“Free Fallin’”: Meridian’s Annual Music Night Braves a Snow Storm

By 12th grader Jacob

On Wednesday, March 7th, the Meridian music department put on its fourth and largest-ever Music Night. Featuring 34 students, it’s safe to say that the music department has grown significantly over the past several years. Not only did kids from all four divisions lend their talents to the night, but a few songs saw some of the teachers participate! Jon graced us with performances on his normal instrument of choice, the fiddle; and Catherine, as a member of the Division 4 drumming class, accompanied an extremely adorable rendition of Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”

As is customary, the all-genre Meridian Band played several songs, ranging from classic rock hits like “Crosstown Traffic” and “Free Fallin’” to quirky pop that sounds like it’s from a musical but somehow isn’t, as in the case of “I’m Me” by Us the Duo. Many songs incorporated collaborations between classes and often divisions. The Division 4 guitar class and the Division 1 drumming class chugged together through the Boston-centric classic “Dirty Water.” Amongst a plethora of artists—Joni Mitchell, Queen, and almost everything in between—there were a few original student compositions. 9th grader Jamie debuted the closing song from her musical-in-progress about the life of Marsha P. Johnson, and for the continuation of my Lomax Sessions elective, Laura and I performed our version of a song called “How Could I Live.”

By the time the main set ended, it was snowing wildly outside. Laura asked the audience if they wanted to hear the encore – a selection of songs from Regina Spektor’s Begin to Hope album arranged for this year’s music Winterim – and they responded with an overwhelming “Yes!” As the storm raged on outside the windows, we powered through the remainder of our setlist.

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the annual Music Night tradition. For all of the graduating seniors who had been active participants in the music department, Laura presented framed pictures of the “Grilla”—a large drawing-turned-painting of a gorilla that resides on one of the chalkboards in the music room. Although this was, sadly, my last Meridian Music Night, I look forward to seeing what the music department will look like in the years to come. Whatever that may be, I know it’ll still be as amazing and unique as it’s always been.

 

Realities in a Federal Court

By Division 2 student Rhys

jfk-federal-building.jpg

After a trimester of learning about the modern refugee crisis and its connections to the immigration debates in the U.S., Division 2 visited a session of the juvenile docket at the Boston Immigration Court to see firsthand just a small part of the process of becoming a citizen of the United States. This was largely made possible by Judge Maureen O’Sullivan and Antonio Castro, a legal representative from Catholic Charities who helps inform individuals in the courts of their rights and how to find legal representation.

The courtroom, as soon as we walked in, completely caught us by surprise. Being a federal court, I expected it to be one of those really big courtrooms, with rows upon rows of seats, and a massive area for the jury to sit behind the fence. This court was not like that at all. First, there was no jury, as all of the decisions are made by the judge. There were also only three rows of seats. Three rows in the entire court. It immediately made me realize that I had no idea what I was about to see or how everything worked, and so I really had to just take all of my preconceived notions about courts and essentially throw them out the window (however, there weren’t any windows in this particular courtroom).

A few minutes after our class had packed ourselves into a little over a row of the court’s seating, the undocumented immigrants, along with the lawyers, an interpreter, and a clerk started to come in. To me it seemed pretty hectic as the clerk was running around the room trying to get everyone’s papers processed. Once she had done all of this, she started having a casual conversation with one of the lawyers who was present, along with the interpreter. This was one of the biggest surprises of the morning; in my mind, courts tend to have little in the way of informalities. They are formal and official places. But I saw that even though this court takes on cases that are tremendously serious, for the people who worked there it is also their everyday job.

Once the hearings began, undocumented minors were called one by one in front of the judge. It was clear that they uncomfortable based on how they were shifting around once they were called up. The judge worked to calm them down by asking them questions about school and encouraging them to work hard. As an onlooker, I grew increasingly more uncomfortable. Watching people my age, or close to my age, go through this process was something that I never seen or thought deeply about prior to this.

None of the stories or backgrounds of the undocumented minors were explained during the hearings. I was both a little bit sad that I didn’t get to hear the stories in real life firsthand, but I was also relieved at the same time. I can only imagine how it would’ve felt to be one of those kids, whose journeys from home to an unfamiliar country are aired in such a public way.

It was hard to be in that courtroom in that moment, but I’m glad that we got a chance to go. It gave me a new understanding of what it means to be an immigrant in the modern world. At this point time in a piece of writing, I would normally summarize the experience that I am writing about, and try to draw a conclusion, but there is no good way to do that here. There is no way to do justice to the way that an experience like this can change someone.

Canvases, Cookies, and Craftacular

By 6th grader Ezra

Every year, on the last day before winter break, we celebrate Craftacular and Pajama/Bathrobe/Slipper day. Everyone at school is eager for the long two weeks of relaxation, and getting to wear their comfiest clothing gives them a taste of that. We have two normal classes, then lunch, and then comes Craftacular – a big celebration of of arts and crafts through the afternoon. First, we all pick the names of another student or teacher out of a bag. We go off to make crafts for the person we got, and, if there is time, we might also make treats for other friends or family. We had a wide range of choices this year: laser cutting, woodburning, cookie decorating, making elves, painting tiny canvases and more. I picked 10th grader Tali’s name out of the hat, and I made a laser-cut square and a wood block with her name on it, along with several decorated cookies.

Everyone rushes around throughout the afternoon, excitedly trying to create as many fun and personalized gifts they can, and it’s fun to get to know other people in the school as you make gifts for them. At the end of the day comes the final exchange. People return to the lounge, and we search through the crowd to find our person and give them the gifts we made. Then, we make ourselves as visible as possible so we can be given gifts! After that, we listen to the collaborative story – a tale that students write line by line as crafts are made – and we enjoy apple cider and donuts. Roaming around the school, making gifts, eating snacks, and wearing our pajamas is a perfect way to get ready for winter.

 

At Poetry Out Loud, A Range of Voices, Walks, and Words

by 10th grader Aneli

Poetry Out Loud is an annual event where all Meridian students recite a poem for the whole community. And every year, this process begins with a choice. Some students decide on a poem that expresses something that they can relate to or something that they find particularly interesting. Some pick long, tongue-twisting poems for a challenge, while others pick the first poem that they see.

After picking their poems, students practice them in class, at home, on the train or bus, or anywhere they like. When the morning finally comes, the students, teachers, and parents flood into Parish Hall, taking their places in the metal folding chairs distributed throughout the space.

The audience is mostly made up of the performers themselves. They talk, laugh, and look around the room, filling it with a cloud of noise as they wait for the event to begin. When Catherine begins to walk up to the microphone, the cloud of noise din gets softer and softer, until she is met with complete silence. Catherine introduces the judges, who smile awkwardly toward the audience, and describes how to adjust the microphone for our wide range of heights. Many students are only half listening as they await their walk to the microphone, going over their poems in their heads.

Then, starting with the 6th and 7th grade students, the recitations begin. Everyone has a different way of walking to the microphone. Some walk slowly, hoping that time could follow the pace of their steps, while others walk faster than normal, sometimes tripping on a stray cord or wire. Others walk evenly, taking deep breaths. Everyone, at some point, gets to the microphone on the stand at the front of the room.

The styles in which they recite are no more similar than their walks: hurried, calm, strained, soft, and for some, almost too loud for the microphone. As each student recites, one can feel the depth of their understanding, the drawn out phrases, the tone of voice, and the carefully placed pauses that leave the audience hanging on tight to their last words. A recitation that I personally enjoyed was one that Theo Shapiro recited called “Domestic Situation” by Ernest Hilbert. When I was searching for a poem on the Poetry Out Loud website, I considered choosing that poem, because I think that it really captures the title—a life that many people in this world are living, which I think is important. The poem that I picked was called “To Myself” by a poet named Franz Wright, which also details everyday life.

Some students end their poem recitations with a “Thank you” to the audience, while others turn from the microphone and walk away, followed by the noise of clapping hands.

Challenges, Conversation, and Ocarinas: One Student’s First Exhibitions

By Division I student Amos

The Exhibition evening on December 6th, 2017, was my first as a Meridian student. I had seen others last year, but actually taking part was an entirely different experience.

It’s true – as I had heard – that homework increased around Exhibitions, but I was excited to be part of an event that so much work had gone into. The night was more structured than I thought, and it was helpful to have a schedule. Each student moves to a different class for a set period of time to show parents, visitors, and peers the work they’ve done throughout the entire trimester. Each of the classes felt different to discuss, but I didn’t have a favorite – in each one, you’re still having an interesting human interaction.

I remember one such interaction when I was playing a song on the ocarina – a kind of vessel flute – that I made in Ceramics. An older student recognized the song I was playing and that led to a more in-depth conversation.

Exhibitions is also fun place to see how classes overlap. For instance, the same teacher who taught me how to make the ocarina also helped in my Humanities class. For that project, we interviewed family members about challenges they had overcome, and then we made Greek-style coil pots and etched illustrations of the family stories we’d collected.

Toil and Trouble: A Student Reflects on Playing Macbeth

By 12th grader Naomi

Having only done theater at Meridian twice before, I never thought that I would play a role as difficult as Macbeth. When I auditioned for the play, it was for practical reasons. Because I’m a senior, this year was my last chance to act in any Meridian productions, but the main purpose of my auditioning was to gain experience. I planned to direct the spring play, and I felt that the only way to be a good director was to know how it feels to be directed by someone else. And so, I went into auditions for Macbeth feeling perfectly at peace with any role I might get, no matter how small. When the casting was posted the following week, I realized that I had been given a role with tremendous responsibility.

With a line count in the upper 600s and a presence in all five acts, Macbeth was a technically daunting character. The number of lines was especially intimidating for me, and I spent many long nights learning them. At the time, it was beyond me how someone could memorize that many words. I had to approach the play in tiny bits, slowly piecing together each phrase and monologue until it finally came together in my head after months of practice.

Macbeth was also an emotionally taxing character to play. I had never before portrayed someone descending into a guilt-driven madness fueled by ambition. I had to work myself into hallucinatory frenzies, furious rages, tearful frustration, and a frightened delirium. After the opening performance I was completely drained, and I actually found myself crying a bit from exhaustion in the car.

“How can professional actors do this night after night for a month?” I asked myself. But the second night was much easier than the first. My head was clearer, and I felt less mentally exhausted afterwards. From this, I realized that to perform as an actor requires not a synthesis of false emotion, but a channeling of one’s own emotion into one’s character, as well as acclimating to playing them in front of an audience. Once I reached this point of comfort and openness, I felt both love and triumph towards a character that had at one point seemed impossible to play.

I went into Macbeth expecting to learn how to direct, which I certainly did. Working with Catherine and Nathan was an invaluable experience, and I gained a great deal of knowledge that will help me as I direct the spring play. What I had not anticipated was that I would learn so much about being an actor – and, despite the challenging nature of my character, I had a great time doing so! This is what truly made the production process so wonderful for me, and I am extremely grateful that I was able to participate.

Experiencing the East at the Peabody Essex

By 11th grader Izzy

The students of Division 4 were shocked earlier this month when they sat down at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem to watch a video of what seemed to be a lovely wedding: a joining together of two wonderful families, a time of joy and laughter. The video quickly turned into something very unfamiliar. This present-day Chinese wedding, a decision made solely by the groom’s father, was a day mourning for the bride’s family; full of sadness and loss.  

The wedding video was certainly not the only powerful, thought-provoking exhibit we had the privilege of seeing. Earlier in the day, students spent some time in a typical, 1840’s American house, commenting on the architectural elements that made it stand out as one of wealth. Students were then immersed in Chinese home life, an experience that fell just short of actually visiting the country, by touring the Yin Yu Tang house brought over and reconstructed at the museum. There were many obvious differences between the two houses; the lack of flashy wallpaper and decorations in the Chinese house stood out. The students debriefed their visit the next day, talking about the differences and similarities between the two houses and what each conveyed about that culture. What did the small rooms and large common areas of the Yin Yu Tang house tell us about Chinese values as compared with the larger individual rooms in the colonial home? After spending an entire trimester learning about differences in worldview between the East and the West, Confuician filial piety, and major historical events in China, the museum visit served as a way to experience these topics in a more hands-on way.

After a morning full of discussion on architecture and culture, students visited additional Chinese art exhibits, full of incredibly detailed pieces. These pieces ranged from a fragile, ornately detailed, carved ivory fan, to paintings done by Chinese artists imitating early 19th century American painting styles, to vibrantly colorful and, again, incredibly detailed porcelain vases.

Afterwards, the day took a slight detour and Jon, Division 4’s calculus and physics teacher, got to feel right at home in an interactive exhibit on dimensions. Aside from a slight headache, the exhibit gave students a very fun, interactive introduction to the daunting world of physics.

Division I Explores the Stories We Tell

By 7th grader Grace

An empty white backdrop. A triangle enters, it moves around for a few moments until a circle joins it. The triangle moves closer towards the circle and then, with its top point, pushes the circle into the corner of a rectangle. The circle bumps into the walls of the rectangle.

This is the Heider-Simmel demonstration, a brief animation of a few shapes randomly moving around a white backdrop. But, as research shows, nearly every person who views it forms elaborate stories around the shapes.  

Triangle, what a jerk, huh? Who just shoves someone around like that?
Aww, the poor little circle, so defenseless.

A few miscellaneous moments are almost instantaneously morphed into a full-fledged story in our minds, decked out with a protagonist, antagonist, motivations, heroes, villains, and a complete story arc.

Why do we do this? Why do we seem to create stories out of every miniscule piece of information that we receive? We seem to quickly form associations and judgments around only a few cues, like size, movement, speed, and space. So we create stories about almost everything we perceive on a daily basis – consider the cloud that looks like a dinosaur, or the two leaves that look like they’re chasing each other down the street.   

But our human propensity towards stories doesn’t end there. Stories also sculpt our perspective on the world. Stories teach us things. They bind us together, they create resilience and empathy, and they give us a glimmer of insight into others experiences. Stories matter.

For the last few months, the Division I Humanities class has been studying how exactly stories affect us, why we tell them so compulsively to ourselves and others, and how we can use them as a tool for teaching. We participated in the Heider-Simmel Demonstration ourselves, and explored assumptions that we made about the shapes, including their gender or emotional motivations.

Then, we discussed how stories can teach lessons and values, and we crafted our own stories centered on a lesson that we think is relevant to younger children. (The characters that we developed in the stories varied from a wasteful 10-year-old to a racoon fast food worker rebelling against a racoon tyrant.) Doria Hughes, a professional storyteller (now that's a pretty cool job!) taught us techniques for presenting our stories so they were memorable – one of the most important aspects of any story.

After practicing them in class for a few weeks, we performed our stories for 3rd and 4th graders from Neighborhood School. Then, the younger students were asked to retell our stories, and we were surprised at how easily they could mimic our narratives and characters, even using specific phrasing and tones of voice. (Thanks, Doria!)

Now, we are exploring how stories affect the way we see ourselves. We’re recording stories with family members and writing thesis essays on how characters in American Born Chinese and Gracefully Grayson were influenced by stories. Throughout all of these endeavors, we have to remember one thing: stories matter.

Sharks, Seals, and M&Ms: Division II MST Explores Woods Hole

By MST teacher Tasha Greenwood

On Friday Oct 20th, students from Division 2 Math, Science, and Technology class took a field trip to Woods Hole on Cape Cod. This tiny town in Falmouth is most famous for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), one of the premiere marine research organizations in the world. We spent the day with an organization called Zephyr Marine Education, which focuses on bringing the experience of marine research and exploration to students from around the state.

We began the day with a two-hour “research cruise” with Zephyr staff, deploying instruments and collecting data in the same fashion as a professional marine science expedition. We deployed a mooring with a data logger to look at depth versus temperature and pressure. The mooring was eventually recovered via an acoustic signal, much like the types of sonar we have been studying in class. We towed a camera to check out the eel grass and sargassum habitats, and a dredge to collect creatures. The highlights from the dredge included a horseshoe crab, sea stars, hermit crabs, spider crabs,  and multitudes of purple urchins. We also towed a plankton net, and examined light attenuation through the water column with a fun experiment featuring M&Ms! Perhaps the most exciting wildlife encounter, though, was the group of seals hanging out on the rocks at low tide.

We ate lunch in the town of Woods Hole, and then made our way back to Zephyr to play with augmented reality sandboxes, upon which is a projection of topography that shifts based on your movement of the sand. You can add rainwater to fill lakes and oceans and create waves.

Our day ended with a tour of the WHOI Exhibit Center. One of the most exciting parts of the museum is an AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle), which was designated to record video of sharks in their natural habitat. However, the sharks ended up biting the AUV and there is footage of the entire encounter! Visitors can touch the actual AUV which is on display. There was also a replica of the deep-sea submersible research unit Alvin. We tried to fit all of Div 2 into Alvin but – even though we’re a small group – there wasn’t quite enough space in the tiny unit.

Back in the classroom, we analyzed data from various deployments and connected this information to what we have been studying in oceanography. As our learning progresses, these applications of marine research will be put to use in other projects, and culminate in the building of Sea Perches at the end of the year.

Using History to Define Us

By Humanities teacher Nathan Sokol-Margolis

In 1707, Reverend John Williams, the minister of Deerfield, MA published his narrative The Redeemed Captive. This text, which relates the story of Williams’s and his family’s capture by Mohawks and the French during the Deerfield Raid of 1704, became a classic of early American literature and was key in perpetuating a two-dimensional perception of the conflict between Indian and English, between “savage” and “civilized.” For our Division II Humanities class, Constitution Nation, this moment in history is a case study for how individuals use stories to help them organize and coalesce into groups.

This past week, after studying 17th century Deerfield (previously know as Pocumtuck), students traveled there and spent the night in the “Old Indian House,” a replica of John Sheldon’s house, which was one of the few homes to survive the raid of 1704.

Starting off at the summit of Wequamps, renamed by the English to Sugarbush, students looked out over the Connecticut River Valley and discussed why the land was contested by so many groups. They listened to the ancient story of the Amiskwôlowôkoiak (the People of the Beaver-tail Hill) and heard of a people that settled the land at least 10,000 years ago. From there, they met with David Brule, a local who helped the Nolumbeka Project gain protection for Wissatinnewag, an Indian village. Wissatinnewag is the Algonquin word for “shining hill.” It is a holy site that had been inhabited for thousands of years, and it is the site where, in the aftermath of King Philip’s War in 1676, hundreds of non-combatants were killed by colonial militia led by William Turned. This event is one of the key moments that led to the Native population raiding Deerfield in 1704.

After speaking with Brule, students went to the “Old Indian House,” changed into colonial garb, and lived a colonial life for 16 hours. Working together, the students did chores such as shelling beans and carding cotton. They cooked dinner in a walk-in fireplace, and they told stories about the raid late into the night. The next morning, students made breakfast together and played traditional colonial games. They also got to experience multiple first-person narratives from the perspective of raid survivors. After breakfast and clean-up, students changed back into their 21st century garb and went to the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Museum, where they saw the original Sheldon Door that the raiders hacked at to get at the English colonists. They examined the language used then to talk about that moment in history (the Deerfield Massacre), versus the language used now (the Deerfield Raid), and discussed the power of perspective in giving meaning to a group of people.

Now that students are back in the classroom, they are doing primary source research on the many groups in New England during the 18th century. Once this research is finished, students will craft narratives to share with others in an effort to explore how we take the past and manipulate it to explain our present. Stay tuned for updates on the project!