by Laura Jamieson
William Faulkner once said, “A writer needs three things, experience, observation and imagination.” Germantown Friends School ninth-grade English students have the “experience” under their belts after the English department’s Experience Day assignment sent them out of the classroom and into the world to try something new for a day.
“I marvel at the creativity and passion of the students when you open the door to this project,” said GFS English Department Head Chris Singer. “Their creativity shines when they are given the chance to explore what they want.”
The experiences are as uniquely individual as the students: observing in courtrooms, hospitals and veterinarian offices; volunteering at food cupboards, animal shelters and zoos; working in bakeries, law offices and tech companies.
Evan Gorski built a fully-functioning computer in his bedroom. Alice LaBan walked the entire 13.4-mile length of Manhattan with her mother – and reported that sore feet were a small price to pay for the amazing experience. Emily Kastenberg read “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” out loud from a bench in Rittenhouse Square, attracting a diverse array of passersby and marveling at the power a story has to bring people together.
Jake Schwartz wore glasses that made him legally blind. His sister helped him navigate the ice when he walked the dog and people gave him strange looks.
“I learned countless things from the day,” Schwartz said, “but learning how blind people have to live day in and day out was the most interesting thing I experienced.”
Hope Boone spent two days as a “Johns Hopkins Jr. Scientist.”
“I learned about the difficulties in assessing neurological conditions such as Down syndrome, Alzheimer’s and learning disabilities in patients,” she sais. “The scientists in the lab were not only brilliant, but fun and very kind and generous in taking time to explain complicated scientific facts behind their project.”
Boone plans to continue learning about these issues and pursue a career studying neurology.
Tim Nelson-Pyne played bagpipes in Rittenhouse Square and set out a hat with a sign saying the money would be donated to music education for Philadelphia schools. People enjoyed his music and families stopped to listen. He collected $100 for his cause.
The students completed their assignment by composing papers reflecting on their day. Ninth-grade English teachers Connie Thompson, Joe McGeary, Sara Primo and Robin Friedman enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm that real-life experiences added to the students’ writing.
“We encourage them to approach this piece of writing as a journalist, and therefore we introduce the idea of the lede and discuss aspects of strong, vivid writing,” Thompson explained.
Friedman added, “The writing that the experiences generate is really compelling and interesting. It’s an opportunity for 14- and 15-years-olds to step outside of their comfort zone and try something they wouldn’t usually have the time to do. It’s a very unusual and powerful project. For some of the students it’s even life changing.”