Academic Changes? Your Questions Answered

In the last Buzz on 1/23/20, I wrote about how Bosque will be deepening learning through some exciting academic changes in the upcoming years. Many parents attended the forums that were held on January 29th, and I wanted to share some of the most common questions and answers generated for those of you unable to attend. 

Q1: Remind me again what academic changes are coming over the next three years?
  • 2019–2020: A year of clarifying and exploring. We have begun by clarifying elements of our current academic program that are working well and effectively manifesting our academic mission statement and core values, while considering current gaps and opportunities for improvement. We are also doing extensive research into other schools that have similar philosophies and have already made curricular and schedule changes that mirror the direction we are going. Through a grant Bosque received from the Benedict Foundation, we are sending teams of teachers and administrators to visit The Hawken School (Cleveland, OH), Westminster Schools (Atlanta, GA), The Urban School, The Bay School, and Lick Wilmerding (San Francisco, CA), and University Prep (Seattle, WA). These visits will be conducted by mid-March; then the Academic Leadership Team will be meeting during Winterim week to debrief what we learned and to determine how we want to apply what we have learned to our program at Bosque. By the end of Winterim Week, we hope to have further clarity about our pilot model to share.
  • 2020–2021: A year of design and preparation. This will be our year of comprehensively mapping out and designing any changes to graduation requirements, immersive courses, and the daily schedule. In order to prepare our staffulty for the shifts to come we will devote significant professional development time (in what would have been Winterim week). Any changes to graduation requirements will be adopted the following year and staged intentionally for each upper school grade (see question 10 & 11 below).
  • 2021–2022: The launch year. Our new graduation requirements, core courses, immersive courses, and daily schedule will debut for all of our students. We will be eager to solicit the feedback of students, parents, and staffulty on how the changes go, and we will make needed changes for future years.  

Q2: Why so many sudden changes? 
  • Integrating transformative learning experiences into core college-preparatory academics has been a hallmark of Bosque education since the school's founding. While these may seem like sudden changes, they connect to discussions held by Bosque staffulty over the past seven years regarding how the school can further lean into our philosophy of Challenging Education and how we can best engage and inspire our students in meaningful learning. These conversations generated the school’s academic mission statement and resulted in extensive research on curriculum, graduation requirements, and school schedule. Some of these program discussions have already been implemented during the past seven years including grade-level 6th-8th grade inquiry programs, adding Spanish Heritage Learning classes, additional electives in the upper school including Economics, Scientific  Methods, and International Relations and Comparative Politics, commiting to robust diversity, equity, and inclusion programming, and much more. I have been in similar discussions in my role as Executive Director at the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network and have completed many national school visits seeing new models in action.  When I interviewed at Bosque, I was thrilled to learn of the parallel conversations. Needless to say, the time is now perfect to help guide and structure these exciting changes that have been generating excitement within the Bosque staffulty for years.  

Q3: What exactly is an immersive course?
  • Immersives allow students the chance to delve deeply, in one course of study for a set period of time. We will likely start with students taking one immersive course a year for three weeks at a time (this may be different in middle school for developmentally appropriate reasons). During this block of time, students will select one course of interest and engage with a team of teachers and peers in deep learning on that topic. For the rest of the year, students will take part in a regular rotation of classes on a block schedule, similar to what we currently have. To get a better sense of what an immersive course is, have a look at this video from Hawken School (Cleveland, OH). Hawken has been running what they call “intensive” classes for the past ten years. Westminster Schools (in Atlanta, GA) just finished their fifth year of their “J(anuary) Term” immersives (see video here). These classes are assessed and upper school immersives are included on the transcript; however, the goal of an immersive is not to condense a semester’s worth of content into three weeks (NOT traditional summer school), but rather to think about what content is most valuable to help deepen student learning and what assessment tools would showcase that learning in the most dynamic and experiential way. As an example from Hawken’s 9th grade immigration immersive;  students spend the first three days at the Cleveland Reference Library learning how to decipher census data from the turn of the century. Each student then selects an immigrant to learn about in depth, researching all elements of that individual’s life, generating a short paper, and then attending a “mocktail” party in character, communicating their learning through conversation with their classmates, in turn learning about their peers’ immigrant experiences. The teacher mingles among them assessing each student’s depth of research, application of their learning, and written product.
  • Dean of Academics Nina Leacock shares: “What I've always loved about Bosque is the way we integrate the acquisition of core academic skills into transformative learning experiences. The move to immersives feels to me like a natural expression of the type of learning we have always done best. The immersive model structures time in a way that allows for depth of learning. In the years I've taught at Bosque, I've seen that the learning experiences that engage our students most powerfully, and also that they value the most later when they become alumni and are looking back, have that quality of depth. Even for adults, the way we all live now offers a lot of opportunities to scatter and disperse our energy. But we all know we are more satisfied and get more lasting benefit from sustained attention devoted to fewer things. It's the same for our students: they love being able to become truly expert on one thing that matters to them. What I see is that along the way, they also acquire those same academic skills—reading, writing, mathematical fluency, problem-solving, critical thinking—that I would have wanted to see anyway in a class schedule that was more traditionally structured.

Q4: Why are immersives replacing Winterim? 
  • Winterim has been an integral part of Bosque since its founding 25 years ago. Winterim was created to provide students with immersive and experiential learning outside of the classroom. These 25 years later, we are ready to take the philosophy of Winterim to a whole new level with the launching of immersive courses in the 2021–22 academic year. While the idea of an experiential week was very progressive 25 years ago, in today’s educational climate and with Bosque’s commitment to our academic mission statement and integrating experiential and inquiry learning into each class, the current Winterim model reinforces now- dated concepts of experiential learning being something that happens outside of the regular academic experience.  Winterim also has created significant equity issues for our community that conflict with Bosque’s commitment to access for all of our students. I consider immersives “Winterim on Steroids.” Winterim won’t be going away. It will be taken to a whole new level through immersives. 

Q5: So what happens next year when Winterim ends, but before immersives launch?
  • Next year, most students will have a two-week spring break to allow the Bosque staffulty meaningful time for professional development and course design to launch the changes to come in the 2021–22 academic year. MRC recruits will still be required to do their CNM training during the first week of the spring break, the Intercultural Exchange will occur in that week, and we will offer optional Winterim-type experiences for middle school families. For next year’s junior class, so close to their “free” Winterim experience, we will be providing the option to sign up for fully-funded trips that align with the most popular current junior Winterim trips. We will be working with the current sophomores to vote on the options they are most excited about this spring.

Q6: What about the Intercultural Exchange program with Colegio Reina Elizabeth in Mexico City? Will it be going away?
  • Absolutely not! We are currently in our 15th year of exchange with Colegio Reina Elizabeth and are committed to an indefinite future of building and enhancing this experience. The exchange will occur next year during what would have been Winterim week (the first of two weeks of Spring Break) and the following year, the exchange will be integrated into the immersive course schedule. 

Q7: Will students still get to travel through immersives as they have through Winterim trips?
  • Immersives allow for even greater opportunities for immersive travel and cultural experiences;  we will be thoughtfully considering how we use Albuquerque, the Southwest, and the world as our immersive classroom. That said, we want to carefully think about equity and access and not replicate some of the current challenges that exist with the current Winterim model (with some students doing annual expensive travel trips that are an impossible reality for many other students and families). We don’t have all the answers at this point, but do expect there will be some amazing opportunities for cultural immersion and eye-opening experiences both in New Mexico and beyond that are equitably available to all of our students. 

Q8: My child is very upset that Winterim is going away and thinks these new immersive courses don’t sound fun. How can I encourage him?
  • Change is hard for all of us. I hope you can reassure your children that what they love about Winterim will be expanded from one-to-three weeks, giving them even more opportunities for immersive, dynamic, and FUN educational experiences. Through immersives, they will have the opportunity to explore more personal passions and potential professional interests. They will have the chance to work in partnership with professionals in fields they might be considering in their future. Their transcripts will reflect relevant and dynamic learning that will help them stand out in college admissions.  Yes, the “vacation” element of some Winterims might be lost, but it is important for them to understand that those experiences are currently creating a lot of inequity and sadness for many of their friends, and that our job as a school is to provide transformative learning experiences. Finally, I would share with them this video of student experiences at Hawken School. All the students I have met with, in my visits to schools that have been doing immersives for years, have told me how much they adore these classes and wish all of their classes could be like immersives. I hope your children can trust us that we are doing this for them, in response to what they tell us they most love about their education at Bosque. 

Q9: Will you be seeking student, parent, and community input on the immersive courses?
  • Absolutely! These changes are designed to respond to what our students tell us and what we see relates to educational experiences that are the most dynamic, engaging, and inspiring for them. As we get into our design process next year, we will be seeking student input on the types of immersive experiences students would find most appealing. We will be soliciting parent and community input on potential partnerships in implementing immersives. In the “perspectives and advice” survey I sent out to alumni, parents, grandparents, and community partners this fall (that generated over 300 responses), I asked for potential mentors interested in connecting to current students, and many of you offered your expertise and advice. We will be looking for partners to join us in co-delivering our immersive curriculum and helping connect our students to experts and industries across New Mexico and beyond. As an example, I had a recent conversation with a parent around designing a Sports Psychology immersive that would expose students to psychology curriculum through the lense of athletics, with potential to have students meet with the NM United soccer players and to visit the Olympic Training Facility in Colorado Springs to meet with athletes and their psychologists. Another conversation with an architect parent yielded some great ideas about an Art and Architecture immersive idea. Another with a UNM doctor resulted in ideas about Mountain Medicine and Public Health immersives. There are endless possibilities, and we hope immersives will help build stronger partnerships with parents, alumni, grandparents, and community memberships for the benefit of our students’ educational experiences. If you have ideas or interest in being a part of this process, please reach out to us! 

Q10: What kind of graduation requirement changes might happen? 
  • We are always questioning what curriculum is most important to prepare our students for college and beyond. We know that student engagement and subsequent learning outcomes deepens when they have choice and agency in their education. We will likely be considering more upper school semester-long electives and the possibility of adding additional required classes (such as coding) to our student experience. We are also thinking about the importance of non-academic curriculum such as leadership and life skills, financial and medial literacy, enhanced health curriculum, and diversity studies. Upper School immersives will also be listed on student transcripts.  
Q11: How will potential graduation requirements impact my current upper school student?
  • Any changes to graduation requirements will be rolled out in an intentional, staged way, curated to the needs and starting point of each upper school grade. Each grade of students will have a unique path through high school that recognizes the courses already taken and adapts their requirements to new course offerings. We will share very specific details about this with students and families as any changes are made, but we can assure you that students will be smoothly carried through this process. 

Q12: When will we know the major dates for next year?
  • Our major dates calendar is ready! See here for key dates to aid in your planning. Please note that we will have a two-week spring break next year (March 15–26) to provide an intensive week of professional development for our staffulty to prepare for curricular changes to launch in 2021–2022. The exception for this will be that the first week of Spring Break (March 15-19) will have mandatory programming for students participating in the Intercultural Exchange to Mexico and MRC recruit training. There will be optional “Winterim-type” experiences available for juniors and middle schoolers. Details about middle school options will be communicated by early fall, and we will be polling juniors on their interest in a variety of different experiences this spring (see additional details in Question 5).

Q13: What if I still have questions about all of this?

I hope you can join me in seeing the clarity of the path ahead for us. Over the coming years, I see our students on fire with energy and enthusiasm for even more meaningful, exciting, and transformative learning experiences. I see them making powerful connections with professionals across New Mexico and being exposed to rich, dynamic opportunities for learning while discovering new passions and potential paths into college and careers. I see parents, alumni, and community members partnering with our staffulty in delivering exciting immersive learning. I see Bosque students engaging even more deeply in Albuquerque, and Albuquerque better understanding and valuing the impressive impact of our students and school. And most of all, I see us continuing to lean into what we know is the kind of education that will make our students come alive in their learning and broaden their sense of self and the contributions they can make in this world. 

Thank you for trusting us on this path forward. Don’t hesitate to reach out directly with questions
All the best,

Jessie Barrie, PhD
Head of School