Mindfulness Our class focuses solely on the heart and the still point within it. We have gently moved from art activities to mostly meditation and the ability of the students to settle and sit for :50 is amazing. It is my great honor to meditate with them.

Theatre In Theatre, we are currently working on devising a play from interviews we did earlier this year.

Animal Behavior We learned about more interesting animals this spring, including unicorns, vampires, dinosaurs, and more.

What Do You Actually Do? Organized by Bob Lowry and Ken Danford. Visited a number of businesspeople and entrepreneurs at their workplaces to hear their stories and gather information about their day-to-day routines.

Future of the World is finishing up a wonderful two-year run this spring. We explored a range of interrelated topics, including climate change, nationalism vs. globalism, the future of consciousness. In our final class we explored what our “state of the planet address” might sound like, and talked a bit about the future of music. With encouragement from a couple of members I am planning a philosophy class in the fall.

Band is heading toward the final shindig with a new batch of tunes, and a couple of songs from earlier this year. This year we have a strong girl-centered flavor, which is great to see.

Bread In this period we made Donuts, Mardi Gras King Cake, Applesauce Oatmeal Bread, Japanese Melon Pan, Hot Cross Buns, Hokkaido Milk Bread, Dumplings with Homemade Wrappers, Bulgarian Easter Bread, Banana Dumplings, and more. On our last day of class, we made individual loaves of No-Knead Artisanal Bread for the bakers to take home and enjoy with their families. On the first day of Presentations Week, several Bread Class members arrived early to help shape and bake the traditional Presentations Week Cinnamon Rolls.

Local History Explorations In this period we studied the history of slavery in America, did some independent research at Jones Library, and learned about and toured Lake Pleasant (home of the oldest continuously operating Spiritualist community in America). In our final weeks of class, we studied the unjust trial and execution of Dominic Daley and James Halligan in Northampton in 1906. We read from primary source materials as well as the novel The Garden of Martyrs, and toured the memorial and gallows site with local historian W. Michael Ryan.

Sex is a Funny Word Our topics have included STI's/STD's, taboo topics such as masturbation, alcohol, drugs, and more. We have also gone over what self-care can look like for each individual, male and female reproduction as well as fertilization. Many of the classes involve group discussions, videos, games and even an art piece titled "Sweet Sentiments," where each member got to write up positive affirmations on a board that others can look at to brighten up their day! 

Herbalism 101 During Herbalism we have made sure to fill two of the beds outside with plants! The students voted for which plants such as sage, rosemary, lavender, and thyme. We have watched a few videos such as Magic of Mushrooms and Plants from the show Life. We have maintained the new tradition of making dandelion fritters from the dandelion flowers outside. 

History of Rock and Roll We finished the 1960s with a look at the Vietnam War and the protest movement against it including the killing of students at Kent State, the assassination of MLK from the viewpoint of Stax Records in Memphis so soon after losing Otis Redding in a plane crash, the 1968 Democratic Convention and the participation of the Detroit band MC5 in protests outside, and finally the murder of Meredith Hunter during the Rolling Stones set at Altamont. The 1970s saw a greater fragmentation of the pop and rock audiences as many genres diverged. We began with Heavy Metal and its emergence in Birmingham, England, another industrial city with comparisons to Detroit. Next we looked at the intersection of Punk, Hip Hop, and Disco as they began in distinct neighborhoods in NYC. All were rejected by mainstream rock audiences and we discussed how association with urban and minority cultures played a part. We looked at the Disco Demolition Night riot in Chicago as a manifestation of racism, sexism, and homophobia. The 1980s brought more change in the form of MTV. We discussed how MTV created a second British Invasion because new wave groups in the UK already had videos ready to air. We also discussed the impact MTV had on both popular culture and the music business. We ended the year with the 90s, Grunge and Riot Grrrl, discussing political empowerment and the connections between Washington DC and the Pacific Northwest.

Earth and Sky We have been focusing on the evidence for how the earth has changed over time. We looked at various representations of geologic time scales and discussed the origin of life, including the impact of major extinction events. We examined minerals and explored their properties, chemical composition, and discussed how they are formed. We also looked at fossils from different eras and compared maps of the earth during those eras to explain how, for example, marine fossils can be found hundreds of miles from the coast or on the tops of mountains. Examining an online globe through time, we could see the movement on the tectonic plates and how that movement drives the recycling of earth’s crust. We also went on two field trips. We visited the Bassett Planetarium at Amherst College and learned about the solar system, planetarium projection equipment, and how to orient yourself to particular constellations and stars in the night sky. We also went to the Mead Art Museum at Amherst and participated in a guided discussion of several works of art in an exhibit called: Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein.

Writing Your Life During this period we have experimented with sustaining a piece of writing over two workshop meetings, personifying emotions and writing about them as if they were characters, and trying to write with various kinds of restrictions to see if that paradoxically nudges us out of our usual habits and opens up new possibilities. The workshop members have all challenged themselves in wonderful ways and ended the year on a strong and trusting note. In our final meeting, everyone reflected on their writing year, expressed specific appreciation to the group, and set intentions for their writing lives going forward.

Harm and Punishment We have covered a wide range of material and ideas during this period: the concepts of retributive, restorative, and parallel justice; victims’ needs in unsolved cases, how judges respond to offenders’ statements of remorse, and what happens when victims and offenders come together. For that latter idea, we have watched or read about a variety of victim-offender meetings and dialogues and discussed the many issues and questions that arise as we consider these encounters. During a couple of class meetings, the group engaged in role plays during which they got to immerse themselves in the complexity of these encounters and also try out the role of facilitator. In our final meeting, we imagined our group serving as consultants to other centers in the Liberated Learners network and we brainstormed ways to advise staff members about things to keep in mind as they responded to various harm scenarios. The group members then shared their reflections about the class and what had made the strongest impression on each of them.

Volunteering at Amherst Survival Center The North Star group continues to be an integral and dependable part of the Thursday volunteer crew at Amherst Survival Center. In this period we met the non-perishables donation truck and weighed the donations. Most of our time, however, was spent in fresh foods distribution: unloading the van, sorting and packaging breads and produce, and responding to other needs as they arise.