Miss Hall s School physics teacher Ed Eckel gives an astronomy presentation recently as part of a science and literature program for first-year students at
Miss Hall s School physics teacher Ed Eckel gives an astronomy presentation recently as part of a science and literature program for first-year students at the Pittsfield school. (Jenn Smith / Berkshire Eagle Staff )

PITTSFIELD

Miss Hall's School wants its first-year students to shine like stars in their studies and social lives.

This year, various departments at the high school for girls are partnering to implement a new curriculum, which recently put freshwomen in a planetarium, an astronomy talk and a literary workshop -- all in a day.

The whole initiative started with a summer reading selection. English teacher Emily Pulfer-Terino honed in on Amy Leach's "Things That Are," a 2012 collection of "lyrical essays," which critics often describe as a new brand of nonfiction. Leach takes history and behaviors of organisms and ecosystems of the natural world, and blends them with a nimble narrative style and intimate detail.

"When they first started with the text, some girls hated it. Some did not understand it at all. It's one of those books in that the more you read it, the more you fall in love with it," said Rebecca Cook-Dubin, a new English teacher at Miss Hall's.

"I didn't like it at first," said ninth-grader Julia Baron, "but I like the sciences."

Last Thursday, organizers for first-year programs hosted an afternoon workshop series related to the text.

Miss Hall's physics teacher Ed Eckel gave a presentation on astronomy and the changing universe, inspired by the book's essay, "The Wild What."

"You are stardust," Eckel explained to the students, relaying the history and life of planetary elements. "Really, that's what you're made of. You are three generations of stardust, and that's what you'll pass on to next generations."

The presentation prompted Baron to stick around after to talk with Eckel about theories on Earth's fate within our solar system.

"What's the theory? I'm really curious. I know we're going to burn to a crisp, but I want to know what happens to Earth itself," she asked Eckel.

Eckel said the program also inspired him to revive an old on-campus telescope and organize star-gazing activities for students.

During the workshop series, students explored the evening sky in the StarLab, a portable, inflatable planetarium that was brought to the school by Christopher Himes, STEM program manager at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

The students also visited the art room, where Pulfer-Terino and ceramics instructor Gary Grosenbeck led a talk on Leach's essay, "The Oracle." Previously, students and teachers also got to teleconference with Leach via Skype.

The students' work and exploration of the text and its meaning will continue this month, and will include a writing project, in which the first-year students will be required to utilize library databases and resources; field trips in nature, and a greenhouse project led by art faculty.

"We wanted to inspire girls early on in the school year," Pulfer-Terino said.

Alison Basdekis, director of Miss Hall's Horizons Program for off-campus and experiential learning, said this new project is something that can set the tone for future curricula and student experiences.

"The idea of Horizons and a project like this for ninth-graders is to help them adjust to a more rigorous high school curriculum and become part of a group of intellectually curious learners," Basdekis said.