Competition and Camaraderie: A Morning of Poetry Out Loud

By Tempest, a Division 4 student

Each year, every Meridian student meticulously memorizes a unique poem and recites it in front of the whole school at Poetry Out Loud. January 23rd, 2019 was no different. The school gathered in the Parish Hall, each student anxiously – or excitedly – awaiting their turn. For some students, it’s a magical (and nerve-wracking!) first-time experience. For others, it’s their seventh and final recitation.

When Poetry Out Loud comes around every year, it’s astounding to sit down for the morning and hear every single distinctive voice at Meridian. Even though some poems were recited by more than one student, each presenter had their own approach to the poem, which was distinctly communicated with their recitation. The poems also represented a range of emotions – some were funny, some were happy, some were sad, and some were reflective – and the audience could experience each of these feelings thanks to the the devoted performances they got from the students.

It might be hard to believe that so many middle school and high school students would actually be committed to reciting a well-memorized, beautifully articulated poem, but there are three reasons why Meridian challenges that idea.

First, Poetry Out Loud is one of the few competitions Meridian hosts. We don’t have traditional sports teams, spelling bees, or debate clubs, and the school’s atmosphere is one that privileges community over contests. This means that when we’ve got the chance to compete, we take it. Each student competes for the best recitation, and those who win first, second, or runner-up each get a prize. The high schooler who places first goes on to a regional competition, then possibly to states or even nationals.

The second reason is that the recitations are assessed by our teachers. We don’t have traditional grades are Meridian, but our teachers evaluate our performances based on areas including articulation, volume, physical presence, and dramatic choices. The day isn’t just a celebration of poetry, but the culmination of many weeks’ preparation.

Lastly, and on a related note, many Humanities teachers incorporate the memorization and development aspect into class time. In Division 4 Humanities, the students got the chance to recite their poems in front of Nathan, who then gave thoughtful and useful feedback for us to think about and incorporate back into our poems.

Poetry Out Loud is an evocative and unique experience. Not only is it fun – despite the nerves and pressure – but it allows the students to strengthen our memorization and public speaking skills. We relish the competition of Poetry Out Loud. But since every one of us does it, we also know we’re in it together.

Check out the winners here!

Monologues, Memories, and Meaning: An Actor Reflects on Her Last Meridian Production

By 12th grader Piper

“This play is called Our Town. It was written by Thornton Wilder, produced by Meridian Academy, and directed by Catherine Epstein. In it, you will see a number of fantastic actors. The name of this town is Grover’s Corners, just off the Massachusetts line: longitude 42 degrees 40 minutes; latitude 70 degrees 37 minutes...”

Those were, more or less, the first words I spoke when I walked onstage as the Stage Manager in this fall’s production of Our Town. I expected to forget all of my lines within the first week after the closing night of the production. Now, I think they are going to be with me for much longer.

I have always adored Meridian’s theater program, known as PAA – or Performing Arts and Activism – because Meridian loves acronyms. I had planned to audition for this play because it would be my last chance to get directed by Catherine before I graduated, and I felt like I was in need of many more theater memories with her. In the end, I got that and so much more.

We had a relatively small cast, so a lot of the actors played more than one part. I was cast as the Stage Manager, who was effectively god, and Simon Stimson, the town choir director who also seems to suffer from depression and alcoholism. I was excited about portraying Simon, but less enthusiastic about memorizing so many pages of monologues for the Stage Manager. However, the longer the process went on, the more I enjoyed playing the Stage Manager, and the more I came to love and appreciate all of my fellow actors. From the rehearsals with countless inside jokes scattered through them — George Gibbs mentioning agriculture school for the billionth time, Mrs. Webb insisting her daughter was “pretty enough for all normal purposes,” and many other references I couldn’t name without making this blog post entirely too long — there was so much we bonded over and so many memories we created.

This play was also hard. It taxed me emotionally and I was exhausted by the end of it, and I wasn’t the only one. My fellow actors poured so much time and energy into this production, and it truly paid off in our performances. I’m proud of each and every one of us, and I keep thinking that I couldn’t have imagined Meridian’s Our Town with any other group.

The small size of our cast meant that we all had a lot to carry, and each of my castmates brought something singular to this production. From Nadia’s emotionally raw performance as Emily; to Mary Alice’s infectious energy; to Grace P.’s wonderfully sweet George; to Mara’s curious Rebecca; to Maya’s caring Mrs. Gibbs (even while dead, one could argue); to Juanzi’s wise Mr. Webb, who prevailed in the face of awkwardness; to Nina’s Mrs. Soames, who loved to gossip; to Ezra’s Wally, who was smart about his stamp collection; to Phoebe’s hardworking Howie, deliverin’ that milk; to last but certainly not least, Tempest’s no-nonsense Doc Gibbs. I list all of these actors because without each individual, this play would not have been what it was.

I’m so thankful to have been a part of this production. PAA has always been an important part of Meridian for me, and it’s arguably one of the main reasons I came to the school in the first place. By this point – my senior year – I’ve acted with a lot of the theater community at Meridian, some of whom I joined again in this production, and I’ve grown alongside them throughout that time. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to finish my time as an actor at Meridian.

This production meant so much to me, and I cannot express enough how thankful I am to have experienced it with each of my fellow actors. Thank you all for being the folks who showed up. This really was our town.

Fitting Functions to a Bear: Trimester 1 Exhibitions

By Division 3 student Mara

Three times a year, Meridian students show the public the work they’ve been doing throughout the trimester. In each class, students present their projects and their peers’ projects to all sorts of visitors. As a new 9th grader at Meridian, I experienced my very first Exhibitions in early December.

In the weeks leading up to Exhibitions, we had a lot of work to finish, and I was specifically excited to present my Functions of Art project. For this project, we needed to create and fit algebraic functions to a work of art, and it was the first time I had ever applied math to a creative piece like that. For my project, I looked at a work of art called “As it Comes to Bear” by Venetia Dale and fit functions to create a bear like the one in the piece.

On the day of Exhibitions, I felt nervous but prepared. I had heard a lot about the event, but I was still not 100% sure about what to expect. It began with a performance from musicians in classes ranging from singing to composition to our school band. I was excited to hear all the original music that students wrote, along with new arrangements of songs that I knew well.

After the music, it was time to go to my classes and present my work. I was worried that I might not have anyone to talk to, but each room included many visitors, and they all wanted to hear from students about what we’d learned. During the evening, I was able to talk to several visitors and families, and it was a completely new experience for me to tell people I didn’t know about my work.

I also talked to other students about their projects, and it was really interesting to see and explore their learning and ideas. When I was in the art room, I talked with Jo, a 12th grader, about a shirt she had made in her Sewing class. Like my Functions of Art project, Jo had to apply practical skills to make this creative piece, and it was neat to see how projects in different classes can use such similar skills.

Exhibitions was really different than other presenting experiences I have participated in, and I’m excited to do it again in March!

The Mathematics of Activism

By Division 4 students Clary and Hal

Last trimester, the Division 4 Mathematics, Science, & Technology class, Mathematical Modeling, took on the creation of our very own ranking functions. A ranking function takes numerical inputs—like test scores or student:faculty ratios to rank colleges—and weights and combines them into a single output. Many ranking functions, instead of actually ranking multiple possible outputs, are designed with a threshold for making a decision, like whether or not you should call in sick to work. Working together, the two of us chose a politically relevant topic to model with our function: should you attend a protest?

Almost everyone has been frustrated about the political climate at some point, and it’s hard to know what to do with that anger besides push it down. However, sometimes it reaches a point when we need our voices heard, and we need a group of people who will yell with us. Once we’ve reached that point, and we hear about a gathering of that sort, we need to make a decision: do we go to the protest, or do we save our energy?

We brainstormed 20 variables that might be included in such a decision. Some were about safety: your race, your citizenship status, and the size of the group with whom you’d be going. Others dealt with convenience, like the weather and the location of the protest. We also considered how important the protest was. This last category we strived to measure quantitatively and objectively, so in the end we included the number of days until or since a relevant political event, along with a subjective measure of personal importance. We chose distance in minutes of travel and mode of transportation to address convenience. Personal safety is a different question for everyone, as we all have different factors that might make us safer or endanger us in an action of civil disobedience. Immigrants and refugees might be more concerned about potential arrest and people of color are likely to be concerned about potential police brutality. Everyone thinks about who they’ll be with at the time – after all, there’s safety in numbers. We decided on two variables: a measure of police brutality based on race, using statistics from the FBI, and group size to deal with safety. Of course there were many other variables that were worth considering, but these were the ones we started working with. With graph paper notebook pages covered in sketches of our functions, we designed and revised ways to weight these variables and the relationships between them.

One question that kept reappearing was how this score could really be effective for potential protesters, since in reality the biggest question is often the expenditure of personal time. Other work can be just as effective in bettering the world than these actions of raising our voices, which can often feel fruitless. Seeking the right combination of activism and anger is a true challenge. We weren’t able to touch on that, so this function is really just part of a larger question.

We created this function largely because it is of great personal importance to us. Both of us are politically active, but we frequently feel as though we aren’t doing quite enough. This function allows self-declared activists the space to step back from this kind of vocal work. We also specified in the paper that in no way should this function be treated as infallible or always correct. But, we think it’s a good place to start, and deliberating over our function gave us a deeper understanding of this all-too-common decision in these troubling times.

Click here and check out another paper on considering one’s role in solving climate change.

On Nerves, Art, and Spanish: Presenting at a conference for the first time

By World Language Teacher Leisa M. Quiñones-Oramas

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After much planning and anticipation, Saturday morning was finally upon me. I was the first to arrive at the conference room. As I laid out examples of student work on the tables, the sky outside echoed my nerves. Gushes of wind splattered the window with rain drops. Leaves trembled in unison with my shaking hands. As I greeted my co-presenter Nicole, our first attendee quietly arrived and sat in the last row. She was followed by another, and then another. The clock arms inched closer to 8:30am, our starting time. Everything was ready, our materials were all organized, our electronic devices were up and running, and our microphones were plugged in. My heart was beating fast, and my mind was eager. Finally, Nicole addressed our audience. Twenty or so faces looked expectantly at both of us. Nicole turned towards me. It was my cue. I started to talk…

On October 27th, I co-led a three-hour workshop at the annual conference of the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association (MaFLA) in Springfield, Massachusetts. After attending more than ten different literature- and education-related conferences over my last eight years in Boston, it was the very first time I was invited to present my own work. I was elated, excited, and nervous for the chance to share my craft with other teachers from across New England.

The opportunity arose earlier in the school year, when I was approached by Nicole Claris, Manager of School Programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to co-present with her at the event. Our workshop, entitled “Art of the Spanish-speaking World,” had a dual purpose. Nicole would introduce and create connections between works of art from Spain and Latin America available in the MFA’s vast collection, while I would describe how I’ve incorporated some of these artworks into my classes, and guide an in-depth brainstorm session for teachers to develop concrete ways to use the collection in their lessons.

For the last four years, I have worked alongside Nicole and around twenty-five other teachers from New England as a member of the museum’s Educator Advisory Board. The board’s task is to advise and support the museum’s School Programs Department in developing and promoting programs for students and teachers in the Greater Boston area. My involvement with the board and the museum has undoubtedly shaped how I approach and bring art into my Spanish classroom. In many ways, the MFA’s collection of resources has led me to consider visual art as not only a cultural representation of different regions and time periods, but as a central text that enriches my classes and serves as inspiration for the projects that my own students create.

We had Parent-Teacher conferences on Friday the 26th, the day just before my conference, and I had the opportunity to describe to Meridian parents the work their children were doing in Spanish class so far. Parents learned about students’ exploration of México’s rich popular culture while creating alebrije sculptures; their grasp of the complex meaning in Hispanic Caribbean poetry through the use of images and drawing; and their use of art and abstract representation to create ABC picture books about themselves. As we talked, I simultaneously realized how much art I asked the kids to produce in my Spanish classes, and how lucky I was to be able to do so. I knew that in less than 24 hours, I would be standing in front of a group of language teachers interested in enriching their curriculum with the vast collections from the MFA. I also knew that, depending on their schools and districts, many of these educators might not have the same freedom I enjoy to plan their courses creatively.

Back in the conference room, my nerves had completely dissipated. The audience’s eyes scanned an image of three unique sculptures. I was in the middle of explaining how I had collaborated with Emily, Meridian’s art teacher, on a unit about Taíno mythology in which students created small deity-inspired sculptures known as cemí. Suddenly, a man opened the room’s door and asked, “Wasn’t this session over 15 minutes ago?” Our three hours had flown by. Our audience had been welcoming, attentive, and inquisitive. They were blown away by the materials, historical background, and connections that Nicole shared with them. They also asked encouraging questions about my unit planning process, my students’ reactions to and involvement with the materials, and their final projects.

As I left the room, my bag was emptier. All of my copied resources had been left in the hands of eager teachers. However, my mind was full of thoughts and assurances. This experience reminded me of one of the reasons I originally decided to become a teacher: to share and build knowledge through community and collaboration.

Mass Media of the Past: Division I Prints Letterpress Posters

By 7th grader Ezra

On October 19, Division I traveled to Union Press in Somerville to learn about letterpress printing. The theme of our Humanities class this year is Media & Journalism, and we’ve been exploring those topics from many angles. Throughout the first trimester, we’ve been studying labor in the 1840s, and we’ve looked at how mill girls in Lowell used the media to support their fight for better labor conditions. Letterpresses were a primary tool for mass media in the 1840s, so this felt like a perfect place to go at the end of our unit.

Our main project at the studio at the studio was to make posters for our class debate about the Lowell Mills, which centered on the question: Were the mills ultimately an opportunity or a dead end for the girls who worked there? We were split into teams to gather evidence for one side or the other.

When we first entered the small room, Union Press owner Eli Epstein greeted us. We immediately saw the text our teams had created and the linoleum cuts made from the illustrations that each team’s designer had drawn. We then got a run-down of what we were going to do and jumped into it. We began arranging wood and metal letters, slightly confused by having to position them backwards so the final print would come out forwards. We added spaces and put them into special holders. When we were done, we transferred everything to the printing press and printed the two different posters. Both had errors, which Eli said was just part of the letterpress process – one of us had put an “n” where there was meant to be a “u” – and we each got a print of our team’s poster. In the end, we returned feeling satisfied to have real letterpress prints that we’d designed ourselves.


Taking Education to the Polls: One Student’s Experience Leading in Local Politics

By Rhys, a 9th grader

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November 6th marked an important day for transgender people across the state of Massachusetts. Ballot Question 3 gave voters the power – for the first time in a statewide election – to decide whether or not transgender people had the right to basic protections like using the bathroom that best matches their gender identity, get access to jobs, hotels, restaurants, and even healthcare. As a non-binary identifying 9th grader, I think it’s needless to say that this vote mattered to me – a lot.

I’ve always had a passion for treating humans equally. This has been both a wonderful strength, but also one of my biggest downfalls, as I can sometimes get hung up on things that aren’t really worth my time in the long run. It was this awesome, and sometimes illogical power that kept me going throughout this fall while working on a political campaign while balancing schoolwork and extracurricular activities.

Funnily enough, this whole experience for me started through school. In a project meant to “expose you [the students] to what it means to organize – what it actually feels and looks like,” according to Nathan, my teacher at the time, I found myself at a phonebank in the Keshet offices in the Brewery Complex, only a 5 minute walk from my school. At first, I was surprised to see how close to me something like this was – some preconceived notion told me that I would have to travel a significant distance to participate in something like this. That notion, as with many of my other expectations, turned out to be completely wrong, and I think that this physical ease is what kept me going back throughout the summer. The costs of going to a location and phone banking was more than worth the benefit that I, and other transgender people, now still have – basic human rights.

The true test of my dedication to the cause – and to my own inner morals – came only a month before the election. One of the field organizers asked me if I was willing to be on the leadership team for one of the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) locations. For context, GOTV is the last push in the final four days of the campaign to work to get voters out to the polls on election day. Leading one of these sites is like running a mini campaign office – it’s a huge responsibility, and looking back I’m so thankful for being given that opportunity by the campaign, and by Meridian, who granted me three days off from school to pursue this job.

As we all now know, Question 3 passed decisively. While I in no way mean to downplay the result that was achieved on election day, personally, it mattered less to me whether or not we won. I look back at that experience as an incredible learning opportunity. What I learned about political organizing, communication, team building, and my own limits have a similar long term significance for me. Of course my life would have changed with the other possible outcome on November 6th, but even with no legislative change in my home state, I still gained more than I ever would have expected doing this work.

This inspiration continued for me after the campaign ended, even on the same issue. The Friday after the election, I presented an abridged training taken from folx within the campaign to try to make Meridian a safer space for transgender students. My aim, of course, was to make the school a safer space for all, though most of what I focused on was with transgender students and teachers in mind. If I cultivated one primary value from this experience, it would be to never give up, and never let down my pressure to achieve what’s right.

You Think School is Hard Work?

By 10th grader Eric

On Wednesday, October 10, the Division 3 students went on a field trip to Lowell Mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. As part of the Industrial Revolution unit, students learn about how 19th century factories worked, and what life was like for the workers both before and during the revolution. My experience going to Lowell Mills was very different from what I had expected. I had expected to walk through museum galleries for hours, looking at photographs, documents, and scaled-down models. The experience was much more than just a museum. For the first part of the day, we experienced the “Workers on a Line” program. This program was designed to simulate a 19th century factory. We dressed up in aprons and clocked in. Each of us was assigned a position on an assembly line, making “tea towels.” It was very difficult and stressful work, containing faulty machinery, low pay (we were paid in “Boott Bucks,” named after mill owner Kirk Boott), and a very strict boss! In the end, we formed a union and negotiated better working conditions. I am a strong believer that the best learning comes from experience, and the simulation certainly supplied that.

After having lunch, we walked through a museum for about 15 minutes. The museum was nothing like I was expecting. There were full-scale machines that had been in industrial factories, as well as plenty of hands-on activities, so visitors could try their hand at the type of work that was done in the factories. One of the final parts was what really did it for me. Before we left, we passed through a functional factory floor. The first thing that hit me was the noise. There were about a hundred machines in the room, and there were only about 15 running, but it sounded to me like all 100 were running! I can’t imagine what the sound must have been like when the factory was fully operational. What also fascinated me was the complexity of the machines. Each machine was a huge mass of belts, gears, and metal. Although the machinery was entirely automated, just seeing the machines made me imagine what it would be like working there, with constant noise, cramped workspaces, and dangerous complex machines. Overall, the experience of being at the mills helped me gain insight about workers during the industrial revolution, much more so than learning about the same concepts from a textbook or in a quiet classroom. Lowell is something you have to see – and hear – to believe.  

Secchi Discs and Plankton Tows: Division II Goes to Woods Hole

By 8th grade student Anna

On October 19, students in Division 2 got into a van and drove to Woods Hole in southern Massachusetts. Our teacher Tasha told the class we had to arrive at school at 7:45am in order to get to Woods Hole on time to accomplish everything we wanted. It was an early – and chilly – morning for all of us!

The first thing we did when we got there was go to the Zephyr Education Foundation, which was housed in a little building on the water, near the docks of Vineyard Sound. There, we met the host who would lead us around, and he told us about rules and expectations for our time at Woods Hole.

Then we stepped onto a large fishing boat, where we met the captain and the first mate before heading off. After going at full speed for about 10 minutes, we slowed down and cast off our first experiment. One of the first things that was deployed off the side of the boat was a machine with a camera that would be dragged along the sea bottom. The point of this was to see what the ocean floor looked like in that area and to examine different ecosystems. There was a TV inside the boat where we could see what the camera was seeing. First we saw lots and lots of seaweed, and then all of a sudden the camera went dark. The first mate and our host pulled up the camera, and it was completely covered in seaweed! They pulled it all off, and we went a little further. After going for a little more time, we hit huge waves (3 - 4 feet tall!), we slowed down and put the camera machine back in. We dragged it on the ocean floor a little longer but this time we could see that there were muscles and clams littering the entire floor.  

After we discussed the difference between two ecosystems, we decided to put a new device in the water: a net that would collect sea creatures. Some of the sea creatures we caught were huge sea stars and sea urchins. After being able to touch and look at the creatures, we threw them back into the water.

A little while later, we put in another device called a Secchi Disc. It looks like a black and white cookie, but split into 4 triangles, 2 black and 2 white. Connected to this was a long rope. The object of this is to figure out how far we could see into the ocean. We would uncoil the rope and drop the Secchi Disc into the ocean, slowly letting it fall until we couldn’t see it anymore. On the rope there were markings with numbers, and the numbers measured how far you could see down. My group’s Secchi Disc went all the way down until the tape showed the number 8 ft. This meant that light from the sun reaches 16 ft down into the water.

The last thing we deployed off the side of the boat was called a Plankton Tow. It was a long net, and at the bottom there was a tall cup. The plankton would go through the net into the cup and were caught there. We caught zooplankton, phytoplankton, and even some Comb Jellies!

After examining the plankton, we put them back into the ocean and made our way back to the dock. After leaving the boat, we went to a building with a lot of ocean touch tanks that held lots of different types of animals, including sea urchins, lobsters, horseshoe crabs, sea stars and moon snails. Then we went to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Exhibit Center where we got to see several exhibits, including one about the Titanic and how the scientists from Woods Hole were the ones to find it.

When we were done at the museum, we made our way back to the Zephyr Education Foundation building to have lunch. The Foundation had 3D augmented reality sandboxes. We got to experiment with the sand boxes for a little while and make all sorts of shapes and land features.

When we were done with that, it was time to go. We said goodbye and thank you to our host, got back into the van, and drove back to Meridian. All in all, even on a chilly day, this field trip was fun and adventurous!

Stringing, Carting, and Churning: Division II Gets Hands-On with Colonial New England

By 8th graders Grace and Zayna

Have you ever wanted to churn butter? Well, we did…and we got the chance to do just that on a recent field trip to Deerfield, Massachusetts. Throughout this trimester, Division 2  has been learning about how and why people organize themselves in society. We began by reading Lord of The Flies and discussing how human nature affects our behavior in groups. We then moved on to how people have organized themselves in the past. To do this, we investigated and analyzed many aspects of colonial America. We examined passages from various sources, such as These Truths by historian Jill Lepore. These Truths digs into the background of colonial America and how writing shapes our history. When someone has the ability to write, they also have the ability to write history and shape perceptions of the past. One of the specific events we zoomed in on was the Deerfield Raid. Learning about this raid gave us an opportunity to look at the history of colonial America from many different perspectives, giving our class a more complete image of life in this time period. However, we did not only read about colonial America – we experienced it. With our knowledge of the Deerfield Raid, we boarded a van and headed off to Deerfield to live like colonists for a day.

The first thing we did when we arrived at Deerfield was climb Mt. Sugarloaf. When we reached the summit and looked out onto the land below, we were given perspective on the area around us. We then hiked back down and made the final leg of our journey to Deerfield. We had a little bit of time to explore the area prior to starting our colonial experience, which meant wandering in spooky graveyards in the October chill, which was definitely a lot of fun. Before we began working, we dressed up in period clothing to embody the persona of the colonist. Seeing everyone in their heavy layers of clothing – vests, skirts, knickers, and bonnets – was one of the most fun aspects of the trip. After we all got decked out, we began some traditional chores. Half of us prepared dinner while the other half were taught chores such as carting wool, stringing pumpkins, and, yes…churning butter. Halfway through these tasks, we switched so everyone could experience each activity. As we learned, cooking on a colonial stove is trickier than it looks! But in the end, eating by candlelight in true colonial fashion and laughing around the table made it all worth it.

When nighttime rolled around, we were told a narrative by our group leader. The story was from the perspective of a colonist captive during the Raid. In the candlelit room, with the wind seeping in, the narrative was only enhanced by the somewhat eerie atmosphere. The next morning, we were told the same story from a new perspective: that of a Native American. At the very end of the day, our group was given one last task: to tell stories ourselves. We acted out tales using our bodies and voices to change the mood of the story. The next morning, we talked to David Brule, a Native American history researcher, and learned about other perspectives during the Deerfield Raid. When we returned, we got to work on our own stories and decided which we will research and tell. We were all very tired from such an exciting trip, but it was truly an experience we will never forget!