The week of Interim is adventurous, transformational, illuminating, unusual and a lot of fun. During the week of Interim, Randolph students are taking trips, both nationally and internationally, doing community service in neighborhoods around Huntsville, job shadowing with great professional mentors, and diving into on-campus explorations.
Interim, one of the School’s longest-running programs, has provided lasting memories and life-changing experiences for students since its inception 41 years ago. The program was launched during the 1975-76 school year to give students in grades 7-12 opportunities to learn by doing and to explore career opportunities. Former Headmaster Dennis Brown, who started Interim in his first year as head, felt it was important for students to have these experiences outside of the traditional classroom.
Juniors and seniors could “spend time with professionals actually in their workplace and gain first-hand knowledge not only of what a daily routine was like, but obtain advice on the schooling and training that would best qualify them for a position in that profession,” said Mr. Brown, adding, “I have always been a huge advocate of experiential learning. Herb Walker’s Science Fair, for example, produced a lot of great learning that couldn’t be found in books.”
Interim mini-courses exposed students to new subjects and skills. The offerings increased rapidly as the program took hold, and the program would expand to include travel and college tours.
Bill Wear ’77 remembers his first Interim in January 1976. “Many of the classes were on campus; mine happened to be in the battery labs at Marshall [Space Flight Center], learning the chemistry and physics of spacecraft batteries. The next year I took courses in slide-rule, electronics, and oil painting.”
For many years, former science teacher Barbara Vought ran the job-shadowing component of Interim for Upper School students. “Students shadowed surgeons, vets, engineers, bankers, you name it,” recalls Evie Wilson, who helped Mrs. Vought with the Interim program in her position in the Upper School Head’s office. “Eventually it grew to students leaving Huntsville to shadow in other states or cities.”
Mr. Brown recalled a heart surgeon who explained to the student shadowing him that his was not an 8-3 job, and that he might be needed in an emergency at 3 a.m., which indeed he was, and so the student went, too.
“Shadowing Kristin Sullins ’99 at her optometry practice is an experience I am especially grateful for,” recalls Neena Singhal James ’08. “Seeing Dr. Sullins in action and how happy her patients were truly influenced my decision to go to optometry school. I did consider several other career options, and was very involved with biomedical research, before ultimately deciding on optometry.”
“I remember Neena being inquisitive and truly interested in all parts of the business,” says Dr. Sullins. “She was not shy to ask questions. This quest for knowledge sets certain people apart from others.”
And, Dr. Sullins believes, the Interim program, “really set my school experience apart from my peers at other schools. Where else can we go to Chicago and be introduced to certain cultural experiences we may never have had otherwise? Or camp across the lower Texas area in the state park? Or get to enjoy the outdoors even more at Philmont Ranch? These experiences evoke memories that I still recall frequently.”
Linda Thomas (Upper School English, 1988-2013) later supervised career explorations. “Job shadowing was a good opportunity for students to see a career up close and understand it better. Some loved it as much as they thought they would,” she said, recalling one student who affirmed an interest in the law and another, Ashlyn Alongi ’11, who now has her white coat.
Culture and service
On alternate years, Mrs. Thomas led trips. “The Greece trip was the best,” she declared. “We shared a hotel with students from England. “That in itself was a part of their education. The English students were amazed that our students would devote an entire year to study American history!”
Trips are a powerful component of Interim. Whether it is the 4th grade trip to Williamsburg, where students are immersed in the Colonial American history they have studied, or a student’s first international travel experience. All of the grade level trips taken connect to the curriculum, while the travel options for grades 10-12 have a particular cultural or service focus.
“My Interim trip to South Africa was such an eye-opening and life-changing experience for me,” says Maddie Kofskey ’15. “Staying at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg was incredible; we had the opportunity to spend time with students our age from all over Africa. The trip opened my eyes to so many real world problems that we typically only hear about on the news. This trip was my first time abroad and it created such an intense desire to travel the world and learn about and experience other cultures.”
Ryan Murphy ’14’s most meaningful Interim experience was the High School Band and Choir Trip to Hawaii his senior year. “Being able to visit Hawaii for the first time and see all the amazing sites while also serving on a music mission trip, particularly performing at the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, built amazing memories I'll never forget!”
The 8th grade Washington D.C. trip really got up and running with Betsy Allen because she knows the city well. Polytime Costes, former art teacher, started the 9th grade Chicago trip, which continues to have an arts focus. This year’s trip will also look at Chicago as a global city. Just as it was in the beginning, the days are still jam-packed with activities from dawn until dusk.
Because the Middle School trips, except for the 8th grade trip to Washington, D.C., take place later in the spring, students in grades 5-6 have an Interim experience that resembles the early days of Interim, with on campus mini-courses that include mindfulness, code-breaking, 3-D printing, cooking, and weaving. As Ms. Wilson recalls, the original options for 7th and 8th graders included “everything from toothpick bridge-building to dance classes to cooking with Julia Snyder took place in the halls of Rison Hall.” Mr. Brown even offered a course in propaganda.
Lower School Interim
In 2016, the Lower School introduced an Interim Week experience for our youngest students, which was an overwhelming success. Each offering is cross-curricular, involves a visit from a professional in the field or a field trip, and concludes with a product, performance, or service (and some way to share the learning). Courses are designed around a student interest survey and include such topics as sea turtles, medieval times, and space exploration.
Our Lower School administrators, Cindy Shaw and Laurel Shockley ’89, were invited to present about it at the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) Annual Conference. Engaging the interests and passions of our youngest learners was a popular topic. They explained their reasons for starting the program, the model they used, and a story that illustrates many of the benefits our students, and teachers, reap from time spent learning in this different context and being exposed to possibilities they hadn’t known existed.
Above: Melissa Sconyers Tucker '04 teaches a Lower School Interim course in stop motion animation.
Below: Lower School biking skills Interim
A story they shared was from the 2nd and 3rd grade bike safety class. David Clary, then a 5th grader, came to Mrs. Tipton’s class as a guest speaker. David told students about competing in his first bike race, a triathlon, where he surprised himself by winning his division. His story inspired then-3rd-grader, Macie Meyer, to enter the same race that summer; she finished second in her division; and in the fall she won her second triathlon. David was excited to know he had passed along his own love of triathlon to another student.
A school tradition worth celebrating
The benefits of Interim have a profound impact on all of our students, and even as our core curriculum becomes more experiential, and accommodates and nurtures more student-driven interests, there is an expansiveness and a joy in taking that break each spring to learn something new and see things differently. It is a school tradition worth celebrating.
You can see the adventures of interim through the hashtags #rstories17, #rstories18 and the trip tags. Interim is definitely one of the reasons #whyRandolph.
To learn more about the signature experiences we offer our students, schedule a time to tour our campus.