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CCPA Students Push Boundaries Abroad
The Peruvian Amazon may be the last place you’d think to look for students from Coliseum College Prep Academy but that is precisely where 10 students spent 10 days during November. Led by Assistant Principal Amy Boyle, students traversed deep along the river, volunteered with locals, learned about traditional medicine from a shaman and conducted college-level research on leaf consumption.
Amy led a select group of CCPA students to Costa Rica, Cambodia, China and Peru in the past six years as part of a partnership with the organization No Barriers USA and SF-based funder Learning Afar. Over time, responsible global tourism experiences have enriched both the students and CCPA community, where last year 34 percent of seniors had travelled internationally through a school-sponsored program.
Finding New Frontiers
Six years ago, Amy discovered Afar’s funding opportunity for international trips for low-income minority students.
“I applied, we got the grant, then after re-applying the second year they said, ‘Hey this relationship is going really well, do you want to make this a long-term thing rather than re-applying each year?’ And here we are, year six,” Amy said. “A lot of the trip is either physically or mentally uncomfortable because they’re so out of their element so just learning how to move through that discomfort and turn it into something positive,”
Understanding the Journey
After signing up, students do a mix of team-building, growth mindset work and destination-specific study. They look at maps to understand the destination and read about the economic and political situation.
With 10 days in the Peruvian Amazon, “the range of activities is astronomical,” she said.
“It was a mix of cultural immersion, community service and ecotourism. For our service project, we went to a village deep in the Amazon, two hours by boat from the nearest city and a 45 minute hike inland,” Amy said. “We did some painting in the morning and in the afternoon spent time with people who had not had any non-family, non-government contact in three years; they’re completely isolated. We arrived to music and dancing and all of the dignitaries assembled and it was super cool.”
Students also went to the market, learned about traditional medicine from a shaman and did some hikes to see wildlife. They also completed a college-level research project with a professor from the University of Louisville; visited a research station in the forest with a canopy walkway; and students participated in data collection around leaf consumption, making measurements about animal and insect impact.”
Discovering Personal Growth
As an educator, Amy helps students navigate the experience by “teaching them transfer skills, and it’s really about them realizing that they already have the capacity and building their confidence to apply that strength.”
“The Peruvian Amazon has got to be one of the hottest places in the planet. It was in the 90s and humid every day,” she said. “Our kids have overcome a lot of obstacles in their lives but lot of times that resilience is lost in translation, and they don’t know how to apply what they know about working through problems in everyday life to this very discrete situation.”
Creating Learning Opportunities
By sharing her story, Amy hopes that other educators in the District can also “get the kids outside the classroom.” She recommends looking for “long-term potential because it really takes 2-5 years to be normalized and start taking hold.” Last year, 34 percent of the CCPA senior class travelled internationally through a school-supported program.
“The community impact of our first trip six years ago was just a blip on the radar and in the beginning I had to work to recruit applicants,” she said. “Now international travel is a part of our school identity. Parents have a network to talk to about their kids’ experiences. So just recognize that things like this take time to build and there are a lot of reasons why they don’t initially take hold.”
“Students loved the service project and Interacting with kids their age in a place that’s so different was really fascinating for them because they have so many similarities, but the contrast with their everyday life is very apparent,” Amy said. “That interaction lent itself to reflections on the things going on in their own lives, the advantages and disadvantages they have in comparison.”