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What is Intersession and Why Do We Do It?
Dr. Dean Nicholas, CHCA Head of School

A hallmark of CHCA's Upper School program is Intersession, two weeks out of the academic year when our students and teachers depart from the classroom and engage in experiential learning in a hands-on way. When I connect with alumni, one of the first things they almost always mention is a special memory from a JTerm or May Term experience. Each year grade 9-12 students choose from one of 20-25 different course options based on their specific interests. Creating these courses takes an extraordinary amount of planning, preparation, and skillful execution on top of all the other things teachers and staff members do throughout the year. So why do we do we do this year after year? As a learning institution, we desire to create life-long learners which means it is imperative that our students come to see that learning is not confined to a building, a desk, a laptop, or a textbook. As a learning institution that is Christian, we also desire that our students understand that learning can be an act of worship. So Intersession gives our students unique learning experiences to engage God’s world in authentic ways.  

Art of Stained Glass window

Broadly speaking Intersession courses tend to fit into three different categories.  Each year some courses offer extensions of our regular academic subject areas and course material. Students can study a concept more in-depth or pursue other tangents not explored during regular class time due to time constraints. If you have visited our McSwain Collaboration Center at the MSL High School Building or simply driven by it, you may have been drawn to the stunning stained-glass windows. CHCA did not commission an artist to create and set those pieces. A group of interested students spent two weeks with visual fine arts teacher Tim Hilderbrand as he taught them every aspect of stained-glass art from the inspiration phase all the way to installation. Throughout those two weeks, Mr. Hilderbrand taught the students how a creator, taking great care, could collect broken pieces of glass, glass meant to be discarded, and use them as a part of something beautiful, even something that could lead people to Christ. Talk to any of the students who have been a part of this course, and there is no doubt that they have learned skills, grown in the areas of collaboration and leadership, experienced the satisfaction of creating art, and witnessed how something seemingly secular can point to Christ.

Students at Wheels Ministry

Another selection of Intersession courses focus primarily on service learning. Utilizing what they have learned in the classroom, students meet and serve others in a Christ-centered way. Students come to see that they have a great opportunity at CHCA to learn and that they can choose to use their acquired knowledge and developed skills to serve others. Probably the most well-known service-learning Intersession course is Serve Cincinnati Schools.   Our students are eager to help encourage and advance students in schools across the city and a number of alumni credit this Intersession course for why they later became teachers. In a new course first introduced last year, students worked with the Wheels Ministry, which repairs donated cars to give to those in need and services cars for those unable to pay for auto maintenance. Students learned various automotive skills and then went to work repairing cars. This course was a powerful blessing to all involved. Students were impacted when they could donate a car that they had repaired. And the adults affiliated with the ministry were changed by the experience as well. They were a bit reluctant and skeptical when CHCA initially reached out to them with the idea for an Intersession course because they had not worked with teenagers. Our students represented themselves, the school, and their faith in ways that changed the perspectives of those who serve there regularly.  And this is not unique. I continually hear from ministries, travel organizations, schools, and even hotels how outstanding our students engage when they are outside the building.

Intersession students at the holy wall in Jerusalem

Finally, some Intersession courses provide an opportunity for educational travel and cultural immersion. As God calls our students to be a light to the world, an Intersession course can offer students a chance to begin to understand different peoples and cultures in God’s world. A trip to the Holy Land can provide a great extension of concepts learned in Christian Studies classes. But spending time with a Jewish citizen of Jerusalem and a Palestinian farmer outside of Bethlehem provides an understanding of modern life in Israel that cannot be fully captured reading news feeds. A book or course on Kenya can provide factual information and compelling anecdotes. But dancing around a fire with Samburu tribesmen, eating goat roasted over a fire with the Maasai people, visiting with a pastor in the slums of Nairobi bring learning alive in a different way.  In John 17, Jesus’ prayer calls for us to love one another and be one, so that all people will know that God sent Jesus into the world. As our students interact and listen to people in other cultures from around the world, they are answering this calling to unite, to extend grace, and to demonstrate God’s love.   

As I write this, our students are serving in schools, learning the history and cultures of our city, studying sports and history through film, fixing cars, serving in a second-hand store ministry, and building a house. Others are encountering food and art in NYC, learning outdoor and survival skills on a Florida island, exploring the sights and serving others in Texas, Arizona, Puerto Rico, and St. Croix, visiting theme parks in Florida, and learning the history, culture, and natural beauty of Hawaii. Our students are gaining knowledge, accumulating experiences, building powerful community with their classmates and teachers, and serving others as they demonstrate the light of Christ in the world.  The message of the Gospel is that all the world is God’s, and we are called to go and to engage His world. As a school, we strive to inspire students to be lifelong learners. And as a Christian school, we strive to inspire students to continue learning by engaging in God’s world and follow that Divine call. Intersession creates those opportunities for our students to begin the journey to follow the call.

Dive deeper into Intersession and see pictures from previous courses on

About the Author

Dean Nicholas is the Head of School at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, but is not new to CHCA. 

"I was a classroom teacher where I taught Christian Studies for 11 years. Then I moved into administration where I served as a principal (13 years) and Assistant Head of School for a year.

I didn’t plan to be in a PreK-12 independent Christian school. My training was to be a Hebrew Bible scholar. I went to Wheaton College (BA, MA) and then Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion (MPhil, PhD) with the intention of being a professor. But I’ve found in life that things rarely go as planned. And I believe whole heartedly that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Nothing has affected my thoughts on education like being the father of three boys who all learn very differently. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching all three of them in class and watched each of them navigate the world of school in their own unique ways.

When I’m not doing school work, I love reading, experimenting in the kitchen, gardening, fishing, teaching Sunday School, and traveling the world."

For more of my perspectives on Christian Education, visit:  An Educational JourneyThoughts from a Head of School

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