Immerse. Imagine. Inspire.
Mercersburg students will focus on more than 50 different topics during the Mercersburg Intensive, a new four-week academic period being held for the first time this year between the school’s fall and winter terms. From Monday, November 16, to Wednesday, December 16 (with a weeklong break for Thanksgiving), groups of between five and 18 students are examining a wide range of course topics curated and designed by the school’s faculty and staff, in many cases with a special focus on this moment and year. Each student’s academic schedule will consist entirely of a single Intensive course during these four weeks, allowing for deep and meaningful learning, synthesis, creativity, and exploration to take hold.
From big data to stopping the spread of misinformation, and from examining the experiences of Indigenous populations to the work of Black American filmmakers and the design of walkable cities, the courses will encompass a robust and eclectic range of subjects—many of which are designed around the school’s 2020–2021 theme of “Making a Difference.” All courses are being held in a virtual environment (since students are departing campus no later than November 19, and will not physically return to campus until January).
John David Bennett, Mercersburg’s dean of curricular innovation, describes the Intensive as “an opportunity to wipe away the periphery and become absorbed in a joyful, inspiring, satisfying sojourn into learning and discovery.”
2020 COURSE LIST
Using art as a tool for activism, this intensive will start with an introduction to digital artists who use their work as a vehicle for activism. Students will choose their own topic to research, inform their work and respond to this in their art. The mediums will be photography, video, and digital imaging/digital illustration.
Building off and comparing the principles of Brené Brown, a research professor known for her work on vulnerability, and Pat Lencioni, a leading business consultant, we will explore the concept of leadership over history and establish a vision for what will be needed for you to be a leader of the future. Interested in this course and want to understand the title? Google “The man in the arena quote, Teddy Roosevelt.”
Family histories have traditionally been passed down through generations and preserved through a combination of oral traditions and written artifacts, including letters and journals. Additionally, in previous generations it was more common for multiple generations of families to live together in one household and for extended families to live within one community. How do we hold on to our family history and traditions without the weekly letters between grandparents and grandchildren that used to be commonplace? What do we lose when journals have all moved online and families have moved farther apart? In this class, students will use a variety of methods to discover and record their family history.
This intensive course offers a deep dive into films by Black American directors, aimed at exploring the black experience in America and the culture and politics of America as a whole. We will spend time learning about the spaces they occupy in the history of cinema art, watching, discussing, and writing about their films, reading scholarly criticism and reviews, and developing small collaborative projects aimed at making a difference.
Project Linus is a non-profit organization which provides homemade blankets to children in need. Their blankets are lovingly made by adults and children from all walks of life and many different sources. Project Linus continues to grow. Blankets are collected locally and distributed to children in hospitals, shelters, social service agencies, or anywhere that a child might be in need of a big hug. This class will focus on knitting blankets for Project Linus. Some prior knitting experience is strongly recommended.
Just this last spring, the very first Pulitzer Prize for audio journalism was awarded, which means that the race for the 2021 award is wide open. So in this intensive you will work solo or with a group to create a polished podcast about people or events that have made a difference locally, nationally, or worldwide. As a template, we will listen to well-known, world-class podcasts— including the Pulitzer Prize winner—as we learn the tricks of podcasting trade, whether that's recording, editing, or being on the mic. We will then enter our original work in the highly respected Third Coast podcasting competition. To get a sense of what your podcast could sound like, listen to 99% Invisible, Radio Diaries, or the great This American Life.
Can a company do well financially and be good for the planet? How can entrepreneurs bridge long-lasting, deeply rooted social and geopolitical divides? What are the challenges and advantages to operating a business that is profitable, takes great care of its customers, employees, and its community in today's world? Through case study, engaging directly with business leaders, and self-guided research, students will have the opportunity to discover timeless, sound business principles, conduct careful analysis, and propose real solutions for companies facing ethical and/or sustainable hurdles.
Let’s say you live in a triple. Your roommates are up-and-coming musicians who can’t manage their new-found success. They won’t sleep well until they have a way to organize events, stay connected to fans and sponsors, track finances, and store data (lyrics, scores, concert attendance numbers, ticket and T-shirt sales, and links to news stories about them). Your roommates need a custom app…and fast! And YOU can MAKE A DIFFERENCE in their lives by delivering it to them. In this intensive you’ll learn: (1) user-centered design—so that you understand your client’s problem (2) wire-framing—to ensure that your app improves your client’s workflow (3) FileMaker—to quickly create an app that your client can run on a computer or mobile device. Create a custom app and make a difference for an individual, organization, or business.
This podcast will represent the student/teenage perspective in order to “bridge the divide” between them and the adults in their lives. You will fully engage with the elements of successful podcasts, develop roles (producer, music director, on-air personality, marketing, social media coordinator, guests to interview, topics, research, layout, etc.). Ultimately, students will have full control over the roles developed, and assessment will be based on the role they play. In the end, we will create at least one episode of “Dear Adults” and publish it for all the world (or at least the Mercersburg Academy community) to hear.
This intensive explores the dark side of big data and how computer algorithms often perpetuate inequity in our country. For example, racial discrimination is often systematically reinforced by the mathematical models used to generate credit scores, health insurance premiums, or loan approvals. They help determine where we live and where we go to school. Search engines promote racial and gender bias. This intensive will help you become aware of these subtle and systematic inequities that exist in big data and computer models that are pervasive in our lives. You will have the opportunity to explore one way that big data has established and maintained inequality, limited access, or kept people on the margins.
Many people in underserved populations throughout the world do not have access to transportation that enables them to get groceries, hold jobs across town, or to attend school. Non-profit organizations in the U.S. as well as abroad will provide an inspiring model for you to utilize the skills gained in this course to engage with and serve communities you live, work, and learn in. In this intensive, you will learn the fundamentals of maintaining bicycles such as flattire replacement, brake adjustment, front/rear derailleur adjustments, and drivetrain repair. You will then be partnered with an expert who will serve as a resource and thought partner as you work to revive bikes and generate your own way of making a difference in your local community.
Worldwide, racism and class structure routinely keep poor and minority people in the worst areas of environmental degradation, which, in turn, dramatically and negatively affects their health, future prospects, and life expectancy. Here in the U.S., Flint, MI, and COVID-19 are two recent examples of environmentally-related situations in which Black Americans have faced hardship directly dictated and/or exacerbated by race. Examples like these exist throughout much of modern history all around the world, and climate-change modeling suggests that the world’s poor already are and will also continue to be the most heavily hit by climate change. In this intensive, you will investigate the impact of environmental decline on these frontline communities, identify an issue that concerns you most, and begin your work to make a difference through substantive action and not just a fundraiser.
The 18th-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that people are inherently good. The 1980s American pop music icon Madonna lyrically reminded us that we live in a material world. A 2015 study by the American Psychological Association revealed that “money is the top cause of stress in the United States,” with 77 percent of Americans “feeling considerable anxiety about finances.” In order for people to act on their inherently good nature to make a difference by helping others, they must first be able to help themselves. Financial security allows individuals, organizations, and corporate entities to spend time, energy, and resources to bring about positive change rather than focus on the economic issues associated with day-to-day survival in today’s capitalistic society, issues that impact underprivileged and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities to an even greater extent. Basic financial literacy will allow you to minimize the stress and anxiety associated with financial uncertainty while equipping you with the knowledge, tools, and mindset to act upon your inherent nature as good citizens by positioning yourself to make a difference in not only your own lives, but for those in communities less fortunate than your own.
This intensive will provide an opportunity for a group of students to either collaborate or work independently on the adaptation of an existing text for theatrical or cinematic performance. Novels, short stories, poems, songs, graphic novels, and memoirs are just some of the types of material that may be considered for adaptation. The work should explore an issue deemed important to the student and relevant to the world, such as freedom, equality, identity, health, or culture. Although staging a production of the adapted script will likely not be possible within the timeframe of the intensive itself, future use of the script will be an ultimate goal of the process.
This intensive is a multi-faceted exploration into the history and effects of opioid use and abuse in the U.S. and abroad. We will consult professionals in many fields, such as first response, healthcare, counseling, and law enforcement to learn about how opioid use became an epidemic… the one that few are talking about. We hope to have visits from people who are firmly in recovery and who will share their journey with us. Peppered into the course will be readings (fiction and non-fiction), film (fiction and documentary), 20th- and 21st-century music, and individual research. We will end with an upward swing toward changing perspectives and action plans.
In order to be a good consumer, citizen, and student, we must know how to make sense of big data. If we are to make a difference, we need to know how to make sense of the wide range and large amounts of data available to us. Here are just a few questions we will explore: What is data science? How does data science differ from statistics? How does data science impact our everyday lives? How can we recognize patterns in large amounts of data? You will use your own curiosity and interests to guide our discussion and do your own exploration and analysis of data that can make a difference.
Language provides us the opportunity to communicate our thoughts and feelings to others, but it also has the power to hurt, minimize, and subjugate. Come on a journey with us to explore the history of certain words, debate their current meanings, and develop our own understanding of the power of language.
In this course we will look at fine art through the lens of History/Art History/Art and shine a spotlight on interests supported by research, forming a personal narrative. Your responses could be the creation of a blog/podcast, editorial/article/poem for the school newspaper, a painting/sculpture/photo for an exhibit, musical score/song for Soundcloud, etc. We will be able to speak with conviction, engage in constructive conversations and critiques through discussion boards, Google sharing, Padlets, etc., as well as connecting with others, finding joy, and becoming agents of change—thus making a difference in “Life Reflected”!
This course will educate students about how autism impacts individuals and their families. Additionally, it will teach students how to advocate and create a more inclusive community. Students will complete the experience by doing a project of autistic advocacy.
In this intensive, you will explore the life of a real person, Johnny L. Spain, from his birth in Mississippi in 1948 under harsh segregation laws, to his times navigating California's criminal justice system, to his work as a respected political activist and advocate for criminal justice reform. You will then work with Johnny’s biographer, Chicago and Kent Criminal Justice Law professor Lori Andrews, who will guide you in your study and investigation of his life and the times he has endured, including the tragedy and the triumphs. The culmination of your experience—with the help of Lori Andrews and Spain’s long-time friend and attorney Dennis Riordan—will be to meet Johnny and help to keep his story alive.
Explore the lives of people who went above and beyond to help others. See how radical love lived out by one person can make a significant difference in the lives of others. Study the farreaching impact that individuals had through outreach programs they began, many of which were sustained beyond their lifetimes. Uncover the motivating role of their faith in propelling them into works of mercy. Seek to understand their interior lives that drove their exterior contributions. Be inspired by people of faith who dedicated their lives to serving others. Look for ways you can move forward in making a difference. Students of all faith traditions (or no faith tradition) are welcome in this class. Many of the examples will come from a Christian perspective but students will be welcome and encouraged to research and share examples from other faith traditions as well.
The population of elderly people is growing, and more and more of our elderly are living in assisted living settings or group living communities. Students will interview residents of a group living community to determine what issues and needs they have, then utilize the resources of the Maker’s Lab to design and build projects to improve living conditions for the community. We will use the first three days in November in the lab to learn about the resources of the Maker’s Lab, to set-up and learn the basics of online CAD programs, and to work as a group to formulate a plan of action. December will be a time to reach out to elderly populations, research needs, and design solutions.
Seniors enrolled in Mercersburg’s Advanced Program for Global Studies will investigate how to put their senior research thesis into action. Embracing the theme of “Making a Difference,” students will examine their research topic and create an actionable plan that will help people. Ideally this experience will help students bridge the gap between academic study and active participation, to consider their research, and figure out how to act upon that work to effect meaningful change. Though there will be flexibility to allow each student the creativity as to how this will take shape, the typical “Call to Action” will be in two parts: a proposal/cover letter and an explanatory report.
11th-grade students enrolled in MAPS’ Thought, Knowledge, and Belief (TKB) course will examine the topic of altruism and different ways in which individuals can act to benefit others. An essential foundation of the experience is an examination of how we access information and come to understand topics and issues of the day. This skill will then transition into an investigation of effective altruism, challenges to popular notions of service, and how individuals can and should act to benefit others. Joining the topics of global awareness and activism, this intensive course will draw from current events, and compel students to consider how they can and ought to act in order to make a difference.
Taking a vote seems to be a fair way to arrive at a decision, but it has been proven that it is mathematically impossible to have a fair voting system in elections with more than two candidates. Different voting systems are used in politics, awards selection (including the Academy Awards), United Nations decisions, and many other areas. If elections are inherently unfair, we are forced to ask the question “why vote?” In this intensive, we’ll look at various voting systems and theories and experiment with different methodologies, giving you the opportunity to test and evaluate them and put them to use.
In this class, we will research medical issues that cause people to have a lower quality of life and shortened life spans, especially in underserved communities. Students will evaluate cases from various communities, identify problems, and evaluate their own communities (while at home) for access, cost, 911 timing, disease prevalence, education, nutrition quality, and more. Finally, participants will volunteer their knowledge to affect at least one issue found within their own community.
This intensive was inspired by a conversation a coach had a with a former player about the player’s experience as a Black man in America. What the coach learned was so “alarming and enlightening” that he thought we should record and collect people’s stories from all walks of life so that they can be shared widely and ultimately create sympathy and understanding. The work in this course will follow a model similar to NPR’s StoryCorps project, so during the intensive, you will conduct interviews with intriguing people telling their most compelling stories. The circumstances of the last several months have introduced us to new tools that can make a conversation on the other side of the world feel easy and immediate, so this virtual opportunity will give you a chance to collect and compile the stories that you will add to a course webpage made available to the whole Mercersburg community.
This intensive focuses on modern and contemporary drag ball culture, specifically from the Civil War era when some of the earliest drag balls were first chronicled, to the 21st century. The first half of the class will outline the trajectory of this history, while the second half will shift the focus to the students for a final project or portfolio. For this project, students will create their own drag persona/identity and develop a platform that includes creative elements such as fashion, dance, and culture, among others.
This intensive will look at police power and the use of force, but there are myriad directions the course could go, depending on the curiosity of the students. The intensive could explore the current social and political implications of police powers, such as an officer’s use of deadly force or whether police actions reflect racism. We could also examine the notion of “defunding the police” and what that could mean for communities. Because these issues are so complex, you and your classmates can use your questions to co-create the course and establish a healthy, productive dialogue about what work needs to be done. In the end, you will do a solo or group study, searching for answers and potential solutions.
This intensive is an amended version of the elective "Postmodernism," a course that has generated significant student interest, but is not running this year. In this intensive, we will look at how the concepts of identity, truth, goodness, and beauty have fared in an age of relativism. Traditionally known as “transcendentals,” these concepts have been reimagined in the postmodern era as more fluid. By looking at topics like gender and racial identity, “fake news,” ethics, and modern art, we'll gain a deeper sense of what it means to live in the current era.
The Greco-Roman world viewed life through a different lens than does the modern world. This course examines how ancient Greeks and Romans understood race and sexuality in a very different way, with important effects on institutions like slavery, marriage, and economics. Comparisons to the modern world are essential, and the final week of the class will explore more recent attempts to use Greece and Rome as models for racist or fascist systems.
Ever thought you would talk about lizard people, aliens, and secret societies in class? Through viewing and discussing popular misinformation and conspiracy theories found on social media, you will learn to recognize reliable sources, misinformation, and the value of critical thinking in all areas of life. This intensive is ideally suited for students who have taken the library’s information literacy sessions (10th grade and up), but it is open to anyone who would like to know how to keep misinformation from spreading.
Following the SEED model from Wellesley Center for Women, we will explore identity, bias, activism, and allyship through a well-vetted set of activities. Students must be prepared to share personal experiences, listen intently, explore their own backgrounds, and commit to pursuing inclusivity and equity at Mercersburg. This work is a process, and the journey is never fully finished, but it will provide a foundation to further strengthen our community.
As a participant, you will research and engage with an indigenous population that inhabited a location meaningful to you. You will attempt to connect with members of the nation and will do a deep exploration of an aspect of their culture that resonates with you. This could be related to their arts, community, agricultural practices, etc. The possibilities are endless. Your final project will be a practical one—you might present a collection of poetry or stories or attempt to create a traditional garment or weapon. All that is required is a desire to know more about the people who first occupied a land you love that has been colonized.
People use art and crafts to tell the story of their personal experience. The most untrained person can make the most beautiful art because it reflects their story and their emotional connection to a person or a time. Whether it’s paint, yarn, fabric, or an Instagram post, the act of storytelling and valuing a person is a crucial part of learning, healing, and preserving, especially in this unprecedented time. Our personal American experience really is a handful of scraps sewn together. Like many crafts, quilts are made to be given away. The quilter puts hours into a quilt, and then it’s given away in a gesture of love. They’re made to keep a person warm, to reflect a time period, and they’re designed to be a beautiful, personal gift. They’re also imperfect and full of personality. From a distance, they may look perfectly beautiful, but a closer look often reveals mismatched pieces, uneven stitches, and strange patterns. In the spirit of Sue Malone’s mittens, the beautiful murals created in Minneapolis to memorialize George Floyd, and the Instagram pages that our students made to express their concerns about life at Mercersburg, students in this class will use quilting to tell their story of this time and place.
Spend your intensive inspired by people who’ve created revolutionary change via curiosity, talent, and sheer force of will, making a difference in the quality of life for thousands, if not billions of people. Learn the stories of social revolutionaries—some you've heard of and others who you’ll learn about for the first time—who’ve led movements to create access for the marginalized; dive deep into the work of paradigm-shattering minds like Copernicus and the understanding of our solar system and universe, Darwin and Evolution, or Einstein and Relativity, among many others; and enjoy the work of artists, musicians, and performers whose lives made sure that the world would never look or sound quite the same ever again. In this course, you will have an opportunity to become an expert in the life and times of one such revolutionary, whose work and contributions you’ll introduce to a broad audience.
During times of worldly unrest, musicians, poets, writers, and musicians have responded by creating works of peace and hope. This course offers us a chance to look at and listen to earlier works that promote dreams of reconciliation, love, and hope for humanity. By writing our own music and poetry, we can respond by creating our own works that reflect our own desires for world peace. Students will be able to work individually or with partners in this process. We hope this will provide an opportunity for you to express your own deep desires in these challenging times.
Students will work with musician and songwriter Nathaniel Oku to develop Mandarin lyrics for a song. Participants in this intensive should have basic training in Mandarin, and native speakers are highly encouraged to participate. Training in music is not expected. Students will learn how to utilize poetic devices to convey meaning and emotion as they undergo the creative songwriting process. They will work with the teacher to explore lyric writing in Chinese (based on the theme for the 2020–2021 school year: “Making a Difference”) and will receive feedback from Oku. It is Oku’s hope to utilize students’ work, pulling from various ideas and lyrics and recording the results.
In this intensive, you will explore and understand your community, your relationships, and your heritage through food and cooking. You’ll research various traditional or family recipes and learn the significance of each one. Part of the intensive will be cooking with a relative in your immediate or extended family who can teach you specific techniques while you learn the familial, cultural, and personal significance of your history with food during holidays, celebrations, and daily meals. In the end, you’ll produce a video or write a piece that explains your research process, the reasons you selected specific recipes, and the benefits gained from the experience—whether that’s a greater appreciation of your culture, more time with family, or simply taking away a few recipes that you can prepare on your own.
This course will explore the writings and performances of contemporary and classic comics who make astute observations about our social climate and our norms and anomalies. Students will then seek to discover their own voices and develop their own material, culminating in a performance with making a difference as its theme.
Open to all students at all levels of Spanish, but geared towards students of the I, II, and III levels of the language. This intensive will give students the opportunity to create an illustrated bilingual children's story (Spanish-English) with the focus on the virtue of goodness. The completed story will then be shared with a second- and/or third-grade class in the local elementary schools. With the guidance of the intensive’s teachers, students will have latitude to achieve this while learning, exploring, and developing vocabulary and grammar concepts as well as speaking proficiency.