Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Bright School is furthering its mission of producing wise, competent citizens of the world through its new faculty summer travel program.
“Part of our mission is to expand the understanding of the world among our students,” said principal O.J. Morgan. “If we’re going to be authentic about it, our teachers need to see the world too.”
Through a private donation, the school recently constructed an International Flag Court to display flags from the more than 20 different countries represented in the school’s student body. Families can get a plaque under their country’s flag by making a donation, with the funds going toward the new faculty travel program.
To apply for the program, teachers are required to have been at the school for at least five years. Those who want to travel write a statement on why they want to go and what they plan to do, which they then discuss further in an interview with Morgan.
For the first round this past summer, the names of the teachers suiting all the requirements were put into a hat. Spanish teacher Laura Goetz and second-grade teacher Sara Davis were selected to travel to Germany for two weeks over their summer break.
Their only requirement while on the trip was to visit at least one elementary school. Bright currently has 39 German students, so the teachers visited some of the students’ former schools to get a better idea of where they came from and what they will be returning to if their parents move back.
“I wanted to experience and see the world the way they see it,” said Goetz, herself a native of Mexico.
Through a recent exchange program in which Mexican students came to stay with Bright families, she saw how much her students’ cultural understanding expanded and wanted to experience that for herself with German culture, she said.
Both teachers visited Neue Schule in Wolfsburg, where the headquarters of Volkswagen is located and where many of the German students now studying at Bright went to school. Goetz also spent time at Grund Schule Burgkirchen in Burghausen, home of Wacker headquarters, which employs several Bright families as well.
Along with teaching English classes for the students in Germany, Davis spoke with teachers about curriculum to make sure her students would be prepared upon their return to their home country.
“It opened my eyes to what a lot of our students are coming from so I can help them to do their best here,” said Davis, adding that she is now more enlightened about the differences in phonics and feels better equipped to help her students master the more difficult sounds and spellings.
She said she enjoyed exploring the castles and cathedrals of the local villages, where she took “thousands” of pictures. The trip was her first ever outside the United States, and she said she wishes she had done something similar years ago because of the extent to which it broadened her understanding of the world.
“I felt like I was having some of the same feelings as our students when they came here,” said Davis.
Morgan said the interest from the investment fund created through flag plaque donations will provide sufficient funds for the school to send at least one teacher abroad each summer, possibly two. Bright celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2013, and he feels the program continues the tradition of educating students about the broader world, which was of such great importance to the school’s founder, who was known as a world traveler.
“Borders do not exist at Bright School,” Morgan said, adding that more than 16 languages are spoken at home by Bright School families.
Once a year the school hosts an international food day in which families prepare dishes from their native countries, such as Pakistan, Israel and Syria. Morgan said the school’s unique outlook on education includes placing high value on learning through experience, and this event is the perfect example of how experiential learning gives the students a deeper understanding of important concepts that will stay with them throughout life.
“It gives them an opportunity to experience the greatest lesson in life: that we can live in peace and celebrate other cultures that are different,” he said. “It’s a truly individual school that sees the value in learning differently, and our families feel secure here in that.”