GHS “Mini-Mester” Programs Focus on Theater, Sports, Science and More


GHS Upper School students practice their surfing skills, above, during a mini-mester program in Costa Rica. Students learned costume design instruction, below, from a New England Youth Theater professional designer.

With public schools on Spring Break and St. Thomas Carnival in full swing last week, Gifft Hill School students enjoyed three days of exciting, experiential education April 23 through 25.

The school’s annual “mini-mesters” are all about engaging students in areas of their own interest, explained GHS Middle School Dean Liz Kinsella.

“Every year GHS does what we call a mini-mester which is applied learning in an area that is of particular interest to the student,” said Kinsella. “They choose an area they want to explore more or something that interests them; this is something that we choose for them.”

“The intent is to take the academia that they’ve been learning in the classroom and show them how it applies to real life and we try to do that in as authentic a way as possible,” she said.

A group of Upper School students spent last week surfing, hiking and zip lining in Costa Rica, while other GHS students on St. John got certified in Scuba (see related story in this week’s edition on page 9), another group toured off-the-beaten track areas on St. Thomas and still another group spent a week of intensive training with the New England Youth Theater, explained Kinsella.

“Our biggest group of students is doing a sort of drama workshop which incorporates singing, improv and some physical humor,” said the GHS middle school dean. “That program was also opened up to public school students on St. John as well.”

“Since Julius E. Sprauve School and Guy Benjamin School students are on spring break this week, we went out a couple of weeks ago and did a presentation for those two schools and offered them, free of cost, to participate in this week-long theater workshop,” said Kinsella. “We also invited home school students to join in as well.”

In addition to the GHS students, six students from outside of the student body — two from GBS, one from JESS and three home schoolers — joined in last week’s New England Youth Theater workshop at GHS. The workshop culminated on Friday and Saturday, April 27 and 28, when students performed their original production at the school.

The students were in total control of the performance, from writing their own skits to making costumes, explained Kinsella.

“New England Youth Theater brought down a phenomenal staff including a professional voice coach, a former acrobat and clown from Cirque du Soleil, directors and actors,” she said. “The kids have been getting really intensive instruction in all the different aspects of performing arts.”

“They also brought down a professional costume designer and we have five kids doing costume design,” Kinsella said.

Other GHS mini-mester programs last week allowed students in-depth looks at the world of golf, culinary arts and electricity, Kinsella added.

“We have a group that is doing an applied unit in electricity and they are building a circuit that will generate 1 million volts of electricity with Jim Willin,” she said. “We have a bunch of athletes out learning golf on St. Thomas with Barbie Barry and our head of school Judy Chamberlain is leading a culinary class.”

GHS officials host two mini-mester programs each school year and have been impressed with the results, explained Kinsella.

“The applied learning program really boosts engagement with the students,” she said. “This helps us also develop relationships with the students and allows us to see them in a different light. When they are studying areas of their own choosing, they are excited about what their doing and that is great to see.”