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.

Head of School Blog: Running Through the Tape

Tomorrow marks the beginning of a two week break for most of our teachers and students and a much-needed change of pace for our students enrolled in BU classes. I do not remember a year where the break was more welcome!

You might think that things slow down in the days before a break. Not so at BUA. I’ve visited about a dozen classes over the last few weeks and have seen students and teachers working hard -- running through the tape, in runner’s parlance. But what really made an impression on me is the innovative teaching and joyful learning I’ve seen. I visited a 9th grade history class where students had written their own speeches modeled after ones they had read in Livy’s account of the Second Punic War. The exercise asked them to inhabit a historical figure and draft and deliver a speech in that person’s voice in a particular moment, which they did with gusto! Students loved it, not only for the chance to be creative, but because, according to them, it led to deep, self-directed engagement with the original texts. As the teacher explained, there’s a false choice between creativity and learning. I saw a calculus class that felt more like a scavenger hunt than the math classes I remember from my childhood. Students and teacher worked together in real inquiry; working on just one problem for the period, they chipped away to derive a formula. I planned to watch for 10 minutes. I stayed for 30 minutes and worked right alongside everybody. I couldn’t help it. Math learning, when not done well, can simply focus on students plugging in numbers into an algorithm, with little understanding of what they are actually doing. Research and experience tell us that the approach I saw in that class not only builds excitement, but creates a much more solid foundation -- staving off the math phobia that sometimes sets in at this level. I saw a chemistry class where, after working through some exercise about equilibrium, students watched a video and discussed the real-world application of what they’d studied for treating carbon monoxide poisoning. The footage was from a hospital right down the road, a place where some of these same students will do research for their senior theses. This teacher knows what psychologists have been telling us for decades: finding real purpose in our work is a key to fulfillment; it helps us get lost in our work in the best of ways.

In the midst of a pandemic and in the waning days before break, students and teachers aren’t just getting by -- they are experimenting, smiling, and unlocking deeper learning. 

I’m several chapters into Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. He summarizes research from the past half-century indicating three main factors behind motivation: autonomy (the freedom to be self directed), mastery (the feeling that you are getting better), and purpose (linking your work to some greater good). I see those features everywhere I turn. It’s what our teachers do naturally and a great part of the reason why this place is the most vibrant intellectual community I can imagine.

Head of School Blog: Partnering with Alexander Twilight Academy

On Wednesday evening, I joined a group of about two dozen students for an unusual Zoom call. Half were high schoolers from BUA, half fifth and sixth graders from Alexander Twilight Academy (ATA). It was the start of something really beautiful.

Named for the first Black American to graduate college in the United States, ATA is an afternoon and summer enrichment program serving academically promising middle school students from under-resourced backgrounds, most of whom live in the City of Boston. Through afternoon programming during the school year and focused work in the summers, ATA “prepares middle school students to earn admission to and thrive at the nation’s top high schools” and makes a commitment to serve those students and families through college and beyond. 

For a few years, ATA has used BUA’s classroom spaces in the summer to run its programming. Now we’re taking this partnership to a new level.

The meeting I visited was the start of a weekly, one-on-one tutoring program pairing BUA and ATA students. Guided by ATA director Annie Weinberg, the pairs spent time in breakout rooms getting to know one another through exercises like sharing the story of their names: Who gave them that name? Why? What does in mean? I was touched when the students returned from those breakout rooms and recounted the stories they heard from their BUA or ATA buddies. They smiled at the chance coincidences and the growing bonds. Over the coming months, these pairs will meet after school for virtual academic tutoring sessions in language arts, math, and coding.

Great, sustained partnerships are mutually beneficial. I know that the ATA students will find more than just academic support; their BUA buddies will be role models, mentors, and hopefully lifelong friends. I know that our BUA students will get far more than community service hours. As every teacher knows, there is deep growth and fulfillment that comes from sharing what you know and helping somebody else along on their path. This kind of connection teaches us empathy and opens our eyes to experiences beyond our own.

This is just the start. There is so much mission alignment between our two organizations. Annie and I envision ATA students enrolling at BUA one day soon; BUA alumni serving as college and career mentors to ATA graduates; BUA students running summer enrichment units with ATA students; joint professional development and conversation with our teachers; and more. 

More broadly, I see this as one piece of a larger strategy: harnessing one of our greatest resources — the City of Boston. How can we use the city as our classroom? How can it inform our curriculum? What opportunities are there for place-based learning and internships? How can we be a partner to the city? How can our connection to Boston help us live out our mission commitment to excellence and access? 

What can we be if we fully embrace the first word in our name: Boston.

Head of School Blog: Privilege and Left-Handed Scissors

Who knew that left-handed scissors could cut through the knotty concept of privilege?

Last night, we had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Derrick Gay as part of our Parent Education Series. Dr. Gay is one of the world’s leading consultants on issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and cultural competency. A long-time independent-school educator, Dr. Gay has a particular gift for making the work relevant to parents and schools. He also frames conversations in ways that bring everybody in and allows us all to see our place in the dialogue.

Dr. Gay recounted a story of a time when a college classmate, who was left handed, asked him for a pair of scissors. After Dr. Gay handed his peer a pair of (“normal”) right-handed scissors, his classmate launched into a litany of ways in which the world around us is designed for right-handed people — from doorknobs and spiral notebooks to computer mice, zippers, and can openers. I watched as lefties in last night’s audience filled the chat with gratitude and exclamation. “Finally, somebody understands!” I also watched as those of us who are righties began to realize, often for the first time, how the world is designed for us. “Why didn’t we know that?” 

“Privilege” is a word that stirs up more than its share of controversy in conversations about inclusion. In 2017, while I was working in Connecticut, I came across a news story about an essay contest for local high schoolers, where the contest organizers asked young people to reflect on the role of white privilege in their lives. The reaction from some families in the surrounding community was immediate and negative. Why would the contest organizers essentialize the white experience and ignore the reality that many white people have socioeconomic or societal hardships of their own? Or that some non-white people have privilege in society? Why would they use language seemingly designed to focus young people on difference rather than common humanity? What were they implying about the nature of the town itself? More recently, critics of the word have accused others of weaponizing the term in pursuit of cancel culture.

I like to use the term “invisible privilege” as more descriptive and helpful, particularly given the strong reactions in our society and particularly when working with students. The reasoning goes something like this. We each have many facets to our identities, some of which are obvious, some less so. Some of those aspects of our identity, like being right-handed, carry advantages in our society that are invisible to us. We just don’t think about it — because we don’t have to. Privilege is the freedom not to have to think about that aspect of our identity because it doesn’t negatively impact the way we navigate the world.

Dr. Gay’s left-handed scissor example is so powerful because it creates a common-sense understanding of privilege in a way that is translatable to thornier concepts like white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, and ability privilege. It provides a way into pieces like Peggy McIntosh’s now-famous 1989 article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” And it focuses us all squarely on what is most important: empathy — that despite our common humanity, we each have different experiences in navigating the world, and that it is our duty as members of a community to understand how our identities shape those experiences.

Head of School Blog: Making Lemonade

Like many of you, I had the pleasure of being in the audience for our students’ virtual production of The Laramie Project this weekend. It is an important, powerful play about the aftermath of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, exploring homophobia and community responsibility. I was struck not only by how well our cast handled the mature material, but also with how well they translated the experience to the screen. Within a few minutes, I forgot that I was in my living room watching a teenage cast. 

For years, our students in Model UN have run a tournament for middle school students from around the region. Unfazed by the challenges, this year’s crew took to Zoom and ran the tournament remotely. They gave the 225 middle schoolers an engaging experience and kept an important BUA tradition going.

I recently talked to one of our juniors who is organizing some of his classmates to serve as pen pals for seniors in assisted living during a time when we all need connection and when there are barriers to traditional community service.

We spend a lot of time these days worrying about how the pandemic is affecting our teenagers–rightfully so. It is important, too, that we celebrate the fact that so many of these young people are embracing the challenge, finding opportunities to make the most of this situation, and bringing joy to others. In the process, they are building resilience and finding purpose — making lemonade.

BUA Hosts Model UN Conference for Middle Schoolers Worldwide

February 4th, 2021in BUA News and Stories, Homepage News

Last weekend, BUA hosted the 9th annual Boston University Academy Model United Nations (BUAMUN) conference for more than 225 middle schoolers around Boston, across the US, and worldwide.

While this conference is traditionally held on the BU campus, the pandemic prompted organizers to move the conference entirely online. Delegates debated on topics including the Cuban Missile Crisis, reunification of the Korean Peninsula, and the 1812 French invasion of Russia.

Congratulations to the BUAMUN Secretariat - John '21, Jonas '21, Kieran '21, Sudarshan'21, and Claudia '22 - on another highly successful conference!