Annual Minimester provides break from the ordinary

By Bob Castello

Algebra, chemistry and English classes have been replaced by horror movies, dog training and beading this week at St. Joseph’s Catholic School.

And murder mysteries, military figurines and trips to the Greenville Zoo and Congaree National Park. And much more.

It’s the annual Minimester, a breather after the first three quarters and a break from traditional classes.

“This is a rough time of year for students in any school, because Christmas has passed and we’re just trying to slog through to get to the end of the year,” said Dr. Steven Jones, director of the high school at St. Joe’s.

For the high school students, Minimester is a three-day stretch at the end of the quarter that enables them to learn and connect with teachers in a different way. (The middle school has its own version of the Minimester, comprised of various field trips throughout the year.)

“It’s nice because it’s a break, but there are good options you can do that are relatively entertaining and/or educative,” junior Philip Mosley said.

A large portion of the senior class takes part in a mission trip, during which students work for Habitat for Humanity and some other groups in and around Tampa, Fla. It’s a five-day trek that normally extends into the weekend; this year it’s during the week because school is out Thursday and Friday for the annual Diocese of Charleston Teacher Education Conference.

Among the other popular trips during the Minimester are those to Barrier Islands and the Biltmore Estate. In addition, many juniors and some sophomores take the opportunity to make college visits.

Some of the courses involve traveling relatively short distances, but many students stay in town and take advantage of local field trips and on-campus activities.

“We try to have a good mix of things that are outdoors and things that are a little calmer,” Jones said. “A few of them can get pricey, and not everyone wants to do that, so we try to have some that are free or $20, along with the larger ones.”

In preparation for Minimester, teachers submit proposals for activities. A committee is in place to make sure there is a good balance, and each activity must have at least 10 students. They choose from a list of about 20 activities, most of which are “things that teachers have their own intellectual interests in,” Jones said.

“It’s very relaxed,” said Jones. “They’re not going to be in uniform, and they bring snacks in. Part of the goal is for the students to be able to catch their breath and relax a little bit, so we don’t push them real hard.”

Father Jonathan Duncan discusses the church’s teaching on the supernatural in his “Theology of Horror” course Monday during Minimester at St. Joseph’s Catholic School.

Mosley and 10 other students are taking part in the Theology of Horror class being led by Father Jonathan Duncan, the school’s chaplain. Mosley said he and Duncan had talked about creating a Minimester activity, and this — the supernatural — seemed a natural.

“He talks about horror movies in his homily sometimes,” Mosley said.

Duncan has an affinity for the genre, which he said is increasing in popularity and “skewing toward younger and younger kids.”

“They have this interest in the supernatural,” Duncan said, “and if I can get them to explore that there might be a devil, if they’re willing to kind of entertain that, then they’re on their way to believing if there’s a devil, there must be a God. There must be a good.

“Because there is so much pushing them in the direction of unbelief, we can begin to say, ‘Why do you think you’re drawn to some of these movies and stories? What can we pull out of them that’s consistent with a Christian and a Catholic world view?’ “

Meanwhile, in his classroom, math department chair George Carr has students recreating various battles from history with the help of miniature soldiers. His father had a large collection, and Carr has added to it over the years.

Ten students divided into two teams are competing while moving from the Anglo-Zulu War in South Africa in 1879; to the Battle of Agincourt in the Hundred Years’ War in France in 1415; to the Russo-Finnish Winter War in Finland in 1939.

Dice are rolled, scores are kept and strategy is critical.

“I would say they’re pretty engaged,” said Carr.

“It’s extremely fun, just sitting around trying to figure out how not to die,” senior Zack Copher said with a smile.

Among the other activities being offered this week are beading, fencing, dog training and hiking.

“It gives the students a chance to kind of take a mental break,” Carr said.

“Some people think, ‘I need to work, work, work,’ ” said Copher. “But some people who are like me say, ‘I just want a little time to hang out with whoever’s in the Minimester with me, get to know some new people and just shoot caution to the wind and have some fun.’ “

George Carr (back, center) leads students through the recreation of the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War with miniature figurines in his “History in the Making” course Monday during Minimester at St. Joseph’s Catholic School.