Essential Habits Week: Two Campuses + Five Days = Focused Fun!

by Sarah Earnest (Science Mentor, Quest Forward Academy Omaha) and Jordan Bulger (English and Social Sciences Mentor, Quest Forward Academy Santa Rosa)

A large factor in the success of Quest Forward Learning centers on assimilating the six Essential Habits into work and life. To expose students to their importance at an even deeper level, Quest Forward Academies in Santa Rosa and Omaha hosted Essential Habits Week in late March. While each Academy approached the week differently, this special focus offered a wide variety of opportunities for students to explore and practice the Essential Habits in ways that were fun, meaningful, and memorable.

At the Omaha campus, mentors selected one habit to focus on for the entire week: Be Curious. According to Science Mentor Sarah Earnest, “Curiosity is a vital first step to learning. If students aren’t curious enough to ask questions or try new things, they won’t really be able to tap into the full potential that each quest offers.” Omaha’s Be Curious Week included several activities designed to spark student curiosity both in and outside of school. The week kicked off with a TED Talk video and class discussion about the nature and importance of curiosity. Other activities included Student Council-led trivia, a potluck of unusual food items, and a field trip to a local community college.

The capstone project for “Be Curious” Week was a field trip presentation that students completed in Advisement. Each Advisement class selected one field trip location to research and create a compelling presentation about. During the week, each group presented their proposal to School Director Mark Smith, using argumentation to demonstrate how their field trip location would help students demonstrate and practice “Be Curious.” Students fully embraced the spirit of this challenge, going so far as to make phone calls to their location and using habit language in their questioning. In the end, two locations were chosen: an overnight outdoor retreat and a downtown Omaha scavenger hunt.

Another activity was a “Be Curious” Challenge: Students completed this outside of school, choosing options such as taking a selfie while trying something new or writing a paragraph about a new activity they tried that semester. Several students created new recipes or tried new foods/activities. Sophomore Elijah Bullie wrote a paragraph about the classes he had recently started taking outside the Academy to learn the Omaha Native-American language with elders of his tribe.  

The result of Omaha’s Essential Habits Week was an increased awareness of the “Be Curious” habit. Both mentors and students became more comfortable using the habit in their everyday conversations. Sophomore Aaron Herrera summarized his weeklong experience, saying, “This past week has made me realize that I should look for new things to do and ask questions.”

Quest Forward Academy Santa Rosa focused on three habits: “Be Curious,” “Solve Problems,” and “Manage Yourself.” Mentors saw clear overlaps between the three habits and wanted students to see how the walls between habits could be porous. Students practiced one habit for the first three days to gain fluency and then blended them for the final two days of the week.

For Monday, as part of “Be Curious,” students defined and reflected upon each habit for themselves. In honor of “Be Curious Day,” Foundation Phase students combined their habit definitions with a creative writing project: A classic Hemingway exercise is to write a six-word story, and students wrote six-word definitions of the habit.

On Tuesday, City as Campus program leader and Social Sciences mentor Nils Palsson offered a problem for students to solve: How can students provide more input and have responsibility for field trips that both engage students and help them develop and practice their habits? Students used Design Thinking to create amazing field trip programs. To make the experience as organic and integrated as possible, students also practiced argumentative writing skills to argue why their field trips would develop all of the Essential Habits. Field trips ranged from river adventures, to ice cream shop internships, to specifically designed hikes. We hope to use these ideas moving forward!

Wednesday, “Manage Yourself Day,” brought Zephira from Shalom Bayit, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting caring relationships, to campus to teach about consent and self-control. Students learned specific skills for creating kind and caring relationships and also practiced how to recognize when a once-healthy relationship becomes harmful. The entire day was dedicated to reflection and practice of how to manage yourself and your relationships.

Pi and pie: Thursday, March 14, or 3.14, was Pi Day. Mathematics and Science mentor Will Billich described the origins and mysteries of Pi. Students learned how Pi was used to solve problems from antiquity onward. Self-management was then put to the ultimate test: a pie competition. Students and mentors made amazing pies in honor of Pi day, and students judged the winner.

On Friday, Exploration Phase students put all three habits into action. They managed themselves, solved problems, and demonstrated curiosity on a field trip to see an engineering marvel: a bridge. The activity extended a term-long examination of the math and science of bridges. One student wrote, “I thoroughly enjoyed practicing curiosity by asking real engineer questions about bridges and observing a real-life application of the concepts we had been learning in class.”

Santa Rosa’s Essential Habits Week was a roaring success and initiated a renewed commitment to habits schoolwide.

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