A Place for Discovery and Design Middle and Lower School students come together in a design thinking space
What happens when a fish is not a fish?
In Bridget Sitkoff’s seventh-grade computer programming class, it means that a student’s math didn’t work out quite right. She holds up a 3-D printed figure that a boy made in class: There was a funnel shape that should have been a conelike fin.
“I love this one. I love that it’s upside down,” Bridget says. “How can you understand where something went wrong? Well, you get this out of the printer and say, ‘Oh.’ It’s more physical and tangible and real than when you get a math test back and a problem is wrong. When your fish isn’t a fish, that’s something you can understand right away. It fits in perfectly with the algebra the seventh-graders are currently taking, so I can meet them where they are in math.
“It’s not me telling them they did something wrong,” she continues. “It’s them saying, ‘Wait, that’s not what I meant to make.’ There’s real power to that. But it’s also real computer science. They’re writing real code.”
Bridget is the technology integration specialist in Milton’s Middle and Lower Schools. She works with students through Grade 8, blending computer science, math, robotics, engineering, and virtual reality in age-appropriate forms that apply math and coding concepts to technological discovery.
Most of this work happens in a sun-filled section of the Perry Reading Room in the Caroline Saltonstall Gymnasium, a design thinking space that was renovated last year and includes two 3-D printers, a table for VEX and Lego robotics, a smartboard, and tech gadgets such as virtual reality (VR) headsets. The architect who designed the space was Lyle Bradley ’95; he just “got it” in the development of a welcoming lab that is practical and fun, Bridget says. At any given moment, students may be there writing code to create images on their laptops, or studying new programming languages, or learning to program micro:bits (small, handheld microcontrollers) to operate cars they’ve built.
During a Middle School class in early October, Bridget encouraged students to play around with different sequences for code, with the objective of drawing a tree. The mood was energetic, filled with kids proudly showing off their successes, asking one another for help, and laughing when their plans went sideways. If something failed, Bridget told them, keep trying: “Nothing is going to break if you make a mistake.”
During breaks in the day, students drop in to play board games, work on robots or other projects, or explore VR or augmented reality programs. Before the room was created, programming activities were somewhat scattered, with students working on projects in hallways. Bridget had to store equipment and projects in the basement of Greenleaf Hall, and students would have to ask her to unlock it if they wanted to revisit a project outside of class. Now they can access it during any free or activity time, which means “it’s always kind of a mess in here, but it’s kid-made,” Bridget says. The new space feels like their own.
“It has been huge for us to get this dedicated space,” she continues. “Kids can store things they’re working on and find the equipment they need. Middle and Lower School kids feel equally comfortable and welcome here, and there are not a lot of spaces where that organically happens. At recess, everyone’s here, from third to eighth grade. They don’t always interact with each other, but you’ll see them checking out what other kids are making.”
Over the past few years, more girls and students of color have become involved in programming and robotics in the Lower and Middle Schools, in part because of mentorship by Upper School girls. Their examples, and the new, open-to-all space, have made the younger students feel more comfortable joining these activities, Bridget says. Avery Miller ’20 helped lead the charge.
“Avery came to Milton in fourth grade, and through her Middle School years, she was one of the only girls in all these programs. She was really determined to make sure it wouldn’t stay like that,” Bridget says. “She’s been a huge ally in coming to talk to girls about why they might want to sign up and what her experience has been. She’s helped to build this program up.”
Working with computer programming faculty members in the Upper School, Bridget has designed a curriculum to prepare eighth-graders for — and excite them about — what they’ll encounter once they reach their high school math and programming classes. All ninth-grade students work with the programming language Java in their geometry classes, so Grade 8 students learn related concepts. “We want them to be ready with the skill set, but also be appropriately challenged once they reach ninth grade,” she explains.
Today’s students are digital natives, comfortable users of technology, because it’s always been a part of their lives. But that doesn’t automatically equate to skill development, Bridget says. She hopes adults will focus less on the time students look at screens and more on the quality of their screen time. It’s one thing to watch videos on YouTube, and another thing to make something brand-new, combining math, coding, and creativity.
“If you don’t teach them to be creators of technology, they won’t be,” she says. “We want our kids to be creators, not just consumers. It’s great that young kids can access information online, but can they get their own ideas across and share them using technology? Because that’s a totally different thing. I care about that more than their facility with looking something up.”
At the start of the school year, in August, Milton’s Transition Program, a community-building program that has provided a foundation for new students of color and international students for more than three decades, broadened its focus to include all new Upper School students. The change to the program resulted from Milton’s commitment to creating a more informed, culturally competent, and inclusive community.
“We made these changes in order to build an Upper School community that’s defined by certain habits of heart and mind,” says Principal David Ball, “and the best time to begin building that culture of inclusivity and mutual respect is when students first arrive on campus. It’s the first thing they hear and it’s the first thing they do; it’s foundational to who we are as a school.”
The orientation program’s evolution comes in part as a response to students of color and international students who have expressed a need for all students to share in self-assessment and cross-cultural work. “The onus to address culture should not be placed on students of color and international students,” says Heather Flewelling, K–12 director of Multiculturalism and Community Development, about the decision to restructure the program. “We’re all in, all of us. We had to work as a larger community.”
At the same time, recognizing the unique challenges that students of color experience in the School and the world, the new program will continue to provide space and time throughout the year for ongoing conversations and connections. At the start of the weekend, students of color and international students also participated in a one-day immersive program.
“The change to the 35-year-old program shows that Milton Academy is committed to ensuring that students of all backgrounds have the time to explore topics such as identity and culture while celebrating the things that make us unique,” says Ilan Rodriguez, director of Student Multicultural Programming. Ilan led the redesign of the new program.
The new students — both boarding and day — were assigned to family groups and lived on campus. The main thrust of the program was to introduce them to the language of identity and culture and build a familiarity and capacity for cross-cultural conversation and connection. As part of the program, students participated in a series of affinity-group discussions around issues of identity and culture. Topics ranged from race, religion, and sexual orientation to socioeconomic status and privilege — sensitive subjects that are often hard to discuss.
“These are conversations that can be difficult,” Ilan says, “but when we have them in a safe space, students see how powerful and important it is to share, learn from each other’s experiences, and explore how we can be allies to one another. Our goal is for students to come away thinking, ‘I belong at Milton Academy. I am seen. My voice matters. My lived experiences may be different from my peers’, but there is more that brings us together than what sets us apart.’”
The program also emphasized the importance of creating time and space for relationship building among the students. In addition to the serious topics, they were able to meet with advisors and class deans, engage in team building exercises, and enjoy a lively pep rally.
An important component of the program was the expansion of the student mentor group to guide and support the new students. More than 30 juniors and seniors were chosen on the basis of their proven records as student leaders and on prior involvement in cultural and identity programs. Parental engagement was another important feature of the program. “We wanted parents together in the same room to engage in conversation about why this initiative is important to us as a school community and to remind them that their child is a part of this journey,” Heather says.
In response to a survey sent after the event to all new students and their families, which requested feedback on tools they may have acquired by participating in the program, one student replied, “My voice. Using my voice to advocate from the platform I was born with for those who need help in advocating for what they believe in. Everyone deserves an equal voice and should be heard.”
The program was merely an introduction to how Milton positions itself around its principles and practices concerning social and cultural identity. Recognizing the need to provide continued connection and conversation among students, the organizers have planned ongoing affinity discussions, workshops, and retreats.
In October, approximately 50 students of color and international students attended a weekend retreat in Plymouth. It was an important opportunity for students of color and international students to reconnect and share their thoughts and feelings early in their Milton experience. “The more students get involved, the more they will understand the importance of this shift and why their support is vital to Milton’s advancement,” Ilan says.
The first phase of the new program was a success, say the program organizers, but there is always room for improvement. Program evaluations will continue to ensure that “we are listening to the voices of students, while also committing to the larger goals of the school,” Heather says. “This work is not easy, but work that seeks to shift culture, support students, and build a tighter community is something worth taking on.”
“To be honest, at first I was quite frustrated by the change to the Transition Program, because as an international student, I know how important it was to have had that week to get used to living in a new space — to get used to the quirky things that we weren’t used to having happen. However, after participating as a mentor in the new program, I think it might be a good change, because Milton can now show all of its students what it believes in. Now all incoming students learn what Milton’s about and what it means to be a part of this community. There have been a lot of conflicting opinions about the new program, from “This was an amazing experience” to “We should change it back to the way it was.” My biggest observation is, let’s see what happens. I don’t think we can draw any immediate conclusions, because its impact is so long-term. It’s still to be determined what we’ll see.” — Stefan Aleksic ’20
“As a mentor, I learned the importance of listening — of truly listening and of really understanding that everyone arriving at Milton comes from very different backgrounds in terms of how much practice they’ve had with having conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion. I learned that people are going to make mistakes and that that shouldn’t be a reason to shut them down or be negative. It’s important to recognize that if people want to learn, that’s something to be celebrated, even if they do make mistakes. As a white transition mentor, it was so hopeful to see how many of the new white students were eager to learn. This would be their first experience of being asked to have difficult conversations. They want the Milton community to be better, and that was good to see.” — Ali Reilly ’20
“The new Transition Program is beneficial for a lot of students. It raises conversations earlier than they would normally be raised, and it’s particularly helpful for white students to hear from students of color about the environment they’re about to enter and about what’s OK to say and what’s not OK to say. Having participated in the old program, the one thing I’m still struggling with is how important it was to students of color who were coming from extremely different backgrounds. I know taking part in that program changed their Milton experience as a whole. I’m not sure the new program strikes the right balance between the time the students of color need to have together as a group and the time when all the new students participate. Striking the right balance still needs to be resolved.” — Brian Bowman ’20
“We need a cultural shift at Milton, and this program is a crucial step in the right direction. Including all new students in discussions around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion will initiate and continue that change and emphasize the value Milton places on this work. In the next few years, as all new students have the chance to participate in the program, the impact will become even more discernible.”
— Chloe Brenner ’20
“The memories I have of the Transition Program as an international student are of hanging out with a group of vibrant friends. We had a lot of fun. But it was also a bit scary for a lot of us, because the program was so different from what was to come. The new program provides students with a more solid transition between the program and the actual Milton experience. Some students have felt a bit pessimistic about the new program, asking, “Why do we have to do this?” I think the cynicism will die down a bit if we see that the program works and brings the community together. A bit more free time and some of the more fun aspects of the old program could really help to coalesce some of the more serious aspects of the new program.” — Andy Zhang ’21
“When I participated as a new student in the Transition Program, it was only for students of color, and it was definitely effective in helping me create bonds with other students of color. It helped me form the friendships that I still have. However, there was this very visible divide back then between the program folks and the students who were white, and it was unsettling. The new program makes it easier for students of color to integrate. Since all new students participate, students of color are surrounded by people who don’t look like them, and it gives them the opportunity to form friendships with people that are based on more than race. It’s helpful to be able to pick who you want to be friends with, not just because they look like you but because you like that person. That’s the advantage that the younger students have. For me, my friends were based on who looked like me.” — Bella Lora ’21
Today’s teenagers are stressed out. This is not breaking news. The reasons are numerous and varied. Pressures are internal and external. Today, at Milton, faculty members, the staff, and most important, students, recognize mental health and wellness as key components to a student’s overall well-being.
When new students arrive on campus, many come from environments where they stood out as a scholar, an athlete, an artist, or a musician. Amanda Chapin, one of Milton’s health counselors, says that as these students find themselves with many other smart and talented students, they sometimes struggle to figure out where they fit in. But, she says, “there’s room here for everybody to be talented, smart, and successful.” Milton’s Health and Counseling Center is there to help any student who might be having a hard time with the adjustment or to help older students who are facing stressors—both big and small. And overall the center wants to empower students to make good decisions and help them shape a safe, healthy high school experience.
Mental Health Counseling
When Director of Counseling Lisa Morin came to Milton nine years ago, she knew she needed to expand the Upper School counseling team. Today, four full-time counselors live on campus and provide 24/7 on-call coverage during the school year. The counselors also wear many other hats as student advisors, coaches, and teachers.
“We work as a team to destigmatize the idea of what counseling is,” Lisa says. “At the beginning of each school year, we attend dorm meetings and morning assemblies to introduce ourselves and explain what we do. We talk about mental health and wellness, and the importance of getting counseling if you need it. We have the students put our numbers into their phones. Even if a student might never need to call for themselves, they might need to call for a friend.”
The destigmatization is working. During Lisa’s first year, the counseling office received 25 after-hours calls from students. Now, the counselors receive up to 130 after-hours calls a year. Rather than being a sign that kids have more problems, it shows that they are more willing to reach out for help, she says. “The students started to see us as more of a resource, which is fabulous.”
John Lee started as a counselor at Milton two years ago. It’s his first independent school experience, and he says that what is unique about Milton is that all students have free access to one-on-one counseling sessions. Some of them have seen counselors before coming to Milton, he says, “but it’s also not uncommon for a student to say, ‘I don’t know what this counseling is all about, but people keep talking about it.’”
“Sometimes students just need a space to vent, talk, and feel heard, affirmed, and validated in their experiences and feelings,” John says. “Other times, a student may need to develop specific skills to better cope with time management or become more aware of their weaknesses and strengths. Sometimes it’s just getting them to reflect by asking them questions, such as ‘Are you sure you want to play that sport and do all these things, because remember last year, that was really hard?’”
Counselors also work closely with faculty members, especially those who live in the dorms, to empower them to handle certain situations. If, for example, a student feels overwhelmed, a faculty member is shown what to do until a counselor becomes available. Counselors also work with the faculty when a student may need to miss classes.
“Sometimes, kids need to take a break,” Lisa says. “Just like if they have a 103-degree fever, they should focus on getting better before returning to class. Well, the mind is as important as the body, so sometimes they should focus on feeling better mentally before returning to class.”
The most important recent change in mental health services at Milton has been an increase in student involvement. During the 2017–2018 school year, head monitors Kailee Silver ’18 and Greg Livingston ’18 and the student Self-Governing Association (SGA) made mental health and wellness their main focus as student leaders. One of the initiatives the SGA proposed was to institute a series of academic days with delayed start times to address the issue of sleep. Milton approved the proposal, and during the 2018–2019 school year, the school rolled out three delayed start times of 10 a.m., with class schedules adjusted accordingly. Student feedback on those mornings was overwhelmingly positive. Some students were just happy for extra sleep; others talked about feeling less pressure the night before to finish homework by a certain time.
Two peer counseling models—Independent Student Support (ISS) and Peer Leaders—have existed at Milton for many years. John is the faculty advisor for ISS, a group of 20 seniors who meet weekly and are assigned either to dorms or as day student support. They are introduced to students at the beginning of the year as a resource students can reach out to at any time. They also attend freshman health classes to foster relationships between underclassmen and upperclassmen. ISS hosted a Mental Health Awareness Week in the spring, with activities and programming around campus.
ISS member Eva O’Marah ’19 says, “It’s really helpful to have a senior who’s been through it all to be there to support other students.” In their weekly meetings with John, ISS members learn what their role is, and how to handle certain situations, and sometimes they role-play scenarios so that they are prepared when a student reaches out.
“Sometimes, an ISS member notices something about a student and then suggests that they get in touch with the health center,” Eva says. “Other times, students go to an ISS member to ask about what they should do. Sometimes, we are just supportive. It can feel uncomfortable to walk down to the health center and ask to meet with a counselor, so we walk down with them just to be there.”
Amanda is the faculty advisor for Peer Leaders. Every year, about 25 to 30 rising juniors apply for 10 to 12 spots. Peer leaders focus solely on freshman students, meeting in small groups weekly to introduce them to the School and answer questions that freshmen might feel more comfortable asking another student. Peer leaders tell them how to get help for themselves or a friend, how to access the health center, and how to handle stress around exams and projects. They also inform students about the sanctuary policy. Although using illegal substances is, of course, against school rules, Milton prioritizes student health and safety, so students can call for help for themselves or a friend without worrying that they will incur a disciplinary response for breaking a major school rule. Unrelated to sanctuary, students can also reach out to one another even if they are not members of ISS or Peer Leaders. They can call a health counselor if they are concerned about a student, and the counselor will follow up with the student. “The students really care for one another and look out for one another,” John says.
“In the past few years,” Amanda says, “there’s been a real shift in the focus on health, wellness, and mindfulness. I’m really glad to be part of an institution that is thinking about these important things. And it’s also wonderful to see the ways in which the students are driving this shift as well.”
We know you’re curious. As media shift formats, position themselves on different platforms, eke out different style (and audience) niches, what is the status of the Milton Measure and the Milton Paper?
Working on the student newspapers at Milton generates abiding memories. Milton reporters and editors have chosen all kinds of careers over the years, but few—especially among the editors—forget the days when, under the pressure of tight deadlines, they kept other students and faculty informed, provoked and entertained.
Many aspects of life in the Fourth Estate are familiar and highly resonant. Digitization of our world, however, changes some of the fundamentals involved in discerning and publishing “the news.”
We have rendered the highlights from a revealing conversation with this year’s editors in chief:
John Albright ’19 and Andrew D’Ambrosio ’19, editors in chief, the Milton Measure
Rishi Dhir ’19 and Pierce Wilson ’19, editors in chief, the Milton Paper
A “kind of organic” next step if you love to write
All four editors do love to write. John loves politics and started in Class IV writing “politically charged articles” for the opinion section, before he “began the whole journey, becoming section editor, opinion editor, then applying for editor in chief.” Andrew came from the sports writing genre. He loved going to games, interviewing classmates about their games, and writing articles weekly. He learned how sensitive and challenging writing about athletes and competition can be. Rishi had written what he calls “straightforward, factual stories” for two years, but a summer writing program at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting powered up his interest and his skills. He learned “how to investigate and how to interview,” Rishi says, “skills that apply to my history papers and so many aspects of my writing here.” Pierce, who came to Milton as a robotics and science Olympiad team member, got a D- on his first Milton English paper. “I was committed to trying harder at writing, and then I really got into writing and English,” he says. He credits his English course, Perspectives, and his teacher, Ms. Dukuly, who relentlessly expected him to reach for the inherent complexity of things. “Any story, any person, can be more complicated if you’re willing to put in the time to look for the nuance,” Pierce says.
Writing apart from something for class is rewarding. The “generic analytical essay” is important, John explains, “but there’s an appeal to being able to write in a different format about something you actually care about and know about.”
It’s a way to learn a lot more. Writing an opinion article, for instance, involves digging into a subject. “I wanted to write about the Electoral College,” John remembers, “and that forced me to research a ton. I learned, and now I can speak about it. It was definitely a rewarding experience.”
Content that is broad and balanced, if possible
Ideally, the editors say, their papers strive for a balance: national, state and local, and Milton news. Reporting about Milton sometimes requires a certain creativity, however, because breaking news happens, but not consistently. Pierce’s example of a great instance of creativity is when the Paper writer Sarah Palmer ’20 interviewed 10 math teachers and then reported about their teaching styles and strategies. He also points to the Paper’s new “spotlight team,” led by its news managers, who are trying to do long-term investigative reporting over a month and then publish their work.
All the editors try hard to seek out different student and faculty voices, in stories and for quotations. Sharing opinions, through comments and especially through writing, requires a risk assessment if you’re in high school. That’s especially true if your opinion is outside the Milton mainstream, or you’re simply not confident about submitting your own writing.
The editors find that humor and opinion take the most work. Rishi says, “You are factoring in having to write things that are actually funny and relevant to Milton but don’t upset anyone—at that point you have a very, very small box in which you can operate. That’s not saying you can’t generate funny things. You can. But it’s a difficult balance to maintain.” Work with student humor writers is always challenging and time-consuming, the editors agree. The combined Measure/Paper annual humor issue the Shallot is always an exercise in learning the difference between what student and adult readers think is funny and what they don’t.
Given a green light to express their opinions in their columns, Milton writers will do just that. The editors’ task is to help their writers generate ideas for opinions that are outside favorite student themes such as gender, race, what “Dare to be true” really means, and student workload, and to help them see and research the complicated truth just under the surface of an idea. Pierce notes that they ask Milton Paper opinion editors to meet with the opinion writers once a month, to discuss ideas and how to write a piece that offers a different perspective if the issue has been written about before. They have an official guide to opinion—“like a style book,” he says, “that was created about 10 years ago.”
The job’s challenges are predictable and call for new skills
“Getting and keeping people motivated and bought-in to what we’re trying to do,” says Andrew, “when they’re technically volunteers and newer writers who might have lower positions” demands attention and creative strategies.
“We need to help people feel like they’re part of something,” Pierce says. He recalls the power of an “incredibly nice” email of encouragement he got from Paper editors when, as a new writer, he completed a difficult article that provoked reaction on campus. “It’s such a transformative moment to get acknowledged by a senior,” he says. The Paper now sends “shout-outs” to highlight great work by their staff—not quite weekly, but enough to maintain the practice.
“We’re trying to make it feel like a club where everyone feels involved,” says Pierce. “We now offer office hours where writers can stop by, ask questions, and get feedback on their articles.” He doesn’t want people to feel that they send an article off to some “mystical place,” and a week later, it comes out with something changed, a different title, and their name on it.
All the editors feel community pressure: “If the article provokes controversy or there’s a mistake, it reflects on the board,” Andrew says. Ultimately, they agree, their readers are tough critics.
Students on the two editorial boards work intensely together—hours and hours over weeks and months. They have different styles and points of view. Learning how to disagree, how to value your teammates, how to keep your eye on the target, is crucial when you spend so much time together.
From the assignment to the printed page
As Andrew notes, “Journalism is a completely different form of writing than the academic writing that is students’ day-to-day experience.” Helping their writers to base their articles on facts and to be precise is a core task, and the two papers use various techniques. John says, “When we send out article assignments we tell writers to vary the sources of their information and to include quotes from students.” Andrew says that their routine process involves sending feedback along the way.
Pierce says his board is trying to give more comprehensive feedback. “On every round we like to give three rounds of editing. We start with box one, which is structural edits: Does it make sense? Is it factually accurate? Does it flow? Box two is grammar and mechanics, syntax, sentence style and variety. The third round is copy edits. We’re asking editors to leave comments at the bottom of each article after every round, and then the section editor who’s responsible for that writer sends them a typed-up paragraph of all the feedback they got that week. That’s less work for us in the long run, and less work for next year’s board, because they’ll have writers who’ve had feedback. Also, there’s more constant communication.”
Pierce is proud of a time when an article from a student was “factually incorrect, structure was awful, and historically inaccurate.” Two of his editors worked with the student over three weeks (it wasn’t time-sensitive), and the article was ultimately printed.
Paying the bills
A big difference between the two competing papers is money. As the “official” student newspaper, the Milton Measure has a budget provided by the School, which covers printing and other miscellaneous costs. Its faculty advisor pays the bills. But the Milton Paper is on its own when it comes to resources. The lack of funds gives the Paper some cred as an “independent” publication, but Pierce and Rishi must constantly think about how they are going to pay to print it. “Because we are always broke, we feel we have more liberty, in a way, and there’s some self-righteousness in students who are on the Paper, for better or for worse,” says Pierce. Fundraising is an important role for Paper editors, with Parents’ Weekend and Graduation the two biggest times of the year for raising money. They also have alumni and parent print and digital subscribers (www.themiltonpaper.com). The Milton Measure is able to offer its website without charge (www.themiltonmeasure.org) and send out free electronic copies upon request.
Today’s ways to stay current: the papers play a role
Most adults struggle to stay abreast, to know what’s important—from politics and economics through science, arts and humor, the best teams, the latest films, the most outrageous posts on social media. Students carrying a Milton course load, playing a sport or performing, applying to college, tending to friends and family and grabbing a little sleep, also feel like they’re trying to catch up with the flow.
Digitization, they all feel, helps with this problem. The upside of the firehouse of “notifications” and headlines from media, Twitter commentary, Snapchat messages and Instagram posts that inundate them is that they catch the drift without being weighed down in text and can then go for depth when and if they choose. But it’s also valuable that there are still two student print newspapers, hand distributed by student news staff on Fridays, in the student center, during the rush at recess. Many students immediately flip to the back covers to read the humor page or flip open the first page to read the editorials. Later, after the papers are stuffed into backpacks or strewn across Harkness tables, students can take the time to read through what their peers think about current issues, or how the girls’ basketball team’s season is going, or what movie is worth seeing. At Milton, print is not dead; it’s still a vibrant part of student life.
by Cathleen Everett and Liz Matson
The beginnings . . .
Originally published under the name the Milton Orange and Blue, the first issue of what today is the Milton Measure, appeared on Friday, November 16, 1894. “The object of this paper, besides being a source of information to those interested in the Academy, is to bind together former scholars by keeping them informed as to what is going on at Milton,” the new editors wrote. Those early years focused heavily on athletics with extensive game recaps. By the 1940s, the Orange and Blue was a full-fledged newspaper covering students serving in WWII, curriculum changes, “record enrollment,” the School’s 150th anniversary, and the ascension of Mr. Arthur Perry to the headmaster’s role. Sometime in the 1970s, there was a shift, and for a few years, students from the Boys School and the Girls School published the Milton Bi-Weekly under the leadership of Phil Tegeler ’73 and Vicky Boughton ’73. The Bi-Weekly faded away, and then the first issue of the Milton Measure was published, with Robert Potter ’78 as editor. Headlines read “Milton’s on Construction Binge” and “Dare to be True?”
The very first issue of the Milton Paper appeared one year later on October 15, 1979, with front-page stories covering new disciplinary procedures and the trustees’ announcement of a new campaign to double endowment. The editors were David Roth ’81, Ryck Birch ’81 and Jones Walsh ’82. “We’ve started this paper because we feel there should be an uncensored student forum at Milton Academy.” However, the Paper went into a hiatus after that inaugural year until a “rebirth” on September 16, 1983, under the leadership of Mark Denneen ’84, who wrote “While comparisons to the Measure are inevitable, we hope to augment, not replace, the Measure.”
Every Wednesday around lunchtime, energetic Middle School students pack into a math classroom in the basement of Ware Hall, snag slices of pizza, and settle into clusters. After casual chatter dies down, the conversation turns considerably deeper, as the sixth, seventh and eighth graders tackle major social issues in a moderated discussion.
“It might seem like having these deep conversations with other Middle School students is a silly idea, but I’m always leaving CAFE (Cultural Awareness for Everyone) with new knowledge and understanding of others’ opinions. It’s taught me that there are multiple sides to every story, and almost nothing is black-and-white,” says Amelia, an eighth grader. “CAFE is a comfortable environment to talk about uncomfortable topics, which makes it easier to have difficult conversations in other, less-familiar environments.”
CAFE is a flagship in the Middle School’s programming on diversity, equity and inclusion. Students attend sessions voluntarily, with nearly a third of the Middle School population dropping in regularly. There they learn to listen to one another, debate issues and ask questions about topics that stymie even the most polished pundits.
Topics range from immigration to race, from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico to gaming culture, from commercialism to cultural appropriation and national anthem protests. Faculty members Sue Austin and Carrie Ferrin select and present the issues without opinion or commentary. They moderate the conversation with questions that prompt students to react, discuss and debate among themselves.
“Students are learning so much about different cultures and becoming more fluent in the social identifiers [ability, age, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and socioeconomic class], and we saw an opportunity,” Sue says. “We want everyone to be part of the conversation, because no matter how difficult it is, or how much we disagree, speaking with one another is valuable.”
Conversations in CAFE are inquisitive, respectful and sometimes challenging, but never heated, says Carrie. She and Sue often introduce topics by asking, “What do you know about this?” which prompts curiosity, rather than pontification.
“They listen to one another, and they are so amazingly respectful,” Carrie says. “They’re learning how to disagree, but in a way that keeps the conversation productive.”
Researching the topics requires listening to the students’ interests and finding age-appropriate context for provocative subjects—maturity levels and cultural competence vary broadly from sixth to eighth grade. While all the students may be interested in current events, Carrie says, many have only a surface-level understanding of a topic—or none at all—at the beginning of each session.
“There’s a lot of information out there, and they hear a lot of things, but they don’t always know the total picture of an issue,” she says. “That’s what CAFE brings to them.”
Student-led CAFE sessions have been some of the best. Any student who feels passionate about a subject is welcome to prepare a discussion. Ava McNeil ’22, now in Class IV, saw CAFE as an opportunity to share some of her research on black rights. She was able to speak about racial bias in policing and share her sadness and fear over its potential risks for people she loves.
“CAFE has encouraged me to listen to everyone speak their truth, and for me to do the same, even with difficult topics,” she says. “I chose to speak about treatment of black people, specifically by police officers. As a black student with a big family, it is a very important topic to me.”
Thatcher, a seventh grader, said CAFE has helped him differentiate between an argument and a fight. During a discussion about NFL players protesting police brutality, he recalled, students held strong and opposing opinions, but kept the talk civil.
“Saying what you want to say can be difficult,” he says. “Sometimes what you have in your mind comes out the wrong way. I’m learning to listen to others and not be afraid of voicing my own opinion. I have disagreed with other people at CAFE at times. Last year, I would hold
in my disagreement, because I didn’t want to start a full-on argument, but I’ve learned to have a healthy discussion when I disagree.”
One Wednesday last fall, the students discussed a migrant caravan of people from Honduras and Guatemala walking toward the United States’ southern border. A video interview with a 12-year-old boy who’d left his family in search of work, the danger of the journey and the boy’s separation from loved ones resonated among the younger students. Older students raised logistical and political questions.
“We have troops on the border now,” one eighth grader said. “What’s going to happen to the caravan when all these people get to America? Will they be hurt?”
Sue and Carrie want the students to leave CAFE with lingering questions. Serious, complicated topics are impossible to button up in less than an hour.
“We want them to leave fired up, sometimes angry, sometimes relieved, sometimes confused,” Sue says. “We want them to go out on their own to learn more, to have conversations with their families and friends.”
The open discussion format in CAFE successfully represents the Middle School’s effort to increase students’ social and cultural awareness, says Principal Nancy Anderson. This year, the Middle School launched the Common Ground Initiative: a unified curriculum to address social identifiers such as age, race, socioeconomic status and gender. Over the summer of 2018, faculty developed lesson plans around each of the eight social identifiers and have been teaching them throughout the academic year.
“The philosophy behind the initiative is that every child in the Middle School should, in some way, think about, participate in, and experience a common curriculum about social identifiers,” says Sonya Conway, Grade 6 dean and the Middle School’s chair of multiculturalism and community development.
“These discussions are amazing,” Sonya says. “We’re getting into topics and deeper, even sometimes uncomfortable, conversations I have never had before with sixth graders, in a structured way that feels safe for them to explore. They’re learning about themselves. They’re learning about others. I look at the national landscape, and some adults’ inability to engage in simple discourse, ask questions, present strong opinions, or just listen, and the kids are doing that here.”
by Marisa Donelan
Celebrating culture, tradition, personal stories and love, Grade 2 students present their Family Museum, sharing their months of exploration into their own families and history.
The students interview family members and collect artifacts from their history—this year, a 200-year-old family bible, a military medal, a Milton diploma, a Korean hanbok,
a fraternity leadership gavel, and a traditional shofar were among the exhibits. They also design their own family crests, record videos, share unique family traditions, tell parts of their family stories in Spanish, and write persuasive essays to their parents.
“The students take away an appreciation for who they are,” says second-grade teacher Sue Munson. “A lot of them have not had these kinds of conversations with their family members. They’re learning so much about where they’re from and the special people in their lives.”
This year’s persuasive essays ran the gamut from requests for new pets to encouraging new family traditions. Here are some of the students’ letters to their parents.
“When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”
So says the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose TED Talk on the dangers of single stories and exclusively dominant narratives inspired English department faculty member Olivia Robbins to ask her students to approach some of the world’s most studied texts from several new angles:
What arguments would volley between the members of the chorus in Oedipus Rex?
What would a minor character tweet about the events in The Odyssey?
How might writing yourself into The Inferno challenge your opinion of Dante’s moral authority?
In her talk, Adichie describes her first exposure to children’s literature: Though she lived in Nigeria, she had access only to British and American stories. When she began writing as a child, her stories featured white, blue-eyed characters living in snowy climates.
“I did not know that people like me could exist in literature,” she says. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Olivia, who earned her master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education in the spring, spent the past two years in Milton’s English department as a Penn fellow. She joined the full-time faculty this fall.
Three seemingly discrete factors caught Olivia’s attention in her first year teaching Founding Voices, an examination of classic world literature. First, her students saw the works as they would artifacts in a museum. “The students were approaching the literature as if it were a statue, which gave them a singular understanding of what ancient literature was supposed to be,” Olivia says. “I really wanted to counter that notion, or make it more complex, and to make the literature more accessible.”
Second, Olivia noticed in classroom discussions that students crafted their comments to show mastery of the work, rather than listening and engaging with each other in the moment. Third, she noticed an absolutist attitude among students about their own abilities. “Some students were talking about disciplines as things they were either ‘bad at’ or ‘good at,’ and making blanket statements like, ‘I can’t do math,’ or ‘I’m going to fail that test,’” Olivia says. “Just because some things are more challenging for you doesn’t mean you’re a bad student.
“While these all seem like different issues, I saw a common theme among them, which was that students were not attending to alternative viewpoints or perspectives,” she explains. “How could I encourage them to take on alternative viewpoints — alternative viewpoints about what literature can look like, alternative viewpoints around the table in discussions? I also wanted them to shift their mindset about their own potential, to have a new story.”
Olivia decided to focus her master’s inquiry project, a thesis of sorts, on helping her students form counter narratives in Founding Voices. Working with English faculty member Jessica Bond, Olivia created a series of assignments that challenged students to view their reading through multiple lenses. The classes watched and discussed Adichie’s talk in the beginning of the year.
Students read works ranging from Gilgamesh to Medea, Ramayana to Macbeth. For this course, Milton’s English faculty have intentionally selected works with a broad geographic range, but there are consistent limits with foundational world literature: stories were written, typically, by men in positions of power, about royalty or members of a society’s aristocracy. Majoritarian stories traditionally center “heroes” who are white, male, middle- to upper-class and heterosexual. Research shows that using a counter-story can expose, analyze and challenge majoritarian stories of racial privilege (Solórzano and Yosso, “Critical Race Methodology, Counter-Storytelling as an Analytical Framework for Education Research,” 2002), and Olivia sought to challenge other dominant narratives in the same way.
After studying The Odyssey, students read The Penelopiad, a novella by Margaret Atwood in which Odysseus’ wife Penelope recalls the events of The Odyssey from her perspective, restructuring the narrative Homer has given her.
“The reaction from the students was, ‘You’re allowed to do this with books? You’re allowed to write from another character’s perspective?’” Olivia says. “Margaret Atwood is such a master of voice that she gives Penelope fire and opinions we don’t see in The Odyssey, where she’s in the background, crying and waiting all this time for her husband.”
Students were asked to retell the stories they read from the perspectives of minor characters, to “try on” an understanding of antagonists, and to keep discussion and feedback journals, in which they recorded both their participation experiences along with their successes, challenges and confusions with assignments. They debated, they wrote themselves into the stories, and answered questions about the works from multiple perspectives.
Students reported at the end of the year that they were able to feel more empathy toward minor characters and underrepresented voices in the text, and were better equipped to detect bias from the stories’ narrators. One male student, in retelling parts of Gilgamesh through the perspective of a temple prostitute, gave voice to a character whose actions are controlled by others and related her story to sexual abuse by clergy in the modern age.
“Over the course of the year, students ended up picking characters who are further away from them and their own experiences,” Olivia says. “Initially, they were more likely to choose someone who shared their gender identity or their racial identity, but as the year progressed, we’d see them trying on a perspective of someone who was different from them in terms of their identity markers.
“They retold the stories, and I had them keep authors’ notes to explain what they were trying to accomplish in the retelling, and they loved the activity,” she explains. “It feels very much like a fun and creative thing to do, but it’s sort of like slipping kale into a smoothie. You don’t notice it, but it’s healthier. For the students, it didn’t feel like writing an analytical essay, but they were, because they made arguments through the characters they chose to focus on, and how they portrayed those characters.”
Olivia employed what she describes as a “liberal revision policy,” which prompted the students to review and react to her comments, and they could meet and speak about ways to improve their analyses. Every student who attempted a revision improved his or her grade, with one exception, whose grade remained static.
Discussions around the Harkness table improved, as well, as students became more comfortable exploring other perspectives.
“I hear them using the terms ‘from my perspective,’ or ‘I understand where you’re coming from,’” Olivia says. “It’s not the language of right vs. wrong; it’s the language of ‘I hear you.’”
by Marisa Donelan