Andy Shaw, mathematics teacher and academic dean, talks in-depth about Intersession: What it is, how it works and the good it does. Click on links throughout to hear audio clips from the perspective of alumna and past Intersession student leader Sophia.
“Intersession is a week-long period in the spring when we put academic classes on hold in order to spend a week immersing ourselves in experiential learning. The idea is to give every student an opportunity to do something hands-on that will expose them to something new. We want to give kids opportunities that don’t necessarily fit within the bounds of a normal class.
If you can learn it by doing it, it’s fair game for Intersession. That could be everything from knitting, baking or working in a community garden to exploring Death Valley or building a space balloon.” Hear Sophia’s take on the opportunities Intersession provides.
“Somewhere between a quarter and a third of the Intersessions every year are proposed by students who say, ‘Gosh, I’d like to do this,’ recruit a teacher to help them and go through a process of working with us to build an Intersesion course. The other Intersessions are designed by teachers; teachers at The Bay School are never satisfied with doing the same thing year after year, meaning that we have fresh, interesting offerings every spring.”
“I helped teach an Intersession last year proposed by a student; it was about poetry and place. This student was really interested in poetry – she wanted to explore how poetry and literature from northern California were shaped by authors’ sense of place. We spent the first three days in San Francisco – we learned about the Beats and went to North Beach, went down to 826 Valencia to talk to the folks there and read some poetry by African-American and Latino authors connected to the Mission District. We spent some time in the Presidio practicing the art of writing poetry about a place you know really well. Then we went down to Big Sur for two days. Culturally, we spent time at the Henry Miller Memorial Library and reading poetry connected to Big Sur; experientially, we wrote and shared our own poetry inspired by the ocean, the redwoods, the mountains. It was amazing to see the differences between the pieces we wrote in the city and those we wrote at Big Sur. As we expected, place affected us in our own work just as it had the authors whose works we studied.”
“There are always a few outdoor, overnight, backpacking-type Intersessions. We’ve gone all over the place. We’ve gone to Death Valley, Zion National Park, the Sierras and Big Sur, to name a few.” Sophia speaks to the benefit of outdoor trips.
“There are always a few related to engineering. The space balloon is a consistent project – building a craft we can send to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere and then retrieve when it crashes back to Earth. Last year there was a course around Rube Goldberg machines – he was a cartoonist who would draw these intricate, complicated machines where a ball falls out of a cup and lands on something and triggers dominoes, which trigger a wheel rolling down a ramp and so on. A bunch of kids spent the week in the Project Center with Brad building their own crazy machines.”
“Food is always a theme, I think because of the foodie culture in the Bay Area and because there are a lot of folks here at school who love to eat. There have been Intersessions about baking, cheesemaking and tea. Consistently there’s been a foodie Intersession where students go to different locations around the Bay Area to learn about local foods via chocolate producers, farmers markets and organic farms. That course ends with a big meal the students make together.”
“Intersession is one of the most memorable and can be one of the most transformative experiences students have here. Students learn a lot in their daily academic classes, but there’s something about being immersed in learning something for a week with a bunch of people who are equally interested in that topic and getting out and doing something, that really can be life-changing for students. They talk about it for years; I have alumni come back all the time to sit down and chat. It’s very common that they’ll say in these conversations, ‘Oh, I remember that Intersession I did when I was a junior.’ Intersession is special; it’s out of the norm, it’s different from their daily lives. We get up and we come to school and that’s consistent and it’s great and it’s comfortable, but the way we get challenged and pushed in Intersession is memorable.”
“One of the things that I’m most proud of is the way students have gotten excited about proposing and helping to lead their own Intersessions … there’s something really special about a school where students can have that level of ownership.”
“Often the student-led Intersessions are the most complicated and difficult and challenging. The students don’t try to take the easy way out – just the opposite. They’re trying to make a memorable experience for themselves and their peers, because they know they only get four of these during their time at The Bay School. A key part of the program for us is empowering the students this way, while at the same time having them work closely with a teacher to learn about how to design an Intersession course that is safe, meaningful and educational.” Sophia on why she wanted to plan an Intersession in the first place.
“In the Tall Ships Intersession, for example, students spend a week sailing on the open ocean. Talk about being pushed out of your comfort zone; some of these kids have never been on a boat before. It’s not just about seeing the sights, it’s about understanding that we’re in this together for a week, it’s going to be hard, and we need to look out for each other. It’s about something bigger than oneself.”
“The goal of every Intersession is for students to come back to school or come back to the community after whatever they’ve been doing and share – to help the community grow from each of our experiences. Especially an Intersession like the Tall Ships – it’s changed our school, even for the kids who haven’t gone on it. We all think about community differently as a result of the experiences of this group of students and teachers have brought back from their Intersession. In different ways, that is true for every student and teacher and for every Intersession. ”