Friday the fifteenth of September was an exciting day. Director of Curriculum and Innovation Caroline Boyajian, Experiential Learning Department Chair Jon Calos, and Director of Student & Community Life Emily Carton stood before the school community during Morning Reports to announce the launch of Jestermester to our students. The moment was a significant milestone during an extensive process stretching back to Emma Willard Schools strategic planning meetings in 2020.
Among the many exciting goals that emerged from strategic planning, uplifting experiential learning on campus and the creation of a “minimester” program (a brief period of time between academic terms for unique learning opportunities) became new initiatives for the school to develop. A task force was created to shape the outlines of the program and a timeframe was discussed by a separate task force charged with forming a new daily schedule. It was the schedule team that coined our beloved term for Emma Willard’s minimester program, “Jestermester.” Meant to be fun — like our mascot, the jester –– Jestermester was designed to embrace experiential learning, hands-on lessons, teacher innovation, students exploring their passions, mixed grade community building, and deep learning on one topic. In its pilot year, Jestermester will happen during the week of 4 to 8 March 2024. Travel trips will now happen during Jestermester instead of spring vacation, and international trips will leave a few days earlier in the spring to allow for experiences at distant locations.
Experiential learning has always existed at Emma Willard School in various forms over the years. There was even a minimester program in 1974 called “Mini-Term” that is similar to Jestermester. Experiential learning is a well-developed educational philosophy that is formally composed of four phases: experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting (affectionately abbreviated as ”ERTA”). Emma Willard School formed an experiential learning department in the school year of 2021–2022, bringing together Practicum, Signature, Community Engagement and Social Impact, and a couple related courses. Importantly, experiential learning is also broadly applied throughout the curriculum, taking the form of lessons, projects, field trips, and even dedicated courses like, US History: Experiential.
Jestermester began taking shape in the summer of 2023 when about thirty teachers completed a special week of professional development work to compose detailed plans for specific Jestermester experiences. Taking inspiration from current classes, special interests, and contacts in the professional world, these leaders crafted a wonderfully diverse set of offerings for our students. The leaders planned everything from travel reservations, to daily lesson plans, to making connections with experts, and used experiential learning as a framework for every step of the process. Thanks to the generous support of the school, our students had twenty-eight Jestermesters to choose from when they made their choices in October.
A key result of the Jestermester offerings will be an exhibition of the experiences and learning that took place during the week.. Students will document their journeys and accomplishments in creative ways to share with the entire school community. Jestermester leaders are planning ways to feature these exhibitions during the Spring Showcase on April 26, 2024, along with Signature and Emma Artist presentations. It will be a remarkable day to behold.
Every step of the development of Jestermester has been a success and the future looks bright indeed. In a school full of cherished traditions, the addition of Jestermester is another exciting chapter in the history of Emma Willard School.
This piece was written by Experiential Learning Department Chair and Science Instructor Jon Calos.
Find more interesting stories about Emma Willard School on our Newsroom page.