HorizonsJan 12, 2021

updated Aug 9, 2021

Adapting Horizons

How our one-of-a-kind Horizons program was reimagined for the unusual 2020-21 school year.

(MHS Garden Design Team)

Quarantine, isolation, and travel restrictions don’t come in handy when running an off-campus, experiential learning program. But, Director of Horizons Alison Basdekis and her team pivoted and reimagined the 2020-21 Horizons program so that it worked in on-campus, online, and hybrid settings.

“How do we adjust such a dynamic program that is so rooted and designed to send students off of our campus to learn in community? How do we adapt to our current realities?” Ms. Basdekis asked. “It was with great intention and dedication to our students’ learning and to the integrity of Horizons.”

Alison Basdekis

The team took into consideration relationships with Horizons partners, those partners’ situations (Were they working remotely? In a hybrid model?), current conditions and realities, and the logistics of sending more than 150 students off campus and into the community — and back to campus.

“We shifted the program significantly, but not at the expense of what is core and dear to us,” Ms. Basdekis said. Those priorities include maintaining access to community learning, even in a remote setting, and dedicating time in the schedule for personalized learning and exploring student passions. “We are committed to student growth through experiential learning and connecting students to experiences and projects where they can contribute boldly and creatively to the common good,” she added.

Ninth-graders focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); health and wellness; and leadership practices, much like they do during a typical school year.  On-campus students engaged in the Greenhouse Projects, while their remote peers contributed to planning, philanthropy, and marketing. Sophomores continued their place-based learning, with a few adjustments to “place” [see below].

Juniors tackled remote, student-led projects, and seniors participated in remote internships, personalized projects, and “IN-ternships” with MHS adults. These projects ran the gamut, from assisting with DEI workshops for ninth-graders to curating content for Miss Hall’s Makes, to designing a new contemplative garden space on campus and capturing the goings-on around the campus as part of the MHS Storytelling team.

“So much about the 2020-21 school year was a chance to evaluate what is core, what is essential and to think about new ways that we can engage our students in the work of Horizons more deeply and beyond the physical restrictions of our campus and of the Berkshires,” Ms. Basdekis added. “We’re at the place where we’ve lived this year and we are starting to envision and dream up what Horizons will be in 2021-22, and part of that is reflecting on this year, evaluating how the world of work has shifted, hearing from past and current partners, and hearing from our students, of course, on how best to move forward.”

9th Grade Horizons at Work in the Greenhouse

At work in the Ara West Grinnell, Class of 1901, Greenhouse, 9th-graders select seeds and begin their work to prepare for the annual Horizons Plant Sale in May.


Going with the flow — sophomore Horizons in action

Sophomore Horizons emphasizes place-based learning, traditionally familiarizing students with the greater Berkshires community. That could mean drawing inspiration from the Shakers who lived just around the corner from the MHS campus, visiting the birthplace of Civil Rights icon W.E.B. Du Bois in nearby Great Barrington, or pitching in to help the Housatonic River Initiative improve the health of the river’s watershed.

So, how to do that during a pandemic? Change the place.

Day students and boarders explored the Miss Hall’s campus with Science Teacher Jennifer LaForest (below), while students learning remotely instead studied a waterway close to where they live. They explored the environmental, cultural, and socio-economic aspects of their waterway, doing research and data collection, learning from experts, sharing information with their peers, and participating in a social action project.

Each term featured a different theme. This included centering stories about their waterway, water quality science, and how this applies to their story, food and farming, and soil science with land stewardship.

At work on the MHS Campus with Ms. LaForest

A place to breathe

Garden Design is a personalized, yearlong Horizons project created by three seniors eager to explore landscape architecture, enhance the natural beauty of the MHS campus, and improve community wellbeing.

Working with Greenhouse Manager Marian Rutledge, Sarah Briggs, Nya Mielke, and Brooke Telfer designed a meditation garden at the intersection of Witherspoon Hall, the Humes Euston Hall Library, Centennial Hall, and the Ara West Grinnell 1901 Greenhouse, the literal and figurative locus for growth at MHS.

The immersive space they envisioned would be a tranquil place for raking gravel patterns, adjusting rocks, and setting cairns.

“A more nature-centric MHS may look like spending more class time outdoors or doing your homework under the sky. We are privileged to live in such a beautiful area of the Berkshires and on such a beautiful campus. As we get dirt under our nails and plants into the ground, we have the opportunity to strengthen school pride and educate our community on the importance of nature in our lives.”

A new chapter

As a Horizons intern in the School’s Marketing and Communications Office, Sam Kangethe ’22 was interested in the art of storytelling. Her first project? A podcast that turned the tables on the boarding school admissions process.

To pull it off, Sam tackled a new technology (Audacity), tapped the expertise of professionals, and reached out to the admissions officer who impressed her as an applicant to Miss Hall’s School.

Pictured interviewing Ali Haas, Associate Director of Admissions, Sam is the one asking the hard questions: “What are you looking for in prospective students?” “How does self-presentation play a role in your decision- making?” “How have COVID-19 limitations factored into the application process?” “Will anything from ‘the new way’ change how you do your job in the future?”

Horizons Reimagined — MHS Family Zoom

Director of Horizons Alison Basdekis and Associate Director of Horizons Emerald Power recently shared with MHS parents how the School's one-of-a-kind Horizons program has been reimagined to be even more relevant during this extraordinary year.