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Packer's Global Classroom 

Our international travel programs bring students out of their comfort zones and into high-intensity learning experiences.

What is the goal of a global travel experience? There are of course intrinsic advantages to be gained whenever our students navigate the world outside of Packer’s walls. However, our travel programs aim for something deeper. We directly align our programs with our School’s mission to build “empathetic, responsible, globally-minded individuals.” Our goal is to create travel programs that provide students with truly transformative experiences in environments and cultures that are often quite different from their own.

Our global programs very deliberately put our students at the center of their own learning and amplify their voices — as well as provide opportunities for the rest of us here at the School to join them in thinking about our place in the world. Our travelers return to our community with a remarkable zeal and motivation to share these transformative experiences with other students. Together, we weave those experiences into the life of our School and expand our own definitions of what it means to be a citizen of our world. 

For example, the students who traveled to Cambodia have continued to pursue their collaboration with their peers in Siem Reap and are exploring further connections. Our South Africa students’ enthusiasm for the story-exchange protocol has directly influenced our Upper School leadership training program. The students who traveled to Italy presented their learning to the Middle and Upper Schools during World Language Week. Long after our students return to Brooklyn, the impact of their experiences frequently and vividly comes into view, enriching us all. 

— Tené Howard, Director of Global Outreach, Service, and Sustainability

 


Cambodia

Collaborative Digital Storytelling

Packer students and their Cambodian storytelling partners in Siem Reap. (Cambodia Photos by Elizabeth Eagle Unless Otherwise Noted)

In the first year of Packer’s Digital Storytelling program in Cambodia, eighteen students travelled to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh with history teacher Sandra Fahy and visual arts teachers Liz Titone, Michael Miller, and Elizabeth Eagle. Ms. Eagle offered this overview:

At the heart of Packer’s new Cambodia program is a cultural exchange encompassing history, visual literacy, and the ethics and art of storytelling.  

With assistance from Peace Works Travel, my Packer colleagues and I connected with educators from PEPY Empowering Youth, a program for students from villages outside Siem Reap. We established penpal relationships between our students and their students before our arrival. Once we arrived on site, the two groups of students embarked on a curriculum we had co-designed with our counterparts from PEPY. For the week that followed, the students shared their cultures through portrait photography, documentary filmmaking, kite building, and music, dance, and games from both places. 

Kali Blain ’18

Our students soon discovered a more significant language barrier than we had expected. This unexpected obstacle provided a great platform for getting them out of their comfort zones, and they rose to the challenge: 

Eleanor Happy ’19: I felt guilty that I had expected [my penpal] Va to know English when I did not know any Khmer, and I felt discouraged that we were having so much trouble communicating. As I scanned the room, I [saw] Carden Katz drawing something for his penpal. I had an idea: I drew New York City to diagram how I get to school; I drew the subway; I drew my dog; and I drew me playing soccer. With each drawing, Va began to understand what I was saying. She started to draw in her own notebook and would write down how to say things in Khmer, such as “subway.”  

Julia McCormick ’18: Through photography and videography I was able to understand and communicate with [my penpal Sreyrov] better. Doing silly poses together and laughing at failed photos made us more comfortable with each other and more open to discussing challenging topics. I found that the camera can be a great way to engage and open yourself up to someone. Just as you can write about your favorite shirt or tell someone a story about your childhood, you can show your personality, your opinions, your likes and dislikes through photography and video. 

On the third day of our exchange with PEPY, the students brainstormed three topics to address in their documentaries: transportation, faith, and the market. Piling into tuktuks, armed with cameras and video and sound equipment, each group went out with Khmer speakers and English speakers. The Cambodian students took the lead: the market group interviewed chicken sellers, jewelry makers, and dressmakers; the faith group traveled to Buddhist temples where they interviewed several monks and recorded their chants; and the transportation group cruised about Siem Reap, investigating the city’s many modes of transport and speaking with tuktuk and moped drivers.

Theodore Eagle18 [top] and Aidan Abdulali ’18 [bottom] work with their PEPY partners.

The next day, the roles switched. With encouragement from their Khmer partners, the PEPY students asked for interviews with the local people.

Theodore Eagle ’18: The goal I set before going to Cambodia was to identify and understand what it means to tell someone else’s story in a way that is authentic to that person’s experience. What I realized after my time in Cambodia is that telling someone else’s story [requires collaboration with that person]. 

My penpal Sina and I worked together for four days, filming a documentary about transportation. Working closely with him taught me the importance of telling a story alongside another person, where it is imperative to consider how you fit into your partner’s story and how they fit into your own. For example, when we were interviewing Mr. Ra, one of the thousands of tuktuk drivers in Siem Reap, Sina was able to ask much deeper questions, whereas my inability to speak Khmer didn’t allow for such inquiries. Alternating between English and Khmer, Mr. Ra’s story shines through in our interview due to the successful collaboration between the three of us. 

Delilah Righter ’17: Even though the Packer students were the ones with the cameras and the “experience” with  filming, it was important that the PEPY students (or more generally, the people in whose country we were guests) were the ones telling the story. They were the ones who understood the culture and who knew how to approach situations with respect. They were the ones who helped us to navigate the streets, to speak to strangers, and to capture moments that felt crucial to get on camera. 

Packer’s student hosts shared the Cambodian art of kite-making, using plastic bags, plastic bottles, and string. New York City-themed stickers (designed by Suzy Storr ’09) adorned the kites, giving Packer students another prompt for talking about home. Laughter — and some good-humored frustration when the kites tangled in telephone wires ­— brought the groups together. [Photo on right by Lucy Friedberg '18]

On the final day of the PEPY exchange there were no tentative glances, no uncomfortable silences, just a giant group of friends who, through learning together, developed strong friendships and trust. We all gathered at the Metta Karuna (“Loving Compassion”) Reflection Center, where we spent most of our nights in Siem Reap, sharing games, music, and dance, and viewing the portraits that the students had taken throughout the week. It was a sad goodbye as we moved on to Phnom Penh, but a very happy time learning together.

After visiting Siem Reap’s Landmine Museum, the group spent an afternoon with Tun Channeret, a Nobel Peace Prize winner recognized for his efforts to ban landmines globally. He guided the students as they built four wheelchairs for children injured by landmines.

Before the trip, our students had read Patricia McCormick’s Never Fall Down, a book that gives voice to Arn Chorn-Pond, a musician who survived the genocide and Khmer Rouge labor camps as a child. In Phnom Penh, we met with Arn himself at Cambodian Living Arts, the non-profit that he founded to promote national healing through the arts. In Phnom Penh, we visited the Toul Sleng “S21” Prison Museum and the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields. After these difficult vists, Arn connected his personal experience to Cambodia’s harrowing history and helped our students process what they had seen and learned.Then, at Packer just a few weeks after we returned, students had the opportunity to discuss their experiences in the program with both Arn and Patricia McCormick.

Aidan Abdulali ’18: Honestly, it was hard to remember all that I had learned about the genocide prior to the trip because the people made me forget. They did not seem as though they had suffered or were spiteful about what had happened to them. Instead, almost every single Cambodian I was lucky enough to have a meaningful interaction with was joyous, friendly, and welcoming. They made it easy to connect with the culture. Whether it was a vendor in the Siem Reap market agreeing to do an interview on camera, or the PEPY students teaching us how to build kites, they educated me just through our exchanges. It was beautiful to learn about the Cambodians’ difficult history beforehand, only to see them thriving and rebuilding with energy and strength. 

The reality is that the Khmer people are not very different from us. They try to go about their daily lives and pursue their interests as if the war did not happen (even if they fully acknowledge and reconcile it). Seeing their optimism, especially through the NGOs and individuals that we met with, was moving and important. 

Arising before dawn and traveling from Siem Reap in tuktuks, the group was able to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. Over two days, they explored four temples in the ancient city. [Photo on left by Alexander Borinstein '18]

In addition but intimately connected  to our immersion in Cambodian culture was another important aspect of the program: the sense of connection that developed among our group of 22 Packer people. We had daily meetings where students had a chance to reflect about the day and support each other through our more challenging experiences. And we had so many wonderful, and meaningful meals where we laughed, shared new foods, and got to know each other really well.  

Elizabeth Eagle

 


South Africa

Partnering with ArtWorks for Youth

South Africa Photos by Tory Lacy

Packer’s travel program in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, is now in its second decade. At the heart of this experience is Packer’s partnership with ArtWorks for Youth, an afterschool center offering art programs, mentoring, and academic support to underserved teenagers in the Joe Slovo township. ArtWorks for Youth was founded by John Lombardo, a former Director of Auxiliary Programs at Packer. Leaders of the 2017 trip were Librarian Andrew Parson, Overnight Travel Coordinator Tory Lacy, and math teacher Ashley Greene.

In a three-day story exchange, Packer students are paired with ArtWorks students. Each pair shares personal stories that are central to their identity. After listening to each other’s narratives, the two partners share one another’s story with the entire group, speaking in the first person. The exchange follows the protocol of Narrative 4, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to build “a community of empathic global citizens who improve the world through the exchange of personal narratives.”

Ava Horn ’19: Monday was our first day in Joe Slovo and the day that we met our “peer partners.” Before knowing the basic situation of my partner, or even some of her characteristics, I told her one of my most personal stories, and she told me one of hers. The point of this exercise was to gain a deeper understanding for each other by listening, then sharing each other’s stories with the group. 

It’s unusual to share your life story with someone when they can barely pronounce your name, but that’s what made it so special. There were no preconceived notions about you, no thoughts running through your partner’s mind other than what you were telling them in that moment. Listening to my partner’s story before knowing anything else [about her] forced me to empathize on a more sincere level.

During the story exchange, Packer students Cameron Oliver ’18 [top] and Jack Beaumont ’19 [bottom] and their ArtWorks partners spent several hours getting to know each other and sharing their personal narratives. Later, speaking in the first person, they recreated one another’s narratives before the whole group. The blue corrugated metal structures were ArtWorks’ temporary space while the organization was building a new facility.

Although Packer students are also responsible for planning and running afterschool activities for the ArtWorks students, the focus of the activities is not top-down teaching but rather collaboration between the students that evolves and adapts every day over the two weeks. Together with their South African peers and younger ArtWorks students, they explore a passion — reading, sculpture, sports, arts and crafts, and dance.

Michael Dickey ’18: I took part in the dance group, along with Sascha, Delilah, and Laura. We were all nervous going into it. We started off with a simple warm-up and the ArtWorks kids really seemed to enjoy it. However, as we transitioned into a freestyle dance circle, [the energy] started to die down. Besides us leaders, only four kids went in the circle: Yumza, Sihpo, Lihle, and Sivuyo. My instinct was to end the activity early and get right into the choreography that we had created for them. When we turned on “Sorry” by Justin Bieber, faces lit up across the group, including mine when seeing their reactions. 

After a water break, we could tell a few kids had left, which made me think that we weren’t doing something right, or even worse, that they weren’t having fun. However, we couldn’t let our disappointment hold us back; we continued to teach new parts of the dance, and we could tell that the kids were more into it. Every time I introduced a new component to the dance, they expressed their enthusiasm with a resounding “oooohhh.” Acknowledging the blazing heat, we asked the kids if they wanted to have another water break or to keep going. Unexpectedly, they chose to keep going, and I was relieved that they were enjoying themselves.

Michael Dickey ’18 [foreground, left], Laura Goldstein ’18, and Sascha Lewit ’19 participate in the ArtWorks afterschool dance group.

The Packer students’ mornings are devoted to activities that deepen their understanding of the region’s history and culture, and contextualize their relationships with their AWFY peers: a beach trip; a guided walk through downtown Port Elizabeth; and an art gallery visit where the peer partners made portraits of each other.

Cameron Oliver ’18: Today, we went to the beach. I played soccer, ran races, rode waves, and even became a sand merman. I was in awe of the pure happiness that the ArtWorks kids exuded throughout the whole trip.A question we have been asked to consider is why we are here. I’ve really thought about this. No matter how hard I tried to fight it, I came on this trip with preconceptions of a group of American kids on a stereotypical community service trip to “save” children in need. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ve learned through my experiences so far that these aren’t children who need to be “saved” — that’s definitely not why we’re here. I now understand that these are intelligent, unique, and immensely special kids with compelling stories to tell. I have realized that we are here to listen, tell stories of our own, learn from each other, and most of all, enjoy the shared experiences we have.

At the Hippo Backpackers Hostel, which has hosted the Packer group for many years, students are responsible for the cooking and cleaning. Each night ends with students and chaperones processing the day’s events, sharing their “highs and lows,” and delving into sensitive topics of race, access, and wealth.

Kai Carse ’19 and Georgia Fine ’19: When thinking about empathy in the context of this trip, we had never really considered what it would mean to empathize with other Packer students. But after hearing everyone’s stories, we realized that even though we live in the same area and go to the same school, it doesn’t mean that we have the same experiences. The Packer students’ stories made us realize how much we had assumed we knew about our peers and their circumstances.

This led us to ask: How often do we go into a discussion willing to admit that we might be wrong about something we already “know”? We realized that we constantly go into debates with the sole focus of changing the other person’s mind, without a willingness to change our own. So when hearing someone’s opinion, it’s easier to attack [that opinion] than to work to understand it and consider why we might be wrong. However, the real challenge comes in working to see their point of view and in understanding exactly why they feel that way.

During our recent nightly meetings, we reached a breakthrough because of our new respect for empathy when discussing tough topics. This trip brings up some difficult and controversial perspectives. Working to understand people and why they feel the way they do is the best way that we have found to structure a respectful conversation. This understanding before judgment is something we hope to carry with us in our lives moving forward.

Kai Carse ’19 becomes a sand merman. 

Back in Brooklyn, students are eager to share their experiences with friends and family. They often have difficulty finding words to describe an experience that is underpinned so strongly by the relationships formed not only with ArtWorks students but within the Packer group itself. Two years ago, disappointed by conversations that petered out with “Maybe you’d have to be there to understand,” several students launched the ArtWorks for Youth Club in the US to build upon their experience and invite the Packer community to learn about the South Africa program. Through events such as a dance-a-thon and a pop-up thrift store, the club has raised over $45,000 to support Artworks programs and sponsor two students’ enrollment at the Ethembeni Enrichment Centre in Port Elizabeth. 

Recognizing that the story exchange is at the heart of their South Africa experience, this year’s club leaders also worked with faculty and administrators to bring Narrative 4 to Packer in April for training. In June, students from three South Africa trips facilitated a story exchange among nearly 70 Upper School student leaders at the annual Leadership Summit. Next year, club leaders hope to sponsor a story exchange to provide a safe and respectful space for students to share stories about their political beliefs.

 


Italy

The Language, History, and Culture of the Romans

Italy Photos by Jackie Kazarian

March 2017 marked the final Italy Program for Tim Flannery, who retired in June after 24 years of teaching Latin at Packer. He was accompanied by fellow Latinist Jackie Kazarian and Spanish teacher Rashad Randolph. He reflected on his eleven biennial journeys to Rome with Packer's Latin students.

All roads lead to Rome, as the proverb goes. Ever since choosing first to study, then to teach, Latin, the path I have taken certainly led me to Rome again and again. My own encounters with the Eternal City and Italy in general include having studied there on more than one occasion as a young man and having lived and taught there when I was, as Dante put it, nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita. But my most abiding memory of that country will certainly remain the pleasure and privilege of having made it an extension of my life here at Packer as a Latin teacher for just shy of a quarter of a century.

I inaugurated Packer’s Italy Program in 1995, my second year on Joralemon Street, because I believe it particularly important for Latin students to have an opportunity to experience firsthand the city from which emanated the language and culture they are studying. Unlike French, Mandarin, and Spanish students, who have more obvious and immediate ways to utilize and connect with their language of study, Rome provides Latin students a means of making personal connections with aspects otherwise confined to the texts we study in the classroom. Things previously experienced solely on the page — topography, monuments, artifacts, and the incidents and people we read about together — are brought to life through the immediacy of place. For nine days, then, on a biennial basis, the city of Rome became my favorite classroom in the world.

Dante Mastropietro ’20: I always sit on the left side of my Latin classroom at Packer. From there I look towards a number of posters of Rome: the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, Augustus at Prima Porta, and my favorite, the statue of Laocoön and his sons. In the Aeneid, Virgil outlines Laocoön’s bravery as he rescues his own sons from the grasp of the sinister serpents. This was just another Latin passage to me until Mr. Flannery pointed his blue pen (as he often does) towards one of the posters. He said that those of us accompanying him on the trip to Rome would see this statue first-hand in Vatican City. At the time I thought nothing of it — just another statue in a museum filled with enough stone to fill a quarry. 

But there was nothing like experiencing the statue in person. Despite the words we had translated and the posters on the wall, the expression on Laocoön’s face was something unimaginable. Every minute crevice on his face, unnoticeable until you get so very close, tells the story of his struggle to stay alive and save those he loves from inevitable death. The statue evoked a genuinely visceral response in me — something I didn’t know I could feel from looking at a statue. This experience made me realize that an exponential amount of understanding is to be gained by immersing oneself in a foreign culture. The Italy trip shifted my perception of ancient Rome’s relevance in modern society.  

Genesis Andrade ’19 delivers her site report in the theater at Ostia Antica while Tim Flannery [far left] takes a photograph.

At the daily roll-calls, students answer to the names of their assigned emperors. At the Ara Pacis Museum in Rome, they posed with their imperial counterparts.

From the beginning, it has been my aim to shape each student traveler into, as Cicero attributes to Socrates, civis mundi: a citizen of the whole world. Advance meetings with our student travelers allow us to familiarize them with our itinerary and the layout of the city, to acclimate them to cultural differences, and even to provide a crash course in the Italian language.  

The trip was designed to offer Latin students an extensive introduction to the city of Rome. But we also explore the archaeological site of Ostia Antica (Rome’s port city on the Tiber River, often described as a northern Pompeii) and the Renaissance city of Florence. Our journey thus provides the opportunity not only to examine the monuments and vestiges of antiquity, but also to experience modern Italy, and the successive layers of intervening centuries and eras that are everywhere present — in its architecture, its cuisine, its culture, and its language.

Claire French ’20: Each day as we navigated from the Hotel Orlanda through the Jewish Ghetto, the subway system, the Piazza del Popolo, and Tiber Island, I was amazed by the integration of Roman ruins with relics of the Renaissance and with the festive culture of modern-day Italy. 

The combination of eras first hit me when our group passed a subway station at a busy intersection just 25 meters from the Colosseum. Later, while journeying toward the Santa Maria degli Angeli — a Renaissance church designed by Michelangelo built inside the ancient Baths of Diocletian — a classmate pointed out some graffiti on a closed snack bar. To our surprise the orange and lime-green letters were written not in Italian, but in Latin. As we rested our feet, we translated the work, identifying indirect statements, ablative absolute, participles and other grammar we had learned in class. Being immersed in Italian culture allowed me to fully appreciate the value of Latin linguistics. 

I have witnessed the gains students derive from their experiences abroad, and the significance it holds for them upon our return. Over the years a number of students have come home absolutely determined to spend their junior year in Italy, or motivated to learn Italian in an independent study at Packer or in college. Many simply returned reinvigorated, having conceived a greater motivation toward their study of Latin — as well as a deeper connection with their Latin teacher!

Dante Mastropietro ’20 poses with his imperial roll-call emperor, Domitian, at the Vatican Museum.

Kate Harty ’20: It ought to be impossible to walk ten miles a day or climb the 871 winding steps of Saint Peter’s Basilica with a broken foot. Any sane person with a broken foot would not have come on this trip. It’s a good thing, then, that Mr. Flannery tends towards the slightly insane. Whether he was spending fifteen minutes discussing a single painting, leading us through the winding streets of Rome, or finding the best gelaterias, it is hard to imagine the Italy trip without him. As imposing as monuments like the Duomo or the Spanish Steps are, nothing was as impressive as Mr. Flannery’s seemingly endless facts and stories and energy. 

Travel and the study of language are and should be, in my opinion, inextricably woven together. The act of studying a second language is a form of travel. It’s a kind of journey on which you set forth the first day you enter the language classroom. This journey, this marvelous, linguistic pathway, is capable of transporting you to unexpected places — both literally and figuratively. When we allow ourselves to become deeply involved in the study of another language, of another culture, we cannot help but being enriched, empowered, and ultimately transformed by that experience. 

It was my choice, years ago, to study Latin — a choice that led me to Rome, to the classroom, to teaching — and here to Packer. And for that choice, that path, that journey, I will always remain very grateful indeed.

— Tim Flannery

 


Other Travel Programs included:

China

In Spring 2016, Upper School students traveled to Beijing, Shanghai, and Suzhou to explore Chinese language, culture, and history. They visited the Forbidden City [above], Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, Shanghai’s Bund and Yu Garden, and the Great Wall. They also met with two groups of Chinese students, with Packer’s Mandarin-language students translating. 

Spain

In the Packer Symposium’s International Program, the 10th Grade travels to Andalucia, Spain. There they experience the unique culture forged by the confluence of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Students visit a number of historic sites, including the alhambra in Granada. They also attend a flamenco performance and learn about the Spanish tradition of bullfighting.

Puerto Rico

Eighth Grade Spanish students immersed themselves in the Spanish language and Puerto Rican culture: visiting historic old San Juan and El Yunque rainforest; dancing salsa; cooking mofongo (plantains); and taking an eco-boat tour of La Parguera, where local fisherman showed them octopi and sea stars.

Quebec

French-language students in the 8th Grade traveled to Vieux Montréal, visiting the Notre-Dame Basilica, admiring the snowy city from Au Sommet observatory [above], and traversing the footbridge above Montmorency Falls. In Québec City, they participated in a re-enactment of the 1759 battle on the Plains of Abraham.

image of two students reading in Packer's Hart Library

The Dennis Years:
A Visual Timeline

The Dennis Years Timeline

Click image above to view key dates during Dr. Bruce L. Dennis's 15-year tenure as Head of School at Packer.