Op-Ed: Why You Should Go to a Semester School

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By: Skylar Volman

This past fall, I had the opportunity to attend a semester school called CityTerm. Located on The Masters School Campus in Dobbs Ferry, New York, CityTerm offers a unique experience for people who are seeking an educational opportunity outside of traditional high school, and that included me. After being at Beaver since 6th grade, I was ready for a new experience. A typical week at CityTerm includes 3 days of classes in the classrooms contained within our own dorm (which is very convenient, you can literally roll out of bed minutes before class), and 3 days a week of adventures in the city relating to the classes. The program advertises itself as “project-based learning.” What this means is that although there are three “core curriculum” subjects—History of NYC, Literature of NYC and Urban Environments of NYC—the classes aren’t separated by subject. Instead, every few weeks a new set of interdisciplinary projects are introduced and each class and trip into New York City is specialized to each of these ongoing projects.

On top of these projects, students have the opportunity to take other classes to keep up with their graduation requirements. The classes offered vary based on need, but in my semester, the subjects taught included Spanish, French, Trigonometry, Functions of Precalculus, Calculus, Algebra II, AP US History, Chemistry (honors and standard) and Physics (honors and standard). All of the math and language classes, as well as AP US History, were taught in the dorm by CityTerm teachers, while students who want to take Physics or Chemistry (or one student who opted to take AP Spanish), take them with students at the Masters School. Personally, I took Spanish and Pre Calculus Functions, allowing me to come back to Beaver on track to graduate with full credits. These “extra classes” happened every day, even on the days that we went into the city for projects in order to ensure students are all caught up when they return home. You can take up to three of these classes, but they recommend taking only two, as it gives you a free block to start homework.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays classes go on until 3:30, with a break from 11:30-12:30 for lunch. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, classes wrap up around 10:30 in order to have a meeting to go over the trip itinerary and have lunch to make the 12:20 train into the city. The commute takes 30-40 minutes depending on how many stops the train makes and the stop we’re getting off at. Dobbs Ferry is very close to the Bronx, which is the shortest commute.

Here are some examples of CityTrips I’ve been on: a scavenger hunt in a random neighborhood picked out of a hat, visits to various museums, off-broadway theatre shows, general explorations of different neighborhoods (walking around, eating, observing) and many, many more. We usually would return to campus around 5:30, unless we stayed in the city for an event at night such as a Broadway show, group dinner or improv comedy show. On Saturdays, there are no classes, but there is a trip to the city. Therefore, students still get to sleep in until 10:30, which is when a meeting is held to discuss the day’s activities. Then brunch is available in the dining hall and students depart on the 12:20 train. On Friday nights, the faculty organize a group activity. Examples include movie showings in the common room (my favorite was Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing), improv comedy shows, the Greenwich Village Halloween parade, etc.

On Saturday nights, everyone meets back at Grand Central at 4pm for “checkout.” At this point, you can do whatever you want in New York City as long as you’re in a group of three or more and make it back to take the 11:00 pm train back to the dorm. Or, if you’re feeling tired, you always have the option to head back to campus and if there are enough people interested, a movie is often projected in the common room. Curfew on Saturday night is 12:30. Sundays are entirely free. You again have the opportunity to check out in groups of three, brunch is served all day, and the only requirement is that you’re back in the dorm by dinnertime. I could go on forever about all the incredible experiences that I had and the life-altering experience I carry with me, but I don’t want to bore you. So, check it out for yourself. You can read more at www.cityterm.org or ask me questions personally. Current Sophomores and Juniors can apply for next year’s fall and spring terms. Applications are due on February 15th and can be found on the website.  I encourage everyone who’s interested to look into it, it’s truly an amazing and unique opportunity that I would recommend to anyone.

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