Head of School Blog: Catullus, Canterbury Tales, and the Beauty of Traditions

On Monday afternoon, the BUA community gathered -- some in the black box theater and many others on Zoom -- for one of this school’s great traditions. Twelve students from across the grades stood up in front of their peers to deliver Latin and Greek declamations, channeling Homer, Solon, Sophocles, Cicero, Catulus, Livy, Virgil, Ovid, and even Queen Elizabeth I (berating the Polish ambassador in 1597!). They spoke with poise, passion, skill, and more than a little bravery. The reaction of the audience impressed me nearly as much -- from the thunderous applause in the room for a student who fought through a passage that tried hard to evade her memory to the dozens of loving chat messages offering encouragement, praise, and heart emojis. And then, when the panel of judges stepped away to deliberate and choose the prize winners, another tradition reemerged to fill the time. Some juniors in the audience -- with big smiles -- recited the prologue of The Canterbury Tales, drawing on a long-standing sophomore rite of passage. That opened the door to more impromptu recitations: 51(!) digits of pi, the preamble to the Constitution, and snippets of classical declamations past. 

From its first days, BUA has been an unapologetically intellectual place -- a place where curiosity is king, where the cerebral is celebrated. In the words of our mission, it is where students who love learning come to find challenge. And you’ll notice that we almost never speak about curiosity without mentioning its cousin: kindness. What we care about most is what kind of person a student is and how each of us contributes to this caring community.

Traditions remind us of who we are. This week’s declamations were a beautiful reminder of our twin commitments to joyful intellectual curiosity and to a community built on kindness, respect, and love for one another.

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Celebrating BUA’s Retiring Great Teachers

On April 29, over 200 BUA students, alumni/ae, current and past parents, faculty, and staff logged on to celebrate BUA's Retiring Great Teachers: Gordon Harvey, Liz Cellucci, and Rich Horn. It was an evening full of emotion and community feeling, as generations of BUAers came together to share memories and honor these three teachers, and to wish them well in their next adventures. In case you missed it -- or if you want to watch again! -- the complete recording of the event is available here.

Head of School Blog – Senior Thesis: Purpose-Driven Inquiry

Over the past several weeks, our seniors have shared their Senior Thesis presentations — a beautiful showcase of their year-long efforts conducting research and writing an original piece of scholarship in an area of passion. Students work on those projects in partnership with a BUA faculty mentor and an outside expert: very often a BU professor, but sometimes another researcher or scholar in the field.

The range of topics this year reflects the breadth of our students’ interests. Many dive deep into an area of scientific inquiry, often conducting research in labs around the area, and sometimes publishing their work in peer-reviewed journals. I heard presentations on using machine learning to improve genetic data analysis and health outcomes; applying lessons from tuna fins to increase maneuverability of large ships; and programming satellites to detect micro-plastic ocean pollution. I heard from students who explored topics in the humanities and social sciences: analyzing the influence of Ayn Rand on Paul Ryan; comparing Milton Friedman’s theoretical case for school vouchers with international case studies where vouchers systems have been implemented; predicting the future of telehealth using the lens of economic sociology. And these are only six of the 52 research projects our students engaged in this year.

One moment struck me in particular during this year’s presentations. During a senior-thesis Q&A, a student shared that while he loved math, it was when he applied differential equations to his engineering design project that the math really came to life. He saw the beauty and the purpose of that knowledge — and that he could use it to make a difference.

The tradition of writing an original piece of scholarship and sharing that work goes back to the school’s founding. It is built on the core assumptions that our students are capable of doing extraordinary work and that the deepest learning happens when students, independently but with mentoring, explore that place where their passion and real-world impact intersect. It reminds me of the central lesson of one of my favorite books: William Damon’s The Path to Purpose. One of our jobs — as parents, educators, and mentors — is not just to prepare students for a life of purpose someday, but to create opportunities for them to engage in purposeful work right now. Our seniors have done just that through these projects, and I congratulate them on their extraordinary research.

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BUA Junior presents research as part of BU Sustainability Earth Week

Abhi Lingareddy '22 presented his research on the urban heat island effect at the Campus Climate Lab Info Session as part of this week's BU Sustainability Earth Week 2021. Abhi is conducting this research for his senior thesis in concert with -- and funded by -- Boston University's Campus Climate Lab under the guidance of Professor Dan Li and Ms. Victoria Perrone. This project will measure how various surfaces in an urban setting impact temperature by using sensors placed around the BU campus, with the goal of analyzing the impact of existing solutions to the urban heat island effect: white roofs, green roofs, and landscaping. The resulting data will determine how effective solutions these are at reducing temperatures, and whether BU should invest time and money into converting existing surfaces into more sustainable ones in order to slow climate change.  

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Head of School Blog: The Power of Community in Admissions

We have just wrapped up a historic year in admissions. Our applications were up 30% from last year’s all-time high, which put us in a position to be more selective in our admissions process than ever before. Our yield — the rate at which accepted students enroll at BUA — was also at its highest point in this school’s history. As a result, we have been able to bring together another extraordinarily talented, diverse group of new students who share this community’s commitments to kindness and curiosity. We can’t wait to welcome them in the fall.

We know that the way this school adapted to the pandemic is part of the reason for this year’s admissions results. We have heard from prospective families that, given their experience over the past thirteen months, they were looking for a school that prioritized in-person learning and had the resources and agility to make that possible. We also know that there is more to the story. The reputation of this school continues to grow as a place that offers far more opportunity than schools many times our size, while preserving a family feel and a culture of belonging. And Ms. Hakimi and her team, along with our parent volunteers, student tour guides, alumni interviewers, and faculty panelists — they all form a network of advocates for BUA who both tell our story and make prospective students and families feel at home even before they join us.

I’ve read that roughly 80% of families and students find their way to independent schools through word of mouth, and my conversations with current families and graduates confirms that. One alumna told me that her piano teacher (and past BUA parent) had recommended the school. A current family told me that a neighbor talked up BUA on the sidelines of a soccer game and shared how it had been transformative for her children. Another current parent told me about his experience working with BUA alums in his lab, being impressed, and looking into the school for his own family. Finding the right school is among the most important decisions that families make, and it makes sense that hearing from a trusted source makes all the difference. Our families, students, and alumni are our best ambassadors, and I feel so lucky to be in a community where you all take such an active role in spreading the good word about this special place. Thank you.

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BUA Smashes Records on Giving Day

Thanks to our amazing and generous alumni community, BUA raised over $85,000 from 254 donors in 24 hours on #BUAGivingDay!

BUA set a new record for participation, with nearly DOUBLE the number of gifts compared to our last Giving Day. We also placed 4th out of all Boston University schools and colleges on the university-wide participation leaderboard.

With 143 parent and grandparent gifts and 120 alumni gifts, we exceeded both our Faculty Appreciation Challenge AND our Alumni Challenge, unlocking a food truck celebration for the BUA faculty/staff and an additional $30,000 for BUA, respectively. 

This outpouring of support is a testament to the strength of our community and the warmth, gratitude, and connection so many of us feel towards BUA. 

Watch this brief thank you video from Head of School Chris Kolovos:

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BUA Students Earn Recognition in SISAL, Scholastic Awards

Kasia Perks '21 won the Digital Art category in this year’s highly selective Small Independent School Art League (SISAL) Virtual Competition with her stunning "Portrait of Madison." Also recognized for their submissions were Saoirse Killion '21, Michelle Lisak '21, William Liu '23, Charlie Minney '22, Irene Mitsiades '21, Sasha Tyutyunik '22, and Madison Young '21.

BUA students also earned recognition in the 2021 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Rohan Biju '23 earned two honorable mentions in the art category; Tracy He '24 and Serena Lei '22 each earned honorable mention for their artwork. In the writing category, Alvin Lu '23 won two silver keys and a gold key for his essay, and Emmanuel Smirnakis '23 and Cassandra Swartz '22 earned honorable mention for their submissions.

Congratulations to our very talented student artists and writers!

BUA Giving Day 2021

Wednesday, April 7 is Giving Day!

#BUAGivingDay is a 24-hour online fundraising drive that offers donors the opportunity to make their gifts to BUA go further.

If BUA receives support from 75 current and past parents, grandparents, and friends, a fellow parent will underwrite an end-of-year food truck celebration for the BUA faculty and staff, who've worked so hard this year to give students the safe, rigorous, in-person learning experience they deserve.

Make your gift at the links below -- and thank you for your support! 

Head of School Blog: You Are Not Closing Doors

Earlier this week, I had the great pleasure of joining a career panel where BUA graduates working in the medical field shared their experiences with current students interested in medicine. It brings a smile to my face to watch generations of BUAers together — alums eager to give back and offer some guidance to the next cohort; current students meeting lifelong mentors and seeing reflections of their older selves looking back at them. One of the great gifts of being part of a school like this is that you are part of a multi-generational family that will always be there for you.

Many of the questions from current students were tactical: How can I find a doctor to shadow as a high schooler? How should I structure my college choices to get ready for medical school? Should I consider an accelerated, seven-year liberal arts/medical degree? How do I choose between focusing on research and practice? The graduates answered these questions, sharing anecdotes and lessons learned from their experiences. 

What I found most interesting is that, in the final minutes of the event, the advice from alums turned away from the tactics to something more philosophical — more pastoral. They told our students that they should choose a major in college that they love and not worry so much about pre-med requirements, which they could finish later; that internships at this age don’t define your career; that there is no need to decide on specialties now. In a nutshell, they told our students that they have time and options.

High school and college students tend to feel that every decision they make somehow determines their path. There is so much pressure to choose and get into the “right” college, which will open the doors they need later. They work hard to find the internship that will begin the straight line on their resume to their eventual dream job. They choose a major — often more than one — with the same mindset: this will be who I become.

There is nothing wrong with planning ahead. Students should absolutely think about that intersection between their passions and where they can contribute to society, and work toward that goal. The mistake, though, is thinking that that path is somehow fixed. A study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that, on average, Americans have 12 jobs between the ages of 18 and 52, nearly half of which fall in the 18 to 24 range. In my adult life, I’ve worked as a management consultant, a lawyer, a teacher, and an administrator. At each turn, I thought I was choosing my forever path and worried that I was closing doors. Experience has taught me that I was wrong.

My parents are immigrants to this country and did not attend college. They eventually started a dry-cleaning business — where my brother and I worked as teenagers — and built a wonderful life for us. The greatest gift they gave us was an excellent education. That education gave us a freedom they did not have: to explore career paths that are both financially sustaining and personally fulfilling; to pivot when needed to try something new; and to land on our feet.

To our students, my message is that you have more time than you think. The decisions you make now are important, but they are not determinative. You have the freedom to take good risks. And your families, and your BUA family, will be here to support you as you do.

Head of School Blog: A School Schedule Built for Students

Earlier this month, we announced that BUA will be moving to a new academic schedule for the fall of 2021.

For too long, schools have defaulted to schedules that reflect the priorities of a factory model, ignoring what decades of research tells us about teenage brain development, student health, and the preconditions for deep, sustained learning. Outdated schedules have driven pedagogical choices, when the reverse must be true. Students deserve a schedule designed for them. 

The new schedule incorporates two main innovations: a late start every day, and fewer, longer class meetings per day — all while preserving the full teaching time we enjoyed before the pandemic. 

Pediatricians and experts on adolescent development have been telling us for years that the teenage brain tends not to “wake up” until later in the morning and that adolescents need between eight to ten hours of sleep per night. With all of the competing pressures on kids, sleep is the first thing to go. According to the CDC, seven out of ten high schoolers do not get enough sleep, and, on average, high schoolers sleep for about six and a half hours per night. This should be a wake-up call.

The BUA school day next year will begin at 8:55 a.m. on Mondays and Fridays and at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Students will use the later start in different ways. Some will sleep in a little longer. Some will use the morning time to get homework done and go to bed a little earlier the night before. Others may come to school early to meet a teacher or work with classmates. Whatever the students’ choices, we are confident that it will make for healthier kids and better learning.

In next year’s schedule, each BUA class will meet three times per week for longer periods, rather than four times for shorter periods — the pre-pandemic norm. That means that most students will have three classes on some days and four classes on others.

The change will have a dramatic and positive impact on the lives of our students. Reducing the number of classes students have to prepare for each night will allow them to end the day with a sense of completion and mastery — a predictor of mental health and happiness. Rather than scrambling to finish their assignments and cross things off the list, they will have the time and space to focus on the three or four things they need to do for the next day. And we fully expect to see even deeper engagement in the classroom as a result.

The research is instructive here as well. Psychologists tell us that one of the key drivers of unproductive stress is having more on your plate than you can handle. Research from The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA and the American College Health Association show shocking increases in the numbers of students reporting depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and feelings of being overwhelmed. Increasing the resources we devote to mental health support and education for students is necessary, but not sufficient. A change like this helps us address the root of the problem, even as we create opportunities for deeper learning.

That deeper learning is more likely to happen in longer blocks. Next year, each BUA class will meet for 60 minutes twice per week and 75 minutes once per week. Longer class periods are a good fit for the kind of deep, engaged learning that BUA is known for. The longer periods allow a conversation around the seminar table to continue, rather than being cut off at the 50-minute mark; they facilitate the hands-on work in the arts and in science labs and the inquiry-based approach to math that sets BUA apart from its peers; they allow teachers to do what they have always done — just better; and the longer blocks open the door for innovative pedagogy and projects not possible in the traditional 50-minute box. 

I think a great deal about respecting tradition and driving innovation. In this case, the innovations are designed to protect and amplify those things we hold most dear.

The new schedule maintains our commitment to maximizing the time students spend with teachers. With fewer, longer classes, there will be fewer transitions during the day — less time settling in and packing up — and a net gain of productive class time. It protects cherished common free time between teachers and students. We know that some of the most important learning happens in the quietest moments — when a student seeks out a teacher one-on-one to review a piece of writing, to follow up on a conversation in class, or just to solicit advice about life. One of the great advantages of being at BUA is the ability to take BU classes, mainly in the junior and senior years. We have designed the new schedule to ensure that students in both BUA and BU classes will have ample time to transition from one to another and to provide the broadest possible flexibility for students to enroll in BU courses.

There is also a lesson here about the pandemic and crisis planning. This year, driven by both necessity and the desire to experiment, we lived a schedule where some school days began later in the morning; where BUA classes met less often; and where some blocks were longer than normal. We have designed the new schedule to incorporate the best of this year’s changes while returning to several of our most cherished commitments.

We make these changes to serve our students. There is a false choice between social-emotional health and rigor. An evidence-based approach like this one can promote healthy sleep habits and help students manage stress while, at the same time, putting students and teachers in a position to increase the rigor, engagement, and stimulation inside and outside the classroom.