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The Center of Experiential Learning at AFS

The Center for Experiential Learning program encompasses a school-wide approach to learning that connects students in substantive ways to hands-on experiences and extended learning in the outside world.

Rosanne Mistretta, as director of the Center, has been charged with overseeing and growing the AFS Explore program, which work to help students individually to discover their passions and to connect them to internships, workshops and other opportunities to extend those interests in the world outside of school. Rosanne also directs the AFS Global Travel program, with several trips planned for each school year. She also facilitates a range of group-learning cohorts, including our MedEx program, which brings together sophomores with an interest in a career in medicine and doctors who are leaders in their fields. Because of the Center there is an ethos of experiential learning embedded throughout the school.

The Center’s Mission

The Center for Experiential Learning at Abington Friends School creates opportunities for intellectual, personal and creative growth through engagement and action.

Driven by the core Quaker values of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equity, and stewardship, the Center fosters opportunities to connect with people, places and ideas.  These experiences cultivate inquisitive learners who understand their personal obligation to the global community and are prepared to engage the world.

Global Travel Program

Upper School have opportunities to explore different parts of the globe to deepen their understanding of science, culture and the environment. AFS’ global travel program emphasizes leadership, learning through experiences, immersive journeys and service.

This year there are two exciting trips: During Spring Break, students will be to Costa Rica to focus on ecological, social, cultural, and economic issues. The trip runs from March 23-29, 2018. The other trip, from June 10-16, 2018, will be to The Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership (HICSL) in Maine. The center is a scientific and education community that provides experiential, hands-on education programs and research opportunities focusing on marine sciences, STEM education, human ecology, sustainable living technology, citizen science initiatives and leadership in environmental stewardship.

Important Global Travel webpages:

Costa Rica Trip

Costa Rica Application

Hurricane Island Trip

Hurricane Island Application

Hobart Exchange Information (Tasmania)

Hobart Exchange Application


Cohort Learning

MedEx is a small group mentoring program in which students apply to work with doctors over the course of a year from mid-10th to mid-11th grade.  Typical years allow for two slots for 11th grade students to apply (so they would take part in the program from mid-11th to mid-12th grade)  Students do not need to know if they are interested in medicine as a career; this is a program for learning and exploration. Past field trips have been to the Mutter Museum, the Abington Hospital Simulation Lab and a dialysis unit.  Evening sessions have been about topics like brain function (complete with a dissection), reading x-rays and MRI reports, medical ethics and reproductive rights.

MedEx Application

BizEx is a small group mentoring program in which a group of business professionals will work with students over the course of their 10th and 11th grade years.  The cohort works in teams of students and professionals and  explore principles and concepts of entrepreneurship such as design thinking, developing a plan, marketing and financial literacy.  The goal is for the teams to generate their business ideas, prepare a business and marketing plan and then present their idea to the advisory board for review and critique. The final  businesses will work to refine their ideas and have the option to take it to a competition such as DECA or YEA.

BizEx Application

Service Learning

AFS has partnered with a few fellow non-profits to join together in efforts of stewardship and service learning for our students.

MANNA is an organization which provides meals and warmth to Southeastern Pennsylvania and Souther New Jersey. AFS students visit the MANNA organization to cook, prepare and serve meals. They also meet with administrators at MANNA, some of which are alumni of AFS, to learn about non-profit challenges and rewards. The goal is for our students to participate in project-based extended learning through service rather than just one day of activity.

Jenkintown Food Cupboard provides meals to 90-100 families in Montgomery County, PA each week. AFS students join forces each year to collect food to address hunger in our local area.

Whosoever Gospel Mission is a Christian nonprofit whose purpose is to provide shelter, food, clothing, education, counseling, rehabilitation and other assistance to homeless men, women and children in the Philadelphia region. AFS students join forces again to collect food donations for this organization.

AFS Outside

AFS OUTSIDE (Outdoor Scholarship, Initiative, Discovery and Exploration)

is a school wide outdoor learning program designed to connect children in sustained and meaningful ways with the living world while fully realizing the enormous potential of our beautiful campus.
Compared to a generation ago, children today have dramatically fewer opportunities for unstructured, nature-based play. Veteran teachers and childhood development researchers agree that this kind of play is critical for healthy childhood development.
As students at AFS grow and mature, so too does their relationship with the outdoor world. Play evolves into exploration, research and discovery. By the time they reach Upper School, students are connected to and involved in a larger world of sustainable practice, citizen science and compelling research, both on and off campus.

The Redbud Nature Playground includes platforms for creating imaginative settings such as tree forts; areas for building with all sorts of natural materials, spaces for making art and music; and plenty of open areas for running, climbing and playing games. It is the first nature playground in a school in Pennsylvania to be accredited by the National Arbor Day Foundation. Since we opened this playground for our youngest students, schools from all over the country have sent their teachers to learn how we transformed a traditional playground into an inviting outdoor space that encourages learning, discovery and play in a natural setting.

The Headwaters Discovery Playground is a cutting edge outdoor classroom and free play zone, built to meet the specific needs of our student and program. This playground is designed for students from elementary through their Middle School years. With a village climb, water and sand play, big science pulley and swings, a nature ramble and space for gathering for large and small groups the design combines the best of the traditional childhood experience with our expert knowledge of teaching core subject lessons outdoors. From science and math to art and music, this engaging space allows faculty to take it outside.

The AFS campus is home to the headwaters of the Jenkintown Creek, a natural setting for creek walks, stream water quality studies, tree and animal track identification, bird adaptations, wildlife habitat gardening and environmental art projects.
A recent addition to our campus is a new riparian buffer along the creek bed, installed through our partnership with the Tookany/Tacony Frankford (TTF) Watershed Partnership and a Delaware River Restoration Fund grant. Students, teachers and families played an active role in establishing and planting the buffer, which has become another highly utilized site on campus for outdoor exploration and education.
Following the installation of the buffer, the new rain garden sits across from the Headwaters Discovery Playground. Funded through a grant from the William Penn Foundation to our community partner, the Tookany Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, the rain garden improves the health of our creek and watershed, giving students even more opportunities to study birds, insects, and amphibians firsthand.

We are proud to partner with Villanova University the monitoring of our rain garden and stream. On campus weather and stream monitoring stations installed by Villanova allow students in our Upper School program to utilize real-time data for ongoing experiments and reporting about water quality and climate.
Villanova has also installed a flowmeter, located under Meetinghouse Road that measures depth, velocity and the flow of the stream. Within our rain garden Villanova has installed soil measure meters, a bubbler to measure infiltration rates, an autosampler to collect water samples, and pore water samplers.
The rooftop weather station installed by Villanova monitors temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind speed and wind direction, solar radiation, barometric pressure, heat index, and dew point. This data can provide information about storm duration and intensity. Along with the flowmeter, the data helps us monitor the inflow to and outflow from our creek headwaters.
Want to know what the weather is like on campus? Check out our live weather feed sponsored by Villanova University!

Through a network of partnerships, AFS has officially turned our campus into an arboretum. We are fortunate to have a diverse canopy of trees, which adds up to a great habitat, a great learning tool and a great resource for the community.
Nine AFS faculty members are fully trained Tree Tenders through our partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and our students in Lower and Middle school actively engage in inventorying and identifying our tree stock and caring for trees as part of the curriculum.With guidance from PHS and Meadowbrook Farm, we have inventoried over 300 trees on campus and are working with a broad partnership of friends, neighbors, teachers and students to develop a tree tour to showcase and share our incredible wealth of trees.

Visit the Abington Friends School Arboretum website.

Senior Capstone

During the month of May, seniors finish their regular class responsibilities and work on their Senior Capstone. The Senior Capstone is a culminating intellectual activity or service project that allows students to explore a passion, idea, or opportunity through in-depth inquiry, work, travel, or service. While collaboration and partnership can occur in Senior Capstones, every senior’s experience will be individual and unique.

To participate in the Senior Capstone, an AFS senior must complete all academic and graduation requirements. Seniors must also submit the appropriate application materials on time for their particular Capstone option.

AFS seniors can pursue three different options for their Senior Capstone:

Independent Projects and Travel – Most closely resembling “SIP”, the Independent Projects and Travel option is designed to give seniors wide latitude in developing their own Capstone. An independent project may be: an internship, a creative endeavor, or scholarly research. Proposals for travel should have an academic or service component. Applications for an Independent Project or Trip will be reviewed by an IP committee for approval.
Teaching Internships – Seniors who are interested in working in the AFS Lower or Middle School can apply for a limited number of Teaching Internships. They can apply for a particular area of the school (Middle School Art, 3rd grade, P.E., etc.)
Service and Service Learning – Seniors who are interested in giving back to the larger community can develop their own service projects or can apply for a limited number of spots in AFS-sponsored service opportunities. Seniors may choose to develop a service-learning project if they desire greater challenge.

Each of these Senior Capstone options has its own application and set of deadlines. Seniors who miss the deadlines for a particular application process will not be allowed to apply late, which may limit their options. The requirements, application process, and deadlines for Senior Capstones will be clarified for seniors and their families starting in December of their senior year.

This process will culminate in a celebratory Senior Capstone Night at the end of May when all seniors will come together to present their capstones to family, friends, faculty and classmates.

AFS Explore

AFS Explore: Experience, Leadership, Opportunity, Reflection  and Engagement .

AFS Explore is our program that encourages students to explore and experience opportunities of personal interest as a way to further develop their distinctive identities and full potential as passionate learners.  It’s an opportunity for our students to engage in meaningful experiences outside of the traditional school day and reflect on those experiences as they incorporate those experiences to further their personal development and growth as students and as global citizens.

Students who are interested in AFS Explore should make an appointment to see Rosanne in the Center for Experiential Learning.

Here are some images of students on their travels or in their learning cohorts.

  • Students at the Hobart Friends' School in Tasmania

  • Studying public health in the Dominican Republic

  • MedEx students observing digital x-rays.

  • Students taking a break from studying to explore the beaches "down under."

  • An AFS "Roo" meeting "real" Kangaroos in Tasmania.

There are always more details on the blog!