Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been one constant—change. Along the way, our staff have done a tremendous job being flexible and responsive by identifying challenges and creating solutions that put our students first. The 2021-22 school year ushered in a greater sense of normalcy, something long needed by our students.
When in-person classes started on the first day of school, our theme for the year, Greater Together, sprang to life. Extracurriculars, like athletics and Visual and Performing Arts, returned, as did authentic work experiences, including on- and off-campus internships, in-person mentoring, and Family Weekends. The shift to pre-pandemic activities reinforced that we are truly at our best when we are together. We saw the evidence in how our students responded academically, socially, and physically.
With Greater Together as our mantra, we quickly reinvigorated the feeling of community at the core of the MHS experience. A heightened commitment to excellence and the guidance of our five-year strategic plan, the MILT Plan, drove us to exceptional outcomes. By the end of the year, we welcomed the largest number of new enrollees in seven years, graduated 217 seniors, expanded career-focused education opportunities for all students, and opened the Gertrude Gurt Family Center to nurture the relationships among parents/sponsors, students, and our school.
Other major milestones involved our Early Childhood Education Initiative, Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning. We announced the third Center location, made key hires, and broke ground on CHS Hershey.
All of this has positioned us to continue to grow enrollment, academic and character-building opportunities, and graduate supports while strengthening our school community. Thank you to our staff, students, parents/sponsors, alumni, and partners who help make MHS the greatest home and school in the world and keep the Hersheys’ vision at the forefront of everything we do.
Creating a greater sense of normalcy for students while balancing health and safety became an added priority during the 2021-22 school year. We knew it was time to implement a strategy against COVID-19 that would benefit students’ overall well-being, fuel their success, and bring us closer to a pre-pandemic experience.
The return of in-person activities, mentoring opportunities, and Family Weekends quickly had a positive impact on the entire MHS community. Following the worst of the pandemic, more parents/sponsors felt confident making the decision to enroll their children. We reached a peak enrollment of 1,978 students from diverse religious, ethnic, racial, and geographic backgrounds. This included 453 new students, the largest number of new enrollees since 2014-15. The five-year average retention rate was 91% for all students and 93% for new students.
As the pandemic evolved, our Admissions department was able to return to communities to meet families and share details about the opportunities at MHS—a key approach in raising awareness among qualifying families and growing enrollment. The school year also involved work to enhance the welcoming environment on campus and encourage students to persist through graduation. Our Family Relations team opened the Gertrude Gurt Family Center and staff across campus found new ways to work even more closely with parents/sponsors.
Opened in March 2022, the Gertrude Gurt Family Center is a campus space designed specifically for families and parents/sponsors to attend workshops and visit with their kids—another way MHS encourages families to remain close.
Second-grade teacher Christine Halliday learned a lot during distance learning—especially around the definition of community. Virtual learning enabled her to get to know students’ families in deep and collaborative ways. When she transitioned back into her physical classroom, she kept those connections by allowing students to invite their parents/sponsors into class virtually.
An important part of our school is spreading the word to parents and sponsors so they can learn about the world of opportunities MHS can unlock for their children. The Admissions team works with school counselors, social workers, guidance counselors, and other school and community leaders throughout the country so these professionals can share information about our excellent education and resources with students and families who could benefit.
Brianna Davis, an MHS student who graduated with the Class of 2022, learned about MHS when she was in sixth grade through her guidance counselor in New Hampshire. At the time, Brianna’s family was homeless, so MHS came at a crucial point in her life.
As a student, Fonati Abrokwa ’01 was impressed by the partnership between her houseparents and parents. When she enrolled as a third grader, their relationship helped her embrace MHS. It later showed her how to be a team player and ultimately propelled her toward success at MHS and beyond. The lessons she learned through their example are serving her well in her role at MHS today.
At MHS, our approach to care is centered around the idea that children must first have their essential needs met before they can focus on and succeed at anything else. It’s the reason we provide our nearly 2,000 students with exceptional care, with all costs covered, including best-in-class medical and dental care, food, clothing, and shelter, in addition to psychological, behavioral, and social work services.
This commitment involves the work of staff who are experts in their fields and an annual investment of more than $90,000 per student for holistic care, education resources, graduate programs, and more. It is especially important our students receive high-quality care because poverty makes them more likely to be impacted by a variety of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)—traumatic events children experience before the age of 18.
All data based on new students enrolled during 2021-22 school year.
Half of all new students enrolled during the 2021-22 school year were impacted by at least one ACE, such as homelessness, food insecurity, or family substance abuse. Twenty-one percent of new enrollees were affected by six ACEs.
Thanks to our founders’ generosity, all students receive wraparound care and support that helps them cope with and reduce the negative effects of ACEs—putting them on a path to reach their personal goals and break the cycle of poverty. This type of support has always been important to our students but has become even more critical during pandemic times.
*Holding on-campus COVID vaccine clinics guaranteed vaccine accessibility for eligible students who may not have the same access in their home communities.
During the 2021-22 school year, our academic calendar returned to pre-pandemic scheduling, giving students breaks in the fall, around major winter holidays, and in the spring and summer. While students could return to their home communities during these breaks, many chose to remain on campus to take part in fun and educational activities in a safe environment through our Year-Round Experiences (YRE) program. Overall, participation in YRE programming more than doubled from the previous year.
Since MHS was founded in 1909, career training has been intentionally incorporated into our curriculum so students are ready for life beyond campus. As our world and the workforce evolve, so must our curriculum and career-readiness approach. That is why our strategic plan has an emphasis on career-focused education for students from pre-K through 12th grade. Thanks to the support and expertise of MHS staff, Hershey entity partners, alumni, and local business leaders, we have broadened career exposure, built out authentic work experiences, and increased hands-on learning during the 2021-22 school year.
With the return of in-person opportunities, the number of high school students who completed an authentic work experience by way of an internship, co-op, or pre-apprenticeship soared from 68 during the 2020-21 school year to 214 in 2021-22. Our semester internships where students learn from our expert staff grew to 112 students from 47 the year prior. The Spartan Summer Internship program and pre-apprenticeships returned to pre-pandemic participation levels with 84 high schoolers enriching their learning experience through internships and 15 seniors through pre-apprenticeships.
In addition, MHS staff worked closely with Hershey entity partners like The Hershey Company and Hershey Entertainment & Resorts (HE&R) to provide students with a variety of career-infused activities, including networking events, mock interviews, career fairs, and guest speakers. Middle Division students accelerated their learning by shadowing HE&R employees. Elementary students participated in Career Mondays, a new initiative to expose pre-K through fourth grade students to the full range of career options.
High school student Chris Koehler interned with the HE&R IT department during his Spartan Summer Internship. He described it as an eye-opening experience that put his problem-solving skills to work.
Hersheypark became an experiential classroom for eighth graders learning the importance of physics in roller coaster safety from HE&R engineers.
Juniors and seniors connected with The Hershey Company global manufacturing leaders and executive teams to learn about their careers.
MHS continues to invest resources into the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. During 2021-22, work concluded on a new state-of-the-art 5,290-square-foot facility to house the Construction/Carpentry career pathway. Within its walls, students will work on projects, like the tiny house that MHS student Trevor Parsell and 17 of his classmates built from the ground up for the Hersheypark Camping Resort. In 2022-23, the building will also be home to a newly developed Welding curriculum.
Students in the Culinary Arts/Restaurant Management career pathway showcased their skills in 2021-22 by competing at the state and national level. The team won the school’s seventh consecutive Pennsylvania State ProStart Culinary Arts Competition before placing third in the country at the NASA HUNCH Culinary Challenge and 21st at the National ProStart Invitational.
The school year was filled with opportunities that empowered more students to grow their leadership skills and exercise their voices while embracing our MHS Sacred Values of mutual respect, commitment to mission, positive spirit, and integrity.
We created two new student positions within Student Government Association’s Executive Branch focused on collaboration with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) team and school leadership. The Compass Project’s Grow forums were expanded to elementary students, and we held the inaugural Boys Leadership Seminar and sixth annual Girls Grace Empowerment Conference. Projects like the reinvigoration of the Cultural Diversity Club are helping ensure that students have more outlets than ever to express their opinions and help shape the future of our home and school.
MHS students consistently exceed statewide averages on PSSA and Keystone exams—not just among other students who are economically disadvantaged, but also among all students in the state of Pennsylvania. We are proud to share this was again the case in 2022.
ED – Economically Disadvantaged
Source: Spring 2022 Pennsylvania Keystone Exams State Content Area Summary Report
The Class of 2022 was the first to physically cross the Commencement stage since 2019. The MHS community was overjoyed to return to in-person graduation traditions. Despite facing many challenges, these 217 seniors rose above and together defied statistics and societal obstacles to become our newest graduates—bringing the total number of alumni to 11,435.
As a class, they volunteered more than 1,350 hours toward community service projects, earned 1,148 college credits, completed 125 internships, and were awarded $17 million in Continuing Education Scholarships from MHS. With 65 members attending MHS since elementary school, it was no surprise there were 55 National Honor Society members and 39 National Technical Honor Society members among them.
Seniors who enrolled in eighth grade and earlier took part in a walk down memory lane prior to graduation by high-fiving Elementary and Middle Division students as they lined the hallways of their school buildings. The event gave seniors time to reflect on their MHS journey, including where they started and where they are going. It also served as an inspirational reminder to younger students of what they too can achieve through hard work.
When Madison Rodriguez enrolled at MHS in 2018 she didn’t know what to expect or how much she would learn. Today, she credits her MHS family and family at home for helping her reach her goals and move on to new ones.
“What I received was an education in what’s important: the people you love, the way you treat others, and how to be the greatest version of myself.”
Graduating means even more than earning a diploma to MHS “lifer” Kyle Russell. To Kyle, it’s about the relationships built and the time and energy his mentors on campus put into making him a better, more motivated student and person.
“I have been fortunate enough to create relationships with students and adults from various walks of life who have given me support and encouragement. I use them as examples to become the person I know I can be as a graduate.”
Students start preparing for the future on the day they arrive at MHS, and our Graduate Programs for Success (GPS) Division is the driving force. GPS supports soon-to-be graduates and MHS alumni with one-on-one support, whether they choose to attend a college or technical school, enroll in an apprenticeship program, join the workforce, or enlist in the military.
The GPS team continued to adapt to pandemic conditions. Fortunately, this school year, it meant returning to in-person visits with our young graduates, especially those who struggled with disruptions created by COVID-19. Virtual visits with support specialists were scheduled for those who could not be visited in person. The GPS team was able to once again arrange for current MHS juniors and seniors to visit a variety of colleges and technical schools, as well as host career fairs to help students make more informed post-secondary decisions.
Nate Cunfer ’18 used the hands-on learning experiences of his Automotive Technology career pathway classes and co-op while at MHS to fuel his goal of becoming an aircraft mechanic in Alaska. After graduating, he used his Continuing Education Scholarship from MHS to attend the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, where he earned an associate degree and gained the expertise to repair planes.
“MHS impacted my life in every single way. I learned how to actually be a productive member of a community—how to adapt and learn from others. The school and everyone who works there inspired me to figure out exactly what I wanted to do after graduation.”
As an MHS student, Christian Calle ’09 worked hard and took advantage of every opportunity in the Construction/Carpentry career pathway. After earning his bachelor’s degree from the Pennsylvania School of Technology, he built a career that led to his current position—project manager at a construction company. While leading the renovation of a New York Public Library branch, he is also helping mentor and inspire other Latinx and minority employees.
“Even at an early age, I knew, with my situation at home there was no way I was going to go to college. I knew for me to be successful, I needed to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Performer and award-winning writer Jocelyn Bioh ’01 says MHS gave her the opportunity of a lifetime. After graduating, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and theatre at The Ohio State University and a master’s degree in playwriting from Columbia University. She went on to write the successful play, “School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play,” and co-founded Black Women on Broadway to celebrate and mentor Black women theatre artists.
“Getting the opportunity to go to MHS allowed me the mental space to grow as a person and an artist. That impact changed my life as it crystalized for me that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
In 2021-22, 116 alumni returned to campus as volunteers to meet, mentor, and inspire current students. They shared their career insights, leadership skills, and life advice through events like the Senior Division Career Expo, Girls Grace, Elementary Career Mondays, the Middle Division Career-Focused Education Night, and more. Graduates’ involvement helps create greater awareness among students about various careers and interests while reinforcing the important role of alumni in the school community.
MHS employees have proven time and again that our community is greater when we work together. With a positive, focused, and collaborative approach, our staff set an example of perseverance, excellence, and a strong work ethic for the children we serve.
In 2021-22 when our students voiced their need for more mentors, staff across campus stepped up—increasing the number of role models in students’ lives and developing new programs so students felt surrounded by adults who care deeply about them and their success. New mentoring programs launched included SGA (Student Government Association) Mentors and Milton’s Middles. SGA Mentors pairs new elementary students with elementary student government members while Milton’s Middles connects new middle school students with Middle Division staff members. The goal of both programs is to ease new students’ transition to MHS by encouraging bonds that promote a sense of community and belonging.
Throughout the school year, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) team built upon our existing framework to identify strengths, areas for growth, and opportunities to promote DEI within the workplace and student experience.
During the 2021-22 school year, we held a livestream series with MHS experts to discuss how our mission directly helps break the cycle of poverty by educating and nurturing children from low-income families. Through the series, we shared ideas and solutions with other educators and professionals who are also working to address the hardships children face due to the national childhood poverty crisis. We take pride in sharing our knowledge to help strengthen communities and families throughout the U.S.
Milton and Catherine Hershey strongly believed that the power to build an exceptional life begins with education. Our five-year strategic plan, the MILT Plan, was developed to uphold the Hersheys’ vision of happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives for students. In its second year, we achieved many major milestones in the plan’s four key areas, proving that together we can enhance the way we serve and support our students and alumni in the face of a changing world and workforce.
Several accomplishments that gained the most attention involved Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning, our $350 million Early Childhood Education Initiative to create cost-free Early Childhood Education Centers across Pennsylvania for children from birth to age 5 from low-income backgrounds. In November 2021, CHS broke ground on CHS Hershey, the first of its Centers. In addition, the locations of the second and third Centers were announced as Harrisburg and Middletown and key hires were made, including early childhood education expert Annie Papero as director of CHS Hershey.
“The Milton Hershey School is bringing more than new classrooms to Harrisburg, it’s bringing hope. It is going to save lives… They’re bringing a whole new way of looking at education. And they have the resources to make a difference.”