A quick transition from summer into Experiential Education


Photo courtesy of Chris Bonadies.

Experiential Education (ExEd) is an annual tradition held at Aspen High School where educators purposefully engage with students through hands-on experiences and focused reflection in order to define values, acquire skills, expand knowledge, and strengthen the community.

In previous years, ExEd has taken place anywhere from the third week of the school year to mid-spring, all depending on which time period was most rational and successful. This year, ExEd week was moved to the second week of the 2018 school year, making it a quick transition from summer vacation into the experiential program.

AHS Principal, Tharyn Mulberry, discussed the factors contributing to this decision, which revolved around the difficulties endured in previous years with ExEd and eighth-grade Outdoor Education occurring simultaneously.

“We thought it would be easier for us to move Ex Ed than have AMS move their Outdoor Ed due to everyone using the same buses and equipment,” Mulberry said. “We wanted to be mindful of lots of aspects: athletic schedules, calendar issues, etc. Also, we wanted to give this new timing a try because it would be less of an educational disruption.”

Assistant Principal, Sarah Strassburger, felt as though this timing was extremely beneficial in strengthening the school’s atmosphere.

“It was a really good idea to have Ex Ed the second week of school because it allows kids to quickly meet different grades, bond with each other, and set up a true sense of community right at the beginning of the year. Once students form these great relationships and have these amazing experiences, they come back feeling settled and grounded to hit the ground running in terms of academics,” Strassburger said.

Although this alteration was primarily applied to create a stronger foundation for the community, the faculty at AHS experienced multiple interruptions while preparing for the academic week.

Social studies and film teacher, Gretchen Calhoun, reflected on the disorder of the first week of school in the midst of preparing for ExEd.

“There needs to be better organization. Tuesday was a very long day: we had 25-minute classes, and I hope that doesn’t happen for following years. It was a good way for students to bond at the beginning of the year, but it was chaotic and tiring for teachers. Also, it was a lot to ask of us to prepare for classes at the same time as getting ready for Ex Ed…  I think for teachers it was more of a burden, but I think it was better for the kids,” said Calhoun.

Mathematics teacher, Josh Anderson, however, enjoyed having Ex Ed so close to the beginning of the school year.

“I think it was nice to have the Ex Ed groups meet each other at the very beginning of the year, and have everyone know each other immediately. I think that this timing allowed us to have one week of ExEd preparation, and then start with academics the week right after ExEd,” Anderson said.

Being new to freshman, ExEd is supposed to build a sense of excitement and exhilaration for the year ahead at their new school. The program’s new timing has hindered this enthusiasm for some incoming freshmen, but it has also increased this excitement for others.

This being her first Ex Ed ever, freshman Lily Citron recalls her experience to be unforgettable due to the benefits of this early timing.

“As a freshman, it was an awesome opportunity to quickly meet new people in other grades, and then sink into the school routine after the trips. All of the grades were super welcoming this first week and more bonded together, and it seemed like they just wanted the freshman to feel comfortable and welcomed.”

While some freshmen appreciated the instantaneous relationships that an early Ex Ed produced, others, such as Jack Fox, discerned a sense of disruption and confusion with this timing.

“It made the schedule really confusing for me in a new school. I felt like it made it harder to find my classes, and to focus in them. I’d much rather have one week of regular school, and then a preparation week, and then Ex Ed to get into the swing of school first,” Fox said.

The upperclassman, Ex Ed being routine to them, also possessed contrasting opinions regarding how the week leading up to Ex Ed unfolded.

Senior Donovan Bronstein appreciated the relaxation and stress-free environment that an early Ex Ed caused during the first week of school.

“It brought productivity for the first week of school way down. I didn’t do anything stressful in any of my classes the first week, and I got to know a lot of new people. I was not dreading going to my classes, which made it an awesome way to ease into the school year.”

Junior Max Godomsky, comparatively, noticed a lack of familiarity with the adjusted academic schedule and the school’s atmosphere.

“It interfered with getting to know my schedule, classes, and just knowing where everything is. The first two weeks of school should be for getting comfortable with your classes, and teachers. I didn’t learn much the first week; we basically played the name game in each class and wasted time.”

Sophomore Megan Smiddy felt as though it was a much smoother transition into the commencement of the school year.

“I loved how we got to ease out of summer and into school without having to stress immediately because we knew that we had this fun break coming up. It made coming back to AHS so much more fun, and everyone was so excited to hang out with their Ex Ed groups,” said Smiddy.

Although there was clear discrepancy among the student body, senior Charlie Campisi recounted his positive observations of the overall tone that this early Ex Ed set for the upcoming school year.

“Ex Ed is awesome because it’s the one trip that bonds everyone together. Having it right at the beginning of school creates these strong relationships immediately. I looked around, and no one felt lost or scared or didn’t know where to go or who to hang out with. It made coming back to school so much more fun, and everyone was just so pumped and excited for Ex Ed activities. It completely boosted the morale of the entire school.”