New Teachers on the Block

New Teacher on the Block: Kevin Hong

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Vilmarie

Maybe it’s no wonder that Kevin Hong is a Humanities teacher at Meridian -- his childhood was filled with “Hummy” activities! He loved to play piano, read books, listen to music, travel, and use his imagination. All of those easily correspond to a Humanities teacher, since those classes combine English, History, writing, and the arts.

Kevin was born in Little Italy in Chicago, Illinois. He was an only child, and his parents were born in Beijing, China, where Kevin has visited. His favorite place there was a restaurant called Wonton Monkey, where he loved the wonton soup, though unfortunately it’s not there anymore. His parents now live in San Francisco, California. Kevin describes them as “wonderful and amazing” parents.

He attended Harvard University and was a major in Art History. He loved studying works of art because there were so many things that you could tell about the artist based on their work, like their beliefs, connections, thoughts, and feelings.

Kevin came to Meridian because he really wanted to work at a school that was small so that it could be easy to talk to the students one-on-one and really get to know them. He was pleasantly surprised that the students weren’t stuck-up and snotty and that they truly embrace the idea of community. He also appreciates that the faculty are very supportive of each other. Kevin is currently a part of the Malignant club, which is a group that plays word games to increase vocabulary.

Welcome to Meridian, Kevin!

New Teacher on the Block: Jonathan Cannon

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Theo

New MST teacher Jonathan Cannon has a PhD in Applied Mathematics, so it’s safe to say he was a good student. Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri he always thought of himself as strong in school, but it was not until 4th grade that he uncovered his particular penchant for math and the sciences. He participated in math competitions and enjoyed them.

He would later go on to get a bachelors degree in Mathematics, and his PhD focused on neuroscience and the brain. While working with the rest of his research team studying the brain, Jon looked at and modeled homeostasis in neurons. Homeostasis is the involuntary negative feedback in animals. For example, when someone puts their hand on a stove and they realize the stove is hot, they take hand off stove without even thinking about it.

After researching the brain on a team at Brandeis for two years, Jon was looking at job postings when he saw one for a MST teacher at Meridian Academy. Jon had previously looked into becoming a teacher, but had felt held back by things like having to teach from a textbook and navigating huge classes. However, Meridian had neither of these, which made it a perfect fit.

Jon is also an excellent musician and has been playing violin for nearly twenty years. He said he likes violin because the kind of fiddle music you can play on it stretches across many cultures. He also loves how it can be very melodic while remaining rhythmic. Jon plays violin with his band at local venues all around the greater Boston area. I asked him what his love of music and his love of math have in common. He replied, “Math and music are both good matches for people who like to work on more abstract things.” When I jokingly asked him if he did not like physics, he responded, “The wonderful thing about physics is that it elevates boring physical objects to a more interesting abstract way of thinking.”

When I asked Jon about why Meridian was a good fit for him, he responded, “What I have lacked in previous work of mine was community… it is nice that I get to see the same faces every day.”


New Teachers on the Block: Cristiana Bentivoglio

Like many Spanish teachers, Cristiana Bentivoglio loves languages. But in many ways, her unique upbringing didn’t leave her much of a choice. She has always been immersed in more than one language, beginning with the nature of her childhood: her father was an Italian actor, and after a trip to Venezuela for a job, he fell in love with the country and moved his family there, so Cristiana learned both Italian and Spanish from birth. As if bilingualism weren’t enough, Cristiana’s mother soon enrolled her in a French-immersion school as well. By 7th grade, however, Cristiana started to confuse the three languages she’d learned. “I was speaking something like Spanglish,” she said, “except it was Italian and Spanish with French thrown in, too.” In reaction, her parents transferred her to a bilingual school where students switched between Italian and Spanish every other day.

Despite her diverse skills, Cristiana found that as she got older, “all I wanted to learn was The Beatles’ language!” So she taught herself English. She got a tape recorder for Christmas one year, and she listened to Dionne Warwick songs on repeat. She would play one part of a song, rewind, play it again, and then, based solely on phonetics, look up the words in an English dictionary. Her reliance on songs became apparent during a family trip to the States one summer, when Cristiana was spending time with American teenagers. “We’d be hanging out by a lake, and someone might say something like, ‘It’s such a nice sunny day.’ And I would say, ‘Yeah, but I’m tired of lying in the sunshine. I want to go home and watch the rain.’ And everyone knew that was just a lyric from a Pink Floyd song. It was obvious that I was just saying what I knew from English pop and rock.”

When she applied to college in the States, Cristiana had to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which determined that she had a 7th grade-level understanding of English. Given her method of education -- a tape recorder, Dionne Warwick, and a dictionary -- this was remarkable. “I realized that I basically got myself from nothing to 7th grade with ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose?’" Cristiana said, laughing.

After completing her undergraduate degree in visual art at UCLA, Cristiana moved to New York. She was accepted into Pratt’s master’s program, but on her trip to visit the school, she met the director of programming for the Spanish International Network, who asked her whether she could speak Spanish and type. When Cristiana said she could do both, she secured a full-time job and worked in the city rather than going to school.

The next year, she decided to move to Italy, where her father was working again on a film. He had a connection to a costume designer who needed someone who knew how to draw, and said it would help if this person spoke English. That combination of skills landed Cristiana a job working for Oscar-winning costume designer Anthony Powell. Cristiana spent her days drawing embroidery designs for the lavish coats in Roman Polanski’s movie Pirates. (Here, Cristiana noted, “My brother always reminds me, ‘You’ve always worked on flops, you know that?’ Yes, I know.”)

Those first few jobs made it clear to Cristiana that her multi-lingualism was key to finding work. After assisting Powell, she worked in costuming for 10 years straight, and she credits that almost entirely on her language skills: “There were people my age who knew more about costumes than I did, but they wouldn’t get the job because they didn’t know English or French or whatever was needed. At that point, I saw that language is often the most important skill.”

Cristiana later married, by her description, “an adventurous husband with an unadventurous job in human resources.” They’ve moved every two or three years, starting in Rome before living in London, Paris, New York, and Milan, where Cristiana used her past experience to assist the theater teacher at her children’s school. When that teacher left suddenly, Cristiana was asked to take over his job. When she and her family later decided to come back to the States, she wanted to continue teaching.

At Meridian, she says, she’s found her ideal community. “What I love is the freedom to create your own curriculum -- to experiment and see what’s the best way of learning for this group of students. And the students are always questioning, which really helps that process.”

Cristiana’s life has been filled with adventure and creativity, and we’re so glad she’s joined us to continue those pursuits at Meridian. “I love it,” she said. “I love being here.”

Welcome -- and bienvenida, and bienvenue, and ben arrivata -- Cristiana!

New Teachers on the Block: Julian Yolles

When asked to describe his well-traveled life, Meridian’s new Latin teacher Julian Yolles can’t help but begin with a pun. “Well, it’s been a bit of an odyssey,” he said, referencing Homer’s famous epic and his own love of ancient literature. Julian’s passion for world languages reflects his international upbringing. Born in California, Julian moved to The Netherlands with his mother and grew up speaking Dutch; English was a second language he learned at school. Throughout his youth, he also lived for brief stints in both San Diego and Michigan.

When he was 17, Julian entered community college, where he had “fantastic teachers” who exposed him to ancient and medieval history. Julian’s passion for those eras inspired him to study them in their original languages: Greek and Latin. He began learning them on his own at first, and later pursued them more in depth at university. Although it’s hard to imagine a more scholarly field than ancient languages, Julian actually saw his passion as a “very tame form of rebellion” because his parents believed it was a useless pursuit. Forging ahead on his self-designed path, Julian ultimately earned a Bachelor’s in Classics and a Master’s in Theology before completing his Ph.D. in Medieval Latin at Harvard.

Julian says he loves the dual aspects of exploring the past and seeing how it impacts the present. He notices echoes of ancient civilizations everywhere, including current politics. For instance, after hearing reports of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s death following her visit to the country, Hillary Clinton quipped to a reporter, “We came, we saw, he died,” referencing Julius Caesar’s famous statement, “Veni, vidi, vici,” or, “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

Appropriate to his subject matter, Julian uses the Socratic method in his classroom, continually asking questions as a way of imparting knowledge. Julian says that teaching at Meridian has been a lot of fun, and that his Latin students have challenged him to be quick on his feet. “There’s a lively interest and a very friendly atmosphere in the whole school,” he said, referencing the tight-knit community that originally drew him to Meridian.

Welcome, Julian! We are very glad to lend you our ears.

New Teachers on the Block: Emily Farbman

This is the first post in our New Teachers on the Block series, which profiles faculty members who joined Meridian this fall.

One of the first things visitors notice walking into Emily Farbman’s art room is a large yarn sculpture hung aloft just beyond the doorway. Stray threads brush your head as you walk in, and it’s clear that you’re entering an especially creative space.

The yarn piece is the result of an opening exercise that Emily conducted with all three levels of her sculpture class. After looking at examples of non-traditional 3D art, students collaboratively generated the yarn sculptures, sometimes tossing the yarn to one another or twisting it from opposite ends of the table. Emily says that this group endeavor sets the tone for students who might be nervous or intimidated by art. Those who come to the first class thinking “I’m not good at art,” or “I can’t sculpt” see that, rather than prioritizing training or technical ability, Emily values energetic approaches to ideas.

Emily comes to Meridian from Beaver Country Day School, and she says both schools use art class as a place to generate ideas rather than simply present assignments. She loves working with self-motivated students, and she appreciates Meridian’s class size, saying, “In small groups, I can really understand where students are coming from, where they’re going, and what I can do to guide them.”

Growing up in Washington, D.C., Emily always loved art, and she was encouraged by her mother to pursue creative projects at home. By the time she was in high school, she realized that art wasn’t only a hobby but a passion and a strength. She started spending time in local museums, sketching a range of works from contemporary paintings to bronze sculptures. Emily’s own artwork has focused primarily on portraiture. She’s worked in other mediums as well -- including metal sculpture and printmaking -- but consistently finds herself coming back to drawing and painting faces. In college, these works sometimes reached the scale of 3 by 4 foot canvases.

Outside of school, Emily loves to read books -- recent favorites include Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah -- cook, exercise, make her own art, and spend time with her two children.

Welcome to Meridian, Emily!