Looking back on summer 'Discoveries' at USC

For two weeks, Mirman partnered with USC and its Neighborhood Academic Initiative to create Project Discovery, a multidisciplinary lecture/project hybrid style course for 25 middle-schoolers.
Mirman had a slate of Upper Schoolers who participated in the project, spending two weeks of their summer ensconced in a college classroom where they played community-building games, took in presentations on everything from computer science to modern art to philosophy, and worked on the critical and creative skills necessary to embark on independent study projects.

For gifted learners, the idea of depth and complexity comes naturally. Mirman students and other highly gifted learners routinely look to delve deeper into topics, particularly when those topics translate to passion projects. USC Rossier clinical professor Sandra Kaplan, an expert on gifted education, is obviously equally familiar with this drive in gifted students. “...We’re interested in developing scholars, not just exposing bright kids to scholarship. We’re not interested in their intelligence, per se, but in developing intellectualism. We’re hoping everybody walks out of here with the skills to be a researcher—how to develop an interest, and to seed it so it can grow,” said Kaplan in a piece written by USC's Diane Krieger. Kaplan, USC's article states, is "famous for creating the “Depth and Complexity” prompt system for critical thinking."

Kaplan collaborated with USC Viterbi School of Engineering's Leana Golobchik (Alumni parent to Katarina Chen '17) and USC Price School of Public Policy's Elizabeth Currid-Halkett (current parent to Oliver in Second Grade) to design the program. They worked in partnership with Mirman's Head of School Dan Vorenberg and former Mirman educator and administrator Michael Taggart to bring the final product to fruition. Two Upper School mathematics instructors, Kara Luna and Alyssa Wray, were on site during the project to lead certain activities and provide support for independent study.

In one particular morning afternoon in the program, students took in lectures on statistics, computer science, ethics, philosophy, the networking effect of modern artists, and more. They then broke out to work on projects and talk to advisors before decamping for lunch in a nearby courtyard, further mingling and forming relationships across schools and with peers. Following her lecture, Currid-Halkett spoke of the success of the project in its pilot year.
"I think one of the issues of course for gifted children is that do they run out of road when it comes to curriculum. This kind of collaboration allows us to provide higher level education and content. It's an amazing way to maximize the resources of both of these schools," said Currid-Halkett. "I'm so impressed with these students, it's extraordinary to watch them."

Luna spoke about her own interest being piqued by the variety of lectures and topics discussed. She also mused that the experience of teaching in this program gave her "food for thought" when it comes to designing her own curriculum for the various needs of math learners at Mirman. "The experience has given me food for thought about planning interdisciplinary units at Mirman. I have picked up some new ideas, but I also feel affirmed about what we already do at Mirman, and I think that our students came into this experience well prepared and ready to take it to the next level," she said. "It's been refreshing to see our students outside in the world, interacting with others, and meeting new friends," she added.
Wray, her colleague, agreed. "Our students were constantly asking great questions," she said.
A Horse With No Name No More
from the 2018-2019 Meridian 

After the school rebranded a few years ago, Athletic Director Angela Brown felt that something was missing. While new uniforms were donned for the first day of school, new signs were hung around campus, and a new website launched to accompany refreshed marketing materials, the font-forward design left something to be desired when it came to truly raising team spirit to the power of Mirman. 

In a school where more than half of the student body participates in some form of competitive athletics, and on a campus where a significant expansion created pristine courts and fields upon which one can cheer on several teams on any given day, Brown saw opportunity and sensed desire to elevate the program. After working with Jenn Salcido, Director of Marketing and Communications, and Noah Kaufman, Director of Advancement, the school’s branding was expanded to include a strong, confident (though K-8-appropriate) steed. New universal uniforms, sweatsuits, and swag followed suit. 

“It’s a truly exciting time for athletics at Mirman,” said Brown. “It’s a sense of pride that you can see and feel. It’s almost like we’ve arrived. You could have taken a snapshot of the students in their old uniforms, and then with their new ones with the names on the back. It’s a rallying cry. You can see the pride on their faces.”  

Finally, everyone could don uniforms featuring their own names writ large. Everyone except, of course, the horse. Everyone knew we had a mascot — you’d see the nameless Mustang trotted out for the occasional assembly or championship bout — but nobody really knew the mascot. 

What if the community could help change that? 

Last fall, Brown and her colleagues in the Physical Education department introduced a contest at an all-school assembly. The objective: not only to name the Mustang, but to tell the mascot’s story. Over the course of a 6-day cycle, ballots were collected from every grade level in both divisions. With Salcido’s help, Brown and Assistant to the Athletic Director Alyssa Woods tallied the results. 

The judges carefully considered the entries, assessing them on an unwritten rubric including points for overall catchiness, gender-neutrality, universal appeal, and other considerations. As the dust settled, one clear winner emerged: Rider. In retrospect, it seemed rather obvious. The school had only recently unveiled its Core Values (Responsibility, Integrity, Discovery, Empathy, and Resilience). And as equine monikers go, Rider makes a certain degree of sense. The name was revealed with much aplomb at an all-school assembly, with Rider trotting out on stage to show off a newly-minted personalized jersey. 

The winning entry belonged to Room 4L students Victoria A. and Amelie S., who soon revealed that they had a little help from their friends, specifically former Room 4L co-teacher and current Librarian Allison Sparks. 

“We had just had a community circle in class talking about the Core Values,” said Sparks. “This was something new to me as a new member of the Mirman community. When I asked the class out loud if they’d considered Rider for the Mustang name, a few of the students wanted to suggest it.” 

“I laughed it off and dismissed the idea,” Sparks admitted. “I thought that since it had come from an adult, it wouldn’t count. But when I saw how excited they were when they submitted it, I knew the name rang true. It really came out of an ‘a ha’ moment we had together as a class. 

“It relates so much to our school and Core Values and helps us make sure we’re always doing the right thing,” said Victoria A. of the new name. 

“It’s amazing to be part of our school history,” added Amelie S. 

The two girls, who themselves represent Mirman on the basketball court and soccer fields as part of the Room 4 teams, admitted that, like many great ideas, their first iteration didn’t ring quite as true. “I think we wanted to do mustard,” said Victoria. 

“Or mayonnaise,” said Amelie. 

As it turns out, most things do get better with teamwork. 

Like any ballot box, this one was not without its curiosities once opened up. Here were a few of the voting trends: 
  • More than a few students wanted to name the Mustang after themselves or their classmates 
  • One entry suggested “Vegan” 
  • “Uncle Grandpa” popped up more than a few times, much to the confusion of one judge. It was revealed upon further investigation that this is in fact an affectionate nickname for Coach Allen Foster. 
  • Regarding “The Mysterious Moose:” decidedly not a horse, but good alliteration. 

A Biography of Rider 
By Victoria A. and Amelie S., Room 4L 
(with editorial assistance from an anonymous magazine editor) 
Once upon a time, a beautiful horse was born. He* shook himself and stood up, curious about the world around him. He began to walk through the forest, stopping every so often to grab some fruit from a tree. After a while, he came upon a group of two little girls and their teacher walking through the woods.

“Hi horse! What’s your name?” the little girl asked. 

“I don’t have a name, actually. What’s yours?” the horse answered. 

“Woah, I can actually understand you,” said the little girl. “That’s so cool!” 

The girls and their teacher spoke with the horse a while longer, introducing themselves and getting to know each other. They wondered aloud why the horse didn’t have a name. 

“I just haven’t thought of one yet,” he said. “I’ve only just been born!” 

The trio brainstormed about names for a while, but then got sidetracked with what they all wanted to be when they grew up. “Do you have any ideas,” asked the teacher?” 

“I want to be a head of school!” one of the girls said. “And my school will need to have Core Values, but I don’t know what those should be.” 

“Maybe I can help you,” volunteered the horse. 

“You need to have responsibility,” began the teacher. “And integrity.” 

“And empathy for other horses!” said the horse. 

“We’ll need to discover things along the way!” said the other girl. 

“And you’ll need some resilience,” the horse finished. 

Suddenly, the trio and the horse looked at one another. “How would you feel if we called you Rider in honor of those core values?” asked the teacher. 

By now, you know how this story ends — happily ever after, surrounded by the cheering crowds. 

*while Rider is a male horse in this story, we know from his biographers that he really can be any gender! Everyone can and should be able to identify with Rider. 
© 2021 Mirman School. All rights reserved.
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com