A consistent favorite of Westminster students is JanTerm, the three weeks in January where students pursue one class of their choosing. This year, the course offerings included The Holocaust: The Human Capacity for Good & Evil, What’s On My Plate?, Happiness: The Science and Practice of Well-Being and others. JanTerm allows many students to pursue something they otherwise would not be able to, and the teachers who develop an entirely new course are the real catalysts of the student development that has become a hallmark of JanTerm. This year alone, over 15 new courses were introduced. Each teacher who offers a course shares their passion with their students, who in turn make their work their own passion.
One new class taught by Matthew Munday and Ralph Geeza, The Holocaust: The Human Capacity for Good & Evil attempts to teach students about a period in history decidedly too gruesome to cover in detail in most history classes. In this class, Munday and Geeza use film to help students connect with the atrocities. One of the films they watched is the famous Schindler’s List. The film by Steven Spielberg follows Oskar Schindler as he saves an extraordinary number of Jews through his factory. Geeza and Munday impart important ideas to their students.
“Hatred, prejudice, and even genocide still exist in our world. It’s our responsibility to catch the repeated early warning signs and stop it… Love and joy of life can still emerge from such terrible events,” said Geeza.
Another offering during JanTerm is taught by Emily Horne and Laura Drewicz-Ewing and is called What’s on My Plate? Students learn about the intricacy and fragility of the food system, and how certain areas of the world sometimes take food for granted. The students learn to appreciate their food security by inserting themselves into real-life situation. Through talking with vendors at the Municipal Market: Sweet Auburn Curb Market, students learned how food is an important part of culture and heritage. Students also got the opportunity to spend time at Gilliam’s Community Farm and learn about urban agriculture and the rejuvenation it provides to the community. One highlight for the students was touring the King of Pops facility. There, students learned about ethically sourced ingredients and how it affects them, not just those who grow the food. In a final exercise, students were given the challenge of purchasing food with given stipulations that simulate actual poverty. Students had to work together to come up with a plan to feed themselves on a strict budget. The students struggled, with some ending up able to feed themselves, others failing to meet the nutritional and budgetary guidelines they were given. Throughout the class, the students learned how difficult it is to operate in the economic, social and environmental climate while consuming a healthy and balanced diet without financial resources. The students have learned to appreciate the fact that it is their food choices that will dictate the future of that system.
“The unique perspective of our students [who come from all four grades] has formed a new Food Ethic,” said Home. The class is open-minded and engaged with each other, and I have been happy to see leadership can come from any grade level.”
Some students also got to participate in Happiness: The Science and Practice of Well-Being, which is taught by Anna Moore, Cindy Trask, and Dione Davis. Students learn new ways of thinking and habits that serve them their whole lives. They learn that happiness is not a destination; it is a process. They also learn that much of what they think will make them happy does not, in fact, make them happy. One memorable experience was Goat Yoga, which is a yoga class where goats will come interact with you while you are taking the class. At Decatur Glassblowing, the students learned about new experiences that bring you a new perspective and insight that open the way to changing something; they give you a chance to stretch and they can renew or rejuvenate your mind, body or spirit. Later at the Shambhala Meditation Center, students learned the fine art of meditation. They were able to speak directly with the monk who led the session and hear his personal reflection on how to lead a happier life. The premise of the class was to explore positive psychology, and the teachers were able to see the joy in their students grow.
“We hope to teach them that happiness is not something that they achieve rather something that they make for themselves. We ask them to ‘practice’ habits that are consistent among happy people- gratitude, savoring life’s small pleasures, practicing kindness, living in the moment, getting enough sleep, limiting time on social media and focusing on social connections,” Trask said.
Trask also spoke to how her students’ sense of joy could reach beyond the classroom and impact the Westminster community as a whole. “Our students have some great ideas on how what they have learned could be scaled up to the whole Westminster community,” said Trask. “There is a lot of joy in a class on happiness, and if the first lesson is that happiness is worth working at, then what we all learn is that the class never truly ends.”
Alternative learning doesn’t require elaborate field trips, as the History of Sports Through Film class shows. While they have taken trips to places like the College Football Hall of Fame, the bulk of their learning comes from watching classic sports films. Rudy, Rocky, and Race emerged as class favorites. Students learned about the value of discipline through the cinematic journeys of iconic characters like Rocky Balboa and how it can apply to their lives as well.
“Watching those guys work so hard kind of gave me an impression for how hard I should work,” said Christopher Gryboski. “All those stories were really inspirational. I’ll definitely take those lessons with me as I keep playing sports.”
Besides enjoying watching films, students got the opportunity to visit the CFB Hall of Fame where they found more inspiration in the stories of great athletes from years past.
“It was cool learning about lesser known guys and moments from college football,” said Gryboski. “I’m glad I got the chance to check it out.”
As JanTerm comes to a close, students will take what they have learned out into the world. Students learn to be more conscientious and involved members of the community. In the coming months, projects and fundraisers will arise from the newfound passions students have discovered. JanTerm continues to foster students enthusiasm in ways a normal curriculum could not.