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August 15, 2022

This summer’s Advanced Studies Program welcomed 180 talented students from New Hampshire public high schools for five weeks of intensive academics.

Having taken AP statistics as a junior at Goffstown High School, Matthew Stanton had a sense of what he was signing up for when he chose Data Driven for his master class at the 2022 St. Paul’s School Advanced Studies Program (ASP). But nothing could have prepared him for the experience of presenting his analysis in front of several dozen members of the New Hampshire State Department of Health and Human Services for the final class project. “I was incredibly nervous,” Stanton says. “We’d only had about two weeks with the data to figure out what it all meant.”

The data in question were millions of entries related to mental health and substance use hospital discharges and insurance claims recorded across the state of New Hampshire between 2018 and 2022. Stanton and his Data Driven classmates — all top students at New Hampshire-based public schools — took what they’d learned about computer programming, data analysis, data visualization, data ethics and more during the first three weeks of the ASP to analyze the data and identify meaningful patterns and trends. The end goal, explains ASP Master Teacher Bowman Dickson ’05, was to help alleviate hospitals’ burdens relative to mental health and substance use admissions. The amount of data the class analyzed, he says, was nothing short of “astonishing.”

Bowman Dickson '05 teaching ASP class

Dickson, a math teacher at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., who developed Data Driven and has taught it every summer since 2016, describes the class as mathematical storytelling. “We’re looking at data and asking, ‘How do you translate this in a way that means something to audiences and is useful to them?’” he explains. “The class is as much about communication and project work as it is about programming and analysis.” To that end, his students developed a poll about social justice issues for students in the After the Rally class to use and built a program to analyze the frequency of certain words in Toni Morrison’s book “Beloved” for their peers in Forbidden Fictions. “Almost all of these kids’ careers will involve interacting with data in some manner,” he adds. “So this is an important and useful skill to develop.”

Stanton would agree. “This project is the most practical thing I’ve done in any school environment,” he says. It’s also one with some personal relevance; Stanton has a family member who is deep in the state mental health system. His piece of the final project involved looking at the frequency of insurance claims related to substance use and treatment and identifying trends. His conclusion — that the state is doing well on addressing opioid use, but less well on alcohol use issues — was then integrated with the analyses of other individuals and project teams on other aspects of the data under the direction of Dickson and ASP teaching interns Gannon Leech and Shannon Bedard to construct a picture of mental health and substance use issues in New Hampshire.

If this sounds like a significant undertaking, it’s a prime example of the work that comes out of the ASP, which has been offering a St. Paul’s School summer experience to talented public-school students in the Granite State for 66 years. This year, the first fully in-person program since 2019, brought 180 students to the grounds from June 25 to July 30 to take part in one of 15 master classes, several of which were being offered for the first time. And while they came to Millville from 56 different high schools, bringing different levels of academic preparation, they all arrived at the ASP with a common desire to learn for the sake of learning.

That, says Dickson, is one of the things he likes best about returning to his alma mater every summer to teach at the ASP. “You get a lot of really passionate kids who are excited to learn and aren’t learning just because they have to be taking a class or have to be doing something,” he says, noting that it’s both a challenge and an opportunity to teach without assigning grades. “It’s amazing how different it feels: Everything has to be motivated in a really different way. I love both that challenge and that freedom because it allows me to do some things that I don’t think I would do otherwise.”

Things like putting his students in front of some of New Hampshire’s top health care officials to contribute meaningfully to an ongoing conversation about two of the state’s most pressing health care concerns.