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RSEC Academy students and teachers step outside comfort zones, into intensive learning sessions across New England

Winter intensives focus on experiential learning, social skills, teamwork, and fun

Amherst, NH – When was the last time your English teacher took you and a small group of your classmates on a week-long adventure through New England’s biggest cities to solve riddles and navigate with only a GPS, all while racing to complete your goal? The Amazing Race Intensive Session, a week-long adventure integrated into the curriculum at The RSEC Academy middle and high school, is just one of the ways students learned academic and life skills this winter at the inclusive school for students with learning disabilities.

Every year between winter and spring semesters, high school and middle school students from The Academy, a Regional Services and Education Center (RSEC) program, spend a week of intense, experiential learning exploring new concepts. Teachers design intensive activities and outings to put into practice the skills students learn in the classroom. Intended to push students – and teachers – beyond their individual comfort zones, the five separate intensive sessions for 2017 also emphasized teamwork and flexibility.

“Fostering independence is an important outcome from the intensives,” said Lindsey Edwards, an English Teacher at The RSEC Academy, and one of the teachers who led the Amazing Race themed intensive session. “Many times, students in class will immediately look to the teacher for support when they could problem solve for themselves and figure it out. With this intensive, we were outside in Portsmouth and Boston, trying to problem solve and navigate and not always getting an answer immediately, but it was very relevant because, just as in the classroom, we guide them, but don’t give away the answers.”

Teachers worked together to create six intensives based on input from teachers and students involved.

The 2017 roster of choices included:

  • a session about animals, where students and teachers visited the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, and Animal Adventures family zoo and rescue center in Bolton, Mass., helped train dogs at Good Mojo Dog Center in Milford, and went horseback riding at Mountain Lane Farm in Temple;
  • a DIY and Pinterest-focused session where students crafted and created home décor items, lotions and lip balm, and painted pottery at Time to Clay in Nashua;
  • a cooking intensive session that took students from researching recipes to shopping for ingredients at Market Basket, to sampling their own delicacies, and enjoying lunch at Bertucci's to see culinary skills in action;
  • a session modeled after the popular reality television show The Amazing Race where students followed series of clues in several locations, including around the school and in Portsmouth with Portsmouth Team Building, as well as a trip to Boda Borg’s “real-world gaming environment” in Malden, Mass.
  • a winter outdoor survival intensive session, complete with First Aid and CPR training, as well as learning fire and shelter-building skills during an overnight camping excursion at RSEC’s The Longview School in Deerfield;
  • and a snow sport intensive session where students of all levels explored the White Mountains by skiing, snowshoeing and exploring the gym facilities at The Mountain Club at Loon.

Trevor, a senior at The Academy, has experienced several intensive sessions and most recently completed this year’s winter survival session.

“It was cold. Fun. For me, doing different things is fun and going outside my comfort zone with a group of people you may or may not know, and then become friends, is pretty cool,” said Trevor, who had some prior knowledge of building fires and shelters – key tasks for making it through the overnight camping trip. “And we got to know who the teachers are as people, and what you have in common with them, but the biggest thing I learned is having trust in people, and letting them be the leader.”

By all accounts, the sessions were successful, and that is a testament to the teachers running them, according to The Academy’s Director, Janet Reed.

“This program excels because our teachers go above and beyond to make it possible,” said Reed. “It’s not easy to create a fun and safe winter survival unit in a month and a half that matches the kids’ own learning goals and the teacher’s comfort level. I’m asking them to think differently and connect with students in new ways, so at the end of the day, the success of our intensive sessions is a testament to their skill, dedication, and enthusiasm for teaching.”

Fortunately, teachers at The Academy recognize and embrace the positive impact of intensive sessions.

“These sessions are invaluable because they teach the skills I want students to gain before they graduate. When you go on a field trip that lasts four days, you have to think about four different settings, and how you handle different situations,” said Alison Batey, a transition coordinator at RSEC who helped organize the winter survival session. “We went camping in January, so we challenged students with questions like, ‘how do you pack?’ and ‘what are the external factors you need to think about and plan for?’ For teachers, what we always talk about at the end of these sessions are the real-life skills the students gain.”

Over the years, RSEC’s intensive session topics have ranged from car audio installation, science and technology, a trip to Disney World, and a business unit focused on products made in New Hampshire. They began in 1997, a year after The RSEC Academy opened to provide new approaches to incorporating subjects students were passionate about with social and life skills.

And because the passion drives the activities – students are invited to brainstorm and vote on the year’s intensive session topics – most of the school’s 38 students participate. Plans for next year’s intensive sessions begin later this spring, but brainstorming ideas for new topics - helping build a house, travel to New Orleans, and skateboarding, to name a few – are well underway.

The Academy also wishes to thank the local businesses and organizations who hosted students and helped make the 2017 Winter Intensive Sessions such as success.

Read description of the individual Intensive Sessions.

Students learned to start a fire, build a shelter and cook food over an open flame during their winter survival intensive session.

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