A virtual Convocation officially kicked off the 2020–2021 school year on Tuesday, with Milton students joining from all over the world to hear School leaders’ vision for the year.
The event, a longstanding Milton tradition, provided co-head monitors Eliza Dunn ’21 and Garvin McLaughlin ’21 their first opportunity to formally address the Upper School. Students also heard remarks from Head of School Todd Bland, Upper School Principal David Ball, Director of Spirituality and Community Development Suzanne DeBuhr, Dean of Students José Ruiz, and Director of Equity Vanessa Cohen Gibbons, and introductions from new members of the faculty.
Although it was a summer unlike any other, many students found ways to do community and social justice work, both remotely and in person. Four students, all Community Engagement board leaders, participated in a virtual seven-week program run by the National Network of Schools in Partnership. Nina Kathiresan ’21, Kayla Mathieu ’21, Conner Hartman ’21, and Jaden Thompson ’23 worked on issues including homelessness, food insecurity with students from across the U.S, who were grouped into task forces. Hartman and Mathieu worked together on the same subcommittee called Demographics in Education.
“We produced the Rezoning Project, which aimed to inform, advocate, and share stories regarding the issues surrounding zoning inequality in public education,” said Hartman. “We were struck by the statistic that, on average, nonwhite districts received about $2,200 less per student than districts that were predominantly white, adding up to $23 billion less overall.”
Hartman said it was “extremely inspiring working with students from all over the country. Unlike Milton, a lot of the schools represented didn’t have community engagement programs. Hearing their experiences of inequality and powerful examples of civic engagement in communities hundreds of miles away from Milton really opened my eyes to the possibilities of what we can do with our program.”
Two student films were accepted into the All American High School Film Festival in the drama category. Dash Evett ‘21 and Jace Fuller’s ‘21 film, The Grievance, featured Conner Hartman ‘21, Ben Simpson ‘21, and Charlie Volpe ‘20. Evett’s’s film, Guy, featured himself and his brother Spencer Evett ‘17. Normally, the films would be presented at a live festival in October in New York City, but this year it will be virtual.
The Grievance is a story about a man named Liam, played by Hartman, who gets trapped in a supernatural cemetery. A bullying incident from his past comes back to haunt him. Evett and Fuller did all the shooting, writing, music, and editing. “A lot of hours of shooting were outside in the cold, and sometimes in complete darkness,” said Evett. “It was my first time making something with a horror vibe, so it was cool to film in a dark cemetery.”
“One of my favorite challenges in filmmaking is giving the audience a proper scare; one that curdles the blood and raises the heartbeat,” said Fuller. “With a low budget of zero dollars, we both agreed we couldn’t show scary monsters or frightening circumstances. Instead, we had to make a psychological horror that could play with scares without showing anything.”
This letter was shared with our community on July 21.
Dear Milton Academy Community,
Over the past several weeks, many students and alumni have shared their personal encounters with racism and microaggressions at Milton through direct conversations, letters to administrators, and on social media, including on the @blackatmiltonacad Instagram account. We are listening and we are grateful for the courage and candor with which they have spoken about deeply painful experiences. As School leaders, we apologize for the ways that Milton’s actions and inactions have hurt students and other members of our community.
Black Lives Matter. Milton affirms the beliefs of the BLM movement as we work toward improving justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion within our community. We understand that it is not enough to simply say these words: We must live in this movement every day, be accountable for our actions, and report our progress.
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.
Milton Academy’s most ambitious campaign in School history, Dare: The Campaign for Milton, concluded on June 30. Dare made a commitment to the people of Milton, with student financial aid and faculty recruitment and retention named as top priorities, along with support for the Milton Fund and campus improvements.
“We launched Dare to put Milton on a firm financial foundation,” Head of School Todd Bland said. “When we began the campaign in 2015, our endowment was two to three times smaller than our peer schools. By growing our endowment, we are making a commitment to investing in our students and faculty today and to securing Milton’s future.”
This letter was shared with our alumni community on June 4th. A similar letter was also sent to current Upper School students prior to graduation.
Dear Alumni and Friends,
These past months have been unlike anything we have experienced together. Most recently, as a nation and within our Milton community, the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and others have caused feelings of fear, outrage, and pain.
In a message to our students, faculty, and staff sent over the weekend, we unequivocally condemned racist violence, systemic injustice, and bigotry. Some of you took to social media to share stories about your own experiences at Milton and implored us to take action to fully live our ideals and mission. Thank you.
Please know this: We hear you and acknowledge that we are not immune to racial inequities and injustices. We can and must do better to foster inclusion and equity throughout our School. We are committed to doing this critical work, as complex and uncomfortable as it may be at times.
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.
Eighteen teams ranging in size from one to seven students came together via Zoom to participate in MiltonHacks II, an intramural, student-led hackathon. The hackathon took place over 12 hours on May 24, during which students from different schools built projects that were judged by a panel of Milton alumni. Teams competed in six categories: Most Addictive Game, Most Educational, Most Technical, Most Scalable, Best UX/UI, Best Novice Hack, and Best Overall Hack.
Most Addictive Game went to Dina-Sara Custo ’22, who built a social-distancing simulator game where the player must avoid others to advance. “The more people that see the good message the game is promoting, the better the outcome will be,” said Custo.
Oliver Eielson ’21 won Best UX/UI for his app, Busy Beach. Eielsom described BusyBeach as an app that “helps people and governments limit contact and overcrowding at beaches and stop the spread of coronavirus.” He also won the Student Vote award, determined by popular vote at the end of the hackathon.