I hold an adamant belief that travel can be an invaluable, life-altering experience. Families that have the means to travel often see it as a luxury, and take for granted the incredible learning that they and their children gain. I work in an alternative high school – most of my students are from families that do not have anywhere near those kinds of means. Their experiences have been, in large part, a struggle and the larger world is mostly an abstraction – including the potential wonder and hope that it can hold. Monteverde, Costa Rica epitomizes that kind of wonder and hope – blending the culture of indigenous inhabitants with that of the American Quaker settlers that arrived in the 1950’s, and balancing a model of conservation with becoming an international eco-tourism destination. The book, Walking With Wolf, tells this story in a remarkable way.
We are now in the midst of a year-long interdisciplinary class that will include Walking With Wolf, student blogs (which I hope you'll check out on the right), individual research projects, and a 10-day trip to Monteverde this Spring. The students are working hard and must fundraise their entire way there - they need your help. If you are willing to support their efforts,
checks can be made out to “Lister Academy – Costa Rica Class”, and mailed to: Robert J. Lister Academy, Attn: Bryan Mascio, 35 Sherburne Road, Portsmouth, NH 03801.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Chilean Miners - a lesson in bonding

I first referenced the Chilean mining disaster to my Costa Rica class in early September - at that point we knew they were alive, but weren't expecting a rescue to happen until Christmas. It was a Monday and we were sharing the connections that came to mind while reading the latest chapter in Walking With Wolf. We had just read about their early settlement of Monteverde, Costa Rica and how they developed rudimentary hydro-electric power and dug their own wells for water. It seemed to me that if Wolf could hand-dig a well that would work for years, then, with all of our technological advancements over the last 60 years, we should certainly be able to dig out these miners in less than 4 months.

It turns out that the rescuers did their job in half of the expected time and all of Chili and the world has recently rejoiced as the last miner was lifted to the surface. When I think about this ordeal now, it is much more than a story of disaster, rescue, or even survival - it is a story of bonding. These men came together and jointly made decisions and commitments that kept everyone alive. Under stress it is very easy to just look out for "number 1", but this is an example of the good that comes from seeing the importance of the group.

I am especially intrigued by their agreement that they would all split the monetary gain that any of the men received from his story. Only time will tell if this holds true, but the very fact that they agreed to it is meaningful. I have been similarly impressed as the students in this Costa Rica class have been fundraising for their trip to Monteverde. While we started out with each individual student focusing on their own efforts and goal, the language I am more commonly hearing now is how "we" are doing for "our" goal. This kind of change and growth is even more rewarding than the academics involved.

If you would be interested in supporting these students, please check out our website and Facebook page where you can get information about our Leaf Raking, our fundraiser at Texas Roadhouse, or online donations.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Let The Healing Begin

Kay Chornook, the author of Walking With Wolf, mentions several times how her experiences in Monteverde, Costa Rica acted as a hospice for her. This happens, first, as she recovers from a difficult divorce, and then again after she has been treated for Hodgkin's Disease. Part of my drive to create this class and bring my students to Monteverde is because I believe that it can have a similar healing effect for them - and it has already begun.

I am seeing commitment and perseverance in the classroom that I have rarely seen before. These students, unaccustomed to completing homework or having adults expect them to do so, are keeping up with the reading and taking copious notes. They're asking questions and pursuing answers, at times when they may otherwise have stayed silent. They are spending hours researching information that is related to the text and connects it to their interests. They are taking feedback and making changes to pieces of writing that they have labored over - both hard pills to swallow for students that have histories of just wanting to be done.

These changes extend to the non-academic as well. We just had a fundraiser this past Thursday night - selling raffle tickets at the Harlem Wizards game at Portsmouth High School - and I can't speak highly enough of how well the students stepped up. While other members of our school had a dinner out before the game, my students didn't complain when they had to miss out and come to set-up early. They stretched their comfort zones as they sold tickets at our table and even ventured out into the crowd to sell more. When I saw two, otherwise self-conscious, students stand at half-court with Senator Martha Fuller Clark to draw the winning tickets, I knew that this was only the beginning of a powerful change for them all.