With travels spanning the eastern hemisphere and with as many diverse cultural connections the Week Without Walls program once again opened the doors of the world - its cultures and communities - to our middle school students. Experiential educational opportunities such as this have been a keystone to an ASD education, but they serve to educate in a much deeper sense than going to new places, doing new things and meeting new people.
There is much research to show that such experiences, cumulatively, create a worldview that is open to diversity, open to the celebration of different cultures, and that people with such experiences (essentially all of our students) become more open minded, flexible, creative and empathic. Likewise, a wealth of research shows that children who are exposed to the outdoors, particularly in nature, develop a much deeper appreciation for the natural world and the totality of diversity of plant and animal life. In short, experiential learning opportunities such as WWW are not only beneficial, but often essential in the development of globally minded citizens.
To make the experience even more meaningful, however, there is also a good deal of research to suggest that participating in service also opens the doors to empathy, a greater sense of purpose and a deeper recognition of the benefits of giving of one's time, skills and/or friendship. WWW is invaluable in this way for our students as well. And, as engaging as it might be for the local community we support, we recognize that the true value of such trips is often the personal growth that our own students receive through participating.
This year's WWW allowed students to engage in tree planting, community gardening, maintaining school grounds, building bio-gas chambers, generating awareness about the use of water bottles (in lieu of plastic bottles), among others. All in all these are the types of things that allow not just exposure to the world, but a much more powerful sense of change making. It is this very disposition that we hope our students return with and, in time, support the development of an ever-growing school community through active citizenship. It's not only about building "cricital consciousness" but in putting that consciousness into practice that matters, especially in a rapidly changing world.