Stepping Outside the Curriculum

Middle School Students Spend Week Immersed in Compelling Mini-Mester Experiences

Nightingale's mini-master program—first introduced to the Middle School curriculum in 2015—engages Class V through Class VIII students with week-long, interdisciplinary, intensive seminars. This year's program, which ran from January 27 through January 31, was as robust and engaging as ever. In a variety of ways, the courses served as an extension of the Middle School academic experience. Some courses were structured around non-traditional topics. Others allowed for a deeper exploration of a particular subject. Still others focused on academic subjects that might not otherwise be featured in the Middle School curriculum. Courses also provided the opportunity to learn among students from other grades.

At the week's end, students from each course presented what they learned, showcasing both their gained knowledge and the collective fun they experienced. Provided below are summaries and photos of this year's experiences.


Ancient StarGazers

Students who wanted to explore the night sky through the eyes of its earliest observers—ancient astronomers from around the world, including Greece, China and the Middle East—chose “Ancient StarGazers: Astronomy and Mythology” with Dr. McConnell and Ms. Seibert. This course taught students to hone their observation skills, eyeing the paths of celestial objects through the sky. They built their own versions of the instruments that ancient astronomers used so that at the end of the week they, too, could track the planets and navigate the stars. Students in this class delved into the rich mythological tradition that is mapped out in the night sky and learned some of the many stories that the stars illustrate. They took a look at unusual celestial phenomena such as comets and planetary conjunctions that, to ancient observers, could signal important events on earth. At the end of the week, these students were able to lead their peers around an inflatable planetarium. 

From "Page to Stage"

The journey from writing a musical to producing it on Broadway is a long and difficult road. With Ms. Davis and Ms. Coudert in “Broadway: From Page to Stage,” students got to learn what it takes for a show like Hamilton to journey from page to stage—from writing and composing to acting, directing, choreographing and designing. It is “an incredible program for those in the world of theatre from around the globe to come together and learn from experts in the field, as well as from each other,” Ms. Coudert shared. “We thought if we could design a program for our young women that would inspire them to love the creative process that makes theater, we could have an impact on the future of the arts as well as on them.” Students taking this class had the opportunity to go see Hamilton The Musical and meet with some of the performers to learn more about the acting and choreography process. Choreographer, Patrick O'Neill, and Hamilton cast members, Karla Puno Garcia and David Guzman are just a few of the visitors who came to speak to students in this mini-mester about their experiences on a Broadway stage.

The Art of the Portrait

Is there a difference today between a self portrait and a selfie? What makes a selfie worth taking? These are some of the questions Ms. Morlock hoped to answer in her mini-mester “Portrait Photography.” Students explored examples from fine art and fashion to see who we are in relation to how we portray ourselves. Ms Morlock was inspired by both students’ social world, so influenced by selfie-culture, and a desire to help young photographers create thoughtful and expressive images. She says her goal for the week was that “students have fun learning about darkroom photography, as they consider: portraits of themselves and each other, and how we present ourselves to the world. The class was designed to be more personally expressive than the regular photography curriculum and to be a deeper dive into a specific genre of photography: the portrait.” The students in this mini-mester—all in Class V—also spent time with Ellen Warfield ’95, learning about her career as a photographer and the inspiration she took from her early days in the darkroom at Nightingale. Ellen talked about how much the world of photography continues to change as people move away from the traditional camera and film and rely so heavily on their phones as a way to document the world around them. 

A Crash Course in Italian

Nightingale students begin their study of languages as early as Kindergarten with an introduction to Spanish. As they move through their time in the Lower school they also add in French and Mandarin before choosing which of the three languages they will focus on throughout Middle and Upper School. As they further their studies in the language of their choice, students will develop a deeper understanding of the vocabulary, conjugations, sentence structure and conversational elements. In Mr. Howell’s “Italian for Cheaters,” students in Class VII and VIII who have studied French or Spanish are given the opportunity to expand their language base even further. Students moved quickly through the alphabet and learned basic rules of pronunciation while learning tricks to decipher key structures that they could then use to communicate in real conversation. Mr. Howell drew upon familiar texts to show students the similarities between French, Spanish and Italian—they began to read Povera Anna (Pauvre Anne/Pobre Ana). This mini-mester also included a trip to Eataly where students learned about Italian cooking, and a visit from Valentina Pacione, an Italian Military Intelligence Officer with whom students were able to have conversations in Italian. Upon completion of this mini-mester, students were able to talk about themselves and their families, order typical foods and drinks in a restaurant, talk about school life and talk about preferences with daily activities. 

Sustainable Fashion

The inspiration for Ms. Deschamps and Ms. Hens Piazza’s “Sustainable Fashion” mini-mester came from both a love of fashion as a means of self expression but also a consideration of the environmental and human impacts of consumerism. Their goal was to encourage students to think creatively about ways to enjoy fashion with minimal environmental impact. In this mini-mester, students explored the impact of fast fashion on the environment and learned about ways to shop and create clothing and accessories through sustainable practices. They participated in projects that included repurposing old garments, thrift store shopping and trade-ins and a visit to a sustainable fashion boutique. Students also took trips to FIT and Museum of Art and Design to see exhibits about sustainable fashion. At the end of this mini-mester Ms. Deschamps and Ms. Hens Piazza lead the students in a fashion show where they modeled the clothes they had found and designed throughout the week. Students also published a magazine detailing all the ways you can be more sustainable in your shopping and fashion behaviors. 


In Mrs. Maclean’s mini-mester “Changemakers,” students visited several local community organizations that focused on serving the elderly, homeless and LGBTQ communities. Their site visits took them from the Urban Outreach Center of Jan Hus Presbyeterian Church to Trinity Place Shelter to the New York Common Pantry. These students in Classes V-VIII directly served the clients at each organization but also learned why each one exists, where the funding comes from and how they and their families can continue to serve. The group also heard from guest speakers who work hard to improve the lives of the most vulnerable citizens of our city. Students shared they learned valuable lessons from the communities they worked with like the importance of not judging based on first appearances and valuing how fortunate they are for all the things in their lives that they take for granted.

Disease Detectives

Ms. Epstein and Ms. Perelman lead Middle School students in “Disease Detectives: How Germs Have Shaped Human History.” This course centers around the question of what decided our history: was it humans or was it germs, viruses, and epidemics that were actually the movers and shapers of the past? Ms. Epstein and Ms. Perelman wanted to stress to students how closely science and history interacted with one another, they wanted them to learn more about a topic they got to choose to learn, practice their research skills and, most of all, have fun. Students in Class VI remarked they love having a new lens through which to study our history and even our present. They boasted to faculty a deeper understanding of vaccines for different strains of the flu and even the coronavirus. At the end of the week, students were able to guess the disease from a list of symptoms—diseases from the black death, to small pox to the plague of Athens. 

A Hogwarts Education

"Hogwarts at Nightingale" was inspired by "my deep love and affection for everything Harry Potter and its invaluable lessons in empathy, compassion, and forgiveness," said Ms. Lulow about her mini-mester. Ms. Lulow wanted to dive into the psychology of Harry, Professor Dumbledore, and Professor Snape and look critically at J.K. Rowling. In this course students learned how important it was not to be blind to the darker side of people—in fiction and in real life—when they are surrounded by something adored and held in high esteem. Ms. Lulow wanted students to focus on the "murkier parts of each person, all the while considering the valuable moral lessons that the books teach us." Students studied the history of the characters, learned more about the J.K. Rowling, played a few rounds of Quidditch and went on a Harry Potter tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Pottery Boot Camp

Ms. Frenning’s “Pottery Boot Camp” gave students the opportunity to create their own art but also to study the works of others. On a trip to the Whitney Museum of American Art they viewed Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950-2019 where they were shown a window into the artists’ hands-on engagement with their materials and were able to imagine how it might feel to make each work. This beginner course offered all the basics of making pottery on the wheel from wedging to slap centering to trimming, carving and glazing. Students in Class VII noted they liked having the time and freedom to work with clay in a way they couldn’t in their regular ceramics classes. 

Petlovers United

"Petlovers United" was lead by Dr. Hartmann and explored the magical connection between people and the animals they love. They dove into the history of keeping pets, namely—though not exclusively—dogs and cats. The intent was to better understand the benefits and responsibilities of being animal guardians and learn about issues such as pet overpopulation, sheltering and spay and neuter programs. Students learned about the ways service and therapy animals help us and about animal intelligence and communication. Liza Balouzian '06 came to visit students in this mini-mester to talk about her work as a veterinarian, review overall pet care and demonstrate how to do a check-up exam on her adorable rescue dog, Brek. Dr. Hartmann and the students in this mini-mester worked hard all week to create and collect a towel and toy drive that they donated during their field trip to the Animal Care Centers of New York.


Dr. Spina teaches a Bioethics elective in the Upper School and was inspired by Middle School students excitement about the topic to teach this mini-mester. Over the course of the week, students in Class VII and VIII touched on major topics such as designer babies, vaccinations and human subjects in clinical trials. The goal for the week was that students would gain an understanding of what Bioethics is and how it is critical in today's world where often the science outpaces both the legality and morality of the achievements. Students in "Bioethics" spent the week debating the pros and cons of each topic and created an anonymous survey for their peers on the topics they studied such as gene therapy, enhancement and editing.