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Design Challenge Workshop Helps Orient Ninth-Graders to Upper School

It's hard enough starting high school, but imagine being a ninth-grader during COVID-19 times, especially if you transfer to OES from another school. 

This school year, a unique solution to orientation has evolved in the Upper School. The Ninth Grade Design Challenge Workshop, a weekly event, is allowing students the opportunity to learn more about themselves, their peers, and how to be a successful OES student.

“The main goal of the Design Challenge is to extend orientation for ninth graders during virtual learning,” Upper School Health and Wellness Teacher and Ninth-Grade Dean Austin Pritchard said. “We also work to build a system of thinking that students will be able to use in any class, and to build skills that help them to collaborate with peers, manage time, advocate for themselves, and make decisions."

The Design Challenge Workshop was created with the understanding that students will need more time to orient to OES because they are off-campus learning distantly, and more time to collaborate with peers in low-stakes settings. 

“We are hoping to build skills that support students’ learning and help them grow in all of their classes as they adapt to a virtual setting,” Pritchard said.

Ninth-Grade Design Challenge

Each week's Design Challenges ninth-graders are collaborating on solutions for to help them acclimate to the Upper School.

Each Wednesday morning, all ninth-grade students gather virtually to spotlight three ninth-graders. Then, they are presented with a challenge for the week, such as creating a mission-driven experiential education activity or a campaign to market OES's boarding school. 

Next, students split into groups and design a solution using the inquiry process, and come back together as a large group the next week to present solutions. A rotating group of guest speakers from the OES community work with students to devise their solutions.

“This is one of the few times that ninth-grade day students get to gather as a whole class,” Pritchard said. “They are collaborating in groups that are not their advisory groups, so they are making new connections. This is not for a grade, or for anything other than expanding their knowledge of OES.”

Inquiry, collaboration, and OES’s Essential Competencies are all emphasized during the challenges. On top of it all, our youngest Upper Schoolers are getting to know each other and having a good time.

“This hour has brought so much joy and laughter to the community and helped to build class connections and culture,” Pritchard said. “Each week, students are engaging with one another, showcasing new skills and ideas, and the levels of creativity are amazing.”