My sophomore roommate in college was a Jewish girl from Silver Spring who had a pair of cool sweatpants from her high school after-prom party. But who has after-prom sweatpants? Everyone knows prom season is May, way after sweatpants season. Turns out, my sophomore roommate had gone to a kind of famous Jewish day school in Maryland where the senior prom was in January, they graduated in February, and then most of the class spent the entire spring in Israel. That school sounded great. And of course, that school is now my school, CESJDS. And that spring semester in Israel? I coordinate that program now.
This is my third year working with the Irene and Daniel Simpkins Senior Capstone Israel Trip. Just yesterday I joined families in front of the Upper School to welcome back the Class of 2017 from Israel. They arrived after a very long day of traveling, about twenty-four hours. And they looked tired. But they also looked tanned and happy and relaxed. That look is one of the reasons I love CESJDS's senior trips.
There's a lot of research about the benefits of gap time between high school and college, most of it pointing toward the importance of academic rest. We should be proud of our rigorous academic programs at CESJDS. But by the time they graduate, it's safe to say that many of our students are academically tired. They've spent a large portion of their lives in a classroom. Many are pretty sure they know everything. At the very least, they assume they can find everything they need to know on their smartphones. What gap programs like our senior trips offer is a chance to see just how much there still is to learn. And how many ways there are to learn it.
Inside CESJDS, we teach in classrooms, sometimes on the athletic fields. On the Irene and Daniel Simpkins Senior Capstone Israel Trip, the country of Israel is the classroom. The streets of Prague too. True, participants sit in seminars and hear lectures by members of the teaching staff at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, who facilitate our trips. But then they walk in Roman ruins. They pick vegetables and paint fences on kibbutz. They shvitz in the desert and shiver in Poland. They hear the call of the muezzin in the mosques in the Old City. They hike, swim, and ride. They have an immersive, all-senses-engaged three months, and they get to have it with all their friends and classmates. It's pretty awesome. I mean that in the most literal sense, by the way; to me, this program is awe-inspiring.
It turns out that this kind of Torah Lishmah, learning for learning's sake, provides one of the most important benefits of gap time before college. In addition to offering rest for the academically weary, our senior trips allow for an unparalleled growth experience. Yes, the Class of 2017 came off the buses yesterday physically tired. But they're intellectually awake in a way that will only help them succeed in college and beyond. They are Jewish citizens of the world now. So as they sport their after-prom sweatpants to college roommates in the fall, I think our newest alumni will have a lot to be proud of.
Nancy Wassner is a High School English teacher and coordinator of the Irene and Daniel Simpkins Senior Capstone Israel Trip at CESJDS.
View the Senior Trip Blog to read more about the Class of 2017's journey to Israel and Eastern Europe.