Fifty-six Milton students received recognition in the 2021 Massachusetts Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. The students earned 124 Gold Key, Silver Key, or Honorable Mention accolades in the competition. The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards began in 1923 and are considered the most prestigious awards for teenagers in the country. Milton’s 31 Gold Key pieces are submitted to the national Scholastic competition, and results for the national contest will be announced in March.
Anne Kwok ‘21 earned six Gold Keys, one Silver Key, and two Honorable Mentions for her poetry. One of her poems that earned a Gold Key is entitled “After Warfare.”
With themes of isolation and loss but also humor and celebration, this spring’s Dance Concert explores life’s extremes. Last spring, Dance Concert was the last major event on campus before Milton had to shut down due to the pandemic. This year, the event is fully virtual with more than 40 student dancers who will perform 15 dances choreographed by students.
“It’s a smaller show, but feels like a bigger undertaking because of the way we are producing it,” says Kelli Edwards, Performing Arts Department chair.
The performance showcases modern dance, ballet, Latin dance, and an Irish dance. All the dances are being filmed—some in person on the King Theatre stage, some in more of a dance film format, and others in a Zoom format with dancers individually in their spaces. Edwards says the student choreographers have “embraced the format and are utilizing all the ways they can film.”
In this year’s winter play, She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms, sisters Agnes and Tilly couldn’t be more different. Agnes delights in fitting in and being an “average” high school girl, while Tilly, a Dungeons and Dragons aficionado with a wild imagination, can’t help but stand out.
When Tilly, played by Talia Sherman ’22, suddenly dies, Agnes, played by Lucy Hirschfeld ’21, finds herself on a quest through the D&D world, following a module Tilly created and hoping to connect with her sister. As Agnes meets her sister and a band of interesting adventurers in the fantasy world, a series of funny and dramatic events unfolds.
“I came into the show knowing very little about D&D, and throughout my time filming, I followed Agnes’ journey by gradually learning more about the game, and then becoming part of the D&D world,” Hirschfeld said. “Throughout the game, she finds herself and builds friendships she would never have expected.”
In a typical year for the Robotics Team, members spend long hours in the robotics lab together, building and rebuilding their robots to get ready for tournaments. This school year, much of that work has gone virtual.
Although the pandemic restrictions on in-person building and competition have been challenging, the season—filled with virtual skills events and international tournaments—has demonstrated what makes robotics special: thinking creatively, developing solutions, and working together.
“At the beginning of the season, we were not sure that we would even be able to build robots,” said Puck Doboe ’22. “However, several students have been able to find space in their homes to work on their robots remotely, which has been fantastic. Even with the distance from Milton, a new student joined a returning student to build a fully functional robot together while doing Zoom classes from their homes in China.”
It’s been an unusual but successful year so far for the Speech and Debate Team. They kicked off 2021 competing at the Massachusetts Speech and Debate League’s Happy New Year Tournament, earning several first-place honors in all three divisions of debate as well as numerous speech categories. With all the tournaments held online, students have had to adapt and shift their approach leading to both opportunities and challenges.
Jack Burton’s ’22 primary event is Humorous Interpretation (HI), but he also competes in Duo Interpretation and Dramatic Interpretation. He says the virtual format, especially for interpretive pieces, changes the way the competitor interacts with the audience.
“Bridging a connection with your audience is an essential part of speech,” says Burton. “Without the ability to make eye contact with and elicit live laughter from judges and competitors in the room, speech pieces definitely lose a sense of magic, and it is harder for us performers to engage the audience.”
But Burton, who earned third place at the Yale Invitational, second place at the Duke Invitational, and first place at the Princeton Invitational, says competing online also offers an opportunity to get creative with the camera.
Humanities disciplines like the arts, history, languages, and social sciences can help make the consequences of the global climate crisis more accessible and urgent for people, said anthropologist and University of Massachusetts-Boston professor Rosalyn Negrón.
“One of the challenges we face is that climate action is highly politicized,” she said. “The polarization is a complex problem that doesn’t have easy solutions, but there is a place for the humanities because there are ways in which the arts, film, creative writing, music, and other things people share that can be avenues for communicating about these issues and taking them out of the political domain.”
Negrón was one of four panelists Wednesday who virtually visited about 150 students from Milton and other area schools to discuss climate change and climate justice, this year’s theme for the Humanities Workshop. She was joined by David Abel, a documentary filmmaker and environmental journalist for the Boston Globe; Zoe Davis, coordinator of the Climate Resilience Project through the City of Boston; and Kristala Jones Prather P’22 ’26, the Arthur D. Little professor of chemical engineering at MIT. Edward Moreta ’18, a Kenyon College student and poet, moderated the panel.
Dorm faculty and students are finding creative ways to maintain dorm traditions during this period of remote and hybrid learning. In Goodwin House, they’ve continued to celebrate each student’s birthday. However, instead of singing collectively over Zoom, one student plays a musical instrument rendition of “Happy Birthday” to share. So far, there have been oboe, violin, and beatboxing performances. In the most recent one, English faculty member Elaine Apthorp played her guitar and sang.
Each Goodwin advisory group plans and hosts a virtual event for the rest of the dorm to join. House Head and math faculty member Patrick Owens said his advisory group hosted a Jackbox game called Fibbage. Last week, science faculty member Michael Edgar’s advisory group hosted an “Among Us” tournament (see photo). “Among Us” is an online multiplayer social deduction game.
Owens said care packages were sent to all Goodwin students earlier in October, and in all the houses, a new student mentoring program was launched at the beginning of the school year. Returning students who were interested in serving as mentors applied and were then paired with new students. Mentors and mentees were also placed in the same dorm families who will meet over the course of the year.
A poem isn’t really done until it’s shared and lives in someone else,” said Bingham Visiting Writer Richard Blanco. Sharing his work that centers on ideas of home, identity, and nationality, Blanco read and discussed his poetry with students on a Zoom webinar.
“What is home? This idea grew bigger into what is a country? In my poems, I’m asking these questions for all of us,” said Blanco.
Blanco immigrated to Miami as a child with his Cuban-exile parents and said that when he was growing up he wasn’t sure if he was part of the American story. It wasn’t until he was asked to be the poet for President Obama’s second inauguration that he felt his personal story was part of the American narrative.
Writing about math is an approach used by Milton math teachers to get students to dive deep into the material and then articulate it—beyond just numbers, formulas, and graphs. Earlier this semester, Honors Calculus students researched, calculated, and wrote about the Gini Index, a measure of income distribution across a population, for a country of their choice.
“We wanted to make the study of calculus relevant, and income distribution and income inequality are topics we read about all the time in the news,” said math faculty member Jackie Bonenfant. “This was a way to allow students to explore an important and pressing topic, while also encouraging them to ask questions about their world. What government policies, practices, and laws might impact income distribution? Are we satisfied with current levels of income distribution and, if not, what could we do to change things?”
Students chose countries like the U.S., Italy, Australia, Vietnam, Greece, Brazil, Mexico, and India. Zoe Malouf ’21 researched the 2017 Gini Index for Switzerland.
House heads and faculty are engaging their dorm communities in both synchronous and asynchronous ways as boarding students learn remotely during this phase of hybrid learning. In Robbins House, dorm faculty hold weekly drop-in sessions at various times to accommodate time zones. They are also hosting events such as Zoom Jeopardy! games or Netflix watch parties.
In September, each new student was paired with a returning student in their grade or the grade above. Then these pairs meet others over Zoom to increase their network of support in the dorm community.
“It has gone so well in Robbins that almost all of the mentors and mentees have made it a weekly occurrence to have a get-together and hang out virtually over the weekend,” said house head Nicole Hall.
Typically a busy hub for study and research, Cox Library needed a plan to serve the community through this year’s remote and hybrid learning plans. Milton’s librarians went to work finding creative ways to operate.
When Milton first went remote last spring, it “coincided with the start of the history department’s ‘research season,’” said Laura Pearle, director of the library. “We created a portal that included a chat box so students looking for library assistance could talk with a librarian from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Students from all over the U.S., China, and Europe contacted us for help with citations, using the databases, and general help on various topics.”
The library purchased access to a database of more than 200,000 ebooks to help students do their research since the print collection was unavailable. They also extended outreach to the community via quizzes and social media postings.
Mastering another language requires careful listening, consistent practice of conversational speaking, close reading of texts, and writing. While some of these fit seamlessly into remote/hybrid learning, Modern Languages faculty need to think creatively about class time and assignments.
“Where we’ve had the most success is leveraging universal tools like Google Slides, Schoology, and Jamboard,” said Mark Connolly, Spanish teacher and Upper School instructional technologist. “Instead of using, say, a prefab language app, teachers are making their own materials using those tools.”
In Connolly’s Spanish 4: Topics in Hispanic Culture and Literature class, students started the year with five different readings in Spanish from different Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Maya, Mexica, Triqui, and Teotihuacan. For their assignment, students are creating audio tours of their assigned civilizations in Google Slides, combining audio, photography and writing. They looked not only at the historical legacy but also at the ways these cultures combine to define Mexican identity today.
Maintaining a sense of dorm community is a focus of house heads and faculty as boarding students learn remotely during this phase of hybrid learning. In Wolcott House, Joshua Emmott, house head and history faculty member, runs a weekly scavenger hunt for the students, who are competing by advisory group for the “grand prize” in December. The advisory that has 100 percent participation wins custom dorm gear.
Each week, Emmott posts in CampusGroups a place or item that the student needs to find and photograph. One week was a photo in front of their local post office and another was a local coffee shop. Students post their photos, from places like Beijing, New York, Michigan, and Massachusetts.
Last weekend, the Emmott family hosted a cooking Zoom, featuring “the best cupcakes in the world.” Students received the same recipe so they could cook along with their Wolcott family.
Comfort food is having a moment and science faculty member Heather Zimmer is showing students how to make it at home on a weekly cooking show. It’s part of the new Opt-In Program, where faculty host casual and fun Zoom sessions such as trivia nights and current event discussions.
The Opt-In Program started earlier in the semester after a few faculty members and student head monitors Eliza Dunn ’21 and Garvin McLaughlin ’21 thought about ways to keep the strong sense of community at Milton while in a remote/hybrid environment.
Zimmer said she and her husband, the head chef at 2nd Street Café in Cambridge, loved cooking with students when they lived in Norris House and this is a fun way to replicate that experience. On their first episode, they taught students to make mac and cheese from scratch.
Ten Milton students participated in the Harvard WECode virtual conference last weekend. Caroline Wilson ’21 and Dina-Sara Custo ’22 served as Milton’s student ambassadors, and were two of the 21 (out of 80) student ambassadors who received WECode Leadership Awards. Prior to the event, they connected virtually with the Harvard WECode board, as well as other ambassadors from around the world to spread information and help organize.
At the conference, “We had the opportunity to listen to discussions surrounding STEM majors, internships, college admissions, college life, and other opportunities for women in technology,” said Wilson. “Even after the conference, we continued to connect with women in tech from the conference via channels on the platform Slack.”
Other Milton students attending included Samantha Buonato ’24, Sofia Reid ‘’23, Audrey Howley ’23, Ella Walsmith ’23, Emma Petherick ‘’23, Sara Kalra ’23, Karol Querido ’22, and Isabelle Fitzgibbon ’23.
When planning for this year’s biology classes for both remote and hybrid learners, faculty had to get creative and choose labs that worked at home, said biology teacher Michael Edgar. And while teaching hybrid/remote science is different, he said it’s about “letting go of expectations. When I’m with my students, I like to make the best of it and I have had some really nice moments with my classes.”
In Advanced Biology, a senior elective course, students are growing C-ferns, a regular lab for the class. But this year, students, whether learning remote or hybrid, are growing them at home with kits the biology department put together and mailed out.
Milton’s teachers spent the summer months planning and training for a variety of possible academic scenarios during COVID-19. Professional development programs and other Upper School initiatives focused on student-teacher connections, technology, curriculum design, anti-racism, transparency, equity, and assessment. Although the increased summer work was prompted by the ongoing pandemic, much of the planning will serve Milton long after the pandemic ends. Indu Singh, dean of teaching and learning, provided an insight into some of the initiatives in this Q&A.
As a freshman, Jana Amin ’21 traveled on a Milton class trip to Jordan, where the students visited the Collateral Repair Project (CRP), a non-governmental organization that works with refugees on community-building, education, and trauma relief. She was so moved by their mission that she became an “e-learning partner” starting her sophomore year, video-chatting with students to help them learn conversational English. Her first two students were a Yemeni mother of five children and a Sudanese man.
Amin then became an English teacher for a class of 12 CRP students and she has encouraged other Milton students—especially after school switched to remote learning—to volunteer as virtual tutors and to help her with developing an English-language curriculum to use in the classes.
Ordinarily, the National Speech and Debate Association’s (NSDA) year-end tournament is a blockbuster, in-person event: Thousands of students and their coaches take over a host city for a week of end-to-end competition that determines the best student speakers and debaters in the country.
This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tournament was held virtually. Five thousand students from 1,300 schools competed from home for NSDA recognition. They included seven Milton students: Jana Amin ’21, Jack Burton ’22, Tim Colledge ’21, Miranda Paiz ’21, Nyla Sams ’20, Benjamin Simpson ’21, and Tyler Tjan ’22.
In English and history classes, learning stems from conversations, focusing on discussion with peers, not lectures from teachers. When Milton had to abruptly switch to remote learning in the spring, faculty had to figure out how to shift this experience from in-person to virtual. English Department Chair Nicole Colson said that while being in a space together is the ideal, she found the overall experience to be positive.
“When you build a real community in your classroom, it doesn’t go away when you shift over to remote learning,” said Colson. “Who they were in the classroom is who they were on Zoom.”
Colson said one trick she figured out after a few sessions was to have all the students unmute themselves for the entire class. Some were worried that background sounds from their home life would be disruptive, but Colson felt differently.