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Academic Year Wraps Up with Third Mercersburg Intensive

The third annual Mercersburg Intensive takes place May 22 through June 1 for students in the 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. The two-week intensive allows students to immerse themselves in a single topic as a way to close out the spring term and the academic year, and this year’s offerings range from exploring life in the 18th century to artificial intelligence to contributing to Habitat for Humanity and more.

Students had the opportunity to choose from 21 courses proposed and taught by Mercersburg faculty and staff. “We have significantly more intensives using this opportunity to get kids off campus, therefore expanding the experiential aspect of the program,” says John David Bennett P ’12, ’19, ’24, Mercersburg’s dean of curricular innovation. “We’re also in the third year of the Intensive–the second year in person–so each teacher is bringing a couple of years of experience into this kind of learning.”

One of those courses headed off campus is “Full on Frontier: Can You Live in the 18th Century?” (See the photo above.) Now in its second year, this course offering allows students to immerse themselves in life on the frontier as it would have been in rural Pennsylvania during the 18th century. Students spend most of their time at the Conococheague Institute (CI), a hands-on regional historic learning center near campus where visitors can dress, eat, work, play, and even speak as if they were in the 18th century. 

Director of Community Engagement Emily Parsons P ’21, ’22, ’26, who teaches the course with history faculty member Rich Heffron, enjoys “watching the students explore CI and challenge themselves to live as someone may have lived on the frontier. CI is an incredible local resource for education and creative collaboration.”

Parsons and Heffron are working with Matthew Wedd, executive director at CI, to create conversations around the different voices and experiences on the frontier. “We’ll be spending a day talking about indigenous populations and another day talking about the experience of enslaved Black people on the frontier,” Parsons says. She also stresses that “the costumes aren’t really that hot!”

As a result of this partnership between CI and Mercersburg, Wedd recently announced that CI was a recipient of a PA Museums 2023 Institutional Award of Merit. See Full on Frontier in action here.

Another Intensive offering, which will connect students with the local area, is “Maker’s Lab: Building a Better Community,” where students will work as a team to build a structure that will be delivered to the Franklin County chapter of Habitat for Humanity. “It is about giving back to the community and doing something for others,” says science faculty member Franklin Bell, who team teaches this course with mathematics faculty member Andy Brown. “The students in this class will learn many life skills, including using tools correctly and safely and practicing construction techniques. These are lessons that they will take throughout their lives. Not to mention that these students will have a great introduction to the Maker’s Lab space if they choose that for their Springboard class next year!”

This course grew out of a senior project from last year where two students built a shed for a family that had just moved into a new Habitat for Humanity house. Learn more about last year’s project here.

Another new course this year is the "Artificial Intelligence Creation Lab," which will provide students with an overview of AI, explore its current state and possibilities for the future, and consider the ethical implications of AI development and use. Taught by Associate Head of School for School Life Julia Stojak Maurer ’90, P ’18, ’20, ’22, ’23 and science faculty member Brendan Daly, this course also will welcome special guest Greg Kulowiec. Kulowiec has been an instructor at previous Mercersburg Summer Institutes.

“AI technology is developing at a rapid rate, and our students will benefit from knowing how to leverage it ethically and responsibly,” says Maurer. “Greg Kulowiec is a technology expert and master teacher who has worked in schools his entire career. I can’t think of a better person to be our content expert for all things AI. We are excited to see how the students and adults in the community will use AI on their projects, and we hope to have an exciting set of creations to share with the community at the end of the two weeks.”

See a full list of Mercersburg Intensive offerings here. 

“Personally, I’m looking forward to participating in all [the courses],” Bennett says. “I’ll have my administrative duties, but I’ll also be in these dynamic spaces to not only witness the good work, but to also do some of the hands-on work with the kids and teachers, while also documenting what they’re doing and creating.”

Bennett compares the Mercersburg Intensive to the Academy’s senior capstone experiences in many ways. “I'm reminded of the early years of the capstones, watching them evolve into better and better experiences for our kids. So for this year’s Intensive, I’m eager to see the fresh ideas and surprises that our talented teachers have in store for our students.”

To learn more about the Mercersburg Intensive, read a feature story from Mercersburg Academy magazine, and follow Mercersburg’s social media channels to see the courses in action over the next two weeks.