What Is That?

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For nearly 25 years, in the dark and chilly days of winter, Lower School Mini Term has encouraged students and faculty alike to break free of their routines, to adventure and explore, and to ignite brightening sparks of curiosity and learning in new and alluring dimensions.

Black and almost spiderlike, it had five legs — long, slender, and spikey. Extraterrestrial as it looked, it was instead a creature of the ocean, a scavenger that normally inhabits the reefs of Tonga and the Indo Pacific. On this day, it was serving as an ocean ambassador of sorts for an eager group of third- and fourthgrade boys gathered for a Brunswick tradition now approaching its 25th year, Mini Term. “Who wants to touch it?” our guide for the day, assistant manager of Greenwich’s House of Fins Pete Izzo, asked.

Every single hand in the room went up. One of the first to get the chance to hold the creature was fourth-grader Emil Damji. “It tickles when he moves,” Damji said, making a face. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” exclaimed Lower School Head Katie Signer. Known in some circles as a Brittle Serpent Star, the creature is an animal related to the friendlier looking ordinary starfish. It is classified in the family of Ophiuroidea, which Upper School classics teacher Nicholas Salazar confirms to be a Latin word derived from the ancient Greek word for serpent.

The creature is definitely not the kind of thing one normally encounters in a New England winter. Which is exactly the point. Mini Term has long served as a chance for students and teachers at the Lower School to take a break from the routine of reading and math in the dead of Connecticut winter, and look with fresh eyes at topics of their choice. As a community, the School steps back to collaborate, take risks, and get to know each other across grade levels.

This year, the boys gathered around the theme “Dig Deep.” Students chose from a wide range of courses, including everything from Coding to Camels & Caravans of the Silk Road, from rapping with Hamilton in “The Room Where It Happens” to out-of-this-world experiences in the deepest ocean. “The goal of the Mini Term was to literally ‘dig deep’ into a variety of different themes,” Signer said. “Scheduled intentionally to give us an energizing boost, this multiday, multi-grade-level experience allowed students tobuild new friendships with boys in other grades, teachers to work with different colleagues and students, and everyone to enjoy a deeper exploration of a variety of topics. “We reworked the schedule to give us longer blocks of time and utilized different spaces on campus. In turn, students enjoyed project-based learning, explored different cultures, and engaged in collaborative exercises. “The feedback from the boys, our teachers, and the parents was ‘Mini Term was the BEST!’”

Challenger Deep IF YOU ARE GOING to dive deep, you’d better know how to snorkel. And so, on an icy day in February, a handful of Lower School boys bundled up against the cold to make the trek across campus to Brunswick’s natatorium. There, Director of Aquatics Dawn Berrocal offered a lesson in how to catch your breath and visit the world of fish. After indicating their preferences, the boys had landed in the Diving Deep course organized by Signer and fourth-grade head teacher Jennifer Spaulding. They spent the morning learning to snorkel, and by afternoon were ready to take a fresh look at a sometimes overlooked part of their day-to-day life. Entering the Lower School has always been an aquatic adventure of sorts: Two aquariums flank the entryway immediately inside the front door.

The tanks might well become part of the background in the busy lives of Lower School boys. Mini Term served as an opportunity to pause and really ask the question: Who is that living among us? On hand to help answer that question was that same Mr. Izzo from House of Fins. Izzo helped the boys carefully identify each creature in the tanks, from the carnivorous volitan lionfish that seemed to be the star of the show to the tomato clownfish that all start off as male but can metamorphose into females.

Another celebrity in the tank was the shy but seemingly quite healthy large hermit crab, who finally climbed out of hiding to make an appearance. A collection of exotic fish ferried in from House of Fins provided further lessons for the boys. The sea star proved to be one of the stars of the show-and-tell, but also popular was an angler fish that has fins that double as feet to help him walk on the bottom of ocean; two tiny strawberry crabs; and a teeny tiny, remarkably agile horseshoe crab that made the boys giggle.

The Diving Deep lesson also saw the Lower School conference room transformed for boys considering just how deep the ocean really is. Charts lined the walls illustrating the sunlight zone, the twilight zone, and the abyss of the midnight zone. The vast darkness of this zone includes the forbidding Marianas Trench, which at 35,462 feet deep is more than 7,000 feet deeper than Mount Everest is tall. The deepest part of the trench?

Challenger Deep. Superhero Strength MINI TERM was first brought to the Lower School by fourthgrade head teacher Susie Foyle, who discovered the concept while working for her previous employer in Manhattan at Trevor Day School. Mini Term, which a change in the calendar has enabled the Middle School to implement as well, sees educators take a risk and scrap the safety of routine in favor of independent learning of students’ choice. This year, the Lower School theme of “Dig Deep” was explored in 15 different course offerings: Boys got the chance to play the role of paleontologist, dive into delicious delights in the dining room, act out leadership and team building, and engineer some solutions for astronauts to safely move from space to Earth. Overall, Mini Term provides a chance to push and challenge kids in new ways. “I think the boys get fired up about it,” Foyle said. Architecture provided the spark of imagination in one course taught by Lower School assistant teachers Janine Lalli and Dana Egan. “Mark Your Spot, Build It to the Top” invited boys to research, create, design, and construct their own versions of famous structures around the globe.

Stirring some excitement for one of the boys was the Akashi-Kaikyo bridge, which spans the Akashi Strait in Japan and links the city of Kobe to Awaji Island. The bridge was built to withstand ferocious conditions in the region, including savage winds and earthquakes up to 8.5 on the Richter scale. Such superhero strength caught the imagination of fourth-grader Jackson Singsen, who with his partner was working to make a tiny replica of the span. “An 8.5 earthquake, just so you know, is like the Death Star,” he exclaimed to a visitor. “It’s enough to destroy a planet.” Hip-Hop, the American Revolution, Coding: Pick Your Passion ELSEWHERE in the building, boys were digging deep into fascinating details of the world around us, getting colorful as they made ceremonial shields linked to their own ancestry or using computer coding to make a Sphero ball do what it was told. They tested out their skills in a runway of sorts in a Lower School hallway, investing all their energy into making it move according to plan. “Turn! Turn!” the boys pleaded. “Go forward!” “It will work!” said third-grader Charlie Sulkowski. “Yay!”

In another classroom, quiet was the rule as boys got to enjoy some chamomile tea on their way to visit Jerash, a stopover on the Silk Road. Another room was opposite again — loud and modern as boys dug deep into American history and modern hip-hop storytelling at the same time. Playing loudly in this room was the soundtrack to the mega-hit musical Hamilton, including“The Story of Tonight.” In the dining hall, Delicious Delights provided the chance to make pretzels, starting with the inexplicably pleasing task of kneading the dough. “It’s goopy,” said second-grader Luke Velasco. “I like the texture.” “It kind of makes your hands feel good,” noted Jack Konzerowksy, a second-grader.

And in the Atrium, Times of Brunswick got to consider a different era completely, as boys tested out their parachute systems for landing pods re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. They dropped their creations off an interior balcony, giving the budding engineers a chance to make note of any failures that might have injured the “astronauts.”

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