Summer Roundup: Adult and Youth Academic Programs

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by Bethany Geiger ‘10

This summer, Bard College at Simon’s Rock introduced two new academic programs to our campus: The Berkshire Writing Workshop, an adult program for writers from all over the country, and the Simon’s Rock Summer Youth Enrichment Program, a day program designed to offer local teenagers the experience of studying at Simon’s Rock. And this year, the Young Writer’s Workshop celebrates its 30th year of teaching high school students the ins and outs of thinking through writing.

Berkshire Writing Workshop

BWW.jpgAs one can tell from our rigorous curriculum, the Writing and Thinking Workshop, and the annual Leslie Sanders contest, Simon’s Rock has always been especially dedicated to the subject of writing. Now, our dedication has extended past the usual group of students and potential students.

This year, we welcomed to campus the 2012 Berkshire Writing Workshop, a five-day intensive program for adult writers.

Attended by both published and aspiring authors, the Berkshire Writing Workshop focused on two genres. Alison Lobron, a regular contributor for The Boston Globe Magazine, led the group through five days of rigorous memoir writing. The separate group of fiction writers was led by Brendan Mathews, Simon’s Rock professor and author featured in The Best American Short Stories 2010.

The writers, separated into these two focused groups, concentrated mainly on the development of new and original work. Combined with rigorous writing exercises, the workshop also featured live readings and Q&A sessions with renowned writers such as Helen Epstein and Eleanor Henderson.

Summer Youth Enrichment Program

youth-field-ecology.jpgNew this year, the Summer Youth Enrichment Program is a day camp program designed for local middle and high school students. Classes meet for three hours a day (some morning, some afternoon) and the students spend the day learning and enjoying themselves.

“I had the idea because I am the parent of a 13-year-old,” says Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, the mastermind behind this project. “So I know there’s very little in the area for younger teens to do that is academically enriching... on a day camp basis, there’s just not that much available.”

Youth-digital-animation.jpgAt the new program, students have the opportunity to learn in an environment similar to the Simon’s Rock college experience. “One of the things that we love about Simon’s Rock is the small class size and the intimate relationship with the faculty, so we get to show that off,” Browdy de Hernandez says proudly. “And it’s probably really refreshing for a lot of these kids, who are used to at least 20 other kids in a class.”

The campers meet in small groups with full-time Simon’s Rock professors who all possess the highest qualifications in their areas of study. The subjects offered at the camp cover everything from blogging, to 3D animation, to ecology field study. “At Simon’s Rock, we have three hours a week with our students, and at the camp we have three hours a day,” Browdy de Hernandez explains. “So we’re compressing half a semester into just one week.”

youth-science.jpgWhat about the future of this innovative new program? Can we expect to see it offered in the future? “The response has been very encouraging,” she tells us, laughing. “I’ve actually received inquiries from a lot of adults who were interested in these classes!”

As to why the program holds such an appeal, Browdy de Hernandez holds unwavering confidence in the way the program is fashioned in the Simon’s Rock style. “We want you to walk away knowing something you didn’t know before, and also have had a good time. There are no grades. There’s no homework. It’s just learning for the joy of learning.”

30th Annual Young Writers’ Workshop

This summer, from July 22 to August 11, 84 high school students from 18 states, as well as South Korea, Burma, Hong Kong, and Canada, come together on the Bard College at Simon’s Rock campus to attend the 30th annual Young Writers Workshop. Since 1986 it has been directed by Jamie Hutchinson, faculty member in English at Simon’s Rock --making it one of the oldest and largest summer writing programs in the country.

yw1.jpgThe workshop, which focuses on using informal, playful, expressive writing activities designed to strengthen students’ language and thinking skills, is modeled after the innovative three-week Workshop in Language and Thinking required of all entering students at Bard College (a shorter version of this pre-college workshop is required of entering students at Simon’s Rock). Along with summer workshops at Lewis and Clark College and Lake Forest College, the Young Writer’s Workshop belongs to the National Writing and Thinking Network, an extension of the Bard College Institute for Writing and Thinking.

Students regularly work in small writing groups, helping one another find ways to develop their informal writing into more polished pieces, ranging from personal narratives to stories, poems, and exploratory essays. Each week students will meet with their workshop leader to discuss a portfolio of “works in progress,” not for purposes of evaluation but as a way to help discover further directions for revision.

yw2.jpg“Much of our focus,” according to Hutchinson, “is on encouraging students to experiment with new voices and directions in their writing. Because we agree with the poet and essayist Diane Ackerman that ‘[Play] is our brain's favorite way of learning and maneuvering,’ we tend to bring a spirit of playfulness into everything that we do.”

The young writers live on campus in the College's dormitories, along with members of the Simon's Rock Student Life staff. During the workshop, they’ll have the opportunity to attend various off-campus cultural events, ranging from plays at Shakespeare and Company to dance concerts at Jacob’s Pillow to exhibitions of modern art at MASS MoCA. Weekly on-campus activities will include films, readings, lectures, concerts, crafts, and dances.

Former workshop participants have gone on to attend such colleges as Amherst, Bard, Harvard, Haverford, Kenyon, Princeton, Simon's Rock, Smith, Williams, and Yale.