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April 25, 2023

AHA’s Bespoke Course at Oxford Imparts Knowledge for Life

 Imagine having the chance to attend a world-renowned university where you immerse yourself in a class that was tailor-made for you. Each spring, students from the Academy of the Holy Angels enjoy this exciting opportunity through the upper school’s Oxford Study Abroad Program.


AHA English Department Chair Nancy Schneberger wrote the curriculum for this bespoke critical thinking course, which is offered at Pembroke College. This unique program has been available since 2018, with a brief interruption at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This April, Schneberger chaperoned the trip with her husband, William Schneberger, and AHA Social Studies Department Chair Gail Fair.


Participating students included Raphaela Cárdenas of Clifton; Keira Footer and Natalie Yoo of Englewood Cliffs; Tristan Fowler of Upper Nyack, New York; Katelyn Freeburn of Mahwah; Nora Gianantonio, Ashley Miskovitz, Alexandra Nicholas, and Ava Tripodi of Emerson; Kate Hynes of Park Ridge; Annabelle Hur of Norwood; Alexis Jacob of Tappan, New York; Anna Jang of Tenafly; Katerina Karlis of Cresskill; Leah Keller of New Milford; Caroline Ko of Hoboken; Kate Langan of Haworth; Camila Latinsky-Ortiz of Englewood; Gigi Ochs of Fair Lawn; Sophia Rigoli of Franklin Lakes; Sienna Speed of Ridgewood; Kira Sullivan of Teaneck; Alexandra Valdez of Oakland; and Graicen Van Blarcom Deluise of Glen Rock.

“Their major was critical thinking and their minor was public speaking,” Mrs. Schneberger shared. “Some highlights were a special presentation by a panel of Rhodes Scholars that included information about applying for grants and advanced degrees, punting on the Thames, a trip to Blenheim Palace, a nighttime ghost tour, visits to the Ashmolean Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum, a tour of the Bodleian Library, and a poetry walk through Magdalen College. We also attended Easter Mass at Christ Church cathedral and toured the sites where Harry Potter was filmed and Alice and Wonderland was conceived, along with sites associated with famous writers from Oxford such as Tolkein and C.S. Lewis.”


Schneberger’s curriculum incorporates growth mindset concepts and meshes with the Academy’s philosophy of transforming individuals through education. Students focus on deep, philosophical thoughts in one of the most prestigious universities in the world, and explore another culture while learning more about themselves and the world. Students learn for the sake of learning. (No grades are awarded.) As they dig into their cross-curricular studies, Angels become more careful consumers of information, think critically and analytically, and become empowered to speak confidently about their ideas with support from texts and established philosophical systems. Participants return home with a greater willingness to embrace challenges, and engage in discussions with increased confidence.


Students participated in Socratic Seminars, focusing on how epistemic injustice relates to social power.


“Some of the key skills they learned were how to construct arguments which are valid in structure, but also sound in content to the fullness of their capacities without holding others liable for the limitations of their capacities,” Schneberger reported. “Many of the arguments constructed were syllogistic, after the Socratic method. They also created a manifesto for critical thinking as a class project.”


Instructors were Matthew Bradley and Joseph Ward, both of whom are completing their doctoral studies at Oxford. Each Angel accrued 17.5 class hours in critical thinking, and eight hours in public speaking.

Ava Tripodi, a junior from Emerson, said this program allowed her to become a more well-rounded individual while she experienced the college environment.

“Some key messages I brought back from Oxford were the useful techniques we learned in critical thinking to establish a sound and valid argument and the confidence necessary to perform a memorable public speech,” Tripodi said.

The Angels also enjoyed taking on challenges beyond academics, particularly punting on the Thames.


“My favorite memory from the Oxford trip is definitely the afternoon we spent punting,” said Tristan Fowler, who is also a member of the Class of 2024. “Punting is a type of boating in England where you use a long metal rod to push the boat along the canal by sinking it into the ground and pulling. We quickly learned that the technique was much more difficult than it seemed.”


Fowler added, “We learned so much from our trip, both from our lessons and our experiences in the city. In class, we learned how to form a strong argument and how to convey messages through public speaking. We also learned the values of independence, resourcefulness, and time management during our adventures in the city.


“The knowledge and values we learned in Oxford will serve us for the rest of our lives. Our newly honed critical thinking and public speaking skills will aid us in school and our future careers. We will carry the lessons we learned while traveling and meeting new people through all of our future adventures.”


Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County.