In January, it was the Pacific Northwest — one of English teacher Wes Priest’s favorite parts of the country. Priest taught a January Term class that studied the geography, music, and culture of the region, and then he and his two fellow teachers took the 22 students in the class to visit it.
In July, it’s even farther. Priest will take several dozen high school soccer players and their family members – 94 people total – to San Sebastian, Spain to compete in The Donosti Cup tournament.
For some, traveling with high school students is daunting. For Priest, it’s exhilarating.
“I’m passionate about it because I think traveling with kids is the best way to experience the world,” said Priest. “Whether that’s going to the Indiana Dunes, or Chicago, or Portland, or Spain, or Africa, it’s a unique thing that we [the school] offer.”
It was Priest’s love of traveling alongside students – and his vast experience doing so – that led him to the 2017 Global Educators Conference this month. The conference, put on at the Chadwick School in California by the Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG), brought together 200 independent school professionals with an interest and stake in global education.
Speakers at the conference ranged from anthropologist/ethnobotanist Wade Davis to Pulitzer Prize winner Sonia Nazario. Logistics-focused sessions discussed risk management and managing social media with students while abroad. Others offered a big-picture look at how schools incorporate global education into their curriculum.
“These are all educators who are interested in cultural immersion experiences with their students,” said Priest. “This group’s purpose is to make those immersion experiences richer and more meaningful for faculty and students, and more deliberate and thoughtful in how we offer them.”
One benefit of the conference for Priest was seeing how other schools built a framework for immersive travel experiences.
“The Hathaway Brown School, which is an all-girls K-12 school near Cleveland, is doing an excellent job,” said Priest. “At this particular school, between 7th grade and senior year, girls have 12 immersion experiences built into their classes.”
Hathaway Brown’s immersion experiences are offered through their Center for Global Citizenship, and many of the school’s students are part of the Global Scholars Program (GSP). The GSP is a four-year course of high school study that examines, according to their website, “different regions of the world, global leaders, pertinent issues, and politics.” A purposeful international experience is one requirement of graduation from the GSP.
In addition to learning how schools like Hathaway Brown approach educational travel, Priest also came away with ideas to enhance University’s existing January Term program. Several sessions on risk management reinforced the importance of a specialized training for teachers who travel with students, especially those who travel internationally.
“I think one idea that resonated with me – it’s very practical – was risk management, […] the idea of being very deliberate and thoughtful of all the possible contingencies that can happen,” said Priest. “If we’re sending 150 kids to Uganda [an exaggerated number], are we cognizant of all the risks inherent in that, and are we doing our due diligence? Do we hire a point person who helps facilitate and manage travel? Do we have someone on retainer? I think we’re moving in that direction, to codify some of the ways we do things.”
While January Term travel has many benefits, the conference did prompt Priest to consider some of the drawbacks and think of creative solutions. For example, classes that travel during January Term have ample time before the trip to prepare, but time to process the experience once the class returns home is limited. This led Priest to wonder if there might be other times during the school year for travel experiences.
“One of the best ideas I heard, and I think I’m going to float this out, is offering classes during the second semester that have a travel component during Spring Break,” said Priest.
Whenever the travel takes place, if there’s one thing this conference reinforced for Priest it is the value of teaching students about the world by letting them see the world.
“Travel is a great way for kids to understand our focus is on empathy and understanding multiple perspectives,” said Priest. “I think it is one vehicle that allows kids to see a world larger than Hamilton County or Indianapolis, and understanding the interconnectedness of the world is important.”