By Ms. Haley Wilbanks
Today, I thought about quite a few things as we were hiking to Agora. There’ve been so many notable moments in the trip so far and as a teacher, it’s been incredible to watch all of them.
For me, an early highlight of the trip came in Havelock when we gave the kids two hours of freedom to roam in a tourist community by the ferry. Mr. Cola prefaced this time by challenging the students to make observations, ask questions and to have conversations that would give them a better understanding of the island. In this moment, these Christchurch students were halfway around the world and were literally “dropped” in a small community; they could only rely on their curiosity, their skills and each other as they learned about a new place. And they were successful — they returned with astute observations and exciting stories to share with us all.
A few days later, as we were driving up a narrow mountain road, Mr. Alter stopped the bus and told us all a story. He described a recent flood that was due to poorly researched dynamite blasts. These blasts were in an effort to reroute the Assi Ganga River so that hydroelectric power could be made and sold to Delhi. After this, Mr. Cola challenged the kids to think about both the stories of the people in that conflict as well as our role in it as consumers who buy things made in places using that power. As Mr. Cola and Mr. Alter were talking, we observed how the flood physically changed the river and surrounding landscape. We looked out the bus window and saw the abandoned concrete building where the power grid would’ve been. This moment was place based education at its finest — we were there! We saw the impacts of this story! And the kids were thinking and observing and asking questions. It was a really neat moment to witness as a teacher.
I’ve been thinking over these last few days about how grateful I am to work for a school like Christchurch that prioritizes place-based and global education. The important work we are doing in India is unlike any other experience — this isn’t a mission or service trip, it’s not a leisure trip — it really embodies experiential education. We’re halfway around the world and stumbled upon a rusty sign that had a Christchurch School bumper sticker, whereas if I go to my hometown three hours away from school there’s no CCS stickers in sight. That really speaks to this longstanding relationship that allows us to learn from these communities just as much as they learn from us.
And the kids are doing so well with all of this! So much better than I would’ve done with it in high school. They’re developing skills and habits of mind that will carry them very far in life and doing it with grace, grit and good humor. After all, they’ve already proven that they can learn from and engage with communities all the way from Tangier to the Andamans, the Rappahannock to the Ganges, the Shenandoah Valley to Agora. Again, as a teacher, it’s been so astounding and humbling and exciting to watch.
And we still have six days left!