My Semester at Woolman

By Carl Sigmond ’05

Printed in: Word on the Street, Greene Street Friends School, Philadelphia, PA, Summer 2009.

When I graduated from Greene Street Friends School in June of 2005, I never expected that three-and-a-half years later I would find myself back in Quaker education. I knew that I was going to Central High School in the fall. I thought that I would spend four years there and then go off to college. So, why am I writing this article as I sit in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California?

The answer: I am attending the Woolman Semester. This Quaker program incorporates peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability into one semester of high school. I have always had a passion to better the world, so, when I heard about Woolman in the summer of 2006, I knew that it would be a place where I could thrive. At that point, I had just completed my freshman year at Central, and I had no idea that I would be able to attend. (Rural California is far away from Philadelphia.)

I kept hearing about Woolman, and I finally applied in my junior year. After coming out to visit the program last March, I was accepted into the Spring 2009 Woolman Semester. I arrived at Woolman in January, and I will graduate in May. It has been empowering to live and learn alongside twelve other students who all share a passion for peace. We are dissecting many of the issues facing the world today and coming up with solutions from the standpoint of nonviolence and equality.

In one of our first major projects here, we watched Walt Disney movies, looking for messages of violence, racism, sexism, and other stereotypes. We then questioned how these messages affect our society. Why are we seeing so much youth violence on the streets of our major cities? Why is our culture so male-dominated? Certainly, Walt Disney Pictures, Inc. is not the cause of all problems, but we ask these types of questions in order to find ways to make the world a better place for all.

In another project, I looked at how the city of Los Angeles gets its water. A portion of LA’s water supply comes from rivers that feed Mono Lake – a lake that is over 200 miles northeast of LA. This practice began in 1941 when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power built a 233-mile aqueduct to carry water from these rivers to LA. I researched the economic and environmental costs of this practice and presented my findings to the Woolman community.

One month ago, we took an educational trip to Mexico. We looked at issues of immigration, migrant labor, and the U.S./Mexico border. We ate meals with local families and volunteered at a resource center for migrants. Being in Mexico and seeing the plight of deported immigrants firsthand gave us a perspective that we would not have found in a textbook or a regular social science class.

When I got my mid-semester grades a few weeks ago, I looked at my report card and immediately thought of my days at Greene Street. Public school teachers just don’t have the time to write a paragraph about each student. Of course, I didn’t come to Woolman to get detailed progress reports, but I learned that a Quaker education, even if it is in northern California, brings back fond memories of Greene Street.