The Class of 2021 gathered under a tent on the Quad this Thursday morning to celebrate their peers at the Prize Assembly. Awards recognized overall student achievement as well as achievement in the performing arts, visual arts, English, science, math, classics, computer science, modern languages, history, public speaking, student publications and athletics.
Students in the GAINS (Girls Advancing in STEM) Club recently welcomed Omayra Ortega ’96 for a virtual visit, during which Ortega discussed her work in statistics and mathematical epidemiology and what led to her career as a college math professor.
Ortega’s route to applied mathematics and epidemiological research was “non-linear,” she told students. Now an assistant professor at Sonoma State College, where she teaches statistics, Ortega majored in math and music at Pomona College as an undergraduate. Abad experience in a general chemistry class made her rethink ideas about a pre-med track.
“I wasn’t focused on science, specifically,” she said. “I was a pure mathematician, I was interested in theory. Math was this complex, intricate game, and I wanted to play… Math is the most interesting subject in the whole world. It’s just puzzles all day.”
From sharing first-person testimony and creative work to advocating before legislators, students from Boston-area private and public schools spent Friday exploring how the humanities can influence action on issues of climate change and climate justice.
“We do not all suffer the same climate injustices,” read a Milton student from Melissa Figueroa’s Performing Literature class, which created a “found poem” curated from the words of Boston climate leaders and other community members. “We sacrifice aspirations to implement actions we know aren’t right, to the detriment of the state’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. We have let low income communities, communities of color, bear disproportionate burdens while excluding them from the decision-making process.”
The Humanities Workshop’s Youth Summit was a virtual event during which students from participating schools shared some of their work from the past year. The Humanities Workshop, co-founded and co-directed by Milton English teachers Alisa Braithwaite and Lisa Baker, is a consortium of educators and students from seven local schools who tackle major social issues through the lens of the humanities. The consortium schools are Academy of the Pacific Rim, Boston College High School, Boston Collegiate Charter School, Boston International Newcomers Academy, Boston Latin School, Milton Academy, and Phillips Academy Andover.
Students in Mark Connolly’s Spanish 4 class are finishing the academic year working with Project Olas, an organization co-founded by a group at Georgetown University that includes alumna Chloe Morris ‘19. Project Olas works to provide relationship-centered language education by connecting students with Guatemalan mothers known as “Olas moms” to practice their Spanish. The Olas moms live in the community surrounding the Guatemala City Garbage Dump in Zone 3 of Guatemala City.
Connolly said his students were “super excited” to do this work together over the last few weeks of school. Their first Zoom session with their Olas mom, Leslie Hernández, “started slow but ended up with a ping-ponging conversation about everything from pets to travel plans to the cultural calendars and practices. Leslie reminded us that ‘cada cabeza es un mundo’ (every head/mind is a world).”
Some of Milton’s best student writers and artists gathered virtually on Monday evening for the Laurence S. Persky Memorial Awards. The annual awards are given for the best work appearing in Milton Academy student publications and honor excellence in creative writing, journalism, art, photography, and production.
Guest speaker and alumna Tina Nguyen ’07 spoke to students about writing and told stories about her “weird career path.” She is a national reporter for POLITICO, covering the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement, disinformation, and internet culture. Prior to that, she was a staff reporter for Vanity Fair Hive for more than four years, covering American politics and the rise of Donald Trump.
Nugyen said she tries to make her “writing as compelling as possible.”
“Writing is the foundation—it’s an art but it’s also a discipline,” she said. “The goal is to make sure your audience gets what you are saying. They may not like what you have to say, but at least they understand it.”
From determining the presence of genetically modified organisms in snack foods to a field study on coastal processes in Jacksonville, Florida, this year’s advanced science final projects explored a wide range of research topics and experiments.
Students in advanced biology, chemistry, physics, and environmental sciences courses displayed their work on a new website, which includes videos, images, lab reports, and graphics. The website was in lieu of an in-person Science Symposium, the traditional event where advanced science students present their final projects.
“The symposium couldn’t happen this year for a number of reasons, so this was our plan B, and it turned out really nicely,” said biology teacher Michael Edgar. Restrictions on indoor gatherings due to COVID-19 and a number of advanced science students learning remotely made an alternate option necessary. Since some students did not have access to labs for the traditional design-your-own (DYO) experiment, teachers opened up a research project option.
Ten students were selected for a Bisbee Prize by their teachers for outstanding research on their U.S. history papers. For the annual spring tradition, faculty, students, and guests gathered on Zoom to recognize the students’ impressive work on topics ranging from 19th-century Chinese immigrants to communism in Hollywood. The award winners rotated through break-out rooms to discuss their papers and answer questions on their research.
Matt O’Rourke ’21, who wrote about the prohibition movement, said it was the personal stories, such as how people resisted prohibition and tried to find ways around the laws, that “made the research really interesting.”
The Bisbee Prize was established to honor Ethan Wyatt Bisbee, a former history faculty member and department chair who retired in 1993 after 40 years of teaching. The Prize was endowed in 2005 through a gift by John Warren, formerly of the history department, and his wife, Laura Warren ’78, former head of Robbins House. Bisbee passed away earlier this year.
In preparation for the Gospel Choir’s annual spring concert, music director Briana Washington and choir director Lori Dow guided student musicians through a new exercise: Composition.
Working over Zoom, the student choir developed a song called “The Light,” which delivers an inspirational and urgent message calling for hope in difficult times.
“Since we’re all dealing with this new setting of the pandemic, I thought, let’s do something original, something that shows our character,” said Washington. “Let’s write a song and see where it goes, no pressure. Once we got into the writing process with everyone in the virtual classroom, we thought of the message we wanted to send, which was uplifting and positive in the face of everything going on in the world.”
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.”
Throughout this spring, parts of the Milton Academy campus have transformed into the fictional East High School as performing arts faculty and students filmed scenes for the spring show, High School Musical Jr.
Opening virtually on Thursday, May 20, the show chronicles the interpersonal comedy and drama behind the scenes of, well, a high school musical. The “junior” show is adapted from the 2006 Disney Channel movie of the same name, which launched the careers of actors Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Tisdale, among others.
“Shooting this musical like a movie has been such a fun and interesting experience,” said Ingrid Krishnan ’22, who plays Gabriella, a shy transfer student who sparks a connection with star basketball player Troy, played by Ben Simpson ’21. “Before this, I did not have any experience doing film acting, so it has been exciting to work with the cameras.”