In continuation of the 20 Years 20 Stories series, we share a conversation that we had with SGS alum Class of 2007, Emerson Lynch. Emerson’s time at SGS showed them what it felt like to be a part of a safe and supportive community with a culture that embraced anti-bias curriculum in a way that many middle schools often don’t. These years were formative for Emerson as SGS fueled their interest in earth science, gave them a comfortable space to come out as queer, and to have a fun and enjoyable middle school experience that ultimately inspired them to seek out a similar community at Smith College. Currently, Emerson is a PhD Candidate in Earth Science at Northern Arizona University, where they have kept their middle school interest alive by researching earthquake hazards.
As an SGS alumna, can you talk about your overall experience with the school?
I really loved going to SGS. I learned a lot and I had a lot of fun. I appreciated the focus on anti-bias and being able to meet people with different experiences, including other students in the community. The anti-bias curriculum came through in many ways. We had monthly all-school panels of community members, parents, teachers, or mentors that would come in and talk about their experience on a given topic. We also had affinity groups during lunches, where students could have lunch with other students that shared an identity with them. I came out as a queer in seventh grade, and I think that the expectation that you would be accepting of everyone was really part of the school culture and everyone was really supportive. My classmates shared the sentiment of: “Sounds good, that’s who you are.” So, it was a safe place for me to do that.
What characteristics of the school are important to highlight?
SGS is a supportive environment where your voice is valued. They see students as a whole person and that is so important for development. It’s also just really fun! I had a lot of fun learning, and it wasn’t just about memorization; they took the ideas and allowed us to apply them. Also, the integration of topics. For example, with the Mission to Mars project, it wasn’t just stuff we had learned in our science class, but it would also involve a robotics method we learned, some calculations, and a writing component. This prepared me for grad school! Also, people often believe that kids are too young to learn about topics like racism or sexism, but I know that’s not true, because we did talk about these things in middle school, and it set us up to enter the world.
*What is the most significant memory you have at the school?
In 7th grade we did a Mount St. Helens project where we learned about volcanoes, and we took a trip to Mount St. Helens. When I was in 6th grade, the 7th graders were there when the volcano started erupting. So, we rolled the TV into the lunchroom and watched the news as we were getting calls from the 7th graders who were driving away from the volcano. I got to go on the trip the following year and I had a great time. I loved it so much, now I’m a PhD candidate in geology, and I focus on hazards. I study earthquakes rather than volcanoes, but that experience kicked off my interest and I think back on that a lot.
Are there any relationships that stand out from your time at SGS?
When I was doing the Pay it Forward project in 7th grade I focused on discrimination against queer youth. One of my teachers, Kara, introduced me to a lot of people in the community outside of SGS. That gave me the opportunity to not only interview people for my project, but also to meet queer adults, which was important to me. Sally was also someone that stood out as supportive. All the teachers at SGS make you feel valuable and like your ideas matter and we were able to have real conversations where they cared about our input.
Can you tell us more about your college experience?
I was a math major at Smith College, and I really loved math at SGS. I was on the math team at SGS and then in high school I still really liked math, but I noticed a stark difference between the supportive environment of SGS, where I got to be excited about math and it wasn’t weird, versus my high school experience, which wasn’t like that. I actually left high school not wanting to study math and I picked Smith because they didn’t have distribution requirements and I wouldn’t be required to take another math class ever again. But then I ended up taking calculus and I really loved it. I found that supportive community again that I had had at SGS where my classmates and I were working together and wanting to succeed rather than in competition with one another.
What did you do after college?
After college, I came home for a year and worked and applied to grad school. I started my PhD at Boston University in geology and then my advisor got a new job and so we moved to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. With my PhD, I work on active faults. Not just the Cascadia Subduction Zone, but also smaller faults near the surface that can still be very damaging. So, my work focuses on finding, mapping, and surveying faults and determining when earthquakes have happened in the past and how big they were. I’ve been focusing on the Beaufort Range fault on Vancouver Island, but I’m developing tools that can be used on faults in almost any setting.
Do you have any advice for the current students of SGS?
I would tell them to have fun with it. Middle school should be a fun time and you are learning a lot and it’s important the take the time to find the joy in it and what they’re learning and spending time with your friends doing cool stuff.
What would you say to parents who are thinking about sending their kids to SGS?
SGS is a great place for your kids to grow into who they are. Middle school is a time when you’re figuring all of that out and I can’t think of a better place than SGS to do that.