April 20, 2016

Engaging Students in Social, Environmental Change

Yearlong program “Confluence” blends the outdoors and community engagement
by Jenny Corke

Learning in the World, the Tang Institute’s off-campus experiences for Andover students, has added “Confluence” to its roster of local offerings. Resulting from an innovative collaboration among several schools in the area, Confluence will give Andover students a unique opportunity to work with others in their communities on a number of environmental issues, such as access to open spaces, food justice, and natural resource management. The yearlong programwhich will feature outdoor excursions and a project, work-study, or internshipintends to empower students to take action together toward a more sustainable, just, and united future. Students will develop intercultural sensibilities; deepen their engagement with others; and hone skills that will transfer to the classroom, campus life, and global interactions.

Outdoor Adventure, Community Engagement

Confluence opens with a five-day orientation before the start of school in August 2016. Participants will spend the first two days camping and canoeing as they explore the Shawsheen and Merrimack River watersheds, bond through physical and mental challenges, and learn about the projects they will work on throughout the upcoming school year. From September 2016 through May 2017, each student will partner with another student from a different school to collaborate on a project related to Confluence themes. Students will report their progress monthly, alternating every other month between online forums and in-person explorations. The program concludes at the end of the school year with a “watershed moment”—a culminating, public presentation of projects and a whitewater rafting adventure. A complete schedule is available online.

Place-based Learning

Tang Fellow and Instructor in Spanish Mark Cutler will lead Confluence during the year, bringing to it a host of experience as a global educator, having co-directed Learning in the World programs HUACA and BALAM in Latin America since 2005; directed Outdoor Pursuits since 2004; and facilitated Spanish 510, 511, and 530 engagement classes since 2003. Working at the Tang Institute, Cutler has made “Confluence” a focus of his project, “Placed-based Learning,” which aims to spur educational adventures beyond the classroom.

“My belief is that global learning does not always happen abroad—there are many opportunities close by to broaden one’s horizons, while having an adventure, making friends, and digging deep beneath the surface of our complex society,” said Cutler. “Confluence brings students to the intersection of culture and environment, where each individual’s total identity can influence change in the ways in which we approach and respond to society’s needs.”

Collaboration Fosters New Approaches

The program was developed in collaboration with administrators and educators from five local schools (Andover, Greater Lawrence Technical, Lawrence, and Notre Dame Cristo Rey high schools). A student design team from PA and Andover and Lawrence high schools also have contributed to the concept, drawing on their experiences with The Mountain School and Youth Conservation Corps., for example. The symbolism of the river that connects the participating school communities is important to the program’s concept, as “rivers flow unaware of political borders,” says Cutler. The title “Confluence” intends to convey how collaborators will join together through ideas and actions. Youth, educators, and community agents from throughout the Shawsheen and Merrimack River watersheds will contribute their individual talents and interests, personal worldvisions, and unique senses of place in pursuit of community understanding and societal enhancement.

“One of the hallmarks of our approach to Learning the World is that we are continually expanding and enhancing our programming to keep it fresh, relevant, and effective. Confluence gives students a chance to roll up their sleeves with others and really interact with their local community and environment in meaningful ways,” says Carmen Muñoz Fernández, director, Learning in the World.

Visit the Confluence website for additional information, including a set of FAQs.

Additional Reading

For context on some of the exciting work that other schools are doing in inter-community collaboration, read:

Categories: Learning in the World, Connected Learning, Global Citizenship

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