Papers in the printer. Desk chairs askew. Plastic shields hanging between desks. It’s not a scene in a post-apocalyptic film; it’s just one of the real-life experiences that students in The Hun School’s NextTerm: The New Normal saw firsthand during a trip to New York City. During the day-long visit, students and faculty witnessed the impact the pandemic had on everything from street traffic to retail stores, and visited the offices of a creative marketing agency located in the Financial District where they learned how Covid-19 impacted the daily lives of office workers. Later that day, students met with an architect who designs hospitals and health care facilities to learn how he turned around designs for temporary facilities during the height of the pandemic.
NextTerm, a three-week mini-semester, is a groundbreaking program designed to offer Hun students an experiential, interdisciplinary academic experience with real-world implications. Few things have had more real-world implications than the Covid-19 pandemic, which was the focus of The New Normal: Life in a Post-Pandemic World.
“A course such as the New Normal is as experiential as it gets: students and teachers alike are delving into issues that nobody had ever witnessed or experienced before,” says Dr. Isaia Crosson, faculty member, modern languages and classics, and class co-leader.
Students in the class studied the impact of the pandemic on the world, its place in history, and its possible effects on the future. They heard from a wide spectrum of guest speakers including the Princeton Department of Health, the president of the Princeton Council, the CEO of a nanotechnology company, small business owners in Princeton, a restaurant manager, and a Dean of Princeton University.
“The most impactful activity we did in class was visit the local businesses in Princeton because we got to hear directly from owners of small shops — there was nothing that was watered down and we could not only see how their stores were impacted, but also hear about how their landlords reacted, how or if they pivoted, and how they work with their suppliers,” says Gabriel Huang ’22.
After more than two weeks of immersive study, students broke into teams to collaborate on a final project for the final showcase of all NextTerm classes. Students in the New Normal were tasked with looking ahead to the future. “Deploying creative media and tools (comic book; virtual reality design; news clip), the students' final projects allowed them to forecast intelligently and to speculate creatively what our world might look like in the year 2035 (when they will be young adults!), based on trends rooted in the pandemic experience of 2020-2021,” says Dr. Ahmet Bayazitoglu, faculty member, English, and class co-leader.
“The unprecedented nature of this pandemic has forced students to use all of their intellectual ingenuity and creativity to come up with plausible solutions and scenarios for how the world could look like in our near future,” says Dr. Crosson. “Students have a much better sense of how to be cosmopolitan citizens in our quickly changing world, and have understood the importance of perfecting multiple skills in order to adapt to challenging circumstances.”
Students tackled the state of the post-pandemic world from four unique vantage points: science and technology, sports and entertainment, business, and architecture. The science and technology created a comic book to illustrate the future of medical science, another filmed a video spotlighting the changes they expect to see in sports (the growth of e-sports and the reimagining of the movie theatre experience were just two examples).
Massimiliano Verduci ’23 was a member of the business group: “I really loved the final project because I could explore my passion for business in a time of crisis (Covid-19). Using my knowledge of business and the pandemic, along with some detailed interviews with various business owners, my group and I were able to visualize what business and the economy may look like in 2035.”
The architecture team designed a New York City skyscraper with a flexible space concept, designed to adapt to the needs of a changing workforce. “Being a part of the architecture team as my final project has taught me that I am capable of adapting to new situations and that our teachers are there to guide us every step of the way but what made this project meaningful was that my class and I were able to learn from different people from a variety of job perspectives,” says Victoria Yee ’22. These past two weeks have forced me to apply myself to many things I did not pay much attention to previously.”
The New Normal is associated with NextTerm, a three-week experiential mini-semester that Hun students in grades 9 - 11 participate in each spring. NextTerm courses are project based, credit courses, that fall outside the constraints of typical disciplines and classrooms. Through NextTerm, Hun students examine some of the more pressing issues and ideas of our time, with the flexibility and resources to explore. NextTerm 9, the freshman experience, focuses on Climate Change, whereas NextTerm courses for 10th and 11th graders explore a variety of real-world topics from “The New Normal,” the economic and societal impacts of a pandemic, to “Good Trouble,” which explores the fundamentals of activism.