Pace Students Thrive in Alternative Semester Schools
While most Pace students returned to the Pace campus this January for another semester, a couple of students chose to continue their schooling in completely different environments. Junior Emily Caton and sophomore Sloan Baker both decided to do alternative semester experiences this year. Caton is attending the Alzar School in Idaho, which includes a month-long stay in Chile. Baker is spending a semester in Israel in the Alexander Muss High School.
AMHSI, the program that Baker is attending, allows students to immerse themselves in Israeli culture for a semester. Among other activities, students in the program learn Hebrew, go on hikes, visit Poland to learn more about Jewish and Holocaust history, and even experience military training at an IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) base.
“My favorite memory is going to the beach with all my friends or going to Poland,” said Baker. While Baker is continuing some of her usual classes at AMHSI, she is also taking some classes that are outside of the regular curriculum. “Besides my regular classes, I also take an Israeli studies class which is the history of Israel from the very beginning to today,” she said. “It’s definitely my favorite class because it’s not every day that you get to have a class in the exact spot where your lesson happened, such as a desert or a mountain.”
Meanwhile, the Alzar School, the program that Caton is attending, is located in Cascade, Idaho. Housing consists of yurts along the bank of the Payette River. Students also go on a six-week-long trip to Patagonia when the weather becomes too cold for them to stay in Idaho, where they visit local communities and learn Spanish.
“So far, I can say that I’ve grown so much from this experience,” said Caton. “The bonds you form when you live with people in freezing snow for months are pretty incredible. I’ve also really improved my Spanish, which was one of my goals. I’m so glad I decided to take a risk and do something out of the ordinary for this semester.”
Baker and Caton aren’t the only students who decided to do alternative semester experiences during their high school careers. Juniors Virginia Heiser, Sandy Lum and Sophie Lettes, as well as senior Carly Irvine, all did semesters away during their sophomore years. Heiser did the CIEE program abroad in Spain, which Irvine also did during her sophomore year. Lum and Lettes both went to the Outdoor Academy in North Carolina.
All four of them count their memories from their semesters away as some of the best of their lives, and they all found the experience to be life-changing. ‘If I had to say anything to the entire world, it would be to not only push yourself out of your comfort zone, but push yourself way out,” said Lum. “Doing a semester away changed my life. I could honestly talk for hours about how it changed me.”
“I can’t even describe it,” Lettes agreed. “It definitely wasn’t perfect, but that’s what made it really special.” The benefits that students who have done alternative semesters experience have made these semester experiences, as well as gap years, increasingly popular among students.
Doing a semester abroad can bring complications – students often have to change their schedules or struggle readjusting to the Pace curriculum, and many students found that for those reasons they encountered some resistance from family, teachers and counselors. However, each student who has experienced a semester abroad said that despite the difficulties, the experience was ultimately worth it.
“I really wanted to break out of my typical routine and have a unique high school experience,” said Baker. “I would 100% recommend it to other students. It is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve taken away the most incredible memories, amazing friendships, and I’ve learned with a completely different approach.”