Reexamining Criminal Justice Reform: A Visit from Adam Foss

Conversations about the American criminal justice system are not new to many Meridian students. In the Division 3 American Historiography class, students read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and students across courses regularly read authors such as Ta-Nehisi Coates and Angela Davis. These authors explore the racial disparities in the justice system, including the relatively recent skyrocketing of America’s prison population from about 150 per 100,000 in 1970 to 700 per 100,000 today, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

While we often discuss the roles that activists, judges, police, and public defenders have in combatting these disparities, it was not until a recent visit from former Boston prosecutor Adam Foss that many students perceived the potent role that prosecutors can play as well. As Foss explains in his TED Talk, “prosecutors are the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system. Our power is virtually boundless. In most cases, not the judge, not the police, not the legislature, not the mayor, not the governor, not the President can tell us how to prosecute our cases.” In fact, as Foss explained during the morning he spent with us, criminal justice reform is not about reform at all, but rather about enforcing the laws already on the books and disincentivizing the competition between lawyers that is so commonplace in the courtroom. Currently, the courtroom places the defense attorney and the prosecutor at odds with each other (and shows such as Law & Order enculturate this idea in the public’s mind), but this is not inevitable. As Foss argues, if courtrooms radically alter the lives of the people who pass through them, why are lawyers encouraged to compete over the fates of others? Why can the process not be one based in reason, dignity, justice, and rehabilitation?

After challenging our community to think about these various issues, Foss spent another hour with the Division 4 Humanities. Currently, this class is studying systemic inequalities including education, criminal justice, labor and housing markets, and media representation.

During this conversation, Foss turned his focus toward local issues, emphasizing the ways in which students can make a difference in their own community. He asked “Do any of you know who Boston’s current D.A. is or what his policies are?” The room was silent. In his usual style, Foss saw an opportunity. “Well, he’s up for reelection in two years, when all of you will be able to vote. Learn his issues. Vote for what you believe in.”

In Division 4, Discovering Different Types of Teaching

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Isabel

Last month, the Division 4 Humanities classes visited several schools around Boston to examine different forms of learning. They observed a variety of classes to see choices that teachers make -- like what kinds of students they called on -- and they particularly focused on choices that seemed based on gender. The class has been learning about education this trimester, and the school visits were an opportunity to observe learning as an outsider, rather than an active student.

I interviewed Naomi, a Division 4 junior, about her experience. She visited the School Within a School at Brookline High, and observed classes including “African Literature” and “Writers of Color.” She noticed that students in these classes often called on each other, rather than relying on the teacher, and she also noticed a lot of conversations between the students. She also observed that in African Literature the boys were more comfortable talking than the girls; Naomi thinks this might have been because there was a male teacher. In Writers of Color, however, it was the opposite -- the girls were more comfortable talking.

Now, the students are creating projects in which they write marginalia around the notes they took during their school visits. This will show their thinking about the visit, along with the connections they made between their observations and authors they’ve read -- like bell hooks, Paolo Freire, and John Dewey -- throughout the class.

Naomi said the opportunity to do a school visit was amazing. Reflecting on the trip, she said, “Being able to observe different teaching styles gave me a chance to understand my own education in the context of others.”

Division 1 trip to the Boston Globe: A Unique Perspective into the Lives of Journalists

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Ibrahim

After studying journalism since the beginning of the school year, Division 1 took a trip to the biggest newspaper in the state of Massachusetts. Our chaperones were Catherine, Kenny, and Hilary. We left the school at 8:40am and walked to Stony Brook station. Then, we took two trains directly to The Boston Globe headquarters. The building looked huge from the outside. As we entered the building, I was immediately mesmerized by the marble structures and the newspapers that were hanging on the walls. They even had a copy of the Boston Globe’s first ever edition!

Soon after we arrived, we met our tour guide, Jasmine. She is a student at Northeastern studying journalism. After getting to know each other, we went to the main part of the Globe, the newsroom. There were computers, people, printers, and televisions everywhere. Everyone seemed to be writing, trying to meet a deadline. Then, Jasmine took us to the 10:00 am editorial meeting. The meeting took place in a small room with a U-shaped desk. There were chairs around the desk, and on the walls were shelves that had really old television sets on them. We all took seats around the desk and waited for the editors to arrive.

At about 10:00am, editors came pouring into the small office. They all sat around the table. There was a huge projector screen in the room. The meeting started when Chris Chinlund, the managing editor in charge of news, came into the room. First, Jason Tuohey, the Deputy Management Editor of Audience Management, showed on the projector screen. He showed statistics like how many people were on the Globe site at that moment, which was about 8,000, and how long they stayed on each story.  

Then, the editors spoke. At the The Boston Globe, there are different sections that reporters are assigned to, including the Metro section, Business, and Living Arts. Chris called on each editor in charge of each beat and they give a quick summary of the stories that their journalists were working on.

Stories included topics like the oldest Catholic church in the city and new evidence in the Aaron Hernandez trial. After the stories were presented, Chris and the other editors debated about what story to publish the next day. After the while, the group broke up and went their separate ways. The thing that really struck me about the meeting was how different it seemed that I had originally thought. I thought that the editorial meeting would be a place where loud arguments would take place and people would compete to get their story on the front page.

After the meeting, Chris stayed back to take our questions. Chris has been at the Globe for 35 years, so she had a lot of perspective to share. She was asked about what qualities (like timeliness, importance, interest, and uniqueness) she especially valued when picking front page stories. She replied, “I like stores that surprise me and tell me something about myself or the world that I didn’t know.” She answered other questions that we had like, “How do you fact-check a breaking news story when you need to get it out to the public?” (she said it’s very difficult to fact check a story on a breaking news deadline) and “Does The Boston Globe use social media to communicate stories?” (Yes, they do).

After 45 minutes talking with Chris, we all returned to the newsroom. Jasmine told us about the Spotlight team, an investigative group of journalists who several years ago uncovered a huge scandal at a the Catholic Church in the city. As we were talking, Jasmine led us into the other side of the Boston Globe, and we were standing in what seemed like a balcony. Below us was a huge blue rug that spanned the entire room. Hanging from the walls were Pulitzer Prizes that had been awarded to the Globe or its reporters. There were, in total, 26 Pulitzer Prizes! They ranged from investigative, to public service, to photography.

After that, Jasmine took us to go see the printing presses, which are located in the basement of the building. Since the Globe has to print a lot of newspapers, the printing press is huge and spans three levels. The papers come in blocks that weigh 1,800 pounds, which is almost one ton! The Boston Globe also prints some papers for The New York TimesThe Boston Herald, and other newspapers. Sometimes these papers are small enough that they don’t have their own press, and sometimes they’re large, but want to use a press located closer to parts of their readership.

Throughout this trip, we learned a lot about The Boston Globe, how it works, and what it feels like to work for a major newspaper. When asked what impact this trip had on his understanding of journalism, 7th grader Rhys replied, “It was very eye opening, seeing journalists and editors working so hard and caring about what they put out into the world. This changed stereotypes that I had about being a journalist.”    

Adages with Animals: Division 3 Performs African Folktales

"Zomo the Rabbit" adapted and performed by Division 3 students

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Esme

Recently, the Division 3 Humanities class performed a selection of African folktales for the entire Meridian Community, along with visitors from Neighborhood School up the road. The students used a variety of masks and props to tell the stories. In many of the stories, the main characters were animals, as you can tell from the titles: “Frog and His Two Wives,” “The Wise Man and the Fool,” “The Cat’s Many Husbands,” “Zomo the Rabbit,” “The Man Who Could Transform Himself,” and “How the Stories Came to Earth.” Some of the stories had a moral, or would explain how something came to be. One of the morals was from “Zomo the Rabbit,” that you should know how to be brave, clever, and cautious. Another story that had a moral was “The Wise Man and the Fool,” which taught that even if people seem foolish, you do not know what they are capable of, and you should not treat them with less respect.

The students had about two weeks to prepare the performances. They had to write their own original scripts based on the folktales, and they also had to make all of the masks and props. Nadia, one of the students who performed as the title character in “Zomo the Rabbit,” said, “At first I was really nervous, but in the end it turned out to be really fun.”  

Despite Blizzard, Second Exhibitions Shines Following Delay

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Luca

If you ask our head of school, Josh, about the preparation for this Exhibitions, he will probably chuckle at the memory. Everyone was scurrying around and wondering: what will happen to this Exhibitions because of the blizzard? But it arrived last! After the delay due to snow, the long-anticipated Trimester II Exhibitions evening was a success.

The night opened with an equally hilarious and educational presentation of African folk tales by  Division 3. Then, guests moved into the school building to observe projects in each classroom.

For seniors, this was their final Exhibitions, and the 20th Exhibitions for some. In Humanities, they displayed outstanding projects about education, gender, and how they intersect on college campuses -- including issues like masculinity, sexual assault, and transgender rights.

Other students are just beginning their time at Meridian, and Exhibitions remains a new experience. When I asked Division I student Jesse Eliot how her second Exhibitions went, she said, it “was easier, and it wasn’t as stressful as the first Exhibitions.” As the new students get the hang of Exhibitions, their projects keep getting stronger. I’m sure we’ll see much more beautiful, strong work at final Exhibitions in the spring.

Spanish Novice: Mapping the School

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Phoebe

For the second trimester, Division 1 students in Spanish Novice have been going around the school and mapping out the classrooms.  They have been also learning Spanish vocabulary about the school, like la fuente de agua, which means water fountain.  The Spanish teacher for novice, Cristiana, has been helping and always asking questions to improve her students' vocabulary.  The goal behind this project is to create a map for people who do not know where to go in the school. This way, they'll have a guide and can navigate on their own. For this reason, students need to label everything on the map to make it easy for users.

The structure of the map has three different parts: the first floor (or the basement), the second floor, and the third floor.  The students then made the map by drawing, using a computer program, or using a picture of an object or room.  They then put this all together and took each other on a tour of the school for practice. Students Lila and Zayna say, "It was a fun and creative project, and it really helped us learn school vocabulary at the same time."

Meridian Theater: Senior Emmanuel Directs "The Love for Three Oranges"

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Zayna

Emmanuel walks in to Catherine’s room, ready to direct. They point to a picture on the board that they previously drew of the set plan, and explain to the actors how they’ll be moving through the space in this rehearsal.

Emmanuel is a senior in high school, though they came to Meridian in 6th grade and started PAA -- our theater program -- in 7th grade. They wanted to try directing because last year their friend Yvonne directed and Emmanuel assisted her; they found this experience very inspiring. This spring, Emmanuel is directing a play called "The Love for Three Oranges." When asked why they wanted to direct a play in the commedia dell’arte style, they said: “It's an old Italian theater that emphasizes comedy, improv, and over the top-ness. And this play, The Love for Three Oranges, epitomized that.” But beyond the play itself, Emmanuel’s overall goal is making sure the actors have a good experience.

At rehearsal, they start out with a few warm up games to get the actors ready. Emmanuel gathers everyone in a circle, they all began to play a game called “Waa,” a quick reflex game. Emmanuel plays enthusiastically, engaging the cast.

In the next game, one actor sits in a chair at a “bus stop” and one or two others come up next to them, trying to make the person sitting on the chair laugh. Emmanuel chose this game to exercise the actors’ sense of humor, since the play is such an over the top comedy. Emmanuel is engaged with the game, laughing and talking.

Next, they do a “line through,” in which actors sit in a circle and simply recite the lines in a scene without any movement; this helps with the memorization process. When some cast members forget their lines, Emmanuel is encouraging, but also firm to make sure the actor practices for next time.

After the line through, the actors work on scenes. They stand up and follow directing and blocking from Emmanuel. Emmanuel confirms that everyone understands before continuing the scene.

Emmanuel does not take themselves too seriously, and this is helpful in the rehearsal room. They laugh, make jokes, and the whole cast feels comfortable with them. When asked about Emmanuel’s directing style, Nick, one of the actors, explained, “They are very engaging and they know a lot about Italian farces.”

Stay tuned for the play this spring!


From Windmills to Clown Costumes: A Modern Take on Classic Literature

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Grace

In order to gain a higher knowledge of Spanish history and literature, Middle School Advanced Spanish has modernized the classic story Don Quixote, an amusing tale of perspective versus reality.  The story (narrated by Scarlett) follows Alonso Murci (played by Kory), a man who, after watching too many Batman movies, believes he is the famed hero himself. The situation worsens when he beats up a clown (played by Jamie) at a birthday party his daughter, Robina (played by Isabel), was invited to (Vilmarie plays the birthday girl, Valeria). Ultimately, Alonso ends up in jail.The movie ends 25 years in the future, when Robina becomes a lawyer for people who have been to court because of mental illnesses, Valeria is a party planner -- she prohibits clowns at her parties -- and Alonso is in a mental hospital.

Thus, the students generated a creative parallel with the classic tale of Don Quixote; the hero is an old man who, after reading too many books on knights, believes he is one himself. The situation worsens when he tries to attack windmills, believing them to be giants.

The group has recently been spending their time in Sonja’s room, recording the video. While it’s fun, the process of filmmaking takes a lot of energy and time. “Making a good quality video takes an incredibly long time,” Kory told me.“Learning your lines is incredibly important, because if everyone had learned their lines, we would have been done in 2-3 days.” Perhaps they could have finished the video sooner if they hadn’t been tilting at windmills.

Science Journalist Eric Boodman Talks to Division 1 Students

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Rhys

In February, a science journalist named Eric Boodman came to talk to Division 1 Humanities students about his work. Boodman recently received an award from the American Society of Magazine Editors for his writing, and he currently works at STAT, Boston Globe Media's science magazine. After only being at the magazine for a year and a half, Boodman has a lot of experience to share with the students. Before his visit, we read an article of his about a civil scientist named Hugh Brown outside of Austin, Texas, who catches kissing bugs to learn about the disease that they spread. When he described going to meet Brown, Boodman said that “He’s given me this address that isn’t in a town,” and that this is kind of adventure “not usually part of my work day.” He spent one night interviewing Brown, and during that time he was able to witness the protocol for catching bugs. He also found out a lot about Brown as a person, including his personal beliefs and somewhat eccentric lifestyle. During his visit to the school, Boodman mentioned that would have been glad to talk to Brown “all night.”

Boodman also talked a lot about making science understandable for the common reader, a question that has been very important to Division 1 as we prepare to interview scientists and write profile articles about them and their work. In MST, for example, we read some scientific papers, and wondered how a journalist would be able to understand its language, and then translate the scientific descriptions into more commonly used English. Discussing his own strategies for explaining science to readers, Boodman said his solution is “judicious use of metaphor.”

When he first went into college, Boodman expected to write fiction, but after taking a science journalism course in college, he decided to pursue that. He still loves writing fiction, and continues to do that in his free time. Boodman also plays the American fiddle at music and dancing sessions.

Division 1 students have described the visit as an amazing and interesting experience. While we won’t be talking to an eccentric citizen scientist in Texas, I’m sure we’ll be able to use Boodman’s experience and wisdom when we write our own science profiles in the coming weeks.

From the Sons of Liberty to the WTO: High Schoolers at BosMUN

By 12th grader Isaac

A few weekends ago, students in the High School Model United Nations (UN) Club attended their second conference of the year. Nine students, making up the largest Meridian high school delegation Meridian to date, traveled to the far-flung Park Plaza Hotel in Copley Square to participate in BosMUN, the annual conference organized and run by Boston University students. We took on a range of international roles and responsibilities. Izzy (10th grade) and Katie (12th grade) were both new to Model UN, and they took on the role of Cuba while debating about issues from the Paris Climate Change Conference and the World Trade Organization. Meanwhile, 12th grader Kenny, who has been doing Model UN at Meridian since 6th grade (this was his 12th conference), took on the role of Tahar al-Hadi al-Juhaymi, the Minister of Planning in Muammar Gaddafi’s cabinet.

After we attended BosMUN last year, I took over running the High School Model UN club. This was the second to last trip I will get to organize and participate in before graduating this spring, and my fellow delegates helped make it one of the best I’ve experienced. New Model UNers put in months of research before the conference and were active members in their committees during the weekend, and 9th grader Clary and I were both were awarded Best Delegate in our respective committees. Clary represented a justice in the International Court of Justice, and I was a member of the colonial Sons of Liberty, in 1773, representing Benjamin Rush, a physician from Philadelphia, until someone in my committee poisoned me -- Model UN can get rowdy -- and I was assigned the new position of Thomas Young, a physician from Boston.

None of this would’ve been possible without the trusty chaperoning of our teachers Nathan and Abby. Additionally, although I run the weekly Model UN lunch meetings, I always had our teacher Kevin to turn to when I needed help reading students’ work or wrangling homework assignments from them. And we’re already gearing up for our next conference in just a few weeks. It won’t be long until we are traveling out to UMass Amherst to see what sorts of international diplomacy-style shenanigans we can get up to.