Last week, instead of following the regular class schedule, students and teachers in grades 5-8 participated in what’s known as the annual “Winterim” week. Each year during the Winterim week, Middle School teachers plan, schedule, and organize a series of activities, field trips, guest speakers, and assignments related to a particular theme. During Winterim this year, the 5th grade explored and studied marine animals; the 6th grade organized and executed projects in coordination with the Baer School (a Baltimore City School for students with special needs); the 7th grade learned about professionalism and a variety of careers as part of a “Career Week”; and the 8th grade completed service learning projects under the theme of “Pay it Forward.”
Why do we, the Middle School teachers, insist on scheduling and planning a Winterim week every year? After all, it would be much easier to stick with our regular schedule and simply “power through” the last few days before spring break. The answer to the question above lies in the fact that every year Winterim provides some of the most authentic, powerful, and even life-changing opportunities students will ever have throughout their time in the Middle School.
While we believe that practicing high-level academic skills in the classroom is important to students’ future success, we also believe that students should have opportunities to invest their efforts in “real-world” projects outside of the classroom that make an impact on others’ lives, like when 6th graders researched, designed, and built interactive bulletin boards for students at the Baer School last week.
Many of the tasks and projects students work on during Winterim feature an audience or include a performance element. The “public” nature of students’ work during Winterim oftentimes leads to incredibly high levels of intrinsic motivation and effort. Indeed, it’s amazing to see students work diligently and productively on projects not out of a desire to get a high grade or impress their friends, but rather because they care deeply about and have immense pride in the work and learning that is directly at hand. This was fully evident in the way 7th graders crafted and polished resumes, personal statements, and business cards in preparation for “interviews” with professionals from a variety of fields and careers during the 7th grade Winterim “Job Fair” on Friday, March 10th. Similarly, 5th graders researched and crafted poems centering on their own individual marine animals before presenting to an audience of experts in the Ward Center on Thursday, March 9th.
Finally, our Winterim activities and experiences help reinforce the idea (and Middle School theme) that we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves. 8th grade students focused on this idea by completing service learning projects (both on and off campus) such as volunteering at a local nursing home, assisting at the Manna House, cleaning up trails both on and off campus, and preparing casseroles for those with not enough to eat. Some students even learned how to change a tire (a generous teacher allowed them to practice on his car) just in case they have the opportunity in the future to “pay it forward” by helping someone with a flat tire on the side of the road!
For me, Winterim is the week that really brings alive our school’s mission for our students: to seek truth, knowledge and excellence; to live by faith, compassion and integrity. Along the way, we all make memories that will last a lifetime.