They learned to scuba dive. They created restaurants. They solved crime. They discovered the intricacies of hip-hop and the joy of board games. They studied the influence of social media, examined the hidden stories of everyday foods, and explored the Rivertowns.
These are just a sampling of the sessions middle school students participated in during WinterMission. With 15 middle school courses to choose from, the inaugural four-day intensive gave students the opportunity to learn new skills and study unconventional subjects — and have a whole lot of fun doing it.
Students in Introduction to Scuba dove (literally, at times) into their study of life underwater. The course, taught by Science Department Chair Dana McNamee and middle school math teacher Eliot Bloomberg, explored what happens when a human body is under the pressure of deep water, the history of scuba, how humans are impacting the ocean environment, and how organisms have adapted to life underwater.
In addition to a trip to the aquarium, one of the highlights was when students donned scuba gear and experienced breathing underwater in a shallow pool. “Some of the words students used to describe their in-water experience were ‘surreal,’ ‘awesome,’ ‘amazing’ — and this was in a pool without sea life to view and interact with,” Bloomberg said.
Eighth grader Zachary Stewart’s love of marine life inspired him to take the course. “I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to go scuba diving,” he said. Reflecting on the course’s impact, Stewart said that his interest in marine life has only grown, particularly “about coral reefs and the conservation of them.”
With four middle school and 10 upper school students participating, McNamee said “It’s been great to see how this course has connected with our wide age range of students. Many expressed interest in getting their full dive certification after this introductory experience.”
Back on land, students in Collaboration Café were cooking up plans for their own restaurants. Using the town of Dobbs Ferry as a case study, students explored the practical, ethical and creative elements of establishing an independent restaurant. In small teams, they brainstormed brand identities, created budgets, designed menus, and presented their business plans to the larger group. To get a taste of what owning a food establishment is really like, they interviewed a local chocolatier.
Middle school IEC teacher Rae Johnson, who taught the class with middle school math teacher Donna Komosinski, was thrilled to see students embrace all elements of planning from analyzing data to designing logos. “We created the course materials to be relatable to and appropriate for middle school mathematicians, artists and entrepreneurs,” they said. Johnson was pleasantly surprised with how excited students were to “dig into the nitty gritty work of accounting. Some students were more enthusiastic about the numbers they were crunching than the food they would be serving.”
Sixth graders Ayla Blair and Natalia Fader worked on a team that designed plans for a dog and cat cafe, where customers can bring their pets inside. Blair particularly enjoyed “creating a menu and figuring out the business part.” Fader was interested in the process of “bringing in designs, finding a space, and having a budget to create a cafe.”
As some students were solving small business problems, others were solving crime. In the course Something Is Fishy: Diving Into Forensics, a classroom fish was “kidnapped” and students had to deduce the culprit. They examined the staged crime scene, observed proper safety and contamination protocols, and collected and analyzed evidence using forensic techniques. The course highlighted the power of evidence-based decisions, the influence of bias in criminal cases, and how to logically present an argument.
“Students have been curious and courageous, and we could not ask for more,” said middle school science teacher Georgia Warren, who taught the class with lab technician and upper school science teacher Ellen Gales. “They are all super sleuths.”
Glenn Rodriguez, middle school Spanish teacher, taught hip hop and breaking (often inaccurately referred to as breakdancing) with Middle School Learning Specialist Mona Hazarika-Tamucci. Rodriguez enjoyed seeing students “connect the dots between rap, DJing, graffiti and breaking.”
“Hip-Hop is a large and complex world with many opportunities to learn about history, culture, diversity, equity and inclusion,” Rodriguez explained. “With hip-hop celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, along with the International Olympic Committee’s inclusion of breaking as an event in the Paris 2024 games, we realized that all the boxes would be checked off in a hip-hop course: history, culture, diversity, movement and fun.” The students even got to learn the art of breaking from a professional dancer.
After having spent countless hours planning the course, Rodriguez had only two words to describe sharing the experience with students: “Extremely gratifying.”