Atrium School

Excellence with Joy

PreK Science Starts With Wonder

At Atrium, PreK students are encouraged to ask, "Why?" as often as they can. By noticing and wondering, Originators are able to understand more about the world around them while building fundamental skills for future science learning.

"In PreK, we focus on asking questions with the understanding that 'I don’t know' is a great answer because you can always find out!" said PreK teacher Mia Bullock. "In practice, we create both structured and unstructured activities that provide the opportunity to explore and question. The hope is that the world around them will become accessible." 

Originators study life science through monthly observation of the growth and change of their class tree. Students visit the tree monthly, sketching changes to the tree through the seasons and making changes on the tree on their classroom wall. At the same time, students track their own growth through a growth chart and monthly self-portraits.

In the spring, they will raise ladybugs and butterflies, observing and measuring their growth from eggs to their full-grown state. In winter, they read about different animals and how they adapt to the changes in weather. The class compared the life of woodland animals to their own, relating fur coats to winter jackets and mittens. Throughout the year, the class visits Willow Pond at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, looking for changes in the environment to learn to appreciate nature and their surrounding community. How have things changed? How have we changed? These are the continuing questions.

Aside from the science connected to the class theme, "What is Change?", PreK science curriculum is fluid. Through wonder and exploration, students are able to discover more about their world, from their bodies to space. At the beginning of the year, the class was learning about their bodies and exploring their five senses: touching, tasting, smelling, listening to, and looking at different materials. As students practiced making observations, they realized that their senses help them interact with the world around them. With hands and all their senses on materials, they also think about the shape of what they care coming to know.

Originators are currently studying space. They spend time studying each part of the solar system, starting with the Sun, reading books and doing puzzles about the planets, as well as painting a version of each one in class. "We wonder about each planet, asking questions and answering them using resources in our classroom. Our art, literacy, math, dramatic play and sensory table all connect to our space unit. Based on interest, we spent extra time on the Sun exploring shadows and 'What makes night and day?'" Mia said. 

 Originators used rayographs to study the way shadows are made by the Sun.

Originators used rayographs to study the way shadows are made by the Sun.

"Our classroom environment is filled with materials and resources for the students to explore and investigate," Mia said. "We have books on animal tracks that a student might read and then wonder about why certain animals have claws and why a track is wider or narrower. As teachers, we encourage the students to explore these wonderings, maybe creating an animal in the craft area, or making footprints in the sand table or building a habitat in the block area."

Students have explored physical science by exploring the states of matter (solids, liquids and gases). They read books, describe and compare different materials, move their bodies around the room like the molecules in the different states of matter, and create art using materials in various states. This exploration connects students to the world around them.

Mia said, "In connection to a unit on transportation, a student asked, 'Why does a boat float?' We then explored sinking and floating. We tested and experimented with different materials, seeing which would hold more weight and if material or shape had more of an effect on ability to float."

If you ask the students about what they're learning, they will happily tell you. When asked about the class tree and the changing seasons, Tim said, "The first time, there were leaves on the tree. Then they fell off and then the snow came and fell down, and then melted, and now there are buds."

When asked about planets, Maya said, "The Sun is 93 million miles away from the Earth, but it only takes eight minutes for the sun to get here. More than one million Earths can fit in the Sun. The interesting thing is that Mercury is too hot because it is so close to the Sun. If we went there, we would burn on one side and die on the other because it's too cold. Venus has clouds made of poison and ground made of lava so you can't walk on it. You can't breathe the air on Venus."

"As four to five-year-olds, they are eager to make sense of the world around them," Mia said. "Whenever I introduce a new material, Dylan will say, 'Can we see if it floats?' and eagerly waits for me to get a tub of water to test it out. They are naturally curious, and with encouragement are eager to ask questions and want to be part of the journey to find answers. I created a scavenger hunt in dramatic play where I hid animals' tracks around the room and they needed to match the animal to the track. After a week of this, Abby suggested we do leaves-to-tree type and then another student said, 'Why not poop-to-animal type?'

"Honestly, science is ever-popular in PreK," Mia continued. "It's a time for them to take charge of their learning. They love to ask questions and learn why and how the world works. The 'But, Why?' response that is all too familiar at this age is encouraged in our classroom and we hope to help find out the why of their questionings." 

Atrium Launches Girls' Theatre Club

In mid-March, fifth to eighth grade girls launched Girls' Voices Theatre Club, specifically designed to foster girls' voices and identities. Sixteen girls enrolled in the class, led by Sophie Rich '03, Atrium's Performing Arts Specialist. The program allows students to explore their experiences of being a middle school girl in today's world, creating a place where they can speak openly about their thoughts and opinions and use theatre to express their power as emerging young women.

"I believe that there is a unique level of comfort empathy created in a girls-only space," Sophie said. "It is important to create a zone where the participants feel totally free of judgment, and I think single-sex spaces help create the type of comfort one needs in order to speak deeply and personally. It is also a space where we are specifically exploring issues and topics that impact girls and women. I think drama is the perfect vehicle to help explore these topics because it requires collaboration, empathy, and communication."

"It's important that it's a girls' group because it gives everybody a chance to be themselves," Rosa, a fifth grader, explained. "With a coed group, people could feel like they're being judged."


"I decided to join this group because, especially right now, it's very important to be in the know and actively support feminism," seventh grader Talya said. "I was hoping for this to be–and it is–something that supports girls so that in their everyday lives they feel compelled not to hide from feminism, but to be open about it and support it."

The girls meet on Tuesdays after school before a final performance at their last meeting on May 1. In their first session, they discussed the meaning of gender identity, and how typically they only see female characters who are born female, identify as female, and present as female. They also examined the presentation of female characters in movies, plays and media.  

"We took a look at some musical theatre songs that present stereotypical feminine characters, and brought these songs to life through tableaux, or frozen pictures," Sophie explained. "We then re-wrote the lyrics of the songs to convey what we felt to be a better message about what women value and how we want women to feel about themselves."

"This group is solely focused on talking about feminism and empowerment," said Talya. "People chose to join because they understand or want to learn about feminism. Having a group of people focused on this helps us to get things done and get our message spread out in a more powerful way."

This week, each student chose an empowering quote from a woman of her choice, and then the group wrote and staged responses to the words. Coming weeks will explore body image and social media, before culminating in a final performance comprised of selected elements from each student's work strung together in a collaborative piece.

As the program continues, Sophie hopes "the girls gain a sense of sisterhood within the Atrium community, that they feel empowered to speak up and make change–without justifying or apologizing for their ideas–and that they leave feeling both confident and creative."

A Week in the Life of Atrium: Notice and Wonder

Wonder is this year's theme for students and faculty at Atrium, and the lessons happening at school right now illustrate how wonder is all around us.  Students across the grades are stopping to notice the wondrous elements of science, from the way sun makes a shadow to the way sound passes through a taut string.

 PreK students are making rayographs to study the sun and how shadows are made.

PreK students are making rayographs to study the sun and how shadows are made.


PreK continues to explore the Sun, by focusing on shadows. We read the book What Makes a Shadow? by Clyde Robert Bulla and started to observe shadows in our classroom and outside. The Originators set up blocks by the window and built structures that created shadows on the floor. We also used sun paper to create shadow collages before reviewing our Wonderings about the Sun. Then using books, the internet and a short video, we answered our own questions. We are discovering that you can wonder about anything and even scientists are still learning about the things the study. We read the book What Makes Day and Night? We discussed the relationship between the Earth’s rotation and the position of the Sun. 

 As part of a lesson about engineering, Kindergarteners made and tested their own dams.

As part of a lesson about engineering, Kindergarteners made and tested their own dams.


The Hikers watched a video about the Hoover Dam and how the engineers designed it so it could be strong and generate electricity for L.A. California. Then they watched a Zoom video with two children making a dam with sand, gravel, popsicle sticks, and clay. Following the video, the children had similar containers to try making dams for themselves in collaborative teams and then test their work. 

 First graders measured the space of their tide pools, as well as deciding what animals would live there and what the space would ultimately look like.

First graders measured the space of their tide pools, as well as deciding what animals would live there and what the space would ultimately look like.

First Grade

During theme this week the Climbers began building a tide pool in the classroom. As a continuation of their measurement unit, they calculated the dimensions of the space to be used, before sketching their visions of the tide pool. Next, Climbers chose which animals would live in the space and sketched what they look like. They also planned out what animals they would create out of clay and began to make them.  

 First graders created their own clay animals as part of their tide pool unit.

First graders created their own clay animals as part of their tide pool unit.

Second & Third Grades

We learned that sound waves can travel through water and through solid material. We used a "listening tube" to hear sounds underwater and we listened to sound waves traveling through a table. We made our own string telephones and learned that sound waves will only travel along a taut string. We had fun noticing the vibrations of the string and cups.

 Second and third graders are learning about sound waves by testing how sound works through string telephones.

Second and third graders are learning about sound waves by testing how sound works through string telephones.

Fourth & Fifth Grades  

Fourth and fifth graders are beginning to launch the World Geography Climate Project. This is an extensive project that permeates many of our curricular areas, including the the construction of model homes, experiments with water and air, and research on global climate conditions. During this unit, students will become researchers, architects, and geographers. We will begin a unit on non-fiction where students learn about text and graphic features in order to better navigate a dense text. From this they will begin to research their location around the globe in order to figure out how climate affects the lifestyle of their area. Using the research on climate, students will begin to develop a plan for what houses look like in their area. Based on certain climate conditions, the architects change the look and functionality of their homes. From this sketch, they will construct a model made from mostly recycled materials.


Sixth Grade

Sixth grade scientists explored the structure and composition of Earth’s layers this week, while working on key science process skills at the same time. They analyzed graphs of temperature and pressure with increasing depth to understand how the interplay of these variables affects layer properties. They evaluated evidence statements to build a reasoned argument for the composition of the core, and played with oobleck to model the plasticity of the asthenosphere. For DEAR day, they read graphic novels based on the research of geologists and oceanographers on the International Drilling Project vessel the Joides Resolution, a ship that outfitted to drill through the oceanic crust towards the mantle boundary layer. Next week we’ll wrap up our study of Earth’s interior with the perennial favorite “Earth as a Truffle” project.


Seventh Grade

In seventh grade science students explored natural selection through a case study of Galapagos finches. They mimicked differential survival in a beak simulation game, learned about Darwin’s legendary trip on the HMS Beagle, sorted finches into phylogenetic groupings and engaged in a highly analytical virtual discussion on their categorizations, watched a documentary with Rosemary and Peter Grant’s lifetime of data collection on Daphne Major, measured medium ground finch beaks to mathematically determine if variability existed in a population, graphed population and food availability before and after environmental change, and analyzed the Grant’s research findings of finch evolution following drought conditions. For DEAR day, they had a choice of reading material, including reproductions of Darwin’s original correspondence, interviews with the Grants, and articles by Jonathan Losos, whose Caribbean anole research will be next week’s case study!


Eighth Grade

Eighth grade scientists began the week exploring examples and energy diagrams of endothermic and exothermic chemical reactions. Then they began a week-long engineering challenge: to design a transport container that is chemically thermo-regulated that is optimized to carry a biological specimen in the field for conservation biologists. Teams were randomly assigned to design a solution for either endangered diamondback terrapin eggs or honey bees. This week’s challenge work focused on pre-testing a selection of possible chemical reactions to determine which best met the criteria for their assigned client. Next week they’ll build, test, and modify our devices. For DEAR day, students participated in a read-aloud of chapters from several books of science essays.

First Grade Project Combines Math and Science Curricula

First graders are very busy right now with a project that combines their mathematics and science curricula with hands-on experience: building window boxes. Working together in groups of three or four, students measure their classroom's windowsills and then draw a blueprint for window boxes with measurements included. After creating their blueprints, students begin to construct the boxes themselves.

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"The project is an extension of our measurement unit in first grade," said first grade teacher Melissa Burns. "Our curriculum has first graders learning to measure with nonstandard units, but Bob is extending it to inches and feet and really building something."

Working with Bob Dowling, the other first grade teacher, students measure, mark, saw, and assemble the window boxes before decorating them. The class will make four boxes in total–two will remain in the class, and two will be filled with wildflowers and sold at the Atrium Auction.

The project gives students a practical application of measurement, as well as a 3D perspective of their measurements and blueprints. Students get the opportunity to collaborate by working together to help each other measure and construct the boxes. The project also allows them a sense of responsibility and great pride at making something themselves, while improving their motor skills as they practice their construction skills with full-size tools (and safety goggles).

The first graders are unanimous: sawing is the best part of the project. Noor added, "It's better than just drawing blueprints because you can really feel how the projects are going. You can get to understand what you're doing so you can do it when you're grown up. It's really good to do things when you're little, so when you're grown up you can do it all on your own."

After the boxes are assembled and decorated, they will be filled with soil and seeds, another element of the first grade curriculum. As they learn about seeds and plants, they will also be able to measure changing elements, instead of static parts. "This ties into the first grade science curriculum, which includes recognizing, representing, and labeling the parts of seeds and plants," Melissa said. "After we plant from seeds in the boxes, we will transplant some of what we grow to the beds outside."

Atrium Students Place Fifth at State Science Olympiad

On March 3, after months of preparation, 26 students from the Middle School traveled to Worcester to compete in the Massachusetts State Science Olympiad. Atrium students faced tough competition against much larger teams from other independent and public schools. Nevertheless, each of Atrium's students placed in the top 10 in their division in at least one of their events, and even won the school's first gold medal. 

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Atrium's regular team placed 5th out of 30 teams in the competitive division, in the top 10 in 16 out of 23 total events. The results showed incredible growth from last year, when the team was 9th overall with half as many placings. The alternate team placed 4th out of 28 teams in the alternate (junior varsity) division, and also placed in the top 10 in 16 out of 23 events.

Students started Olympiad preparation in November, meeting twice a week for 1.5 hours each session. Many of the students worked additional hours on weekends, February vacation, and optional Friday practices. 

Atrium's Science Olympiad team began three years ago, under coach Laura Page's supervision. Since then, it has grown exponentially, to the point where the program now includes more than half of the Middle School. One parent volunteered to be a coach, and countless others helped in myriad ways–all of whom deserve praise and thanks.

"I’m always blown away by what students learn while working on this competition," said Erika Montana, one of the Science Olympiad coaches. "As a teacher with a background in science (I got my B.S. from MIT in Biology and Chemistry), I think of myself as reasonably well versed in things middle school students should know, but in this competition they must outpace me. It is literally impossible for me (or Laura) to know everything that they must know for all 23 (or even 10) of their events." 

She added, "They learn so much, not only about science and how to teach themselves about different topics, but also about teamwork (students are often paired with people who are not in their grade level), organization/planning, the engineering design process (improving failed designs), and dealing with stress, frustration, and disappointment."

Not only did the students do an impressive job with the scientific competition, their  teamwork and support skills were also on display. "They did spectacular work, not only in their events but in the way they supported each other and even students from other schools," Erika said. "I heard so many stories of lending some one a pencil, or running notes across campus to get them to the right event. Competition day abounded with the joy and kindness of our students and it was wonderful to be a part of."

Atrium Screens Angst Film for Middle School

On February 28, Atrium screened the movie Angst for Middle Schoolers and their parents. Through candid interviews, Angst tells the stories of many kids and teens who discuss their anxiety and its effects on their lives and relationships, as well as how they’ve found solutions and hope.

Hosted by Lara Buchanan, our school counselor, the film screening had a remarkable turnout, with two-thirds of the Middle School coming to view the movie and participate in a follow-up discussion about anxiety with families and faculty.


"After working with children for many years, we have noticed that students are talking more and more about feeling overwhelmed and anxious," Lara said. "We thought by viewing the movie as a community, we could increase awareness about anxiety. We also hoped that students and families would take comfort in understanding that they’re not alone in struggling with anxiety."

In addition to the children's stories, the documentary provides discussions with mental health experts about the causes of anxiety and its sociological effects, along with the help, resources and tools available to address the condition.

"We broke into small groups for discussion after the film, and it was difficult to get people to stop talking! The film seemed to resonate for people and brought up a lot of ideas and feelings," Lara said.

In addition to the student screening, faculty and staff watched Angst. The night of the film, Middle School teachers didn't assign homework, instead encouraging students to attend the movie. Lara explained, "The culture of Atrium is an accepting one where teachers recognize the importance of building meaningful connections with each student.  Students feel this. So, they are comfortable participating in events like this one and talking with adults and other students alike."

As anxiety continues to rise for children and adolescents, it becomes a universal issue for students and families. Lara said, "Students, families, and faculty at Atrium are seeking a better understanding of anxiety and what we can all do as a community to understand it and manage it better. I hope Atrium can play a part in helping set students up for happier and more successful lives."

Freedom & Justice Assembly

Just before February vacation, Atrium held its Freedom & Justice Assembly, which celebrates the efforts of the heroes who fight for social justice and equality around the world through song and poetry.

PreK–3rd grade began the assembly by singing "If I Had a Hammer," followed by the 2nd grade's readings of their thoughts on what it means to be human.

Marshall welcomed visitors by reading "The Seedling" by Paul Laurence Dunbar, which exhorts its readers to "be like the seedling,/ Always do the best you can;/Every child must share life's labor/Just as well as every man." Fourth and fifth graders sang "Lo Yisa Goy," a Hebrew folk song, which loosely translates as: "A nation shall raise/ A sword against a nation/ And they shall not learn/ Any more war."

Members of Atrium's Anti-Bias and Equity (ABE) Committee read two poems: "Midway" by Naomi Long Madgett, and "People Equal" by James Berry. Violinists from the 4th and 6th grade played "The Snowy Path," and seventh and 8th grade violinists played "All We Have," written by Atrium's own violin teacher, Christine Hedden.

The 8th grade and Atrium's drama teacher Sophie Rich presented the lessons they learned from their Social Justice cluster, before the Assembly concluded with the Middle School Chorus' rousing rendition of "La Vida es un Carnaval."

Third Graders Team with Parts and Crafts

Atrium third graders recently finished a three-week pilot program with Parts and Crafts, a makerspace in Somerville that encourages creativity combined with experimentation. At Parts and Crafts, students are not told how to create; they figure it out themselves.


Designed to help the students understand engineering concepts through hands-on experience, the program began in mid-January and met twice a week. Students started with by making their own creations, before collaborating to make one large group project.

Third graders were immediately delighted as they began making their own individual projects. Some students worked alone, while others teamed up with friends to work together. As time passed, they either began new projects or added to the ones they had previously created. In addition to using their imaginations to design their projects, they also had to figure out how to add levers, pulleys, wheels and other engineering elements to their creations to make them work. With the help of Bissrat and Mike from Parts and Crafts, experimentation was an enlightening experience instead of a frustrating one.


Projects varied from pinball games to towering sculptures, with some motorcycles and ramps thrown in. For the final project, the class worked together to create a "Jaboonetta," which by the kids' definition is "a bunch of parts with slides," or as third grade teacher Veena Hari explained, "a really big fidget."



The students loved the program and can't contain their excitement talking about it. Oona said, "It was so much fun! They really helped us. I learned a lot–especially about patience."

Elizabeth added, "It was amazing! We got to make our own stuff. I learned that you can build anything with just cardboard and a few other pieces. People could make whatever they want."

Seventh Grader Wins First Prize in Carnegie Hall Competition

Nadlly, an Atrium seventh grader, won first prize in the Crescendo International Music Competition at Carnegie Hall, competing against musicians from across the Northeast as well as Canada, Germany, Korea, Austria, and Russia.

Nadlly has been playing piano for an hour a day for seven years, starting when she was five years old. "I don’t remember the exact reason, but when I was little I was just always jealous at people who can play piano," she said. "One day my mom asked me, 'Do you want to learn piano or not?' and I said yes, but then she told about how hard it would be and you have to practice everyday and if I learned it I can’t stop in the middle."

The Crescendo Competition was the first competition she had performed in, and she chose it because it was at Carnegie Hall. "When I was backstage I was sososo nervous and also really excited because it’s my dream to play in Carnegie Hall," she said.

Despite the nerves, she won first prize and plans to compete in the Competition next year, playing both piano and cello, which she started playing at age seven.

Congratulations to Nadlly!


Second and Third Graders Visit Cradles to Crayons

As part of their social justice curriculum, second and third graders spent a day volunteering at Cradles to Crayons in Brighton. The group was split in two: half went to clean shoes for homeless children, and the other half sorted toys and wrapped birthday presents for children in foster care or shelters. Adult volunteers sorted winter coats for children, and another group put together a week's worth of clothing for kids who don't have a change of clothes. In only two hours, the Atrium group helped 667 children.


Atrium's social justice curriculum is designed to highlight current events and situations affecting people near and far. The curriculum helps focus on ways to help other people in need. This year's focus has been on the need for clean water, with students learning about the water situation in Flint, Michigan, as well as the women across the world who spend their days carrying water from dangerous and remote locations. This fall, second and third graders hosted a Social Justice Bake Sale that raised money to send clean water to Flint, to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and to donate to the Georgie Bladiel Foundation that raises money for wells in areas lacking clean water.

"As part of the second grade study of human beings we learn that all human beings are equal and we all have the same needs, desires and dreams," said Jill Ferraresso, a second grade teacher.  "We are all a human family and we should try to help one another when we can. The second and third graders at Atrium do this work because we want children to know that every child, and every person, deserves to have their needs met.  When basic human needs are not met, it is very difficult for people to learn and grow, or to have quality of life."

Through these lessons, children come to realize the privileges they enjoy, including clean water and clothing, and the security of a safe place to live. Before the water study, students didn't know that clean water isn't accessible across the world. By donating to and volunteering at Cradles to Crayons, students learn the importance of anonymous service.

Jill explained, "It is important for Atrium children to understand that we should never do good works to be thanked. We should do them because we want to help and care about others.  We want our children to do what is right because it is right, and not because it will make them look good to others. Our community is fortunate to have what we need, and with that privilege comes responsibility.  How can we reach out to and care about others?" 

"We want all of our children to be grateful for what they have, and to reach out to others when they can," she continued. "We find that over the course of their second grade school years children have a growing awareness of not wasting resources such as water or paper.  They are more conscious about recycling and taking care of classroom materials.  We also find that children begin to notice and call out stereotypes in books and movies, and to stand up for each other when a friend needs an ally.  They notice homeless people in Harvard Square and Boston, and they become more acutely aware that even a small gesture, such as a smile or a hello, can help another person preserve his/her dignity.  We talk a lot about what it means to treat others with humanity, and compassion.  We hope they will always carry these lessons with them."

Rachel Morrison '90 Wins Historic Oscar Nomination

Rachel Morrison '90 has become the first woman in Oscar history to be nominated for Best Cinematography for her work on Mudbound. Rachel was the director of photography for Fruitvale Station in 2013, and will follow Mudbound with the highly anticipated Black Panther in February–her second collaboration with director Ryan Coogler. 

"My love of art and desire to tell human stories began at the Atrium so many years ago," she recently said.

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Mudbound was screened at Atrium's 35th Anniversary Film Festival earlier this month, and has already been nominated for two Golden Globes. In addition to Rachel's nomination for Best Cinematography, Mudbound also received Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Song.

Congratulations to Rachel for her outstanding work!

Atrium Film Festival Celebrates 35 Years

On January 6, Atrium hosted our first-ever Film Festival in celebration of our 35th anniversary. Atrium alumni, faculty, parents and friends came together to view the works of four Atrium community members, celebrating themes we hold dear at Atrium: arts, self-discovery, activism, and social justice.  

Head of School Marshall Carter welcomed guests saying, “We’ve gathered here through the day to celebrate three and a half decades of ‘excellence with joy’ in the education of young people. In 1982, could anyone have imagined that we’d be here today, gathered at Brandeis to watch award-winning films created by members of the Atrium community?”

The answer was a resounding YES.

 (L–R): Head of School Marshall Carter; Lucas, subject of Lost in the Bewilderness; Alexandra Anthony, filmmaker of Lost in the Bewilderness; Noah Bartel, filmmaker of The Young Armenian.

(L–R): Head of School Marshall Carter; Lucas, subject of Lost in the Bewilderness; Alexandra Anthony, filmmaker of Lost in the Bewilderness; Noah Bartel, filmmaker of The Young Armenian.

Held in the Wasserman Cinematheque at Brandeis University, the Festival featured four films made by Atrium alumni and alumni parents: The Young Armenian by filmmaker Noah Bartel ‘08; My Louisiana Love by director, co-producer and co-writer Sharon Linezo Hong P'20 and '24; Lost in the Bewilderness, by filmmaker Alexandra Anthony P'05; and Golden Globe nominee MUDBOUND, by cinematographer Rachel Morrison ‘90.

An attendee noted, “What a tribute to Atrium and our alumni and alumni parents. I will remember those movies for a very long time—fascinating and moving.”

In spring 2018, two more events will honor Atrium’s 35 years, including an art exhibition and a day of service on the Charles River. For more information, visit our 35th Anniversary page.

Atrium Teachers Attend People of Color Conference

Four Atrium teachers–Veena Hari, Mia Bullock, Jaleesa Anselm, and Sydney Holloman-Pressley–recently attended the NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC) in Anaheim, CA. They joined nearly 6,000 other educators and students to explore the theme Voices for Equity and Justice Now and in Every Generation: Lead, Learn, Rededicate, and Deliver. 


In its 30th year, the People of Color Conference demonstrates independent schools' commitment to equity and justice in teaching and learning. The mission of the conference is to provide a safe space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. PoCC equips educators at every level, from teachers to trustees, with knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their schools, as well as the attending academic, social-emotional, and workplace performance outcomes for students and adults alike.

Kindergarten teacher Jaleesa attended the Conference for the third year, saying, "My first year at PoCC was the first time in my life where the number of black people outnumbered everybody else. It was an amazing, transformative experience and I was overcome by emotions."

Jaleesa believes that PoCC is essential because "teachers of color who operate in a white space get to be in a place where they don't have to think about or explain their experience. It's important for teachers to realize how to be allies to kids who come with unique experiences. When the issue of race comes up in classrooms, we need to know how to deal with it."

In addition to providing a safe and supportive environment for teachers of color to find affinity groups, it also allows them an important networking opportunity to connect with other educators, both in solidarity and for professional development. For example, Atrium's Blindspot book group was inspired by a PoCC session Jaleesa attended.

The People of Color Conference also benefits white teachers teaching students of color. "PoCC teaches you how to make a bridge to kids who are not like you, who are one of few. It teaches you to be a true ally and offer support; you will never understand students of color's struggles and you never will, but you can offer true allyship," Jaleesa said.

Professional Development Enhances Teaching and Learning

At Atrium, our community never stops learning. In the words of Assistant Head of School Kathy Hanson, “In order to be a place of learning for every child, every adult in the community needs to be learning too. When every adult is learning (parents, teachers, and neighbors), children learn more.”

For Atrium teachers, the act of learning is inseparable from the act of teaching. For this reason, Atrium faculty participate in extensive professional development that keeps teachers learning all year long. This year’s theme for professional development is Wondering Together: Cultural Sensitivity, Diversity & Inclusion.

This year’s professional development is broken into five distinct groups:


• Faculty and staff are exploring the relationship between wonder, learning, and teaching. The Science Committee, led by Laura Page, is in charge of wonder, sharing wonderful and wondrous things with the community in several faculty meetings.


• Faculty and staff are participating in professional development with Ellen Pinderhughes, Tufts University Professor of Child Study and Human Development, during August work week and half-day work days, journaling and genogramming during outside hours. ABE Committee members Jill Ferraresso and Susan Jacoby helped to lead this programming.

• Jaleesa Anselm is hosting a book club for parents and/or teachers on the book Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, which will meet twice this year.


• In monthly faculty meetings, all faculty engage in a number of talks led by the Math Committee. Most recently, Liz Caffrey and Connie Henry lead staff discussions on number talks, nurturing productive struggle, and raising the level of math discourse.


• Faculty will deepen their expertise in learning as part of a partnership with the Institute for Learning and Development. In four faculty meetings, faculty will come to better understand executive function, working memory, and anxiety. Merry Murray Meade and Bob Dowling are leading follow-up meetings with faculty and parents. Merry Murray will be advising faculty committees with the continued goal of relating learning diversity to the work of every committee.


• As part of a partnership with the Boston Writing Project, writing teachers are learning more about Writing & Thinking in monthly staff meetings. The Literacy Committee, led by Liz Perekrests, will be focused on the writing process and developing a learning continuum with students.

In addition to participating in professional development at school, faculty and staff are expected to consider the topics of wonder and diversity on their own. Kathy has compiled a list of books about wonder for faculty and staff to read if they wish, including: Wonderstruck, Wonder, The Soul of an Octopus, and Wonderfull Education. All faculty were asked to read the book Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. Blindspot’s goal is to increase awareness of biases that well-intentioned people might not know even exist. With that awareness, we are able to adapt our beliefs and behavior to become fairer to the people around us.

Atrium’s speaker series is intended to further consider the topic of inclusivity with our school community and the public. Our first speaker, Tessa Charlesworth, will come to Atrium in December to examine implicit stereotypes and how they manifest in educational settings. On January 18, licensed psychologist Judith Stein will speak about executive function and anxiety. Discussions about the societal importance of hair, bilingualism, anxiety, and successful playdates are also scheduled this year.

Atrium teachers also commit to professional development opportunities off campus. All faculty members attended the Progressive Education Network Conference in Boston in October, with Liz C. presenting with a number of present and former students. Later in October, some teachers went to the Curiosity and Learning Conference at Wheelock College, while others will attend the AISNE Diversity Conference and AISNE People of Color Conference. Teachers plan to attend other conferences during the year as well.


At our Wine & Sushi and Community Forum evening in October, three teachers spoke about professional development and how it informs their teaching to help enrich the lives of their students. Liz P. spoke about attending Columbia Teachers College’s Reading and Writing Project and the ways she was able to implement the lessons she learned in her own classroom. Laura discussed attending Cape Cod Sea Camps as a student and returning with her class as an educator, as well as her time spent at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the UConn DaVinci Program, and the PTC StemCert Program. Liz C. shared her experience as an educator on Twitter, and the importance of Twitter as a tool for sharing information. For every teacher at Atrium, learning is a continuous experience that helps to enhance their students’ understanding.

Atrium Community Makes PEN Conference Presentation

Middle School math teacher Liz Caffrey was among the presenters at the Progressive Education Network (PEN) National Conference, held Oct. 6-7 in Boston. Liz’s presentation, “Walking in Another’s Shoes: Two Middle School Math Projects About Social Justice,” was a discussion of two classroom projects she has done in the past two years. Eight students accompanied her to the conference to assist with the presentation and answer questions from attendees.


This year’s project made each student a financial advisor by assigning them a client from a specific demographic, for whom they had to manage finances, do taxes, and find housing.  Last year’s project involved mining data from the U.S. Census to see how the election would end if only specific demographics voted.

“The idea is to look at society by empathizing with another’s experience,” Liz said. “It allows students to confront reality through data. It teaches them the causes for the data and helps them to ask, ‘What’s the story behind it?’”

For the financial advisor project, students were assigned clients from specific income-based race, gender, and educational demographics. With such insight into the clients’ backgrounds and histories, students are better able to understand their clients’ lives while learning important skills like budgeting.

Last year’s project had students researching the percentage of voters over 18 years old, the percentage of American citizens, and the breakdown of Massachusetts voters casting ballots for each party. After the election, the students discovered the polling data was wrong, which was an important lesson from a mathematics standpoint, teaching them that predictions and statistics are not infallible.

“I was so impressed with the kids when they presented [at the Conference],” Liz said. “I collaborated with them during learning lab and they were so eager to work with me and so awesome to work with.”

During the PEN Conference, Atrium also hosted more than 20 educators from around the world. Educators from places as diverse as Finland, Washington state, Los Angeles, and Washington DC visited Atrium on Oct. 5, spending the day in the School’s classrooms and meeting with faculty. PEN conference attendees visiting Atrium also received a learning tour of Mt. Auburn Cemetery from second grade teacher Jill Ferraresso.      

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“It was fantastic to have such a diverse and committed group of educators come from so far away to visit Atrium School,” said Head of School Marshall Carter, who began at Atrium in July.  “They were very curious about, and impressed by how we teach and learn here. So many noted both the intellectual energy and creativity they observed, and the deep culture of kindness at Atrium. We learned a great deal from our guests as well—how their schools are thriving, and what challenges they face.”

The PEN Conference is held every two years in different locations around the country. More than 1,000 educators attended the Boston conference this year to discuss how to “amplify students’ voice, agency, conscience and intellect to create a more equitable, just, and sustainable world.”