisher, Bobby M. added, “I had been looking forward to it for years, since third or fourth grade. It surprised me that I got a 2nd place! It was just such fun to spend Saturday with my friends doing something I like to do.” Our Grade 5 group was up against some stiff competition in the “Team Solve” and ultimately we did better than two other teams full of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders! The fifth graders reflected:

“In my solo solve, I was so close to beating Lila for third place. Even though I was desperate for that spot, I said, ‘Hey, it’s not the end of the world,’ and I moved on…. When I was asked to help the US team, I was excited for the opportunity to shine, but I knew I’d have to step up my game to help the team.”  Kevin M., Grade 5

“I had no idea what to do, but the video helped because it explained [things] well. The rest of the steps were hard to learn, but my friend and I promised each other we would learn the middle layer before breakfast one weekend.”  Helena C., Grade 5

“There is a lot of pressure when you don’t know what the state of the cube will be when you get it, and you have to be very focused on your own cube.”  Vance F., Grade 5

“Even though I was only watching the Team Solve competition, I felt so much anxiety for everyone on the team, and then when they finished, I was so happy for them!”  Ellie W., Grade 5

“On the Solo round, with all of the people watching and the timer, it was a lot of pressure, and I could’ve done better. I feel that I did better in the Team Solve because I had all of my friends around me.” Lyla S., Grade 5

“I thought it was impossible at the beginning, and then it got easier as I learned the algorithms and tricks. It’s satisfying to make it to the competition because you work really hard to get there.” Jack D., Grade 5

Our Upper School Team Solve competitors also persevered. We were only 18 seconds out of second place and our 6th place finish was separated from 5th place by only four seconds!

For the Solo Solve, 8th grader James M., was 7th out of a field of 49 … wow! He reported, “This is my fourth year, and I love the competitions, where everyone is really friendly and supportive.”

Evan B. and Spencer S. were separated by seven one thousandths of a second … that is also so close!  Thanks to Kevin M. for getting “called up” to help them out, it was so much fun to watch.

Seventh grader Remsen D.’s comment on it all, “It’s fun.” Past team member, seventh grader, Mallory R. remembers, “Seriously, I actually didn’t think I’d be able to solve it. I thought it was for people who are really smart, but eventually I read and used the solution guide, and there was some simple logic to it. The algorithms were really cool. I’m generally a nervous person but going to the competition last year really benefitted me. I met a new group of people and enjoyed the atmosphere!”

Other Upper School cubers reflect:

“When I heard my brother was doing it, I had to practice and see if I could make the team. When I made the team, I was surprised.”  Evan B., Grade 6

“Memorizing the steps was hard, because each step was different from the one before.” Maeve G., Grade 6

“It was frustrating when you mess up in the tournament, but it’s also fun.”  Jaden Z., Grade 6

“The Rubik’s Cube has made me look at any situation from lots of different sides and angles, because when you are solving the Rubik’s Cube, you aren’t just solving for one side, but the whole cube. I’m going to miss the competitions, but if my new [secondary] school doesn’t have a team, I might have to start one so we can still go to competitions.”  James M., Grade 8

– Sven Holch,
Grade 5 teacher


Fourth grade French students correspond with peers abroad

The French speaking world is so much larger than France and Canada, and Brookwood’s French program strives to expose students to the many countries and cultures around the world that use the French language.

Beyond European countries such as Belgium and Switzerland, French is used in many African countries including Senegal, Benin, Guinea, Cameroon, Chad and Rwanda just to name a few. Additionally there are francophone areas in the Caribbean (Haiti, Martinique) and the south Pacific (French Polynesia and New Caledonia).  In an effort to engage students in the language and culture of these countries, my French students have been corresponding with students from around the francophone world.

Three years ago the fourth grade class connected with the Fontamara School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  The connection was made through a volunteer connection I have with the Power of Education Foundation, which started the Fontamara School following the earthquake in 2010.  Brookwood fourth graders wrote autobiographies in French to talk about their homes, families, likes and dislikes, and their school.  The students at Fontamara also wrote to our fourth graders following their lead of topics which made it rather easy for Brookwood French students to understand the French.

Two years ago the fourth grade class was paired with a Peace Corps volunteer teaching in a school in Senegal. Our Peace Corps partner, Samantha, kept a blog of her experience, and the Brookwood class was able to follow her adventure in addition to corresponding with her students in French.  They even got to see pictures that Samantha posted on her blog of students in Senegal writing to Brookwood fourth graders.





This year we were able to take advantage of Grade 1 teacher Sarah Dawe’s trip to Rwanda and Brookwood’s relationship with the APAPEC School.  Many of the classes in the school are taught in French and prior to her departure Brookwood fourth graders wrote personal letters that Ms. Dawe presented to the APAPEC students.  Upon her return she brought letters in French from the students in Rwanda.  They are currently on display on the board outside of my classroom in the World Language Center.

These connections between Brookwood French students and students in Haiti, Senegal and Rwanda have been a truly authentic way of engaging the skills of cultural competence.  These skills, which are essentially behaviors and attitudes that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally, are a central part of these classroom connections.  Students are often quick to point out what we all have in common, but we as educators need to push students to look for what is different as well.  This is where we have to put our cultural competency skills to work.  It is easy and somewhat effortless to respect, honor and understand that which we share in common.  The learning and strengthening of skills of cultural competency come from respecting, honoring and understanding that which is different.

– Joshua Cabral,
French and Spanish teacher


First Grade Magic

Reading, writing, arithmetic and a whole lot of magic! That’s what’s going on in first grade at Brookwood.

Thank you to video producers Grade 1 teacher Sarah Dawe and Music teacher Andrew Luman.