2020: Exceptional Times, Exceptional People
For more than 111 years, Milton Hershey School has been the leader in exceptional, safe education for children and providing opportunities for students to thrive inside and outside of the classroom.
In March 2020, operations and events on MHS campus had to shift virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As leaders in the educational and residential school communities, MHS employees rose to the challenge and began adjusting their work to fit this once-in-a-lifetime event.
As a life-sustaining organization, MHS never closed as a result of the pandemic. Operations were modified, but students continued learning virtually with no interruption. At the same time, employees in other departments across campus found ways to redefine their roles by uniquely shifting their traditional face-to-face interactions to comply with federal and state guidelines.
It has been a year of firsts at MHS and a year to acknowledge our incredible staff—who are always looking for innovative ways to further advance the mission of our founders, Milton and Catherine Hershey. As we look back on the year that was 2020, we reflect on how the MHS community came together to provide for our students in amazing ways.
Below is a tribute to our 2020 advancements and accomplishments—which recognize that even in exceptional times, MHS employees are exceptional people.
In the coming weeks, we invite you to watch for our 2019-20 Brown and Gold Annual Report and our Everyday Hero series which will showcase and acknowledge MHS employees who stepped up in a variety of ways this year to keep our community safe. Follow along on social media using #MHSEverydayHero.
New Website Redesign
On January 27, 2020, Milton Hershey School launched a new and improved website, mhskids.org. The upgraded platform includes bright, beautiful photos and videos of our students and our campus. Plus, it offers cleaner navigation with better structure and order—so visitors can easily find information.
When the pandemic hit just two months later, because of the new page, MHS was prepared to handle the many new virtual events that needed an online presence.
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic created a new set of norms. For children, parents, and educators in Pennsylvania and across the country, this new normal involved a transition from physical classrooms to online learning.
When Governor Tom Wolf announced the cancellation of in-person classes for all K-12 Pennsylvania schools on Friday, March 13, Milton Hershey School swiftly transitioned to online learning the Monday after thanks to its one-to-one technology environment where every student has access to an electronic device.
Then in July, MHS began a summer learning program. COVID Support Intervention (CSI), was designed to help students who needed additional support to avoid the “COVID Slide,” a term used to describe the summer learning loss students experienced as a result of disruptions to the 2019-20 school year. CSI at MHS put students back on the right track for the 2020-21 school year.
Virtual Open Houses in Admissions for Families and Professionals
In 2020, Milton Hershey School’s Open Houses for Professionals and Prospective Family Events shifted from in-person events to virtual ones. Those who registered were given virtual tours of campus, provided with information about MHS programs and admissions criteria, and met with admissions counselors.
Even with the challenges of 2020, the pandemic allowed the MHS Human Resources team to review its hiring processes and make them more efficient. Virtual events enabled the team to meet people and “go places” to recruit that they never would have otherwise. The HR team hired a record-breaking number of houseparents—even though travel was eliminated. It was a great recruiting year, and MHS hired some truly talented employees.
Virtual Commencement and Car Processional
On Saturday, June 13, Milton Hershey School held its first-ever virtual Commencement Ceremony to celebrate the Class of 2020.
With state health and social distancing practices in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, seniors, along with their family members, friends, and MHS community, gathered virtually to commemorate the “Vision Class” of 2020. The ceremony incorporated many of the traditional elements signature to an MHS Commencement, while also including special videos and messages directed to the graduating class.
The virtual celebration paid homage to other events that would have also taken place in person, if not for these unprecedented times. The Senior Award Ceremony was incorporated at the beginning of the virtual Commencement with award recipients and the 22 MHS lifers recognized.
Then on Sunday, June 14, Milton Hershey School celebrated its newest graduates with a special car processional on campus that followed state health and social distancing protocols.
Seniors and their families were invited to participate in the event and listen live along the parade route by tuning in to the local radio station, WFVY 100.1 FM. MHS Transitional Living (TL) staff members, Jonathan Small and Ashley Carmo, broadcasted live during the event—which was also live-streamed on mhskids.org—to recognize each young graduate.
Virtual Opening of School Celebration
MHS usually starts the school year with a vibrant Opening of School Assembly. For students, staff, and community safety, the school shifted to a different format this year. Our Opening of School festivities lasted several weeks and included themed activities. The Opening of School Celebration provided an opportunity for MHS students and staff to feel connected and have fun—while enjoying some surprises along the way; including the first-ever fireworks display!
The Transition of Food Services
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Milton Hershey School Food Services team had to shift its food model to accommodate COVID-19 regulations and procedures. As a life-sustaining organization, MHS had to quickly transition student meals from a cafeteria model to all meals being served in the student home. Then at the start of the 2020-21 school year, it had to transition again to offer students a hot lunch option with partitions to allow for physical distancing.
Virtual Family Weekends
Three times a school year, the MHS community welcomes parents/sponsors to campus for Family Weekends. In the spring of 2020, the MHS Enrollment Management and Family Relations team shifted to a virtual format for Spring Family Weekend and did the same thing in late October for Fall Family Weekend.
The virtual events allowed parents/sponsors to engage with MHS staff members, equipped them with new tools to support their students, and become empowered to collaborate with houseparents, staff, and teachers.
MHS engaged with hundreds of parents/sponsors remotely through digital presentations, interactive sessions, and informational videos.
MHS Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and Inclusion
At Milton Hershey School, we have students and families from many different cultures who practice various religions, speak many languages and come from different parts of the country. It’s part of our culture as we help students of all ages gain an understanding and appreciation for diversity.
In 2020, MHS hired alumna, Fonati Abrokwa ’01 to be the first MHS Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and Inclusion. As part of her work, she’ll be collaborating with school leadership to perform a curriculum programming audit. Her goal is to make sure MHS programming is representative of the student body.
New Five-Year Strategic Plan
In the midst of 2020, Milton Hershey School announced its newest five-year strategic plan called the MILT Plan: Our Future in Focus. The plan outlines the school’s priorities for the next five years while reinforcing the original vision of founders Milton and Catherine Hershey.
The strategic plan, which will span from 2020 to 2025, creates an operational framework that will guide the school as it continues to expand and evolve to meet the needs of the children it serves from low-income backgrounds.
It focuses on four key areas:
- Modeling Character and Well-Being
- Innovating Career-Focused Education
- Leveraging Impact
- Teamwork to Strengthen Community Alignment and Engagement
Milton Hershey School is carefully following federal and state guidelines, CDC considerations, and MHS-established health and safety protocols to keep our campus a safe, nurturing, and healthy place. Any group photos of unmasked subjects were taken prior to the face coverings mandate.