The abundance of rain and wind we have experienced has certainly made our return to school more challenging, and I hope that our community has not been too negatively impacted by this constant rain. While I know we are all ready for some sunshine and a break in this weather pattern, in some ways, the wild weather feels fitting for the start of a new year and a new semester. So many creation stories and myths involve a deluge that ushers in a fresh beginning, and of course we have the green hills (and, hopefully, full reservoirs and a deep snowpack) to aid our statewide drought when the storms finally subside.
“Intersession” literally means “between sessions,” and Intersession at SA is designed to be a time between our two semesters for experiencing and learning new things and exploring unknown places in the world. But due to the pandemic — and all the logistical challenges that come along with it — we haven’t had a January Intersession since the start of 2020, when our current seniors were freshmen. The last two years, we used our creativity and innovative spirit to move Intersession to the end of the school year, largely with the hope that travel would open and we could deliver on this important part of our program. While we benefited from lots of sunshine, having Interession in May meant missing out on the almost magical liminality that happens between sessions (or, in this case, our semesters).
The past eight days have allowed for a full return to the true spirit of Intersession — a space with no distractions, no pressures and the appropriate time to explore, take healthy risks, and try new things. These four and eight day classes give students the opportunity to investigate an area of interest in a deeper way, and maybe even discover a future passion or even a career path. Many of our alumni say that they were initially inspired on their current path in life during Intersession, and several of our alumni returned to campus this year as guest Intersession teachers, sharing their knowledge with the next generation of Sonoma Academy students.
Intersession is also the time when many of our Passport Program trips take place. We are so happy to have the ability to travel internationally again (huge shout out to Kelly Casteñeda and Kiska Kosagamez for handling all the added complexity of group travel that exists in our world today!) Each day, more joyous and inspiring photos come to us from our chaperones in the field — students planting mangrove seedlings at the Green Camp in Bali, learning about indigenous agricultural practices in Ecuador, seeing beautiful palaces and archaeological sites in Spain and Morroco, and backpacking through the dramatic landscape of Patagonia, Chile. (During our upcoming spring break, two more Passport trips depart — one exploring the culture and history in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the other focused on art and performance in Sicily.)
These Intersession trips — available to all of our students through the Passport Program, which is funded by the generosity of an anonymous donor — offer our students meaningful hands-on educational opportunities, connections with other cultures, and chances to get outside of their everyday routines. This is the best of experiential learning and a form of learning that promotes resilience, independence, empathy, openness, and a real understanding of the world outside of Sonoma County.
The lessons students learn during Intersession are ones they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Things such as: “Take a bite, you might like it.” Or “There is no such thing as a perfect first draft…you can always try again!” Or “Say ‘yes, and’… and improvise.” Most importantly, our students have all learned things about themselves: whether that is a newfound capacity to get up at before dawn to witness a sunrise, or the ability to persevere through travel disruptions; whether that is the ability to talk to a stranger and finding a meaningful way to connect with people; or whether that is a newfound facility for chopping vegetables, or even just making a new friend on campus because of the time spent in Intersession together.
We always say that there is a tremendous amount of learning, engagement, and discovery that occurs outside the classroom and that is the essence of what Intersession and our Passport Program travel has meant to us over the past two weeks. I cannot think of a better way to start the new calendar year or a more meaningful way to launch what is going to be a wonderful semester at SA this winter and spring.
I hope you all have a wonderful MLK weekend — including some time to reflect on Dr. King and his powerful legacy of fighting for racial and social justice — and I look forward to our first day of our new semester on Tuesday.