HorizonsMay 30, 2023

updated Nov 20, 2023

Sowing the Miss Hall’s Magic

9th grade Horizons program paves the way for bold and creative contributors to the common good

New School. New Community. New Friend Group. New teachers. There’s a lot new in 9th grade, even more so at MHS, where 30 to 40 9th graders join the School each fall — 38 this year from five countries and nine states! So how do three-dozen teenagers find their footing and move from individuals to a community?

Emerald Power

Part of the recipe rests with Horizons. Now in its 28th year, the School’s signature service-learning and internship program provides students opportunities to develop leadership and advocacy skills, explore college and career interests, and learn how to influence the world around them. The program builds sequentially each year, but it all begins in 9th grade.

“Because 9th grade is a core foundational year, there is a focus on personal identity and community,” explains Director of Horizons Emerald Power. “The goal is to support students as they move into a new school and to facilitate connection among classmates, to begin to create a bond among them.”

As it has since its inception, 9th grade Horizons takes place on campus, with students participating in workshops and projects emphasizing team-building; diversity, equity, and inclusion; health and wellness; information literacy; academic skills; and leadership.

Hands-on experiences in the Ara West Grinnell Class of 1901 Greenhouse and Ruth Milliken Murphy ’30 Ceramics Studio are built into the curriculum. And, this year, MHS piloted a partnership with Girl Up, a global leadership development organization, incorporating Girl Up’s “Leader of Self” curriculum into the 9th-grade experience.

“In September, the focus is on supporting new students as they settle in, but, at the same time, they are jumping right in,” Ms. Power adds. “These are all new students, so we meet them where they are, and bring them along.”

This fall started with a focus on DE&I and health
and wellness, providing students a foundation in those experiences at MHS. Greenhouse and Ceramics work accelerates during second semester, as students prepare for their annual Horizons Plant Sale in May.

Equity & Inclusion

“DE&I at MHS is grounded in the School’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement, which was affirmed by the MHS Board in 2019, by Dialogue Practices, and in an understanding of the “Big 10” social identifiers. Introducing DE&I early in students’ school life establishes community norms among students who come to MHS from myriad experiences,” notes Dean of Equity and Inclusion Paula Lima Jones.

An overarching theme is that the work is not finite. “Building a vibrantly diverse, inclusive, and equity-toward- justice-minded community requires daily practice, and, as our DE&I Statement notes, ‘requires ongoing work,’” says Dean Lima Jones, who leads the sessions with DE&I Coordinator Kim Boland ’94.

“DE&I work is an individual exploration and collective work for the benefit of the ‘common good,’” Dean Lima Jones adds. “It’s equal parts personal authenticity, self-advocacy (voice), and allyship. And, the need to ‘unlearn’ occurs right alongside new learning.”

Previously, DE&I work mostly took place in clubs and/or after-school activities. In 2017-18, it became more institutionalized and incorporated into Horizons.

“Since Paula’s arrival in 2019, there have been curriculum shifts to account for students coming in with more knowledge around some of the concepts,” Ms. Boland explains. “There is still a focus on major social identities — parts of our identity that can influence how individuals and communities are seen in and navigate the world — but we added skill-building, moving students beyond dialogue to possible actions they can take.”

Skill-building is a key ingredient, notes Dean Lima Jones. In recent years, students arrive at MHS with higher literacy around gender, sexual orientation, and race. “This is no less true for our current 9th graders,” she says. “They are by and large an inclusive and justice minded group of young people. And, in particular, 9th graders are still learning and in need of opportunities to apply their DE&I knowledge.”

Take microaggressions, for example.

“While students may be able to recognize when a microaggression has occurred, they are less skilled in how to interrupt when it happens,” Dean Lima Jones notes. “We emphasize skill-building in self-advocacy and allyship. How do we engage in a compassionate way when there are gaps in knowledge and actions of classmates or adults cause harm?”

Importantly, DE&I work at MHS doesn’t end after 9th grade or take place only during Horizons. It continues throughout a student’s time at MHS and is built into other parts of their experience, including the curriculum.

Health & Wellness

Director of Health and Wellness Kristen Milano brings a holistic approach to the 9th grade curriculum, based on an integrated health model. The approach emphasizes physical health as well as mental and social-emotional health, with the idea that disruptions can impact student engagement in the classroom and beyond.

“We opened the first class with the ‘Wellness Wheel’ and pointing out the different aspects of wellness and health,” Ms. Milano explains, referring to a model that considers eight aspects of wellness: social, physical, emotional, occupation, spiritual, intellectual, environmental, and financial.

“The curriculum starts with adjusting to a new school, how to communicate with others, including roommates, peers, and adults,” says Ms. Milano. “We talk about how to recognize healthy relationships and how to play a part in making a relationship healthy.”

The 14-week program launched in September and ran through December. Topics covered include sexuality education and reproduction, preventative education and risk awareness, substance use and abuse, mental health, healthy social media use, and body image.

“This year, we also did extended lessons talking more in-depth about friendships and peer relationships, and how we can participate in a healthy way with those, and how to approach conflict management when it is needed,” Ms. Milano adds.

Ultimately, the goal is to provide students with enough information to make informed decisions when needed and to practice decision-making based on real-life scenarios.

“I want students to leave with the ability to recognize that when they have an option to make a decision that affects their wellbeing, they can make a healthy decision, based on information in the course and discussions we’ve had,” Ms. Milano adds. “I always tell them I am here to empower them with information, facts, and understanding, but not to tell them what to do.”

In the Studio

Second semester in the Ceramics Studio resembles a work bee. Students are in “production mode,” creating and assembling components for flower pots, while Ceramics Teacher Gary Grosenbeck troubleshoots. The spring is all about preparing for the Horizons Plant Sale, but the work begins in the fall, with students learning their way around the studio. They start by making mugs.

Students this year created more than 120 mugs emphasizing the School’s 125th anniversary. Each is hand- stamped, offering room for creative expression and project ownership. The mugs are donated to the MHS Dining Room. At year’s end, graduates take one with them as a tangible reminder of their MHS days.

“The fall is a community project,” Gary explains, “with benefactors. We’re also connecting the class. The spring focus is on the Plant Sale and generating proceeds for the class. The fall is about good people taking care of each other.”

Fall studio sessions are less frequent, interspersed with DE&I, health and wellness, and other Horizons work. Come second semester, students switch to production. “We set up like a factory line, rolling out slabs, cutting forms, texturing, folding up, adding bottoms, glazing,” Gary says. “During the semester, students get experience in all these steps.”

The goal is to work as a group, not as individuals.

“We try to get them to think about the collective, rather than the individual,” Gary adds. “They’re laughing, talking, having fun, and I hope they build a sense of community. I also want them to have a connection to the work and build some empathy around hand-made objects, so in the future, they buy pots from potters and to support other artisans.”

In the Greenhouse

It’s hard to beat the Greenhouse in the dark days of winter. A warm, inviting space, the vibe is peace and calm — exactly as Greenhouse Manager Marian Rutledge intends.

“We have changed some of the Greenhouse work in the last few years to include more social-emotional learning, especially in the fall,” notes Ms. Rutledge, who added mindfulness to the community-building taking place. “Some of that comes out of COVID, a really challenging time for students, and some of it comes from an understanding of the importance of self-care.”

Wednesdays in the Greenhouse can start with meditation and include conversations about individual and group interests, values and goals, and metacognitive skill-building, including self-awareness. Part of Ms. Rutledge’s mission is addressing nature-deficit disorder — the disconnect from nature particularly evident in younger generations.

“We want to make sure students are in touch with the natural world,” Ms. Rutledge explains, “especially on an 80-acre campus. We spend time ideating about ways we can contribute to the natural world and how we might address the environmental crisis happening right now.”

Last year, students organized an Earth Day demonstration, started a campus orchard, and made consciousness-raising signs for their plant sale.

As with ceramics, fall work is interspersed with other Horizons obligations. Everything heats up in the spring, when students select seeds, sow them, transplant seedlings, and care for the plethora of plants that will be up for sale. By semester’s end, the plants aren’t the only things that have grown, notes Ms. Rutledge, who sees students evolve from a more passive stance to taking charge of tasks.

“They notice what needs to be done, and it’s really cool to see that increase in agency,” she notes. “The ultimate goal is to have them operate as a team, not only earning money for their class, but also working together in pursuit of the common good.”

Beyond 9th Grade

Ninth-grade Horizons has long been rooted in community and the Greenhouse Project, though new pieces — DE&I, the Mug Project, and others — have been added. Media literacy and study skills round out the program, and the Girl Up experience, piloted by English Teacher Rebecca Cook-Dubin, remains a work in progress, Ms. Power notes.

“There is always space to innovate, even in the solid, sustainable program that we have,” she says, noting that 9th grade lays the framework for individual discovery and initiative while also connecting students with each other. “We support them in the bigger picture of finding out who they are in connection to leadership and the impact they can have as they navigate their path at Miss Hall’s, both in Horizons and beyond Horizons.”

Emerald, who is also the 9th Grade Horizons Advisor and Class Coordinator — she spends a lot of time with 9th graders! — views the journey from multiple perspectives.

There is always space to innovate, even in the solid, sustainable program that we have.

Director of Horizons

“All of these students are navigating high school for the first time, and they are also navigating what it means to be a Miss Hall’s student,” she says. “They are so eager to learn and have so much potential, and the path isn’t decided for them. They get to have agency in the path they choose, and we get to support them in what inspires them to act. So much of the ‘Miss Hall’s Magic’ is yet to be discovered with them.”

Horizons in Action

Now in its 28th year, Horizons is Miss Hall’s signature service-learning and internship program. It provides pathways to student success: leadership skills, change-making experience, and real-life opportunities at more than 75 professional offices, businesses, nonprofits, and arts organizations in the Berkshires. These experiences consistently set Miss Hall’s students apart as they apply to colleges and go on to change the world.