With just a few days of Idaho living under their belts, Semester XII left last Thursday for their Orientation Weekend in a winter wonderland. Each January, spring semester Alzar students spend a long weekend hiking through the snow, skiing at local resorts, and thinking critically about what kind of culture they want for their semester. After discussing our shared values, goals and norms, a small group of representatives convened to craft a statement of our desired culture: a Community Contract.
In the Community Contract, our students stated unequivocally that they valued a kind and supportive community that encourages its members to leave their comfort zones. The most important stipulation? According to Maggie, members of Semester XII must make everything fun. Or, in the words of the contract, “have a hoot and a half”
Back in the Idaho wilderness, our students learn not only to survive sub-zero conditions, but thrive. Hot chocolate flowed from the backpacking stoves, and Meredith learned that the best way to keep warm is to lots of layers: "I was wearing 5 layers of pants, lots of socks, two gloves… but it was definitely worth it." These lessons will carry our students through the temperate rainforests of Patagonia and the high desert of eastern Oregon. Perhaps more vital, though, is the chance to see the benefits of living simply in a community setting. Meredith reflected on a swath of new experiences: "getting into the tent, hiking; I’d never skied before. We were all experiencing life rather than learning in a classroom: out doing our own things, learning from each other, actually living."
As Semester XII begins their second week in snowy Idaho, Alzar School founder and Head of School, Sean Bierle, is in New York City taking part of the Klingenstein Heads of School Program at the Teacher’s College of Columbia University.
Founded in 1977, this program is the premier graduate level program for leaders in independent and international schools. The Klingenstein Heads of School Program is a fully-funded fellowship offering leaders in independent schools the chance to step back from the daily management of running their school and reflect upon educational philosophy, ethics, and practice.
In the Alzar School's sixth year of running semesters, it is a testament to the program and our place in defining what education could be that our Head of School be accepted to the Klingenstein Heads of School Program and recognized as one of the top educators in independent school leadership. Please join us in congratulating and commending Sean.
I walked into Physics class today to find Michael Jorgensen, our Science and Math teacher, calculating the amount of energy generated by stepping up onto a chair. His class is in the middle of a work and energy unit, and they wanted to move beyond the textbook to see how much energy it takes to move our daily lives. For instance, the microwave in our kitchen uses 1,200 watts, while the iPad charger students were using to take notes uses just 10 watts. Noting the vast difference, Whitney of Seattle, Washington asked, “so should we charge our iPads with a microwave?” For the record, that would be an ill-advised strategy.
Jorgensen then turned the students loose to investigate their own exercises. Wilson of Evergreen, Colorado wanted to find out the amount of energy created doing a simple daily task, so he timed himself running up the stairs in the Confluence Building. He generated 550 watts: enough to power a large home entertainment system.
Jasper of Portland, Oregon focused on generating energy with pushups to prove his power to Jorgensen, who also serves as our PE teacher. In a 15 second burst, he completed 18 pushups and generated 193 watts: comparable to the draw of an XBox 360 or a mini fridge. Jasper lamented the fact that he had produced less energy than Wilson. Jorgensen responded with a leading question: “which muscles did you use to do a pushup versus climbing the stairs?”
Gigi of Charlotte, North Carolina measured the energy created by moving her arm up and down (seen here in a Summit Dance in the Owyhees in Spring 2017). A relatively small weight moved over a shorter distance, for a grand total of 19 watts: enough energy to power a ceiling fan on low.
To put this all into perspective, in order to power the appliances mentioned above, students would need to carry out the activity continuously for as long as they wanted to use it. Moreover, the cost of energy from the outlet is 12 cents per Kilowatt hour nationally and 9 cents in Idaho. If Wilson ran up stairs for an hour straight, he would produce approximately 5 cents worth of energy for campus. At the end of class, I asked the group for some conclusions. Could Jasper use push-ups to power his XBox for a whole hour? “I couldn’t even do it for a minute!”
Our sleepy, snow covered campus woke up today to a newfound energy: Spring 2018 students. Over the past few weeks, wood piles have been stocked, rental gear distributed to bunk spaces, and meaningful interdisciplinary lessons planned over hot coco by the fire. Travel plans, paperwork, months of anticipation, all in preparation for today: the first full day of Alzar Semester XII.
Yesterday we welcomed students from across the country and world. For lucky students from Memphis to Santiago, New York City to Miami, North Carolina to Montana--Alzar School awaits. It is easy to think that cultural exchange occurs during the time we are in Chile, but the cultural exchange that occurs throughout the semester is just as powerful. Students who ride to school on the subway will interact with students who live in a town with a population of less than 1,000. The group will quickly find that their most powerful commonality is that they said yes to this semester. It’s a big deal to be sixteen and leave the comforts of home, your peers, and your pets to spend a semester living studying, and traveling with a group of people you don’t know. The good news is that this is one of the secrets to the power of the semester. You will be with a group of people who said yes to the same challenge.
We can’t wait for it to begin.
Hello from Alzar School, and Happy New Year!
- Teachers or teaching fellows for the 2018-2019 school year (school year starts in early August, with training for teachers starting in July). See teacher and teaching fellow job posting. Apply online for teacher or teaching fellow position here.