SUNDAY REVIEW / INNOVATION IN EDUCATION—Guest Blog—by Denis Grasska, Reporter, Southern Cross newspaper, San Diego. Published with permission.
Sandwiched between the first and second semesters, a month-long term of study called intersession is enriching the educational experience at St. Augustine High School.
More than 700 students – the entire student body – participate in intersession by choosing one from among a list of elective courses, including sailing, cooking, marine biology, architecture and criminal justice, all of which are offered exclusively during intersession.
Seniors have the option of either enrolling in a class or taking advantage of the many internship opportunities also available. Working closely with its community partners, the school has been able to offer internships in the fields of finance, medicine, law and education, among others.
Principal James Horne describes intersession as “a fantastic enrichment of the college-prep program we’ve been known to offer.” He explained that a solid academic program, one that provides everything necessary to prepare students for college, still “leaves out a grand portion of what’s wonderful about learning.” And intersession is intended to fill that gap.
The types of courses and internships offered during intersession are generally the result of students’ recommendations, he said, and give students the opportunity to learn about the things that interest them.
During this year’s intersession, which began Jan. 6 and concluded Jan. 31, some 26 electives and 160 internships were available. Freshmen were required to complete a course offered on campus; sophomores and juniors were able to avail themselves of courses held at off-campus locations, such as the Mission Bay Aquatic Center and the Sorrento Valley Racquetball & Fitness Center; and the majority of seniors opted for an internship.
For the North Park school’s on-campus classes, the school day ran from 7:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
On Jan. 30, the evening before the close of intersession, the school held its annual Intersession Expo. Students, parents, community partners and internship providers all attended the event, which showcases the diverse opportunities offered during intersession.
“I like the ability to choose what you want to study and focus on that subject for an entire month,” said Brendan McNamara, a senior, who spent this year’s intersession as an intern at the San Diego Zoo.
McNamara, who plans to study biology in college, assisted zoologists in observing animals and collecting and interpreting data. He was also able to “go behind the scenes” at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to learn about its cheetah breeding program.
Over the span of four intersession periods, McNamara said he has learned “a wide variety of skills in a range of topics,” including speech, engineering and architecture.
“The intersession program gives Saints a value that no other school has,” said Pablo Ortega Flores, also a senior, who just completed a month-long internship with TargetSolutions, an organization that provides online training and records management.
During his first two years at Saints, Flores took speech and film production classes during intersession. In his junior year, he participated in a service trip to Italy, where he assisted in the refurbishing of an Augustinian monastery and visited several Italian cities.
“I have been able to visit and learn about new cultures, and I have learned about working in a corporation – something that might not have happened until after college,” Flores said. “The intersession experience enables us to acquire a unique and important experience.”
Plans for the Saints intersession program arose during a time when the school was looking for a way to continue offering physical education classes even as an increasing number of advanced-placement courses and other academic offerings jockeyed for inclusion in the regular semester schedule.
Through the creation of a new term of study, Horne said, the school was not only able to preserve the physical education program but also to provide alternatives to “the typical P.E. class” as well as “a lot of different things … [that] a traditional curriculum doesn’t address.”
Citing an engineering class and another course titled “Careers in Sports” as examples, he said, “These are things that aren’t usually offered at a high school, but we found that our kids have great interest in learning about those topics.”
To accommodate the new term of study, the beginning of the academic year was pushed back to the third week of August so that the first semester could be concluded before Christmas break. The academic year ends during the first week of June.
While the rest of the school’s curriculum readies Saints students for the university level, Horne said, intersession is even more forward-looking. “This intersession,” he said, “is designed to help prepare [students] for life choices beyond college – learning things about the work environment, about teamwork, about collaboration with others, and then of course, some experience with specific industries.”
“I see it really kind of being a springboard for our kids into what’s next in their lives,” he said. “I think we’re seeing it creating connections between our students and future employers.”
Reprinted with permission of The Southern Cross newspaper. Article by Saints alum and Southern Cross staff member Denis Grasska was first published on Feb. 18, 2014.
Businesses and organizations in the San Diego area wishing to land a Saints intern for 2015 should contact St. Augustine High Principal James Horne: firstname.lastname@example.org