A deep dive into distance learning

Peddie Summer Seminars include "COVID, Squirrels and Risk," "Election 2020," "Scottish Highland Dancing" and a book club.

During a summer like no other, Peddie has taken a deeper dive into the distance-learning world. Students, including those just beginning their Peddie careers, have joined faculty for a series of low-key seminars on topics ranging from gangster movies to backyard architecture.

Optional for both students and faculty, the seminars have been a huge hit. One hundred forty students signed up for at least one of the 24 seminars offered by 21 faculty members. Class sizes range from as few as five to as many as 20 students, and seminars vary in length and duration. All, of course, are held online.

“It was amazing to meet people with similar interests and make the most of summer in a global pandemic,” said Maddie Lallier ’24.

One of the seminars she chose was “COVID, Squirrels and Risk” taught by Dr. Shani Peretz, director of the Research Science Signature Experience. The course explored the question, “How do we weigh the pros and cons of our behavior during this COVID-19 crisis?” by examining how animals cope with risk. Participants designed observational experiments on animal behavior as it relates to the risks and benefits of foraging for food.

“I found a group of friendly science enthusiasts in the seminar who met outside of class to continue an experiment,” said Lallier. “That led to invitations to two other seminars!”

Senior Jackson Cook was pleasantly surprised to see new Falcons in teacher Matthew Roach’s “Writing the Pandemic” course. “I wasn’t aware that incoming freshmen were going to be in the seminar, and I particularly enjoyed hearing thoughts from people I’d never met before who will join us in the fall.”

Students new to Peddie appreciated the chance to get to know faculty and fellow students and to gain experience using Peddie’s online learning tools. Sukhroop Singh, an incoming freshman, participated in as many seminars as he could.

"I wasn't aware that incoming freshmen were going to be in the seminar, and I particularly enjoyed hearing thoughts from people I'd never met before who will join us in the fall."

“I wanted to get an initial feeling for the Peddie experience,” Singh said. “How academics are taught and how discussions would work, especially in an online setting. All of my classes used breakout rooms, which allowed teachers to separate participants for smaller group discussions. It helped to bring new opinions to the table and allowed us to get better acquainted with one another.”

Several seminars, like “Writing the Pandemic,” “Art of Pandemics,” and “The 2020 Election,” centered around current events, while others provided a temporary escape from the news. Director of Asian Studies Dr. Beverly Jiang offered a course called “Storytime,” which explored Chinese legends, mini-stories, idioms and movies.

“The stories illustrated many of the ideas and traditions behind the diverse Chinese culture,” said Santiago Galvan ’22. “And I liked that there was an explanation behind each of the stories that gave non-Chinese students some background on their significance.”

Spanish teacher Josh Brown advises Spectrum, Peddie’s gender and sexuality affinity group. Inspired by a Q&A they hosted during Peddie Pride Week this spring, Brown developed a summer seminar titled “InQUEERy: The Current State of Gender and Sexuality.” Merelle Grillo ’22 is a Spectrum co-leader and was thrilled to see the response to the seminar.

“It’s cool to see all these kids who are so excited about Spectrum and get to know them now, before school starts; the energy they’re throwing at us is amazing.”

Some faculty have used the seminars as a chance to teach outside of their discipline. Science teacher Karolina Fraczkowska is holding a book club seminar on “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas. 

"It's cool to see all these kids are so excited about Spectrum and get to know them now, before school starts."

The group meets bi-weekly with the goal of finishing the book by summer’s end. Her colleague Dr. Katy Lambson, Ph.D. happens to be an experienced Scottish Highland dancer and thought — since this type of dance doesn’t require ample space or the need for specific equipment — she could offer students the opportunity to learn something new while getting in a good workout.

“It might seem embarrassing to learn a dance in a class of peers, but everyone is so friendly, and mistakes are part of the lessons,” said Arantxa Galvan '21.

Junior Kate Guittari was happy to have a chance to learn about subjects outside of the standard curriculum with her peers and teachers, who provided much-needed comfort during an uncertain time. She signed up for three diverse seminars: “Service and Sacrifice,” “Cool Math Videos” and “Comedy Improv.”

“‘Cool Math Videos’ was taught by my former math teacher, and I learned about areas of math I never knew existed. And ‘Comedy Improv’ made for a lighter outlet during the pandemic.”

English teacher Austin Frank taught “Service and Sacrifice: A Search for Team,” which focused on discovering leadership and selflessness through people and organizations whose ethos represents those values.

“‘Service and Sacrifice’ has been a unique opportunity because we had guest speakers in the fields of law enforcement, the military, medicine and athletics join the class to describe their life experiences,” said Guittari.

“There are many versions of service and sacrifice – it is not exclusive to specific fields,” Frank explained. “While the curriculum was built around several defined fields, the group was able to explore a variety of areas where these values come to life.” 

As important as the subject matter in each course, Peddie Summer Seminars have also brought students and faculty together.

“My old school didn’t use the same online tools as Peddie, so I was surprised when we went into breakout rooms,” said freshman Sophia Wu. “It was fun to talk with peers outside of the full classroom and work in small groups – everyone was amazingly nice and welcoming, and my teachers were passionate. I felt a sense of belonging almost instantly.”