The ASP is about diving deep into thought-provoking classes where one encounters real-world problems and relevant ideas.
Around mid-morning on an early July day this summer, there’s a good chance you’ll find St. Paul’s School Science Teacher Rick Pacelli leading a group of 12 ASP ecology students to a section of the Merrimack River that flows through East Concord. There, they’ll unload canoes that they’ll pack with lunches and water sampling equipment before paddling south, past parks and forest as they follow a bend in the waterway to Turkey River junction. Along the way, there might be a sing-along, some playful riddles, and probably a few Pacelli-inspired dad jokes as he steers the group toward their destination and keeps a curious eye for nearby bald eagles, blue herons and turtles.
Then, the real fun will begin.
At a calm stretch of river in Bow, students and teacher will drag their vials and probes into the water, collecting samples to gauge different levels of things like carbon, iron and dissolved oxygen that will help anchor their lab work and discussions back at the School. From the Turkey River, the group will push further south for more stops and more sampling. If the weather’s right, Pacelli’s class might spend as much as eight hours on the river — just one of many days that will see ASP ecology students on the water or in the woods.
“My approach is to give the students the kind of classroom experience they wouldn’t normally get during the regular year,” says Pacelli, a longtime SPS teacher who is also serves as the summer program’s Chaplain. “To take advantage of the time we have and immerse them in the things we’re learning about. We’re always outside, always going on a trip — on a river, on the ponds, around the 2,000 acres of land that we have around St. Paul’s.”
Pacelli’s class is just one of 15 innovative major course offerings available during SPS’s five-week ASP term. The course topics cut a wide swath — from biomedical ethics to studio arts to geo politics — and give engaged New Hampshire high school seniors a unique, immersive and transformative program that is equal parts academic exploration, college preparation and summer fun.
For Pacelli that means linking a discussion around a healthy ecosystem to the local waterways and forests, and empowering students to know that the data they collect aren’t just for academic purposes. Information gleaned from the Concord reservoir, for example, is then turned over to state officials for further analysis.
Inside the classroom, the innovation continues. Pacelli brings in guest speakers, charges students to deliver presentations on their findings, and will even set up a town meeting style forum so that the group can tackle bigger picture topics such as climate change and the viability of renewable energy sources.
“This class, like the program overall, is a chance for students to take some risks, to get out of their comfort zone and really explore something about themselves,” says Pacelli. “It’s really something to see them grow.”
Monique Schlichtman ’92 can relate. For the second consecutive summer the Chicago resident and longtime public administrator will lead a course called After the Rally, which will help students explore their own voices and passions relating to issues of social justice.
“When we look at Gen Z, you see how passionate they are about the issues that define their time,” says Schlichtman, the executive director of the nonprofit Caris Pregnancy Counseling & Resources. “They want to save the world, but I think it’s important to look at how you can save the world in your own community.”
Schlictman’s class empowers students to look closely, and maybe even differently, at where they come from and drill down on the issues those places are struggling to confront. Through research, they explore the organizations that are already working to address those issues, while skillfully identifying current service gaps. From there, the students frame out a new organization that can then address those needs.
In addition, the course also provides space for the students to talk about all the issues — race, class, the access to power — that shape the social issues they’re working on. “It gives them a framework to look at things that many of them haven’t discussed before,” says Schlictman. “A space to be more fully themselves as they explore their passions.”
And that, says Schlichtman, can be life changing.
“I’ve talked to many kids after last summer and they got to work,” she says. “Some of them started a new club in school — they became engaged in the world around them in a totally different way. They’re hungry for this stuff. They want to make a difference. They’re not sure how they can do it. I think the class gives them a chance to feel like they can really do something. I was just honored to be a part of the process.”