A Busy Spring at Sage

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Incoming Sage Hill sophomore, Michelle Oglevie, works on her guitar during the Spring at Sage seminar on how to build a guitar from scratch. In the background parent Frank Paladino helps student Coral Lee on her instrument.

Students at Sage Hill School spent their last week building guitars, exploring the paranormal, scuba diving, surfing and traveling abroad.

But they weren’t making the most out of a bad case of senioritis. Their fun experiences were part of the Spring at Sage, a brand new, mandatory, unconventional learning experience program. They even received a pass or fail grade.

“This is usually a time when (students) are dragging to the finish line,” said Sage Hill’s director of communication and marketing, Torrey Olins. “Instead, they are doing things they would never get to do in the constraints of a normal school day… They‘re excited to learn.”

After AP and final exams, students embark on a one-week learning experience of traveling abroad, on-campus seminars or independent projects.

The students were encouraged to follow their passions, Olins said. Learning about something they are interested in has helped renew their energy and has them eager to learn, she added.

Almost all the trips and seminars are either led or taught by Sage staff. Most of those who taught seminars picked a subject different than what they teach in traditional classes on campus.

A Spanish teacher led a seminar on building an electric guitar. A science teacher led the seminar about history of rap music

It’s an opportunity for the staff to explore their passions, Olins said. And it’s good for the students to see their teachers as multi-faceted people, Olins said.

“It’s a whole other side that students often don’t get to see,” Olins said. “It lets them get to know their teachers as real humans.”

The student chose ahead of time what they wanted to do and had to compile or create some sort of end project, final or achievement to present to the rest of the school during the closing ceremony on Wednesday.

The closing ceremony featured student-made videos, slideshows, presentations and performances by the students highlighting how they spent their Spring at Sage time.

About 100 students went traveling, about 30 did independent projects and around 300 participated in the seminars.

The globetrotting kids went to China, Costa Rica, England or New Orleans. All of the students on the trips did some kind of service work.

Students on the New Orleans trip at the House of Blues.

Although this was the first year for the Spring at Sage program, the Costa Rica trip had happened in previous years during the middle of the school year. The spring program used the same organization and went to the same community as before.

All of the independent project and global experience students kept a blog detailing their experiences. A few of seminars also kept blogs.

The independent projects included learning about filmmaking, real estate, modeling, scuba diving, flying, internships at a newspaper and a diagnostic center, and more. One student even embarked on a research heavy project regarding the hydriod-associated fauna of Guana Island in the British Virgin Islands.

There were half-day or full day, on-campus or off-campus and a variety of topics of seminars to choose from. Students did need to fulfill an entire day of school though, so they would need two, different half-day courses or one full-day.

The on-campus, half-day seminars include The Puppet Master in Your Mind, Discovering Childhood Through Film, Cooking With Sapphire, The Entrepreneurial Spirit, Sports Management, Exploring the Paranormal, Real Estate – The American Dream, Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Birth and Rise of Hip Hop, and many more.

The all-day, on-campus seminars varied as well, including Musical Theatre, Organic Chemistry, The Hero With a Thousand Faces…and Films, and more. This category also included a student created and taught course, Lighting and Sound Design, from incoming seniors Jake Faris and Caroline Sir. Making a successful seminar was Faris and Sir’s independent project for their Spring at Sage experience.

Some of the all-day, off-campus classes include Poetic Surfing, Eat, Pray and Shop: Exploring Ethnic Communities in Southern California, Hiking Trails in Orange County, Scuba, Building an Electric Guitar, and more.

“There‘s every kind of opportunity,” Olins said. “Everything from hardcore scientific research to artistic exploration to cultural exploration.”

Eat, Pray, Shop seminar students at Hai Li Temple in Hacienda Heights on the first day of the Spring at Sage program.

The seminars that covered an entire industry, like real estate or sports management, explored different aspects and career possibilities within that field.

Students in the Sports Management class learned various sports-related careers, said teacher J.R. Tolver, and there are a lot more ways to get involved with sports than just being an athlete.

“It starts with the game and it blossoms from there,” he said.

Many of the seminars brought in working professionals from the field of study. Sports Management had an agent as a speaker and skyped with NFL stars, The Entrepreneurial Spirit featured self-started business owners, and many other professionals for the various courses.

“A lot of who’s coming in are the who’s who of Orange County,” said Sage Hill’s head of school, Gordon McNeill, who also taught The Entrepreneurial Spirit seminar.

McNeill said he’s even learning a thing or two from the speakers in his Entrepreneurial Spirit course.

“I’ve been sitting there taking notes on the side,” he said.

Several of teachers and staff have been learning right alongside the students, McNeill said.

“This (program) helps our kids see our teachers as partners in their education,” McNeill said.

The experiences in the Spring at Sage program show the students what career choices are out there, McNeill said, they can do something they feel passionate about.

“Spring at Sage will allow students of all grade levels to pursue their passions in an intensive seminar or project that nurtures leadership, creativity, risk-taking, and engagement with the world beyond the classroom,” the program’s website states. “Students will then share their Spring at Sage experiences with the school community and finish their year recharged and ready to inspire others.”

Traditional curriculum doesn’t always allow kids to see these unique types of opportunities and experiences, McNeill said.

A conventional music class probably wouldn’t teach the student how to build an instrument from scratch, Olins said as an example.

Spring at Sage has a seminar that offers just that.

Senior Nate Paladino helps Coral Lee with her guitar. Paladino and his father, Frank, taught the class how to build a guitar from scratch.

The class is filled with students from every grade, of various skill level, learning about music, how sound is created and working with their hands, said Spanish teacher Diego Izurieta, who is leading the seminar.

Incoming sophomore Michelle Oglevie said building her own guitar was both fun and interesting.

“It’s cool to know how it works,” she said.

Izurieta said the course came about after speaking with a student, Nate, and his father, Frank Paladino, during a school function. Building guitars is a shared passion of the father and son duo, who are teaching the class together.

The students choose every detail for their guitar. They personalize it however they want, Izurieta said.

“They put their DNA in it,” Izurieta said.

Another beyond the tradition class, Olins said, is the culinary seminar.

Students in the culinary class has been creating dishes from all over the world during their spring week and one day of all deserts. They are working with the school’s on-site catering company, Sapphire, and three of the school’s P.E. teachers.

Sapphire corporate chef Tin Vuong siad he was surprised at the students

“How much they know, how creative they’ve been and how well they listen,” he said.

Teachers of the culinary seminar judge the student entries from the days assignment. Sapphire corporate chef Tin Vuong said the course teaches about both food and culture.

“If they ask…I tell them about the restaurant industry,” Vuong said. “I’m honest about it, I don’t sugarcoat it for them.”

They have also been learning about different how food and culture melt together, which is important at Sage, he said, because it is a very multicultural school.

“I’ve been teaching them how hood plays an important role in each others lives and how it can help them understand other cultures,” he said. “Food is culture.”

He has also been teaching the students about the importance of good nutrition, which one of the participating teachers, Amy Ray, said fits in well with their P.E. class syllabus.

“We always emphasize nutrition (in class). We have a slogan: Eat well. Be well. Play well,” Ray said.

The program has been going well, both Olins and McNeill agreed. There has been a lot of positive feedback, McNeill added.

“Parents (and staff) keep saying, ‘I wish I had that in school,’” McNeill said.

The trips and seminars the program offers may or may not be the same next year or the year after, McNeill said.

“It evolves,” he said. “It’s a matching (game), matching the talents and interests of our faculty with the talents and interests of our students. So that will morph every year.”

Trying to allow our faculty and our students to explore different areas, he said, so it is like to change over the years. McNeill might even take a global experience trip next year or teach a different class, he said.

A lot was put into the program, but school staff is expecting to learn as it grows, discover what needs improving and what works well, Olins said. It took a lot of planning to get it off the ground, she added.

“There were many excel spreadsheets, many meetings, involved in creating this program,” Olins said. “So it’s exciting to see it actually being pulled off.”

Teachers had to make minor adjustments to their regular class schedules which had three fewer days in the year, Olins said., but everyone was really onboard with the program.

The program will likely continue next year and longer, Olins said.

“I think this will become part of the culture of Sage Hill,” she added. “It will only get better.”

It was very successful for it’s premiere year, she said. There were only a few minor issues, like rough weather for the traveling students, a few last minute changes and rescheduling for speakers in the seminars, and one sick student who missed a seminar.

“(Sage is) only 10 years old…,” Olins said. “So this program is in the spirit of the school, the idea of trying something new… Creating new experiences.”

The students on the China trip visit a tea house.





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