March Retreat: Opportunities provided by What’s the Story?

What’s the Story? is an amazing course in which students dig in to a topic of interest and become well acquainted with all aspects of the topic. As this process goes on, students write and post weekly blog updates on their progress and answer specific prompts that they receive by email. Overnight retreats take place every two or so months and each retreat is a new experience in which new tasks are at hand and new lessons are given. Each retreat is a step in the process of making a final end-product simply from an idea. In December, part way through the course, students present their ideas and topics of interest to the entire group and form social action teams with one topic that they will work with for the rest of the year. In these groups a final end-product is produced. The end-product may be a documentary, a website, or anything the team choses. The free-form course allows for student input, self-motivation and the opportunity to really chose your own learning path and how it will look. If a student is very interested in their topic, they can opt to make an end-product on their own for the rest of the course. This differs greatly from a more typical class setting in which all students take part in the same tasks, access the same material and end up with the same end-product. Guidance from a teacher/adult role is provided in What’s the Story? but not forced on us like a normal class which is a very nice break. This course forces students to be more independent and take charge of what they have to do which requires them to self motivate which is an important skill to have for life and further education.

My experience in What’s the Story? has been very positive overall. I have had some challenging moments but definitely more fun, positive and amazing experiences than the challenging ones. I have found it hard to always have that self motivation that is required to be successful right away, but in the end I would always find it. I felt independent as I set out to organizing interviews and reaching out to organizations I was interested in talking to for my project and when my group would have struggles sometimes we would have to look to our mentor (each social action team has one or two mentors) for guidance but as we got familiar with some of the typical group-work bumps, we learned to handle them ourselves. The way in which I feel impacted by this course is through my extensive, acquired knowledge of my topic, Mental Health. I additionally was impacted by every single interview I had and the people I got to talk to. Specifically, the interview with people at the organization Alyssum in Rochester, Vermont, impacted me greatly in that I met three very powerful women who’s stories and wisdom I think of often in my life. Their opinions and ideas I think of often and I am so grateful to have met them. What’s the Story? has also given me the opportunity to meet a group of people who are like me and interested in their learning and this too is can be a nice break from traditional school because the members of What’s the Story? self-select to be a part of this program which means they must care about their learning, which I know every member does. I learn so much from all the people here and our collaborative knowledge feels so powerful and we are only high school and middle school students. It is amazing to be part of a group of students passionate about their topics and see people taking action to inspire change and the different ways in which people are doing this. I am impacted by all of these people and ideas and I am so grateful for such a unique experience. Additionally, I think that the group of people is diverse and everyone is unique and it is wonderful to be around all of the different characters.

People who are considering applying to What’s the Story? should be people who can manage their time and stay focused on something that is not directly in their school courses. It can be easy to lose focus on this course because the in-school classes with more deadlines can easily dominate the focus of your time since this course does not have as many strict due dates. Additionally students should be passionate about their learning because I could not imagine taking this course and not being passionate about my learning for this could be a wasted experience if you find yourself bored by all of the work. Having said this, I doubt anyone would apply if they are not truly passionate about their learning. Additionally students must be okay with sacrificing some of their precious weekend time to dedicate to the retreats. If you are someone who finds yourself held back by the regular class room in that you want to do more or you have these ideas for your learning or you’re tired of everyone doing the same thing, then this is the perfect class for you. For this course you must also be okay with a good amount of writing since for the first few months or maybe even longer you will be writing weekly blog posts and commenting on others posts. Lastly, group work is a major part of this course and if you’re someone who prefers to work alone, you could take this course but it would be a good deal harder for you. Even if you end up choosing to work on your own end-product, collaboration and discussion happens with others quite often so it would be difficult to avoid group work and collaboration fully.If you don’t feel held back by any of these aspects of the course this is the perfect course for you and I encourage you to take it next year.

Grace Widelitz

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