Finding Inspiration in Community Collaboration

As a fan of the novel “The Giver” and “The Maze Runner” films, eighth grader Ella Liu was excited to start the Dystopian Literature and Film course during WinterMission.

It was one of a handful of WinterMission classes that students from both divisions could enroll in — a perk Liu enjoyed. “The Middle School is very small and separated from the Upper School, so it was cool to hear points that people in my grade wouldn't make,” she said.

Similarly, upper school English teacher Mariah Pena, who along with Associate Head of Middle School Lynn Salehi led the dystopian literature course, was grateful “to be able to work with some students I may never have gotten the chance to work with, like the seniors.” Salehi reveled in her return to the classroom and noted that “The upper school students have been great about including the middle schoolers, and even receptive to getting feedback on their story ideas from younger students.” 

The same sentiment was echoed throughout the week during other middle school/upper school pairings (How Board Games Win Our Hearts and Minds) and unconventional subject matchups (Baking and Blogging, Mud and Fire: How Ceramics Created Civilization).

Director of Learning Initiatives Jason Hult, who spearheaded the WinterMission planning, said that “grouping students together across divisions worked out pretty naturally. Colleagues have learned from the opportunity to team-teach, which is not something we typically do.”

In How Board Games Win Our Hearts and Minds, playing games such as Settlers of Catan, Labyrinth, Outfoxed and Photosynthesis created organic connections between younger and older students. “We definitely saw instances when the middle school students were nervous about making suggestions and participating, but the fact they were able to play games allowed them to get to know one another, which helped when they began creating their own games,” said Paul Friedman, middle school humanities teacher who ran the course with upper school math teacher Ian Mook.

It wasn’t just the students who connected across divisions: Teachers who would likely have never shared a classroom planned and taught classes together, with exciting — and in one case, delicious — results. Baking and Blogging brought together the unlikely duo of upper school English teacher Tokumbo Bodunde and Director of Innovation, Engineering and Computer Science John Chiodo. 

According to Bodunde, middle and upper school students loved the brioche bread and cookies they baked on the first day. Their excitement about the project was a harbinger for the week ahead. “It’s been wonderful to see them come up with new ways to use the process of baking to be creative, reflective, expressive and contemplative in ways I couldn’t have even imagined,” Bodunde said. “I am learning so much from our kids.”
Amelia von Jan ’23 happily noted that “It felt like we were getting two different subjects in one class” and shared “It was really cool to go from looking at the more scientific side of baking to then being more artistic with the blogging.”