When Gill St. Bernard’s transitioned to virtual learning last year in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was the first time in over 50 years that the school was unable to host the Spring Unit Global & Experiential Learning Program—a hallmark tradition where students spend two weeks at the end of the school year participating in experiential learning courses, collaborating with faculty through immersive study, field work, student internships, and cultural travel opportunities.
After GSB reopened its campus for in-person classes this past September, faculty immediately began designing the 2021 Spring Unit Program with the understanding that this year’s courses had to look different. So, they did what they do best. They got creative.
“To pull from our faculty’s passions and interests to design courses for students that are beyond the classroom is the spirit of Spring Unit and an integral reason why it’s so successful,” said Tracey Goodson Barrett, one of the Spring Unit Program three faculty coordinators alongside Margery Schiesswohl and Mike Wendell.
“Planning [for Spring Unit] in September when we had no idea what June would look like was a challenge, but one thing we knew we didn’t want to do was cancel the Program this year,” said Margery.
Notable changes to this year’s program included readjusting the schedule to four immersive days, offering more courses with smaller participant sizes, and hosting each course directly on campus. Despite these shifts, the heart of Spring Unit persisted as classmates stepped outside the traditional classroom to partner in one of 16 vibrant micro-courses centered on Environmental Sustainability, Experiential Learning, Cultural Immersion, and Service.
Lights, Camera, Action: The Operations Behind the Camera
GSB Coordinator of Instructional and Visual Technology Joe DeVico utilized his micro-course to give students hands-on knowledge of the magic behind television programming.
“It’s exciting to show students the latest technology in TV/film cameras and audio capture,” said Joe.
“I'm hopeful that students gain a better understanding of the complex nature of TV production and the important roles each individual plays in making excellent content for broadcast. This includes everything from the basics of a good script, to good lighting and audio, along with how edits and music can change the entire feel of a piece of video.”
Students spent the week covering every aspect of the production process, from pitch meetings, script writing, camera operations, directing, creating news segments and comedy sketches, and video editing. In addition to planning and broadcasting their segments, students were also joined by a series of virtual guest speakers, including Daytime Emmy Award Winning Editor and Director Ryan Case, who shared their professional knowledge of the production industry from the past 25 years.
Be sure to check out student’s final projects!
Globetrotters: Around the World in Four Days
While students may not have had a chance to travel in this year’s Spring Unit, this course brought four unique world destinations to them on campus.
In Globetrotters, students embarked on a series of interactive, online experiences with on-site hosts to immerse themselves in the history, cuisine, and cultures of Paris, France, Athens, Greece, Tokyo, Japan, and Marrakesh, Morocco.
“In a time of constant change, young people can shape our world in ways that are unlike anything we could have imagined,” said micro-course leader Tracey Goodson Barrett. “It's exciting to be able to connect our students with cultures around the world in a virtual exchange at a time when physical travel to other locations is restricted.”
Each day, students had the opportunity to talk with their tour host to not only learn specific facets of each country, but deepen their understanding and appreciation of the various cultures through interactive materials and virtual tours of city landmarks, museums, and street arts while sampling traditional dishes. Students also had the chance to participate in the Global Nomads Group (GNG), an international program that fosters dialogue and understanding among the world's youth. By providing opportunities to interact and engage with different perspectives, our students were able to share their experiences with other students around the globe to break down stereotypes, address community challenges, and explore what it means to be a global citizen.
The Foundation of Modern Civilization: An Introduction to Diversified Agriculture at Home Winds Farm
Most schools don’t have their own working farm—and for most of human existence, neither did the world. In this micro-course, Home Winds Farm Manager Ned Lincoln gave students a crash course on how agriculture has shaped our cultures, from its early roots to modern day food production.
“I care deeply about agriculture and think it is crucial for younger generations to be exposed to it not just as a technical field, but as a foundational pillar of all human civilizations,” said Ned.
“The broader scope of agriculture is very important and is not something people ever really need to think about in daily life, but which constantly affects them via the very foodstuffs that sustain them. It is easy to go to the supermarket and buy what you want and not think about it, but it is the product of an immense amount of labor and technology, and without it our lives would be very different.”
As part of their course, students partnered with Ned to get their hands (and clothes) dirty at Home Winds as they learned practical skills for starting vegetables, harvesting crops, caring for animals, and cultivating animal products such as eggs, honey, and wool. These hands-on experiences also provided unique opportunities for students to talk about topics on sustainability and the importance of genetic diversity, without being distracted by other class commitments.
“The ability to cover a lot of information without being distracted by other subjects is a rare opportunity,” commented Ned. “To have experiential learning taking place at the same time really makes for a singularly valuable experience for these students.”
The Senior Experience
Perhaps the biggest change to this year’s Spring Unit Program was the introduction of the Senior Experience, a course that gave the Class of 2021 a space to connect as a full grade in ways they haven’t had the opportunity to during the school year.
Over the week, Seniors worked together in a series of community service projects, listened to guest speaker presentation to help prepare for their college transition, planted a time capsule commemorated their time at GSB, and enjoyed a fun-filled day together at Six Flags Great Adventure Park before Commencement and other end-of-year ceremonies.
"I’d like this Senior Class to walk away with a sense of unity, accomplishment, and excitement for what lies ahead in their lives,” said Assistant Dean of Student Life and Spring Unit co-coordinator, Mike Wendell. “Most of all, I want our students to walk away saying their Spring Unit was worthwhile, informative, and fun!"
Check out our photo gallery to see more micro-course projects from this year’s Spring Unit Program.