Happy New Year from Hopper Headquarters! As I sit here looking out my window onto the field watching our track team move through its paces, I can’t help but marvel at the dedication and focus of our students as they pursue their extra-curricular passions.
Intrinsically motivated, our students often carry these passions into gap years or to college and beyond. Just before winter break, I had the pleasure of hearing from a number of our former students on this very topic at an alumni event. As I made my way around the room, I was struck by the number of alums who were either working or volunteering in a field that mirrored their interests from high school.
One was working for an organization advocating for a minimum wage law, another was volunteering at a homeless shelter several nights a week, and a third was working behind the scenes for a small theater company. And while these were just a few of the stories I heard linking deep personal interests to current action, the refrain throughout the evening was the same: they had found their grounding while at GDS.
As one alumnus put it so succinctly, “GDS gave me the tools and the space to know who I was before I went to college and this allowed me to dive right into my next stage in life without wasting any time.” While I know that this may not be true for all of our students by the time they leave GDS, I do hear over and over again how GDS helped form the foundation for their journey.
While many of our students’ passions play out in various clubs or other extra-curricular activities, a number of them also had the chance to pursue them in a course offered this fall called “Play, Passion and Purpose: An Introduction to Design Thinking.” Students designed an array of projects that allowed them to follow their interests while designing products and services for people both within our community and beyond the School’s walls.
GDS is also a place where adults can pursue their passions and most often, it is alongside our students. Many of our faculty and staff lead or participate in affinity groups; sing, act or even direct plays during our Winter One Acts; engage in social justice work through various clubs; direct a “pod” during our GDS Summer Policy and Advocacy Institute on a topic of interest to them; attend meetings of existing clubs (or start their own) on a variety of topics (e.g., Student Voices, a weekly discussion about politics or Vinyl Club, an appreciation of various forms of music).
As for me, I’ve always felt fully supported by the School to follow my interests, particularly in two areas—international development and the outdoors. The GDS Horn of Africa Program (started ten years ago with my colleague Bobby Asher) was an outgrowth of this interest, as are the numerous backpacking and camping trips I have taken with students over my nearly 20 years at GDS.
Having the opportunity to share my areas of interests outside of the classroom has undeniably made me a better teacher. By expanding my interactions with those outside our community and creating more opportunities to connect with our students, I have also felt fulfilled in so many ways, which only has me wanting to do more. No doubt the same is true of our kids.
As a community GDS is, of course, academically focused, but it is also full of intrinsically motivated individuals who love to go beyond the classroom in a myriad of ways.
How do I know the motivation is intrinsic?
I know by the countless hours and late nights that our performing arts students log as they move closer and closer to a show; I know by the cross-country and track teams who spend entire Saturdays at a meet when any one individual’s race lasts only minutes, sometimes only seconds; I know from the bake sales that students put on to raise funds for Tuesday Night Tutoring or Tuesday Night Art, two of our community service clubs; I know because students sacrifice their free time and sometimes their studying time to engage in these pursuits.
Actually, it’s simpler than the list above. I know from the look on our students’ faces.