Deerfield Academy is known for the rigorous and broad range of courses. However, few are aware of the constant changes in the curriculum by the efforts of the faculty. Deerfield created the Release Grant program in 2016-17, encouraging faculty to further develop the academic curriculum, in addition to programs in the athletic and the arts departments. These proactive measures allow for growth within the curriculum at the Academy spearheaded by faculty.
Currently, Director of Research, Innovation, and Outreach Peter Nilsson leads the Release Grant program at Deerfield.
Mr. Nilsson explained, “Release grants start with the recognition that being a teacher at Deerfield is more than a full time job.” At Deerfield, teachers are expected to perform a range of duties. They normally teach four full classes, coach two co-curriculars, perform dorm duty, and serve as advisors. Mr. Nilsson stated,“…the release grant schedule was made to release teachers to have the time to work collaboratively throughout the school year so that they can pursue a project of professional, departmental, or institutional interest.”
History Teacher Samuel Chapin, who is currently involved in the US History grant, attests, “Release grants have given the time to be intentional about what we are doing, in a way that isn’t possible during the normal schedule. To have a dedicated period every day to work on an ambitious project like this on its own is great.”
Mr. Nilsson explained the steps of a Release Grant application. First, the interested faculty member must start by gathering a group of faculty to work collaboratively towards a single objective. Second, they must communicate with their department chair, describing their objective. Finally, they submit a document explaining their specific “OKRM,” which stands for Objective, Key Result, and Milestone.
Last year, the History Department received a release grant to be put into action for 2018-19.
History Department Chair Julia Rivellino-Lyons leads the History Release Grant, which includes History Teachers Samuel Chapin and Conrad Pitcher and aims to rework the US History course.
Mr. Chapin commented, “The impetus was to establish a more distinct difference between the regular and honors [US History] classes… we looked at what the US History curriculum could be without the pressure of an external standardized test.” However, the Honors US History, which strictly abides by the AP curriculum, it will not be altered.
The Spanish Department also received a release grant, given to a team of Spanish Teachers Cheri Karbon and Ellen Bicknell and led by newly appointed Language Department Chair Haley O’Neil. The department believed that the current Spanish II and III curriculum lacked sufficient emphasis on language usage and the integration of culture, as well as alignment with the succeeding courses.
Regarding the integration of culture, Dr. O’Neil said, “We are learning vocab related to the environment through incorporating the effects of the hurricane in Puerto Rico.” The change moved the focus of the class towards real world proficiency rather than merely memorizing conjugation charts.
Very few students know about the existence of release grants, or that they are offered to the faculty. Tim O’Brien ’20 noted, “As a student, I was unaware of these efforts. Now I appreciate that teachers are acknowledging the fact that there are flaws in the academic curriculum and being proactive to resolve them.”