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UPrep's First Intensives Were a Great Success

Our first intensives were a great success for the students, as Seattle became our learning partner in a multitude of interdisciplinary courses that demonstrated the impact of depth over breadth.


Richard Kassissieh, Assistant Head of School for Academics and Strategic Initiatives

On January 7, the UPrep community passed a major milestone. We had spoken for two years about intensives as a new academic term that we were going to do. In a moment, intensives transformed into a term that we were now doing. Indeed, the UPrep faculty, students, staff, and partner organizations mobilized around intensives, producing an exceptional, new educational experience for students.

In 2017, intensives were the answer to the question, "How might we change the academic year to achieve our Next Generation Learning goals?" We had identified five specific improvements we wanted to make:

  • Better align the school year to vacations
  • Reduce the pace of the school year to increase student focus and depth of study
  • Increase opportunities for interdisciplinary study
  • Remove barriers to off-campus learning experiences
  • Unleash the creativity of our faculty and students

intensives by the numbersWhen we searched the country for schools achieving these goals, we found an answer in Cleveland, Ohio. Hawken School had pioneered intensives eight years prior, and the change fit our objectives. That's when we made the decision to adopt intensives in January 2019.

While not perfect, our first intensives were a great success for the students. Ending the first semester before Winter Break was hugely popular, as students got to enjoy their vacation without the thought of final projects to come. In a survey, two-thirds of students said they were "very satisfied" or "satisfied" with their intensives experience.

What We Learned

Engineering classAttending one class full-time slowed the pace of the day and allowed students to focus on their work with incredible depth.

One could feel the engagement when visiting classes throughout campus. In the first week, students were dialed in with the curiosity of knowing what the course was going to be like. By the second week, students were immersed in projects and off-campus experiences. During the third week, students produced presentations and reports, reflected on their experiences, and exhibited to their peers during the Intensives Showcase. You could feel the interest from Painting to Engineering, Geometry to Environmental Ethics, and Mandarin Chinese to Project Science.

Intensives blew the lid off interdisciplinary learning at UPrep.

In the semester, it is hard for teachers who work on opposite sides of the building, on different schedules, to collaborate to teach a group of 30 students at one time. Intensives have realized such imaginative classes as Math in Art, Technology, and History (M.A.T.H.), Graphic Novel, Deep Space Six (Science Fiction, Science Fact), Capstone, Humanities, and the Duwamish through Art and Science. Most real-world topics require multiple disciplines to fully address. UPrep students now get to study through an interdisciplinary lens, with teachers who are expert in different subject areas.

Seattle (and other parts of the world!) became our learning laboratory thanks to our partners.

Free to plan time more flexibly, the 12 January intensive classes went on 60 field trips. Our hosts were more than guest speakers. They partnered with UPrep teachers to plan and lead educational experiences for our students. For example, a UPrep parent organized and led a one-hour floor tour of the Boeing 777x factory for the Engineering class. Another parent connected our Filmmaking teachers with writers, editors, and location scouts at the Seattle International Film Festival's SIFF Center. Our Spanish teachers and Global Programs Director partnered with staff at Colegio San José Barranquilla to plan the course Temas de Justicia Social en Colombia.

Global LInk ColombiaUPrep intensives unleashed the creativity of the faculty and students.

Our Statistics teacher organized an innovative collaboration between our students and the Seattle Times' "FYI Guy" columnist. Art Lab students explored the creativity process and then created works of wide variety of forms and topics. Environmental Ethics students pursued individual, community-based projects. Songwriting students composed, performed, recorded, and produced their works at Jack Straw Studios. Graphic Novel students wrote and illustrated dramatic and humorous stories. Spanish students visited Latino markets. The variety and depth of projects were truly impressive. On the final day, students shared work with each other at the campus-wide Intensives Showcase.

What's next for Intensives? We have requested feedback from students, faculty, and families and are in the process of compiling and studying this input. We are fine-tuning plans for the 12 intensives coming this May. We will consider further adjustments to courses, curricula, and teaching practices for next year. And we want to tell the story of intensives to other schools that are developing their practices in creating deep learning experiences based on place and projects. The school appreciates the community's enthusiasm and partnership in producing intensives.

On behalf of the faculty and staff at UPrep—a big THANK YOU to our community for your enthusiasm and partnership in support of the successful launch of our intensives.  



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