Stepping Outside the Classroom to Learn Life Lessons
There are some things better taught and learned outside a classroom. For one group of Douglas County students that lesson came more than 500 miles from home and under five million stars at night.
“It was life altering and so amazing and I can’t wait to do it again. To be able to experience what other kids go through each day and then try to come up with ideas on how we can help them, it was so cool,” says Hannah Bard, a sixth-grader at Sage Canyon Elementary.
A week before fall break, 29 sixth and seventh graders from Sage Canyon Elementary and Mesa Middle School, in Castle Rock, packed up a bus along with eight adults and drove to the Utah and Arizona border to Monument Valley, Utah; home to a Navajo Reservation. The experience provided a combination of Mesa’s International Baccalaureate philosophy and Sage Canyon’s design thinking focus to provide kids with any unforgettable life experience.
“Everything in their culture is built around respect and how everything is connected. The golden rule is even more golden to them. Everything is symbolic. Where they live, what they do, how their homes are designed, everything means something to them and they are grateful for everything they do have, even if it is way less then we have,” says Blake Tidemann a seventh-grader at Mesa Middle School.
For one week students camped along Elephant Rock, Utah, shadowed students at school, participated in campsite chores, cooking and cleaning, explored a different part of the world, and engaged nightly in Navajo traditions and culture.
“Where we live in Castle Rock – we don’t have different cultures - so it was really cool to go and learn about a new and different culture. I learned that everyone and everything has a purpose and that we should all pursue our purposes and not let anything get in the way of it, included yourself and to have self-respect. It was really cool to see how thankful they were and how self-aware they were too,” says Delaney Vencill, a seventh-grader at Mesa Middle School.
“Blueprint was built with ideas around design thinking, and we knew we wanted kids to really understand empathy. It’s really hard to do that within the walls of the classroom. So we are always looking for different ways for kids to get the opportunity to learn and get them outside our classrooms,” says Keely Vaughan, a Blueprint Facilitator at Sage Canyon.
For many kids it was a week of firsts. From camping and exploring outdoors, to new foods and activities and opening their minds and stepping outside of their comfort zones to immerse themselves in a completely different culture.
“The things the kids were saying at the campfires about ‘despite what they have it doesn’t deter them from being happy, or what self-respect they have for themselves and for each other. Why isn’t our school like that?’ So as a teacher it was so rewarding to hear them connect all the things you want kids to get out of the experience, I feel like they did. It was incredible,” says Erin Gilbert a Personalized Learning Specialist at Mesa.
The lessons learned during the week at Monument Valley were plentiful.
“It made me realize that we really have a sense of entitlement here and they are thankful for what have and they accept each other for who they are,” says Delaney.
“A lot of the kids we met don’t have running water or electricity at their houses. So they stay at school as long as they can. They even have a late bus that comes after 6 p.m. Some kids stay school as late as they can because they feel safe. They can’t go home and work on homework, because they don’t have electricity. It makes me feel really grateful for what I do have,” added sixth-grader, Mailey Bates.
Teachers encouraged their students to find quiet places and reflect multiple times a day and write their thoughts down about their experiences to help navigate their feelings and questions in being somewhere so different.
“As an educator, witnessing the transformation over the week the way the kids thought and looked at the whole experience was incredible. To look at everything we have and question, 'do we need it?' Look at everything they don’t have and how happy they are. Despite 65% of kids being homeless, they were so welcoming and so respectful. It can really make you question your own life. So getting the opportunity to watch our kids was moving,” says Erin.
Since returning from Monument Valley, students have been brainstorming and planning ways to continue to reach out and work with the students they met from Utah. Educators are working to ensure more students get the same opportunities.
“This isn’t an isolated experience. We are continuing to look for opportunities for our kids to step outside our walls and talk to people we may not expect them to talk to,” says Keely.
Until then, students like seventh-grader, Delaney, will continue to take the lessons they learned and apply them to their own life each day. “Explore more and go outside of your comfort zone. If there is something you are unsure of or scared of, you need to just do it because you never know what the outcome is or how you might impact some from it or how you’ll be impacted by it. Try to do stuff you wouldn’t do normally, because it's a whole different experience.”