On Monday night, we welcomed five students and their adult chaperone from Colegio Menor, our partner school in Quito, Ecuador. These students will stay with host families from our school for nine days, and will visit a variety of sites – including a picnic in Central Park and a visit to the Museum of Natural History, a cruise around Manhattan , a double-decker bus tour of Manhattan including many stops along the way, a performance of Spiderman on Broadway, and a trip to Jenkinson’s Boardwalk on the Jersey Shore. Interestingly, when we asked the parents of the visiting students what they most wanted to see, the answer was surprisingly simple: “We want them to experience the every day life of an American student.” They want to see our school, our homes, our family life, and the way we spend our time.
While their answer may have caught me by surprise, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. The beauty of a student exchange program is that one can go far beyond the topical experiences typically available to tourists; by living with a host family a student can truly get deeper insight into the culture of the country they are visiting. It is through this deeper exchange that the true benefits of the experience are derived; one’s global awareness and cultural sensitivities can be developed.
A couple of years ago the National Association of Independent Schools published a document called A 21ST CENTURY IMPERATIVE: A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future. In this document, these “21st Century Capacities” were offered to school leaders for careful consideration:
- Analytical and Creative Thinking and Problem Solving
- Complex Communication (Oral and Written)
- Leadership and Teamwork
- Digital and Quantitative Literacy
- Global Perspective
- Adaptability, Initiative, and Risk Taking
- Integrity and Ethical Decision Making
As I’m sure all can appreciate, this list goes well beyond the scope of the old “Three R’s.” These are the skills that we consistently seek to develop in our students at All Saints, and I can’t help but get excited in thinking about what a wonderful capstone project our exchange program with Ecuador is! Each of these skills will be utilized and further developed through this program as our students work with and navigate a culture very different than their own, and experience a country so rich in economic, ethnic, environmental, and social diversity. As an educator, it gives me tremendous satisfaction to know that we will be graduating eighth graders who will be well on their way to developing these 21st century capacities before even walking into the doors of their new high schools.