Is Interim Equitable?
By Emerson L. & Gracie S.
December 17, 2018
Each year, Westridge students participate in the highly-anticipated and mandatory activity known as Interim Week, or Interim for short. During Interim, students leave campus to engage in local or global experiences. Some are service-based trips, others are opportunities for cultural exploration. However, for some Westridge students, the heavy load holding them back from the trip of their dreams is not the 18-hour flight or the 15 mile hike, but the unrealistic cost of these experiences.
Many students don’t think twice about the cost of trips, but for others, these factors determine their decision. Just like in the past, this year Westridge offered one free trip: Tree People, which, for many students, was their only option. One freshman, who requested anonymity, explained how the cost of a trip affected her decision. “The only reason why Tree People was even on my list was because it is free. My other choices were the other five cheapest Interims. I come from a lower income family, so I didn’t want my mom to stress on money for something that will last a few days. She can use that money to actually pay my tuition or to save to put towards our dream house.”
To mitigate the cost of trips, some students take a more strategic approach when choosing their trip. Zellie O., ’19, chose cheaper trips in her past three years at Westridge so that she would be able to do more expensive trips later. “Last year, I volunteered for Tree People so that my family didn't have to pay for anything and we would have some money to visit colleges later on in the year.” Zellie believes there are some issues with the Interim program. “Though mostly seniors and juniors go on the big, expensive trips, there is still a socioeconomic divide between many of the students. While this divide doesn't come out in daily conversations, I see it within the structure of Interim because some students are easily able to say yes to more expensive trips while I feel like I can't afford most of the bigger, ‘better’ Interims because of money and time.”
“I don’t think it is equitable that there is a lack of options for those who can’t spend that much money, or any money, on Interim,” said Sarah W., ’20. “The overall tuition of this school is already extremely high, and many people can’t afford to spend hundreds more on a school trip. I feel like there should be more of a variety of cheaper options for the many individuals who can’t afford to spend more than they already have to for their education.”
Administrators are aware of the financial inequity, given that Interim participation is mandatory. “You don't want to offer experiences that only kids whose families have [a lot of] money can go on, but that is not the case,” Gary Baldwin, Director of Upper School, said. Although Westridge offers financial aid, the Interim experiences can still be expensive, especially the international trips. For example, a trip trekking through the lush jungles of Borneo and learning about the local wildlife will set you back an eye-watering $3,760. Some students propose to roll the cost of Interim into tuition. “It’s hard also to simultaneously keep the tuition at a reasonable level,” Baldwin said in response to this suggestion. “We do not have a perfect solution to this, but we're always trying to create great experiences both in Interim and in other places, manage the cost, and make it available to as many kids as we possibly can.”
However, many students believe rolling the cost of Interim into tuition is the only solution. Molly M., ’22, laments inequity of a different kind: choice. She wishes there were more options for free Interim trips. “As a new student, it is hard for me to choose a trip because I have never been on one before. One thing that I did notice was that there was only one free option and it did not interest me personally,” she said.
Lack of interest can also impact program offerings. Sarah W., ’20, put the Voice and Vision College Tour Interim as the first choice on her Interim form. Because she assumed she was going to be on that trip, Sarah didn’t put much thought her other choices, and she wasn’t the only junior to do so. The Voice and Vision College Tour Interim in past years has been a popular and standard choice for juniors. However, for the 2018-2019 school year, it was canceled due to a lack of interest. “Now that the trip is canceled, I don’t know when I will get another opportunity to look at colleges.” The choices of college visits on the Voice and Vision Interim contributed to students’ lack of interest. “I think that if Westridge considered the students’ interests of locations, they would have more people sign up for the college trip, and we wouldn’t have had this issue in the first place,” the junior said. Even though Sarah took the college tour Interim for granted, she is just one junior among multiple left in a lurch by its cancellation who believes Interim could stand to change.
Phia H., ’20, chose the college tour Interim in large part due to her parents’ wishes. “[My parents] both work, and so they don't have time to take me on a lot of college tour. They were relying on this trip,” explained Phia. As a result of the canceled college tour Interim, Phia might not tour her schools of choice.
Seniority within Westridge restricts some students from the trip they want, further adding to the inequity of the program. Student seniority gives students priority of choice even if they’re more financially able and less interested. Amelia H. and Molly M. are both freshmen about to experience their first Upper School Interim, and affluence isn’t the only axis on which they believe Interim inequity spins. Molly believes that freshmen should be able to take trips out of the country. “It’s not fair for freshmen,” agreed her classmate Amelia. Regardless of your opinion on senior Interim privilege, Molly raises an interesting point: “All the trips offered for freshmen were in LA, and you could do them on your own for cheaper.” Zellie is aware that “mostly seniors and juniors go on the big expensive trips,” but she thinks that Westridge should “focus on better local trips so that underclassmen and people who don't have as much money can feel happy about whatever Interim they get put in.”
On one hand, the prioritization of older Upper School students in Interim trip assignments seems to make sense; they have fewer opportunities to take the trip they want, and they are presumably more responsible young adults, suitable for international or challenging trips. However, some students object to the current system, as freshmen’s options for Interim are somewhat limited even if they are financially able to pay.
Bonnie Pais Martinez, Dean of Upper School, believes that the Interim program is not perfect but still a great learning experience. “I've watched Interim Week for 18 years, and I do know that the school tries to make it fair. The objective is to have many different types of experiences, whether it be theater, visual arts, or have a service component.” Martinez says that in past years, there were more options for free trips, but these past two years have only had one free trip. “[Westridge] will usually have tutoring in public schools [as a free option for Interim.] But the second year in a row, it's fallen that [the public school students] have vacation at that time.”
Many Westridge students felt that even if free or lower-cost international or similarly extravagant trips were impossible, more attractive, cost-efficient options were needed to support educational equity. Even students of financial means acknowledged the strain Interim puts on lower-income families and the socioeconomic divide it reinforces—in direct opposition to Interim’s goals of “experiential learning” and building community by “giving [students] a common experience” as stated by Baldwin.
Interim Week is an out-of-the-classroom educational opportunity for Westridge students, whether that is in Los Angeles, another state, or another country. Although Interim raises questions of equity, in cost, choice, and access, the Interim program is a hallmark of Westridge’s Upper School program, and finding better ways to give more students equitable access to trips without being excluded by the cost or frowning in disappointment at the program choices or lack thereof will only increase its educational value and purpose. Interim may have some problems with equity and fairness, but many like Corina D. ’21 still agree that even with those concerns, “it does offer a really good opportunity for travel.”