Students Embark on Endersession

Spring 2013

igh school students at Innovation Academy spent the last week of the school year participating in Endersession, which is an intensive, hands-on module led by staff. Students and staff propose courses that focus on topics of interest to them, such as blacksmithing, architecture, or exploring Washington, DC. Endersession aims to create time and space in the school year for staff and students to learn outside the classroom, to submerge themselves in experiences, trips, and other activities that are meaningful and interesting to them.

“It was started the very first year of the high school as a culminating experience for the school year to reinforce the idea
that while academic classes are over, there is still so much learning to be done—learning is lifelong!” says Stephanie Kelly, a founding math teacher at the high school who helped plan the first Endersession in 2008.

“While the primary benefit may appear to be the content of an Endersession course, the less obvious benefit of Endersession, like many structures in our school, is the relationship building that occurs during these weeklong classes.  Whether students work with teachers they are very familiar with or with teachers they have never had in class before, the common experience provides another means of connecting students and staff,” she says.

Teachers are free to design courses around their own interests, and student input shapes what the offerings will be each year. Students select from a wide variety of options (this year they selected from 28 course offerings!). All Endersession groups are open to students in the 9th–12th grades; they offer an opportunity for students and teachers to spend time with people they may not already know. 

“I see it as an opportunity for faculty and students to engage outside the classroom in a non-academic but learning environment.  It is a venue for students of different grades to get to know each other doing something they all enjoy,” says John Frothingham, a math teacher who led the
Fresh and Saltwater Fishing Endersession this year. “The teachers benefit by being able to work with students not as their teachers/instructors/assessors but as acquaintances and possible mentors in a shared interest/hobby/craft. The students benefit by seeing the teachers in a more natural role and getting to know them personally.”

For many students, it’s their favorite part of the school year. “The benefit of Endersession is learning about new or important things while outside of the classroom. You get to spend time with a
teacher and learn who they are as a person, not just an educator. Endersession is a type of learning kids look forward to and get excited about. I think it’s a crucial part of Innovation Academy. Endersession has given me some of the greatest memories of my life and taught me more than just
information from a book, but also lessons about life,” says Melissa Jedrey ’13. 

Courses this year ranged from Boston Art and Architecture, to Gastronomical Anthropology, to Tidepooling New England. Some students spent the week learning on campus, while others traveled
as far away as Ireland.

Here are some highlights:

Puerto Rico

“I tell my students all the time it’s one thing to learn how to order from a menu in a Spanish class and it’s another thing to actually order from a menu in a Spanish speaking country,” says Spanish teacher William Carvajal. “Most Students at IACS participate in a daily immersion setting in Spanish class, but many have never had an opportunity for an authentic cultural experience such as traveling to Puerto Rico.”

Students learned about the culture and history of the island. The week included: learning about the early Taino people and archeological finds, the Spanish conquest, life in old San Juan, military engagements and forts, US conquest, US military and the island during WWII, life in the rain forest, dinoflagellates and how they create a bioluminescent bay, different types of foods, island topography, and even salsa dancing. Students hiked, swam, kayaked, and ate Puerto Rican cuisine, while practicing their Spanish.

“After this Endersession, I feel like I’ve improved with listening carefully and understanding more Spanish. I also feel a little more comfortable with speaking Spanish,” says Maiel Richards ’16. “El Yunque was a wonderful experience for me. The rainforest was so beautiful and getting to the top of the mountain was really satisfying. When we kayaked in the bioluminescent bay, you could put your hand in the water and it would glow around you. If you splashed yourself, it looked like there were stars all over your body from the little sparkle of each organism.”

Melissa Jedrey ’13 agrees that this trip was a tremendous learning experience. “I learned not to judge others before you get to know them because often when you spend time with them they turn out to be much greater than you thought,” she says. “I learned about the foods they eat in Puerto Rico, and what cheese flavored ice cream tastes like. I learned how to ask strangers for directions in Spanish. I learned about the largest telescope and what we can learn about outer space with it. I learned how to salsa dance and I learned that the Camuy caves are alive and beautiful, but overall I learned the value of others.”

Week in the Woods: Exploring the Trails and Rivers of the White Mountain National Forest

A group of thirteen students stayed in a rustic cabin without running water or outhouses. The first day they completed a service project for the Appalachian Mountain Club, hauling wood that they were using to build bog bridges. The next day they went rock climbing on Cathedral Ledge in North Conway with the International Mountain Climbing School, and the third day they hiked to the top of Mount Washington. The last full day they canoed the Saco River, where the students found and used a rope swing.
“The adventures were all fun, but my favorite part was the friendships and fun times we had at the cabin, singing, having nerf gun wars, and cooking great food,” says robotics teacher Donna Harrington. Ireland

Students travelled to Ireland, known as the “Emerald Isle” because of its lush vegetation and abundance of greenery (they say the morning dew makes Ireland’s green pastures sparkle like emeralds). Chemistry teacher Raks Derival says, “Ireland offers a wealth of learning for the high school aged traveler looking to explore a country rich in heritage, sightseeing, fresh air, traditional Irish folk music, fun stories, and craic—their term for jolly fun-having times involving music and dance.”

Album in a Week

Students worked as a group to record an album of music, which included contributions of all students. In addition to working on their own music, they also collaborated with peers to help them record their own ideas. Students learned about songwriting, playing, singing, and recording and producing music.

“I learned you need patience and that making music takes a lot of time,” says Anna Boian ’14. “During Endersession, you get a week to wind down and not worry about the stress of school. You get to bond with faculty members and students you don’t get to see every day.”

Freshman Marci Zaccardi says, “I originally came up with a melody and words for the chorus to my song, and with help from lots of wonderful chord instrument-playing students, fleshed it out into an extremely awesome pop-ish song. I also got to help someone else write a song to go with his guitar riff, as well as do some backup vocals in a metal song.” She believes that Endersession gave her a chance to spend a week doing something she loves with a group of people who share her interest. “It also forces you to work together with other people, which helps you get to know them better, and form a tighter knit community,” she says.

Photograph New England

Students explored the IACS campus, downtown Portsmouth, Faye’s Farm in Pelham, NH, and the Stone Zoo, photographing their adventures each day. From professional photographer Vera Crane, students learned techniques for taking photographs, using different settings on their cameras, lighting techniques, how to use reflectors, and how to edit their photos. “Throughout the week, they received advice and feedback on their photographs as they selected, edited, printed, and framed their favorites to share with the community,” explains history teacher Shannon Morocco.

“I learned how to take pictures with out the camera being on automatic mode. I also learned how to look at an object different before I take the picture,” say Emily Spezzano ’16.

Crane was impressed with students work. “[The photographs] came out amazing, and really showcase everyone’s hard work! I am so proud of this class! I really believe they understand and can really manipulate the camera with complete control to get the shot they want!” she says.

Mount Washington Hut to Hut

On Monday, this group climbed Pack Monadnock, a small mountain in southern NH. This gave everyone a chance to make sure they had the right equipment. Next, they planned to hike to Lakes of the Clouds Hut, over Mt. Washington, and then on to Madison Spring Hut over the course of three days.

Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. Near-freezing rain and strong winds rolled in when they were at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, so they had to spend an extra day there and forgo their plans to get to Madison Spring Hut. “The hut was cold and we were stuck in one room full of windows where you could see nothing but fog, but the kids handled it amazingly,” says physics teacher Chris DiCarlo. “There wasn’t a peep of whining or negativity, even when I had to tell them that we couldn’t go out the second day. When we exhausted our options for card games, a student came up with numerous improvisational acting games to keep us sane and moving around. After dinner the weather broke and we headed up to Mt. Monroe. It was the perfect antidote to our cabin fever.”

The next morning they went back to Monroe to see the sunrise over Mt. Washington. They then hiked up Washington along the Presidential Ridge and back to their cars. “When we got to the bottom and looked back at the top I couldn’t fathom how we walked the entire trip,” says Melissa Morris ’15. “I learned how to overcome things as a group,” says Corey Bova ’16.

Rise with the Phoenix: A Journey

Exploring the Fusion of Permaculture & Art Ryan Ferdinand, a former IACS high school art teacher, now runs an organic permaculture farm with her husband. Nine high school students spent the week there, camping when rain didn’t stop them. “We made pottery in the pottery studio, fired two different types of kilns, and did farm chores everyday, such as feeding the chickens and pigs. We made wood chip paths, helped to make the footings for a new yoga platform, helped preschool children plant seedlings at the nearby community garden, and cooked our own meals,” says history teacher Beth Olesen. “We also learned about beekeeping from one of their friends and ate honey straight from the comb. Everyone returned healthier, more knowledgeable, and more at peace.”