The New Orleans Experience

I just returned home from my trip to New Orleans with a group of 22 seniors and three adults from Trinity School in New York City. My mind is reeling to make sense of all the experiences we had, the people we met, and the issues we engaged with. Kaitlin’s previous post described the process of creating the experience; now I will say more about what it was like to be there.

The goals we created with Trinity School faculty were centered around big picture themes, and we wanted students, by the end of the experience to:

  • Understand the timeline and environmental, political, and cultural effects of Hurricane Katrina (pre, during, and post, including  issues related to wealth vs. poverty, self vs. other, oil industry, and community rebuilding efforts)
  • Explore the range of environmental issues still facing the Gulf Coast
  • Explore the city’s diverse cultural history and how different cultures have shaped the customs and traditions in modern day New Orleans
  • Analyze the city to city comparison between NYC and NOLA
  • Learn the overview of the city’s history (French rule, Spanish Rule, War of 2812, slavery and the slave revolt, Civil War, musical influences, pre- and post-Katrina)
  • Develop personal connections to the New Orleans community and make an impact through their service project(s)

Bayou Cleanup with LPBF

Our project was conceived as a week of environmental service learning with a focus on the Gulf region, pre- and post-hurricane Katrina. Normally, I like to work with one organization the entire length of a project to enable students to dig deeper into the issues, the groups we found were only able to host us a couple of days, so we chose more of a “smorgasbord” approach which had its challenges but also its perks. We learned about a variety of approaches to dealing with environmental issues facing people in the Gulf region, and each project was different enough to appeal to students in different ways. I have picked up my share of trash with groups over the years, but I had never catalogued it before our time spent with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF). LPBF works with the Sewage and Water Board of New Orleans to identify what types of trash is washing up into the newly created marshes at the mouth of the bayou. This helps them figure out where it is coming from and how to stop it. One person with a bag, one picking up trash, and one marking it on a clipboard (“three straws, ten pieces of plastic, six pieces of glass, one beer can, eight candy wrappers, one pencil,” etc.) made for some important teamwork.

Working at the Earth Lab at Groundwork New Orleans

Working at the Earth Lab at Groundwork New Orleans

When we moved into our work with Groundwork New Orleans, students were interested to note that that the two groups work in tandem on a number of projects that raise awareness while ameliorating the effects of disappearing land through sinkage and flooding, and working to stop the harmful human activities. Groundwork has two Earth Labs which they use to educate school groups about environmental issues and help them become stewards of the earth. In these, we helped beautify and call attention to one of the labs by painting a fence and signs to hang on it. We also created mosaics from donated recycled tiles to be used in a walkway. Their other project is on a center city street Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard (referred to by locals at “OC Haley”). Once a booming black neighborhood, then left to deteriorate, the area is now coming back as the place for organizations helping change the city through good works. We weeded some rain gardens that help stem flooding, and then had the wonderful opportunity to meet with representatives from Bike Easy and Ride, two organizations working on transportation solutions in NOLA. We also ate at Cafe Reconcile, an organization that helps youth learn food service skills through job and social skill training in a restaurant that serves delicious local food.

Working with Jericho Road

Working on the vacant lot with Jericho Road

Our final service project was with Jericho Road, an organization that fights urban blight by beautifying vacant lots and engaging with communities about how to use them, whether for parks, urban gardens, or new homes. We covered a weedy lot with tarp and mulch to keep down weeds, and then painted and hung tires on a fence around a vacant lot that they hope will become a park one day. One of the best parts was meeting the energetic and committed young people who have chosen to work in the organizations we served. It was inspiring to see their dedication, passion, and hard work in the service of making life better for all.

Exhibit Be

Because our focus was social justice, we tried whenever possible to make our activities align with that overarching goal. Our tour of the French Quarter was with Hidden History Tours led by Mr. Leon Waters, a man intent on teaching the history of New Orleans from the point of view of the oppressed rather than the oppressor, and we learned some fascinating stories from him that changed many of our perspectives on certain events. When we visited a t-shirt shop and allowed each student to buy a shirt, we chose Dirty Coast because all of their messaging is about social causes and they donate a portion of their proceeds to organizations working in the area. We had two chances to visit the inspiring Exhibit Be, in Algiers, and hear the story of its inception from Brandon Odums, the artist who made it happen. We all left moved by the images and by the power of art to change lives.



Of course, a trip to New Orleans would not be complete without time in the French Quarter, listening to live music in the street — one of the students was even able to sit in and play his trumpet with a few of the bands! We attended a Sacred Music Festival, a St. Patrick’s Day parade, the National WWII Museum, the Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1, and a concert at Preservation Hall. A Trinity graduate who is now a professor at Tulane gave us a private tour of the Middle American Research Institute, engaging the students with passion for his subject area and stories of his professional journey. Meals at restaurants, Po’Boy stands, and in the HandsOn New Orleans bunkhouse kitchen, games in the evening, and singalongs on the balcony rounded out our time together.

Overall, it was a whirlwind of experiences that I’m sure will take some time to sort out. The city is vibrant, alive, recovering, and thriving in many places. Ten years after Katrina there is much to be proud of, and much still to be done. I’m sure these high school seniors will not soon forget the places they went, people they met, activities they did, and issues they were exposed to. I believe we met our big picture goals, and I look forward to seeing what the post-trip evaluations uncover about their experience, how the time affected them, and what it will mean in the future, both for them and for Trinity School.

One students' personal t-shirt design after visiting Dirty Coast. The choice is yours.

One students’ personal t-shirt design after visiting Dirty Coast. The choice is yours!


Global Education: A Roadmap to Program Development

I just returned from attending the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference, held this year where the temperatures were low and the snow drifts were high. This in stark contrast to the warm temperatures, lack of snow (even in the mountains) and early spring in Seattle.  Global climate destabilization indeed.
















Along with listening to inspiring speakers, attending edifying workshops, and networking with colleagues from all over the country and many parts of the world, I had the opportunity to share a new IMG_6789resource with the NAIS community. My colleague Willy Fluharty from Cape Henry Collegiate School and I introduced a book we co-edited over the past two years. Willy and I are both founding members of the Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG) and have been active in the organization since its inception in 2008. At that time, four schools (Cape Henry, Lakeside, Providence Day and Charlotte Country Day) met and then at the behest of NAIS, invited 15 other schools to join us. We embarked upon a mission of benchmarking, sharing, and collaboration that has served individual schools, and also helped define and develop global education in all independent schools.

With Willy

Over the years, we have collected data to benchmark what GEBG schools are doing in their programs, created a Wiki page to share information, become a 501c3 entity with a Board (on which Willy and I both serve), and organized an annual Global Educators Conference. A couple of years ago, we realized we had learned so much through collaboration that would be useful to others outside of GEBG. We gathered resources from 24 different global educators representing 12 schools and 12 outside organizations, and compiled it into a handbook that GEBG published as an iBook available for $20 on iTunes.

Global Education: A Roadmap to Program Development


The first section of the book concerns itself with Why We Should Be Global, the philosophy behind the work including a compelling essay by Father Steve Sundborg, President of Seattle University who gave the keynote address at the first GEBG conference at Lakeside School. Next we created a chapter outlining a number of different ways to become global at all levels of K-12 education. Subsequent chapters deal with curriculum, collaboration, competencies, finances, and risk management. Finally, we included sample data charts from our annual survey and resources to help people develop their own programs.

Our hope is that people will examine the book as a whole, and then use it, like the title suggests, as a roadmap for global program development. Rather than a rigid “how to” manual, we want it to be a guide to help clarify program goals and identify appropriate paths to those goals. Some readers may spend more time investigating the big picture questions of philosophy and pedagogy; others will dive right into specific sections on risk management and curriculum; still others will use the data to support their own desired outcomes. The book highlights a few trends such as the rise of global diploma programs, the need for better risk management practices, and the push to integrate global experience and classroom practice. Because the field of global education is relatively new and constantly changing, we plan to provide periodic updates. We are currently preparing it for publication on PC-compatible platforms and Kindle as well.

IMG_6782A couple of talks I heard at the NAIS conference this year were particularly relevant to our experience editing the book. John Maeda talked about the importance of creativity, thinking outside of the box, and making bold choices without bowing to public opinion. We certainly dove into this project with no prior publishing knowledge, and we learned a great deal through trial and error.  Sarah Lewis, who wrote The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery described the difference between success (a single accomplishment) and mastery (consistent excellence) that comes only through continual examination of failure and subsequent adjustments. Willy and I encountered many obstacles, and while I make no claims about mastery, we did approach the process with curiosity and the belief that we could overcome any obstacle through persistent effort. It was a fascinating collaborative undertaking, and we hope it serves as a useful and enjoyable tool.

Making Connections during an Exploratory Trip to New Orleans

Vicki ringing the Coast Guard bell at Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation

Vicki ringing the Coast Guard bell at Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation

Earlier this week, Vicki and I spent a whirlwind 48 hours on an exploratory trip in New Orleans. We met with service providers and scoped out potential excursions (don’t worry, our recon included beignet testing at the famous Cafe Du Monde) for a weeklong service-learning program we’re planning for high school seniors from an independent school in New York City.

We have been working on this program design over the past couple of months – researching the city, contacting various organizations, and gathering information from people who formerly lived or currently live in the Big Easy. We have seemingly endless notes from phone calls, meetings, and email chains with people kind enough to impart their knowledge and share their experiences with us. In theory, we had enough information to plan a meaningful experience for this group of students without actually going to New Orleans.

While successful programs have certainly been designed without visiting the program site – I have been involved in the planning of some such experiences myself – there is an undeniable advantage to doing an exploratory trip. Having the opportunity to experience a place firsthand allows us to establish a sense of place, talk with locals, and vet potential activities to ensure they line up with the program’s goals and learning outcomes.

Exploring the French Quarter -- endless opportunities for scavenger hunts!

Exploring the French Quarter — endless opportunities for scavenger hunts!

During our visit to New Orleans, Vicki and I met with three organizations about service opportunities: Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Groundwork New Orleans, and Jericho Road Housing Initiative. I went into the trip expecting that once we learned more about each organization’s current projects, we would settle on one to work with for duration of the week. What I hadn’t realized before being in New Orleans, though, is how connected members of the larger community are to one another. Everyone we met with knew and had worked with everyone else we met with, and each of them is working toward one common goal: protecting New Orleans as a whole – its residents, its environment, and its line of defense against future natural disasters. In realizing this interconnectedness, our thinking around the service component of this program has shifted. We often plan service-learning around one project, allowing students to really immerse in it. Given the collaborative nature of nonprofits in NOLA,  we’re now working on coordinating projects with all three organizations in order to deepen the students’ understanding of the ongoing challenges and successes in New Orleans post-Katrina.


One of many beautiful murals we saw in NOLA. This one is on the wall of the New Orleans Healing Center.

Without meeting face-to-face with the passionate individuals behind these projects, we would have had no way to distinguish real commitment from lip service; no way to know that one of the most important takeaways for students is to understand how united New Orleans is as a community. After merely two days in New Orleans, I feel the connection to the city. I am thrilled to be able to work with the people I met there because I know they are as excited as we are about using service as a vehicle for learning.

I believe exploratory trips are crucial to designing effective programs. Building connections and developing mutual understanding across cultures are at the core of why I work in global education, and being able to make those connections personally allows me to develop more meaningful experiences for my students.


Reflecting on my Journey to Global Education

On this final day of 2014, snow falls outside my childhood home in Upstate New York where I’ve spent the holiday season. It’s been ten years since I moved away from this place to begin my journey as an educator, and I remember packing my bags and driving to Warren Wilson College like it was yesterday.

Leading a women's backpacking trip at Warren Wilson College

Leading a women’s backpacking trip at Warren Wilson College

As an undergrad, I studied Outdoor Leadership and Psychology. I learned about safely using the wilderness as a classroom, working with ambiguity to turn unplanned events into teachable moments, and perhaps most importantly the necessity of reflection in experiential education – for both students and educators.

I went on to work for a number of wilderness organizations including the North Carolina Outward Bound School and Eagle’s Nest Foundation, and I loved instructing courses, training staff, and spending days on end in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina with incredible students and colleagues. I loved providing opportunities for students to push the limits of their comfort zones and realize their potential outside the constructs of a traditional classroom.

My career aspirations expanded when I became the Program Director of the Hante Adventures Program and began planning wilderness programs overseas. I sent students to Spain, Australia, Costa Rica and Ecuador, as well as to domestic locations like Alaska and Utah. I have always had a deep sense of wanderlust and a desire to learn through experiencing other cultures and ways of life, but it wasn’t until I began developing relationships with our partners abroad that I realized I needed to go and experience other parts of  the world for myself. When my contract with Eagle’s Nest Foundation ended in 2011, I booked one-way flights to Spain and my husband and I set off on an open-ended adventure of our own. We called it Two Backpacks. One World., and we blogged about our experiences along the way.


Working with rehabilitated elephants at Patara Elephant Farm in Thailand

We used a website called Help Exchange to connect with people in need of volunteers, and we moved through twelve countries in Europe, the United Kingdom, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific over a year by working in exchange for room and board. I met students from around the world who were taking a “gap year,” a completely new concept to me. The more people I spoke with, the more passionate I became about the idea of students taking a gap year between high school and college to expand their worldviews and learn about themselves as citizens of the world.

When I moved back to the States and landed in Portland, Oregon, I knew wanted to do global education work, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity. I joined the advisory board of Casa Verde Connects, an organization offering service-based gap year opportunities in rural Nicaragua. A friend told me about SIT Graduate Institute’s Master’s Degree in International Education, and after a conversation with the chair of the department I submitted my application. A few months later, I packed up my belongings once again and moved to Brattleboro, Vermont for the on-campus phase of my degree, where I studied design and evaluation of global education programs, intercultural communication, policy, and strategic planning. I was even able to do a month-long independent study in Guatemala, where a friend and I created a mini-documentary for a volunteer run trekking organization called Quetzaltrekkers that uses profits to support a school that aims to get children off the streets and into the education system.

Showing our mini-documentary "Hike Mountains, Help Kids"

Showing our mini-documentary “Hike Mountains, Help Kids”

I’m now in the practicum phase of my degree as the Program Development Associate here at Global Weeks. Looking back on the past ten years and looking forward on the year ahead, I know my work will continue to evolve. My pedagogical approach, however, will always be experiential – fostering environments where students can challenge themselves and their perspectives.

On this final day of 2014, as another year draws to a close and we set intentions and goals for 2015, I believe it is more important than ever to take time to really reflect. As we become increasingly tethered to devices that connect us to a constant stream of information, it becomes increasingly hard to find time to pause and look inward. May we all make the space to do just that as we move into a new year.

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” ― John Dewey


Press Release for Global Education: A Roadmap to Program Development eBook!

I am excited to announce the release of Global Education: A Roadmap to Program Development, an ebook book I co-edited with my colleague Willy Fluharty. It can be previewed and purchased for download on iTunes! Check out the press release below for more details:

GEBG Press Release

Press Release for Global Education: A Roadmap to Program Development

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