Division 1

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.


Division I Humanities: Weaving together layers of New England labor history

By 6th grader Ezra K.

In late September, during their field trips to Sturbridge Village and the Lowell Mills, Division I Humanities students asked questions and learned about labor in the 1840’s. To start off our unit, we read a historical fiction book called Lyddie, by Katherine Paterson. The story follows a young woman on her journey from the Vermont farm where she grew up to the Lowell Mills where she finds both challenges and opportunities. After we finished the book, we each choose a character we’d like to “interview” about their lives. We were divided into pairs and developed a series of questions for our characters, all the while anticipating our visits to Sturbridge Village and Lowell.

Our visit to Sturbridge Village began with a hands-on workshop on printmaking. Where we learned how to write with a quill and ink, and had the opportunity to create marbled paper. In addition, we each printed a picture at the printing press. After this, we started to explore Sturbridge Village. The students split into two groups depending on what kinds of information they hoped to find. My group was creating an interview with Diana Goss, a fictional worker activist in the mills. In our conversations with people at Sturbridge Village, we learned about why girls would leave the farms to work in the mills and their limited rights during this time period. It was instructive to roam from building to building, meeting the actors representing different people from the time period. Some of the more memorable buildings were the tavern, the law office, the print shop, the tin shop, the Quaker Meeting House, and the farm. I really enjoyed visiting Sturbridge Village and learning so much about the 1800’s in a fun and interactive way!

The following week, we visited the Lowell Mills to continue learning about labor in this time period. First, our guide brought us to an interactive mill room, where we experienced a range of jobs, along with worker responsibilities and mill conditions. We discussed the consequences of pay cuts and lack of representation, and finally the workers organized a strike. Next, we learned about child labor all around the world. It was shocking and disappointing to learn that child labor persists today. Next, we went to the weaving room where we heard and saw real powered looms in action. Then, we visited a boarding house where mill girls would have stayed at, and we answered a few more question there. Finally, we went downstairs in the boarding house and met two awesome park rangers who gave us time to ask any remaining questions. I had a fascinating time at Lowell, I learned many things about child labor, mill life, and strikes.

Overall, these two field trips where a productive start to our year and helped us learn how to report on people, ask good questions, and find out about daily life in the 1840’s. These intriguing field trips to Sturbridge Village and Lowell National Park have left their mark. History can be transmitted in many ways, and these field trips were exceptional experiences!

Division I Learns Letterpress: A Long (But Worth It) Process

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Zayna

This past Friday, on October 21, the Division One Humanities students went to a letterpress workshop at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. This year in humanities, we’re learning about media and journalism. For one of our projects, every student picked a muckraker they would like to learn more about. A muckraker is a reporter who uncovers and reports on issues that most people don’t know about. Before we went to the workshop, we created a six-word headline from the perspective of our muckraker. It could contain either a topic they cared about, something they found, out an issue they believed in. At the workshop, we would print these headlines on a real letterpress.

We all took the train to Roxbury Crossing and then walked to MassArt from there. Our teacher Catherine and Kenny (a Meridian senior) were chaperones. We walked inside, and there was a small, almost claustrophobic room that contained high shelves with boxes that had different fonts and cuts for printing. Keith, our workshop leader, came to greet us. He talked about the origins of the printing press, showed us different things that people would print, and explained the different materials—some types were made of metal, others were made of wood. With new knowledge in our brains, we took the elevator up to floor nine to work with the actual letterpress.

Keith entered a code onto the keypad and we entered the room. Much bigger! We put our bags down and immediately started touching things, but Keith wanted to set some ground rules, including no horse playing to protect the equipment. Each of us stood by these rectangular things that came up about four feet off the ground. It was time to “set our type,” which meant laying out each letter, space, or punctuation exactly how it should go to be printed. The rectangular cases had little boxes in them and each box had a different letter or piece of punctuation. There was a piece of paper that said where every letter was because it would be impossible to look through every letter until you found the one you wanted. Next, we got instructions about how we to hold the “job stick” that we would put our letters in. We also learned small but important details like why a “spaces” are shorter—they need to be shorter so they will not print. The process of setting type was long. It took most of us around forty-five minutes just to set six words!

After lots of frustration of people's letters falling over, everyone was finally done. We watched Keith put the six-word headers into the bed of the press. We rolled the ink onto our letters and had a look to make sure they were all covered in ink. We “pulled a proof” and it looked pretty good, but Keith needed us to fix a few errors, like fonts that had broken type or incorrect spelling.

Eventually we were all done setting it up again, so we went in and we each got to turn the handle of the press. When the finished product came out it was beautiful! It might have been a long process, but it was definitely worth the time.

Division One Uses "Great Powers" to Simulate World War I

By 6th grader Luca

From the start of this exciting new trimester, Division 1 has been rapidly learning about the first World War. It’s exciting and captivating to learn about such a tragic and significant conflict. At the beginning of the Great War, there was a great sense of anticipation, since many countries expected and even hoped for a war. This feeling was very similar to what I, and other Division 1 students, were feeling before we started our “Great Powers” simulation.

The Great Powers simulation is a game where each student is assigned a country, and some of us worked in pairs. We all were given a certain amount of colonies, army, military, and industry, which reflected those of our real nation. Jack and I were given the role of the Ottoman Empire. Each country got a sheet describing which countries we were friends with, our enemies, and our main goals. Jack and I were confident; we had good colonies and industry, plus we had not done anything to make any enemies. Catherine then announced that the first year of the game had started. The countries scrambled to make allies and plan their attacks.

The main goal of the game is to obtain more power -- obviously, for this game is called “Great Powers.” One way to do this is to go to war, since the victors can take anything they like from the defeated. The Ottoman Empire, being opposed to war, was confident that we would be safe…boy, were we wrong.

Great Britain declared war within in the first year of the simulation (a “year” is about 5-10 minutes). The Ottoman Empire was unprepared, although Japan and the United States joined us in war. Great Britain and her allies slaughtered us, leaving us with nothing. They took everything from us. Jack and I sadly slumped back into our chairs, examining our one remaining industry card. Soon one of our closest allies, France, approached us; they were breaking their alliance with us for we had no purpose anymore. Now that made us angry. At our worst, France, a long-held friend (at least according to our country sheet) had broken their alliance with us.

Jack and I spent a year (remember, that’s a “year”) rebuilding our country. We made alliances with Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. We were so desperate for help that we stopped paying attention to our country sheet. It was two years after the first World War when France declared that we shall fight in battle against each other, but little did they know were prepared. Our trusted allies had informed us that Jance (a new country formed when France and Japan combined) were going to war against us. At this point, the game started to feel more personal and intense. I got mad at my friends and really competitive. When France declared war, none of their allies went with them because they were allied with us. Every single country stood by our side in war. We slaughtered France, and Germany invaded them. France was left as barely a country. It had to give up all its resources, and Germany was in control. I felt bad for France, but I realized -- and it was a scary realization -- that I liked feeling mean more than feeling sad. I felt in control.

I decided that Jack and I should follow our paper better. We broke alliances with several countries and tried to stay out of the other wars. Germany got even more powerful and eventually overran even the United States and Great Britain. But having stepped back from the action, I felt relaxed. I realized that no matter what, even if it's a game, I did not enjoy any aspect of war.

Germany declared the last Great War. It was brutal and left us with nothing but our army. We had to surrender. We were no match for Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Germany combined.

The simulation has taught me a lot. World War 1 was so dark and intense, even getting a tiny glimpse into what it was like between 1914 and 1918 was educational. I got the chance to be at the top and the very bottom, and get some small perspective on what it felt like for countries in both situations. When I was winning the game, I felt mean and dirty, and when I was losing the game, I felt sad and mad at everyone. Did the real leaders of the World War One powers feel this way? Can losing a Great War -- like we did in the simulation -- make a country act as we did, using our weakness and hurt only to justify revenge?

Talking Up the Crowd: Division 1 Reflects On Their First Exhibitions

The morning after their first Exhibitions in December, Division 1 students could be found in their classrooms dismantling displays, reading visitor comments, and sorting their essays, stories, and other projects into portfolios. These activities might look unremarkable to an outsider, but the room held palpable enthusiasm and relief.    

Exhibitions, which occur three times every year, hold both excitement and trepidation for many students, who not only display their finished projects but discuss them with outside guests. As visitors move from classroom to classroom, students teach them about the essays, stories, experiments, sculptures, labs, and other projects they’ve completed in the past trimester. As 6th grader Ibrahim said, this process makes the work pay off because students get “to meet new people, and after they see your work, you got to see what they thought, which gives you new ideas.” Talking to new people can also be challenging for younger students, and Exhibitions provides them with the chance to practice this skill and gain greater comfort speaking publicly. “By the end of the evening, I felt a lot more confident talking about my work,” said 7th grader Jack.

At this Exhibitions, Division 1 students showed a wide range of work in terms of both form and content. In Humanities, they displayed thesis essays arguing whether Atalanta, the character from Greek mythology, is a hero or a villain, original myths that explain natural phenomena, and pottery sculpted and illustrated to demonstrate themes from these myths, among other projects. In Math, Science, and Technology, they exhibited Lego robots that they had programmed along with equations they wrote in order to manipulate those robots in a repeatable and systematic manner. In Español, they, along with many other students, sang the Mexican folksong “La Bamba” live in front of the entire Meridian community accompanied by Meridian’s Ukulele Army.

As she filed her papers and projects into her Humanities portfolio, 6th grader Isabel explained, “I really like this part of Meridian: the opportunity to show our work to other people, and for them to be inspired as well."