This article this written by Journalism student, Samara Davis.
U-32 has many unique programs and experiences that students can participate in. These include the Pilot Program, club fairs, and YES week, or, as it has come to be called, J-term.
As it was known last year, YES was a week in which students could choose specific activities and it occurred during the last week of school. The courses were selected through a survey sent out to participants. Many of the courses offered unique opportunities for students that did not directly correlate to their school experiences, which was a fun way to end the school year. However, recently YES has undergone a renovation, taking up the name J-term and happening right after winter break of this year.
Although the YES team has been working hard to coordinate the new J-term, not everyone is on board with this decision. Amy Urling, a member of the YES team said, “we surveyed the teachers at the end of the year, and the majority of the teachers really enjoyed having it in June, but there [were] a few that mentioned we could try it in January.”
Amy also said that although the first survey had a majority vote of keeping YES week in June, the YES team received an email in the summer from the U-32 admin asking if they could move it to January. “We asked if we could survey the teachers again, and see who would prefer January or June, but we received another email that said it’s moving to January,” Amy said.
“Admin pretty much pushed it… we gave them some options as to how we could do it.” Said Steven Dellinger-Pate, the principal at U-32. Although the U-32 administration seemingly conducted much of the changes, it is not without a good reason.
One of the main causes of the change from June to January was that YES week conflicted with many other activities that occurred during the end of the school year, and it was not ideal for many participating students. “We realized there’s a lot of special events at the end of the year, and so there had been interest all along in what would it look like in January,” said Karen Liebermann, another member of the YES committee.
Karen said that last year was a “model” of what YES could look like, but that there were many logistical conflicts. “Eighth graders were just coming back from the DC trip, Seniors are historically in their off campus week,” She said. Karen mentioned that the admin team came to the YES committee with a request of trying it in January, with the desire of comparing and contrasting the option of having it in June or January.
Although Karen was very onboard with the time change, she recognized that having it in June had pros as well. “One of the really cool things that seemed to happen in YES last year, when it happened in June, was new connections between students that might not have met each other otherwise,” Karen said.
U-32 isn’t the only school in Vermont that participates in some sort of “Year End Studies.” Burlington High school, Hazen, and Twinfield Union School each have their own form of “YES weeks.” Burlington High School has a YES for two weeks in June, and Hazen does it in June as well. Twinfield is one of the other schools in the area that refers to it as “J-term,” a name that has fondly been adopted by the YES committee for its double meaning.
“J-term could stand for January or June, so that’s why we went for the J term name because then it could fit if we decide to do it in June [or January,]” said Karen. YES is a very new event for U-32, as the first installment was just last year, Karen confirmed that U-32 has been taking inspiration from other schools that have been doing it for longer.
One major thing that the YES committee will have to adapt to is the change of climate. Having J-term in January will mean colder weather, snow on the ground, and a different range of possible courses. Last year, when YES occurred in June, there were activities that included swimming, biking, and other summer undertakings that will not be as readily available in January. Karen said, “there are a lot of outdoor courses that can take advantage of snow and ice in really fun ways…[such as] skiing [and] ice skating.”
Aside from adjusting to the temperamental climate of Vermont, one of the YES committees main goals is to promote more student involvement, and to create opportunities for students to be more involved in the planning. “One model for student participation would be to do a callback that’s J-term focused, that gets student feedback, in the planning process…we would definitely love as much student input as possible, I think that’s the key to making this a really long term success,” Said Karen.
As Karen said, having more student participation could help solidify J-term as a more permanent endeavor, but they can’t force students to participate. “A lot of students opted out in June at the end of the year,” said Sean McIntyre, another member of the YES committee. Sean shared that the committee’s hope is for more student participation in January opposed to June, but acknowledged that J-term is still under much renovation and is subject to change in the future.
The YES team has many goals for the future of J-term, and clearly have taken inspiration from other schools. “At Northfield High school we actually did two weeks at the end of the school year and students had to do some kind of presentation on the last day,” Said Amy. Amy also spoke about the programs she participated in at Northfield High School when she worked there, and said that she, “was hoping we could have something to summarize it at the end of the week.”
Although the YES committee has voiced much positivity about the upcoming J-term, not all staff members are pleased with the change. Kerri Zurowski, a health teacher at U-32, said, “I personally like it at the end of the year…because it’s just a fun way to end the year, [and to] wrap everything up.”
Although Kerri said she enjoyed it at the end of the year, she acknowledged that there were still problems with the timing. “I hope that there could be a different way of presenting it to get more kids to want to participate.” She said that many kids see it just as a chance to skip school, and don’t take it very seriously. “Unless they make the stipulation that it’s mandatory, I don’t think they can do that,”said Kerri. This also ties into what Karen said about seniors being in their, “off campus week.” Having YES at the end of the year seemed to invite more students to skip. As said by both Sean and Karen, the YES committee is constantly working to create more student involvement in J-term, and this issue of skipping is not going over their heads.
J-term may be something to stay for U-32, or merely another test run of what future events could look like. But either way, having a time somewhere in the year for students to pursue more personalized learning clearly has many benefits. Steven said, “[YES has] some wonderful offerings for kids and gives them an opportunity to try something new, to be with kids that they’re not normally with,”