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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Middle School Interfaith Initiative, 2019

Faith Traditions in our Community
Stefanie Haug, MS Counselor
Sasha Bergmann, MS Ceramics Teacher
Beth Brooks, MS Librarian
Youssef Talha, MS French Teacher

Initiative Highlight:
  • Comprehensive grade-wide DEI initiative involving the entire 8th grade in the exploration of an aspect of culture, family, diversity in our BBN community and larger global community
  • Multidisciplinary initiative; faculty organizers represent five departments: Language, Art, English, Library Services, Student Support Services
  • This initiative enacted requests put forth by students in CPPT surveys requesting more exploration of faith traditions (CPPT work completed with guidance by Lewis Bryant).
  • Student feedback was predominantly positive about the entire experience and recommending it continue; feedback for change centered around increasing interactivity and length of time.
To introduce students to the spiritual practices (key tenets, holidays, impact on daily life) of three of the world’s largest religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam, known as the Abrahamic faiths and to explore the interconnectedness of these three religions. A safe space was created for students to learn about religious/faith traditions and spiritual practices similar to and different from their own, to explore key tenets and ceremonies, and how spirituality may intersect with other areas of life and to share their own religious/spiritual practices. Interactive components included Q&A with a panel of faith leaders, questions during field trips and a culminating reflective art piece that was displayed to the larger MS community. The goal was for students to come away with a deeper understanding of religious/spiritual traditions.

Summary of the Initiative:
The 8th grade Interfaith Initiative explored the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. This interfaith experience involved a ‘flipped classroom’ online introductory slide show, a  panel discussion with leaders from the three faiths, field trips to places of worship, and a culminating reflection activity.

The eighth grade visited and toured a synagogue, a mosque, and a church over three consecutive Friday afternoons. The trips occurred during the school day with students returning in time for dismissal to sports.
The field trips went to the following places of worship:

1. Temple Beth Shalom (synagogue), Cambridge
  • Groups met with Rabbi Emily Mathis
  • Toured the synagogue, explored Hebrew text and rituals
2. Memorial Church, Harvard University
  • Groups met with Rev. Wes Conn, Rev Laura Tuach and Ms. Morgan McNeill
  • Alternated tour with ‘show-and-tell’ of sacraments, worship structure, clothing
3. The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) Mosque  Roxbury
  • Groups met with Ms. Barbara Sahli, Education Coordinator
  • Observed the Yawm al-Jum’ah service and toured the mosque

Schedule of Events:
N.B. the order of events, such as the panel occurring after the first field trip reflects larger scheduling pieces at the MS that necessitated adjustments
Thursday, January 31st (Advisory time)

  • In their own time, students viewed a narrated online lesson for an introduction to the Interfaith Initiative. You can view the ‘flipped classroom’ lesson here
Friday, February 1st

  • First week of field trips. Eighth grade separated into 3 groups which rotated destinations weekly.
Thursday, February 7th (Advisory time)

  • Entire eighth grade - Panel discussion and Q&A with faith leaders
  1. Rabbi Emily Mathis, Temple Beth Shalom
  2. Ms. Barbara Sahli, Education Coordinator, ISBCC
  3. Dr. Stephanie Paulsell, Affiliate Minister, Memorial Church (BBN alum parent)
Friday, February 8th 

  • Second week of field trips
Thursday, February 14th (Advisory time)
  1. At grade meeting the culminating art reflection activity was introduced using art displays and music from the various faith traditions. You can view the slide presentation here
  2. Student began the culminating reflection activity in homerooms.
Friday, February 15th

  • Third/final week of field trips
Thursday, February 21st (Advisory time)

  1. Homeroom: Complete culminating reflection activity
The following week: Student Art Reflections on display in main foyer of MS.

At the end of the initiative, we survey students for their feedback. The graphics for some of their responses that were ranked can be viewed here

Here are some of the narrative responses students shared:

When you think about your overall experience exploring several faith traditions (background info, panel, field trips) what, if anything, would you suggest CHANGING for next year?
  • I don't really have anything to change, it was set up well and each place had a good amount of time so it wasn't too long and it wasn't too short.
  • I would suggest less time in each place because it was hard to listen to people speak for so long.
  • The only thing i would want to change about next years interfaith topics is to make it longer. So they can really learn and explore each religion.
  • Maybe reframing a little bit the panel- could have more direct questions from the students.
  • The final wrap-up activity seemed unnecessary, and it would be more effective just to discuss what students learned.
  • I think the unit was great and there doesn't need to be anything changed
  • Yes, don't do it.
  • I would strongly suggest that the trips do not take place on a Friday Afternoon. At that time, everyone just wants to leave and go home or to their games, and not go sit there and listen to someone for an hour talking at them. Maybe try it on a Wednesday Blue week and take away E-Block. Then you would have about a two hour window to use for the trips.
When you think about your overall experience exploring several faith traditions (background info, panel, field trips) what, if anything, would you suggest KEEPING for next year?
  • Keep the panel - it was the most informative part, and I enjoyed getting to hear actual people's opinions.
  • The panel was very affective in helping me understand the beliefs of each religion.
  • Everything else. I loved the trips and the art presentation a lot.
  • I think the field trips were a good idea, they just need to be more interesting and interactive so that we as students don't feel like we are going to pass out while sitting there and listening.
  • Definitely the experience of sitting through the prayer session at the mosque.
  • I would suggest keeping the final reflection project.
  • The field trips should definitely stay similar, as they taught many things about the religions that one couldn't understand just from looking at a presentation.
  • Keeping the field trips. They were fun and different and allowed for everyone to experience something new.
  • I would keep the reflection part, specifically the art aspect of it because it was fun to reflect and draw as well in homeroom and talk to my friends as well.
  • I would suggest keeping the schedule because it seemed like the right amount of time for this kind of field trip.
  • The whole idea of exploring religion.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Boston Speaker Series - Ian Bremmer

Boston Speaker Series
Allison Kornet, US English Teacher and Faculty Advisor to The Vanguard

Here is the gang I took to Ian Bremmer, the global politics expert and president of Eurasia Group. Cat Butchaskiy said she felt it was fulfilling to hear him speak with some depth about Ukraine and Brazil, two countries that are home to her, as part of the geopolitical scene. Magnus Aske and Kathryn Goebel referred to the talk at length in econ class and in an econ blog, Ms. DiPasquale reports, and Harry Golen heard relevant connections in our speechwriting class' discussion of anti-Semitism and to his column this week in the Vanguard about the implications of anti-Israel positions. Meanwhile, we were ready to use this picture and his comments on Venezuela if we needed room in our Current Topics spread on the crisis there, but we had plenty to fill the page without him. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Gem & Mineral Exhibit
Amy Carey, MS Science Teacher
Michael Ewins, MS Science Teacher
Wendy Svatek, MS Science Teacher and Department Head
Erik Swanson, MS Science Teacher


During the 8th grade chemistry study, we spent some time looking at crystal lattice structures in ionic compounds, as well as physical properties that come about as a result of different bond types. We have also changed our program to include a lot more real-world applications of chemistry. The entire 8th Grade had the opportunity to explore the gems and minerals the Natural History Museum at Harvard University.


The exhibit at the Natural History Museum is outstanding in its scope and structure. It is the perfect opportunity for students to be able to see an incredible variety of minerals and put their new understanding of bonding and physical properties to use.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Boston Speaker Series - Jim Comey

Boston Speaker Series
Allison Kornet, US English Teacher and Faculty Advisor to The Vanguard

This group really enjoyed James Comey at Symphony Hall on Monday night. Comey said the purpose of his speaking tour was to drive a conversation and offer a vision of what good leadership looks like. The best leaders, he said, have two trait pairs: they're kind yet tough, and they're confident yet humble. He also talked about two kinds of listeners: "the Washington listener," who lets you speak while he waits to say what he plans to, and the real listener, who understands listening involves silence plus cogitation plus open posture plus nonverbal sounds whose subtext is "You're safe, give it to me, you're safe, give it to me." He said that though he gave money to Romney and McCain, he learned on the job that Obama was the best listener he'd ever encountered... and Trump was the worst. Those were the highlights! Sam Klein Roche and Benjamin Gross-Loh, Vanguard editors who attended, shared the discussion with the editorial board, and now they plan to run an editorial about listening in the January issue. 

Boston Speaker Series - Gloria Steinem

Boston Speaker Series
Allison Kornet, US English Teacher and Faculty Advisor to The Vanguard

Claire Pingitore, Klara Kuemmerle, Sophie Collins Arroyo, and Laila Shadid accompanied me to the Boston Speakers Series at Symphony Hall to hear Gloria Steinem last night (11/19). She was an inspiration! We sat in the balcony afterward discussing what we'd heard until the ushers kicked us out.  

Some great quotes from her:
"Until Congress looks like the country, there's probably something wrong."
"If the laws are unjust, we won't obey them."
On being 84: "At my age, most people are dead!"
"Laughter is the only free emotion... you can't compel it. Never go anywhere they won't let you laugh."
"Kindness must be the single most important quality on earth."
"There's no more reason why everybody with a uterus should be a mother than everyone with vocal chords should be an opera singer."
On the topic of why white married and uneducated women voted for Trump, she quoted Harriet Tubman, who said "I could have freed thousands more if only they knew they were slaves."
"Let's remember Trump is not the president. He lost by 6 million votes. He won by the electoral college, which is a remnant of slavery."
The most progress feminism has had is in our heads and hearts, our consciousness. The least is in the economy. We on't say that equal pay for women would be the greatest possible stimulus we could ever have (which it would be).

Asked to whom she will pass her torch, she said, "I'm not giving up my torch. I'm using it to light the torch of other people. If we're looking at one torch, no wonder we don't know where the hell we're going."

Boston Speaker Series - Lisa Genova

Boston Speaker Series
Allison Kornet, US English Teacher and Faculty Advisor to The Vanguard

In the right balcony of Boston Symphony Hall, Tessa Haining ‘19, Laila Shadid ‘19, Lucy Foot ‘20, and Anna Soloshenko ‘19 await neuroscientist and novelist Lisa Genova’s talk at the first event in the Boston Speakers Series. Lucy and Anna said they left the event feeling ‘so much smarter.’ Laila included this photo in the upcoming issue of The Vanguard with a caption identifying the talk’s highlights.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

UCG Announcement, 2018-2019

We are pleased to announce the following Urban Connection Grants for academic year 2018-2019. BB&N will support seven grants this year, four new connections and three continuing programs. The new grant connections are currently being established and will be implemented throughout the school year. Each grant will connect BB&N students to groups and organizations throughout Cambridge, Boston and the Greater Boston Area.

Boston Speaker Series at Symphony Hall
Allison Kornet, US English Teacher and Faculty Advisor to The Vanguard

Up to 30 Upper School students will have the opportunity to attend part of the 2018-2019 Boston Speaker Series presented by Lesley University at Symphony Hall. This grant will mean seniors in the US Speechwriting and Public Speaking elective and upperclass writers and editors from The Vanguard can listen and learn firsthand from contemporary leaders and thinkers like James Comey, Lisa Genova, Gloria Steinem, Jeb Bush, Jon Meacham, Ian Bremmer, and Jay Leno. After presenting during the first hour of each event, speakers will respond to written questions submitted by audience members, so there is even an opportunity for direct engagement by BB&N students. Senior Speechwriting and Public Speaking students will mind how the pros deliver as closely as what they deliver, and the newspaper staff will follow up on the content of the talks with related reporting, investigation, or commentary in The Vanguard. All students participating in this grant will benefit from this unique Boston-based opportunity and experience the speaker series as an extension of their work at the Upper School.

Faith Traditions in our Community
Sasha Bergmann, MS 3D Art Teacher
Beth Brooks, MS Librarian
Stefanie Haug, MS Counselor
Youssef Talha, MS Language Teacher

Faith Traditions in our Community has piloted an exploratory, interactive workshop with the goal of introducing Middle School students to a variety of faith and religious traditions and spiritual practices. The grant recipients collaborated to bring three Abrahamic faith leaders to the BB&N middle school for a panel discussion with the 8th grade, including Rabbi Natan Margalit, Reverend Matthew Carriker and Islam educator Barbara Sahli. Following the panel discussion and over the course of a few weeks, the 8th grade students and teachers visited a synagogue, a church and a mosque and then reconvened back at school to further explore Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and to reflect upon their experiences. As a result of this grant program, students were provided with a safe, collaborative space in which to learn about religious and faith traditions and spiritual practices similar to and different from their own, to explore key tenets and ceremonies, and to examine the interconnectedness of many world religions. This grant will continue into year two and run the interfaith program with the new 8th grade class.

Gem & Mineral Exhibit
Amy Carey, MS Science Teacher
Michael Ewins, MS Science Teacher
Wendy Svatek, MS Science Teacher and Department Head
Erik Swanson, MS Science Teacher

The goal of the Gem & Mineral Exhibit grant is to establish a new connection with the Harvard Museum of Natural History to support the 8th grade chemistry curriculum. Since the MS science program has developed to include more real-world applications of chemistry, the museum will provide students with the opportunity to examine the extensive variety of minerals in person. Timed with their curriculum study, students will apply their new understanding of bonding and physical properties while exploring the museum exhibit. With participation from the entire MS science department, every 8th grade student will benefit from this new Cambridge-based connection.

NERWHA Symposium, Cities in World History
Suzy Glazer, US History & Social Sciences Department Head and Teacher

BB&N will host the annual New England Regional World History Association symposium at the BB&N Upper School on November, 3rd, 2018 sponsored by the Urban Connections Grant program. The symposium will bring world history educators from all over New England to Cambridge and BB&N for a day of workshops, round table discussion and panels about world cities. Along with being at the US campus, participants will also visit MIT as a result of collaboration between the two Cambridge-based schools. The symposium explores the role cities have played in world history in developing economies, societies, and cultures as well as establishing ties among people. The Upper School history department is committed to facilitating students’ study of the past and present to help them become informed citizens of the future in an increasingly global society. In line with this departmental goal and those of the Urban Connections Grant program, hosting this symposium will act as a way to support educator collaboration, professional development and the understanding and appreciation of BB&N's urban location.

The Latino Network
Dr. Rosario Sánchez Gómez, US Spanish Teacher and Spanish Department Coordinator

The Latino Network will connect BB&N Upper School students of Spanish with bilingual Latino organizations that work directly with Latin American immigrants in the Boston area. This grant aims to provide an opportunity for students to connect with the growing Spanish-speaking population, not only to be able to practice their linguistic and cultural skills but also to participate actively in their community. The Latino Network is currently working to establish partner organizations which will result in the creation of various projects for different Spanish courses as well as service learning opportunities available to all US students. Whether the students interview members of the community for different purposes or work hand in hand with the organization on a specific project, they will engage in a unique connection that aims to expands their course and community service work beyond their classrooms to include the local Latino communities in and around Boston.

Urban Heat Islands: Neighborhood Responses to Climate Change
Karina Baum, Director of Global Education and US Science Teacher

As part of the US Advanced Biology curriculum and BB&N’s continuous commitment to promote global education, this new grant will partner with Boston College Professors and former BB&N parents, Juliet Schor and Prasannan Parthasarathi, and BC PhD candidate Xiaorui Huang to explore the topic of climate change by studying Urban Heat Islands. An UHI is an urban area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities and the built environment. Since BB&N is an urban school, this grant will be relevant to our students and an opportunity to explore the environmental impact on BB&N’s urban surrounding. This grant will include multiple meetings with Professors Schor and Parthasarathi, both at BC and at BB&N, and field research to analyze data on UHI’s in the Boston metropolitan area with a focus on the differences between East and West Cambridge. Student learning will, above all, be positively affected and empowered by experiential outdoor learning, as the classroom is extended to the broader urban setting, and by interacting with academic experts on climate issues, as well as with local residents impacted by the “heat island” effect. This grant is an avenue for BB&N students to examine global education and environmental justice through local resources in the Boston area. Our hope is that through this curriculum, BB&N students will be inspired to take some action to address this problem in our city.

Wampanoag Presence and Impact
Simone Esteves, MS History Teacher

The goal of Wampanoag Presence and Impact is to bring indigenous peoples out of the past and into the present for the Middle School students. This program will continue into year two and connect a new group of 7th grade students to the Wampanoag tribe, including current people, culture and historical sites. Last May, a group of students visited Martha’s Vineyard for the day, a trip comprised of speakers and tours focusing primarily on the Wampanoag experience, perspective and history, and including the history and experiences of African American people on the island. The intended outcome of this program is to emphasize for students that the indigenous experience and influence, particularly in New England, has not only a long history but is still very present. Students will be enabled to make a variety of personal connections to the curriculum and bring their understanding of this history back to life.