HUDSON — One of the pillars of boarding life is the immersive learning experience. This is an inevitable advantage when living where you learn.
Like all schools, at Western Reserve Academy, WRA comes together for traditional class time — but the nontraditional learning opportunities make them a little different. Consider classes like A Study of Sherlock Holmes, Exploring the Harlem Renaissance and Eastern Philosophy and Meditation. They sound closer to college electives than typical high school courses, and yet they are an essential part of our academic experience.
WRA calls them ECHO modules.
ECHOs are meant to provide meaningful learning experiences beyond the traditional school day. Most of them take place over the weekend, and they give students the chance to discover a new passion or pursue a subject in greater depth. Their wide selection of ECHOs also reflect the broad interests and expertise of WRA faculty, who relish the opportunity to share a passion that might not fit in the weekday curriculum.
Science Faculty and ECHO coordinator Michael Bonomo has been integral to the ECHO program since its inception.
"As ECHO coordinator, I guide faculty in the creation and maintenance of their modules, supervise enrollment of students and overall ensure that students stay engaged, involved, inspired," Bonomo says.
Bonomo sees the ECHO program as a perfect compliment to the "Monday through Friday" curriculum.
"ECHOs are a wonderful opportunity for both students and faculty to explore academic passions outside the constructs of a traditional class," he says. "These modules include guest speakers, unique travel experiences and hands-on experiential opportunities."
Students enroll in two ECHOs each year, and the modules occur in six-week trimesters. This year, ECHOs include Women In Business, which explores case studies on current and past female leaders. Camera, Action! focuses on filmmaking and working within Adobe Premiere Pro. Of their newer modules, there’s Proof, Paradox, and Perpetuations of Mathematical Infinity, wherein students are challenged to ask themselves, "What is the smallest number?" and, "Is infinite actually conceivable or are we limited to illusions and metaphors?"
Mathematics Chair Hardy Gieske walks students through this module that is as much philosophical as it is mathematical.
Since 2016, Mathematics Department faculty member Laurie Allen has taught The Appalachian Trail Experience so that students could learn more about long-distance hiking, a passion of hers.
"I love to hike and have hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Camino de Santiago and the West Highland Way as well as many other hiking trails locally, nationally and internationally," she said.
Students who take this module set out to for Cuyahoga Valley National Park for a 13-mile hike.
"A class favorite is an evening spent dehydrating and preparing trail snacks while watching a documentary about Karl Meltzer, an Appalachian Trail record holder," said Allen. "Later, the students enjoy the snacks they prepared during a culminating 13-mile hike along a portion of the Buckeye Trail that runs through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park."
History Department Chair Dr. Lisabeth Robinson has taught many ECHOs over the years. This fall, she explored the joy of painting with the very popular ECHO on Bob Ross’ painting technique — "Loving Landscape: The Joy of Painting."
"I chose to offer the Bob Ross [module] because after teaching art history over the years, I would end the semester with a Bob Ross session with my students," Robinson said. "I’d have students from other classes coming in, seeing the paintings lined up along the board, and asking who painted them.
"After they learned it was my art history students, they’d always say, ‘I’d love to sign up for a painting class like that.’ ECHO seemed like the right venue for a course that explores the artistic process."
Her ECHO took the experience one step further with the class culminating in an art show at the end of the six-week session.
"The highlight was the art show we held in the dining hall," she said. "Students were really proud of their work and many paintings were bought or claimed by friends and family, even though we never said they were for sale."
Robinson found Friday evenings to be a relaxing time to offer such a class.
"I loved hearing students tell me that this was the most relaxing thing they’d done at Reserve and that they truly looked forward to Friday nights painting with Bob," she said.
Hudson to Hollywood (H2H) is a particularly popular ECHO offering, taught by a special group of alumni who hail from the West Coast. H2H allows students to study a wide variety of television and film careers, including writing, directing, production design and business management, and gives a comprehensive view of the expansive and competitive entertainment industry. Last February, this ECHO brought film and television Director, Producer and Writer Jeff Schaffer ‘87 (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) back to the WRA campus for a special crash course in script writing.