In a little over four months, twenty students, two teachers and I will leave for Thailand, where we will live through mid-April of 2018 with support from Thrival Academy: Indy, a free pilot program at Arsenal Tech High School this year (which will hopefully open its doors as a free public charter school for the 2018-19 school year).
The program offers study abroad and global education to students from all backgrounds, particularly students from underserved communities, covering all expenses related to the study abroad experience for participants including passport and visa fees.
Our goal is for each Thrival student to come back equipped with the tools to effect positive change in their respective local communities as well as the global community. We feel it’s important to invest in the progress of our communities through community-based learning, both locally and abroad, and develop our students into leaders. We work to open their minds to the many possibilities for their lives they may have never even considered before their year with us.
The foundation of our school year is problem-solving around community issues; before we leave for Thailand, Thrival Indy students work to identify issues plaguing their local community such as food deserts, water inequality and civil liberties. Then we as a school create and execute plans of action to address these issues.
Our goal is that before we arrive in Thailand, our Indianapolis community knows exactly who Thrival: Indy students are and how they contribute to improving our city. It is important that our students are able to identify comparisons between local and global issues and how they have been addressed and are able to create actionable plans to address issues in their own communities.
For example, our first probability & statistics/environmental science unit began with videos and articles about the Flint, Michigan, water crisis. Students then spent the next week collecting water samples from the twelve buildings on our high school campus. Using the sampling methods the students learned, they tested the pH levels of each of the water samples and developed generalizations about the water on their campus.
Taking the project a step further, the students collected water samples from different types and brands of bottled water and tracked those pH levels as well. This will all tie back into our classroom discussion about the water crisis as students work to collect water bottle donations to be sent to Flint, Michigan.
Last year’s Thrival Academy: Oakland students researched organic farming techniques as part of an environmental science/English unit, and then they had the opportunity to interview both organic and traditional farmers and participate in homestays with farmers and their families in Thailand. This is a unit we plan to implement again this school year, including a research of urban farms in Indianapolis and how they are working to combat food deserts.
Blended Learning For Graduation
Our students reach their third year of high school with various needs and, as their educators, we are responsible for meeting each and every one of them. With the help of two online learning platforms, PLATO and Summit Learning, we are able to get creative with the scheduling so that all of our students get the courses necessary to fulfill their individual graduation requirements.
Our teachers, Ms. Yang and Ms. Esteves, are responsible for teaching coursework and facilitating the learning for a total of thirteen different courses for our students. Scheduling has been a challenge, but we have finally worked through the kinks that come along with only having two teachers for twenty high schoolers, and the students are starting to get the hang of online learning.
Thrival Indy students experience a unique take on blended learning; they each take two 100-minute blocked courses (Probability & Statistics/ Environmental Science and Government/English 11), which are interdisciplinary, project-based courses. They also take Thai language online along with an additional math course based on individual needs and an online elective, like art history.
Our campus in Udon Thani, Thailand, has wifi so the students will be able to complete their coursework, including the online courses, while we are there as well.
The campus where we stay in Thailand belongs to our partners at Rustic Pathways. They are responsible for planning and organizing student travel, including operations, logistics, safety and risk-management. The campus there is called “Ricefields Base.” This base has a multi-building dormitory, classroom spaces and communal open-air meeting and eating spaces. Thrival Indy teachers will continue to hold classes on the Ricefields Base daily, with the exception of off-campus excursions and projects.
As the mission of Thrival World Academies is to afford a global education to all students, regardless of background, Thrival Academy: Indy will expand our reach beyond the Ricefields Base in Thailand. As Rustic Pathways continues to grow, I hope to establish partnerships with campuses across the globe. Eventually, I would love to take a group of Indianapolis students to study abroad in Africa, Caribbean and South American countries as well.
In the past month, one phrase in particular has become my mantra. Innovation is messy. I came into this school year with nice, structured plans and I very quickly realized that the most critical attribute of an innovator in any sector is flexibility. Absolutely nothing goes as planned, and you have to be okay with that. Make a plan, watch your plan shatter into a million pieces, pick up those pieces, and make it happen anyway. These twenty students and two teachers have become my family, and I am excited for what this school year will bring.
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India Hui is the Founding School Leader at Thrival Academy: Indy. Follow her on Twitter: @IndiaHuiEd
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