Just wondering about our recent Week Without Walls programme.

A few weeks ago, we had our Week Without Walls programme that we call Discover Ecuador at our school. The 9th graders went to the jungle, the 10th graders went to the sierra (mountain/volcano area) and the 11th graders went to the coast. Our High School Principal, Garth Wyncoll, made tremendous changes to our Discover Ecuador programme and now all the trips are shaped around meaningful service opportunities that our students provide to different communities in Ecuador. Those trips happen during the third week of school and they are also about bonding and team building between students but also with our teachers.

Students were thrilled about their experiences. Beyond the typical stories of the uncomfortable bunk beds, the inconvenient bucket showers and the occasional stomach bugs, students shared beautiful stories with us and they made every minute of their trips a valuable experience. What I feel has worked the best is that our students have gained a certain understanding of how people live in Ecuador. After spending a week with no electricity in a camp and when sunset is pretty much time to go to bed, you get to relate to other people’s lives. I will continue to listen to our students and I cannot wait to read their reflections.

It is also important to note that teachers’ commitment was outstanding. Some came back with bug bites, most came back exhausted, and despite having put their personal lives between brackets for a week, all of them had a great time with our kids. Big shout out to our teachers who travelled this week. Students have been learning a lot with them and they will remember those moments. It was also great that teachers regularly shared photos and updates of what going on in each camp to keep us in the loop. Just fantastic!

The organisation that helped us organise those trips sent the Principal and I two updates daily. Those updates contained what the students had been working on and a list of students with small health issues. We sent those updates to parents but we did not send individual health issues to all the parents. So we made phone calls and the conversations with those parents were no longer between a High School Administrator and a High School parent, but conversations between parents. It is essential to take that time to let parents know about their kids and reassure them. Just the right thing to do, when one considers the trust that parents put in us by allowing us to take their kids away from home. This was even more obvious when, on the last day of the trip, I was woken up by several emails from parents worried about the earthquake that happened in Mexico and the tsunami alert on the coast when students were going to go… whale watching! While the tsunami alert was off a couple of hours later, we cancelled the boat trip: we are also parents!

While a vast majority of our students went on those trips, some others could not go with their peers for a variety of reasons and two of our long-time teachers have organised a week with a mix of service opportunities for our community and a day trip downtown Quito with an interactive visit of the water museum and a meal in a prestigious restaurant. Our teachers made this week valuable and have supported our kids all week. Thank you!

Meanwhile the seniors stayed at school for our annual Senior Retreat. This is something I revisited in my time here in the light of what we used to do back in my previous school in Istanbul. The idea is to create time and space for the seniors, who are crazy busy, to take care of what they need to do: IB tasks, college research and applications, SAT preparation etc. The schedule for the week was quite flexible but we had built in sessions for students to work with teachers on specific tasks as well as college visits and fairs, and time to blow off steam and do some sports. The last day of the week, we had planned a field trip to a local volcano to do a short hike at 4000 meters above sea level. And this year, seniors have proposed something new at AC: a senior lock-in, the night before the field trip. After considering what the students had a mind, we agreed that it was a great idea and we helped students organise this night: a variety of sport activities, movies and pizzas, hide and seek in the dark and a campfire with marshmallows. Boys slept in a classroom and girls in the library. It was a new experience for me and for the school but everything went really well and on the last day of the retreat, after the hike, I thanked students and teachers for the week. We all have developed stronger bonds and this set the tone for a great year.

I believe this was a great week for everyone: lots of team building and quality time spent together. Those experiences colour the start to the year in a very special way. Establishing those connections between teachers and students is a tremendous bonus on the learning journey. Principal Wyncoll shared at the beginning of the year that assessing is like sitting next to a student and coach them to improve. Before coaching them, however, we need to establish a trust-based relationship so that the coaching works and I would offer that those Weeks Without Walls represent that necessary step.

For what it’s worth…

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