Interim Studies Director Wins National Honor

Interim Studies Director Wins National Honor
Suzanne Morrissey

English faculty member and Interim Studies Director Sarah Hunt has won the Outstanding Leader in Experiential Education K12 Award from the National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE) for her work leading Brewster’s Interim Studies program. The honor was bestowed by the NSEE at its 49th annual conference September 21-23, 2020.

At the awards ceremony, which was held virtually, the Society’s leadership praised Hunt for her vision, passion, perseverance, and determination in molding Brewster’s Interim Studies program, noting that she “worked tirelessly with administrators, teachers, and parents to bring the idea to fruition.” They also commended Hunt for “adamantly believing in giving both faculty and students choice and ownership over their learning, even if it requires more coordination for her.”

Hunt, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from St. Michael’s College and a Master’s in Educational Leadership from the University of New England, arrived at Brewster in 2015. Like most Brewster faculty, she is involved not only in her classes (she is teaching Elements of Literature and Writing this year), but in campus and town life as well. She has been a CLP, assistant varsity field hockey coach, and a volunteer with the Abenaki Youth Lacrosse Board in Wolfeboro.

Hunt began testing the waters for what has become the Interim Studies program in her third year at Brewster, building on the strong elements of the school’s existing project-based learning program. Now, Interim Studies has grown into a dedicated period in the school year where students can select from a variety of faculty-led experiences focused on hands-on learning. These experiences have included off-campus travel and on-campus options with some unexpected creative concentrations. Students can also pursue their passions in traditional internships or independent projects. The goal of each Interim Studies experience is to give students a non-classroom environment in which to learn new skills, push the confines of conventional learning, and do things they never thought possible.

Last year’s offerings included Expressions through Dance, Model Kit Making, Digital Photography, Legislative Advocacy, Lifeguard Certification, a Civil Rights Tour of Birmingham, Baseball and Broadcasting in Florida, and an Outward Bound trip to Joshua Tree National Park, among many others. This year, though the travel options are affected by the pandemic, Interim Studies has a rich slate of options for students to try, each designed by faculty members passionate about their unique topics. A sneak peek at the list of potential 2021 experiences revealed snowshoeing, dance, dog sledding, game design, and seeking justice in our food system, just to name a few.

Sarah Hunt shared her thoughts on the program and her recent award: 

Q. Congratulations on this national recognition. Was the award a surprise? How did you feel when you heard you had won?

A. Thank you. I was notified that I had won the award prior to the presentation at the national conference. I felt proud and appreciative that I am working in a community that is so open to innovative educational approaches—and one that allowed for this program to be launched. 

Q. Clearly you are passionate about experiential learning and have now been recognized for it on a national level. Why is it important to you? 

A. What I am really passionate about is education. I have spent my life learning, researching, and practicing the best educational practices, and I have seen without a doubt that deep learning will always occur when students are given meaningful, genuine work that they can reflect upon.

Q. Can you tell us a bit more about your development as an advocate for experiential learning?

A. As a young teacher, it seemed to me that real world, hands-on experiences would benefit my students’ understanding—everything I truly learned was from experiencing, not just hearing about it—but I had not really seen such an idea in the classroom. As I worked through my Masters in Educational Leadership, I was able to match my hypothesis with research and experiences of others. I was then given the opportunity to work at Mid Pacific Institute in Honolulu with a number of educators who had been using this approach for years. During this time I was able to understand the best practices of experiential education and solidify my own teaching philosophy and approach. 

Q. Brewster will be announcing the 2021 Interim Studies offerings soon...any changes happening in the program due to COVID?

A. As with everything these days, we will be taking extra precautions and keeping safety considerations in mind in all of our Interim 2021 offerings; however, the objective of the program has not changed and all programming will meet the rigorous standards of a meaningful, hands-on experiential education opportunity.  

Q. Any other changes students can expect this year?

A. We will be running two Interim Studies experiences this year. The first will be February 22-26, 2021 and the second is April 12-16, 2021. Students will have the opportunity to participate in two separate experiences, or choose a single experience that runs throughout the duration of both weeks. 

Q. If you were able to give an acceptance speech for the NSEE Outstanding Leader Award you just received, Oscars-style, what would you say?

A. We are extremely fortunate to have a faculty that is so passionate, committed, and eager to share with students. The ultimate success of the Interim Studies program is at the hands of the teachers and administrators, who go above and beyond to plan and execute the incredible opportunities. I consider this award a win for our entire community and Interim Program as a whole.  

Click here for more information about the Interim Studies program at Brewster.

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