Students in graduation

Experiential Learning

Gray Bees learn by doing.

That’s why Experiential Learning is one of the four core pillars of St. Benedict’s Prep and is embedded into the curriculum throughout the academic year. Our nationally known programs include The Backpacking Project, featured on “60 Minutes” and in the short documentary “Stay Together,” and the Freshman Overnight, the weeklong orientation held during Summer Phase for first-year students.

We provide many more opportunities for students to put theory into practice and broaden their world view


Interdisciplinary Projects 

Each year, students explore a theme or idea central to their lives through multiple academic disciplines known as the Interdisciplinary Project. The focus of the Interdisciplinary Project has ranged from the Harlem Renaissance, climate change, the history of The Hive during the School’s 150th anniversary, as well as the Latino and Hispanic legacy at St. Benedict’s. Project-based learning is manifested in the visual arts, music, the Drama Guild, science projects, writing and more.

Interdisciplinary Projects culminate with an annual event in March, that features exhibitions and performances of student work that is well-attended by an audience of school, family and community.  

Voting rights and civic action were the subject of an Interdisciplinary Project that extended into several Spring Phase courses, including an 18-day journey through the American South and Civil Rights Trail in 2019.

Spring Phase

The entire month of May, a.k.a. Spring Phase, is devoted to Experiential Learning in our Middle and Prep Divisions. Students are immersed in one hands-on course that is awarded academic credit and included in students G.P.A. Each course incorporates relevant reading and writing assignments as well.

All first-year students train and complete The Backpacking Project, the five day, 55-mile trek along the Appalachian Trail for Spring Phase. Upperclassmen may opt to serve as commanders on The Trail — training and accompany first-year students through the rite-of-passage — for Spring Phase.

A sampling of Spring Phase courses includes:

  • Civic Action
  • Entrepreneurship 101
  • Fine Home Tuning
  • Digital Photography
  • Art & Nature 
  • History of Martial Arts
  • Real Men Cook
  • Community Service Projects
  • Stage Rage

Summer Phase

Summer Phase is a five-week session for Middle and Prep Division students that typically runs the last week of July through August. Classes are held four hours a day and students are required to participate in a sport or extracurricular activity.

The Freshman Overnight, the five days and nights first year students spend on the Property acclimating to the Benedict’s ethos and spirit is a core part of Summer Phase. Leadership training now extends to upperclassmen providing greater opportunities for Gray Bees to build upon the skills and confidence earned during the Overnight and Trail. Required Summer Phase experiences now include:

Water Adversity Challenge (WAC) — Rising sophomores (UDIs) participate in a five-week experience of next-level challenges (physical and mental) in an aquatic environment. After successful completion of the Aquatic Proficiency Exam, students will move on to simulated “man overboard,” evolutions, rescue and recovery operations, and other trainings to develop greater resilience and leadership. WAC also incorporates a corresponding academic/classroom component.  

WILD (Wilderness Inspired Leadership Development) Capstone Expedition — Rising juniors (UDIIs) participate in WILD, a five-week, fully immersive training experience that prepares students to lead the community effectively and make their footprint in life. It involves four weeks of intensive training at St. Benedict’s and corresponding courses in non-fiction English literature as the classroom component. WILD culminates with a 30-hour capstone expedition in Sandyston, N.J.

Rising seniors complete the Senior Portfolio Class during Summer Phase which provides a head start on the college application process and other post-graduation plans. 

Prep School Exchange

St. Benedict's is a member of the Network of Complementary Schools, a unique organization of 26 public and private schools/school systems, located in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, which organizes and sponsors individual student exchanges among member schools. Each of the schools in the Network has a unique and unusual program or programs. Students who visit another Network school have an opportunity to explore career options, to focus on scientific disciplines, to learn more about social institutions, to pursue artistic interests, and to learn about different lifestyles and cultures.

Generally, the programs offered by Network schools are experientially based or have an intensive academic focus. Since there is no expectation of a one-for-one exchange, students are able to consider any other Network school. Each member school has a staff member serving as the Network Advisor, who works closely with students to arrange an individual exchange with another Network school. St. Benedict's Network Advisor is Fr. Albert Holtz, O.S.B.

The Network’s website details each member school's offerings. Individual exchanges last for two or three weeks. There is no charge to individual students other than transportation and spending money, and financial aid is available. St. Benedict's students' Network trips are almost always during Spring Phase in May.

International Exchange

St. Benedict’s currently offers two international exchange programs. Our partnership with the Jac P. Thijsse College sends Gray Bees to northern Holland for a week and we reciprocate by hosting students from the Netherlands. The Amal Schools partnership pairs Israeli students with St. Benedict’s students to collaborate on a technology initiative. The students work together virtually and in-person, visiting Haifa and Newark. From Newark to Israel, kids speak an international language, by profiled the international exchange.