Academic News

Community Engagement’s Fall Opportunities

Student volunteers are busy connecting weekly and remotely with Milton’s Community Engagement Programs and Partnerships (CEPP) partners. Over the next few weeks, CEPP will launch new volunteer opportunities: Children’s Center Zoom story time, Cunningham School lunch chat group, Quincy Community Action Program ESL tutoring, and a Cantonese chat group for Randolph senior citizens with two students Zooming in from Asia. Student volunteers are also planning a Zoom music recital for residents at The Boston Home. And the CEPP student board is working on reimagining the School’s annual Hunger Awareness event, which will take place in November.

Christian Westphal ’21 is on the CEPP board and volunteers with a few other students at Mujeres Unidas Avanzando (MUA), a nonprofit based in Boston that empowers Latina girls and women through free classes and social services.

“Each Milton volunteer identified their strongest subject—literature, math, or science—for which they were the ‘designated’ tutor,” said Westphal. “The MUA students are preparing to take the HiSET exam (GED equivalent), so they need to exhibit their proficiency in multiple subject areas. For us, as volunteers, this makes volunteering great. Not only do we get to develop our Spanish, but we also have the opportunity to impact their performance in a subject area that we are passionate about. That’s what our CEPP program is all about; it’s not a one-way road, but rather a collaboration between us and our partner site, in which both parties benefit from each other’s involvement.” 

Kayla Mathieu ’21 began volunteering once a week at the Taylor School as a junior and said she “immediately loved working with the students. As a student of color, I think it’s particularly important for Taylor school students, the majority who are students of color, to see a volunteer they can relate to.” 

She recently began working remotely with a group of first graders on writing. Mathieu also set up a food insecurity fundraiser called Ride for Food. 

“The Ride for Food encourages participants to be active while raising money to fight food insecurity in Massachusetts,” said Mathieu. “I was inspired to get involved after learning more about the Urban Farming Institute, one of our partner sites, and their work to fight food insecurity in Boston, which is pertinent to many Taylor School students. With tremendous support from the community, we raised significant funds as a MIlton team!”


Humanities Workshop Addresses Climate Issues

Milton students in several humanities classes will join those from six other Massachusetts schools in studying climate change and climate justice through the humanities during this year’s Humanities Workshop.

Teachers from the participating schools decided to focus on climate issues because they permeate many different aspects of life, including economic and racial inequality, human migration, and public health. 

“There is a sense that climate change is just a science problem, which of course is not the case—it’s a human problem,” said Milton faculty member Alisa Braithwaite. “If our climate dies, so do we. We wanted to bring the concepts of humanities disciplines together to create a narrative that helps people to see that climate change is an urgent, human problem, one that we should be learning about and fighting for from every corner of our world.”

The Humanities Workshop is an academic year-long project conducted by a consortium of Boston-area public, charter, and private schools. Braithwaite and Lisa Baker, both Milton English teachers, founded the workshop in 2017 as a way to affirm the humanities’ role in tackling urgent social issues. This is the second cycle; the first in the 2018–2019 academic year centered issues of economic inequality. 

Focusing on climate issues gives teachers “a lot of mobility” in determining how to guide student work, said Baker. Braithwaite’s Contemporary World Literature students, for example, will study texts that focus on global climate change or the environment in some way. 

“Under the umbrella of climate, students can tackle so many different topics, from how climate change relates to inequality, to public health issues like the pandemic, to migration as a result of climate change,” Baker said. “You can look back at the history of how these issues have been addressed or not addressed; there have been really profound messages around the climate. Who controls the narrative, and who changes that narrative, are really interesting questions to explore within the context of the humanities.”

Each school and its participating teachers in the humanities—including literature, modern languages, history, social sciences, and the arts—can explore the topic of climate change/climate justice with students however they want. Beginning with five schools, the Humanities Workshop’s participants have expanded to seven: Boston Latin School (public), Boston International Newcomers Academy (public), Boston Collegiate Charter School, Academy of the Pacific Rim (charter), Boston College High School (private Catholic), Phillips Andover Academy (private), and Milton. 

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, events will be virtual, including a forum in January with expert panelists and the presentation of student work in May. Braithwaite and Baker hope that participating students will be inspired by their studies to get involved in climate action.

Milton in the World: Patrick Radden Keefe ’94 Discusses Say Nothing and Writing

Award-winning writer and investigative journalist Patrick Radden Keefe ’94 spoke with students and alumni about his work, particularly his New York Times bestseller Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland. His talk was part of the Milton in the World webinar series.

Radden Keefe said he knew when he was a Milton student that he wanted to be a writer, but it took many years of rejection letters before he began writing professionally. Today, he is a staff writer at The New Yorker, writing long-form pieces that dive deep into a range of subjects, “from the hunt for the drug lord Chapo Guzman to the tragic personal history of the mass shooter Amy Bishop and the role that the Sackler family and their company Purdue Pharma played in sparking the opioid crisis.”

He said he looks for topics that have a “strong narrative spine. I want it to be a story about people, often people in conflict. It’s through that lens that I approach the bigger issues.”

Obituaries are often a source for his ideas, said Radden Keefe. The concept for Say Nothing came after he read an obituary on Dolours Price, one of the key figures in the book, which chronicles life in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

English faculty member Lisa Baker moderated questions from the audience, many of which focused on his writing process. For Say Nothing, he spent four years reporting on the story, traveling among Northern Ireland, England, Ireland, and the United States, sifting through archives and interviewing more than 100 people.

At the beginning of his writing career, “I was really inefficient because I love the research,” said Radden Keefe.  “I could do research forever. But you need to come back and tell the story. It’s hard, but I think I’ve gotten better at it over the years.”

He also spoke about “Wind of Change,” his new eight-part podcast series that investigates the strange convergence of espionage and pop music during the Cold War.

Radden Keefe grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and went to college at Columbia. He received masters degrees from Cambridge University and the London School of Economics, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. In addition to The New Yorker, his work has appeared in The New York Review of BooksThe New York Times Magazine, and other publications. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, and fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation, the New America Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.

Girls Who Code Club Members Attend Conference

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.

Wilson said Jen Easterly, Managing Director for Morgan Stanley, and Elena Glassman, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University “inspired our students to be fearless leaders not only in their computer science classes, but also in their future paths.”

Wilson said she hopes to share future opportunities to spread awareness surrounding gender inequality in STEM. Up next is BUILTBYGIRLS, which is hosting a free, virtual conference with live-streamed talks and workshops from female leaders on October 17.

Bio at Home: Spores, Plants, and DNA

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.

“We are looking at the C-ferns’ sex determination,” said Edgar. “We use them as an example of cell signaling, because their sex (hermaphrodite or male) is determined by population density and pheromone signaling by their neighbors.”

Honors Biology classes are growing spores at home and in Edgar’s Molecular Genetics class, home DNA kits were provided by MiniPCR, a company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their DNA Glow Lab kit allows students to use a fluorescent dye to investigate the conditions that influence DNA structure.

During some of the flex periods, students have their Zoom cameras  on while they do their lab work.  “It’s fun to see them in their home environment working,” said Edgar. “Maybe a student is in their kitchen, heating up water on their stove to use in a lab. We are coming up with new ways of doing things. That creative part is fun and the students, in particular, have been really creative.”

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