When the beginning of November comes, students are itching to break out of their routines and we all become antsy, fidgety and unfocused. With the first quarter over, we take advantage of our flexible block schedule and cure this phenomenon with Interim Week—an entire week dedicated to experiential education, immersive learning and getting outside of your comfort zone. Interim gets kids moving, thinking and rejuvenated.
While the Upper School is buzzing all year round with students giving back, Interim Week is also one way we bring our motto “Live and Serve” to life. Half of the Interims offered are service based and range from volunteering at an animal shelter to sewing clothes for children in need. While not all Interims are focused on service learning, many still incorporate these principles. In my three years of Interim experiences, I have worked on building a home through Habitat for Humanity, helped out in a local bilingual classroom and traveled to Cuba to take part in a service and cultural exchange.
Two years ago, just as the Chicago winter was starting to kick in and the school routine was getting old, 12 students, three teachers and I visited Cuba to sightsee, connect with locals and do service. During our week in Cuba, we toured Havana, visiting museums, schools and neighborhood art projects and traveled to Viñales, exploring caves, farms and small towns. While in Havana, we worked with a program that supports young artists, getting our hands dirty, creative juices flowing and lending a hand to paint walls, later painted with murals to brighten up the low-income community. Later in the week, we helped a neighborhood fix their sidewalks, gardens and community spaces. At the end of the day, we were dirty and tired but were energized after seeing our work enjoyed by the community.
Before our trip, we worked with the History Department to learn about Cuban-American relations and Cuban history. After, we met with Spanish teachers to learn Cuban songs, dances and brush up on our Spanish. Once in Cuba, we used these skills to chat with locals about their lives, views of America and passions. We read books to little kids in an orphanage, sharing smiles and giggles. Everywhere we went we were met with warm welcomes and enthusiasm to connect America and Cuba through conversation.
My local Interims may not have been as remarkable in terms of experiencing cultural differences, but each year, our groups grew close as we faced new situations, challenges and joys. While tutoring, we compared notes on how to best work with rowdy kids, and with Habitat for Humanity we taught each other how to hammer in nails and keep our goggles from fogging up. In all cases, Interim brought a chance to mix students across friend groups, grades and backgrounds through shared experiences.
I am thankful for the emphasis our school puts on community engagement and service, and for the opportunity to take part in meaningful learning experiences on and off campus.
This series of "500 Words" is authored by faculty and others in the School community to examine and address those areas important to understanding the School’s culture, philosophy, pedagogy and what distinguishes us from other schools.