“One Question,” “Flow Day” Capture TJ Spirit
2015-2016 One Question:
“How can we foster a sense of community in our inherently competitive TJ environment?”
submitted by Audrey Huang, TJ ’17
For answers to TJ’s “One Question,” Newsworthy ventured to TJ’s Third Annual “Flow Day,” an exploration of this year’s “One Question” held during 8th period on April 6th.
Amazon: Fostering Community through Customer Service
Paul Misener, Vice President of Global Public Policy at Amazon.com, Inc. (Amazon), and father of incoming TJ freshman Jay Misener, TJ ’20, who assisted with his father’s “Flow Day” presentation, made the case that Amazon’s success results in large measure from its devotion to being “the world’s most customer-centric company.” This focus unites all employees, he explained, helping them to overcome competitive divisions that might otherwise keep them from achieving their corporate goals.
In an entertaining presentation that included fun facts, props, and videos, Misener took his student audience on a quick tour of Amazon’s technical feats, from the Kindle e-reader that was the first device to allow users to download an entire book in under a minute (Misener chaired the technical subcommittee of the FAA-commissioned panel that persuaded regulators that the Kindle was safe to use during airline take-off and landing) to the virtual assistant Alexa; and from the servers of Amazon Web Services that power such companies as Yelp, Spotify, and Netflix to warehouse robots and delivery drones.
He left students with the thought that the best approach to building community in a competitive environment might be the one that Amazon has perfected: “We are competitive, technical people” brought together by our “shared purpose of serving our customer,” he said. At TJ, he suggested, that “customer” could be the school and its students; after graduation, it could be the world.
Other “Flow Day” presenters who explained how competitive environments can support community included Gerry Cox, Parent ’17 (medicine), Chris Boyle, Parent ’17, and, separately, Brigadier General Lenny Richoux, US Air Force, Parent ’16 (the military), gifted education (Jay Gorgia, FCPS math teacher), and other professions (Brian Becker, Parent ’15, ’18).
TJ Peer Tutoring Builds Community
TJ Peer Tutoring (TJPT) is a student-run group that aims to foster community at TJ by pairing tutors and tutees. Principal Founder and Executive Director of TJ Peer Tutoring, Ray Liu, TJ ’16, and Co-Founder and Webmaster Claudia Richoux, TJ ’16, discussed the organization’s history and goals at “Flow Day” (Principal Founder and Executive Director Amit Gupta, TJ ’17, scheduled to join them, was absent due to illness).
Ray, a Physics Team officer, had always enjoyed both lecturing at Physics Team meetings and informally helping students with their “Webassign” online problem sets all TJ physics students must complete. Amit, a Physics Team member, had been a Teaching Assistant for TJ’s Summer Chemistry program, where he enjoyed helping students understand the material. Ray and Amit perceived a need at TJ for physics tutoring but felt that Physics Team, which already held sessions for A, B, and C teams, was not likely to be able to accommodate a tutoring section. With the help of other Physics Team officers, they launched a physics tutoring program. After matching over 40 tutors and tutees within their first week and receiving plenty of positive feedback, they began to see that they were onto something big.
Shortly afterwards, the boys were working hard to figure out the logistics of their embryonic organization when they spotted Claudia tutoring a physics student in the Computer Systems Lab. Observing the success of just one pairing that they had helped create was enough to inspire them to keep going. Soon Claudia had joined their organization. When senior Jane Choi, a National Honor Society (NHS) tutoring chair, came to Ray looking for physics tutors, she ended up joining TJPT as Co-Founder and NHS Liaison.
Together, Ray, Amit, Claudia, and Jane applied for a “One Question” grant to support their idea of expanding beyond physics to other STEM subjects, and in January the group was awarded a $250 grant. Over the late-January “snowcation,” the students reached out to Dr. Glazer, who offered to help in any way he could. His first suggestion was to roll out the tutoring of additional subjects immediately so that they could begin to help struggling students right away. The team then spent the remainder of the snow days working full-time on the project, launching chemistry tutoring first, then biology, computer science, and math. Each subject was geared toward a different group of students and brought the group into discussions with yet another TJ team or club.
TJPT now draws students who need help with chemistry, assisting Chemistry Team and Chemistry Society, which remain responsible for pairing them with tutors. National Honor Society has merged its existing tutoring program with TJPT, which it promotes by giving NHS hours for TJPT tutoring. Varsity Math Team, which has always required students to conduct service hours in order to receive a Varsity letter, now supports participation in TJPT as part of this program.
As of this writing, there are over 350 TJ students involved in TJPT as tutors or tutees. In the future, the organization hopes to recognize tutors nominated by their tutees for Top Tutor awards. The team’s grand dream is to expand their tutoring program beyond TJ.
TJ Peer Tutoring has already fostered community in more ways than one. Tutees benefit from free, convenient help from peers who have done well, may have even had the same teacher, and who are committed to helping them better understand and appreciate a challenging STEM subject. Tutors also benefit from reviewing the material because “the best way to learn something is to teach it,” as Ray pointed out. TJPT strengthens community not only by sharing knowledge and reducing stress but also by increasing awareness of and access to help, expanding options for both tutors and tutees, reducing stigma, and encouraging all students to be their best selves.
First, Know Thyself
Shannon (Ready) Cleary, TJ ’07, spoke to students about the benefits of conscious self-reflection. Cleary, who majored in Economics, International Studies, and Math at Northwestern University, worked as a consultant at Bain & Company, and is now a graduate student at Harvard Business School, shared some interesting findings of Harvard social science researchers.
As Class of 2007 Graduation Co-Chair, Cleary had worked closely with TJ Russian language teacher Betsy Sandstrom, Class of 2007 co-sponsor. Naturally, Sandstrom, who coordinated this year’s “Flow Day” in conjunction with the student-led “One Question” Committee — Dhruv Gupta, TJ ’16; Audrey Huang, TJ ’17; Meron Girma, TJ ’17; and Wendy Wang, TJ ’16 — was thrilled when Cleary offered to speak to TJ students.
Cleary had everyone’s attention as she extolled the virtues of self-knowledge and self-reflection. She kept students actively involved as she explained the latest research, which shows that:
- pausing to focus on one’s personal strengths and priorities before undergoing a stressful evaluation (e.g., reminding yourself before a test, “I’m a caring older brother,” or “I’m a loyal friend”) boosts performance;
- when a person who has been judged to lack a trait (e.g., toughness) uses language suggestive of that trait (“I was so tough yesterday”) it can change others’ perception;
- stronger, larger body positions lift confidence and improve performance; and
- our emotions positively and negatively affect the emotions of those around us (students paired up to test whether smiles were contagious – they were).
In response to a student’s question about how best to impress others, Cleary stressed what was most important about developing a self-narrative: “The goal isn’t to prove to others who you are. It’s to tell yourself who you are,” she said. “This isn’t self-promotion; it’s self-awareness.” In closing, she linked the discussion to a subject on the minds of many students: college applications. A good college essay is not one that states “I promise I will do X,” she suggested, but one that conveys “a window into my world.”
Other innovative “One Question” answers included:
- Nikita Sivakumar, TJ ’18, and Nira Harikrishnan, TJ ’18 (Friendship)
- Rishit Roy, TJ ’18 (Neuroscience of Competition)
- Alex Hoganson, TJ ’16, Cheryl Mensah, TJ ’16, Connor Jones, TJ ’16, and Kirubel Aklilu, TJ ’17 (Being Black at TJ)
- Namita Dongre, TJ ’16, and May Kyaw, TJ ’16 (Community Service)
- Richa Gupta, TJ ’17 (Clubs as “Cults”)
- Maria Gilbert, English teacher (College Essay Peer Feedback)
- Mike Miller, English teacher (Creative Responses to Standardized Writing Tests)
Faculty Presenters Focused on “Flow”
TJ’s “Flow Day,” now in its third year, was created to encourage presenters to talk about or share the activities that give them “flow,” a special feeling of enjoyment and satisfaction that emerges when a participant is completely absorbed in an activity. Although TJ’s beloved “Flow Day” now encompasses the “One Question” theme, a number of faculty presenters focused more on “flow,” offering a smorgasbord of short courses meant to share their hobbies and passions, including:
- Spun Fiber Arts (Aubrie Holman, Biology teacher, and Hadan Kauffman, Chemistry teacher)
- Face Painting (Robin Taylor, Chemistry teacher)
- Creative Writing (Kate Lewis, English teacher and “Flow Day” founder)
- Cooking (Mary Susan Burnett, Biotechnology Lab Director)
- Dance for Health (Peggy Gendive, Spanish teacher, and Peter Gabor, Computer Systems Lab Director)
- Latin Dance (Suzette Henry, English teacher)
- Meditation (Mary Beth Kochman, English teacher)
- Tai Chi (Thom Larson, Biology teacher)
TJ’s “One Question” Program
Every year since the program’s inception in 2008-2009 TJ has posed its “One Question,” sparking a school-wide conversation on an ethical, philosophical, or other thought-provoking issue that relates to the lives of TJ students. The school supports reflection on the question by devoting an 8th period to exploration of the topic, with speakers drawn from throughout the TJ community.
Since the program’s earliest days, the TJ Partnership Fund has provided up to $5,000 per year to support “One Question” grants, which fund students and faculty projects inspired by the year’s “One Question.” The student application essay requests an explanation of how the project will support student development in one or more of the following areas: critical inquiry and research skills, problem solving, intellectual curiosity, and social responsibility. A school committee funds proposals based on the originality of the idea, the project’s feasibility, student impact, and support of TJ’s academic goals. Funds can be used to support classroom activities, student club initiatives, service activities, and special events, and can cover such expenses as student research project materials, books for teachers’ lessons, outreach project supplies, field trip costs, conference registration fees, and media materials.
The other 2015-2016 “One Question” grant recipients are:
- Fostering Community through the Cultivation of Plants to Bring Beauty and Unity to TJ (Anna Zhang, TJ ’18)
- TJ Environmental Science Club Experimentation with Green Roof Design and Construction (Alynne Cutler, TJ ’18)
- TJ Physics Team: Spreading Passion for Physics (TJ Physics Team Officers)
- STEM Outreach (Pranav Ramanan, TJ ’17, and Eric Wang, TJ ’17)
- The Joy of Hula-hooping: How Having Fun with the Hoop can Bring a Community Together (Suzette Henry, English teacher)