Sunday, February 14, 2010

School Done Differently: Winter Term 2010

(This post is the lead article in the February 11, 2010 Campus Connection, written with Karen Smeltzer.)

When reflecting back on high school, what is remembered? Does one recall social events? Extracurricular activities? Moments and stories plucked out of time, floating about in one’s memory with no real mooring? Does one actually remember learning? Do any classes stick out? Or is it like trying to remember any specific meal from the past calendar year? Each one may have been important and nourishing but they all fade into an indistinguishable blur. Invariably when I speak with CHCA alumni about their greatest high school memories, they always come back to a Winter Term experience. For in Winter Term, students experience learning in non-traditional, experiential, authentic, and sometimes even exotic ways. If we possess a tool to inspire life-long learners, Winter Term is it.

Winter Term is a two-week period in January between semesters when the MSL High School enriches its curriculum with experiential learning. Students choose from a menu of courses which range from classes in our building to excursions around the globe. Through this intensive two week study, our students engage the world in new ways, carry out CHCA’s vision, mission, and core values, and have educational experiences that they will never forget, all while gaining .25 credits toward graduation. This past January our students experienced the world. And their minds and hearts grew as they engaged through study, service learning, performance, experience, and mission.

If one considers Winter Term 2010 by the numbers, we provided a wide range of opportunities to meet the needs of our students. Twenty-nine percent of our students stayed in town, participating in Serve Cincinnati Hospitals, Serve Cincinnati Schools, Serve Cincinnati Headstart, Serve Cincinnati Elderly, Just Desserts, Career Internships, and Health which also met a graduation requirement. Thirty-three percent were out of country, traveling to Mexico, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Virgin Islands, South Africa, and Turkey. Thirty-eight percent spent part of their Winter Term across the U.S. with trips to Harlan, KY, Chicago, Washington, DC, Charleston, SC, Orlando, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Twenty-six percent participated in service while thirty-eight percent did missions trips.

But more significant than the numbers are the stories and words of our students and teachers. We have heard of lives changed through prayer and relationships in an orphanage in Monterrey, Mexico. One student recounted the power of reading the Book of Acts while following the footsteps of Paul’s journey through Turkey. Budding young scientists readily talked about how biology comes alive when feeding elk in the shadow of the Tetons or snorkeling in the waters of the Caribbean. Another student who built a house for a homeless man in Jamaica said, “This trip will forever alter my future behavior, attitude and decisions.” A young woman shared in chapel about how she learned to appreciate the wisdom of the elderly as she recounted her time in a nursing home. In Costa Rica, a participant noted, “The joy on the faces of the children in spite of their extreme poverty was hard to believe.” And I keep reading emails from people touched by the performances of EJO and Encore in Cincinnati, Charleston, and Orlando.

The course Culinary Arts “went in search of the best way to travel from mindless eating to mindful eating, and found the answer in exciting cuisine.” Students on the Appalachia trip experienced an entirely different culture a few hours away from Cincinnati. A large group of our students recounted how they bonded with young people in schools around our city, with some even returning on their own during a day off of school in January. A senior who traveled to South Africa eloquently shared how humbled he was by a baby in an orphanage.

As I reflect on the things I’ve heard and read since returning to our normal schedule, I was particularly moved by the stories of our students worshipping and fellowshipping with Christian brothers and sisters in churches around the country and the world. Despite culture and language, regional differences and dialects, politics and worldviews, the Spirit of Christ has the power to unite. Love was given and received. We are all different because of it. Students have followed our call to engage God’s world in all its beauty and complexity. They have returned to the classroom changed, seeing new relevance and possessing a new urgency to equip themselves to meet the challenges of the world. When we think about what “learning, leading, and serving” look like lived out, Winter Term is a poignant exemplar.

(For more about Winter Term and why we do it, see my blog from April 22, 2009.)

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