Brandy Sales Presents to BHS Seniors

The BHS English Department would like to thank Brandy Sales, video producer and video marketing coach from  WeCast Productions, for spending the day speaking to BHS seniors about interviewing skills. Sales presented a workshop for students designed to teach them how to use the art of interviewing to create engaging and impactful videos and podcasts. BHS English teacher Amanda Lee organized the workshop in an effort to help prepare students for the senior research assignment.

This year, seniors are working on a new research project that requires them to address the following question: How can I impact change in society? They are tasked with identifying a topic of interest to them, developing a path of inquiry that helps them understand that topic, researching that topic, and proposing a way to address a problem related to that topic. Students are exploring a wide range of subjects, from using dance in special education classes to building youth leadership programs. Part of the research component of the assignment requires students to conduct an expert interview. The final component of the project is a digital presentation using a medium of the student’s choice.

At today’s workshop, students had the opportunity to hear from an expert on how to conduct effective interviews that will lead to a deeper understanding of a topic, while also creating engaging content for their digital presentation. Sales introduced BHS seniors to different types of questions that will produce the best results, offered specific examples of interviewing strategies, and gave advice on how to make the most out of an interview designed for video or podcast presentations. In his final thoughts to students as the workshop closed, Sales emphasized that students can have a huge impact on the world by creating something that is generated from a one hour conversation; they just need to know how to direct that conversation, and they need to believe in their own message.

Thanks again to Brandy Sales, Burlington resident, for generously contributing his time and expertise to help BHS students!

November Reading Challenge Reflections

The BHS Reading Challenge is off to a great start. Students, teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, librarians, parents, and alumni have chosen to make reading diverse texts a priority. 

Our participants had a lot to say about what they read for the November Reading Challenge: Read a Book Written by a Person of Color. We’ve included some of their reflections here. If you’re looking for book recommendations, we have you covered.

Brad Bond (BHS parent):  The book Things Fall Apart describes the imposition of rational legalistic governmental order on a native people. I believe this speaks to the current political unease with the amount of government in people’s lives. DECEMBER BOOK:  Man’s Fate by Andre Malraux about an uprising in China during the late 20’s.

Renee Dacey (World Languages Department Chair): Trevor Noah’s book Born a Crime was fantastic. I highly recommend it to adults and young adults because of the perspectives and life experiences that Mr. Noah shares chapter by chapter as a child, teenager, and young adult growing up in South Africa. Without a doubt, this book is a page turner that one cannot put down! The part of the book that was most significant to me was his view on why parents name their children after historical heroes or villains. For example, one of his childhood friends was named Hitler. At first, the reader ponders, why would a parent name his or her son, Hitler? Immediately, Mr. Noah gives a profound reason why his friend was named after such a person. Why? Well, I will not share that reason…you just have to read the book to find out! DECEMBER BOOK: Sold by Patricia McCormick

Amanda McCombs (BHS Senior): The book I chose for the November challenge was When Dimple Met Rishi by Indian-American author Sandhya Menon. This contemporary romance book follows the protagonists Dimple and Rishi, whose parents set them up in an arranged marriage and they meet at a web developing summer program. I appreciated how Dimple is an empowered and independent female who rejects her mother’s traditional beauty values and is one of the only girls at the web developing program. Rishi is more sensitive, proud of his Indian culture, and talented at drawing comics. One of my favorite aspects of the novel was the inclusion of Indian culture, language, food, etc., which in my opinion is an underrepresented ethnicity in young adult literature. Although the novel could be very cheesy and predictable at times and the writing was not outstanding, I still enjoyed it and breezed through it. DECEMBER BOOK: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

Katie Whitcomb (Math Department Chair): I loved Homegoing. I loved learning about life in both Africa and the US through the eyes of Yaa Gyasi’s vibrant characters. The book really keeps you on your toes, moving quickly between characters and generations. It could be confusing at times, but there is a family tree at the beginning of the book that helped me to navigate. Despite feeling a bit disoriented, every time it switched characters, I was quickly hooked and invested in this new person’s life and perspective and experiences. It was a great read! DECEMBER BOOK: The Girl from Everywhere  by Heidi Heillig

Abigail Abbott, BHS World Language Teacher: I really felt that Trevor Noah’s  Born a Crime was an homage to his mother. She appears to be an extraordinary woman – brave, independent, and resilient. Throughout his life Noah sees her choosing to follow her own conscience. For instance, she decides to have him despite it being illegal to give birth to a mixed race child. She approaches the complexities and hardships of navigating South African apartheid with an appealing blend of irreverence and ingenuity. I would love to be able to face the challenge in my life with the same amount of strength and grace that Trevor Noah’s mother demonstrates. I recommend this book to BHS students. DECEMBER BOOK: The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan

Callie Graham, BHS Teacher Librarian:
Hearts are not made
Of glass
Of bone
Or any material that could
Or fragment
Or shatter
They don’t
Crack Into Pieces
They don’t
Fall apart.
Hearts don’t break.
They just stop working.
An old watch from another time and no parts to fix it. (Yoon 303)

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon: I am in love with the poetic power of this book and its equally awe-inspiring protagonists. Daniel, a Korean American who questions his future career path as a doctor and contemplates the life of the poet, sets out to convince Natasha, an undocumented Jamaican trying to find legal recourse to stay in the United States, that they are destined to be together.  Through their heartfelt interactions, The Sun is Also a Star tackles the universal issues of love, identity, family, life, and fate.  In doing so, it examines the ways in which we connect with one another. This coming-of-age tale is a must read. I definitely recommend this book to BHS students. DECEMBER BOOK:  Sold by Patricia McCormick

Vivian Wong, BHS Senior: My favorite thing about The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was its relevance right now. I felt like I learned a lot about important issues in this country while also being captivated by the fictional story. I also loved the unique perspective this book gave. Not many of the books I read are in the point of view of a black character and I thought the insight into the black community and black culture was so interesting. This book was heartbreaking because the tragic event in this book has happened so many times in real life, but it also ended on a hopeful note. My favorite quote from the book was “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.” It’s true that you have no control over how things will turn out, but you should never give up on the things you care about. December Book: 

I recommend this book to other BHS students. I think it has the potential to inform people about an important subject they may not fully understand. Not only that, it is also a great coming of age story and impossible to put down. DECEMBER BOOK: Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

AnnMarie Bilotta, BHS Math Teacher: I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I really liked the simplicity of the book, and I was surprised by how much it evoked feelings from back in high school. I had so many dreams then that I think I just pushed aside on the path to getting my career. This book really made me reflect on if I still had the same dreams as before and what I can do to reach them. I think as adults we lose sight of dreams sometimes, or forget to make new dreams/goals. My favorite quote is “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” When you approach scenarios with love, you make each situation better. Whether in relationships or just daily life, when you strive to be the best version of yourself you inspire others to do the same. You hold yourself accountable for your happiness and understand that you are the one who determines how your life will go. I also really enjoyed that Paulo Coelho modeled the philosophy from his book in his own life. My book had a foreward that explained how long it took for his book to be noticed and how he truly never gave up on it. There is something unique and special about that to me. I would recommend this book to BHS student. It is an easy read that all grade levels should enjoy, and the message to trust your path and never give up on your dreams is always a good one. DECEMBER BOOK:  Sold by Patricia McCormick

Patrick Larkin, BPS Assistant Superintendent: I read Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I found the book very eye-opening as Noah shared his experiences growing up “colored” in South Africa during apartheid. The one thing that continues to stick with me is the amazing strength of Trevor’s mother and her vision of a better life for Trevor.   The quote from the book that really highlights this is “We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”  

One of the things that struck me most from the book was a few of the stories that looked to be sinister on the surface, but when they were put in context they were actually quite normal. Two examples that come to mind are the friend named Hitler and the story of the black cat being killed on the soccer field. These stories just reinforced that it is important not to make snap judgements, especially when the actions are those from a different culture/background. DECEMBER BOOK:  A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Sanjana Manghnani, BHS Senior: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid was SO good. I enjoyed every part of it. I especially loved that the fantasy parts of the book were so realistic; if someone told me there was a door to another country, after reading this book, I’d almost believe them. Some of my favorite quotes from this book were, “To flee forever is beyond the capacity of most: at some point even a hunted animal will stop, exhausted, and await its fate, if only for a while” (165) and “We are all migrants through time” (209). I especially like the first quote because it reminds me of the fact that sometimes we all need to stop running in life, and just take a break. The second quote I like because it groups humans as one. This book made me feel everything from scared, to happy, to almost crying. Everyone should read Exit WestDECEMBER BOOK:  The Wrath and The Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

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BHS Reading Challenge

Here in the English department, we LOVE reading! We love it so much that we want everyone to get in on the fun. So, we developed the first ever BHS Reading Challenge!

We created a list of categories that we hope will encourage members of the BHS community to read books by diverse authors and about diverse subject matter. Throughout the year, participants will have opportunities to share their thoughts on what they are reading, make book recommendations, and even win prizes.

If you’d like to participate in the challenge, please complete this registration form.

Happy reading!

BHS Reading Challenge


The BHS Six Word Memoir Project

Everyone experiences life differently. Everybody has moments of triumph, of happiness, of frustration, of loss, and of content. Everyone in our school has experiences and ideas that shape their identity and craft their story. The BHS Six Word Memoir project was designed to help our community understand a little bit about who we all are and what we are all feeling; it was designed to give us some insight into the lives of the people we share our days with.

This year, as we work to integrate the BHS Core Values into our curriculum and school culture, the English Department is taking steps to ensure that students have a real sense of what those values mean. In addition to making changes to our academic curriculum, we have also worked to present those values visibly throughout the school. One small step in this process is our school-wide Six Word Memoir Project. 

All students in the school spent time in their English class talking about Smith Magazine’s Story of Six and the power of crafting a six word memoir. Many English teachers connected this project to the school’s essential questions, specifically those focusing on identity and perspective. Others introduced the project as an effort to build community in the building. Once students completed their six word memoirs, teachers posted them above the lockers in the English hall and invited the school community to read through them. We noted that some will feel familiar,  some will prompt laughter, some are a little heartbreaking; yet, all of the memoirs represent the people in our school and each one of those people has a story worth sharing and worth acknowledging.

essential questions

BHS School-wide Essential Questions posted in the English hall

A small sample of students’ Six Word Memoirs



BHS Student Day of Poetry

BHS students are poets! They are writers who tell stories about themselves, about the world they live in, and about what is most important to them. Today, at the Third Annual BHS Student Day of Poetry, they had the opportunity to develop their writing and to share their words and thoughts with their peers.

By partnering with Mass Poetry, we were able to bring two acclaimed poets to BHS to facilitate writing workshops. Each poet ran two sessions – guiding students through various exercises to help them jumpstart their own work.

Identity Through Storytelling, facilitated by Rage Hezekiah

rageRage Hezekiah is a Cave Canem and MacDowell Fellow who earned her MFA from Emerson College. She is the recipient of the Saint Botolph Emerging Artist Award in Literature and was nominated for Best New Poets, 2017. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Fifth Wednesday, Columbia Poetry Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Cape Rock, and Tampa Review, as well as other journals. Her writing is featured in various anthologies including Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speak Out and Nasty Women Poets: An Anthology of Subversive Verse

In this workshop students discussed LGBTQIA+ voice and how identity informs poetic storytelling. They explored poetry by contemporary poets and talked about bringing their own stories to the page. Language is a powerful tool, central in how we identify ourselves, and through poetry we can embrace that power to talk about who we are. This workshop emphasized how to incorporate our holistic, intersectional identities into our poems.

Tupac, Hip Hop, and Love Poems, facilitated by Neiel Israel

neielNeiel Israel is an internationally acclaimed poet, vocalist, and arts educator. Emerging from the Boston spoken-word scene, she quickly distinguished herself as a powerful, and lyrical poetic force.  She is a member of the 2017 Boston Poetry Slam Team, and represented the 2016 Boston Poetry Slam at both the National Poetry Slam and the Individual World Poetry Slam as the World Qualifier winner.  She has previously represented the Lizard Lounge at Nationals (2011-2015) and the Women of the World Poetry Slam (2011). As an international teaching artist, Neiel leads workshops, seminars and classes in creative writing for colleges/universities, schools, community, and art programs.

This workshop helped students to draw connections between poetry, hip hop and oral-traditions related to hip-hop culture, while also exploring hip hop’s intersection of love, family, and community. The workshop was a fun, safe and supportive environment for students to read, write, recite, and listen to one another’s work.

Following the workshops, the students attended an open mic where both Rage and Neiel performed their work, and students had an opportunity to share what they wrote throughout the day.


Raising Student Voice: Using Slam Poetry in the Classroom

This weekend, I had the pleasure of co-presenting with English Department Chair Shannon Janovitz at the 115th Annual New England Association of Teachers of English Fall 2017 Conference held in Mansfield/Foxboro, MA.  Our workshop, titled “Raising Student Voice: Using Slam Poetry in the Classroom” focused on the ways in which teachers can utilize slam to help students generate their own questions; investigate independent topics; develop critical and conceptual thinking; and participate in the world around them with authenticity and passion.

Having advised the school’s poetry and culture club, Poetic Ramblings, for the past four years, Mrs. Janovitz and I have seen firsthand the positive impact slam poetry can have on high school students both inside and outside the classroom.

BHS junior and slam team member Julianna Grossman also spoke eloquently during the seminar about the ways in which slam poetry has helped her to grow and develop as an individual. She expertly fielded questions from teachers around New England about the potential power of slam in the classroom. “Slam Poetry gives a voice to those who can’t speak. It connects us to ourselves and others,” Grossman notes.

In addition to valuing student voice and helping students appreciate other viewpoints, the effective use of slam poetry in the classroom ties strongly to the Common Core, allowing students to read critically, write consciously, listen thoughtfully, and speak clearly in an engaging and dynamic way.

Change is Coming

There are big changes in the English Department this year. Here’s what’s happening in our hallway!

We have two teachers joining the department: Sarah Eshelman and Robert Hale. Ms. Eshelman will be teaching sophomores and juniors, while also taking on the journalism classes and advising The Devil’s Advocate. Mr. Hale is going to work with seniors and sophomores. He has been busy transforming the old computer lab into a pretty amazing classroom space. Both teachers are eager to start the school year, to get into their classrooms, and to meet the amazing students of BHS. We are excited to welcome these educators into our school community.

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 7.49.03 PMIn addition to these changes in our faculty we’ve also made some changes to our curriculum. Senior teachers spent much of the summer updating the Brit Lit research project to reflect the school’s new core values and learning expectations, as well as our new school-wide essential questions. Students will be engaging in a more personalized research project than the former assignment which centered on analysis of literature through a text-based composition. The updated project requires students to consider how they can contribute to the community by understanding and addressing issues of concern to them.

Throughout the course, students and teachers will use classic and contemporary literature to explore the concept of the individual’s power to impact change. After discussing these ideas in connection to the books they read, students will have the opportunity to apply their knowledge and ideas to their final project. They will research an issue; write a proposal about the direction of their work; develop informational, argumentative, and reflective writing on their chosen topic; and create a digital product to present their work. Students will engage in various forms of digital writing throughout the year to prepare them for this change. Teachers will work with podcasts, short films, blogs, visual essays, and other examples of digital rhetoric to help students understand the different forms of 21st century composition.


BHS hallway, recently painted to highlight our core values

The other main adjustment in our curriculum is in the sophomore framework. Though we are keeping the same texts and the driving focus on varied voices, we are shifting our approach to teaching them and centering on the concept of advocacy through storytelling. This change will offer students an opportunity to learn about other perspectives, to understand why it is important to question our assumptions, and to develop skills for engaging in discourse about difficult topics.

alcoveSome of the hallway spaces are also different. To align with our goal of expanding student collaboration, we’ve transformed the alcove in our main hall to include some lounge chairs and whiteboard tables. We will also include some displays to highlight student work and promote student activities. While this space is still a work in progress, we are hoping it will encourage students to share ideas, work to solve problems together, and to offer each other support.

We are really looking forward to another great year, and to helping students find happiness and success at BHS. Students, if you’re reading this, see you in September!

BHS English Dept Student of the Month – Merna Seleman! (Class of 2019)

Merna Seleman is a sophomore in Mr. Lally’s Intro to Literature II class, and is our selection for English Department Student of the Month for February (please excuse as we get caught up!)

From Mr. Lally: Merna’s performance in my class has stood out in pretty much every conceivable area. Her ability to dissect our literature is keen and intellectual. Her performance in our various assessments regularly rate among the very best. She comes to class with a positive attitude, and brings up questions that help promote a greater understanding of our material. Her writing is refined, and she was even one of my Poetry Out Loud winners! It is a pleasure having Merna in class. Congratulations!


BHS English Dept Student of the Month – Dwigins Rousseau! (Class of 2020)

Dwigins Rousseau is a freshman in Ms. Smetana’s Intro to Literature I class, and is our selection for English Department Student of the Month for January (please excuse as we get caught up!)

Along with her endorsement, Ms. Smetana added the following: Dwigins Rousseau’s willingness to take risks sets him apart from his peers. For example, when he discovered a classmate had chosen the Poetry Out Loud poem he had already memorized, Dwigins chose a new poem with only days to prepare.  Not only did Dwigins successfully recite that new poem, but he ended up advancing to the semi-finals.  Dwigins often steps up in moments when others hesitate– whether it be volunteering to read his personal writing aloud, helping a classmate, or answering a tough question. Overall, Dwigins enhances the class community by exemplifying courage, genuine curiosity, and optimism.