Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Winter Term

One of the harbingers of spring around the MSL High School is the beginning of enrollment for Winter Term. Winter Term is one of the signature programs of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy which distinguishes us from other schools in the area. Since January 2001 we have been creating a two week interim period between semesters for intensive experiential learning. In order to accommodate the program, we moved first semester exams from January to December, immediately before the Christmas Break. It takes an incredible amount of time, energy, and effort, not to mention resources to make the experience successful. And while teachers are energized by the experience in the long run, the effort needed to plan and then execute a great Winter Term is taxing. So why do we do it?

Our misson at CHCA charges us "to unleash a passion in students to learn, lead, and serve." We also endeavor to make "life long learners." But sometimes sitting in seven different desks for seven different 50 minute periods in the same building week after week starts to feel a bit artificial. Students often have difficulty seeing how day in day out school connects to the world they live in and why they'd want to do this "life long." But then comes Winter Term.

By breaking the normal schedule and rhythms of the school year, students pick a subject to study in depth for a two week period. When freed from the fifty minute bell, students and teachers begin to plumb depths and discuss nuances, following where interest and curiosity leads. The type of processing and deep thinking about a topic that can come over a two week in depth study cannot be mirrored in the regular school bell schedule. In a society like ours that loves sound bytes, 30-minute newscasts, internet surfing, and text messaging, we are not conditioned to slow down and study a thing thoroughly from every angle and perspective. We expect quick answers. But what might happen if we let a problem remain in our mind's eye for an extended period? What if we let ourselves ruminate on difficulties, allowing our subconscious minds to work a problem through? I believe people who develop such patterns will one day solve the big problems and find ways to change the world. Winter Term teaches our students new ways of thinking and learning.

Winter Term allows students to get out of the building and explore the world. That might mean exploring the history of the Queen City, serving in Chesterwood Village, viewing murals around town, or seeing the Taj Mahal, a Costa Rican jungle, or the Church of the Holy Seplechure. When our students travel down the street or around the world, they begin to develop a sense of adventure and often a feeling of awe. The world is filled with beauty, power, mystery, and wonder. The books we read and the lectures we give are actually about real things out there! To talk about World War II or Ancient Rome is one thing, but standing on location, so to speak, makes the classroom come alive. I love when a student finds a hidden treasure in her own city. I will always cherish the look on a student's face when we stand together at a place that was pictured in a textbook. I will never forget this January taking communion with my students at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. When a person appreciates the fact that learning is about encountering and understanding a world that ever surprises and contains mystery upon mystery, how could one ever intend to stop?

Winter Term also fosters community on many different levels. First, one of the biggest barrier breakers in our school is Winter Term. Each course creates a learning community that transcends grade, gender, and social grouping. New social connections are always created in January! Like summer camp or a sports team, the shared time and camaraderie form bonds that last in our school. On another level, teachers and students connect in new ways as well. Interacting with each other outside of the normal classroom setting changes the nature of the relationship. Our teachers become mentors and friends to their students and Winter Term plays no small part in his phenomenon. Another level of community forms over Winter Term as well. Relationships form, even if temporarily, across every kind of boundary outside of our school. Through travel, cultural immersion, and service, our students encounter all kinds of people and relationships form. Our students get to know the elderly, young children, the homeless, the physically challenged, orphans, people of different ethnicities and religions, people of other cultures both nationally and internationally. We have a core value which talks about the value of each person. In Winter Term our students encounter those who are other, and we come to see how much they are like us.

Finally, we are a school that teaches our students to view the world in a Christ-centered way. We are called, each of us, to engage God's world. In Winter Term we do this first hand. All the world is God's! Everyone we meet, everywhere we go, everything we do--it is all part of God's world. We are called to live in this world and to bring the mind of Christ to every situation, every problem, and every question. This is not a theoretical situation. We want to live out this practice with our students. We do not want to tell them what it is like and then wait until they graduate and go out on their own. Every year we go out with them, for two weeks at a time. We walk along side them and help them think and question and engage. This is God's world!

So when someone asks me, why do we take off school for four weeks at Christmas? Why do we waste two weeks of class time? Why do we just give our kids extended vacation? I am saddened. We either failed at our task or we didn't do a good enough job talking about what we're doing. If it is the latter, hopefully this is a start toward correcting it. In the meantime, please go to the front of the website and explore all of the amazing opportunities to engage God's world next January!

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