Spring 2018 Update

A flurry of activity has been underway on behalf of our high school. Here’s a quick update of what we have been up to, and, as always, thank you for your advocacy.

June 2018


June 1st is the deadline for Mass IDEAS School Model Design (massideas.org), a planning grant worth up to $150,000. Design teams are invited to participate in a summer design studio, July 17-19. Participation in the studio and the application will allow us to be considered for the grant.

May 2018 

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We have been learning from MHHS design team member and MassArt student, Sarah King. Like a Flip Flop, and Ice Cream, is a set of non-conventional functional monkey bars created by Sarah in collaboration with Jada Brown’s Kindergarten class at Mission Hill. Sarah created the monkey bars by first gathering information from the kindergarten students around play and playgrounds, sketching a design that embodied their thinking, and then used metal fabrication and welding to build the structure that kids were eventually going to climb upon. Her project exemplifies the studio-lab practices we intend at MHHS. 
We are pleased to report that the Center for Artistry and Scholarship will continue to support our design work with a multi-year grant. The second year grant will support 3 areas: 1) professional development and travel for design team members to study models of school innovation, 2) “lab school” concept conversations with MassArt and Wentworth Institute, and 3) our multi-media campaign, “Our Students are Our Story.”
On Friday, May 11, MHHS design team members Roberta Logan (retired MHS teacher), Krina Patel (researcher on the body and cognition) and Abdi Ali (MHS teacher) met with Mel King (community activist and scholar). Mr. King reflected on his early exposure as learner to a variety of skills in electricity, carpentry, sewing, cooking, drafting, playing music and working on an internal combustion engine. Resonating with our proposal for a high school to educate diverse learners and using their communities as contexts for learning, he offered his support, saying, “this vision must happen.”

A huge thank you and goodbye to Liz, who stepped into our work believing that another kind of education is possible. We are happy to report that we have not disappointed her – another kind of education is happening at MHS and she takes with her living ideas of democratic schooling.  Liz, thank you, for the substantive agendas, the facilitation, the interviews of team members, and for a solid draft of the RFP. Liz will be teaching 4th graders on the West Coast next year.

March 2018
The Design Colloquium was a huge success! Mission Hill High School continues to get a lot love and support. We dug into the essentials for moving our vision forward. Here are some artifacts from our work:



Update: Brochure and cheat sheet

We’ve been continuing conversations about creating Mission Hill High School. Click here to see the brochure we created in February 2017 about the process so far.

Cheat Sheet: Mission Hill High School design process

  1. When did planning for Mission Hill High School (MHHS) start?
    For years, different groups of people have been having conversations of building an artscience high school in Boston. In 2014, the groups finally crossed paths and the idea of creating a Mission Hill High School emerged. In September 2015, we had our first community design meeting to dream up our high school. Since then, we have had more community and planning meetings. We have made art, danced, created samples of “a day in the life of a MHHS student,” shared food and listened to each other.
  2. Who is designing MHHS? Why is a community design process important?
    The MHHS design team is made up of community members — students, alumni, educators, families, neighbors, community partners and more — who attend community design meetings. Within the community design team, there is a smaller planning team that coordinates the process of bringing community members together. MHHS is designed by a collective of community voices in spaces that are open to all, instead of created by any single person behind closed doors. The collective design process models the habits of mind and work that we will propose to our students.
  3. In this community design process, what has the community envisioned together?
    Our vision is to create a high school for students who struggle within traditional school structures. We want to extend our model structurally and curricularly into a highly inclusive high school that prepares all learners. Students will learn to become eco-literate citizens and change-makers with the knowledge and skills to envision solutions to challenges of 21st century life in socially just ways.  With creativity as a core goal of learning and diversity as a core principle of design, MHHS will build on each student’s potential, nurturing graduates who will be resourceful and resilient life-long, life-deep and life-wide learners.  As a high school that immerses students in a research-intensive education through studio-lab practices, MHHS will serve as a model for 21st century learning.  
  4. When will MHHS open?
    Our goal is for MHHS to open its doors in Fall 2018.
  5. Who would go to MHHS? What kind of students would want this school?
    Mission Hill K-8 School grads can continue their Mission Hill education by attending MHHS. Additionally, MHHS opens its doors to all youths of Boston — for those who want an education that crosses disciplinary boundaries to propose democratic ways of thinking and being.
  6. How is MHHS different from other schools?
    It is a public pilot high school, practices full inclusion, and uses an art science studio lab inquiry model.
  7. What are our next steps?
    Our next steps include the launch of the MHHS Action Team, a small of group of parent advocates for our school, and initiate conversations about a lab-school within public institutions, such as Massachusetts College of Art and Design and University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Update: Deep Dive Design Community Meeting (31st October 2015)

Dear Students, Families, Staff, and Friends,

The high school planning session that took place last Saturday was our second all-inclusive community Mission Hill High School planning session. Similar to the first session, there were about 45 people that attended. Some of the participants were not people who were directly tied to Mission Hill School. They were people invested in contributing ideas and joint envisioning of a great high school. Mission Hill caregivers, students, staff and community members were there. We were fortunate to have Deborah Meier and Roberta Logan join us. The combination of participants was electric and gave us great momentum for the work.

Our planning day began in the school library with introductions and singing. Next, we divided ourselves into three groups to imagine what a student’s day in our high school would look like. We imagined the student’s day through three different lenses; community, experiences and reflection. Each group expressed their work artistically. We drew and sketched, made dolls and built, and danced—all as vehicles and representations of our dialogue. So many ideas were creatively shared. We ended the day with appreciations to one another, including to Dani who prepared a wonderful meal for us.

Last Saturday we moved one step closer to shaping the vision of creating a high school. The vision, as I saw it being shaped, is one that invites the voice or expression of community members from many ages and life experiences to contribute to the learning and success of all other community members.

The next scheduled planning session is for students and alumni on Saturday, November 14 from 1:00 to 4:00pm. Please spread the word about this. We really need to hear thoughts from our young people.

Following the session for youth, the next step in our process is to take the ideas from our combined planning sessions and from what we’ve heard in other forums, and pull them together for critique. By critique, I do not mean to criticize. I mean to examine the ideas closely and provide feedback for fine-tuning and improvement.

If you have not been part of this high school design process so, you can join at any time. Invitations to participate will keep coming. I hope to see you at one of our future events.

Ayla Gavins


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Update: Our tree-river of ideas

Dear Friends,

The planning group for our Mission Hill High School design team met on Thursday, September 24. Ayanna, Amina, Dani, Linda, Ayla, Jenerra, Amanda, Marc, Beth W., Beth B., Ed, Dara and I participated in the planning. How might we organize the generative ideas from our September 19th community design meeting? We went with Ed’s suggestion to use a tree as an organizing symbol for our review of the notes and charts from all three groups. We saw resonances, and we individually listed words thick with concepts on the whiteboard.

The words began to gather into relationships; individually, we placed words at the roots, the trunk, branches, leaves. The tree seemed to become a river when Beth Balliro saw something less linear, more interconnected, a reciprocity between the roots and the branches. The relationships began to re-curve, re-turn.The tree-river became a Banyan tree! The Banyan tree is revelatory; you agree? See attached photo.

Our Banyan river-tree of ideas.

Our Banyan tree-river of ideas.

We collaboratively articulated a goal for our next design meeting, which has been revised and reviewed since. Goal: to capture, map, express possibilities for a concept (“community”), a person (“student”), and a practice (“reflection”) in one day in the life of our high school. How can our visions translate into tangible practices and ways of being?

Ayanna Lord, MHS staff and alum, and Amanda Ng Yann Chwen, Tufts University student, will be facilitating MHHS design work for MHS students and alumni on October 24th, 1-4pm at Mission Hill School.

Our next community design meeting has been moved to Saturday, October 31st, 11am-3pm at Mission Hill School, to allow Deborah Meier, MHS Founder, to join us! Agenda is forthcoming.

Come prepared to collaborate, create and share!


Update: Community Design Meeting (19th September 2015)

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About 40 members of the Mission Hill High School design team came together on a beautiful Saturday morning for our very first Community Design Meeting. We were educators and activists, students and elders, families and alumni, veterans of Mission Hill School (MHS) and folks who are new to the community … and we were all here to dream about a Mission Hill High School for all children.


“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine …” We started the day with a song that brought us into a big circle, and went around introducing ourselves. We learnt about who we are, what each of us is proud of and a hope that brought each of us into this space.

“The more I have dreams of freedom, the more I find communities like these,” said Abdi, a MHS 5th and 6th grade teacher who facilitated the start of the day.

Ayla, the principal of MHS, welcomed all of us to Mission Hill, and reminded us about the giants whose shoulders we stand on. Because this conversation about building a high school for all children started decades ago, even before MHS came to be.


After grabbing some of the coffee and snacks folks generously contributed, we then split up into three different groups, to reflect and share based on the following questions:

  • What does diversity mean as a creative principle for school design?
  • What kind of world do you want to create?  What high school experience will help create that world?
  • What gets nourished and what gets left out in our current high school models?




Each group agreed on their group norms, and explored these difficult questions together. We talked about words that come to mind when we say “diversity” (inclusive, resistance, cultural capital, ranging abilities, abundance, economic, social justice, historical, different, unboxable, exclude, silent, violent, celebration …); how “a design principle of diversity starts with empathy;” how kids and families must be at the very centre of our stakeholder diagram; about creating a world in which children feel safe, a world that is less exhausting; about how people decades ago thought about public schools as the basis for remaking society; remaking a world in which we feel more connected, less isolated; about memories of a teacher who broke the rules; thinking beyond walls … 

After sharing lots of thoughts, hopes, fears and ideas, and listening deeply to each other, we came back together as a big group to share our findings with each other. The day ended with commitments and affirmations, which helped us get a sense of our next step on this journey of designing Mission Hill High School.

“I would like to continue going to a school like Mission Hill.”
– Amishai, MHS 5th grader