Miniterm at SOTA, SAMI, and IDEA

After the craziness of December finals, January at SAMi, SOTA, and now iDEA comes with a complete change of course for students and staff alike: Miniterm. This month-long extensive course takes place at any of the three Elements of Education campuses. Comparable to the week-long “Microterm” at the end of the school year in June, Miniterm offers both a break from the usual, and extensive concentration on a unique subject of the student’s choosing.

Traditionally, science-focused courses took place at SAMi, while art-focused courses took at SOTA. Now we have iDEA thrown into the mix. This new school serves to fill the gaps that its successor schools’ facilities could not. Its workshops provide an alternate location to the SOTABots team and several other shop-oriented classes. iDEA teachers have also teamed up with teachers from their sister schools to combine their expertise into a single course. (E.g. The Sports Science of Lacrosse and Golf, The LEGO Miniterm, and Who is Telling Your Story? among others.)

Another option becomes available to students once they hit their Junior and Senior years. Service and Study tours travel to numerous locations around the world, and take the place of the usual minitern. Spots for these study tours are highly competitive, and fundraising can be grueling. It all is worth it in the end, though. This year’s four trips were to Cuba, the East Coast, Hawaii, and the southern US. Groups from each tour only started returning to Tacoma within the last week.

In my freshman year, I decided to join SOTABots: The SAMi/SOTA/iDEA robotics team, lead by both SAMi and SOTA robotics teachers Rich Williams and Ken Luthy. In order to meet the high demands of being an independent organization, each member splits off into their desired subteam of Build, PR, Media, Programming, and any additional subteams that arise when they are needed. I joined the CAD (Computer Aided Design) subteam. My group learned how to use various techniques and databases in order to further develop aspects of our robots’ designs. Although I did not stay in SOTABots after the month ended, I left with a greater respect for the resourcefulness of the people both in the workshop and behind the curtains.

A combination of photography and writing is this year’s theme. SOTA Photography teacher Janet Jensen, and SAMi Humanities/English teacher Kristen Orlando created Gritty City, a miniterm centered around documenting Tacoma through both lens and pen. Our class is a sizable one of about thirty students. Janet and Orlando combatted this surplus by splitting us into two halves after our morning discussions and meditations. One half would stay downstairs with Janet in the photography room, while the other would go upstairs with Orlando to write poetry. Janet began with the very basics of how to hold the camera (a Canon EOS Rebel T5), and worked up to manually changing the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. We took to the streets with our cameras on many occasions. Our class photographed alleyways, people (both candid and posed), nature, buildings and vehicles, and any scenes or objects we found particularly moving. When we returned to SOTA’s 1950 building, each person would upload their photographs and edit the lighting and contrast in Photoshop for the class critique. That done, the two halves would switch and my group would go upstairs to practice writing poetry. Orlando had us write a guided poem about ourselves on the first day, and gradually released her creative control over the next few weeks. People who had never written poems before now have around twenty individual poems to their name. In the final week leading up to showcase, we are choosing our favorite photographs from the locations we visited in the city – Pacific Ave, Hilltop, and the Port of Tacoma – and wrote a poem or two to the photos that moved us the most. We will combine each of our eight to ten favorite pictures and poems into a handmade book. Although the course is ending tomorrow, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to walk a city block without framing an imaginary photograph and coming up with a verse for it… That said, I’m not complaining. Poetry and photography hold a sort of peaceful magic about them that is calming in an agitated environment.

January wraps up with a Miniterm Showcase. Miniterms from all three schools and Service and Study Tours from around the world will present their work and learnings in short presentations. These presentations range from the scholarly to the funny, from the upbeat to the tragic. Performances from all never fail to make an impression.

There’s no telling what the next Miniterm will bring. Teachers, plans, interests and locations will change by January of 2018. Maybe I’ll travel somewhere exotic, or maybe I’ll stay in Tacoma and take a quirky class about creating useful items from recycled materials. Whatever my options are, I’ll leave January again with a renewed view on what I have seen and done