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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 with 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 several exciting trips.

Global Travel Q&A


American Shakespeare Center (ASC)

November 16-18, 2018

Staunton, VA

Trip Leader: Megan Bellwoar Hollinger

Open to all students

American Shakespeare Center Application

Discover the fun and accessibility of theatre the way Shakespeare imagined it to be! The ASC’s mission is to create the experience of Elizabethan audiences by recreating the conditions of 16th and 17th century theatre. The authenticity begins with the design of their beautiful building, Blackfriars Playhouse — the world’s only reproduction of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre. Students experience original staging conditions and practices throughout three productions –AS YOU LIKE IT, RICHARD III, and Jane Austen’s EMMA–as well as in workshops on stage combat and rhetoric/direct address. The group will also explore the quaint town of Staunton, VA, and enjoy the restaurants and culture of the Shenandoah Valley. Additional Information on American Shakespeare Center


Yellowstone Wildlife Ecology

May 25 – June 2, 2019

Bozeman, Montana

Trip Leaders: Brian Cassady and Erin Bengsten

Open to all students

AFS Yellowstone Application

EPI Yellowstone Form

On this trip you will work with the highly respected Ecology Project International (EPI) group. EPI partners students with the National Park Service on ongoing research projects. Students will spend a week in and around Yellowstone National Park working on habitat restoration and bison grazing projects. They’ll observe the park’s famous Lamar Valley wolf packs and its fantastic thermal features. By the end of the course, students will gain a strong understanding of the complex conservation issues facing the region and in depth knowledge of bison and wolves. As a last day culminating event, the group will raft the Yellowstone River. Additional Information on Ecology Project International Yellowstone


Paris Art and Culture

May 24 – June 1, 2019

Paris, France

Trip Leaders: Dina Cohen and Rosanne Mistretta

Open to all students

AFS Paris Application

On this trip students venture into what many would consider the artistic and cultural capital of the western hemisphere, Paris, France. They immerse themselves completely into everything the breathtaking city has to offer. By learning local customs, cuisine, and language, students will experience a world different from their day-to-day lives, and gain new experiences and lessons along the way. Visits to the Louvre and Claude Monet’s gardens in Giverny, unveil France’s rich art history. The gardens became the setting for many of Monet’s works and will give students a chance to jump straight into his 100-year-old Impressionist paintings! The group will also visit the Rue Des Martyrs, a street with over 200 small shops, to interact with local artisans honing their craft in real time. Other explorations include: Notre Dame, the Basilique du Sacre Coeur, and the sprawling landscape of the Versailles estate. Additional information on Spark Expeditions (Paris)


Exploring China

June 16-27

Beijing, China

Trip Leader: Tina Yen

Open to 9th -11th Grade Students

AFS China Application

This is the first time AFS students will have the opportunity to travel to China. It will be a unique experience unlike any other! Students will explore China’s ancient past while experiencing the country’s cultural diversity, economic and technological advancements, and rapid urbanization. This 12-14 day itinerary includes such World Heritage sites as The Great Wall, the Terracotta Soldiers, and cities like Beijing, Xi’an, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou. Students interested in attending this trip will be required to take the China ExTerm course in order to prepare for the trip. Additional information on World Strides (China)


Hobart Friends Tasmania Student Exchange

Summer 2019

Hobart, Tasmania

Open to 9th Grade Students

We are pleased to announce the third cohort of our exchange program with the Friends’ School, Hobart, Tasmania! This exciting opportunity is open to our 9th grade students. Students will travel to Tasmania this coming summer for a 3-week period and experience a Quaker School down under! Then the Hobart students will come in the students’ 10th grade year to experience Philadelphia and AFS in January/February. The application will be coming out soon for this programAdditional information on Friends School Hobart.

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.

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

Creative Endeavors –  This option is designed to give seniors wide latitude in developing their own Capstone. Students may work alone or in a small group, and all Creative Endeavor proposals will be approved by committee. Student applicants must demonstrate a distinctive level of self-discipline and work ethic in order to be approved for their proposal.

External Internships – Students can apply to work in an unpaid career-based internship at a business or organization. Internships will also be reviewed by a committee of faculty to determine their suitability. Internships cannot be for a family business.

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 request a particular area of the school (Middle School Art, 3rd grade, P.E., etc.) but are not guaranteed that their preference will be available.

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.

View Senior Capstone 2018 Project Examples

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.


The ExTerm program offers an experiential, immersive and interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that provides deep engagement with ideas, resources and people. Faculty and students will work together over the course of two weeks to discover passions, explore opportunities and connect with the larger community.

Learn more about ExTerm here.

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!