Symposium, Spain Speculation
By Asher Bank, and Jessica Gross
This year, Ryan Carey, Upper School Diversity Coordinator and history teacher, and Allison Bishop, Dean of Student Life and Leadership, are heading a committee to review and modify Symposium. The Symposium program was created four years ago, and now, after completing a full iteration, it is up for review.
“Like any good program, I think, you want to check in with it as you do it,” said Dr. Carey. “You don’t want it to remain static as you can always make [it] better.”
Despite being under review and possibly changed next year, the program has been very successful.
“This year we had our highest satisfaction numbers that we’ve had in the four years we’ve been doing the program,” said Ms. Bishop. “Students are gaining something, the faculty thinks it’s valuable- so we’re at this point right now of no major overhauls, but making sure that the issues that we have can be addressed.”
So what can we expect from Symposium next year? Although nothing is definite, there are certain aspects of the program that will be heavily examined and most likely modified.
“There have been some consistent themes of things people want to look at more closely,” said Dr. Carey. “Timing of year is one of those themes so we are looking at timing of year, and the trip to Spain is another one.”
This process is still in its incipient stages and the committee is unsure if any part of Symposium will actually change. As it stands, the program presents a couple of significant issues relating to its timing in the first semester. Because it is scheduled approximately two weeks after winter break, it provokes an infamous cramming of assignments, heightening both student and faculty stress levels.
“We get out for two weeks for winter break, and we come back for two weeks from winter break, which creates that pinch that students feel,” said Ms. Bishop. “And not only are [faculty] teaching all day with you, but then they have to do all of their grading, and then they have a new semester right when we get back. Those are the three things that are happening for faculty and it is just a really heavy load for them to manage.”
“Another drawback is just the wintertime. Experiential learning in mid-january in New York City can be difficult,” explained Dr. Carey. Some Symposium programs are limited by the snow, and the cold weather. One year the plane to Spain was canceled due to snow and the trip had to leave a day later. “Limiting factors that might not happen if we did it early in the fall when school starts, or in early spring, or backed up against spring break.”
In terms of timing, as of now the Committee has not reached a verdict, but we can expect some sort of change that eliminates the work overload for teachers and the drawbacks of the temperatures during winter. When talking about Spain, the committee was much more decisive.
“Here’s the one thing that is definitely not happening; the entire 10th grade is going to go to Spain with Education First tours (the company that has toured Packer around Spain in the past),” confirmed Dr. Carey.
The rest of the changes regarding Spain are simply speculation, but we can predict that changes will be made to address the common complaint that the Spain trip is too chaotic. Andrew Parson, Chair of the Library Department, who is heading up the international aspect of Symposium spoke about his concerns, and why the trip is changing in an interview last week.
“When we travel as the entire grade to one place and we spend all our time together,” said Mr. Parson, “how much opportunity is there for students to really experience the culture versus how much are we just bringing our culture wherever we go?”
Mr. Parson in collaboration with Dr. Carey, and Ms. Bishop will strive to make the trip better next year by assessing the trips disadvantages and advantages. Dr. Carey and Ms. Bishop hypothesized that they might give students a choice or split the grade into groups, so the entire grade isn’t traveling together.
“The best way to do international travel, is a way that strives for immersion in that place and the bigger the group the harder that is,” said Dr. Carey. “It is really difficult to really experience a place with 95 of your closest friends and 20 of your teachers.”