APRIL 2018
Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

Students Enjoy ‘Bespoke’ Class at Oxford

Demarest, NJ: Most students have to wait until their college years to take a “bespoke class,” but multiple high schoolers from the Academy of the Holy Angels recently enjoyed a made to order critical thinking class at Oxford University. During their stay in England, the group also sharpened their oral presentation skills.

Nancy Schneberger, chair of the AHA English Department, was the driving force behind this exceptional trip. While she was attending a Gilder Lehrman seminar at Oxford last summer, Schneberger met James Basker, founder of the Oxbridge Academic Programs, and their association led to this month’s study abroad experience.

“I told him that I wanted to establish a program for Holy Angels, and he put me in touch with the current executive director, Dr. Richard Michaelis. I composed a curriculum for Holy Angels students in critical thinking and Richard and I worked together to create a bespoke class for our students, complete with activities that would enhance the curriculum, such as a visit to a Buddhist monastery and leisure activities that would occupy the students when they weren't in class, and a visit to the nearby Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill,” Schneberger explained.

Extracurricular activities included a lesson on how to play cricket, and trips to view the collections at the Ashmolean Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum. The Angels also visited Thirsty Meeples, a local game café.

Gail Fair, who heads the AHA Social Studies Department, also made the trip to Oxford.

“Because this study abroad experience focused on critical thinking and public speaking, I believe these disciplines form some of the key stepping stones to success in all of our classes,” Fair commented. “In social studies classes, it is crucial to see all perspectives to make informed decisions on issues that are often controversial. Our students have gained deeper insight as they considered the ideas of classical philosophers and how applicable they are in today's society. In the public speaking classes, some students began tentatively but grew more confident as the week progressed. Using many different techniques, the instructors all encouraged the girls to make their voices heard. At the final session, each girl spoke for five minutes on a topic of her choosing that addressed a profound thought. It was wonderful to listen to them express themselves with confidence and depth. I have more than half of the attendees in my classes this year and I am already seeing the fruits of their experience in the way that they are involved in class discussions.”

AHA senior Lourdes Sydney Otis clearly enjoyed her experience in Oxford. The Upper Saddle River resident said, "The city was beautiful and the people were amazing. What made my learning experience so much more valuable was that the classes were discussion based.”

Although she had not met all of her traveling companions beforehand, Otis was able to get to know several students as she listened to their opinions on various topics.

Sophomore Shannon Garrity added, “I can honestly say I had the most amazing time in England. Not only did I learn so much about myself and about how to view the world, but I also made new friendships and memories I would never have made without the trip. The classes we took at Oxford taught me so much. I learned to look at the world in a different way.”

Garrity added that she learned the value of viewing situations from viewpoints she had not previously considered.

“I would say one of the most important lessons I was able to take away from this experience is that it’s okay to have an opinion that is different from everyone else’s,” Garrity reflected. “It was nice to be able to freely speak and discuss our views and be able to explain ourselves.”

She also gained valuable public speaking skills that range from vocal techniques and posture to methods for connecting with an audience. She said she is already using her new skills.

The Old Tappan resident also appreciated the time she and her peers spent in meditation.

“(Meditation) was truly an eye-opening experience for me, and is something I try to do more often now since it gives me such a sense of peace,” Garrity said.

Noting that the educational experience and new public speaking skills have enhanced her confidence, Garrity concluded, “This Oxford course was one of the best things I have ever done, and I can say that it truly changed me for the better.”

Allendale resident Lucy McAuliffe, a junior at Holy Angels, said her time at Oxford was transformative.

“I was challenged in ways that I could never imagine,” McAuliffe said. “I realized that, at home, I tend to look at everything as if there is a fixed answer, but in reality, there are many things that can't be answered so simply.”

She found the group’s exploration of philosophy and morality challenging and worthwhile.

“I also made a significant amount of new friendships and memories. I don't think I've ever laughed so much over such a short span of time,” she added. “Some of my favorite activities included playing cricket, attending a football match, and exploring the city with friends.”

Participants also included Camila Correa of Demarest; Megan Cvekus and Caroline “Carly” Tolin of River Edge; Julia Farah of Pearl River, New York; Annabel Hazrati of Little Ferry; Samantha Herrera and Amanda Siemsen of Ramsey; Madelyn Holmes of Blauvelt, New York; Mackenzie Hughes and Erin Maron of Oradell; Donatella Leon of Cliffside Park; Nataleen Orangian of River Vale; Radhika Shukla of Ridgewood; Nina Valente of New Milford; Gillian van der Have of West Nyack, New York; and Paulina Yannitsadis of Fair Lawn.

Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.


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