Middle School Blog

Three months have elapsed since Austin Prep's pilgrimage to Rome and the Choir's opportunity to meet and sing for Pope Francis. How the landscape of Italy - and indeed the world - has changed in that time. This month's issue of Student Group Tour Magazine includes a four-page feature highlighting the Austin Prep Trip this past New Year. I invite you to read about that exciting Journey in the PDF below - it truly was "something to sing about!"

Singing in Rome

                                                         -By Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School

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Like so many others, I had to upend my spring travel plans to comply with the Coronavirus confinement protocols and travel restrictions. I was planning to spend the upcoming Easter holiday in the north of England with friends.

I was devastated to cancel the trip, but I’ve found a number of ways to make the most of the situation from home. I built a Lego architectural model of the London skyline, watched Season 3 of The Crown on Netflix, ordered a takeout of fish and chips, and took a walk through the British-inspired streets of my neighborhood while listening to the Beatles. The time at home has likewise permitted some additional time to read.

Throughout my time at Austin, I’ve taught several Middle School electives in the Department of Art and Design. My favorite has been a Topics in Art History course exploring the “art of monarchy” and stories from British history. One of the British personalities I rediscovered over the past week was the British naval hero Horatio Nelson.

Nelson is a fascinating character. Young adolescents benefit from routine and structure, and Nelson certainly found that when he began his storied career in the Royal Navy just before his 13th birthday. A couple of years later, he displayed the adolescent propensity to take risks when he hopped off his ship near the Norwegian island of Spitzbergen in pursuit of a polar bear. Fortunately for Nelson, the sounding of the ship’s cannon scared the polar bear off.

The most famous story about Nelson is, unfortunately, also the one about his final naval command: the Battle of Trafalgar. After conquering much of Europe, the French general Napoleon Bonaparte turned his eyes to the United Kingdom. The key to Britain’s global empire was her sovereignty of the seas. Napoleon aimed to strike at the Royal Navy, a move that could have placed the imperial prize in his hands.

In 1805, Napoleon amassed a fleet of French and Spanish ships at the Spanish port of Cadiz. The plan he laid out for his admirals was to break through the British Atlantic blockade, join forces with the French fleet at anchor in the Caribbean, and then send an armada through the English Channel in advance of a land invasion. Napoleon’s plan was ambitious, but so too was Nelson’s character.

At sea off the Cape of Trafalgar, Nelson was ensconced on his flagship the HMS Victory. Here, he prepared to execute a bold battle plan. Naval battles were typically fought by the opposing fleets approaching each other in parallel lines and engaging on the ships’ broadsides. Nelson’s plan was to instead approach the Napoleonic fleet perpendicularly and in two lines.

Nelson lured the allied navy from Cadiz to meet the British fleet. Navigating the swelling seas of the Atlantic, the French and Spanish were not prepared for what awaited them on the horizon. On the eve of battle, Nelson commanded his flag lieutenant to send a message to his fleet, a phrase now considered the most famous phrase in naval history: “England expects that every man will do his duty.”                                                

What followed on October 21, 1805 for four hours was one of the most important battles in British history. His Majesty’s Navy drove into the heart of the enemy line, blasting cannon at the lightly defended bows and sterns of Napoleon’s ships while taking on minimal fire from the Combined Fleet. Nelson’s sailors were a well-oiled machine, masters at loading, aiming, and firing their cannon at a considerably quicker rate than the Spanish and French ships.

In the chaos of battle, a French sniper positioned high in the rigging of the Redoubtable aimed his scope on Nelson. The musket bullet struck Nelson at his command post on the quarterdeck, breaking Nelson’s back and entering his lung. Nelson was ferried to the surgery below deck where he died, but did so knowing that his aim had been achieved: Britain would continue to rule the waves.

As I reflected on that famous phrase “England expects that every man will do his duty,” I could not help but draw comparisons to how Austin Prep faculty and students have responded to the challenges that we’ve faced in confronting the Coronavirus. Austin Prep had the confidence that each member of the community would “do their duty.”

When government and health officials asked all schools to transition to a remote learning environment, Austin Prep’s faculty quickly learned a new technological interface. Teachers’ nimbleness and willingness to adapt pedagogy allowed classes to continue as close to “normal” as possible with teachers conducting lessons in realtime and engaging students in conversation about concepts and skills.

Students likewise exercised greater independence in their time management and self-advocacy. I’ve also seen students’ patience and positive attitudes in making the most of the remote learning environment and aiding their teachers and classmates as we all experience this new reality together.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit several virtual classes and was impressed with the creativity of the faculty and the commitment of the students to their courses of study.

Mrs. DiPerna opened her sixth grade Theology class with prayer and explored the story of the Abraham and Sarah. She screen-shared her notes and facilitated a discussion about a piece of sacred art depicting scenes from Genesis.

Mr. Maradei called on students as they calculated equations on acceleration in eighth grade Physical Science while Mr. Regan parsed through problems with his Math students using a whiteboard.

In Ms. Donnelly’s eighth grade Civics class, she moderated a discussion of what it means to be a citizen and highlighted citizens’ rights and responsibilities. Students drew connections to the current Coronavirus crisis, noting the balance between public interest and personal prerogative.

The Art and Design courses have found ways to adapt to the virtual realm. Mrs. Pascucci-Byrne led a barre class for students to practice their ballet positions while Mrs. Scott conferenced with students on their digital art projects through Zoom’s screen share.

World Language classes have benefitted tremendously from the platform. Fluency in a language hinges on the four domains of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The virtual platform has ensured that those first two domains are able to be embedded in the instruction. Ms. Crane used Kahoot! to gamify a review of Mandarin characters.

The English Department led the charge in exploring the break-out room feature on Zoom. In one of Mrs. Putney’s classes, students split into small groups to explore a piece of poetry together. Mrs. Putney was able to join into the various groups to listen in on their conversation and prod their dialogue along with questions just as she would in Room 102. At the end of the activity, the students rejoined the main forum to share their findings. This morning, students began to draft a book review on Google Classroom while Mrs. Putney popped into the student documents to assist with questions as needed.

I’ve enjoyed connecting with my Advisees in the mornings before classes begin. These frequent check-ins mimic the conversations that we had each morning on Willow Street by reviewing the schedule of the day, sharing moments of celebration, addressing procedural questions, and checking in on each other. Later this week, we are going to bring our favorite breakfast item to advisory to “toast” (yes, I’m bringing jam and bread) the end of a full-week of remote learning.

When Nelson broadcast that now-famous message to the British fleet in October, he knew in his heart that the Royal Navy would respond; every sailor would do their best. It is striking over the past week that the Austin Prep community responded in a similar way - students, teachers, parents, and administrators. The signal flags were raised and the community rallied to “do their duty” in confronting the challenges and making the most of opportunities surrounding remote learning. Putting mission first, drawing on experience, and being willing to adapt, Austin Prep continues to sail on.

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                                                                            -by Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School

The flaming heart is an often-used symbol in Augustinian iconography. The heart is pierced by an arrow and sits atop an open book. When I visited Rome with the Austin Choir last month, the familiar image was there in stained glass window in the former Augustinian monastery where several of us enjoyed a lunch overlooking Saint Peter’s Square. Even though I was several thousand miles from campus, I felt a sense of belonging and a shared purpose thanks to that icon.

One doesn’t have to look too hard to find the image of the flaming heart at Austin Prep. As students, faculty, families, and visitors enter the lobby of McLaughlin Hall, they encounter a statue of Saint Augustine holding a heart on fire. The symbol is repeated in the new art installation in the lobby celebrating our Augustinian heritage. In the Chapel of Saint Augustine, the symbol is woven onto the altar clothes and is imprinted on the vestments that our priests wear in the celebration of Mass.

What, though, does this symbol mean? The Midwest Augustinian Province describes the elements of this icon which, as we encountered both in Rome and on Willow Street, can be found in Augustinian schools, parishes, and missions across the world:

The flaming heart is the human heart.  It symbolizes Augustine's love of God and his fellow brothers and sisters.  The Augustinian heart is passionately alive, with the desire to know God and experience divine love in our lives.

The open book represents the Sacred Scriptures and Saint Augustine’s own conversion to Christianity. It symbolizes the Word of God, source of light and truth, and the quest for wisdom.

The arrow which pierces the heart represents the Spirit of God piercing our hearts, calling us to continued growth in faith, hope and love.  This is the basis of that great restlessness, so typical of St. Augustine, which led him to seek God in all things and above all things.

Like all symbols, the icon points to something more. It is a visual representation of our core values of veritas, unitas, and caritas. It is an reminder of the call and response prayer that guides our community on our Journey: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord. And our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” It is a manifestation of our mission “to inspire hearts to unite, minds to inquire, and hands to serve.”

One of my former professors at the University of Notre Dame, Sr. Jane Herb, President of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, shared a reflection recently on the importance of mission and vision for Catholic schools: “Having a vision can be compared to the foundation of a house. Renovations may be made over the years, but the foundation remains the same. Ultimately the upgrades to the house will increase its value, but these upgrades would not have been possible without a solid foundation. What is your solid foundation?“

The image of the flaming heart is Augustinian to the core, pointing to the very roots of what it means to be Augustinian. At Austin Prep, even as we innovate and grow - like the contemporary flaming heart icon of the Augustinian order - we remain committed to a centuries-old tradition of the formation of young women and men to be seekers of truth, welcoming and compassionate members of community, and agents of change.

An attitude of service to others, a character reflective of this weekend’s first reading from Chapter 58 Isaiah, and the carrying out of those acts brings the Augustinian symbols and the mission of our school to life. At Austin Prep, the image of the heart ablaze is not just a reminder of our heritage hanging on the lobby wall, it is a calling and one that is alive in and embraced by our community. With Valentine’s Day being at the end of this week, I spent some time reflecting on the recent ways in which the Austin community has lived out that iconic image of the heart on fire.

Through the month of January, the Austin Prep Chapter of the National Junior Honor Society sponsored a glove drive to benefit the Cor Unum Meal Center in Lawrence. Chapter President Ava Intoppa ‘24 captured the Augustinian spirit of their initiative: “At Austin, the NJHS specifically focuses on the ‘Hands to Serve’ part of our mission, which is why we’ve decided to organize a glove and mitten drive to help those who aren’t as fortunate to have these items in the cold of winter. The drive that we organized was fueled by our desire to help those who eat at Cor Unum, so that, at least for a little while, everybody who comes in to get a meal can leave with not only a full stomach, but a pair of gloves to keep them warm as well. We hope to bring some joy and warmth to someone’s day. With the help of the Austin community, we have received over 130 pairs of gloves.”

Last week, the Austin Prep School community rallied together in a Spirit Week to benefit the cancer patients at Saint Jude’s Hospital. Through students’ collective efforts, they raised over $14,000 in one week, more than doubling the donation that the Student Council raised the previous year. Each day of spirit week included an invitation for our community to support local charitable organizations through the donation of clothing, toiletries, and sports equipment. The boxes overflowing in the lobby under the watchful eye of the statue of Saint Augustine were a testament to the community’s enthusiasm for helping others.

The next time you enter the Austin Prep lobby, no doubt you’ll have a new appreciation for the Augustinian iconography of the heart on fire. I invite you, though, to walk further through the halls of campus and reflect on the photographs hanging on the walls, memories of stories and moments like the ones described above that capture milestones of a manifested mission on our Journey.

                                                                -by Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School

On Wednesday evening, sixth grade students and their families celebrated the opening of Austin Prep Middle School’s Fourth Annual Egyptian Museum. Students guided their parents, siblings, extended family and friends through a series of exhibits they created for an installation in the Gathering Room and Murphy Art Gallery.

Sponsored by the Departments of History, English, and Theology, the annual Egyptian Museum is one of the special programs that punctuates the academic life in the Middle School. The preparation for the Museum drew students’ scholarship into focus. The interdisciplinary work encouraged students to draw from multiple perspectives and modes of thought to grapple with a topic. Indeed, this is the aim of a liberal arts education.

The Sixth Grade History course is entitled Becoming Historians. Each quarter, the content students explore becomes the vehicle to practice social studies skills like reading a map, interpreting charts, evaluating sources, and presenting information. Students tie these skills to careers like cartographers, archeologists, and, with the Egyptian Museum, curators and docents.

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Throughout the past couple of weeks, Ms. Alicia Varraso, History Faculty, facilitated students completing a series of in-class projects. Students worked collaboratively to construct a pyramid based off of a specific one at Giza. Each student was responsible for creating a representation of an Egyptian artifact such as an amulet, canopic jar, or farming tool and for writing an explanation card. For the cartography exhibit, students created detailed maps of the Nile River Valley and the expansion of the Egyptian Empire. Students also tried their hand at hieroglyphs and Egyptian symbology in creating original tomb paintings.

Mrs. Leeann Blais, English Faculty, and Mrs. Maureen DiPerna, P’08, Theology Faculty, deepened students’ understanding of ancient Egyptian civilization through lessons in their classes.

Mrs. Blais helped students select a book focused on Egypt. Whether it was a series of Egyptian myths, a biography of a pharaoh, or a work of fiction, each selection was personalized to maximize student interest in a given topic. 

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After reading their selection, students created video book talks. Students went through the process of brainstorming, storyboarding, filming, and editing through iMovie and similar applications on their iPads. At the Museum, visitors were able to scan QR codes to access students’ videos - a couple even received a nomination for an Austie Award, Austin Prep’s version of the Academy Awards for student work in film.

In Theology, students have been reading the Old Testament and discussing the lives and times of the patriarchs. Students worked in small groups to create displays about polytheism in Egyptian culture and how the monotheistic faith of the Hebrew people differed from that belief system. Students explored the migration of the tribes of Israel to Egypt during the life of Joseph and were introduced to the figure of Moses. Students will dive deeper into this Scripture during the upcoming Lenten season.

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The highlight of the Museum was walking through the space with our sixth grade students. Students explained the different elements of the Museum to their visitors and demonstrated their detailed knowledge of this ancient Civilization. In addition, each student was an expert on a selected topic and were thrilled to share extended commentary about the mummification process, Egyptian cotton, or the Great Sphinx. Several students even got into character with Cleopatra discussing her travels to Rome and King Tut promoting the upcoming exhibition of the treasures of his tomb in Boston this summer.

Congratulations to the Class of 2026 on a job well done!

                                                         -by Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School

It’s been said that all roads lead to Rome. The iconic ruins of the mighty Roman Empire stand in the midst of a vibrant city that must be walked through, listened to, and tasted. Rome is also home to the smallest nation on the planet: Vatican City. For choral ensembles, few opportunities can compare with traveling to and performing in this special place.

Over the 2019 Christmas holiday, I had the opportunity to accompany the Austin Prep Choir on a week-long pilgrimage to Rome. This experience was an incredibly moving journey. The Choir sung the Mass of the Solemnity of the Holy Family at the Altar of the Chair of Saint Peter celebrated by Cardinal Comastri, Archpriest of Saint Peter’s Basilica. We joined the throngs of faithful pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square for the Pope’s Sunday Angelus and joined in his celebration of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on New Year’s Day. The highlight of the trip was undoubtedly the unique opportunity to meet and sing for Pope Francis on New Year’s Eve!

I think that the photo of sixth grader Emerson best captures the joy and excitement that we all felt in meeting the Holy Father. After Pope Francis celebrated the New Year’s Eve Vespers, he came out into Saint Peter’s Square to greet the pilgrims who had assembled around the Vatican Nativity Crèche. The Austin Prep Choir’s singing and red choral robes attracted the Pope’s attention, and he made his way to the choir to listen to the Christmas hymns and greet our students. Emerson extended her hand to the Pope who clasped it and smiled as he saw our Austin Prep banner. His warm blessing was quite a remarkable way to end 2019.

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Photo Courtesy of Vatican Media Services

 

Indeed, it was a privilege to be able to share in this Journey with a number of other Middle Schools students and their families. Jared shared some of the lessons he learned in his Latin class as we visited ancient imperial sites like the Coliseum and Roman Forum. Lauren and Lily began their Latin studies this year and were curious about putting their language skills to the test in decoding inscriptions on churches and other buildings. It was amazing to see how seventh grader Joe beamed with pride at watching his older sister perform and witness the care he took in looking after his grandmothers who accompanied us on our pilgrimage. It was an incredible blessing to sit alongside siblings Stephen and Paula and their parents for the Papal Mass on New Year’s Day. From our vantage point in the second row, we were immersed in the splendor of the liturgical celebration - and were even able to wave a hello to our school chaplain Father Patrick Armano, one of the 200 priests concelebrating the Mass.

The opportunity to travel to Rome was an incredible experience for our students and the extended Austin Prep community. The Austin Choir is integral to the liturgical life at Austin Prep. Through this trip, students were able to share the gift of Sacred Song at the heart of the Catholic Church and similarly be inspired through their travels.

I invite you to read more about the Rome pilgrimage by checking out the daily travel blog from our trip. Our 2019 winter Journey is the first of what we know will be many international opportunities for our Choir. I hope that you’ll consider sharing your voice with the ensemble; after all, it was our patron Saint Augustine who is to have said “one who sings prays twice.”

                                                               -by Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School

December is a special time on campus filled with many Christmas traditions that speak to the sense of community at Austin Prep.

·         The Middle School Student Council planned a fun “Ugly Christmas Sweater Dance Party,” an annual event complete with photos by the trees and poinsettia plants in the main foyer.

·         Students and families joined for a standing-room only celebration of our Lessons and Carols. A number of Middle School students added their voices to the Chorus or shared their talent in music with our Band. The Band’s “Appalachian Snowfall” was a spectacular musical setting that brought down the house!

·         Last week, families enjoyed sipping hot cocoa and eating cookies with Santa in the Dining Hal.

·         The 12 Days of Christmas Challenge sponsored by Student Life inspired conversations among faculty and students.

·         Through the door-decorating contest this week, we’ve decked the halls!

·         Over the weekend, our production of “The Nutcracker Suite,” showcased the artistry of accomplished dancers and the emerging enthusiasm of those exploring dance for the first time.

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·         This morning, we gathered in Meelia Hall to sing a couple of Christmas carols before sharing treats at the annual Headmaster’s Christmas Open House.

I hope that the joy and community that we’ve shared on campus will be among the gifts that our students bring home with them this Christmas break. May your holiday be filled with love, laughter, and the great promise of a new year!

  

                                                                                -by Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School

Austin Prep seniors Lauren Sabolone and Emily Hickey have been friends from the start. They entered Austin together and they’ll go down in Austin history as “lifers,” students whose Austin Journey began in the sixth grade. In Middle School, Lauren and Emily were the two-time champions of the annual Halloween Contest with their matching costumes. On Main Street in Disney World this week, wearing matching Mickey Ears, they celebrated their Austin Journey and what’s next in store. Lauren is heading to Princeton where she’ll play on their softball team. Emily will be studying at the Citadel where she’ll also be pole vaulting on their Track and Field Team.

This week, Austin Prep’s Senior Class of 2020 flew to Walt Disney World for the annual Senior Class Trip. When I arrived at Austin five years ago, half of these students were in our eighth grade. We traveled to Washington, D.C. together and navigated their transition from Middle School to Upper School. It was rewarding to journey with these students once again and celebrate their continued growth as young men and women of promise, perspective, and passion.

As we experienced the Magic Kingdom together, I asked students to reflect back on some of their Middle School memories to share in this week’s blog - a little reflection on the “Magic in the Middle.”

Lauren Barry and Devon Robinson recalled their sixth grade Project Adventure Day and being a part of the “drummer group.” The Project Adventure program is one of a series of intentional ways of living the Augustinian charism of Unitas, or community. The Senior Class Trip follows in this vein, providing students with a shared experience to mark their time and make memories.

Jenna Albanese vividly recalled the memory of her very first day of classes at Austin: Mrs. Blais’s Seventh Grade English class. “She took us outside for relay races and ice breakers - best first day ever!”

“Try something new,” was advice Sophia Freeman shared about making the most of the Middle School experience. In Middle School, Sophia joined the Art Club and discovered several things: she loved art and is talented in creating it. Her Middle School experiences inspired her to pursue the visual arts in Upper School.

Jonathan Whooley spoke about how things have come full circle. He had Mrs. Doreen Fuller as a Math Teacher in Middle School. He recalled Mrs. Fuller encouraging students to “Stay in Fenway Park,” her code for keeping students focused and working methodically through equations. Jonathan has Mrs. Fuller as a teacher again this year and is excited that she is sharing in the Disney experience with this class.

Jessie Spada and Sophie Hampoian shared a similar story. They recalled Mrs. Choate and Ms. Greenwood chaperoning their Eighth Grade Class Trip to DC and are now traveling with them to Disney.

Liam Goddard, Tim Norton, and Evan Zonderman remembered their Eighth Grade Class Trip to DC too! Though their social network grew as the Class of 2020 doubled in freshman year, they are still friends with the guys who they roomed with and could be found piling into rides and rollercoasters together throughout the week.

Will Lawson smiled as the Senior Class enjoyed a memorable dinner in the World Showcase at Epcot on Friday evening. “This dinner reminds me a lot of the Middle School BBQ going into eighth grade. It was an opportunity to begin to make friends and celebrate that we’re part of this school together. Now, five years later, we’re toasting our senior class and those friendships that we all enjoy with each other.”

I’m excited to witness the continued leadership of the Senior Class in the classroom as well as on the basketball court, ski slopes, stage, track, and ice rink this winter. They are inspiring role models for our Middle School students that dreams can and do come true with hard work, a supportive community, and, perhaps, just a little bit of magic!

                                                                                -by Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School

As millions of Americans take to the friendly skies or the highways this Thanksgiving holiday, I think back to Austin Prep’s epic adventure to Australia and New Zealand I was fortunate to lead this summer. A dozen students joined me and Mrs. Filadoro P’22, ‘23, Spanish Faculty, for a two week tour of “the Land Down Under.” One of my hobbies is writing, and I’ve been lucky to freelance travel pieces over the years for Group Tour Media. This month’s issue of the Student Tour Magazine included a four-page feature highlighting the Austin Prep Trip and the stories that us travelers have as souvenirs. I invite you to read about that exciting Journey in the PDF below.

Austin in Australia

                                                                                 -by Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School

On Tuesday, November 19, Austin Prep welcomed 24 seventh and eighth grade students as the newest member of the Austin Prep Chapter of the National Junior Honor Society. The five pillars of the Society are scholarship, service, leadership, citizenship, and character. I delivered congratulatory remarks on the pillar of character as illustrated by the life of Welles Crowther, the heroic subject of our summer community read of “The Red Bandanna.” I have included my remarks as this week’s Middle School Blog post.

Mr. McLaughlin’s Remarks for the 2019 NJHS Induction Ceremony

"If you aspire to great things, begin with the little ones." Our sage patron, Saint Augustine, penned these words over 1500 years ago, and his wisdom still holds true today. The small things that you do every day matter. The idea is a universal one. For example, Laozi, the father of Taoism, wrote “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” We also hear this in the Gospel of Luke: The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” In short, the little things matter – and are predictive of bigger things, like how you’ll respond when pushed to your mettle. 

This evening, I would like to reflect on the life of a young man who can help us to understand Saint Augustine’s quote. A man who did a number of little things right every day, and who, when presented with the ultimate choice of how he would live the final minutes of his life, selflessly fulfilled his destiny and became a hero.

On May 14, 2014, at the dedication of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, President Barack Obama had this to say of this hero: “And then there came a voice. Clear, calm, saying he had found the stairs. A young man in his twenties, strong, emerged from the smoke, and over his nose and his mouth he wore a red handkerchief… He called for fire extinguishers to fight back the flames. He tended to the wounded. He led those survivors down the stairs to safety, and carried a woman on his shoulders down seventeen flights. Then he went back. Back up all those flights… bringing more wounded to safety. Until that moment when the tower fell. They didn’t know his name. They didn’t know where he came from. But they knew their lives had been saved by the man in the red bandanna.”

"Welles Crowther was just twenty-four years old, with a broad smile and a bright future. He had a big laugh, a joy of life, and dreams of seeing the world. He worked in finance, but he had also been a volunteer firefighter. And after the planes hit, he put on that bandanna and spent his final moments saving others.”

Early in the book, “The Red Bandanna,” we are introduced to Welles and his trademark red bandanna together. When Welles was about seven, his dad initially gave him a red bandanna to keep in his back pocket to use if he had to blow his nose at church. From then on, Welles always carried a red bandanna in his pocket – and the red bandanna transformed into a reminder about the kind of guy Welles was. In his athletic activities with the Valley Cottage Indians Welles was described as “the try-hard guy, the striver, the kid wringing out whatever ability he had through practice and will.” Welles put in effort every day – the small things mattered, angmd those little things empowered him to do big things in every field. The red bandanna was a reminder of that for him. He carried it everywhere, whether in his hockey or lacrosse helmet, in his work as a junior firefighter, or when he arrived in Chestnut Hill as a student at Boston College. 

The red bandanna even made its way to Wall Street where Welles climbed the ranks of the investment firm of Sandler O’Neill. His colleague Natalie McIver sensed that Welles was different  - and it wasn’t just because of his red bandanna. As we read in the book “he didn’t have the air of a man passing through or biding his time. The work was demanding, and that suited Welles just fine. The hours were often long and stressful, but Welles showed little wear. Even in the busiest weeks, he kept his sense of wonder about where he worked, at the nerve of the financial world, 1,126 feet up in the sky”

We go on to read that “Most people in the office had no idea he carried it, or what its origins were. But those like Natalie, who worked close to him in those first few months at Sandler, recalled it clearly. Whenever someone needed something extra done, said Natalie, some deadline beaten, some thorny issue solved, ‘Someone would just say, ‘Hey, Wells, can you do…?; Anything. Fill in the blank. ‘Hey you’ve got to solve this, fix this trade report…’’ In a dramatic gesture, Welles would reach for the bandanna on his desk or in his pocket, lift it above his head, and wave it in the air. ‘He would say, ‘This is where the magic comes from’’ Natalie recalled. Other times ‘I’m a superhero.’ And once, facing some tall task, he lifted the bandanna, stood up from his chair, and made a preposterous declaration that Natalie never forgot. ‘I’m going to save the world.”’

Welles’ attitude – his enthusiasm, optimism, and willingness to not only give things a try but to solve problems and persevere when things were tough – are attributes that we can look to bring into our own work as students and teachers at Austin Prep. The small things matter – as Saint Augustine wrote “If you aspire to great things, begin with the little ones.”

Welles did save the world – for a dozen people, he was a savior – leading folks out of the 78th Floor Sky Lobby in the South Tower down the stairwell and eventually working alongside the Fire Command Post in the Main Lobby when the South Tower eventually collapsed less than an hour after the plane struck it.

In his final moments, Welles wasn’t thinking about the Pythagorean theorem, lines of Shakespeare, or the war of 1812. I’m sure he learned about all of those things at Boston College, but that knowledge did not define him. Rather, he drew from the deep well of his character, one that had been formed and forged in the furnace of his heart over a lifetime. That is what we strive to do with you at Austin Prep: to ignite and kindle that flame in your heart that will be your beacon in this life. It is my prayer for you and all students that the fire is lit and that it will burn brightly.

Our summer reading book concluded with a charge and a dream that I’d like to close these remarks with this evening: “Welles didn’t know it – nobody did – but in many ways, he had been preparing to save those lives in the South Tower his entire life. His instinct had always been to be a helper, whether he was cleaning the Empire Hook and Ladder Company No 1 fire truck at eight years old, preventing a friend from getting in a fight in high school, or filling out his application to become a New York City firefighter as an adult working on Wall Street. On September 11, 2001, Welles made a choice that was second nature to him to help as many people as he could. And that choice is something everyone can learn from.”

 "We all face choices every day. We choose how to treat our parents, our siblings, our friends and peers. We choose when to speak up and when to be silent, when to fight and when to make peace. Often, these choices are small and might seem trivial. But they make us who we are. Welles’s final choice was to help. The next time you see a red bandanna, remember Welles – and imagine what the world would be like if we all chose to be helpers.”

                                                                                         -by Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School

One of my favorite places to visit in the Middle School wing is Room 105 – the home of my colleague Mrs. Leeann Blais. Throughout her time as a sixth and seventh grade English teacher at Austin, Mrs. Blais has amassed a YA Literature collection that rivals my local library! I enjoy stopping by her classroom for a book recommendation – and to borrow a book or two.

Mrs. Blais keeps her finger on the pulse on the latest trends in YA Lit. She regularly reads up on YA Blogs, corresponds with librarians, and attends workshops highlighting new releases. I’m proud of Mrs. Blais for her 2018 Summer Sabbatical in which she traveled to Texas to participate in a National Symposium on YA Reading. She has also inspired other teachers from across the region through her presentations at the New England League of Middle Schools Annual Conference.

What is perhaps most impressive, however, is how Mrs. Blais has ignited that excitement for reading and recommending books in her students. Mrs. Blais has a cadre of student librarians. I’ve often found these voracious readers culling the collection, managing the student-borrower software, and making recommendations about what to read next.

This week, I came away with a copy of Erin Entrada Kelly’s novel You Go First, a story told in dual perspectives that explores themes like family, art, words, and friendship. I read Kelly’s Hello, Universe earlier in the year and was happy to see another title in Mrs. Blais’ collection.

Mrs. Blais is a firm believer that the difference between someone who reads and someone who is a reader is that a reader has a plan of what they will read next. Before I left her classroom, she shared a couple of synopses for me to consider:

A fascinating sci-fi adventure where good friends Iris and Celesti face the evil Mr. Z in his nefarious attempt to control the whole universe! Will they save the day? We'll all have to wait to find out! 

A harrowing tale of survival, loss, and hope. Rico is a young man living in the state of Florida when the biggest hurricane of the decade hits. His family is torn apart in the floods and each must focus on finding their way to the safe zones. Will Rico survive? Will he be able to keep his family together?

 A clue-like murder mystery in which Jennifer fakes her own death in an attempt to determine the suspect! Every reader will be glued to the edge of their seats! What will become of Jennifer?

Those all sounded interesting. When I asked about who the authors were, Mrs. Blais smiled and shared “our students.” Each synopsis was of a current work in progress by our amateur Middle School authors.

Good writers are, at the core, good readers. This is the second tenet of Mrs. Blais’s credo. She has individual conversations about their book lists and encourages them to explore different genres. She coaches each student to develop as a reader by personalizing book recommendations. She is also an incredible listener and believes that each person has a story to tell. Mrs. Blais inspires students not only to consume books but also to create them.

In Austin Prep’s seventh grade, November is known as NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. Every seventh grader is challenged to write a minimum 10,000-word novel over the course of the month. All told, the grade is expected to write at least 410,000 words – over 900 pages – in November. On November 14, the total word count was 196,224. The students of the Class of 2025 is on track to meet and exceed their goal.

Students are putting lessons on characterization, elements of plot, perspective, and setting into practice as they craft their story. Through various writing challenges in November, students are tackling such nuances as the balance between narration and dialogue or establishing a mood for a scene. Over the next two weeks, students will advance their plots and bring the suspense of each story to its conclusion.

In December, the students will spend time on the important work of revising and editing. They will examine how to properly punctuate dialogue. With feedback from Upper School students in the Austin Prep Writing Center – some of whom are undertaking writing 50,000-word novels in their Creative Writing elective – they will revise sentence structure, unify the style of their work, and embed foreshadowing into the stories.

I can’t wait to finish You Go First so that I can dive into a novel penned by one of our Middle School writers. I’m excited to plan the Austin Authors’ Breakfast with Mrs. Blais to celebrate students’ work while also picking out my next book to read!

                                                                                         -by Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School

Austin Prep’s dozen Art and Design electives all have a performance or production component. This objective makes student learning authentic and the time spent in rehearsal rewarding. This week, Mrs. Marla Pascucci-Byrne’s Middle School dance courses took their first quarter choreography projects on tour with an exclusive production for the residents of the Advinia Senior Living Center in Wilmington.

Throughout the first quarter, students thought about what it would take to produce a show “on the road.” What costumes would they need? Who would perform in each number? How might the order of songs keep the audience engaged? Or give the performers enough time to change costumes? Students learned choreography, mapped out the production, and coordinated logistics. Eighth grade students who took Dynamic Dancers previously stepped into leadership roles.

Residents enjoyed the song and dance as their morning social activity at Advinia. Eighth graders Jaya Gupta, Ava Intoppa, and Jillian McAuley sung Broadway show tunes from “Aladdin,” “Wicked,” and “Annie,” while seventh grader Anika Mittal shared a traditional Indian dance complete with a beautifully embroidered costume. Ensemble numbers like “Footloose” and “Thriller” were fun for both performers and the audience alike. The students also previewed the choreography they have been rehearsing for Austin Prep’s annual production of “The Nutcracker” which is set to open on the Meelia Hall Stage at Austin Prep on December 14 and 15.

The morning’s traveling production was authentic, project-based learning at its finest. More importantly, the showcase was an opportunity for students to live out our Augustinian charism of caritas in spending time with the Advinia residents and sharing the gift of dance.

Take a bow, Dynamic Dancers. We look forward to your encore performance!

                                                                                    -by Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School

                                    

The banker Caecilius lives in the Roman port of Pompeii. He operates his business in the bustling forum. A merchant named Hermogenes visits his stall to borrow money and offers his ship as collateral. When Hermogenes suspiciously runs from the forum with the loan, Caecilius has second thoughts about the merchant’s integrity. Caecilius turns to the Roman law courts for justice!

Latin students past and present are familiar with the character of Caecilius (who, in the 21st Century, even has his own Twitter handle!). Using stories set in the sprawling Roman Empire and at climatic moments in its history, such as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., the Cambridge Latin series introduces Latin students to the Classical world.

Recently, sixth grade students translated the story about Caecilius’ dealings with Hermogenes for homework. They arrived in class ready to share their translations and respond to questions about the story. The episode ended with a little suspense as Caecilius decides to sue Hermogenes.

When Middle School Latin teacher Mrs. Heather Veit displayed the next story to her class, students remarked that it looked like a play script.

“Can we act this out?” a student asked. The rest of the class echoed enthusiastic support.

Of course, Mrs. Veit had anticipated this reaction when she designed her lesson! She broke the class into small groups to create film adaptations of the dialogue. Students grabbed togas and tunics and assumed characters. Over the next thirty minutes, students planned and rehearsed. Students discussed what the lines meant, how to pronounce words, and how to inflect the dialogue. Using their iPads, students filmed, critiqued their performance, and spliced their footage together.

Learning a language is best achieved through a holistic approach: one that involves reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The digital storytelling hook animated students and engaged them with the material. Throughout their rehearsal and production process, students thought critically about the material and how to make the Latin language come to life. This student-centered approach facilitated opportunities for students to teach each other, sharing the translation of words or how a particular line might be delivered. This textual analysis is a transferable skill that students can bring with them to other classes just as grammar work from English informs students’ Latin studies.

When students next meet for class, they will screen their finished movies for their classmates. I’ll have to be sure to bring my popcorn!

                                                                           by Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School

 

 

Walking through the Flamingo Flats aviary, Shiv and his research team entered Stone Zoo’s Caribbean Coast habitat. One flamingo’s honk can get the entire flock squabbling – and that is precisely what Shiv recorded in his observation notebook as a chorus of flamingos drowned out the songs of the scarlet ibises and colorful macaws. Strutting through the shallow waters of their habitat, the flamingo flock was a sight to behold with striking, salmon-colored plumage and pink legs and feet. “The birds were beautiful, and each species had a unique sound,” Shiv shared with me. “We had to use all of our senses as we spent time making our observations. Writing about my sense of smell was easy: the flamingo habitat had a pretty strong odor!” 

Stories like Shiv’s have been the talk of seventh grade science classes these past few days as students processed their recent class field research trip to the Stone Zoo. 

Science Chair Mrs. Maria Blewitt designed and led a research opportunity for seventh graders to work collaboratively and think big. “Science lends itself to immersion and hands-on learning,” Maria said. “Why read about the Mexican Gray Wolf’s howl when you can hear it or look at a picture of a Colubus monkey when you can instead watch it swing from tree to tree in person?” Located less than eight miles from Austin Prep, Zoo New England’s campus at the Stone Zoo became a “living laboratory” for our Middle School students last week.

Prides, Ambushes, and Sloths, Oh My!

While it doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!,” that heading is nevertheless a reminder of a key facet of Middle School: the importance of groups. Young adolescents seem wired for sociability. Indeed, one of the two key questions that drive the “work” of adolescence is “Where do I fit in?” It is not a question to answer in isolation.

Tapping into students’ proclivity to interact with peers, Maria divided the seventh grade into nine research teams of four or five students. A faculty member accompanied each team on their zoo safari.

The students’ first task was to define science vocabulary in context. Students trekked through the Zoo on the hunt for real-life examples of adaptations, mammals, carnivores, symbiosis, habitats, and predators as they rounded out their definition of each term.

The research teams then conducted thirty-minute observations of an assigned animal at one of the Zoo’s habitats. Students made sketches, jotted down behaviors, and recorded information gleaned from the interpretive displays. Several students interviewed zookeepers about animal care and conservation work. The teams then selected another animal to observe – the Cougar (our mascot) was a popular choice!

Collaborative lessons like our seventh graders’ research at that Zoo provide students with an outlet to be a part of a group and learn from others. As students shared their habitat observations with research team members, they affirmed their own work and considered new perspectives.   

Authenticity and Action

"When will I use this?” Middle School students have bemoaned that refrain for years! Students crave relevancy: an opportunity to put content and skills into action. 

This past week, students worked with their research teams to inventory their observations from the Zoo and create ethograms, a scientific catalogue of the animal behaviors students observed during their site visit. Later this year, the students will return to the Zoo to obtain a second data set to use as the foundation for comparative analysis. The students plan to share their work and experience with the Zoo’s education team.

Throughout the year, Mrs. Blewitt and colleague Mrs. Durkee will challenge seventh graders to think big. The fall trip introduced students to the scientific field of Zoology and the host of careers within that world. Students also began to consider questions related to sustainability and conservation, both important to the mission of Zoo New England. Students are actively learning about the natural world and the impact of their actions.

Sparking student interest in the natural world is just one animation of Austin’s mission of “inspiring minds to inquire.” I’m excited to see the work of these citizen-scientists in the classroom this year and for the work of teachers like Mrs. Blewitt who develop innovative programming to ignite Middle School students’ curiosity.

                                                                                    by Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School

 

Over the Columbus Day weekend, I had the opportunity to relax with family on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. I enjoyed a quintessentially New England panorama. A colorful canvas blanketed the landscape - the picture echoed in the calm waters of the lake. The hills had erupted with a riot of vibrant colors as green leaves gave way to fall foliage of radiant reds, yellows, and oranges. On the distant horizon, I spied the towering peaks of the White Mountains.

As I reflected on the scenery around me, I thought about how the changing leaves of New Hampshire mirror the changes I’ve observed in our Middle School students this fall. Students have traded in the “greenness” of the new school year for a new hue - trying new classes, activities, and experiences. 

Just as in nature, this “turning time” manifests in different ways and at different times for each student. It is that very reality that makes working with Middle School students so dynamic and exciting. 

As unique as each student’s personal Journey is, a common thread binds these stories together. Central to the picture are our Augustinian values of veritas, unitas, and caritas - truth, unity, and love - which, like the granite of New Hampshire, are the bedrock of Austin Prep.

Veritas

Middle School students are fun to teach! They have a natural curiosity and inquisitiveness about the world and a desire to take what they’ve learned and apply it. The last few weeks have been busy with field experiences off campus for students to garner fresh insights as they bridge the connection between the classroom and life beyond campus.

The eighth grade Civics curriculum includes a deep dive into the American Revolution. Recently, students visited the Boston Tea Party Ships where they “huzzahed” their way through history in joining a town meeting, boarding one of the tea ships, and hurling the “pernicious weed” into Boston Harbor. In Lexington and Concord, other students met with National Park Service Rangers and costumed guides to learn about the fateful events that transpired on Battle Road in April, 1775. Another group is set to visit the Museum of Fine Arts later this month to explore the role of art in the Revolution. Through these immersive experiences, students considered big questions like the importance of preserving and sharing our historical heritage.

This week, grade seven will spend a day applying science vocabulary in context at the Stone Zoo. They’ll also practice the skills of observation and comparison through a research experience at two different animal habitats. Grade six will spend Wednesday at the Museum of Science, focusing their visit on exhibits about the solar system and capping their visit with time in the Planetarium. Just as students are considering how historical skills are tied to careers in their Becoming Historians class, field experiences like the one at the Museum of Science both places skills and content in context and introduces students to various career fields in science.

Unitas

In the fall, Friday Night Lights are as much a part of autumn as apple pies and pumpkin spice. Middle School attendance at our home football games is a fantastic expression of community. Watching the game from the top deck, I’ve observed students in the stands socializing with each other and beaming with school spirit.

As the fall sports season continues and friendships among the students deepen, I’m excited to see community manifest in other ways like cheering on peers at our Middle School soccer matches or along the route of the Cross Country course, a thunderous applause at the fall drama production, and the camaraderie students enjoy around the lunch tables in our Dining Hall.

Caritas

Artis Senior Living on Main Street in Reading opened its doors about three years ago. Artis is a residential facility with a unique mission of providing care and community to people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. I had read about the facility in The Andover’s magazine and reached out to the Executive Director about exploring a partnership between Austin Prep and the residence. When Artis opened its doors, it housed four residents - a number which matched perfectly with the four Middle School students who responded to that initial call for volunteers.

Since that time and under the direction of Austin Prep’s Service Coordinator Mrs. Katie Brenninkmeyer, the cohort of Artis volunteers has grown. Each Wednesday, Mrs. Brenninkmeyer drives a full bus load of Austin Prep students to play games and share stories with residents. Students complete a training to learn about dementia and how to interact with residents before they begin their volunteer work. In this regard, students who are a part of the Artis Club make a commitment to make repeated visits to Artis over the course of the semester, far surpassing their service hours requirement.

Programs like the Artis Club help students take their gifts and share them with others - extending the mission of Austin Prep beyond campus and out into the community.

I look forward to sharing more stories from our Middle School Journey in the year ahead.

                                                                                        by Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School