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Middle School

Exploration Courses Expand Opportunities

Emanne Khan '19
Have you ever dreamed of creating your own podcast, wondered what goes into writing a mystery, or been interested in the art of beekeeping? Derryfield students will be able to dabble in all of the above and more through the new Exploration program that is a key feature of the reimagined academic schedule taking effect in the fall of 2019.

The new schedule rotates between eight class blocks instead of seven, with students spending time in four 75 minute classes per day. But instead of encouraging students to increase their academic load, the eighth block recognizes the importance of extracurricular pursuits within the school day.

Before this school year, clubs were allotted about half an hour for meetings. When faculty members began a dialogue with students about features they would like to see implemented in a new schedule, Dean of Academic Programs Lindley Shutz noted that many students felt that “activities were often squeezed on time, diminishing opportunities for leadership and the rich experiences students and advisors imagined.”

The answer to the lack of sufficient non-academic time arrives in the form of Exploration courses. Upper School students are required to take one Exploration course per term. They are presented as “a cross between a course and an activity,” and will share the eighth block with the new Leadership, Ethics, and Development program on an alternating basis. In the Middle School, students will participate in mini-courses designed with the same philosophy and can take up to two per term. 

The faculty designed Exploration courses with the intention to “immerse students and faculty in experiences and pursuits that inspire new interests, broaden skills, and sharpen awareness of the community outside of the classroom.” Although rooted in skills developed in academic classes, “they are designed to encourage students and faculty to risk, to be playful, to venture into new territory such as beekeeping, forensics, sportscasting, podcasting and more.”  

What this means for students is that once or twice a week, they could spend over an hour collecting data on Derryfield’s beehive with Mr. Watt, learning the craft of acting with Mr. Westernberg, or knitting pieces to donate to charity. Several established clubs have also migrated into Exploration offerings to allow more time for practice, including Math Team and Model UN. 

Best of all, Exploration courses are offered on a pass/fail basis. “Part of our hope is that this will give people a chance to relax and enjoy and be creative because they can take more of a risk,” Ms. Shutz said.

In the future, Ms. Shutz envisions students leading Exploration courses themselves with faculty support. “It really is this time of literal exploration . . . it’s based on some things that you might touch upon in a classroom, but you’re doing it in a more exploratory way,” she said.
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