Humanities Academy probes the art and science of learning at Morristown High

Junior Julia Cicero describes her #MeToo project at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Junior Julia Cicero describes her #MeToo project at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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By Marion Filler

Can understanding the process of learning make us learn better?

It sure can, according to John Madden, who, with fellow teachers Matt Daly and Cynthia Laudadio, leads the Humanities Academy at Morristown High School.

At Humanities Night this month, nine students –three freshmen, three sophomores, two juniors and a senior–presented proof, displaying a remarkable variety of projects and describing the processes that conceived them.

The Academy is a four-year program with 50 students “who tend to be creative and are seeking out their passions, and curiosities,” said Madden. Though sometimes compared to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) program, they are not opposites, according to the teacher.

“It’s really about anything you’re interested in pursuing. We teach you how to do that in an effective, efficient, professional way,” Madden said.

The Humanities Academy evolved from the school’s Classics Academy, begun in 2010 to trace modern disciplines back to Greek and Roman classical thought.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click/hover on images for captions:

Freshman Ariel Papas describes her short story project at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
From left, seniors Ashe Gobin and Olivia Bilbault with freshmen Ariel Papas and Sophia Licardi at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Senior Sebastian Meredith describes his web project at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Sophomore Khyli Smith at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Junior Julia Cicero describes her #MeToo project at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Julie Cicero, a junior, presents at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Julie Cicero, a junior, presents at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Poster for student video, at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Student project at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Student project at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Freshman Alexis Fuhr describes her 'Zen Zone' project at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Freshman Sophia Licardi with her 'Zero Waste Granola,' at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Freshman Sophia Licardi presents her sustainability project at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Freshman Ariel Papas with her short stories, at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Freshman Ariel Pappas taught herself script writing for her MHS Humanities project. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Teacher John Madden oversees the MHS Humanities Academy. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Sophomore Khyli Smith describes her finance study at MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlinat MHS Humanities Night, June 6, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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For her Humanities Academy project, sophomore Lena Schmitt wrote Dog Sitters, a 30-minute play performed at the school last month. With a suggested donation of $5, it raised $800 for the Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter for vaccinations and neutering.

“I’ve always loved animals and of course, always loved theater,” said Schmitt, who is going to London for three weeks this summer to study theater with the Center for International Education.

She started writing plays when she was 8- or 9 years old.

“I wrote this one a few years ago and decided to rework it,” Schmitt said, sharing credit with four writers, nine actors, directors, producers, and five people for hair, lighting, and make-up. All cast and crew were from the school.

“This program has given me the time and the space to do amazing things like this and given me the opportunity to open myself to new experiences,” Schmitt said.

Video: “Dog Sitters” by Lena Schmitt, 1 of 2:

Video: “Dog Sitters” by Lena Schmitt, 2 of 2:

Junior Julia Cicero wrote a dissertation, Hollywood’s Transformation: The Casting Couch and #Me Too, reflecting her interest in the law and women’s rights. “It affects each and every one of us and Hollywood is just a microcosm,” she said.

Sophomore Khyli Smith spoke about personal finance and related it to the crisis of 2008.

“It’s a big part of American history and it’s not being taught anywhere,” she said.  Smith surveyed fellow students about the economic meltdown. A frequent answer was: “I just don’t know about it,” which prompted her to design a program around the topic.

Freshman Sophia Licardi was in the hallway sharing a bowl of homemade granola bars. Passionate about the environment, she suggested packaging them in small cotton bags, homemade and reusable, instead of the ubiquitous plastic wrap that is clogging waterways.

For the month of March, Licardi lived a zero-waste lifestyle. Everything she ate and used was recycled or composted. “Convenience is the problem,” she explained. “Toss and go is the motto. We need to take a step back.”

“I love creative writing,” said freshman Ariel Papas, who constantly is filling notebooks with notes written in self-taught longhand.

Sometimes the ideas fall into a pattern, and inspire a narrative. It happened in Becoming Klara Dean, her project for Humanities Night. Papas created a world around her imaginary character, set it in book form, and illustrated it with highly original cartoons and drawings by her and several friends.

“So much talent and so much creativity,” said Principal Mark Manning as he surveyed the enthusiastic crowd of students in the hallways and auditorium. “It’s impressive. The kids are great and the teachers who work with them are dedicated and gifted. I’m really proud.”

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