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High School Students Reflect on Summer Academy Experience

October 30, 2019 | By Anne Kniggendorf

The Summer Academy is a one- to three-week program for high school age students. 

Going into the St. John’s College Summer Academy, high school junior Claire O’Dwyer was pretty nervous. She’d flown all the way to Santa Fe from her hometown in Carroll County, MD at the encouragement of her mother and wasn’t sure what to expect.

When she sat at the seminar table, however, those feelings disappeared.

“I was really surprised that I felt very comfortable,” O’Dwyer says, “and I felt like I could say whatever I wanted, and someone would be there to be like, ‘Oh, I see what you’re saying, and here’s something to support that.’ I never really felt like I was being looked down upon for my thoughts.”

O’Dwyer spent two weeks on campus and enjoyed meeting a variety of different students, some of whom she has stayed in touch with—but the seminar discussions on Genesis, too, have stayed with her.

“I’ve known the story very well since I was little, but there were some ideas that really challenged what I knew,” she says. “It’s so crazy that there are people my age who have completely different backgrounds, so have completely different outlooks on the same exact material.”

She plans to apply for the undergraduate program next year. In the meantime, she says that the way she’ll approach her remaining time in high school has changed.

As she puts it, “I end up being less focused on getting a good grade and more really just learning and pushing myself in a way that is good for me.”

Unlike O’Dwyer, high school senior Aidan Shannon was quite familiar with St. John’s. Initially, the San Juan Islands native said, he just wanted to attend the Summer Academy to learn more about the college.

As he read more about the seminars and tutorials on offer, though, he began to get excited about the Academy itself.

“I really enjoyed it,” Shannon says. “I thought it was a lot better than the kind of learning I’m used to, where you’re just in a classroom and being told how things are. Getting to talk to people who are similarly interested in these kinds of things was a nice change.”

He plans to take the St. John’s style of learning into his high school, he says, and wants to “be better at talking to other people in a classroom and getting them to share their ideas instead of just sharing [his] own.”

While the St. John’s style of education was very exciting to him, Shannon says he was particularly interested in the Santa Fe campus’ outdoor offerings. In fact, it was the Outdoor Program—and its day hikes, rock climbing, and snowboard trips—that encouraged him to apply for the 2020-21 academic year.

“Not only are they the kind of people that’ll read and read and read all these really difficult books, but there is that physical outdoor aspect,” he says. “[It] maybe would not be what you expect at the reading college, but it’s there for sure.”

Experiences like O’Dwyer’s and Shannon’s are an essential part of what the Summer Academy offers—a chance to experience the St. John’s College style of education and get a sense of one’s academic and extracurricular interests. Some students choose to apply to St. John’s after the experience, and others don’t, but they all leave campus with a better sense of themselves and what they want from their education.

“[High school students] are looking for a summer academic program to help them as they start to think about the college experience,” says tutor Claudia Hauer, who has taught at the Sumer Academy since its inception on the Santa Fe campus in 2011. “We’re trying to offer them a sense of what kind of a college they might choose.”