Photo courtesy of Tessa Bianchi

CFE during COVID

All the ways Cultural Field Experience will be different this year

After the world was struck with the global pandemic (COVID-19), many programs at Minnehaha were forced to adjust or even shut down to ensure safety. This included the Cultural Field Experience (CFE), a weeklong on-site learning experience for students from grades 9 through 12. During this week, students will work with people, communities, and experiences that may be different from what they might be used to working with. This opportunity given by the school is meant to provide students with many new opportunities in addition with learning life lessons along the way. Participants in CFE will further understand another’s life and point of view, engage in experiences in order to become compassionate globally-minded citizens, and empower students with a willingness to give of themselves in service to God and others.

CFE this year

Due to the constant uprising in COVID-19 cases, Minnehaha has thought of ways to enable new and returning high school students take part in an experience similar to CFE, while still abiding by COVID-19 guidelines. “COVID-19 has really pushed us to think outside the box and get creative about ways we can still be engaged in our community and serve,” said CFE director Jessa Anderson.

“One of the biggest challenges has just been having to be flexible with the unknown.” With the obstacle COVID-19 brings, the school has decided to go fully remote to ensure the safety of students, staff, and communities. “CFE will be done completely remotely this year by using our advisory groups and times to work on CFE projects,” said Anderson. “We have spent the last couple of months preparing through conversations and journaling to get our hearts and minds ready to serve in our community. In the last few weeks, we have been discussing projects and partnerships. Most groups will begin their CFE projects starting in January.”

With the sudden shift in plans, being able to serve statewide, nationwide, and globally were out of the question. Due to this, new opportunities that normally would not take place became available for the CFE groups.

“COVID-19 has really opened the doors to new partnerships and new creative ways for students to plug into organizations that they might not have been able to partner with before,” said Ander-
son. “For instance, in places that we have only been able to send maybe 6 students in person, we are now able to have 20 students connect with them virtually.”

With new possibilities and chances for larger groups serving virtually, advisories have been thinking outside the box on ways they can serve their communities this winter. Some of the projects for this year include: Writing letters to seniors or those who have been isolated during COVID-19, virtual pen-pal videos with schools in France and Slovakia, creating a virtual STEM festival for elementary age girls, virtual tutoring, interviewing seniors, and creating a book for them about their “Best Day Ever”, making fun activities packs for children at a Crisis Nursery, and shoveling snow for homes around the neighborhood.

“This year my advisory has decided that for CFE we will all choose one house in our neighborhood to shovel all winter,” said senior James Blomgren. “I am looking forward to CFE because it will get me outside and I can give back to the community that raised me. I am a little disappointed in how the traditional projects aren’t an option this year, but I also see this as a challenge and learning experience to make something ordinary meaningful to the people I am serving.”

Reactions to how CFE has changed

This winter isn’t the first time CFE was affected by COVID-19. In March of 2020, students and faculty learned that CFE projects had been cancelled as the school moved into virtual learning.

“I was disappointed after hearing CFE had been canceled,” said Blomgren. “My CFE group led by Mr. Manion and Ms. Reist were planning on going up to the North Shore. I was really looking forward to it because not only was the destination great, but my group was full of good friends and people I didn’t know. I was excited to meet new people and deepen my current friendships. So when our trip got canceled I couldn’t help but feel like I had missed something special.”

The class of 2021 in particular was impacted the most as they were not able to have CFE their freshman year either due to shifting academic weeks because of the explosion on August 2.

“I was disappointed when I found out I was not able to take part in CFE last year,” said senior Toby Jacobson. “I had an amazing CFE experience in my sophomore year and was excited to have the opportunity to volunteer again.”

Hopes and goals for this year

Along with trying to serve the community, students in their advisory will be trying to set and achieve goals for themselves during this opportunity.

“One of my goals is to bring joy into my neighbor’s life every time I see them,” said Blomgren. “I think it is really easy to withdraw during winter, especially with COVID-19. So by regularly checking in with my neighbors, I can help them stay positive. I hope that I can draw useful lessons from this and that they are able to benefit from my actions.”

Because all the advisories work in different environments, goals may vary depending on the community the group is serving.

“My advisory is raising money to donate to an organization helping young women in Guatemala for CFE this year,” said Jacobson. “My biggest hope is
that we can raise as much money as possible to aid the organization and positively impact lives.”

With the obstacles and hardships that the pandemic brings to CFE, students are still able to explore and develop their personal characteristics.

“I love that our CFE program offers so many different opportunities for students to expand their world view and grow in empathy for others,” said Anderson. “I don’t think that changes just because CFE looks different this year. I believe the goal of CFE can be met whether students travel across the world, go and serve in-person in the Twin Cities, or creatively think of ways to serve and encourage others at a distance. My hope is that this year, we learn as a student body that no matter where we are or how different things look this year, we are capable and able to open our eyes to opportunities to build bridges, grow in empathy, and do what we can to make a difference in this world for the good of all people.”


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