Spring Intensives—Connecting People, Place, and Purpose

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Connecting students to their local environment and community is an effective way to infuse learning with immediacy, relevance, and an expanded sense of possibilities. Principia School has incorporated multiple such opportunities for “place-based learning” across the curriculum over the past year.

Experiential learning weeks—or “spring intensives”—that helped the freshman and sophomore classes take advantage of all that the city of St. Louis has to offer are the most recent examples of Principia’s rollout of this educational approach.

For the freshmen, says Director of Experiential Education Charley Martin (C’96), the aim was “to introduce students to the city of St. Louis in a way that allowed them to better understand the community, the people who live and work there, and its inherent challenges as well as its broad possibilities.”

The program began near Principia’s original “Page and Belt” campus with attendance at the Sunday service at Solomon’s Temple Church (housed in the former Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist). Following activities in the neighborhood, students stayed overnight at the Monsanto Family YMCA, located right on the former campus.

Each weekday morning started with a class and discussion at the midtown-area Missouri School for the Blind, after which various groups split off to delve into their topic areas—art, science, government, or homelessness. One day, students and their chaperones explored the city using only public transportation and participated in an Urban Adventure Scavenger Hunt that took them to a variety of destinations, including the Arch, the Old Courthouse, Lafayette Square, the Cathedral Basilica, and the Missouri History Museum.

In the sophomore class, each student helped design his or her own personalized experiential week—choosing from a wide menu of learning and service options. The aim, says program leader Don Sterrett (US’95), was to provide a structure within which the students could explore higher education, careers, and service opportunities in and around the city—while considering their goals for the future and how best to achieve them. Their visits and activities included the following:

  • Businesses (Boeing and Big River Running), nonprofits (Earth Dance Farms and St. Louis Public Radio), and government institutions (the Federal Courthouse and St. Louis Veterans Home)
  • Campuses such as Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Missouri (in Columbia), and Maryville University, among others.
  • Community service organizations such as Gateway Greening, Kingdom House, and a local animal shelter

In the final week of school, all freshmen and sophomores delivered presentations about the week’s activities and what they had learned.

Watch this video to get a glimpse into our students’ week of connecting people, place, and purpose.