By Terri Spilman
While most students were ebullient after getting an extended winter break due to inclement weather, students at University High School were actually texting administrators and begging the school to open so they would not miss the start of January Term, also known as J-Term.
J-Term is a three-week period between fall and spring semesters where students take a single class during the school day, though the class offerings are not exactly typical math, science or English courses.
Students choose from sixteen different in-depth, highly-focused hands-on courses with subject matter ranging from animal behavior, cooking, mountain climbing, upcycling, sports medicine, regional theater, Southern Spain, the world of Harry Potter and survivalist training to name a few. Students also had an alternate choice of doing an internship.
Senior Elizabeth Orians chose a course entitled “Literature of the American Landscape,” that involved reading “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac as well as studying works by John Steinbeck and other authors who specialize in writing about the subject of Americana.
The class embarked on a cross-country, eight day adventure taking three Amtrak trains through fifteen different states covering 5,800 miles.
“We had class in the Observation car of the train where we learned about historical events surrounding the landscape we traveled through and we learned how to knit, which was really cool,” Orians said.
Junior Robin MacKellar learned the mental and physical toughness of surviving outdoors during a Polar Vortex.
“I chose the survivalists course because I am the typical suburban girl. I have never been camping, couldn’t really start a fire and was not prepared for any kind of emergency,” she said. “I wanted to prove to myself and my friends and family that I could do something like this and learn how to survive.”
MacKellar and her classmates learned how to make fires, make a shelter, became CPR certified, learned how to change a tire and how to jump-start a car.
“The goals of January Term are to give students an intensive education studying just one subject and to give them a unique experience they can take with them to college and beyond,” said Ashley Crockett-Lohr, University’s Director of Communications. “For some students, J-Term exposes them to new career options they can explore in college. For others, J-Term allows them to travel and see part of the world they have never seen before. For others still, J-Term is simply a time for them to feel excited about school again. J-Term is hands-down the most popular term of the school year for students.”
In February of each year, teachers – often with the help of students – develop dozens of proposals for possible J-Term classes. Students vote on which classes they’d like to see offered, and that generally determines the course list for the year. Crockett-Lohr said the University High School staff looks forward to J-Term as much as the students.
The J-Term program is unique to University High School, though MacKellar believes all high school students could benefit from such a program.
“I truly believe that all high school kids would benefit from a J-Term, because it can offer you experiences and opportunities that you can’t have in an average semester long class,” she said. “It also just makes learning so much fun, which is hard to find these days. I love January term and hope everyone can have an opportunity like it.”