The 2020-21 school year has been vastly different from any other and has changed the GDS community in countless ways. Minimester, a three-day immersive learning program for GDS high schoolers that usually happens in late February, is the latest victim of a school year transformed by COVID-19.
This year the program was canceled, a decision made by Leigh Tait and the high school administration at the beginning of the school year. Tait, the director of community engagement and experiential learning, oversees the minimester activities. “Planning for minimester takes the entire school year,” Tait said, “So this decision was made in the fall before school even started. The COVID landscape was not even clear for the fall, much less for February when minimester happens.”
Both Tait and the leadership team believed that an online version of the program would not capture the essence of what minimester is supposed to be: an active learning experience. “We didn’t want people doing the same type of learning online that they’ve been doing in their classes,” Tait explained. “The point of minimester is for it to be different and hands-on learning, and the online version of the program wouldn’t encompass that.”
High school students who have participated in minimester in previous years felt let down about the cancelation of the experience for this school year, as they looked forward to the refreshing change from their day-to-day routines that minimester offered.
“I am really going to miss minimester,” said sophomore Sophia Flyer, who participated in the Art Behind-the-Scenes in New York City Museums program last year. “It was the perfect balance of both fun and active learning. Also, I got to be with friends but additionally formed new connections with people who I wasn’t friends with before,” Flyer added, citing the fact that new friendships are especially important during this time of social isolation.
“I think the part I liked the most about it was getting to know other students at GDS that I wouldn’t have spent time with otherwise,” senior EJ Joseph said. She was a part of the Unplugged in the Wilderness program last year. “It was nice to have a change of pace and a little bit of an escape from academic life,” Joseph noted.
Junior Hayden Martz spent his minimester last year in the Bar-B-Curious track. “Sure, eating the barbeque was really fun,” he said, “but also it was a great meshing of different grades. So, honestly, I think that’s the best thing about minimester; you are able to socialize with people you don’t usually socialize with.” When asked what he will miss the most this year, Martz answered, “It’s great to do a deep dive into a topic you are interested in, but I think the biggest thing I will miss is the nice no-homework break that minimester gives us.”
Math teacher Julia Penn, who led the Yoga, Mindfulness, and Meditation session in 2020, was also disappointed that she won’t be able to run her program this year.
“I think minimester was just as meaningful to me as it was for the students,” Penn said. “It gave me the opportunity to share something that I am passionate about totally unrelated to my daily job at GDS. It was a really nice change of pace.”
Tait defined the annual minimester program, which was introduced in 2018, as “the pillar for experiential learning at the high school.”
“There was a different energy in the building during minimester,” said Penn.“It almost felt like a mini-vacation even though everyone was still learning,” Penn added with a smile on her face.
Students and teachers who are upset that minimester was called off this year can at least look forward to the program being back up and running in 2022. As Tait declared, “Minimester is not gone! We are just pausing until we can do it the right way, at 100 percent.”
Elena Forlini ’23