Our school’s mission statement focuses on educating the whole child and global leaders. What better way to accomplish these goals than by providing students opportunities to learn in the real world outside the classroom? During Project Week 2017, our students experienced a variety of global and cultural activities: they immersed themselves in the Japanese culture; explored the unique geological features of Iceland; home stayed with their German peers; performed field studies in Greece and Italy; visited leading companies and prestigious universities in Silicon Valley; adventured into the Yellowstone and learned how to make movies; visited different immigration communities in Chicago; experimented with 3D printing; and tackled various alternative sports. The greater world outside the school wall extended in front of our kids.

worldEach fall, the students look forward with great anticipation to the new events and trips offered. As soon as the Upper School faculty returned from the 2017 Project Week trips in March, they started to work diligently to create a variety of exciting and unique learning opportunities for Project Week 2018. The descriptions of the new trips will be available this summer on our website. The Project Week online catalog is an all-in guide for information such as important dates, descriptions of the trips, and costs.

The consideration of the trips starts with the online catalog. Please read the catalog with your child and discuss the many options available. We have tried to provide a variety of choices in terms of educational objectives, costs, and destinations. Your child will tell you excitingly where they want to go, but please remember that parents make the final decision; that’s why the online registration must be signed by the parents.

When you sign up for the trips, please be aware of both the financial and time commitments for these trips. Do not harness yourself with a financial burden that will cause stress; there are several affordable trips. Also, note that some trips may run longer than the designated week into the following week of Spring Break. Double check the dates and make sure it will not intervene in your family vacation plan.

Besides financial and time commitments, there are other factors that you may need to consider before you sign up. For example, do you have any important family events during Project Week that may prevent your child from travelling? Does a particular trip require a visa? Visa application processes can be very tedious. If the destination does require one, will you have time and energy to handle it?

In addition, it is also a good idea to discuss the responsibilities associated with each of these amazing opportunities. Such responsibilities could include, but are not limited to: keeping good grades, working part-time to save money for the trip, helping with household chores, tackling the challenges of some outdoor activities, or serving people in an unfamiliar culture as part of their trips, etc. In this way, students would know what is at stake, and what they need to do to earn such an exciting experience.

You will have the whole summer to consider these trips. The online registration opens in September. On the registration form, you will indicate four project choices in the order of preference. Every choice counts. Every year, I hear some parents and students saying, “We only care about the 1st choice. For the rest, we just randomly picked some.” I can imagine how disappointed they would be if they were not getting their 1st choice. I wish I could offer everyone his/her 1st choice but unfortunately it is unrealistic.

Here are some principles that can help guide the selection process:

  • Mixed age groups are optimal.
  • Everyone gets one of their four choices.
  • Seniors who have never traveled should have the opportunity to do so.
  • Away trips should have even (not necessarily equal) numbers of boys and girls for overnight accommodations.
  • We need to meet the minimum number of individuals in as many projects as possible.
  • Students should never participate in the same project twice.
  • Giving Upperclassmen a first or second choice is a goal, though not always possible.
  • Final consideration we take into account: past behavior in projects, group dynamics, past project selections, etc.

The purpose of Project Week is to expand the student’s horizon by learning new things and making new friends, and to bond with students and teachers across grades and disciplines. Project Week helps to create new and enduring friendships with other students and exemplifies the idea that the greatest learning experiences often come from knowing other people just a little bit better.


By Dr. Heng Zhao

Dr. Zhao teaches Mandarin and is the Academy’s Upper School Global Leaders Coordinator.