Nontraditional teachings

MERCEDES — What are the most important movies from the 1970s you need to put on your bucket list to watch before graduation?

“Apocalypse Now?” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind?” “The Godfather?”

The first one’s a war movie, a rather disturbing one at that, and then you have a science fiction flick about aliens landing. And last, but not least, is the movie about a bunch of Mafiosos shooting it out. How to decide, thought Caelan Mitchell-Bennett, 17, a senior at the Science Academy of South Texas.

Caelan was helping a teacher create a presentation for “Exploration Day,” which was held Friday at the school. Each classroom had a different presentation by a student or a teacher. The presentations included cooking classes, an Indian martial arts session, and knitting lessons. The event is held periodically at the school.

“We take a day off from regular school, and teachers and students teach classes on subjects that are not their normal subjects but are of interest to them,” said Caelan, of Harlingen. “Right now I just got done attending a class on medieval war strategy games. We played board games the whole time.”

Exploration Day is a nontraditional day of learning, said Principal Irma Castillo.

“Students get to choose what workshop sessions they’d like to attend, and these workshop sessions are presented by the students themselves,” Castillo said.

Some outside presenters did appear at the event. Members of the South Texas Energy and Economic Roundtable committee talked about environmental safety in mining for oil and gas.

Andrew Horn, 17, enjoyed the presentation, which also detailed the process for oil and gas and how those raw materials are used.

Andrew, a senior from Harlingen, planned to give his own workshop later in the day about organic chemistry. Specifically, he planned to explain how organic compounds are named according to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

Pauline Huff was thinking about chemistry of a different kind, the chemistry of the arts that draw people together. That’s why the 16-year-old sophomore was hosting several sessions on studio art.

“It’s hard to find time outside of school with studying and everything to pursue your hobbies and talents, especially the arts,” she said. “We put plenty of supplies out and pretty much you elect what you want to do.”

She, herself, has her own artistic life.

“I like to paint with watercolor and acrylic,” said the Harlingen resident. “I like comics, too. I draw a couple of comics.”

So there it is. On Exploration Day the rest of us discover what the Science Academy students already know.

In the middle of a world of science, the creative pulse finds a window where it can rush through the hearts and minds of young artists and express itself on canvas. The colors appear as images coming to life, while in a classroom nearby someone teaches knitting and organic chemistry and tells students about the 70s movies they should watch before they leave high school.

Now that’s what you call a “Close Encounter.”