In true Rustic style, I have been lucky to spend the past few weeks on a whirlwind adventure. Unlike past summers where my travels were accompanied by shovels and muddy boots slung in the back of a pickup truck, this year I have been tasked with traversing the US to attend some of the biggest education summits in the country.

This is the first of seven summers that I wasn’t, as we say, “on the ground” with Rustic Pathways. I spent the past six years as the Director of USA Programs working with students, teachers, guides, and local communities to create experiences for hundreds of young people and their schools here in the United States. The Rustic experience is a special one for everyone involved: communities connect with empowered international youth and collaborate on impactful projects; students engage with new environments and develop skills that can’t be learned in a classroom; educators push their students’ boundaries and see their lessons in action; and our RP team facilitates adventures that translate into powerful learning experiences for students and schools. It is an empowering feeling to be the catalyst for these intercultural discussions, and I have been lucky this summer to be able to see the development of the complementary academic lessons in action through these collaborative conferences.

What stood out to me during this past month is the combination of integrity and vision that I saw from teachers in every iteration of the category. Homeschool parents spend every day with their sons and daughters and are constantly searching for both formal academic and experiential resources to support their child’s education. Schools in low-income areas are finding ways to fundraise to get their students to connect with nearby communities. Teachers at international schools are taking advantage of their diverse populations to create empathy and cross-cultural dialogue within the classroom. Counselors are connecting their students with opportunities and organizations that will help them succeed in a new academic environment.

I met teams of educators who work to empower girls to become engineers and others who started urban gardens at their schools to make biology and ecology more hands-on. Many teachers have embraced service learning and use day trips to illustrate lessons on economics, political science, and nutrition. These educators are all focusing their efforts on the student experience and the intangible final product of their “industry”: well-rounded young people who are prepared with the skills to move into the real world.

It is endlessly inspiring to watch great teachers pull their lessons from such a range of resources and teaching techniques. The words “empathy”, “self-sufficiency”, and “cross-culturalism” are not new terms in the field of education, but in this context they have been elevated to the status of long-sought goals that are just within reach. I saw educators switch from the role of teacher to student in the course of a sentence, and a brave teenager address a crowd of 500 without a drop of sweat on his forehead. There was laughter and singing and tears, knowing that every person in the room was grounded in the singular goal of empowering our youth to be good citizens of the world.

When I run student service programs, I always end the week with the “50th Person Question”: when you get home, what are you going to tell the fiftieth person who asks you about your Rustic trip?

Here’s my answer from this summer’s adventure:

I will tell you that the moments of early-morning, coffee-fueled collaboration and late-night “save the world” chats that are the norm at these events are the pearls of these meetings, and though these designs cannot be implemented on-demand, they give glimmers of what we have in store for the future of education. 

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