2020-2021 Middle School Blog
The Class of 2025 celebrated the conclusion of their Middle School Journey at Austin Prep at the Final Middle School Assembly on June 4. Aaron Wilcox '25 delivered one of the keynote speeches with a reflection on his Middle School Journey.
Journey is defined as the travel from one place to another. I started my Austin Prep journey as a sixth grader, and will finish as a senior. My journey through middle school has taught me many things, including the importance of friendship. Through the years, I have made many friends and made new experiences that I will cherish forever.
When I was a sixth grader, I was anxious and hopeful. I wanted to fit in as much as possible. As a sixth grader, I could absorb the wonderful community and the amazing teachers. I was lucky, because I found a group of friends that have lasted me for all my middle school experience. I knew that sixth grade was the start of an amazing journey that would teach me the values of Unitas, Veritas, and Caritas. Slowly we learned the process of this school and made memories that would last a lifetime. I remember going to Project Adventure, and having that be an experience where I could bond with my classmates and learn new things about them. In sixth grade, all of us were new and bright eyed, and we were learning about electives, clubs, and things like that that were completely new to me, and our entire grade. Nobody likes to feel alone, like they are the only ones who don’t know what they are doing. Luckily, I could figure out how to start my middle school journey with all the other kids in my grade. Looking at the eighth graders then made me feel like I would never get there, that I would never reach that grade. They were so much bigger than I was and knew so much more. But I started to adjust, and got to seventh grade.
Seventh Grade was the middle of my middle school journey. My classmates and I had adjusted, and we were beginning to explore the opportunities that Austin Prep offered. One opportunity I took advantage of was the robotics team. I still remember that team and how fun it was. I remember how my friend forgot to do the poster, and how we had to make it on our way to the competition. We looked at sixth grade and thought, we were never like that, were we? New classmates joined our group journey and new experiences were made. High school still seemed miles away, but we were more prepared for it. We took more advanced classes and learned even greater things and made even more friends. In seventh grade, we had the foundation that being in sixth grade had built and were ready to complete this grade and move on. We were ready to leap into eighth grade with the confidence that we had built in sixth and seventh grade. We wanted to take the next step in our journey and become the most experienced and oldest of the middle schoolers. On to the final grade of our middle school journey.
As eighth graders, we were all experienced and ready to take on all the challenges that classes and sports could offer. There were some among us who even took high school classes. With all the experience we gained, we could enjoy special events like the luau and field day. We gained the largest number of people in our grade then ever. With high school just around the corner and actually having final exams in some classes, I would say throughout our journey, we’ve grown. From wide-eyed sixth graders, to confident eighth graders.
Looking back on my years of school has made me hopeful for the future. I want to see how well we will all do in high school, and see which among us will become esteemed lifers and alumni. Maybe some of us will even come back and teach. Whatever happens, I am glad to be able to come up on this stage and deliver this speech to my fellow classmates. We are at the end of our middle school journey, and I would say I am proud of the class we have become.
By Aaron Wilcox '25
The Class of 2025 celebrated the conclusion of their Middle School Journey at Austin Prep at the Final Middle School Assembly on June 4. Bree Anderson '25 delivered one of the keynote speeches with a reflection on the Augustinian value of Veritas, Truth.
American author Mark Twain wrote, “Truth is mighty and will prevail.” At Austin Prep, Veritas, truth, is one of our core values. We practice Veritas every day in many ways.
As we have all moved through Middle School in the pursuit of knowledge and growth, Veritas has proven its importance in many ways throughout our journeys.
As sixth graders we all focused on surviving and figuring out the new environment of Middle School.
As seventh graders, our goals became more focused on learning how to study, how to sit down for countless hours, and how to work on projects and assignments. This helped many of us mature as people because we learned the importance of our grades and how to handle what life throws at us.
As a new student at Austin Prep this year, I was very nervous -- leaving many good friends behind at my old school for a new path in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was a struggle for all of us. We needed to make sure that we always stayed true to ourselves and our goal during this crazy year of middle school. This is Veritas in action. Luckily for me, I was welcomed with open arms and treated like I had grown up in this academic community.
Academic growth and Veritas go hand in hand. Coming from a different school, I was surprised when I got my first test grade back from my Spanish teacher. I got points taken off for not adding accents to the words, and I was confused why that mattered because it did not matter at my old school. This moment taught me that this school is trying to make me the best that I can be. In order to do this, they look at the finer things in school and life to make you flourish. Last year I was never pushed out of my comfort zone and now that I have been, I have drastically changed as a student and person for the best.
Veritas has also played an important role in preparing us for what lies ahead in high school. With all of the extracurricular activities and sports offered at Austin Prep, I was overwhelmed with my responsibilities as a student and athlete at the beginning of the year. I was stressed out with the amount of work I had, and on top of that, I was playing on the varsity hockey team and had two practices every night.
Through this experience, I was reminded about the importance of being true to yourself. In order to be the best I could be, I sometimes had to reach out to ask my parents for help with a homework challenge or ask my coaches to help with a skill I was working to improve on for the next game. Doing so helped me to realize that the truth can help you to excel. No matter how hard the assignment or overwhelmed you may feel, it’s always best to be truthful with yourself and tackle your challenges head on.
Regardless of where we have been in our Middle School path, Veritas has helped all of us to get where we are today. Coming into Middle School, everyone all had the same thoughts and questions -- who am I, and how do I fit in? This is a very hard thing to discover about yourself, and it can be very tough to figure out. While discovering yourself and who you are, you need to make sure that you do not lose sight of the real you. Anyone can fake other people out and make them think that they are a different person. The reality is that you want to maintain your truth because the real you is awesome. In the beginning of Middle School, I did not know how I fit in, but I did not change myself in any way to please other people. I made sure that I was going to be the person that God wanted me to be and not anyone else.
As I stand here today, coming to Austin has helped me not only become a better person, but to improve my skills as a writer, speaker, and athlete. My biggest supporters have been my parents, who have always stayed by my side. Through this amazing journey they have helped me to stay true to who I am, the goals I have set for myself, and the person I want to be.
As we all prepare for the next phase as high school freshmen, let us be reminded of something St. Augustine once said. “The truth is like a lion. You don't have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.” Regardless of where our paths may take us, let us always remember that no matter what, by remaining true to yourself and the value of Veritas, the truth will always prevail.
By Bree Anderson '25
The Class of 2025 celebrated the conclusion of their Middle School Journey at Austin Prep at the Final Middle School Assembly on June 4. Dylan Sigsbury '25 delivered one of the keynote speeches with a reflection on the Augustinian value of Unitas, Unity.
Through my two years at Austin Prep, Unitas has meant a lot to me. Unitas means unity, and that’s very important here at Austin Prep. Unitas is about coming together as a community. When someone steps through the front doors of Austin Prep, they can sense this special feeling of Unitas. Austin Prep really shows what Unitas means. Whether it’s working in pairs on classwork and projects or hanging out with teachers and friends, Unitas is seen everywhere at Austin Prep and throughout our Austin Prep journey.
During the early days of the pandemic last spring, we weren’t able to see our friends and family at Austin Prep. We all felt isolated and alone at home, but our administration and teachers came together to set up Zoom classes, advisory, and clubs so that we could see each other and continue our education. Although it was not like being on campus, we were still able to see each other and talk. We all now realize and appreciate the importance of Unitas - of community - a little more.
During our time in middle school, we’ve felt Unitas in several different ways.
In the beginning of 8th grade, we were united in happiness to be starting our last year in middle school and doing so in person.
I have witnessed many sports teams, clubs, student activities, and performing arts come together to form strong relationships with each other. Our student body has proven what the value of Unitas means by supporting all the different activities at Austin Prep.
During the holiday season, we all came together as a community to sing carols and hymns, listen to lessons, watch the Nutcracker, and make the Christmas of families in need a little brighter through our generosity.
When it’s Cougar Block time, clubs provide us with a time to connect with students with shared interests.
During our mask breaks, we gravitate to our friends to share thoughts, a laugh, or a good story.
During the month of May, we were able to have some fun activities. We had Project adventure come to our school and do some cool activities. Then, we had a very excited field day where we were able to have fun and enjoy the nice weather and compete in fun games, and we had a luau where we got to talk to friends and have a good time. As we can see, we came together to unite as one in some 8th grade events and show what Unitas really means.
And this morning, we gathered together one final time as Middle School students in the Class of 2025. We enjoyed a breakfast together and now sit, side-by-side, here in Meelia Hall - a place we’ll return to throughout our Upper School Journey to sit as a class and celebrate the incredible community of Austin Prep.
In our time at Austin Prep, we have learned to be diligent, kind, and hard working towards and with one another. We have been taught to be supportive to our classmates and to our teachers and faculty. Also, we’ve learned to have a positive attitude when faced with adversity. Most of all, we’ve learned to do this together! As Mattie Stepanek, a young American poet said, “Unity is strength, when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” Mattie is talking about what can happen when we work together.
This fall when we are all ninth graders, there will be more new students joining our class at Austin Prep. I can’t wait to welcome them into the Austin Prep community and hope you’ll join me in doing so.
Also, as we literally count down our final hour of Middle School together, I would like to take this moment to thank all my teachers for the great effort they put in to make me a better student and a better person. I also want to thank Mr. McLaughlin for supporting all of us students through our Middle School Journey and unifying the Middle School and making us feel a part of the entire Austin Prep community.
I also want to thank all of you - my classmates. I am confident that I speak for all of us when I say that I’m grateful for the friendships we have made and cherish the memories we’ve enjoyed together as Middle Schools students at Austin Prep.
By Dylan Sigsbury '25
The Class of 2025 celebrated the conclusion of their Middle School Journey at Austin Prep at the Final Middle School Assembly on June 4. Meghan Callahan '25 delivered one of the keynote speeches with a reflection on the Augustinian value of Caritas, Charity.
The theme of this school year is "I pray that they will all be one.” When coming out of Meelia, straight on is a sign that has this quote, which has served as a constant reminder for the Austin community all year. This theme of being one is directly related to the core value of caritas. Caritas is a Latin word that signifies both compassion and charity. Charity is a selfless act. When we do acts of charity, we demonstrate our respect for God and for others. Caritas can take many forms, such as showing love for one another, being compassionate towards those around us, and performing charity.
As a community, we embodied this value of caritas when we made Easter Baskets for St. Mary the Assumption Parish in Lawrence. We were able to create 55 baskets for families in Lawrence and fill the shelves for Lazarus house. We were all able to contribute in some way: that may have been bringing in your designated food for advisory, or if you were in NJHS to organize the food or put together the baskets. Some of my peers and I were able to go on the Austin Prep bus and deliver the baskets to the families. Seeing how thankful and appreciative the families were was an experience I will never forget.
In a year of a global pandemic and people saying there is no way we can do service work, we excelled. As a grade, we were able to complete over 400 hours of community service. Some of us packed lunches for those in need, others baked cookies for nursing homes, and some people helped out at My Brothers Table. Students also created food drives for their community or helped those with disabilities play their favorite sport. As a community, we were able to help a lot of different and unique groups of people. These experiences allowed us to gain new perspectives about helping others.
For my service work I organized a drive to benefit people without shelter. I started by creating an Amazon wish list with hand warmers, gloves, snacks, water and lots more. I sent it out to family and friends who kindly donated. I received over 75 donations. I then bagged over 90 blessing bags for the homeless. While going through my service project I realized how fortunate we are. Yes, we all have difficult things we go through, but at the end of the day we have a roof over our heads with food and water at our tables. I enjoyed this experience so much, and it has inspired me about the future service opportunities that I can do while a student at Austin. Additionally, I want to thank my mom for helping me with all aspects of my service project. I couldn't have done it without her.
Caritas is one of the most special and important values at Austin Prep. As Saint Augustine once said, “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”
This quote reminds us that love and charity comes in many shapes and sizes. It could be holding the door for an older person or it could be creating a food drive for the homeless. When we do service, we evolve as people. Austin Prep has shown me what it truly means to care for others around me and to treat all people with the respect and love they deserve.
By Meghan Callahan '25
Middle School Mandarin
Our patron Saint Augustine wrote “beauty ever ancient and new.” When I walk into our Middle School Mandarin classrooms, I see and hear this phrase at work in the excited, animated participation of our students learning a language that goes back hundreds of years - ancient - and which is spoken by 1.1 billion people today - new. As we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month this May, I invite you to learn more about how students develop into global citizens through their scholarship in our Mandarin program in the Department of World Languages.
Dr. PoChun Wang leads the Austin Prep Middle School Mandarin program. Learning a language is rooted in four domains: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Mandarin students at Austin Prep explore reading and writing doubly as they learn both the simplified Mandarin characters as well as pinyin, a phonetic system for writing Mandarin using the Latin alphabet. Dr. Wang’s curriculum introduces students to the rich heritage and beauty of her native language through immersing them in activities and experiences to practice their emerging language skills.
On a typical day, students begin their study with a game-ified review to practice vocabulary from previous lessons. Students turn and talk to classmates to dialogue about activities, family members, classes, and other topics. These oral exercises provide opportunities for students to work on their pronunciation and listening skills. Lessons on new grammar and vocabulary integrate visuals and opportunities for the students to try out the new concept with their teacher before independent practice. The class often concludes with another round of game-play that encourages students to integrate their new knowledge with that which has been mastered previously.
While communicating in another language is one aspect of being a global citizen, so too is developing a genuine interest and appreciation for other cultures. Project work in Mandarin class introduces students to various cultural elements. This semester, students learned about the history of Chinese performance by studying opera, stories, and characters. Students then selected one of their favorite characters to produce a Chinese opera mask. Complimenting the information and menu offerings in our Dining Hall, students also researched food traditions in different regions of China. Students cooked a dish with locally-sourced ingredients and took photos sharing their culinary creations with family at home.
Beyond the classroom, Mandarin students have many opportunities to interact with our international students from China. Social and cultural exchange is an aspect of the Austin Prep Chinese Club. Students are paired together to learn about each other’s culture, practice language skills, and form friendships. One of the memorable festivities of the Club happens during Chinese New Year. With the Dining Hall decked out in red, students participate in a school-wide celebration and sit side-by-side to enjoy food and traditional games together.
The 21st Century is one marked by an increasing connectivity of people - and our Zoom-iverse over the past 16 months has amplified that even further. Developing fluency in a World Language and a curiosity about the world are essential characteristics of embracing what it means to be a global citizen. In Middle School Mandarin, students access the rich heritage of China and prepare to participate in the global society of tomorrow. As Saint Augustine would say, something “ancient and new.”
- By Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School
Authentic Audiences for Academic Capstones
Middle School is a time when students, parents, and teachers witness a period of incredible growth for young learners - students develop intellectually, spiritually, physically, and socially. What makes the early adolescent journey so unique for each individual is that these changes don’t all happen at once, or even at the same pace. As students navigate the challenges and opportunities of this phase of life, they look to adult mentors beyond the family - teachers, advisors, and coaches - and to their peers as they consider the fundamental questions of this growth stage: who am I and how do I fit in? These questions have taken on an even greater importance during the global pandemic.
Though the pandemic forced students this year to be apart, the authentic audience that matters most to young adolescents is their friends. Students need an authentic audience as they pursue these questions. Especially after their recent full return to campus, it is not uncommon to see - or hear - Middle School students traveling in a pack, herd, swarm, or some other collective! In these settings, kids practice social scripts, consider other perspectives, and, most importantly, they take risks. Indeed, developmentally appropriate risk-taking is fundamental to their continued growth.
Despite the challenges of the last year, in our Austin Prep Middle School classrooms, faculty create opportunities for students to take academic risks, showcase their academic work for an authentic audience, and to thrive during challenging times. These programs have evolved into capstone experiences that are important mile markers on each student’s Austin Journey.
The Egyptian Museum
When I asked sixth grade students in the Class of 2027 about their study of Ancient Egypt in their Becoming Historians History course, I heard several responses: the pyramids are cool; King Tut came to the throne when he was a child and governed an entire kingdom; mummification is awesome; etc. One student shared that their takeaway was that the Ancient Egyptians were adaptable. The civilization leveraged the ebb and flow of the Nile River to create an agricultural society that then supported the cultural achievements that we’ve studied and celebrated over time.
Adaptability was certainly the “name of the game” in 2020 as faculty Leeann Blais, Alexandra Dell’Anno ’12, Brian Russo ’09, and Alicia Varraso began to plan the annual sixth grade Egyptian Museum this semester. Rather than hosting an in-person exhibition to display student work in History and English, the students worked with their teachers to build a website showcasing their work.
Earlier in March, students gathered for a Gallery Talk style webinar where our sixth grade museum curators-in-training discussed the kinds of projects they worked on over the quarter - presentations about pharaohs, travel brochures about ancient sites, book commercials, and hieroglyphic artwork - and then introduced their peers as resident “Egyptologists.”
The virtual museum was a way for students to share their scholarship and to learn from others, not only about the topics of their research but about research methods and final products. Just like the capstone that the ancient Egyptians placed on the top of their towering construction projects at Giza, the sixth grade Egyptian Museum is a marker of their achievement in an interdisciplinary approach to immersive learning. Click here to check out their collective work!
What a Novel Idea!
Seventh grade students have lots of stories to tell, and the annual NaNoWriMo project provides them the forum to do it! Throughout the fall, students worked with their English teachers on exploring plot structure, characterization, setting, and mood as they crafted a proposal for their own novel. Once November 1 hit, the students were typing away on track for a minimum 10,000-word novelization of their tale. Motivated by a desire to share their story and to earn the “word count crown,” several student authors exceeded the lofty goal - with 15 or even 20 thousand words!
In December, students edited their writing and prepared their manuscripts for sharing out with family and friends. They’ve learned not only about the writing process but also about sharing and celebrating their story and that of their friends.
On my bookshelf in the Middle School Office, bound copies of past class anthologies profiling each student author and the section of their novel that they are most proud of sit nestled between my copies of Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia. I am excited to add this year’s anthology to that collection and get a glimpse into the creative minds of the Class of 2026.
Choice and Voice in the Arts
A highlight of the Middle School Arts program is the opportunity to exercise choice and voice through elective offerings. Each year, a Topics elective provides faculty with the opportunity to develop a course around a particular passion and for students to engage in project-based learning.
This fall, Mr. Patrick Costello, Coordinator of Student Activities, Mr. Colin Kiley, Science Faculty, and Mr. Jon Whalen, Humanities Faculty, developed courses that challenged students to assemble a portfolio of projects with relevant, 21st Century connections.
In Mr. Whalen’s and Mr. Kiley’s Topics in Technology: The Olympics course, students considered the logistics involved in running the Games and the impact that hosting the event can have on a city. The climax of their work was to pitch a bid for the 2028 Olympics. Students built out a website highlighting the history and heritage of their city and proposed how the Games would function after analyzing existing infrastructure for sport, housing, and transportation. Let the Games begin!
During another block, Mr. Costello provided students with the chance to “dive in” to the Austin Prep “Shark Tank” with pitches for business ideas for products and services in Topics in Technology: Business and Finance. Students designed websites that housed their video commercials and interfaced with imaginary prospective clients. The application to the real world was not lost on students. Bree Anderson ‘25 shared that the class “has helped me learn what it takes to make a company, and the skills needed so that one day in life I will be able to create my own company if that is what I desire.” Her classmate Francesca Maitino '25 echoed that sentiment: “Topics in Technology helped me attain business skills in a stimulating environment.”
By Mr. Michael McLaughlin , Head of Middle School
The Scientific Method
STEM offerings at Austin Prep provide Middle School students with the opportunity to apply concepts learned in class to real-world scenarios. In March, students connected with professionals in the world of science to learn about their work and the pathway that took them from the lab to their work in meteorology and the World Health Organization.
Rooted in Relevancy
Dr. Maria Blewitt, Science Department Head, was among the Austin Prep Faculty members who presented at the 40th Annual New England League of Middle Schools (NELMS) Conference in early March. Dr. Blewitt’s presentation focused on making Science curricula relevant through the exploration of socio-scientific topics. Socio-scientific topics are issues that face society that can be informed by science. In Dr. Blewitt’s classroom, she begins by introducing a topic and building instruction around that topic, bringing in relevant perspectives, theories, and scientific content to inform students’ inquiry. Dr. Blewitt has embedded culminating activities like debates and letters to relevant parties on such topics as funding for the space program, climate change, and nuclear power.
Dr. Blewitt made a strong case for this pedagogical approach in her remarks at NELMS. Socio-scientific issues provide context to student learning, addressing the perennial question of “why do we have to know this?” Activities provide students with choice and voice as they learn and practice the skill of taking a position and defending their stance with fact. Research promotes high-order critical thinking skills as students evaluate information and structure an argument. This investigation and analysis evolves into debate, yielding an opportunity to engage in respectful dialogue. With Dr. Blewitt at the helm, the Austin Prep Science program promotes students making connections between their classes and happenings in our world today
Whether the Weather Be Cold or Hot
Sixth grade students have been learning about the Water Cycle. What better way to make that knowledge relevant than by talking about the weather. And what better way to talk about the weather than by bringing in a meterologist as a guest speaker. Cue Mr. Joseph Sciacca ‘13 of Precision Weather Service. Mr. Sciacca visited with students on Zoom to share the science that goes into tracking a storm and forecasting temperature, precipitation, and major weather events.
Global Health in a Pandemic
In conjunction with lessons celebrating the achievements of Women in Science as part of Women’s History Month in March, a panel of seventh-grade students had the opportunity to interview Swathi Iyengar of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. Ms. Iyengar is a health economist at the WHO, where she developed the WHO MedMon mobile application-- the first low-cost, rapid data collection and analysis tool to determine price, availability, and safety risks of medicines worldwide. She has helped to bring MedMon to more than 25 countries, including in emergency settings such as the Rohingya refugee camps. Ms. Iyengar was recently named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 for Science and Healthcare.
In Life Science, seventh grade students have been exploring human anatomy and physiology, and what happens when health goes awry through disease and viruses. Seventh graders inquired about what it is like to work at the WHO especially during a global pandemic as well as about Iyengar's educational and professional journey.
- By Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School
Reflections on Character
On March 1, the Austin Preparatory School Chapter of the National Junior Honor Society held a virtual induction ceremony for 19 new members of the Chapter. As a part of that ceremony, inductees delivered reflections on the five pillars of the Society - scholarship, service, leadership, citizenship, and character. Nareg Minassian ‘26 wrote and shared the following remarks about the virtue of character. You can view the recording of Nareg’s remarks here or click here to view the induction ceremony in its entirety.
We have all heard of Harry Potter, I’m sure. Though we all may not be fans, I’m fairly confident that we have at least heard of it. For those of you who are not the biggest Harry Potter fans, do not worry, this will be over soon. For those of you who are huge Harry Potter fans, you’re welcome. In the first movie, all of the first year students had the sorting hat decide which house each student belonged to. Though they were only eleven years old, not too much younger than all of us here, they were old enough for the hat to almost instantly know where they belonged, based heavily on their character traits. Gryffindor, the good house, Slytherin, the bad house and whatever the other two were called.
So what is character? Character is a tricky thing to describe because it is abstract in nature. By definition, according to the Merrriam Webster dictionary, character is “one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual.” So basically your character defines what type of person you are and shows your underlying values or beliefs. Are you generous, loyal, kind, peaceful and honest? Are you disrespectful, rude, greedy, cruel, or selfish? Very broadly it is broken down into two groups, good or bad. Nobody likes to think of themselves as having any character traits from the second category.
But how do we know for sure? How do we know what our character is? Children aren’t born with any of these character traits. Most of us have been taught the importance of living our lives so that we fall into the “good” category. We have to constantly work to build our good character over our lifetime through our choices and actions. So that we can positively influence the people we interact with daily, the people we come across, and the people we meet.
Though all the pillars of NJHS are invaluable in their own way, it is through good character on which those pillars are built upon. After all, who would follow a leader who is selfish and reckless? Who would accept the service of someone who is insincere and disrespectful? Who would follow the teachings of a scholar who is thoughtless and irrational? Essentially, our character is defined by our peers, family and friends, however, we must aspire to demonstrate the good character traits by which we hope to be defined.
As Dumbledore said, “It is not our abilities that show us what we truly are, it is our choices.” Everyday we are faced with choices and those choices define who we are as a person. Our character is continuously changing because we are constantly making new choices throughout our day, whether it’s through our subconscious or our conscious mind. Through every action and decision, day by day, little by little, it is up to us to actively put in the effort to develop good character. It is not only with the big choices, but more so with the little ones that we face in between, when no one is around and watching, and for nothing in return, that defines us. By making sure each of our choices are worthy of the character we want to define who we are, we ultimately make it a part of who we are, so that one day our character becomes our destiny.
All of us here at the National Junior Honor Society have demonstrated the same sort of character traits that come from the “good” category, although, I would argue that everyone I’ve come across here at Austin Prep has demonstrated the same good traits, both peers and faculty. And, we did this, without the help of the magical sorting hat.
- By Nareg Minassian ‘26
Middle School C.I.A.: Caritas in Action
One of the three core values of the Augustinian Order is caritas - charity. It is through this charism that Austin Prep community members are able to take what they’ve learned on campus and animate it through acts for others in the community beyond Willow Street.
Our patron Saint Augustine wrote about this when he considered the question, “What does love look like?” in his Confessions. Augustine described love as a person acting with purpose: “It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”
Over the course of the past month, I’ve been reading about the planned - and, in some cases, completed - service projects that our 200 Middle School students have designed to live out our value of caritas. Collectively, they will log at least 650 hours of service between now and April 1. Students were invited to reflect on their intention of working on a particular project and to keep their hearts and minds open to the impact their actions will have and the insights that they will gain about fellow people, about challenges in society, about causes and organizations, and about themselves.
Here are ten examples of the kind of work our students are working on:
Brothers Connor ‘25 and Jack Gattuso ‘27 have already completed their hours with Gina Gives Back, an organization that prepares and delivers meals to a homeless shelter in Methuen. The brothers have made a commitment to continue volunteering throughout the spring and have been inspired by Gina’s example and actions.
In partnership with the efforts of the Boston Alliance for Catholic Education, Cam Morrow ‘25 hand-crafted dozens of Valentine cards for the retired Sisters of Saint Joseph of Boston who are in residence at the Bethany Health Care Center in Framingham.
Alex Vigorito ‘27 learned about an organization called Lasagna Love, a grassroots effort that pairs families in need of food with an individual who commits to making and delivering a warm meal. Fellow “Lasagna Mamas and Papas” like Vann Burkhart ‘26, Spencer Buscema ‘25, Sophia Christo ‘26, Tara ‘25 and Jack ‘27 Dawley, and Owen Sperling ‘25 are perfecting their bechamel and bolognese sauces in preparation for participating in this effort in the weeks ahead.
Cradles to Crayons works with over 60,000 families, individuals, community groups and companies to serve over 200,000 children every year. A volunteer shift in The Giving Factory Warehouse involves hands-on processing of the donated goods that flow in on a regular basis. The work is plentiful - and so are the Middle School students who have volunteered alongside classmates and family members to inspect, sort, and package donations to ultimately be distributed to children in the Boston area. Eliza Martin ‘25 shared this about her work: “These children do not have all the resources that I have such as food, clothes, and education. I think it is important to support the less fortunate people in my community, because in the end we are all in the same society.” Eliza volunteered alongside her sister Paige ‘27.
Kenna Sullivan ‘27 volunteered to create colorful posters of gratitude for frontline workers through the Kindness Collaborative.
Danny Holmes ‘25, Tommy Lewis ‘25, and Cameron Thompson ‘25 were inspired by the mission of Project Valentine to send messages of support and positivity to nursing home residents across the North Shore.
My Brother’s Table in Lynn will see a number of Middle School students and their families volunteer over the February break. Braeddon Dyment ‘26 shared this about his decision to volunteer there: “One of the most important Corporal Works of Mercy is to feed the hungry. When I realized how many kids and families were in need of food, I felt compelled to help the hungry.” Braeddon will be making 25 dinners and desserts.
Colin Walsh ‘25 and Michael Thomas ‘25 used a recent “good old-fashioned snow day” to instead volunteer four hours at Bread of Life Food Pantry in Malden. After shoveling the driveway so that the trucks of food could unload their cargo, Colin and Michael each packaged 150 parcels of food for families in need.
Caroline Brabeck ‘25, Chloe Russell ‘25, and Marianna Tavano ‘25 will be volunteering with a team with the Special Olympics this spring. Chloe reflected on why she plans to exceed the required volunteer hours: “I believe a lot of people aren’t aware of how many things people with disabilities miss out on, and once I realized that, I decided I wanted to try to participate in helping volunteer for more fun activities for children with disabilities.”
For the past several years, Austin Prep has partnered with Artis Senior Living, a residence for people with Alzheimers and dementia in Reading. Sophia Fanuele ‘26 led a team of fellow students in making Valentine’s cards for all the residents this month. The group, including Liam Deane ‘27, Anna Klovee ‘25, Mia Romansik ‘27, and Shreya Soni ‘27, plans to continue their work this spring with cards for Saint Patrick’s Day, Easter, and Memorial Day.
Now, that is what love looks like!
- By Mr. Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School
Living Out a Legacy
Austin Prep’s Advisory program is a hallmark of the Austin Prep Journey from grade six through graduation. Every Middle School student is a part of a group of about 10-12 Middle School students and a faculty Advisor. These groups are intentional communities - they meet daily and provide students with the space and structure to process their Middle School Journey. We celebrate successes on the ski slopes and the National Myth Exam and think through challenges collaboratively and creatively. The familial atmosphere of the Advisory group likewise promises an environment where students can think through bigger questions and themes beyond their own experience.
This year marked the 35th official celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Advisory program was a place where students had the opportunity to reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King. Jaycob Morales, Austin Prep’s Coordinator of Community Engagement and Inclusion, organized a thoughtful webinar for students at home and on campus to Zoom into by Advisory groups. Students watched an informative video about Dr. King, reflected on a presentation assembled by the Student Council, and listened to Mr. Morales’ remarks about Dr. King. Afterwards, students answered questions to prepare for conversations in Advisory throughout the rest of the week.
In particular, students thought about ways in which they could incorporate part of Dr. King’s message into their life and interactions at Austin Prep. One student referenced a commitment to being aware of implicit bias in sharing “I am going to remember not to judge and make assumptions about people.” Other students talked about not being content with the status quo by expanding their understanding by reading and speaking with others and by advocating with, and for, others.
I am looking forward to the programs that the Office of Mission and Inclusion has planned for February in celebration of Black History Month and to curriculum planned to provide students with opportunities to encounter these important lessons. I encourage you to read the Cougar Courier and check in on our social media accounts where many of these initiatives will be highlighted throughout the month.
It is my hope that these curricular plans and programs like Advisory will contribute to students’ formation on their Austin Prep Journey, and do so in the spirit of Dr. King:
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.”
- By Mr. Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School
Christmas on Campus
On January 6, we officially ended the Christmas season with the Feast of the Epiphany - the celebration of the arrival of the Magi at Bethlehem. We spent a great deal of time talking about the Nativity in my sixth grade Theology class over the last month - and those classroom discussions mirrored the many and varied ways that we celebrated the Christmas season on campus at Austin Prep.
Lessons and Carols
Saint Augustine Chapel was the setting for this year’s Lessons and Carols. Broadcast via livestream to the entire school community, Middle School students like Nareg Minassian ‘26 and Paige Martin ‘27 participated in sharing readings and reflections on the Christmas season. The program included instrumental and vocal music that created a festive mood. As in the past, Santa made an appearance at the conclusion of the program and shared that he’d be stopping by various areas of campus to check his list - and check it twice.
The soundtrack of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker was heard from the Dance Studio on the third floor of McLaughlin Hall throughout the fall in preparation for our annual production of this famed ballet. With Mrs. Marla Pascucci-Byrne P’26, Art and Design Department Head, at the helm, the choreography and creative artistry of the dance program was on full display. Over one hundred students were outfitted in dazzling costumes (with coordinating masks) in a spectacular rendition of this Christmas ballet. Middle School “party children” danced with joy as Clara, played by Emerson Byrne ‘26, received the gift of the Nutcracker. An army of mice battled with a legion of toy soldiers as the Christmas tree on stage grew to the sky in Clara’s dream. As Clara entered the “Land of Sweets” dancers like Sophia Fanuele ‘26, Imogen Moro ‘25, and Maggie O’Brien ’26 brought Tchiakovsky’s suite in the second act to life through iconic numbers like the Russian and Chinese dances.
Thanks to the efforts of the Austin Prep Media team, including several Middle School alumni who began learning how to film and edit when they were in Middle School, the entire performance was captured on film and can be seen by clicking below.
Advisory Contests: Door Decorating & Trivia
Advisory is a hallmark of the Austin Prep Journey. Each Middle School student is part of a group of about 10 students who meet daily with a faculty advisor to engage in conversations and programs. This month, Advisories “decked the halls” in designing imaginative door decorations for campus. Whether calling to mind classics like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” or the game “Among Us,” the doors were a fun collaboration that enhanced the festive feeling of campus. A series of Christmas trivia questions sent out through advisory each day invited students to share information and connect with faculty in a bid for prizes.
The Elf Hat Challenge
The Middle School Student Council launched the 2020 Elf Hat Challenge this year in lieu of their annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Dance Party. Every Middle School student was given a green elf hat to decorate and wear to school the week leading into Christmas break. All students who participated were entered into raffles at lunch for prizes like candy, shortbread cookies, Nutcrackers, games, books, and Christmas cocoa.
The Santa Saga
During Santa’s visit to campus, he was “caught on camera” appearing in a film series with 16 short installments. Over the course of the Santa Saga, the community learned that yours truly was on Santa’s naughty list. Fortunately, through some quick thinking and research, I was able to earn my way back onto the nice list by promising a delicious dessert treat for the entire Austin Prep community later this month. You can check out the finale of the Santa Saga here.
Celebration of Mass
With the birth of Jesus as the “reason for the season,” reminders of the Nativity were everywhere on campus. Beautiful Nativity displays near the outdoor dining area and inside the Main Lobby illuminated the Bethlehem story. On Christmas morning, families were able to join in the celebration of Mass by tuning into a pre-recorded Mass with Father Patrick Armano, Chaplain.
Spreading Christmas Cheer
Truly a special highlight of the Christmas celebrations on campus was spreading that cheer from Willow Street to the wider community. This year, Austin Prep sponsored fifty families from Saint Mary Parish in Lawrence, a parish with deep ties to our founding by the Order of Saint Augustine in 1961. Each advisory group learned about a specific family and purchased thoughtful gifts for the parents and young children. Decked in their elf hats, sixth graders helped Santa to load the hundreds of gifts onto the Austin Prep buses for delivery in time for Christmas.
The 2020 holidays were like no other in the history of Austin Prep, however, we found ways to engage in time-honored traditions and found joy in being together as a community.
- By Mr. Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School
This month in the Season of Advent, Christians prepare for the celebration of the Feast of the Nativity on Christmas. In my sixth grade Theology class, we’ve been talking about the Creation narratives in the Book of Genesis and how they prefigure the coming of Jesus in the Gospels. Below, I’ve shared an essay I wrote in 2018 entitled “Creation is Good” for a teacher’s guide on Understanding the Church’s Teachings on the Theology of the Body. I hope that this essay will inspire you this Christmas season in finding good and in being that good in the world.
Think about your favorite fairytale. Whether it be one about bears with an appetite for porridge or a princess who must kiss a frog, it probably begins with the same four words: “once upon a time.”
There are two moments in the Bible that start in the same way.
The very first words of the Book of Genesis are “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1). In the New Testament, the Gospel of John begins with those exact three words: “In the beginning” (John 1:1).
These two passages are important to our faith. They reveal the glory of creation and point us toward the mystery of the renewal of creation: the Incarnation.
The Book of Genesis
The story of how God created the Earth in seven days is one that is familiar to us. God created light and separated it from the darkness. He fashioned the sky. He separated the sea from land and populated the earth with grasses and trees. God molded the sun and moon and positioned the stars and planets in their heavenly orbits.
As God created the seas and seasons, the moon and mountains, He smiled upon His work. Throughout this part of the creation story, we hear three times in the first book of Genesis, “God saw that it was good” (1:10, 12, 18).
How marvelous that creation is! God is present and invites us to find HIm there! St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans to seek understanding of God through observing nature: “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made” (1:20).
God is the Great Artist. With the sky as His canvas, He paints with the rosy pink of the sunrise and the dramatic orange hues of the sunset. Like a sculptor, he chisels the canyons and cliffs.
The Creation of Life
God brings forth a great multitude of living creatures. The depths of the ocean are filled with fish, while flocks of birds feathered in dazzling colors fill the sky. Animals of every kind come forth to graze the plains, burrow in the deserts, roam in the forests and jungles, and trek across the tundra. Once again, God smiles upon His creation: “God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:21, 25).
At this point, we come to a creation where God reveals Himself even more intimately for He makes a being “in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). God creates us: human beings. God provides His creation with food and a home. He commands this creation to be a steward - a caretaker - of the world. He tells mankind to multiply - to participate in the wonder of creation by bringing forth life.
At the end of this sixth day of creation, God is overjoyed with His masterpiece: “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good” (Genesis 1:31, emphasis added).
Of course, you probably know the continuation of this story, and how Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent and, in their pride, rejected God’s love. Their Original Sin broke the communion that had existed between Heaven and earth, and damaged human nature. Humanity would need a redeemer to restore us to God’s friendship. Our nature would need to be made new.
The New Testament
Rather than being a completely new story, the account of creation continues in the New Testament. Remember, the opening words of the Gospel of John echo the first lines of Genesis: “In the beginning” (John 1:1). The sacred author continues to echo Genesis: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).
In the beginning, God said “Let there be light,” (Genesis 1:3). St. John tells us that Jesus “was the light of the human race” (John 1:4). The Incarnation is a new beginning for all creation. The second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus Christ, is God the Son. He Himself is not a new creation. He has existed for all time with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But His coming - His taking on the flesh of humanity and sharing fully in our experience - is a renewal of creation. For, by Christ sharing in our humanity, the actions of human life are sanctified.
A New Beginning: The Incarnation
The Son of God entered time and assumed a human nature. You may know the account of the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would conceive a child: the moment when, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God the Son, the Word of God, became flesh in her womb. This moment is called the Annunciation.
Nine months later, the Word made flesh became visible to us in Christ’s birth in the manger at Bethlehem. Led by an angelic host, shepherds came to see and adore the one who will shepherd our souls.
St. John writes about the pivotal time in creation, the mystery of the Incarnation: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (1:14).
Jesus assumed a human nature without losing His divine nature. Because of Christ’s humanity, we are invited to share in His divinity. We are called to holiness - to renew the face of the Earth. Indeed, St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians reminds us of this calling: “For we are his handiwork created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them: (2:10).
Like our Creator Father, each of us is a creative being. Only God can create something out of nothing, of course, but we can use the goods of creation to make things that are useful, beautiful, and improve the lives of others. We are created for good and our creation is good - we smile upon it. We are apprentice artists.
Jesus opened Heaven to us through His death and Resurrection, but the effects of sin still remain. Our pathway is not easy, but we have models, the saints, to help guide us on this path towards sanctification. The saints teach us that our work - our contribution to creation - matters. The work of being a son or a daughter is the work of a saint. The work of being a teacher, a gardener, an accountant, a priest, or a carpenter is the work of a saint. Each and every action that we take matters and is an opportunity to participate in the buildings of the Kingdom of God: serving others, playing with others, utilizing our talents for good.
Our earthly life must be treated as a gift and as our path to life eternal. We are all on a journey towards holiness. As such, we dedicate our lives and our gifts in the service of God - in participating in creation: “All men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece” (Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists; 1999; Paragraph 2).
As we focus on the beginning, creation, we also turn our eyes to the end. Our artistry in building the Kingdom of Heaven on earth brings with it a promise far better than the “happily ever after” of imaginary fairy tale endings. We receive the promise of salvation and eternal happiness in Heaven. We can pray that when we are in that radiant presence of God, He will smile on us and our works and declare “it was good.”
By Mr. Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School
Straight from the “Orchard”: New Apple Devices Arrive on Campus
The excitement in Meelia Hall was palpable this fall as students met in small cohorts with teachers and members of the Department of Technology. At the heart of all the buzz was Director of Technology Ms. Jill Bonina who unveiled Austin Prep’s fleet of 200 new 8th generation iPads! With high capacity processors, enhanced cameras, and larger screens, the devices are optimized for hybrid learning and for how technology is embedded into the student experience at Austin Prep.
The new iPads truly are an educational tool that teachers and students alike are putting to good use. Ms. Bonina shared that the newest devices offer additional support and structure for Middle School learners. “We are able to push applications and updates remotely to students’ devices and coordinate with faculty members about the specific apps that students may need for classes.” These guardrails help students better utilize their device as a learning tool. The setup also expedites students’ ability to receive targeted assistance from members of the Technology Team like Assistant Director Mrs. Marissa McLaughlin ‘03 and Academic Technology and Library Media Specialist Mr. Brad Harkins.
Middle School faculty have embraced the opportunity to reimagine how to integrate technology both as a means to explore curricula and to equip students with the dispositions and skills necessary to thrive in an increasingly digital world. Sixth grade English teachers Mrs. Leeann Blais and Ms. Alexandra Dell’Anno ‘12 built activities into their English lessons to teach students how to organize Google Drive and utilize Google Classroom. In Theology class, projects like the Saints Research Presentation encourage students to be intentional about sources and thoughtful about communicating their story. History faculty member Ms. Kristen Donnelly designed “escape room” style activities to engage students with interpreting primary source documents and applying that knowledge. Middle School Counselor Ms. Jessica Lenci facilitated sessions about social media and responsible use of technology while also developing social opportunities through Zoom for students to connect outside of class.
Austin Prep’s 1:1 iPad program for students was a critical component of the success the school experienced this spring when we transitioned to a fully digital environment over the span of a weekend. Though we were not on our Willow Street campus, rigorous and vigorous learning continued. Austin Prep’s synchronous remote teaching and learning environment attracted local and national attention. Our school has been a pedagogical model for other institutions as they have responded to educating in the midst of a global health crisis. It has been inspiring to share Austin Prep’s success with educators at the University of Notre Dame, at the Association for Middle Level Education annual conference, and within a book review on rigor in the remote learning environment this semester.
The 21st Century continues to be marked by connectivity - and technology has accelerated that exchange of information and ideas. I am excited about how Austin Prep faculty are equipping students with the skills and dispositions needed to be successful in this landscape and look forward to celebrating more of those stories as our year together continues.
- By Mr. Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School
Autumn and Athletics at Austin Prep
It was just over a year ago that we broke ground on Austin Prep’s Lower Fields Athletics complex. This monumental capital project grew from the Austin Prep Strategic Plan and brings with it the promise to sustain and enhance all of Austin Prep’s athletic offerings. Throughout last winter, we eagerly charted the progress of the tennis courts, baseball stadium, and multi-purpose field.
This morning, Austin Prep celebrated the ribbon cutting of our new Lower Fields Athletics Complex. It was a cause for celebration, not for the games to begin - but to continue! Throughout the summer and fall, this complex has seen every athletic program make use of its space, its versatility, and its state-of-the-art amenities.
Let’s take a tour around campus through the lens of Middle School Cross Country athletes like Aaden Caralis ‘25 and Madi Valade ‘25. The Cross Country team begins their practices by stretching on the expansive tennis courts.
As they begin their afternoon workout, they run past Middle School teacher-coaches like Ms. Alicia Varraso working with our Middle School soccer teams. On scrimmage days, excited soccer players like George Mamakos ‘26 and Andre Bashirians ‘26 suit up with World Cup national jerseys. Nearby, eighth grader Victoria Tenreiro ‘25 warms up with her older sister Isabella ‘23, following her pathway of competing on the varsity level as a Middle School student. Their younger sister Magdalena ‘27 is on that same arc.
As our cross country runners sprint a lap around Father Seymour Field in our Stadium Athletic Complex, they pass by the newest sport to the Austin Prep lineup: Field Hockey. After a successful developmental program last school year, the sport was added to the list of offerings this autumn. For students like Lilly Byrnes ‘27, the JV program is run with a focus on fundamentals, a developmentally appropriate way for Middle Schoolers who are trying something new. There are also opportunities for growth and to offer that sense of challenge to more veteran student-athletes like Kerri Finneran ‘25 who was recognized by the Boston Globe for scoring the first goal in the history of the Field Hockey program at Austin Prep.
Nearby, the Upper Campus tennis courts have been utilized as an archery range this fall for our second year of archery with On the Mark. Sixth graders like Charlie Hickey ‘27 and Isabella Bianco ‘27 have learned how to hold a bow, position the arrow, and aim for the bull’s eye.
Next door in Meelia Hall, the sounds of volleyballs being served, set, and spiked echo across the parquet floor. Middle School faculty member Mr. Colin Kiley coaches the JV2 team and helps bridge the connection between the classroom and other elements of Student Life for a truly well-rounded experience at Austin Prep.
Further-afield, the Middle School Developmental Golf program has been an exciting addition to our fall athletic offerings. The stakes are high for Middle School students to compete on the varsity level - though golfers like Malerie Lague ‘25 have certainly blazed that path. With many younger students expressing an interest, the coaching staff created a developmental program. Students spend the afternoon driving, chipping, and putting at the range at Hillview. These skills clinics and practices always fall on home match days, nurturing an enthusiasm for the sport and sense of school pride in these younger athletes as they watch the varsity athletes they aspire to become complete the final holes of play.
As our tour ends, and with the fall tournaments underway, join me in cheering a spirited “Go Cougars” for all our student-athletes!
- By Mr. Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School
The Power of Prayer: Relationship, Revelation, and Restlessness
This week, we celebrate two important feasts in the liturgical year of the Church. On Sunday, we celebrated All Saints’ Day. Today, we mourned the loss while reveling in the promise of Salvation for the souls of our dearly departed on All Souls’ Day. These feasts caused me to reflect upon the power of prayer and its role in living a life of faith.
Austin Prep is unique as an Augustinian school. There are only eleven in North America, and only four have a middle school program. Core to our shared Augustinian heritage is the concept of restlessness - a deepening desire for and pursuit of understanding one’s relationship with God.
One of my favorite authors is British writer-theologian C. S. Lewis, the mastermind behind “The Chronicles of Narnia” series. In “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” we encounter the character of Reepicheep. The mouse’s desire to unite with Aslan, the character symbolizing Christ in the series, captures the sense of restlessness and the Journey that are hallmarks of the Augustinian mission: “My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swin east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the word in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”
In the spirit of Saint Augustine, we nurture this sense of restlessness in students through prayer. One of the prayers frequently shared in our community is a call and response attributed to our patron. The prayer leader will invoke the words, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord.” The assembly will reply in unison, “And our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
Prayer is a central theme of the sixth grade Theology curriculum. Prayer is a dialogue with God. It is not just talking to God; prayer is also about listening. The prophet Samuel replied to God’s call by saying “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). Like the Augustinian prayer that we share so often in our school community, prayer is a call and response, a conversation.
Prayer is powerful because it is about developing one’s relationship with God. Throughout this friendship, God reveals Himself, and we yearn for an even deeper relationship. Like Reepicheep, we grow restless and deepen our desire to pursue God as God likewise pursues us.
During the first quarter, sixth grade students explored various prayerful practices - meditated readings of Scripture, devotions like the Rosary, songs, prayers attributed to various saints, Sacred Art, and, of course, Holy Mass which is the source and summit of Christian life. Melissa Soep ‘27 was moved by the Prayer of Saint Francis. In thinking about the prayer’s message that “it is in giving that we receive,” Soep noted her appreciation of the words: “It was very deep and thoughtful as well as selfless; thinking more about others.”
Students captured their reflections and the prayerful practices that spoke to them by creating their own digital Prayer Corners. Students of other religious backgrounds were similarly engaged by exploring and sharing the prayer heritage of their faith traditions and are excited about sharing those practices with their classmates.
I find the Middle School years to be an exciting period of life. Students are going, growing, and glowing in a number of different ways as they pursue the two fundamental questions of adolescence of who am I and how do I fit in. Projects like the sixth grade Prayer Corner create a context for students to also apply those questions to their spiritual development; to discover prayer’s power to know, love, and serve God in a restless way. Or, in the Augustinian lexicon: to Journey in the spirit of veritas, unitas, and caritas.
- By Mr. Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School
What Makes a Superhero?
On October 14, Middle School students gathered for a superhero-themed Virtual Leadership Summit. Head of Middle School Mr. Michael McLaughlin shared these opening remarks with the assembly.
It isn’t too tough to name a superhero – or even name a half dozen: Batman, Black Panther, Captain America, the Green Lantern, Spiderman, and Wonder Woman.
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and with speed faster than a locomotive, Superman first flew onto the pages of comic books in the 1930s. Superheroes have made a resurgence over the last couple of decades with new movies capturing the interest of a new generation.
As we begin our Middle School Leadership Summit this morning, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what makes a superhero super and heroic? At the core, a superhero may be super because of their abilities and special powers, but what makes them heroic involves something else: what they choose to do with those abilities - the choices that they make.
As I shared during my remarks at your Orientation morning at the beginning of September, the cycle of the Hero’s Journey is an archetype, a motif or theme that appears in a variety of literature or art across time and cultures – or, in this case, across the pages of comic books. Across the Marvel and DC Universes, we encounter this same theme.
From the chronicles of Batman we hear, “It is not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
In the story of Iron Man, we learn, “Heroes are made by the path they choose, not the powers they are graced with.”
Many of the superheroes you have encountered in movies and in comic books have either been born with some special power or ability - like Wonder Woman or Superman - or acquired that ability either by accident – like Peter Parker being bit by a spider - or by being given that power like T’Challa, the Black Panther, when he consumes a special plant in a ritual ceremony.
While these amazing, superhuman abilities allow the superhero to be super, what makes the superhero heroic is their choice to act on those abilities.
The superheroes could have easily used their abilities for personal profit and gain or to wreak havoc on the world like the villains and nemeses they battle. Certainly, the Riddler and Joker would have happily conspired with Batman to profit from unleashing chaos on Gotham City. Certainly, T’Challa could have used Wakanda’s vibranium to create a new world order. Certainly, Wonder Woman could have partnered with Ares to destroy mankind under the cloak of the conflict of World War I.
In each of these cases, the superhero could have used their superpowers for evil, made their sidekicks as minions, co-opted their gadgets for destruction, and contributed more chaos – instead of calm – to a crisis.
Instead, these superheroes chose to use their powers for good – to be heroes. What empowered them to make these choices was that they had something that grounded them, a set of principles, a mission.
We at Austin Prep have a mission. At Austin Prep, our mission is to inspire hearts to unite, minds to inquire, and hands to serve. Our mission goes back nearly 1600 years to the time of one of the greatest saints in the Church – Saint Augustine – and the legacy of his volumes of writing. Our mission goes to the core principles of veritas, unitas, and caritas – to truth, community, and charity. As members of this school community, we need to be thoughtful about how the mission can inform our choices – how we can become heroes.
How is what I am doing advancing knowledge – my own, my classmates, my teachers? How is it honest and truthful?
How is what I am doing contributing to the sense of community? Am I being kind to others? How am I helping others? How am I opening myself up to share with others? How am I contributing to an environment where others feel comfortable sharing themselves and being their authentic self around me?
How can I take my experience and better the world around me? How can I show love and charity through my thoughts, my words, my actions, my habits, my character?
As we go through our morning together, I hope that you grow in your abilities, but also hope that you deepen your understanding of the elements of our mission as that will allow you to make the choices that will reveal the hero within.
To close, I quote Peter Parker – Spiderman, “Whatever comes our way, whatever battle we have raging inside us, we always have a choice. It’s the choices that make us who we are, and we can always choose to do what’s right.”
- By Mr. Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School
Art and Design Expands its Digital Offerings
Austin Prep’s Art and Design program is a dynamic component of the curriculum. Through elective offerings such as music, drama, dance, and visual art, Middle School students learn fundamental techniques, experience the creative process, and showcase their work through a capstone event. Over the summer, faculty worked to develop three new technology-based courses to add to the menu of offerings for Middle School students.
Middle School Coding
The hands-on learning that happens in the Robotics lab is tailor-made for Middle School students. They experience the joy of collaborating with others and the trial-and-error approach to design. The LEGO-based program is a platform familiar to many Middle Schoolers and builds skills that empower students to participate in Austin Prep’s SeaPerch Robotics Program in which students construct robots that operate (and compete) underwater.
With the ability to share supplies and tools curtailed by the need to observe health and safety protocols, Mr. Michael Baccari ‘03 seized the opportunity to create a course focused on Coding. Baccari customized elements from his Upper School courses in Java Programming, AP Computer Science, and Experiential Learning for a cadre of young programmers eager to learn and put coding skills to the test. The course promotes 21st Century skills while likewise kindling an interest in the discipline in Middle School students who have the opportunity to take advanced coursework during their Austin Journey.
The opening lessons of class zeroed in on using technology tools to prepare for success this semester: “For the first couple of classes we got organized and made a blog about school and how we are getting organized for our other classes,” shared Owen Sperling ‘25. “Today, we started to set up CodeHS which is the website we are using to code with. I am looking forward to starting coding soon.”
Shreya Soni ‘27 shared how she anticipates the opening unit on organizational strategies playing into her future ambition of opening up her own Robotics company: “Keeping my future goal in mind, as an entrepreneur, skills like tracking the progress of my team will help avoid the stress of missing the deadline for assigned and ensure that me and my team finish assignments on time and we will be prepared for the next one. This will create a happy and stress-free environment which will result in high efficiency and better productivity.”
Topics in Technology: The Olympics
With the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, students will sustain the Olympic flame through project-based inquiries in their coursework. Students are using those projects to practice different methods of making and delivering presentations with applications such as Adobe Spark and Google Sites. Andre Bashirians ‘26 shared that other lessons are building transferable skills in research like “how to tell if a website is reliable.”
In ancient Greece, the Olympics were part of a festival to honor Zeus. In the modern age, the Olympics provide our world with the opportunity to come together under the banner of sport to exchange ideas, perspectives, and cultures while competing on the international athletic stage. Throughout the course, teachers Mr. Jon Whalen and Mr. Colin Kiley will facilitate students’ exploration of the Games’ ancient origins and modern resurgence - from various athletic events and athletes from across the globe to topics such as the selection of host cities, equity and fairness in the Games, and more.
Students will also learn some of the rules and skills behind several sports and test out those events on the athletic facilities on campus. Andre is also looking forward to the “Austin Olympics Committee” project in which he’ll collaborate with other students to research and deliver a proposal for why a particular country might be the host of a future Olympic Games.
Topics in Technology: Personal Finance & Business
The excitement of Wall Street’s opening bell. The satisfaction of balancing a checkbook. The adrenaline-filled thrill of pitching an idea to potential investors.
Mr. Patrick Costello will guide students in exploring economic themes, skills, and mindsets in a fun and interactive way. The course kicked off with an evolution of technology. Mini units on budgeting and spending, credit and savings, and investment will sharpen students’ business acumen. Later this semester, students’ participation in the Stock Market Game will replicate the excitement of Wall Street’s trading floor.
The project-based course will build up to a summative dive into Austin’s own Shark Tank when students complete an entire design portfolio about an original product or service. Evelyn Surowiec ‘25 is already abuzz about the capstone project: “Something that I am looking forward to doing in this class is to be able to make our own business and possibly make a website for it. That sounds really fun and interesting to me. Something that I hope to gain out of this class is the knowledge of how to pitch a possible business idea to investors and just to learn a little more about the stock market and how it works.”
Students take a class in the Department of Art and Design each semester. The mixed grade classes promote leadership, provide students the opportunity to exercise choice and voice, and allow students the supportive space to take risks in trying and exploring various dimensions of critical and creative thinking.
- By Mr. Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School
P.S. Be on the lookout for stories celebrating lessons and projects from these courses in this blog and on Social Media this year!
Head of Middle School Orientation Remarks
I want to talk to you about heroes and the hero’s journey. First, I need you to think of an epic story – almost any one will do: Harry Potter, Moana, Peter Parker.
In the 1920s, an American professor of literature named Joseph Campbell wrote a book called “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” As a scholar, he examined stories from across the civilizations of the world – tales told in the lofty heights of Machu Picchu and exchanged in the library of Timbuktu in the Mali Empire; epics passed down in the ancient cities of Mesopotamia, across the islands of classical Greece, and traded along China’s great Silk Road; legends shared from one generation to the next under the starry steppes of Mongolia or the Great Plains of North America. Campbell realized that these epic stories followed a similar pattern. He called this pattern “the hero’s journey.”
To sum up a rather lengthy book in a minute: the hero begins at home, in this world, and receives a calling. The hero initially refuses that calling, but eventually, and often through some supernatural occurrence or divine intervention, accepts the call and begins the Journey. The hero is transported into another world where the hero endures a series of trials. Along the way, the hero encounters a mentor and companions. The hero faces obstacles and undergoes a transformation. Armed with new knowledge and self-understanding, the hero encounters a final battle – and usually wins (the hero is usually, well, the hero, right), and then returns back to the original world – where the cycle can then begin again.
So, to review:
Harry Potter receives a letter to Hogwarts – and then a flood of letters. Hagrid eventually brings Harry out of “our” world into the Wizarding World on his motorcycle. Harry encounters a series of mentors – Dumbledore, McGonagle, Sirius – and close companions – Ron, Hermione – and encounters a series of obstacles but also gains understanding of who he is and how to channel the magic within. Seven books later, Harry faces the final last battle with “He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named” armed with the knowledge of the Deathly Hallows and wins before returning back to the new “status quo.”
Dorothy begins her story in Kansas, gets transported by a cyclone to Oz, meets her mentor Glinda, and travels on the Yellow Brick Road with the Scarecrow, Tinman, Lion, and Toto. She facing challenges along the way (the poppies, the powerful Oz, flying monkeys), realizes that the brains, heart, courage, and home are really within her, defeats the Wicked Witch, and clicks her heels together three times to return home.
Frodo leaves the Shire to destroy the Ring of Power, is part of a Fellowship guided by his mentor Gandalf, faces a series of challenges along the way (Gollum), realizes he ultimately cannot destroy the Ring alone, throws the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom, and then returns home to the Shire.
Emmet lives in a world where “everything is awesome.” He has a vision about “the Piece of Resistance,” is transported beyond Bricksburg where Wyldstyle, Vitruvius, Batman, and Unikitty act as companions and mentors helping Emmet to discover that he is “the special.” Emmet unlocks his powers to defeat Lord Business and the “Kragle,” and then returns once more to a life of “awesome.”
Moana is called by the ocean, is encouraged by her grandmother mentor to follow her heart, leaves her home island on a ship, is accompanied by Maui, faces a series of obstacles, has an epiphany, restores the Heart of Te Fiti, and then returns to her home to rule as the next chief.
Luke Skywalker is bored and restless on Tatooine, receives the Call in the form of Princess Leia’s message, insists that he cannot go to Alderaan, eventually accepts the call and with the help of Han Solo and Chewy crosses from his known world into the unknown world aboard the Millennium Falcon, trains with his mentor Yoda (A Jedi he becomes. On his way he is), and then faces his road of trials, light saber in hand, in the form of the Galactic Civil War and his father Darth Vader. Luke eventually has the freedom to live with peace and purpose and continues to help those who need him most.
Do you get the picture? Let’s try one more. The start of this hero’s Journey could really be summed up as follows:
I can hear you but I won't
Some look for trouble while others don't
There's a thousand reasons I should go about my day
And ignore your whispers which I wish would go away,
You're not a voice, you're just a ringing in my ear
And if I heard you, which I don't, I'm spoken for I fear
Everyone I've ever loved is here within these walls
I'm sorry, secret siren, but I'm blocking out your calls
I've had my adventure, I don't need something new
I'm afraid of what I'm risking if I follow you
Into the unknown. Into the unknown. Into the unknown.
Now, if you think you know who I am talking about, you can just “let it go.”
Remember, the cycle of the hero’s journey is just the same story in a different universe and characters – I could be talking about almost anyone right now. I am not talking about Princess Elsa of Frozen fame (but I could).
The hero I want to conclude my remarks with this morning is a young guy who lives in a Roman colony in Northern Africa. He receives “the call” and tries to ignore it. “The call” is persistent – it's Divine. It comes from God, and the call is “Tolle Lege.” Our Latin scholars will tell us this means: “Take up and read.” Our hero goes inside his study and opens the Bible and is so moved by the verse that he reads that he has this transformational moment – he accepts the call. He then travels out of the world he knows to a different world, to Italy where he works with a mentor – Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan – and is surrounded by companions at the Italian city of Cascia who he converses with and talks through a number of philosophical and theological questions. Armed with his pen, he writes prolifically – the equivalent of one 300 page book every year for 30 years – about a number of topics, a road of trials, if you will. He continues to grow in understanding of himself and eventually returns to northern Africa where he becomes Bishop of Hippo.
Today, we regard him as a Doctor of the Church – and his Journey is complete because his restless heart now rests in the heart of the Creator. His name is Saint Augustine – or, in old English, Austin.
But what of your story?
The year is 2020. This morning, 192 students have been called from home by the ringing of a school bell at the start of a school year that will undoubtedly go down in history. Transported here to campus, you will meet mentors and befriend companions, you’ll face challenges, you’ll celebrate successes and cry over heartbreaks and disappointments, you’ll gain insights about yourself – who are you and how do you fit in as a student, as an artist, as an athlete, as a person – and then, one day, that Journey will end and you’ll return back to the world, shaped by your experience here at Austin Prep.
Though the hero’s cycle is the same story, a successful ending is within reach but is not guaranteed. Your choices matter. Make good choices. Make kind choices. And most importantly, be the hero you have been called to be: you.
Have a great year, Austin Prep!
-By Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School