Balancing rigor and imagination at the end of the year

In May thoughts of the Farmer’s Market, fresh tomatoes, strawberries, and basil immediately come to mind. In schools, May is all about summer. I’m drawn to this time of year and the Farmer’s market, and what I imagine is the creation and combination of incredible foods. We are so blessed to be in California at this time of year. And although May is about summer in schools, great schools always end well.

At MA we have stepped away from the traditional endings of final examinations. You literally can’t imagine our students sitting in rows uncomfortable in the heat, their minds torn between the task at hand and the ubiquitous possibilities that come in summer. At MA we do it differently.

Our faculty ask our students to take what they have learned and put it into action. This is how we capture the intellectual imagination and rigor of experiential education.

99th Grade: Scrapbook Project. It captures a predictive approach to history which is about facts and major engagements in the countries, and it’s also about the people who populate history. The project asks our students to define a point of view, and look at history from the social perspective, economic perspective, political perspective, geographic perspective and military perspective. It also recognizes that history is about patterns of human experience. The project is also one of the most legitimate applications of science with the victory gardens, and the students are really learning what it means to ration supplies and food. There are also cultural events brought to campus that help capture the multifaceted aspects of history.

10th Grade: Globalization on Trial: a series of mock trials. The students participate in one of three mock trials, looking at the benefits and detriments of globalization. The students explore the regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and are asked to demonstrate skills they’ve been practicing all year. By having to be witnesses, judges, prosecutors, defenders, they learn how to articulate multiple points of view around issues that really matter. Because students perform what they’re doing, they own it in a different way.

11th Grade: Conference on American Possibility. The students use their US History research papers, informed by their study of American literature, language, math and three years of science at MA, to write legislation on education, the economy or the environment. The students are engaged in purposeful research and argumentation with each other. Constantly going back and forth between idealistic ideas and practical realities of translating values into legislation into action. You can almost see the cigar smoke coming out from under the doors, and the empowerment they feel about gaining some mastery over issues that matter, and then trying to do something about it. Think, question, create — in action.

Junior12th Grade: What I love about the senior experience is we literally send them out, knowing that they will be leaving soon,  and then we bring them back to senior circle. It’s the third time they gather together as a class to reflect on their time together. It begins with the senior retreat, continues with the re-retreat, ends with the final moment of coming back together in the circle. For the seniors it is about being out in the world, shaping the opportunities for those last time connections with peers before going separate ways. The process isn’t academic and, frankly, that doesn’t matter. That’s not the point. This is a time to engage them in other ways as we prepare the community for their departure, and prepare our seniors for the next journey.

Senior hikeHere’s what you can imagine and expect to see at MA: purposeful engagement for many more than two hours a day, and passionate engagement in both an autonomous and collective experience. And then we know that because they’ve done it, what they’ve learned is embedded in a different way. These are not experiences that pass through their memories by the time the 4th of July rolls around.

Opportunities for parents and members of the MA community:

9th grade: The culminating experience will begin on Friday, May 30th with an Oral History Panel (MA Theater from 9:00-10:30 AM).  Students will hear from speakers who will share their wartime memories. The speakers are Asa Hanamoto, who will discuss his experience in Tule Lake, a Japanese American internment camp; Herbie Heller, who will speak about the time he spent in the Terezin ghetto and in Auschwitz; and Betsy McCluskey, one of the founders of Marin Academy and the school’s first Librarian, who will share her memories of daily life on the homefront.

10th Grade: Wednesday June 4, beginning at 8:30 AM. The trials will be held in the BBLC Lecture Hall, Founders Lecture Hall and the Black Box Theater. Parents are welcome to attend the trials but please do observe Courtroom protocol—that is, if a “Court is in Session” sign is on the door, please wait for the bailiff to allow entry. You may also volunteer to be a juror, though you will not be placed on your child’s trial. Please let Jared ( if you are interested in helping out.

11th grade:Adults are welcome to observe the General Assembly in the theater – the times for this are:

Wednesday, 6/4: 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Wednesday, 6/4: 1:20 to 3 p.m.

Thursday, 6/5: 8:30 to 11 a.m.


About Travis

Head of School, Marin Academy.
This entry was posted in EOY, experiential education, place-based education, science, service and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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