A Tweak to P-Week

Frani O’Toole


With the release of the Project Week catalog last Friday, p-week excitement is at its peak. Browsing this year’s options, we’re reminiscing over past p-weeks and looking forward to future ones. We’re recognizing that p-week is a unique opportunity, unique in its ability to form friendships and build global and local perspectives. We’re appreciating that p-week is exclusive to Latin. Or is it?

As it turns out, we are not the only school to offer a Project Week. An online search revealed at least six other schools that give some variation of a p-week. Of the six, Morgan Park Academy in Chicago, the Overlake School in Washington, the Altamont school in Alabama, and the New Hampton School in New Hampshire boast programs that are nearly identical to ours. The main differences are found in the selection process, where Latin’s philosophy of “random lottery” distinguishes us from the others.

Like the others, Overlake lists its set of selection criteria on its website: it says considerations “that will affect project placement includes year in school, history of local versus travel projects, previous project choice number, school versus independent project, and group compatibility.” The meaning of these terms is a little unclear, since the criteria is mostly unfamiliar. One evident difference between Latin’s p-week and Overlake’s is the “school project” vs. “independent project.” Aside from Internships (formerly Careers), Latin doesn’t offer an “independent” option. Says Ms. Rice, Latin’s Project Week coordinator, the “shared, group experience is important to Project Week.” In terms of its “school projects,” Overlake has turned “group experience” into a selection criteria: they call it “group compatibility.” Ms. Rice says that “since Latin uses a random lottery process, there’s no way of telling a ‘group’s compatibility,’” but that past p-weeks have proven that positive group dynamics often develop on their own.

The most controversial difference between our school and the others is that  Latin does not give preference to seniors. At the four other schools, seniority seems to be an important part of their system. It alleviates some of the students’ anxiety surrounding p-week, since each are guaranteed a top-choice Project Week in their final year. Still, Ms. Rice says that Latin’s method of impartial placement “avoids having certain project weeks be entirely seniors,” and it makes p-week a chance for students of different grades to spend time together. Unlike the other schools, Latin also makes a concerted effort to keep projects open to every grade. On the contrary, Overlake, MPA, Altamont, and New Hampton make many projects open exclusively to 10th, 11th and 12th graders. This, I think, reveals a fundamental difference between our p-week and the others: our program is rooted in the idea of building relationships, regardless of grade level.

The four other schools have recently uploaded their Project Week catalogs as well, making them easy to browse and compare with Latin’s. Certain trends in the other schools’ catalogues—such as offering two trips to the same place and including projects constructed as college preparation—are absent from Latin’s list. Some interesting offerings of the other schools include New Hampton’s “school history” option, Morgan Park Academy’s “Southern California College Tour,” and Altamont School’s trip to Chicago. None of the others had as many options as Latin, nor did they have any in-town requirement. Latin’s in-town requirement ensures that students will gain some local perspective through Project Week, another aspect that distinguishes us.

Though I don’t think the school tries to perpetuate the “myth” that no other schools offer p-week, many students aren’t aware that our program isn’t alone and wasn’t the first (The New Hampton School’s program began in 1970, two years before ours). That said, the way students have mythologized it reveals how much our community values the program. So that while p-week may not be exclusive to Latin, that doesn’t mean it isn’t one-of-a-kind.