Fall is such a busy season! It’s time to squeeze in the last bits of summer fun, get back to the swing of things of school schedules, make plans for the impending holiday season and make time for apple picking, pumpkin carving and coming up with a creative Halloween costume. Amidst all of that, ACIS team members like myself hit the road to meet new teachers and attend conferences. The objective is to learn what our teachers are working on and what direction they would like to take in their classrooms, so we can be a partner in achieving their goals through educational travel!
The first stop of my fall road trip was in Sacramento, CA. I worked my way to Reno, NV to the PLAN World Languages Conference. Since moving out to the West Coast from Philadelphia a year ago, I am struck by the diversity of epic landscape I see within the four-hour drive between my home in the North Bay of San Francisco and Reno. That diversity is reflected in the communities it holds, and in turn the classrooms serving those communities. I met teachers dressed in suits with playful socks and teachers dressed in t-shirts and baseball caps. But the commonality of hard work, incredible care, creativity and self-sacrifice is universal. All strive to give their students the best they can and to never stop learning from their students, for their students.
Once in Reno, I hosted a Littlest Big City Walking Food Tour where five teachers and myself spent the evening getting to know each other and their city. We walked around downtown learning about the efforts of the locals to support their community. There were local food marts where surrounding the building was a gorgeous vegetable garden that they use for their café, and a restauranteur who only rents the apartments above to local artisans. The downtown made me think of a Las Vegas meets Austin, TX with so many pockets of innovation and efforts for good.
One teacher spoke of her travel partner making her group drive all the way to San Francisco and stay overnight to catch their flights when they have a great airport right in Reno. That’s one of those costly details the big box travel companies don’t tell you about upfront. It’s a practice called backfilling where the big boxes buy a ton of generic tickets upfront and force their customers to use them regardless of where their travelers are from. We capped off the evening coming in second place at Trivia Night at a local brewery owned by a teacher’s husband.
Attending the fourth year of the PLAN World Languages Conference was a real treat! The conference was created by dedicated world language teachers to fill the gap of resources and learning opportunities for the language teachers of Nevada. With eighty teachers in attendance, this was an intimate conference, focusing on the future place of world languages.
My first impression is: WOW they do not teach language the way I learned Spanish twenty-some years ago! The focus is on the practical conversational use of the language versus the grammar charts and vocabulary flash cards I worked with. There’s the incorporation of social justice themes and multi-media resources for every level to hold discussion on. These are productive conversations to have in all languages. Language is no longer a tool for travel experiences only, but one for business, to be part of our diversified global economy and job market. And with this shift of focus, world language teachers provide students with 21st century marketable skills, a direction for their future, giving them purpose to pursue these studies.
Two local schools presented on their fight and results to becoming early education bi-lingual schools. The local government and communities pushed back hard and in unpleasant ways, thinking multiple languages would distract from the curriculum and bring everyone’s performance down. The results are quite the opposite! Turns out that both native English speakers and ESL learned so much from each other. Attendance at the schools is up, grades on both sides are up, and the inclusive environment of the school has formed great bonds within both the school, among students and the overall communities they serve. They have 8th graders taking AP language tests meant for 12th graders! I was so very impressed to say the least. Teachers are heroes in so many ways!
I came away from this road trip inspired to connect these purpose driven initiatives with the similar lessons learned from travel experiences. Personally, I learned so much from my time abroad which all began with my high school Spanish teacher taking our class to Spain. Educational travel is about independence, collaboration, cultural exploration, critical thinking and being outside of your comfort zone and realizing “you got this.” It’s a very different experience from a family vacation. We work provide space for students to grow into this big world and into themselves to find their direction in life. Travel opens up a whole world of possibilities that they never knew existed outside of their home town.
Teachers, thank you so much for all the hard work that you do, pushing, innovating and shaping our youth and in turn our communities. In the words of Ryan Smith, former President of PLAN, go out there and be a “Weapon of Mass Instruction!” And know that we’re here to support you in that mission.