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South Jordan Journal

AAI students enhance academic studies with weeklong immersion

Apr 26, 2021 11:04AM ● By Julie Slama

In fall 2020, American Academy of Innovation students learned, performed and filmed a choreographed dance routine as part of the school’s weeklong immersion program. (Photo courtesy of American Academy of Innovation.)

By Julie Slama|[email protected]

Last fall, American Academy of Innovation teacher Melissa Chipman offered her students an “On the Wall Art Mural” immersion. In late March, she was slated to take students on an online humanitarian trip to Mexico.

The weeklong immersion courses are offered to the 410 seventh through 12th grade students between terms.

“It’s somewhat unique in that we offer a dedicated single week that allows teachers to teach one of their passions and have our students explore their interests,” AAI Academic Director Ryan Hagge said. “We give a lot of choice; they’re greatly diverse and student-engaging.”

The courses, which have varied from siege warfare to dance video immersion in the past, are proposed by teachers, who submit three ideas to the counseling department. After a preliminary survey of students and to ensure there are no duplications, courses are selected. 

“As part of the balance, they try to offer ideas that include a range from outdoors and field trips to indoor expansion of studies. We make sure there is enough offered to all age groups and make adjustments to ideas if we need to,” he said about some of the classes being earmarked for senior high students, junior high students or all students.

This past March, some of the courses included home renovations and flipping, skateboarding, Bob Ross painting, racquet sports, Thai language and culture, and text and textiles.

Last year, Hagge offered fly fishing to students. They learned about the terrain, casting and what kind of insect to use. 

“While most immersions have a cap of 20 students, our outdoor immersions are limited to 10 students to one teacher,” he said. “When we took students to Moab, we had 30 kids and four chaperones. We are intentionally project- or experience-based school. We want kids to learn something valuable when they do a project or are in an immersion class.”

Hagge used the online humanitarian trip to Mexico as an example. 

“It’s not just a tourist experience, although they could list sights and the significance of those,” he said. “They will help plan meals, learn how to get a passport and go through that process. They will learn how what is being done will impact others and their society and culture. It’s a little more vibrant than math for a week.” 

While not mandated, Hagge said that if the course is aligned with specific standards and the teacher is certified, students can receive one-quarter credit in that field. Typically, students fulfill a general elective one-quarter credit unless they propose an independent immersion, which may earn them one-half credit.

Hagge said that last year, a student designed an independent immersion. He used his knowledge and abilities as an experienced climber to scale area peaks and wrote and published a climbing guide working alongside the state’s Department of Land Management.

However, he said most students select a course taught by teachers or staff. During the two years the immersion week has been offered, students have learned how to fix bicycles, studied war and peace in the Middle East, immersed themselves in cultural baking and cooking, created a drumline with trash cans, mastered digital photography, produced a one-act play, built a 3D printer and more.

“The kids love it,” Hagge said. “This immersion week may ignite a spark, something that may interest them and start a whole new passion.”