Editors-in-Chief arrive at MBA and USN

Sarah Cook and Janet Briggs shadow MBA students on the Hill

By Janet Briggs and Sarah Cook, Editors-in-Chief

On April 23, we stepped over enemy lines for a day on the Hill. We shadowed Joseph Bellardo and Bo Wilbanks, seniors and editors of Montgomery Bell Academy student newspaper the Bellringer. Before arriving, we held many preconceived notions about MBA, many of which were disproved. Below are the top 5:

1.They talk about grades a lot 

Surprisingly this was not completely true, but they definitely talk more about grades than at Harpeth Hall. In our first block AP economics class, the students took a brief quiz. After the quiz, the class reviewed the questions and the teacher said which students missed each question. Some students also openly shared their grade, an action almost unheard of at Harpeth Hall.

While this was not the norm for all classes, the staggering difference in talk about grades and college was interesting. One of the first questions a teacher asked us was what our college plans are for next year, a question that Harpeth Hall teachers are strongly discouraged from asking. Overall, the open discussion about quantitative achievement was more than we were used to. 

2. They have better food

I, Janet, believed this to be true. After many months of bagged lunch distribution, MBA recently reopened their dining hall for regular service. We were able to grab our food similarly to pre-COVID times, and there was a wider selection of lunch options than at Harpeth Hall. Pizza, ice cream and jello (RED, I might add) were just a few of the food items that sold me on the superiority of their Sage Dining. They also offered a variety of salads and hot bar options, similarly to Harpeth Hall, but with the addition of some filling classics that  sold it for me.

However, I, Sarah, think the food selection was quite comparable to at HH, especially since both schools use Sage Dining. While the offerings on the day we were there may have seemed superior to some meals at HH, the general options of salads, sandwiches, pizza and hot food seemed very similar to our meal selections. The only central difference I noticed was the presence of fountain drinks which personally does not make a huge impact on my dining experience. 

Staring into the sun: Editors-in-Chief Janet Briggs and Sarah Cook stand in the Vine Street parking lot after a long day on the Hill on April 23. Photography by Bo Wilbanks.

3. Their campus is huge 

We went in eager to see the Burkholder Wellness Center, also called “the Burk,” and it resembles a college campus.  With the cafe, some of the students spend break time there or use one of the wellness rooms to study. The Burk boasts state-of-the-art athletic offerings from golf simulators to workout equipment; however, we were sad to miss out on the now flooded squash courts. 

Beyond the Burk, the number of academic buildings was staggering. The MBA schedule includes 50 minute blocks and only a few short grace periods. Similar to Harpeth Hall, MBA divides many of the buildings and floors by subject, so there was still a significant amount of walking from class to class. 

The newer buildings such as the Lowry building had spacious classrooms, allowing for more social distancing than expected. Older buildings like Ball Hall had tighter quarters, but in most cases still allowed for at least three feet of distance. 

In general, there was a lot of space but not all of it was utilized. There is also an evident preference at least facility wise for athletics over performing and visual arts, and visual arts are all confined to one building. However, having dedicated space for debate, forensics and robotics is a game changer for some of those clubs. 

However, the lack of library space was notable compared to HH, as their book collection spans about a few shelves which were located in a corner. However, they do have a student center where students spend study halls. The office for the Bellringer is also quite small compared to the media arts lab where Logos is produced. 

4. Masculine atmosphere

This was definitely true, maybe even to a greater extent than expected. In a predominately male atmosphere, many stereotypical features of masculinity were not only present, but exacerbated and expected from students. 

The overwhelming level of testosterone levels was quite noticeable, but it was only magnified when every time we walked by someone, the guys exchanged an elaborate handshake. If there was ever a lull in conversation, the first topic was an upcoming lacrosse game or whatever pro sport that happened over the weekend. 

However, it was amazing to see how in-tune to MBA sports most of the students were. They could talk about stats for almost any student and analyze almost any game. What appears to be a perpetuation of masculine stereotypes does encourage a sense of community that Harpeth Hall finds in other ways.

The “bro” culture often even extended to teachers. The student-teacher relationship seemed to be more relaxed than at HH, especially in the high school. Granted we visited mostly senior classes at the end of the school year, we witnessed more casual repartee between student and faculty than is normal at HH, and the power difference between students and teachers often seemed nonexistent. 

The sense of being in an stereotypical all-male environment was pervasive in numerous, often unspoken ways. In addition to the sports talk and “bro” culture, the morning advisory we stepped into was playing video games, an uncommon activity at HH. 

5. MBA is academically tougher than HH

While we did not believe this going in, we can confidently say that it’s not true. Say what you want about “the HH daycare,” myth,  the classes that we visited were at the same caliber as any HH class. MBA prides itself on their expansive course catalog with basically every AP, but more APs does not translate to harder classes.

What really changes the class dynamic from HH to MBA is the length of the classes and their schedule. The daily 50 minute blocks make it nearly impossible to give longer nightly assignments for homework. Time in and out of class is filled differently than at HH. MBA students have time in class to go over work because they can get on with the lesson the next day. 

While none of the classes we attended were more difficult than our own, the offering of more advanced STEM classes in-person is a difference. MBA has a teacher for multivariable calculus as well as multiple teachers for many advanced science classes, but MBA also seemed to have more faculty overall. 

After a truly jam-packed day, we did learn a lot about our brother school. Thank you to our hosts, Bo Wilbanks and Joe Bellardo, for a look into the average day of our MBA compatriots.

Devon Campbell explores the hallways of the University School

By Devon Campbell, Editor-in-Chief

Unlike my counterparts visiting MBA, I went into my trip to USN with few preconceived notions. With my sole visit to USN during my 10 years in Nashville having been to take the SAT, I had little knowledge of the USN experience. 

However, upon connecting with Esha Karam, the Editor-in-Chief of USN’s Peabody Press, the differences became increasingly apparent. 

1. Relaxed, expressive environment

Much to my delight, class began at 8:25. Outside the entrance, Head of the Upper School Dr. Quinton Walker greeted the incoming students. To my surprise, Dr. Walker also greeted me by name and welcomed me to campus. This decidedly warm and relaxed atmosphere carried into the expressive nature of the student body.  

Despite being a co-ed campus, USN has essentially no dress code. The official policy reads, “Attire that is revealing, patently offensive, distracting or otherwise counterproductive to the learning process is not acceptable.” In practice, this policy generously facilitates free expression in regards to clothing, with female students able to wear shorts, crop tops, mini skirts and other items that have been deemed inappropriate on Harpeth Hall’s campus.  

Although my time at USN was short, the clothing worn by the girls was never a distracting element in classes, nor did it impede the learning process whatsoever, potentially calling into question the strictness of Harpeth Hall’s own dress code policy. 

Additionally, the activist spirit of USN’s campus was immediately evident. The logo of the USN GSA was visible in nearly every classroom, posters stating “Black Trans Lives Matter” were hung on student boards, and stickers asserting that “Diversity is our Strength” were adhered upon many classroom doors. Although these assertions alone do not make a campus more activistic, the presence of these messages imbues that campus with a greater sense of social awareness that Harpeth Hall does not match. 

Although these assertion alone do not make a campus more activistic, the presence of these messages imbues that campus with a greater sense of social awareness that Harpeth Hall does not match.

Quantitatively, there is a significantly greater presence of students of color at USN; Harpeth Hall enrolls 17 percent students of color, whereas USN enrolls 38 percent students of color. This more culturally diverse environment contributes to the more expressive and inclusive spirit I observed on campus. 

2. More advanced classes

However, the culture at USN was equally academic as it was expressive. While shadowing Esha, I went to several “post-AP” classes. Specifically, post-AP Latin allowed students who had already succeeded at the AP level to continue their studies of Latin with a greater emphasis on literature. 

Additionally, Esha was among an entire class of students who completed BC Calculus as juniors. After which, they completed multivariable calculus in a single semester and were currently studying linear algebra. 

Beyond the impressive nature of the academic accomplishments, post-AP classes have no standardized test by which the class is measured. Consequently, the classes felt more motivated by the pursuit of learning rather than the desire to pass a national exam. 

3. Busier and more individualized schedule 

Additionally, students have a greater degree of independence in their choice of classes, which leads to a more individualized schedule for each student. For Esha, this resulted in several days of the week in which she did not have a lunch period. 

Nonetheless, she assured me that we could simply cut into time from her period after lunch in order to eat. As we went out on the lawn to eat, I found that the lunchless schedule was a phenomenon for many students, and missing bits of class to make up for this absence was considerably common. With this context, the relative frequency of students milling in and out of class at different times became more understandable. 

Additionally, the schedule included six classes per day, each one hour long with no breaks in between. Activities that Harpeth Hall would deem a club (such as the Newspaper or the Yearbook) are included as a class in a student’s schedule. Consequently, the staff for each of these publications changes with each semester, and their output in these pursuits is graded. 

When sitting in on Esha’s journalism class, I was interested to hear their discussion on the upcoming college t-shirt day. According to a few of the students in the class, college t-shirt day perpetuates a more negative culture around college that persists at USN. 

Specifically, liberal arts colleges tend to attract a greater proportion of USN students. However, the smaller student bodies at these institutions and their more selective nature create undercurrents of competition among the senior class. 

This observation indicated the dichotomy between the easy-going nature of the student body at first glance and the fast-paced, motivated and intellectual culture on campus.

Although I examined several distinguishing factors between HH and USN, they were far more alike than they were different. Both institutions have collaborative student bodies that struggle to a degree with comparative mindsets. Broadly speaking, I am greatly appreciative to USN for allowing my visit and to Esha Karam for her willingness to guide me through the day.

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