What is J-Term? When I was in college, we had to take a course that lasted for the entirety of January. I could choose from required semester courses that were condensed into a few weeks or I could choose from fun courses that fulfilled elective requirements. I remember my courses well. One such course was Spanish and we listened to or spoke Spanish ONLY from 8:00am – 3:00pm every day! My roommates and I were communicating in Spanish and I was thinking and dreaming in Spanish by the time it was over. Another course I took was Media and Culture where we would watch movies and discuss how the movies represented different aspects of current culture. J-Terms are memorable, and this is why many high schools are implementing a J-Term at their school.
Several years later I had the pleasure of teaching many J-Term courses to high schoolers. Our school’s J-Term was only two weeks long and students had to choose three different courses that they would have for two hours every day. I was given the liberty to come up with whatever topics I wanted to teach, so the possibilities were endless. One J-Term course I dreamed up was titled “To Be or Not To Be,” an internship course. Ninth through twelfth grade students could sign up for this course, but they were in charge of finding their own internship, which meant communicating with professionals within the community. My daughter took advantage of this herself. She got to work with and learn from a physical therapy clinic, including a day at a pediatric branch. She gleaned so much from this experience and had awesome stories every single day to share with us. Internships like this allow students to get a glimpse of what a career would be like and if they want to possibly pursue that career after high school.
Another fun experience involving the internship class was when a student of mine spent time at the small airport in town. I actually got to go up in a rickety plane with him and his instructor for his first take-off! I thought it might be my last day here on earth, so I said my goodbyes to my family and walked out the door, not knowing if I would be walking back through the door at the end of the day as usual. Talk about exciting! It was exhilarating, and I was so proud of my student. Those are lifelong memories for me as a teacher as well as for my students.
A final internship story involves students who were given the opportunity to go shadow in the medical field. We had a parent who was an obstetrician and some of my students got to observe a live birth as well as a Cesarean section. This experience excited them about going into the medical field, and it helped to motivate them to do well in their current classes in order to get into college and do what they are passionate about.
On to my next J-Term course. I have lived a lot of life making unhealthy choices when it comes to eating. Several years ago, my husband and I jumped on the Whole30 bandwagon, read the book, and did several rounds of Whole30. For those of you who have no idea what this is, the short of it is that you have absolutely NO dairy, wheat, soy, artificial ingredients or additives, or added sugar of any kind for 30 days. Then, after those thirty days, you slowly add back in one of those categories to see how it affects your body. I became passionate about healthy eating and living and decided to do a second J-Term Course called “It Starts With Food.”
In the course, we read the eponymous book by Hartwig and Hartwig, we made grocery lists, we went on a field trip and shopped at a huge produce warehouse as well as Aldi, and we cooked and ate our delicious creations at my house. Students were challenged to do the Whole30 for the two weeks of J-Term, though many did not have the self-control to stick to it. I had a student on the first day of class say, “Today is my first day of Whole30!” And then she continued to say the same thing every single day of the class because she ate something that wasn’t Whole30 the day before. Students would encourage each other and keep each other accountable. I had one student who didn’t encourage herself, however. She missed her food so much that she set her desktop background as cookies one day and the cheese curds from Culvers the next! Throughout this J-Term, we had great discussions of how food can take hold of our every thought and how it can be an actual addiction, even if we’re not overweight. Students became introspective and analyzed the “why’s” of their poor eating habits. We came to the realization together that eating healthy shouldn’t be hard. Many things in life are hard, but eating and living healthy shouldn’t be one of them.
The final J-Term course I want to share about I titled, “Debt Free Degree,” which was a spinoff from Ramsey Personality Anthony O’Neal’s book. I taught Financial Peace at my school and have been through his program personally. I wish I would have had this knowledge when I was the age of my students. This J-Term was simply a time for juniors and seniors to dedicate their efforts toward filling out college applications as well as scouring the internet for scholarships to apply for. January begins a time I have labeled the “senior scramble” when they begin to realize that time is quickly running out to research ways to pay for college or they will be stuck with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans.
Freshmen and Sophomores were also encouraged to sign up for this class but they had different items on their agenda. They read through the “Debt Free Degree” book together with me and they began to map out things to do each year of high school that would help them go to college debt free. This included creating an Excel worksheet and listing out scholarships they could apply for and when. Believe it or not, there are scholarships students can fill out as freshmen! Who knew?! The underclassmen also took some career and personality assessments to help them better understand what types of careers would be the best fit for them. Students learned that the best way to go to college debt free is to spend an average of 30-60 minutes per day filling out scholarships.
Other J-Term courses that have been offered throughout the years include mission trips to Haiti; Advanced Mammalian Dissection; Guitar Worship; Judge, Juries, and the Court; It’s a Foul!; The Art of Serving; Ceramics; Leadership Academy; X-Fit and Mental Resilience; Reader’s Theatre; Board Game Strategies; and many, many more.
J-Term is a valuable time to connect with students in a different setting with no pressure of homework and tests. It is simply a pass or fail class. It allows teachers to truly get to know their students and their passions, and to forge a relationship with them that goes beyond the walls of the school and academics for years to come. Students feel more comfortable with their teachers and, therefore, will likely end up doing more of their homework simply because they have a bond with them and don’t want to disappoint them. As you can see, the benefits of J-Term are many and, I believe, have a profound impact on students and teachers alike.