For the first eight-day rotation cycle after Winter Break, Pace students engaged in the annual Minimester program. Although the program for the past nine years has always been a creation of the Upper School science department, this year marks the first time that the history department stepped up to the challenge and developed a set of courses that centered around the theme of African and African-American history.
Some of these courses used a racial lens to analyze government, speeches and recent instances of activism, whereas other courses applied this lens to pop-culture influences like music, sports and cinema. For example, English teacher Emily Washburn taught a Minimester course entitled “Fighting Words: Songs of Resistance and Rebellion.” Mrs. Washburn believes that her Minimester course allowed students to see how history can shape culture, and vice-versa. “The music then becomes a variable in shaping American culture, so there’s a feedback loop,” said Mrs. Washburn.
In years past, I’ve traded my usual science classes for temporary science-based courses like “The Science Behind Cooking” or “Swamp Ecology.” Both courses provided fun and momentarily stress-relieving opportunities to learn about nontraditional disciplines. This year, I traded my attendance in History Department Chair Tim Hornor’s AP Art History course for a week-long study of student activism with Isdell Center for Global Leadership Associate Director Ted Ward.
It was during this week that I found myself wishing Pace’s Minimester program extended beyond just our history classes and into every subject of study simultaneously. Next year, I believe that all of Pace’s academic departments should plan Minimester courses to coexist for the first eight-day schedule rotation following Winter Break.
The concept behind Minimesters allows for the purest form of education: learning for the sake of curiosity and not for the grade. After just eight days in Mr. Ward’s Minimester course, I developed a genuine passion for the content before me, whereas I might often find myself participating in regular classroom coursework solely to perform well on later assessments. “During my oral history Minimester [with Dr. Christine Carter] this year, I was able to learn about something I really enjoy without the ever-looming pressure of tests,” said junior Raina Moseley. “Minimesters definitely let me fear academic failure less and ask questions more.”
The true beauty of Minimesters lies in their innate commitment to diversity — of thought, faculty and classmates. Minimesters allow teachers to instruct thoughtful courses of their own design and enable students to sign up for the courses that resonate most with their interests. Since Pace teaches so many Advanced Placement (AP) classes, it’s natural for the Pace curriculum to not always satisfy the diverse interests and academic passions of each and every student. Thus, Minimesters offer a unique and short-lived opportunity for previously disengaged students to truly immerse themselves in interesting material.
In terms of faculty diversity, Minimesters offer students the opportunity to learn from Pace teachers that they wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to know in the classroom setting. For example, I never would have been able to experience Mr. Ward as a teacher if it weren’t for my being in his Minimester this year. I’m grateful for such an opportunity because students should be exposed to as many different teaching styles as possible in preparation for college and life thereafter.
There are some people in my grade who have had Mr. Hornor for three years of high school history or have had Mrs. Washburn for three years of high school English (myself included). While I admit that they are exceptional teachers, designing Minimesters for every academic department at Pace would allow students to learn from more of Pace’s esteemed faculty.
I’ve heard great things about English Department Chair Marsha Durlin, Math Department Chair Heather McCloskey and Science Department Chair John Pearson, but I’ve never experienced one of their classes. What if next year I had the ability to learn from all three in one week of Minimesters? It would be a shame to deny those educational opportunities.
Additionally, Minimesters are so special because they place students from all four grades of the Upper School in the same classes. History teacher Caitlin Terry sums it up best. “Minimesters are an awesome opportunity for what is already a very talented faculty to connect even more closely with the mission of the school at its liberal arts core by engaging with different segments of the student body,” she said. “What I love so much about this is that I’ve got freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors all sitting in my classroom. It’s so rare for that to happen otherwise.”
Another point to consider is that the strategic placement of Minimesters within the school calendar naturally lends itself to its being developed further. When students return after two weeks of Winter Break to the time-consuming and often stressful Spirit Week in January, Minimesters could function more efficiently as a liminal time period to get students back in the academic mindset: an engaging on-ramp to a successful second semester.
I can’t think of anything that embodies the spirit of Spirit Week more than a week of Minimesters in each of my classes. Imagine a week where students could choose courses from a greater variety of offerings, study under teachers they’ve never met, sit alongside students from all other grades, and most importantly, learn without the burden of incessant homework or assessments — in every one of their classes. After a single eight-day rotation cycle, students would be more prepared to begin the traditional second semester and more excited to jump back into their routine.