Member School Spotlight: Milton Academy's Saturday Course

Posted By: Amy Grier SPARC News,

Since 1977, Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts, an independent school for lower and middle school students, has offered a program called the Saturday Course. The brainchild of former principal Betty Greenleaf Buck, the program was created to serve students who lived in the school’s surrounding communities by giving them access to facilities on Milton’s campus that went unused on the weekends.

Kristan Burke, the Saturday Course Director since 1994, says that in many ways the program runs the way it has since its inception. “Much of the original program remains intact,” she says, “however, I still refer to one of Betty’s notebooks written in fountain pen.”

Working primarily with “sending schools” who recommend motivated, willing, and academically strong students, the program includes a more diverse population than the Academy itself. More than 35% are non-white, and that number has seen a significant increase in recent years. High school interns, including former Saturday Course students, are integral to the program’s success. They work as teacher aides, clean classrooms, and even assist with instruction. 

The teaching staff includes many who have been with the program for over 25 years. Some teach at Milton Academy, but many come from the surrounding communities and represent a variety of professions, including nursing, theatre, and law. Kristan says their loyalty derives from their passion for their subject, the difference they see in their students’ lives, and the homemade sandwiches she makes for them every week.

The word on campus is that Saturday Course staff call it a “utopia” for teachers. They can design a curriculum around a subject they’re passionate about, and a sample of their offerings just might make you wish you could attend yourself:

Blood and Guts: A course about how our insides work, including dissecting “chicken legs, sheep’s eyes, brains, and hearts.” (This class has been taught by the same professor for 46 years!) 

Cool World 3D: Learn how to build 3D computer models using the software Tinkercad “and your imagination.”

Earth Warriors: Learn how to “flex your muscles for the earth” through gardening, identifying plants and flowers, and discussing work done by current climate activists.

Fiction Writing: Write your own stories learning the techniques of fiction, including “plot, characters, setting, and dialogue.”

Trial Court: Learn how a courtroom functions, from jury to witness to prosecutors and defense attorneys. “Can you think fast and win a case?” 

This is a small selection of the many cool classes students can choose. To keep class sizes small and balanced, students can select their favorites, but may end up with their second choice. No one, however, ends up disappointed.

In 2018, the Boston Herald reported on an 18-year-old Cambridge student, originally from India, who wrote a book for kids about how to get started with science experiments. The Saturday Course decided to partner with him and offer the book to kids for free on their website. “Here we are, doing the same experiments that kids in India are doing,” Kristan told the Herald. “And we have the same needs and wants, the same connection of humanity through a single book.”

While revenue is always on the minds of us who work in auxiliary, this idea of connection—of creating a bridge between the people at Milton and the people who live in the communities they serve—powers the intent behind the Saturday Course. “I appreciate the need to run auxiliary programs as a business,” Kristan says, “but it is important to balance that with mission and never lose the core essence of the student experience.”

With this mission of connection, quality student experience, and service to the community, the Saturday Course has remained remarkably on-target for 46 years. With about 1150 students per session representing 125 schools, it’s an inspiring example of what can be done when mission alignment is held as a top priority.

Of course, students usually offer the best PR. When asked if they'd like to return to the Saturday Course, students replied:

“I would with all my heart.”

“Yes, of course! It’s really fun!”

“Yes. Who wouldn’t?”

“It would be an honor.”

“I would love to return. I would go for my whole life if I could!”

“Yes. Why are you asking that question? Of course!”

Milton Academy’s Saturday Course in Milton, Massachusetts, serves students in 4th-8th grade throughout the Boston Area

Kristan Burke is the Saturday Course Director since 1994