Reflecting on an academic year of adaptations and changes, Milton faculty leaders are considering the upsides from 2020–2021 that may carry forward into post-pandemic teaching and learning.
“From my perspective, there are quite a few things that are worth keeping, including those skills around time management and how students navigate school,” Academic Dean Heather Sugrue said. “Did you communicate with your teachers? Did you ask for help when you needed it? We went down a path this year, which I felt was the right choice, of being flexible with deadlines. It felt like a key step because we were separating the ability to turn things in at a certain time from a student’s understanding of the material.”
In addition to some technological advancements and new approaches to teaching, the Upper School is preparing to launch a new schedule for the 2021–2022 school year that provides for deeper learning and more time for community building and work on issues of antiracism, diversity, equity, and justice.
We’ve learned of the powerful impact of intentional community-building within classrooms and we plan to continue doing that work with students on campus next year.
Some aspects of this year—such as the executive functioning students developed to manage hybrid class schedules and complete work on time, new thinking about feedback from teachers, and using technology to connect with outside experts—are worth carrying forward as Milton plans its return to a more traditional year on campus, Sugrue said.
Pacing guides—which give students detailed plans for their courses throughout the weeks—have helped students prepare their days, something Sugrue said “respects our students as individuals who have other demands on their time beyond one course’s syllabus. The pacing guides allow for students to look at their week ahead and get organized. So if a student knows they’ll be at a speech tournament for a whole weekend, for example, they can plan ahead.”
Although conversations regarding “what to keep” from this unusual school year are ongoing, one thing is certain: There will be a new schedule in the Upper School. The goal is to provide opportunities for deep learning and community work without lengthening the school day, said Indu Singh, dean of teaching and learning. It will also reduce the number of times students transition from place to place during the school day. Significant work has gone into developing a new schedule with longer class periods and more time for teachers to meet with students and colleagues, and the new schedule was developed with the academic, social, and emotional needs of adolescents, Singh said.
“Every time a student transitions, they lose time at the beginning and end of every class period, so it’s essentially 13 to 15 minutes of learning loss per subject,” she said. “Research suggests that longer class blocks create fewer transitions and less learning loss. What we’ve learned from this time is that students’ learning is compromised if they don’t feel connection with one another and their teachers. We need to be more deliberate in the ways we give time to build relationships and trust. Learning is social.”
Longer class blocks will provide time for teachers to continue planning the cadence for each unit of teaching, Singh said, including setting the tone for each unit; assessing students’ prior knowledge of the concepts or disciplines; equity and identity work; assessment; and reflection.
Teachers have also spent significant time this past year making teaching and learning “visible,” Singh explained: Students make their learning visible by sharing digital portfolios of their work or demonstrating their understanding of a subject in novel ways. Teachers, meanwhile, have worked to be exceptionally clear about assignments and expectations. This increased communication and visibility between teachers and students will be served by longer class blocks.
“We’ve learned of the powerful impact of intentional community-building within classrooms and we plan to continue doing that work with students on campus next year,” Singh said.
Video-conferencing technology like Zoom, which became necessary for remote and hybrid learning, won’t be missed as a constant presence in classrooms, but it could continue to provide great opportunities, such as inviting guest speakers and working with other schools, Sugrue said. Teachers can continue to use video in strategic ways, like sharing recorded lectures prior to class meetings so that more time can be spent working collaboratively during class periods.
Zoom has also broadened the Milton community in some ways, allowing families who live far away from campus to participate in parents’ association meetings and Upper School webinars, as well as to view student performances they wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend in person.
“There are some opportunities for looking outside the traditional bubble that are really awesome to imagine,” Sugrue said.
Dr. Meika Tylese Neblett, Class of 1990, will serve as the 2021 Graduation Day speaker on June 11.
A physician executive at RWJ Barnabas Health, Meika earned a Bachelor of Science in biology and Spanish from Emory University, a Doctor of Medicine from Howard University College of Medicine, and a master’s in management from New York University.
Meika worked for many years in emergency departments throughout New York, and has traveled extensively to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Okinawa, and Ghana to practice medicine. She currently serves as the hospital chief medical officer, chief academic officer, and system lead for equity in clinical care at RWJ Barnabas Health in New Jersey.
Read more about Meika and her work confronting the COVID-19 pandemic in the Milton Magazine feature, Born to Lead.
Lan Hai ‘23 participated in the Conrad Challenge, an international student-driven, project-based science and technology competition to solve problems with a global impact. Hai and two peers from her hometown of Shanghai developed, programmed, and retrofitted a sailboat to pick up plastic garbage while it sails. Their project, called SAIL-E, finished in the World’s Top Six in the Ocean Plastics Category.
Hai said their idea used “end-of-life boats,” which are sailboats that can’t be used by people anymore, but which contain fiberglass that is very costly, polluting, and inefficient to recycle.
“Right now there is no good way to recycle boats,” said Hai, who competes on Milton’s sailing team. “It’s a big problem that’s underrated. So we took an end-of-life boat, an actual sailboat, and modified it to be a garbage collection boat. Our solution is a lot cheaper than current garbage-collecting boats. After the competition’s national rounds, we added a solar panel, so the motors, which run the rudder and nets, run on solar power and there are no emissions.”
Hai’s team programmed the motor’s software using arduino code, and tested their prototype in a Shanghai river, standing on the shore using a remote controller to steer and work the garbage collecting nets.
The competition required teams to reach out to professionals in respective fields for collaboration, which Hai said was one her favorite parts.
“Talking to and collaborating with professionals in the field was so interesting,” said Hai. “We talked to the CEO of one of the largest sailboat makers in China. She was really interested in our project. And said she wants to continue to support us and make our end-of-life boat program into a global program. We also talked to NGOs and sailing clubs.”
Community Engagement Programs and Partnerships (CEPP) students have been hard at work this spring, volunteering with local public school students and senior citizens and helping meet important community needs.
The Taylor Elementary School in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood is a popular volunteer site for Milton volunteers in an ordinary year. However, the challenges posed by COVID-19 have created an even bigger need for classroom help, CEPP Director and faculty member Andrea Geyling-Moore said.
“We’ve had additional requests for volunteers for the guided reading program at the Taylor School,” she said. “It’s called ‘Book Nook,’ and it was actually developed before COVID for the elementary students to read with a mentor side-by-side, but it works pretty well on Zoom. We have more than 50 volunteers working with the Taylor School.”
In addition to coordinating service opportunities, Geyling-Moore is offering a senior seminar for graduating Class I students focused on social justice and community engagement. The program involves some reading and reflection as well as hands-on work with local organizations.
Several student volunteer commitments will continue through the end of the school year.
Milton students are working at Mattapan’s Urban Farming Institute (UFI), where they help with planting and maintenance to support the UFI’s mission of providing healthy, fresh food for Boston’s underserved communities.
Boarding students have worked together on making virtual visits with seniors through Hebrew Senior Life, and also participated in the Town of Milton’s annual “Green Up” day cleaning up trash and winter debris in nearby neighborhoods.
Volunteers are also working toward a June 19 Special Olympics event for athletes with physical and intellectual disabilities by training and encouraging the competitors. It will be a smaller tournament than Milton is accustomed to hosting, but the athletes are “very excited” it will be held this year, Geyling-Moore said. Although the event is happening after the end of the school year, some local Milton students will have opportunities to volunteer during the day.
Newly elected head monitors Emma Tung ’22 and Jack Burton ’22 took up the mantle as school leaders from outgoing head monitors Eliza Dunn ’21 and Garvin McLaughlin ’21. Every spring, Class II students self-nominate for head monitor. This year, eight candidates participated in a live Zoom Q&A with Upper School students to speak about their goals and ideas for the upcoming school year. Following the Q&A, candidate speeches were released on myMilton for students to view before voting online.
Both Burton, a day student from Boston, and Tung, a boarding student from California, said rebuilding a sense of community on campus is one of their goals. In his speech, Burton said he spoke about “how COVID-19 has been tough for our community, so it’s important for us to come together next year, meet and get to know new people, and bring back the traditions that we love.”
Tung said, “We want to focus on rebuilding our sense of unity as a whole Upper School, and bring back our school spirit because we lost that.”
Tung said another big focus is equity. “Equity in terms of students who want to speak out about unrest in the world,” she said. “Next year, we want to educate our community and make sure students feel comfortable and secure in the environment.”
The difference between a good jazz musician and a great one comes down to one thing, award-winning jazz pianist Aaron Goldberg ’91 told students: “It’s the ability to play and listen at the same time at a really high level.
“It’s an experience you can only have by playing with other people,” he said during a webinar supported by the Melissa Dilworth Gold Visiting Artist fund. “The best jazz musicians can hear everything that’s going on around them and react and interact in the moment. The most important thing you can do to develop that skill is to play with your friends and concentrate more on what they’re doing than what you’re doing.”
Goldberg fell in love with jazz as a Milton freshman. As a classically trained pianist, he had never explored improvisation before he enrolled in Music Department faculty member Bob Sinicrope’s jazz class. The summer “reading” was an introductory cassette of jazz, which Goldberg listened to incessantly.
“I never imagined when I started at Milton Academy that I would become a professional musician,” Goldberg said. “As far as I was concerned, I was more interested in sports than music; playing piano was just one of the things I did. Mr. Sinicrope’s first-year jazz class changed my life.”
Learning to listen to jazz was like learning language as a baby, Goldberg said. “It was all that listening that actually turned me into a jazz musician without realizing I was becoming a jazz musician. By falling in love with jazz and listening to it over and over again, I was learning this new language by ear.”
After graduating from Milton, Goldberg spent a year studying music at the New School in New York City before entering Harvard, playing as many gigs as he could and going to shows by “aging but still very active jazz masters” like Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Art Blakey, and Betty Carter. After a few early tours with others, the saxophonist Joshua Redman heard Goldberg play and invited him to join his band in 1998—he has played with Redman ever since.
Following his talk, which he opened by playing the John Coltrane ballad “Lonnie’s Lament” live, Goldberg answered questions from students about developing his own style, improvising melodies, his path to becoming a professional musician, and why he still pushes himself. He recalled a tour with Redman in Japan, saying “I felt grateful. The tricky part was that I didn’t feel good enough,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was even on the same level as the guys in my band. Of course, you discover later that everyone feels that way. Nobody feels good enough and that’s why everybody continues to work and get better.”
Goldberg has toured with artists like Wynton Marsalis, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Guillermo Klein, and many others, and he has released several solo albums. He has also recorded four albums with the OAM Trio and appears on more than 100 albums as a sideman. In addition to charity efforts in places like Haiti and Angola, Goldberg is active in education and political engagement and is on the faculty at the New School.
The Melissa Dilworth Gold ’61 Visiting Artists Fund was established in 1992 to support the arts department bringing a nationally recognized artist to the campus each year.
Watch the full conversation with Aaron Goldberg
When Heather McGhee ’97 left her dream job to set off on a journey around the country to explore racism and inequality, she was driven by “frustration with nearly 20 years of working to bring more nice things to more people in this country,” she said. “By nice things, I mean universal healthcare; childcare; paid family leave; reliable, modern infrastructure; a real, robust public health system; and well-funded schools in every neighborhood.”
What she discovered was that big needs in society were going unmet and that this “was impacting all of us, not just people of color who are disproportionately among the impoverished and the uninsured, but also white people who are the largest share of the impoverished and uninsured.” But many white people continue to support policies or politics that go against their best interests because of racism and the fear of a rising demographic that is not white, she added.
McGhee discussed her best-selling book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together with alumni, parents, and friends of Milton on a webinar hosted by the Office of Development and Alumni Relations in partnership with the Los Angeles Regional Chapter. Lee Pelton P’17, Emerson College President, served as moderator.
McGhee was born on the south side of Chicago and her family moved frequently in the area when she was growing up. “I know what it is to have or to not have wealth, to have debt collectors calling and feel trapped and suffocated, to feel like you can’t move or make any progress in life because you’re always behind. The shame of it, the sort of despair of it. Both my dad and mom were brilliant and accomplished and yet, Black, right? So, they didn’t own houses until I was late in high school, early in college.”
McGhee found her way to Milton Academy because her mother was on a nonprofit board with a woman who had sent her child to boarding school. “This was a completely unheard of thing to do,” says McGhee, but at age 11 she was first sent to a middle boarding school in western Massachusetts. “It was moving from urban to rural, moving from Black and mostly Black and diverse to completely white.”
From there, McGhee chose Milton because it was close to Boston and more diverse than other schools she was looking at. She then graduated from Yale University, briefly taught English in Barcelona, and then moved to New York City to work with the non-profit think tank Demos. After taking a break from Demos to work first with Senator Elizabeth Warren and then on John Edwards’ presidential campaign, she returned to lead Demos in 2009. She continued her work immersed in the American economy as she testified in Congress, drafted legislation, and developed strategies for organizations and campaigns to win changes to improve the lives of millions.
On the webinar, Pelton asked McGhee about a “transformational moment” before she started her book project when she appeared on CSPAN in August 2016. A white man named Gary called in to the show to confess that he feared Black people. “He asked you how he might change and you listened with just enormous compassion and curiosity,” said Pelton.
“So it was during the intense, racially charged campaign summer and I was doing a fair amount of TV at the time, all live television, so you never know what to expect, but that was definitely a curveball,” said McGhee. “I was there to talk about the economy, wages, and student debt. But I am curious about people. If someone’s going to share their story with you, you kind of have to listen. … In many ways, that exchange, its virality on the internet and then getting to know Gary, as I have over the years, informed my conviction to write the book.”
McGhee said that moment made her realize that “I can speak about issues of race in a way that is audible to white people. I’m sure my experiences in mostly white schools from age 11 through to college have a tremendous amount to do with that. It also convinced me that there was something missing in the story of racism’s cost, which was the cost to all of us and the dimension that we could tell some stories about the ways in which racism was a poison first consumed by its concocters.”
For her book, McGhee traveled to states like Alabama, California, Mississippi, and Maine, and spoke with all kinds of citizens from auto workers to housing activists to local politicians. McGhee said overall it was an emotional experience.
“Generally, the book is a sort of long exercise in empathy and trying to sort of project myself into the shoes of other people and groups, and find some way in which there is this common thread, this link that connects our fates,” she said. “And yet, there are some things so principally evil about the way that this system has continuously found ways to steal from Black people and then blame them for it.”