Experiential Learning at Nobles (And Beyond) by Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School
When I was a high school sophomore, my school sent the entire grade on a 10-day Outward Bound adventure in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. To say that trip ranks as one of the ten most important experiences of my life would be an understatement. Somehow I made it through a blizzard, a flood, hiking in frozen boots, and going much farther than I could have ever imagined my feet and legs could take me. In those days, trips like that were called "experiential learning" and were defined quite narrowly as outdoor challenge and immersion.
In the intervening years, the definition of experiential education has widened significantly and Nobles has embraced that breadth to provide a series of experiences for students that are designed to immerse them in situations that are quite different than what they typically encounter in school and at home. These experiences provide them with opportunities to learn empathy, resilience, and perseverance while broadening their view of themselves and the role they can play in the world.
Experiential learning at Nobles includes four major programs—community service, study away, travel and senior projects—all developed to provide a diversity of opportunities for students.
Community service at Nobles has evolved to become a significant part of the daily ethos and culture of the school. Nobles has a long history of service, but it was not until the late 1980s that the commitment was embodied in a graduation requirement (which garnered some national recognition at the time and continues to be one of the most significant in our peer group of schools). Today, Nobles students serve hundreds of different organizations, most of which are within Greater Boston. While our Afternoon Program service option has developed long-standing partnerships with local organizations such as Community Servings, Roxbury Prep Charter School and Riverdale School in Dedham, we now have many student organizations (from the Multicultural Students Association to the Asian Culture Club) that engage in service with local groups whose mission is congruent with theirs. In recent years we have also developed one-day service events that involve broad segments of the Nobles community, such as the Stamp Out Hunger Drive, the Middle School Pie Drive and the MLK Day of Service. Even more recently athletic teams have embraced service through connections with the Cotting School, the MPS Inner City Soccer Initiative and the Massachusetts Soldiers Legacy Fund. Our goal with all of these initiatives is to help all Nobles students find a place where they can begin to understand the meaning of a life characterized by service to others. To learn more about service at Nobles, go to www.nobles.edu/communityservice.
Each year, roughly a dozen Nobles juniors (and the occasional sophomore) take a semester or year to study away from Nobles. Through programs such as School Year Abroad, CityTerm in New York City, the Island School, Maine Coast Semester and others, Nobles students get an opportunity to experience a very different type of learning environment. These students return to Nobles with a broader perspective and a sense of confidence and accomplishment for having taken themselves into a completely new situation, be it living with a family in a foreign country to doing research in marine ecology or understanding the intricacies of a neighborhood in New York City. If you have any interest in these programs you can learn more at www.nobles.edu/travel and come to Travel and Study Away Night on Thursday, October 6, at 7 p.m.
Nobles has developed meaningful and long-term partnerships with organizations around the country and around the world. Between one to four weeks, Nobles students and faculty challenge themselves through service, language immersion, and academic and cultural studies. Unique among independent schools nationwide, Nobles has been fortunate to build a travel program with clear connection to our mission of developing future leaders for the public good. For more information about programs available this year, login to the website and continue to check www.nobles.edu/travelresources for updates or come to Travel and Study Abroad Night on Thursday, October 6 at 7 p.m.
Each year, more than half of the senior class takes advantage of the opportunity to drop one or more classes in the fourth quarter in order to learn more about an area of specific interest that they were not able to pursue in the course of their Nobles careers. These projects have varied widely over the years—from students working on a start-up business plan (this is where Seth Priebatsch ’07, who was recently featured in The New York Times business section, developed his first business plan) to writing a one-person play to studying Arabic to learning a new form of dance. If you are the parent of a current Class I or II student, you should think about talking with your child about taking advantage of this opportunity.
Our hope is that Nobles students fully avail themselves of these programs and use them to develop many of the skills and attitudes that will serve them well in college and beyond.