By John Turner, Head of Middle School
Packing for the first day of school can be a bit busy for any family, but there are some extra wrinkles to contend with for Foote’s middle school students.
Bug spray? A raincoat? Hiking boots and an extra change of clothes? Check, check, check and check. And that’s on top of lunch and an extra water bottle. Then again, there’s room in the backpack since you can leave the pencils and notebooks at home for a few more days.
This week was Project Week for almost 200 Foote students in Grades 6–9—three days of learning by doing, team-building activities, reconnecting with friends and getting to know new people.
Project Week has kicked off the school year at Foote since the 1990s, but the experiences are as fresh as the next net pulled up by our sixth graders on Long Island Sound, and as thrilling as the Newington ropes course challenge tackled by eighth graders. Our seventh graders are taken back in time by the Mashantucket Pequot Museum while, a bit further east, the ninth grade meets the challenge of a 25-mile bike ride through Cape Cod.
The plans differ for each grade, but they invariably include aspects of outdoor education and challenges that ask the students to get to know each other a little deeper and become closer as an advisory group. It’s not school in the traditional sense, but it’s a clear demonstration that learning can occur anywhere, and the outcomes go well beyond the top of a climbing tower or the end of a trail. Our teachers and advisors help students carry these experiences into the rest of the school year, and in each grade, the activities directly connect to one of the year’s courses or themes.
This is Foote's approach to education: experiential and authentic, based in hands-on learning and real-world problem solving. On the Cape Cod whale watch this week (part of the ninth grade's Project Week retreat), the boat captain remarked, "Shouldn't you kids be in school?" To which our students replied, in unison, "This is school!"
Project Week can be a great way for new students to join the Foote community as they contribute ideas and try new experiences. Likewise teachers get a window into students they might not have in a classroom setting. They can observe students working in groups, share one-on-one conversations, and look out for anyone who might need a boost.
It’s an unusual way to begin a school year, to be sure, but Project Week is far more than three days of field trips. The days are thoughtfully planned, the activities well executed, and minds, hearts, and voices all become a little bolder.
Well worth the extra packing effort, isn’t it?