Intensive Learning in the Upper School

For one week each March, regular classes are suspended for “Intensive Learning,” when Middle and Upper School students and teachers engage in an in-depth study of a specific subject, often involving off-campus research. This long-standing MFS tradition — which dates back to the mid 1970s — allows teachers and students to break out of the structure of formal class periods and traditional study for a time of experiential learning. Both students and teachers are encouraged to view themselves as life-long learners and students of the world around them.

Spring 2017 Intensive Learning Options: Local

Cabinets of Curiosities
Did you know that natural history museums and freak shows had common ancestors? That people studying the first mastodon bones found in the United States were convinced they were the bones of giants? That P.T. Barnum started out exhibiting “mermaids?” That in time natural history museums became visual essays on race, imperialism and white supremacy? The first natural history museum in the United States was in Philadelphia; when it got too big for the rooms it occupied in Philosophers Hall, it moved into what is now Independence Hall. There was a live bear in the courtyard and monkeys sometimes scampered up the rooftop. In this Intensive Learning Program, we will look at the evolution of natural history museums and what they tell us about how Americans think. Though that first museum no longer exists, we can visit the site and speak with curators who are familiar with the artifacts Charles Wilson Peale put on display there. We will think about why it seemed important to the brand new United States to assemble a picture of its natural history (hint: it was partly because European scholars were convinced that this continent wasn’t mature enough to support full-sized life). We will also visit the American Museum of Natural History in New York, a monument to Theodore Roosevelt, manhood and the racial thinking of a century ago; what does it mean that the structure of that earlier story still exists, though our thinking about race has changed? This will be a chance to think about how architecture and objects shape our sense of national identity—and to think about whether there are alternative ways to display things that would tell a story more in keeping with modern thinking about gender and race. As a final product, we will design an ideal virtual exhibit for 21st century Americans to visit.

Community Empowerment through Service Learning
New Visions Homeless Day Shelter, The Neighborhood Center, The Center for Environmental Transformation, and The Boys and Girls Club, these are some of the organizations doing great work through community empowerment.  During our week will participate in Service Learning projects and support the work of these organizations while learning about their missions and role in the community.

Creativity at its most elemental! This program invites students to work with a master blacksmith to learn the basic techniques of making iron tools or artworks on an outdoor coal forge. There is also space and time for crafting wood-turned objects, especially if the weather doesn’t permit outdoor blacksmith work. Students will learn a variety of techniques and be given the opportunity to choose their own projects to complete.

Design Thinking: Problem Solving with Purpose
Want to solve real-world problems, but don’t even know where to begin? In this Intensive Learning experience, you will be learning a people-centered problem solving method called Design Thinking, which was developed at Stanford University. It requires no specific prior knowledge and focuses on innovation, creativity, empathy and teamwork. Before we set out to work with our local partners, you will gain a sense of the Design Thinking method through a “Flashlab”– that is, one full iteration of the DEEPdt process (Discover, Empathize, Experiment, Produce).

Bayshore Discovery Project
At Bayshore Discovery Project in Port Norris, MFS students learn about the Delaware Bay wetlands ecosystem and oyster industry and help restore New Jersey’s tall ship, the A.J. Meerwald. The group provides hundreds of hours of service work aboard the Meerwald, scraping, sanding, painting, and varnishing the boat to prepare her for the next sailing season when she is used for fundraising and educational programs.

Let’s Sew for Babies!
Not all babies and toddlers living in South Jersey have access to adequate food and clothing. Some live in public shelters or foster care, and others are helped by a variety of non-profit organizations. Whether you have strong sewing skills or have never sewn, you can help provide adorable duds for these children to help them on their way. We’ll spend the week sewing sweet little clothes for them, and in the process learn something about sewing and the organizations designed to help children in our area. At the end of the week, we’ll join with the quilters to appreciate our creations, pack them up, and celebrate with brunch.

As part of a fun but practical week, you will be making a baby quilt for newborn babies.  These babies receive the support of the Nurse Partnership program, which guides their mothers through the pre-natal care and continued care after they are born.  You will design the quilt, sew it, and then machine quilt on a special longarm machine. Take a look at the  following website: At the end of the week, we’ll join with the Let’s Sew for Babies IL to appreciate our creations, pack them up, and celebrate with brunch.

A Unique Pine Barrens Experience
The Pine Barrens Intensive Learning will provide an opportunity for students to learn the unique history and culture of the nearby “Pinelands,” the first National Reserve created by Congress. The area has also been designated by the United Nations an International Biosphere Reserve. Yet the area is little known, even to people who live nearby. We will spend time hiking and exploring the forest as well as learning about the intriguing history of the area, including the Jersey Devil and the indigenous “Piney” population.

Social Psychology: Canine Corner
The unique aspects of canine intelligence will be explored through consideration of current research on human-canine interactions, dog training, therapy dogs, service dogs, and canine-related laws here and abroad. Students will earn service hours during trips to local animal shelters. Design projects will focus on the design of dog spaces, dog products, dog breeds, fund-raisers for dogs, and a dog service business. As we will be in close contact with dogs and other animals, please do not sign up if you have allergies to animals.

An Exploration of Sacred Spaces in Philadelphia
Students will explore the places held sacred to a selection of world religions and gain insight on the diverse ways in which people worship. Students will have the opportunity to visit the largest Friends meeting house in the US, Arch Street Friends Meeting House, a Buddhist Shrine, a Mosque, and Congregation Mikveh Israel. Spirituality through art may also be experienced by viewing the French Cloisters, and visiting medieval and Renaissance Catholic art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In addition, students will have the opportunity to become acquainted with the Interfaith Community Center of Philadelphia. Finally, students will have the opportunity to reflect on what they consider sacred and possibly construct their own sacred space within our school.

South Jersey Service
South Jersey Service will provide an opportunity for students to volunteer and serve at a variety of organizations with varying missions. Students will learn how they can serve in multiple ways and about the different kinds of need in our region.

Asian Culture
We will explore Asia, including Eastern Asia, Southeast Asia, South-Western Asia, and Western Asia. Students will learn the traditions, food, clothing, arts, music, architecture, and so on. This program will include trips to local Asian communities in the area and feature guest lecturers on campus.

Excursión MFS
This program will provide an opportunity for students to visit various Latino community organizations in the greater Philadelphia area. Some of our visits will include museums, a bilingual elementary school classroom, community center and of course a sampling of some of Philly’s tastiest latino restaurants. Preference will be given to students enrolled in Spanish (or that have taken Spanish in previous years).

Spring 2017 Intensive Learning Options: Overnight

Give Kids the World
Service trip to Give Kids the World Village in Kissimmee, Florida. Give Kids the World is a 70-acre, non-profit storybook resort located near Central Florida’s most beloved attractions where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families are treated to a weeklong, cost-free fantasy vacations. Students will volunteer on-site for the week. They will have 1 day at Disney World to celebrate their week.

Yoga Retreat
Students will engage in a week-long exploration of yoga practices with an experienced yoga teacher while relaxing in the beautiful nature surrounding Pendle Hill near Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Yoga practice enhances athleticism, focus, motivation, stress-management, and develops physical and mental strength. There will be two yoga practices each day, in addition to focused workshops (yoga-inspired art, dharma talks, etc.) and outdoor activities (hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, etc.). The cost of the trip includes all activities, accommodations, and three meals per day of local, organic foods. No previous yoga experience is necessary for participation.

Spring 2017 Intensive Learning Options: International

Cuba: La Iglesia de Los Amigos
Experience language/cultural immersion and service in an active Quaker community in Holguin, Cuba. Participants will have an opportunity to work with locals on a variety of building projects, take day trips to local points of interest and meet with youth groups to better understand each other’s’ culture and life experiences.

French Service-Learning Trip to Martinique  
9-day service learning trip to the tropical island of Martinique. From shopping at a bustling morning market and kayaking through a Mangrove forest, to spending 4 nights with a host family and running activity days at local schools, participants will learn about the French Caribbean culture and history. The goal is for students to better understand and participate in the cultural, societal, and ecological systems and processes within Martinique.

Moroccan Highlights
Visit Casablanca, Fes, and Marrakech to explore the old Medina, a UNESCO world Heritage site, palaces, tombs, and mosques.

Dominican Republic: Service & Sun
Enjoy the beautiful Dominican capital of Santo Domingo, soaking in the monuments, parks and Colonial architecture of the Caribbean metropolis. Then give back by volunteering at a local orphanage, the Orfanato Niños de Cristo, where you will teach and play with the orphaned, impoverished and homeless children who live there.  Before flying home, hike the Padre Nuestro jungle trail, explore the caves of Dominican Republic, and see the wildlife on a safari adventure.

Literary England
England’s literary and theatrical history is rich and exciting, and this trip will allow you to see highlights throughout the country. We will begin the trip in London with historical and literary sightseeing and see a show in London’s famed West End theatrical district. From London, we’ll make day trips to Canterbury (of Canterbury Tales fame) and Bath (a must for any Jane Austen fan) with a stop at Stonehenge along the way. We will then journey to Stratford-Upon-Avon, birthplace of William Shakespeare. Finally, we’ll travel to the Lake District and Yorkshire to do some hiking and exploring in the home of the Brontë sisters and many of England’s famous Romantic poets. We’ll leave England via Manchester, allowing you to see another major English city.