The inaugural January Term (J-Term) held at Randolph-Macon Academy was even more successful than anticipated, according to both teachers and students. Campus energy was high across all grade levels, and as Director of Student Life Todd Davis noted, the typical winter blues were nowhere in sight.
Driving onto campus on a typical day during the J-Term, you might have found the Middle School “Primitive Survival” students building shelters, the “Classroom to 10K” class logging a four-mile run, or the “Aviation and Space Exploration” students shooting off rockets. If you had gone into Mast Hall, you would have found the Crafting for a Cause class creating cat toys by using a Japanese braiding technique called Kumihomo and hot-gluing decorations on capes for the child heroes battling cancer, or the R-MA Beautification artists creating gorgeous murals on the plain bathroom walls.
At the Upper School, the unmanned aerial vehicles from “Drone Applications” were zooming around in the air while the “Tools to DIY” class’s circular saws buzzed on the ground, and iPads clicked away on camera mode for the Photography students. The students of “Unlocking Your Creative Potential” were creating hand-drawn mind maps as the “Art & Technology” students used Fusion to design moulds and then hand-painted their creations. The “How to Find the Job You Want” class was never found on campus as they visited organizations across the region, the “Hydroponics and the Food We Eat” class hurried to build an entire hydroponics lab in less than three weeks, and the “Life Hacks” class enjoyed some relaxing crocheting and home cooking.
All of that might sound exhausting, but in fact it covers less than half of the activity happening on campus throughout the J-Term. During the final symposium, in which the classes got to show off what they had done throughout the semester, R-MA Dean of Instructional Leadership and Innovation Dr. Tess Hegedus said, “The reason why we decided to do J-Term was because we wanted our students to take a deep dive and have an experiential, wonderful, adventurous experience where growth is possible. We wanted them to be able to build mastery skills and get them ready for the future [through] career and life skills training, [and] ways to be successful holistically, beyond what we learn every day in the classroom.”
That goal was certainly accomplished. As demonstrated at the Upper School morning symposium and the Middle School afternoon displays, the students developed new skills and delved deeper into passions that sparked their creativity. It helped them see themselves in a new light. Several teachers noted that students who weren’t typically leaders in the classroom were stepping up and that the free style of learning enabled students to play to their strengths.
“I think that’s the neat thing, that there are different areas in which kids are going to flourish,” said Assistant Athletic Director Brandy Hudson, who co-taught the hydroponics class. She described how one student loved to use the power tools, while two others liked to figure out how to initially set something up, another liked to move forward with those plans, and yet another enjoyed coming in and problem-solving when the set-up didn’t work quite right. All of them were able to learn from each other while feeling valued for their contributions to the project.
The students appreciated both the overall change of pace and immersing themselves into something new. In addition to J-Term classes being strictly project-based, there was no homework unless projects were incomplete. “I feel like it was a nice ease back into the school year after the nice long winter break,” said Camryn Camarata FS'20. She described J-Term as the opportunity to “learn something that you wouldn’t normally learn in the school year and learn something that you’re passionate about.”
“I personally loved J-Term. I think it was a great experience,” said Talin Goodden ‘22. “It’s something many more teenagers should have at school. The classes I chose were for the sole purpose of preparing for my future. I think all kids our age deserve and should learn the life skills needed to survive successfully. The best part of J-Term for me was definitely learning how to dance in ‘Etiquette,’ because I enjoy trying new things and teaching others.”
“I feel both my J-Term classes were very beneficial for me,” said Tirenioluwa Bayo-Adeyemo ‘20. “In ‘Life Hacks,’ I learned how to sew ripped seams on clothes, adjust pants length, and although I already knew how to cook, it gave me more confidence to cook for myself and others. My ‘DIY’ class, on the other hand, made building things like tables, walls and other things seem so simple as long as you’re willing to work. It helped me understand how a lot of things in my home are made.”
While the inaugural J-Term at R-MA was an obvious success, it was just the beginning. Dean Hegedus hopes it will become a time when students delve into subject areas even more deeply, take international excursions, and obtain internships to explore possible careers. J-Term 2020 has laid the groundwork for that vision, with the help of sponsors Harry ‘75 and Mary Ellen Austin, the R-MA Alumni Association, the R-MA Parents’ Association, and Blauch Brothers Incorporated. It will only get more exciting from here.