Last Friday, the Mercersburg Academy community participated in specially designed workshops focused on the summer reading book - Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir. Within each group, students and teachers engaged in activities centered around humanities, STEM, kinesthetics, and art topics, all thematically related to the book.
This is the first time that Mercersburg has held classes related to a community reading project. Previously, students joined book discussions where they expressed their views of the book in a group with about ten other students and one or two faculty members. However, Alexandra Patterson, Director of Library Services, and Michelle Poacelli, English Department Chair, as well as the community reading committee, were looking for a change when they announced Project Hail Mary day. Both Patterson and Poacelli agreed that the inspiration behind the special classes was definitely the book. Patterson said, ”I am so excited to see the many interpretations of the book! I love that we are able to offer sessions ranging from VR to baking.”
“There was so much in Project Hail Mary that connected to science, math, the arts, humanities, and physical challenges,” Poacelli said. “The committee of students and faculty and staff who selected the book saw the connections right away and ran with session ideas.” Patterson added, “The community reading committee discussed the book as part of our discussion process last November and immediately there was interest in creating session offerings, instead of the book discussion model. Some of the ideas generated in that initial session became classes for the day and others were generated by faculty around the themes in the book!”
This atypical approach generated positive feedback from students. Gigi Devlin ‘24 said, “I actually really enjoyed my class. I was in ‘What do the book critics say?’ and many people shared the same feelings towards the book as me, so the discussion was very fun.” Khanh Nguyen ‘23 said, “My class was Model United Nations, and I felt like we had a fruitful discussion when talking about the effects of installing solar panels in the Sahara desert.” However, the students agreed that the way the sessions were organized felt a little too long for them, making the experience somewhat less enjoyable.
There were mixed reactions to the book, however. Yule Kwon ‘26 said, “I think the book was pretty educational. It might have been boring and long for summer vacation though.” Devlin, on the other hand, was not really a fan of the storytelling in the book. She said, “The science felt cheap,” which made her not really interested in the activities initially.
At the end of the day, the workshops were a success. “Ms. Patterson and I just mobilized the incredible talents and resources of Mercersburg's adult community, and with a little (or a lot of) planning, the day was made. We hope everyone enjoyed it.” Poacelli recalled the programming for the project: “I had the opportunity to visit most of the classes, and from my vantage point, they looked great. Students were engaged, making connections, and having fun. That's just what we were hoping for.”