Beyond the Classroom - Immersive & Experiential Learning at Hopkins

Hopkins students are offered an incredible breadth of courses in the liberal arts curriculum and benefit from the expertise of distinguished faculty. However, it is equally important for Hopkins students to take that knowledge and learn how to apply it to real-world situations. This article highlights some of the immersive and experiential learning programs offered to Hopkins students, which provide opportunities for students to take their learning outside of the classroom.

Maltby Lakes 

During the final week of school, students in seventh-grade science classes (Sci7) took part in an immersive field trip to the Maltby Lakes Reserve, which neighbors the Hopkins campus. The inaugural excursion allowed students to observe Connecticut geology up close at several locations in the reserve while participating in reflection and team-building experiences. 

Teachers Maura Foley, Jennifer Stauffer, Dawn Card, and Ian Clark prepared students for the trip by creating a field guide based in part on the work of Ryan Deasey of the United States Geological Survey and his graduate advisor, Bob Wintsch from the Hopkins Class of 1965. 

The nature and geology of the Maltby Lakes area was more closely tied to people, place, and time through an activity created by history teacher Errol Saunders with further historical context added by Hopkins Archivist Thom Peters.

Spring Training

Several spring athletic teams were excited to attend spring training in Florida during the March break. This marked the first spring trip for the Athletic department since 2019, due to the pandemic. Baseball, Softball, Golf, Girls Lacrosse, and Girls & Boys Tennis were all able to visit Orlando for dedicated training time and downtime visiting Orlando theme parks. This special experience gave the student-athletes the opportunity to hone their skills and form bonds as teams both on and off the field. 

Global Learning

The Hopkins Global Learning Program seeks to nurture students as global citizens possessing the cultural knowledge, awareness, and sensitivity to fully embrace and navigate the larger world. Recently, the School has sought to cultivate “global neighborhoods” in communities abroad, and in March 2023, Hopkins delegations visited two of New Haven’s sister cities in Europe: Avignon, France, and Amalfi, Italy. 


Sixteen Hopkins students traveled to France with French teachers Dr. John Lytle and Dr. Sarah du Plessis over spring break. During their seven-day stay, the group visited the cities of Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Nîmes, Cassis, and Avignon, as well as some fascinating historical sites including Pont du Gard (an ancient Roman aqueduct), Amphitheatre of Nîmes, Van Gogh’s stomping grounds in Arles, the Mediterranean Sea and boatyards in Cassis, Palais des Papes, and the bridge of Avignon.

The highlight for many was their homestay experience with the students of Lycée Louis Pasteur in Avignon. Students stayed for two nights with French families, where they shadowed their peers during a school day, and participated in a scavenger hunt through the city. Dr. du Plessis shared, “The relationships formed with Hopkins’ sister city school in Avignon will most likely be lifelong. Hopkins looks forward to a visit from Lycée Louis Pasteur to the U.S. and our campus in the spring of 2024!”


Twenty-two students in the Italian and Latin language programs traveled to Rome, Sorrento, and Amalfi, Italy, during spring break in an immersive experience that exposed them to Italian culture, history, food, and community. Italian teacher Dr. Teresa Picarazzi and Spanish teacher Dr. Susan Bennitt chaperoned the trip along with Head of School Matt Glendinning, who lent his classical archaeology expertise.
In addition to seeing sites like the Colosseum, Pantheon, and the Vatican, students also attended Gladiator School in Rome. Other highlights included a trip to Pompeii, a visit to a mozzarella cheese farm (Agriturismo), and pizza-making in Sorrento. 

As with the trip to France, the high point of the trip for many participants was the stay in Amalfi, where students met their sister school penpals from the Marini-Gioia High School. The group was warmly welcomed by both the Marini-Gioia School Administration and the mayor of Amalfi, Daniele Milano, pictured above with Matt Glendinning. During their stay in Amalfi, Hopkins students went on several outings with their new friends in addition to attending classes at Marini-Gioia. They enjoyed a special welcome dinner, an artisanal paper-making class, and a hike on the Lemon Trail along the stunning Amalfi Coast.

Social Justice 

An Introduction to Social Justice course was added to the curriculum in the 2021–2022 school year. The course takes an interdisciplinary approach to explore social justice issues, including economic systems, environmental justice, inequities in education and health, and bias in the media. Building on a foundation of concepts in sociology, Black feminist theory, disability theory, and critical race theory, students learn how to apply those theories to court decisions, current and historical events, and topics around justice and change to imagine a different and better society for all. 

The inaugural class ran in the Spring term of 2022, and course teachers and architects Becky Harper ’07 and Dante Brito arranged an immersive field trip to Washington, D.C., and Charlottesville, Virginia, in June 2022 as an extended experience. A second trip in June 2023 to Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia continued the learning and real-world experience, intended as “part two.” 

Harper and Brito curated each trip, working with a school trip travel agent to build two completely custom tours for this course. They wanted the students to experience what they had read about, feel the energy of each location, as well as the history and what those places represent. Most meals were at local Black and brown owned restaurants, where they had the opportunity to learn from the owners about the history and relevance of each place.  

On the 2022 trip, beginning in Washington, D.C., the group visited Arlington Cemetery and museums along the National Mall including the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. As the tour continued to Charlottesville, they visited the Moton Museum in Farmville before a visit to Appomattox where the end of the Civil War took place. They also visited Monticello, the home and plantation of Thomas Jefferson, as well as the University of Virginia. 

The 2023 trip began in Charleston, South Carolina, where the group visited sites such as the downtown City Market, the Gibbs Art Museum, the Avery Research Center, and the Old Slave Mart. On their way to Savannah, Georgia, they visited Gullah Geechee communities in Hilton Head and Pin Point, where they practiced oystering and fishing for blue crabs. In Savannah, they visited the Bonaventure Cemetery, First African Baptist Church, and the Civil Rights Museum, where they learned about the activism and Civil Rights advances made in Savannah. 

Harper reflected on the trips and shared, “Overall, we visited places that asked us all to consider who is a citizen? What are their rights? Who encompasses ‘We’ in ‘We the People?’ Students reflected daily in personal journals, and we shared thoughts as a group at the end of each day. Dante and I were impressed with the attention and engagement of all the students who joined us on these trips. It was a truly powerful experience.” 

Student Harini Thiruvengadam ’23 shared, “I learned a lot about social justice in ways I could not have in a classroom environment. A particularly important experience was when we all sat together the night after we visited Monticello and debriefed about how angry and upset we felt after our visit. It was really meaningful to hear my peers’ perspectives after this day, and it was an emotional experience for all of us.”

Senior Service 

The Senior Service project has been a mainstay of the Hopkins experience for many years, and has evolved in a post-pandemic world. The members of the Class of 2023 were tasked with logging 12 independent service hours throughout the school year, with the freedom to choose where and when to spend those hours, in addition to two full days as a class in service to the local community on May 31 and June 1. The Faculty Service Planning & Development committee, led by Alissa Davis, is excited about the new model and the opportunities for students to take away more. 

“By the time the seniors are out on the service days, we hope they have already made valuable connections with some of the organizations they are helping and recognize the value of service to others,” she said. Pictured here, seniors worked on projects with the Girl Scouts of America, Habitat for Humanity, Connecticut Food Share, and New Haven Parks. 

Davis, along with fellow committee members John Isaacs, Anna Robinette, John Anderson, and Liz Gleason, is continually working to integrate more opportunities for service learning throughout the school year for students in all grades. Davis has recently implemented what she calls Service Learning Intensive Modules (SLIMS), nearby off-campus opportunities for students to participate during regular blocks of the school day, such as volunteering at the soup kitchen, tutoring at local elementary schools, and visits to senior living communities. 

Hopkins students have volunteered for over 35 local organizations over the last school year. The work has addressed issues of food insecurity; community improvement; animal welfare; education; environmental concerns; healthcare; poverty; homelessness; social justice; and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Final Thoughts

These trips and projects highlight only some of the recent offerings that enhance and deepen learning outside of the classroom for Hopkins students. In the year ahead, many more are planned, including two trips in August 2023 to the Galapagos Islands, a conservation and service learning excursion led by Dr. Susan Bennitt, and to Edinburgh, Scotland, to attend the Festival Fringe with Drama instructors Michael Calderone & Hope Hartup. Looking further out in March 2024, students in the Chinese language program will travel to sister city Changsha, China, to visit Hopkins’ sister school Yali-Pecui.

This article was originally printed in the 2023 Issue 2 edition of Views from the HillClick here to browse the full issue.
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Hopkins is a private middle school and high school for grades 7-12. Located on a campus overlooking New Haven, CT, the School takes pride in its intellectually curious students as well as its dedicated faculty and staff.