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Interterm Immersion

Wednesday, February 3, 2016  
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By Christina Mimms, SAIS

Several years ago when Noble Academy hosted a conference led by consultant/author Grant Lichtman at its Greensboro, NC, campus, a group of their teachers started brainstorming about new programs. “They wanted to do something different and out-of-the-box,” said Jennifer Aceves, head of the high school. The product of their plans became known as “Flexuary,” i.e., “flexible January,” a program to allow students to suspend their usual coursework and take unique courses over a three-week period. These interterms, as they are known at many schools, immerse students in new classes, provide them with travel opportunities, and otherwise shake up the regular school schedule for new adventures.

While Noble Academy held its first interterm in January two years ago, Flexuary has since moved on their calendar to occupy the three weeks prior to spring break. High school freshmen through juniors step away from their regular schedules to take three, 1.5-hour-long seminars per day, with little to no homework. The junior high also participates but only for one week. High school seniors work at internships during the three-week program.

The entire program operates with a central, fairly broad theme that can apply to a lot of different classes; last year it was “Time,” and this year, “Ethics.” Teachers have enjoyed implementing the theme into classes they develop. For example, one of the required History seminars offered last year delved into “Rocky IV,” with a full discussion about the former Soviet Union and the tension that occupied much of the 1980s. In a required English seminar on Photo Essays, students studied and took photos that all related to time in some way.

During Flexuary, students receive grades for their participation, their final projects, and any other activities. They receive the equivalent of a quiz grade.

“Overall it has been well received,” said Jennifer Aceves, head of Noble Academy’s high school. “The kids absolutely love the mix-up and being with different kids and teachers. It’s a very valuable experience.”

Perhaps the only downside is that, with the program being held for the weeks prior to spring break and then being away for spring break, “it’s a little tough coming back to homework after four weeks off,” Aceves noted. 

Hawken School in Cleveland, OH, intentionally times its interterm program called Intensives to be held the three weeks prior to winter break and again in the last three weeks of the school year. “After Thanksgiving is a terrible time as a classroom teacher,” said Kim Samson, upper school director at Hawken. “This livens up that time.” Exams are held prior to the Intensives; the second semester is carefully planned so that Intensives do not conflict with AP exams held in May.

Students attend only one course for three solid weeks, seven hours each day, and receive a letter grade. Offerings include Bioethics, Leadership through Diversity, the Refugee Experience, various art courses, fashion design, and many others. Some courses include travel abroad; students can even complete AP Biology or AP U.S. History as an Intensive.

To determine the courses, department chairs typically get together on a faculty work day to brainstorm. They consider interdisciplinary courses, service opportunities, and finances. All of the Intensives are completely funded by the school via a $250,000 total budget.

“It’s complicated but it’s really rewarding,” Samson said. “Going in there is a lot of excitement; coming out there is happiness and exhaustion.”

While interterm programs usually are offered at high schools, Randolph School is launching a new program this year for students in Kindergarten through 3rd grade. While students in the middle and upper schools go on their annual class trips in mid-March, the lower school students will take mini-courses such as yoga, web design, Lego building and design, Brilliant Balloons, and Green Screen Adventures. Each student will take two 90-minute courses each day. All students will still have their morning meeting, P.E., lunch, and recess, but there will be no homework during the week.

“Our middle school and upper school have done their special program, and we need a lower school experience that is appropriate for these students,” said Laurel Shockley, lower school assistant head at Randolph. “Everyone is very excited about it.”

In recent years, some schools and universities have eliminated their interterm programs because the programs can merely lengthen the school year without adding any particular value and sometimes delving into silliness. Does a school need to offer a three-week course on Harry Potter, for example? When conducted in a way that remains faithful to and productive toward a school’s mission, however, interterms can provide a way for students to explore new interests, immerse themselves in experiential learning, and give them unique memories forever associated with their schools. 


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