Long Island Lutheran’s learning ‘beyond boundaries’


Earlier this month, Long Island Lutheran Middle-High School celebrated the end of quarterly assessments with the beginning of Beyond Boundaries, an annual schoolwide project in which students and faculty engage in creative, interactive coursework.

Beyond Boundaries was introduced at LuHi four years ago, in lieu of midterms. “After Hurricane Sandy, we needed to reclaim some classroom time,” said upper school Principal Denis Scannell. “We realized we could capture a week and do something entirely different, and create a situation where we could change the schedule entirely, and really dig into student and teacher creativity.”

Middle school Principal Chris Reno said that during development for the weeklong project, a lot of experiential ideas came up. “Teachers were coming up with more hands-on ways of learning,” he said. “I think it’s something that they’re passionate about — they have ownership over the different topics and areas they pick.”

Each year, Beyond Boundaries has a central theme. For 2018, teachers, and even some students, were tasked with coming up with their own course offerings.

“We asked teachers during our back-to-school meetings, ‘If you could teach anything for a week, what would it be?’” said Jessica Raba, LuHi’s director of teaching and learning. “Our students had the choice of over 50 courses.”

The halls of LuHi were busy with students working and learning as they engaged in an array of academic activities. The cafeteria was transformed into a base camp for the course Into the Wild, where students learned tent-making, how to use a compass, first aid, and other survival skills.

Down the hall, students crafted murals for the course Make Your Mark. “We wanted to leave a legacy behind for incoming students, so we came up with an awareness project,” said Tess Pepe, a junior.

Senior Kaitlin Thomas explained that a calendar categorized the school’s various charity projects. The participants then decided they would create a corresponding mural to symbolize how, through charity work, the school and the students grew together.

Up the stairs, a chemistry classroom became the site of LuHi’s own flea market. Students in the Flea Market Flip course were asked to repurpose a household item into something shiny and new. Sawdust sailed through the air as students taking part in a furniture making course constructed various items from scratch using shop tools and heavy machinery. Middle schoolers in the M&M’s in Minecraft course were encouraged to use the computer game to learn about math.

Computer teacher Christine Dragos said that since the participants were familiar with the program, it added a fun component to learning. “We’re using Minecraft to build math concepts,” she said. “They all know the program, they like it, and by using it they’re motivated to do more difficult concepts that they wouldn’t normally do.”

Down the hall, costume makeup and beauty blenders replaced paint and brushes in the art room for The Magic of Stage Make-Up course. Junior Jen Reinhart brought the original idea for a special effects makeup course to Scannell.

“I asked him if I could wear special-effects makeup on Halloween,” she said. “When he asked what kind, I showed him some examples of what I do, and he thought it was so cool and that I should teach it as a course for Beyond Boundaries.”

Raba said that bringing student creativity to the forefront is what the project is all about. “The premise of this is that the students really get involved, and we’re building that student-centered experience in the classroom, and they’re discovering passions maybe they didn’t know they had,” she said.

“At your typical school, students get a grade on a piece of paper, but there’s not a whole lot out there as far as what that grade actually means,” Scannell said. “This gives students the opportunity to really own their learning, which doesn’t really happen in the modern-day, factory model of school.”

Reno added that teachers recorded their self-made syllabi on a curriculum map, so administrators could consider reoffering certain courses in the future.

Raba said that although Beyond Boundaries is fun, it is academically challenging. “There’s a tangible end result in some of these courses, and the students have to meet those demands in a very authentic way,” she said. “It develops those skills that are going to take them into their careers, beyond their college experience.”

“It’s good that we get to take a week from school to do things that we’re interested in,” junior Ethan Russell said, “and you get to learn more than the things you would just learn in class.”

Scannell said that providing a structure in which teachers and students can see one another in a different learning environment is a part of the reason he studied education. “It’s a field rife with opportunity,” he said. “To impact the lives of young people and help them grow, and part of that is trying to create a framework to allow that to happen.”