Culminating Experiences: A (relatively) New Rite of Passage

Freshmen learning WWII decoding skills

This morning I had a preview of summer when I walked into the BBLC: backpacks were conspicuously absent from the hallway, kids were not rushing into classrooms, and it was very quiet. But by 8:15, the bustle began. Students were arriving, teachers were setting up their classrooms, and there was a general buzz about the place (not unlike cicadas in the summer).

It’s the last week of school, but the atmosphere at Marin Academy is different from many other high schools. In most places, the anxiety is palpable, students are frantically scanning flashcards, and the hallways resound with questions like “Did you study that formula?” “Did you do the extra problem set?” “Oh my god, I don’t remember that character!”

Freshmen making latkas

At MA, our freshmen, sophomores, and juniors are energized, engaged, and excited as they embark upon culminating projects in lieu of final exams. (Our seniors are too, though they are off campus.) Since its founding, MA has valued connections to the local community and the call to use one’s knowledge responsibly in the world. With these goals in mind, two years ago our teachers developed end-of-year culminating projects to develop skills and content and intentionally build each project on the one(s) before.

Last week I heard a group of tenth graders engaged in a purposeful (and lively) argument about societal issues raised by the film Born into Brothels. Yesterday I smelled the delicious aroma of potato latkes frying in front of Thacher Hall. Today I heard juniors argue beautifully and convincingly in support of a better tomorrow. On Thursday I’ll learn about individual senior experiences in Marin as well as the desert. I’m proud to say that many of our students are happy to receive extra materials or hike the extra mile (literally!) so they can “get into the subject more.” (That’s a direct quote!)

Sophomores preparing for the mock trials

We as educators see our students accomplish more than just learning new material: they are working together towards developing a point of view, integrating experiences across disciplines and subjects, and are being stretched out of their knowledge base and/or comfort zone. That means freshmen are practicing 1940s dance steps; sophomores are delving into the cultures of India, Zimbabwe, and Ecuador; and juniors are learning what it takes to achieve societal change. Our students experience the positive and negative effects of independent choices—their own and those of others—and learn how to share with each other.

Highlights of this year include:

Learning to swing

Ninth Grade: World War II Identity Scrapbook Projects

  • A WWII panel presentation with Besty McCluskey, Asa Hamamoto, and Herbie Heller
  • Workshops on music, fashion, dance, cooking, and code breaking in the 1940s
  • Beautiful books representing people from around the world

During the trial

Tenth Grade: Human Rights and Environmental Justice on the Global Scene

This year our sophomores are documenting their mock trial experience in blogs and on Twitter:

The Marin Academy General Assembly during the juniors’ Conference on American Possibilities

Eleventh Grade: The Third Annual Conference on American Possibilities

  • A role-play of the Tennessee Valley Authority, one of FDR’s New Deal projects, with USF professor Chris O’Sullivan
  • The Marin Academy General Assembly, in which all 100 juniors present their different resolutions on how to improve America (following Roberts Rules of Order)

Students, parents, and faculty during the Vision Quest send-off ceremony last week

Twelfth Grade: Journey Out and Journey Back

  • Community Action Project in education or natural building and permaculture
  • A multi-day Marin Outing
  • Senior Vision Quest

I would bet that dinnertime conversations at this time of year are even more interesting than usual. Thank you to all of the students and teachers for your hard work—I hope you enjoy the final day of school tomorrow!


About Travis

Head of School, Marin Academy.
This entry was posted in Class of 2012, Class of 2013, Class of 2014, Class of 2015, experiential education and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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