Semester Schools

Independent, Hands-On Learning Options

Calling all high school juniors! It’s time to get off the high school academic treadmill and pursue an amazing opportunity during your junior year fall or spring. Take a semester away from your high school to develop a greater sense of self and direction. Semester schools offer an authentic, dynamic, and varied experience that will challenge you to create a strong personal narrative that can help you make better college choices. “Campuses” are located on mountains and islands, and in cities and other experiential, hands-on learning environments. You will return home as a more a confident and engaged leader, ready to make a difference in your high school and community, as well as in your future college.

What is a semester away program, you might ask? Well, I was wondering the same until I spent an afternoon with Ann Carson, Head of School at Chewonki Semester School. Ann trekked down from MidCoast Maine to the Back Bay offices of McMillan Education to meet with me and a number of my colleagues. Ann explained what is so special about Chewonki, and what she shared was so dazzling that we decided, then and there, to take it to the next level by gathering leaders from other semester programs and deliver a “Semester Away” presentation at the 2015 Independent Educational Consultant Association Convention in Baltimore.

I served as moderator and our panel consisted of Leah Bock from Chewonki in Wiscasset, Maine, Mairead O’Grady from The School for Global Ethics and Leadership in Washington DC, and Erica Chapman from CITYTerm, which operates out of the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY. Unfortunately, Danny O’Brien from High Mountain Institute was snowed in and could not attend. These experts spoke of their unique and distinctive semester programs and how their students step off the academic treadmill for 100 days to stretch boundaries, test limits and discover!

Each of these schools is a high school residential programs that caters primarily to students in their junior fall or spring semester. Students stay on track to graduate on time. The programs have tuitions that are roughly equivalent to those of a semester at a boarding school, and each offers Financial Aid.

Below are some of the questions that came up during the conference and a summary of responses:

What are the characteristics of a successful semester school student? A semester away during high school builds confidence and leadership capacity, while simultaneously building academic skill. We are looking for students that are socially and emotionally mature and ready to live in a small, collaborative, intensive community. Ideal candidates are interested in taking ownership of their own schooling and experiencing learning beyond the traditional classroom. Students take on projects related to marine biology, urban studies, environmental science and other hands-on topics.

Do students stay “on track” for high school graduation? Yes, each program works closely with students, families and sending schools to support graduation requirements. Occasionally a student may need to change the progression of their classes in order to create consistency in their year, but each semester schools is able to help students through that process.

How do students complete the college process while at a semester program? While the college process is not emphasized while students are at a semester school, students are still able to stay on track with SATs, ACTs and AP exams. Each school handles the college counseling process differently, but during the spring semester there is an opportunity for each student to have a college counseling meeting. We also recommend that students stay in touch with college counselors from home.

How do semester programs, which include experience-based learning in the wilderness or in cities, manage risks? All wilderness trip leaders go through extensive wilderness training, are trained in wilderness medicine (Wilderness First Responder) and follow protocols set by the school. In addition to the training led by the programs, most leaders also have extensive personal experience in the back-country. Each program cares deeply about student safety and invests in rigorous faculty training, small student to teacher ratios, policies, and procedures designed to mitigate risk.

For more information on semester schools in general, feel free to contact me.

About The Author

Educational Counselor

Drew brings an extensive background in admission and educational planning in independent schools to his work with students of diverse backgrounds in the school and college planning process. His deep knowledge of the particular challenges and opportunities facing international students who are looking to reap the significant benefits of an...