In an effort to provide more opportunities for students to engage in interdisciplinary, real-world learning experiences beyond campus, Shady Side Academy Senior School piloted two three-week immersive courses from June 12-30, 2023. Each course was team-taught by faculty members from different disciplines and composed of off-campus learning experiences that examined a single topic in great depth at an accelerated, rigorous pace.
The course A River Runs Through Pitt explored the science, literature and practice of fly fishing. Students studied the ecosystems of local rivers and streams, discussed the literature of fly fishing, and practiced casting, tying flies and fishing on the river. The course was team-taught by two faculty fly fishing enthusiasts, English teacher Adam Janosko and science teacher Dr. Devon Renock, with help from guest experts at The Contented Angler fly shop and Trout Yeah Fly Fishing Guide Service. Seven students enrolled in the course: rising seniors Elle Caron and Max McCarran, and rising freshmen David Dillon, Ethan Jiang, Charlie McChesney, Brawley Niels and Avery Trueba.
Highlights of the three-week course included:
- A trip to the Lowber Abandoned Mine Water Treatment Site in Greensburg to learn about the region's history of water pollution from a biologist and chemist
- A trip to the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale to learn about the environmental pioneer and discuss excerpts from her book, The Silent Spring
- A hike along Glade Run stream on campus to record observations and discuss the ways biologists assess the health of streams and watersheds
- A trip to the Babcock Nature Center in Sarver to collect macroinvertebrates, which were brought back to to campus and analyzed in the McIlroy Center science labs to assess the health of Buffalo Creek; results will be presented to the Buffalo Creek Watershed Group in September
- Hands-on lessons in the art of fly tying, fly casting and the life cycle of nymphs by Amy and Joe Gablick of The Contented Angler.
- Reading and discussing excerpts from the books A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, The Big Two-Hearted River by Ernest Hemingway, and In a Small Pond by Franklin Burroughs
- Fiishing trips to Laurel Hill Creek in the Laurel Highlands, Rolling Rock Creek in Ligonier, and Spring Creek in State College, as well as several local streams and lakes
- Journaling throughout the class about the various trips and learning experiences and writing a final reflection essay.
The summer pilot courses were developed as part of a longer-term effort to research and design immersive, interdisciplinary real-world learning experiences at the Senior School, which is being funded by a $200,000 innovation grant from the E.E. Ford Foundation. Senior School faculty and administration have spent the past two years investigating such learning opportunities, researching the teaching and learning foundations that inspire them and visiting schools across the country that have reshaped their curriculum and calendar to give students these opportunities. The summer pilot courses were offered at no cost to students for a general elective credit.
"We expect these pilot initiatives will help the school to learn and grow, and that they will inspire a new generation of integrated learning experiences empowering students to engage and connect with the world around them," said President Bart Griffith '93.