Steamboat Springs As much as anything that ever is done on The Lowell Whiteman School’s campus just outside Steamboat Springs, it’s the things its students and teachers do off campus that embody what the private school strives for in its academic vision.
Earlier this month, Lowell Whiteman’s Global Immersion Studies students arrived back on school grounds after each grade spent four weeks studying in a different nation. It’s a program — commonly referred to as GIS — that senior Dylan Parsons said aims to turn the school’s small cohort of students into global citizens.
In their annual community presentation Thursday at Bud Werner Memorial Library, Parsons and the seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen recounted their experiences. Some spoke against a backdrop of photographs, replaying what they gained from studying overseas. Others used multimedia presentations to visualize what life is like in the orphanages and schools they serviced. One student even wrote a poem.
GIS has been a mainstay at Lowell Whiteman since its inception in 1958. Students have gone from learning in Mexico to Spain, then exploring all of Europe. More recently, current GIS Director Margi Missling-Root said, immersion studies have expanded to more diverse areas of the world, where students are expected learn as much about culture as they are about the history of their four-week homes.
“Since I’ve been involved in the GIS program, we’ve tried to make it so the kids are a part of giving and receiving and not just being a traveler visiting a country,” Missling-Root said. “We started having kids getting involved in service, cultural exchange and youth-to-youth programs.”
Root led the senior group in Tanzania. Juniors traveled to Vietnam-Cambodia, while sophomores spent time in Ecuador and freshmen studied in Peru.
And as the years pass and more students graduate from Lowell Whiteman’s popular program, more connections are being built in host countries. For the first time, three of the four classes were able to engage with a Lowell Whiteman alum.
The differences in culture are always there, Missling-Root said, but the goal of the program remains the same.
“To gain a perspective on global citizenship and how they can be a part of the solution to the world, not just their own world,” said Missling-Root, who traveled to Tanzania as one of the seniors’ staff leaders. “Adolescence sometimes just stays in its own little microcosm.”
Freshmen in Peru
By senior year, Lowell Whiteman students in the GIS program are expected to prepare themselves for trips, in a sense.
For more than half the school year, students study and prepare for the country that they’ll learn in. But freshmen are a little different, Missling-Root said. They begin with the basics, learning how to travel as much as where they are traveling to.
This year, the freshman GIS class went to Peru. Students such as Eloise Borden, Nicole Zedeck, Kristin Steinberg and Leif Coopman spoke Thursday and shared photographs of Peru scenery.
The freshmen studied and service-learned in historical Peruvian destinations as Pachamama and Machu Picchu. And it’s a class that group leader Nikki Durkan said is destined for great things throughout the next three years in GIS.
“What amazing professional development for me as a science and geography teacher this was with what will hopefully be one of the best classes,” Durkan said Thursday.
Sophomores in Ecuador
The diversity from Lowell Whiteman sophomores’ trip to South America was felt from start to finish.
The students began in Quito, the capital city of nearly 2.5 million people. The sophomores then finished their four-week immersion program learning on farmland near the Amazon River.
Sophomore Noah Zedeck noted the vast changes from Quito to near the Amazon, highlighting changes in scenery to the people who inhabited the area in his slideshow presentation on Thursday. Even the insects were different, Zedeck said, noting that one branch of the area housed more plants and animals species than all of Colorado.
Student Alex Boulanger recited a poem, spelling out the friendships gained in Ecuador and the work performed in villages and orphanages.
“This was my third time to Ecuador,” sophomore Madeline Craig-Scheckman said. “It was very different, though, because when I travel with my parents, it’s like a quarter of what I’d experience when I travel with Whiteman.”
Juniors in Vietnam-Cambodia
Spend some time service learning in the orphanages of Vietnam and Cambodia, Lowell Whiteman junior Cal Brooks said, and work takes on a whole new meaning.
“Our service work gave us a sense of what a real day’s work is like,” Brooks said in his stand-up presentation Thursday.
Before the travel to Vietnam-Cambodia, Missling-Root said the juniors immerse themselves into some recent history of the Vietnam War. But the experiential learning while overseas can’t be taught in a classroom.
The students visited a school on their trip where kids were taught trades, such as culinary arts, beauty and mechanics.
And they also visited Cambodian killing fields, took kayak tours at Cat Ba Island and taught children in Battambang.
“The travel portion of GIS isn’t a common touristy thing,” junior group leader Tim Callahan said. “A lot of groups spend a week or two in an orphanage. The immersion aspect is so important.”
Seniors in Tanzania
For the seniors, a few of whom now have graduated out of four GIS trips, the program is about self-discovery and learning outside one’s comfort zone.
The program also helps dispel myths and perceptions of the world as a whole, senior Sean Timmons said.
“Today, some of our misunderstandings are because of how different we view people or how different we think they are,” Timmons said. “It has definitely changed my perspective.”
The seniors spent a considerable amount of time at the Janada L. Batchelor Foundation for Children, tutoring students and holding reading groups. Lowell Whiteman is in the early stages of its own sustainable agriculture program, and the seniors were able to study alongside Tanzanian students in their own program, Missling-Root said.
“It’s that integration of all the things that make up living and life that sometimes you get pieces of from the classroom, but it’s the project,” Missling-Root said. “It’s going out and being part of a giant field trip, so to speak.”
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll