When we kicked off the 2019-20 school year with our Opening of School Assembly, we had no idea its “Be Golden” theme would become a uniting force among the Milton Hershey School community during a global pandemic.
At MHS, we know that being “golden” is not about perfection. It is embracing who you are and the knowledge and skills you have gained to push through adversity. In the past year, we learned that while we cannot control the circumstances that surround us, we can control how we choose to react. I am so proud of the way our students, staff, parents/sponsors, and alumni have responded to the challenges of COVID-19 with optimism, compassion, and commitment.
The school year was unlike anything we have ever experienced in our 110 years. From the start of the pandemic, we saw the importance of keeping our school healthy and open so our students had necessary resources and parents/sponsors had peace of mind knowing their children were in a safe place.
While at the midpoint of the 2020-21 school year, this report gives us the opportunity to reflect on the collective efforts that created a successful 2019-20 school year. As we navigated the pandemic and provided excellent care, we also continued growing our multifaceted support system for alumni and students by expanding partnerships with colleges, universities, and business groups—giving them a head start on their careers, including the trades. Additionally, we launched the newest pathway in our Career and Technical Education program—Education and Human Services—and implemented our third state-registered pre-apprenticeship.
The school year culminated with a heartwarming Commencement Weekend and the conclusion of our 2020 Vision strategic plan. As we transition to our next strategic plan, the MILT Plan, our dedication to the Hersheys' mission is stronger than ever.
Peter G. Gurt ’85 MHS President
On Nov. 15, 1909, founders Milton S. and Catherine Hershey signed the Deed of Trust establishing Milton Hershey School as a home and school for children in need.
During the 2019-20 school year, we marked our 110th year as a place where a child’s potential is met with life-changing opportunity.
I had no idea when it started that it would ever reach these proportions.
While our programs and curriculum have evolved with the changing times, the same commitment and approach to holistic care remains. In the spring of 2020, our expertise as a residential school prepared us to navigate the global COVID-19 pandemic so we could continue to provide care, resources, and support to our students during a time when they truly needed us most.
The Hersheys’ proud legacy and the mission they created in 1909 are woven into everything we do and will guide us for the next 110 years and beyond.
"I know how smart she is and how much she loves learning. I felt this would be the right opportunity for her. Having stability and knowing she’s safe is really important to me. I can’t think of a better place than to have her here."
Being from a small town, I'm excited about all the stuff I can do here and the activities at MHS.
More families than ever are choosing to expand their children’s world of opportunity by enrolling them at Milton Hershey School. During the 2019-20 school year, MHS reached a record-setting enrollment of 2,189 students—the largest number of students to attend MHS in its 110-year history.
This included 446 new students who, along with their parents/sponsors, were formally welcomed into the MHS family during one of our Enrollment Day events. The day celebrates each student’s milestone. It’s also a time for reflection, with many parents/sponsors sharing hope for their child’s future and the reason they decided to enroll them.
During each Family Weekend:
I want him to be the best version of himself. He wasn’t thriving at home, and he will here. I want him to have options in the world because he got an education.
I enrolled my kids here for them to focus and do something better for themselves.
He needs more positive role models in his life. He has positive people around him, but the more, the better.
I just want her to be the best she can be. We know others who attended and they have great jobs and a very good education.
With finances being tight sometimes, there are opportunities here that there’s no way we can give him.
"We are committed to partnering with our parents/sponsors so they feel engaged with the school and connected to their child, even if they are separated by distance."
Parents/sponsors staying connected to MHS helps fuel their students' success. During the 2019-20 school year, we continued the many initiatives—like Family Weekends, teacher social media accounts, livestreamed student events, Spartan Sponsor Academy, and more—that encourage parent/sponsor engagement.
With the spring onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the MHS Family Relations team developed the first-ever Virtual Family Weekend to provide an online, interactive experience so parents/sponsors could stay actively engaged in their students' achievements while keeping everyone safe and healthy.
All students who attend MHS come from low-income families across the country. MHS affords these students the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty with a top-notch education and support that doesn’t end at graduation day.
Students are united as much by their differences as their similarities. The diverse makeup of our student body produces a welcoming, inclusive environment that promotes cognitive thinking and creativity, and encourages students to learn from one another’s cultural backgrounds and experiences.
Our student enrollment continued to grow in response to our school’s strategic planning. With the expansion of 32 new Middle Division student homes on our Legacy Campus, enrollment reached the highest in school history with 2,189 students.
Our 93.2 percent retention rate stayed consistent with last year’s 50-year high of 93.3 percent. It was higher than the average retention rate of 90.36 percent for other independent schools across the country. Our new student retention rate was even higher at 95.1 percent.
The average family income for students enrolled at MHS during the 2019-20 school year was $22,219—15 percent below the federal poverty guideline of $26,200 for a family of four.
Dauphin, Lebanon, or
other PA counties
other U.S. states
The number of grandparents raising grandchildren among new students has nearly doubled from
Other Independent Schools: 90.36%
Other Independent Schools: 33%
Annual Cost to Families
Other Independent Schools: $60,600*
*Average 7-Day Boarding School
Of New Students enrolled during the 2019-20 school year
Our founders’ generosity and vision have enabled us to develop and maintain a whole child approach to education and programming that comes at no cost to our students or their families. Wraparound services and resources that include medical, dental, psychological, behavioral, social work, food, clothing, and a nurturing home life help address the specific challenges children from poverty face.
Our most critical focus in 2020 has been successfully navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges it created to deliver unparalleled care to our students. As a life-sustaining organization, MHS never closed during the pandemic. We modified operations to provide essential care and wraparound support and resources to our students during a trying time.
Our Year-Round Experiences (YRE) program gives students from at-risk home environments a safe place with opportunities to explore their interests and build on classroom learning while remaining on campus during breaks.
During the summer of 2020, many parents/sponsors chose for their students to remain on campus or returned them to campus so they would benefit from the quality care, comprehensive health measures, and safe environment MHS has to offer during the ongoing pandemic. The pandemic and its circumstances have disproportionally affected low-income families, making our school’s role in their lives increasingly important.
As part of YRE, we created COVID Support Intervention (CSI), a summer learning program to help students who needed additional support avoid “COVID slide” or learning loss as a result of disruptions caused by the pandemic. The program put students who struggled at the end of the school year back on the right track for the 2020-21 school year.
Our approach to education is multifaceted. In addition to wraparound support and resources, our students benefit from a top-notch education with a focus on college and career readiness, character building, and leadership development.
In the past year, we continued our work to bring even more opportunity to our students, helping them build a strong foundation for success now and in the future.
MHS knows there is no one path to success. We believe in giving students a variety of opportunities and resources that align with their interests and goals.
Our commitment to college and career readiness is engrained in our award-winning Career and Technical Education (CTE) program which continues to evolve to meet workforce needs and trends. At the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, we launched our 12th CTE career pathway, Education and Human Services. This new pathway exposes students to the in-demand career opportunities in these industries while also helping them learn about employer expectations as they gain valuable skills.
In addition, we added a third state-registered pre-apprenticeship to offer students more authentic work experiences and training before graduation. This pre-apprenticeship in graphic communication technology joins our existing culinary arts and carpentry pre-apprenticeships.
"Students are set up for a lifetime of postsecondary and career success through the school's commitment to each learner's career exploration, academic preparation, and technical skill building. They are a fantastic example of what providing equitable CTE can and should look like."
Authentic work experiences build on classroom lessons by giving students opportunities to learn directly from professionals. Nathaniel Boyd ’20 turned his Spartan Internship into a research lab assistant position at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center while still a student. Working alongside Dr. Nancy Lill of the Penn State Cancer Institute, his work focused on finding therapies for triple negative breast cancer. Nathaniel also took advantage of the dual-enrollment program at MHS, earning 20 college credits before graduating.
Nathaniel isn't acting like a research assistant at the high school level. We are treating him like he is one of our graduate students in the lab.
137 high school students earned college credits during 2019-20
12 earned college credits
65 earned college credits
60 earned college credits
seniors in the Class of 2020
Note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pennsylvania Department of Education cancelled all PSSA testing and Keystone exams for the 2019-20 school year. Therefore, no data is available for these assessments.
Our Multicultural and Global Education program incorporates global lessons into all levels of student curriculum, pre-K through 12th grade. Multicultural experiences inspire students to become global thinkers and achieve career success in a globally connected world.
The November 2019 trip to Panama opened the eyes of 27 high school students to the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math in creating solutions to global problems. Students participated in hands-on fieldwork studies with local biologists, including a wetlands conservation project focused on mangrove reforestation.
high school students
since the program
started in 2015
different countries visited
since the program began in 2015
In the spring, the pandemic changed everyday life around the world, including the way students learn. MHS continued learning virtually with no interruption as a result of our previous 2020 Vision work to create a one-to-one technology learning environment for all students.
Many students remained on campus and continued classes online with the support of their houseparents, while other students returned to their home communities and participated remotely. MHS teachers and staff worked diligently to transition to remote teaching plans and keep students engaged, safe, and healthy.
MHS staff developed creative alternatives to in-person learning. One example is the partnership between The Hershey Company and MHS high school Spanish classes. Students virtually connected with employees through the Hispanos Exitosos program to keep communicating with professionals in the target language and learning from their expertise.
Education is being turned upside down and, in spite of that, we have been able to turn this into a positive. By embracing technology and adapting to the new learning environment, our students continue to benefit from these employees’ expertise and professional insight.
"It is because of the exceptional people in our MHS community that our students are able to thrive, even during uncertain times."
Mr. Hershey once said, “Cooperation is the only true solution of many of our problems.” The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic showcased how vitally important cooperation is to our MHS community and the well-being of our students.
While these have been extraordinary times, we are extraordinary people. MHS students, alumni, staff, and parents/sponsors embraced the school year’s “Be Golden” theme to channel their inner strength, create positivity, and forge ahead in the face of hardship—often helping others along the way.
When you go home and you know you actually saved someone's life, you can't get any better than that.
Student home Rosario made it their mission to reach out to MHS alumni during COVID-19. They handwrote more than 350 letters of encouragement to recent graduates.
A lot of what made our school’s efforts so successful during the pandemic was our staff’s ability and willingness to be flexible. One example was our Clothing Center staff who quickly transitioned from fittings to making reusable cloth masks.
Teachers went above and beyond to make students feel socially connected, despite the physical distance. Like all MHS teachers, third-grade teacher Chris Swartz stayed connected to his students through technology, making sure he was there for them even just to read a story.
Seniors and their Transitional Living staff used their creativity to give the community a burst of inspiration. They positioned signs along Route 322 on campus to remind passersby that hope can still be found even during tough times.
MHS employees are passionate about our mission and focused on making a difference in the lives of the students they serve. Staff go above and beyond to be mentors, build positive relationships with parents/sponsors, and continuously enhance their areas of expertise to benefit students.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added a layer to our day-to-day responsibilities, but our workforce is passionate about our mission and trained to be the best in their fields so we can deliver unmatched care, resources, education, and support to all our students—the way the Hersheys intended.
"Our students originally felt uneasy about COVID-19 and what’s happening in the world. But we have the power to help them see the good and be the good."
Without the support of the staff at MHS, I never would have learned the depth of perseverance and the intensity of personal strength that I needed to put my future in line and stay the course.
The 212 members of the Class of 2020 could not have predicted the turn their senior year would take in the spring. As President Gurt reminded them during the first-ever virtual Commencement Ceremony, potential is almost always discovered and built during our toughest times.
These seniors chose to focus and persevere. In doing so, they joined the ranks of the school’s nearly 11,000 alumni. Their time as students at MHS ended in celebration with a one-of-a-kind car processional on campus aligned with state health guidelines.
137 of MHS graduates attended a postsecondary institution over the past 10 years Compared to the national average of 66-70%
63 seniors earned 780 college credits before graduating
Milton Hershey School has a deep commitment to helping students transition successfully to life after graduation. Students start preparing for the future the day they arrive at MHS, and our Graduate Programs for Success (GPS) Division is the driving force. Every student’s path to success is different. GPS offers soon-to-be graduates and alumni one-on-one support whether they enter college or technical school, the workforce, or the military.
90% of MHS alumni are working or working and going to school.
During the 2019-20 school year, the GPS Division marked its fifth year providing individualized support to graduates. With a continued focus on strengthening graduates’ postsecondary experiences, the GPS team expanded its number of partnerships with postsecondary institutions to 24 with the addition of Bloomsburg University, Manor College, Moravian College, and Temple University. Through these partnerships, low-income, first-generation college students receive individual academic counseling, mentoring, retention support, employment assistance, and more to help them overcome the barriers to reaching graduation day.
With a strong foundation built while attending MHS, our alumni go on to make a difference for themselves, their families and communities, and the world. This year, alumni were recognized for being business leaders, mentors, catalysts for positive change, and leading the charge against the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the vice president of emergency services for Mount Sinai Health System, alumnus Robin Ferrer ’00 and his team are on the frontline of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City. In his role, he helps plan hospital strategy, patient care, and crisis responses. He credits MHS with developing him as a leader.
As a leader at my hospital, it’s my responsibility to take care of others and invest in others so they can be successful. I got to where I am today because people cared about me and helped me—and that all started at Milton Hershey School.
In early 2020, Forbes featured alumna Alexandra Cristin ’07 for the success of her business Glam Seamless, a natural hair extensions company she founded at the age of 23 and grew to a $20 million-a-year business. Since then, she started the non-profit Glam Girls, Inc. to help girls in poverty build self-esteem and achieve success.
I am so grateful for life and Milton Hershey School. If it weren’t for Milton Hershey School, I know for a fact, I wouldn’t be who I am.
The end of the 2019-20 school year marked the conclusion of our 2020 Vision strategic plan. During the last five years, MHS has become a stronger community in a variety of ways—from the education and care we deliver to a growing number of students to the additional supports we offer our alumni. Our 2020 Vision achievements now put us in place to transition to our next strategic plan, the MILT Plan: Our Future in Focus, so we can build on our success.
By successfully addressing our priorities through the
we made our school better and better served our students. The last five years’ achievements focused on the strategic plan’s three major goals.
Building on the successes of the 2020 Vision, we look forward to reaching even greater heights from 2020 through 2025 with our new strategic plan, the MILT Plan, and its focus on four key areas. Learn more about our achievements and goals for the future.
Modeling Character and Well-Being
Innovating Career-Focused Education
Teamwork to Strengthen Community Alignment and Engagement