By Rachel Clouser, Ed.D., Upper School dean of academics and student life
Upper School dean of academics and student life reflects on experiential education.
As I reflect on my school experiences, so many years ago, I have trouble remembering the tests I took and the classes I attended. What I remember clearly are the moments on school trips. One year my class went to New York City. I’ll never forget the friendships forged during the long bus ride from Easton, Pennsylvania, the chance to be on my own (away from my parents), and the opportunity to explore with peers and try new adventures like climbing to the crown of the Statue of Liberty.
Those experiences and memories are something that I cherish all these years later. That is part of the reason LJCDS’s Experiential Education week resonates so strongly with me. Now, as an adult chaperoning these trips, I see first-hand the students experiencing what I did all those years ago. So what is experiential education? One definition is “a particular form of learning from life experience, often contrasted with lecture and classroom learning… Lifelong learning is often conceived as a process of learning from direct life experiences…”1 Although there is so much we can learn in a classroom, there are teachable opportunities that we cannot replicate that these trips offer. The Upper School’s Experiential Education program dedicates one week away from the classrooms during the first week of October to allow students and teachers to come together and participate in learning outside of the traditional venue. The freshman trip is invaluable for the class, as it bonds the students both as a whole and in advisory groups. The sophomore trips build on those bonds and experiences as students select their paths and passions, with trips that include enjoying the waters off the Channel Islands or engaging in creative opportunities at the Idyllwild Arts Academy. Juniors begin the college process by taking one of several regional college trips offered.
Our seniors use this week to focus on the time-consuming college application process, so they can focus on their schoolwork as the fall progresses. In a 2009 article on experiential education, Janet Eyler wrote, “Experiential education can help students transition more gracefully from college to work, and community service experiences prepare them to be more engaged citizens. Experiential education can also improve the quality of liberal learning itself and increase the likelihood that students will be able to use throughout their lives the knowledge, critical abilities, and habits of mind acquired in their studies.”2
The life experiences and independence that can be learned during our experiential education trips are invaluable both for the memories made and the self-knowledge gained.
The experiential education group I accompanied this year went to New Orleans. We worked with the nonprofit SBP to help repair homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Our students observed first-hand the long-term damage that comes with natural disasters and the needs that they can fill with volunteerism. I will be adding these new memories to those I have experienced in the past. I am thrilled that students have these amazing experiences that will not only help prepare them for life after LJCDS but also create fond memories that will last a lifetime.
1David A. Kolb. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, pages xiii-xix. FT Press, Dec 17, 2014. 2Eyler, Janet. “The Power of Experiential Education.” Liberal Education, v95 n4 p24-31 Fall 2009