By Paul Hagen, Director of Well-Being and Malcolm Yates, Spanish Faculty

SINCE EASTSIDE PREP’S FOUNDING, WE HAVE EMBRACED THE BELIEF that educational travel is transformative; that getting students off campus, out of the classroom, and beyond their comfort zones affords them boundless opportunities for deep learning and profound growth. To that end, we have been taking students on educational trips near and far for two decades, and we continue to reap the benefits that these trips provide. Over the years, we’ve heard the common refrain from students that these trips are among the top highlights of their time at EPS. But we are looking for more than just highlights, we are searching for learning.

partnership-paulAnyone can board a flight to some far-off destination and have an interesting and memorable experience. At EPS, we are designing trips to be more than that. We are designing trips that are truly educational; that take students off the beaten path and into a world of eye-opening experiences seldom seen as tourists. The value of these trips—and indeed the vision that guides their creation—is that they are an extension of the classroom. In short, we see travel as curriculum rather than as tourism.

There is always opportunity to improve, of course, and as we look to the future, we are redoubling our efforts to ensure Education Beyond the Classroom at Eastside Prep is as robust, educational, and transformative as it can be. To that end, last fall a delegation from Eastside Prep traveled to Spain to attend the Global Education Benchmark Group’s (GEBG) Regional Conference, to share ideas with the wider global education community and to visit schools we hope to partner with. While there, we presented Eastside Prep’s unique carbon offset program. The program, which was developed and championed by EPS students, offsets EBC Week’s carbon footprint by partnering with Eden Reforestation Projects in their effort to plant mangrove trees in Madagascar—a past EBC destination—and elsewhere around the world. Beyond presenting at the GEBG conference, we had come to Spain with the goal of building a lasting, meaningful, and mutually enriching partnership with a sister school.

The search for a sister school can feel as daunting as it is exciting. Eastside Prep has always offered only one world language—Spanish. This intentional focus provides greater opportunity to dive deeper into the language, to develop greater fluency, and to build consistent connections with the Spanish-speaking world beyond EPS. One of the best things about teaching and learning this particular world language is the unbelievable depth and diversity of cultures into which Spanish can act as a window and entrance point. The flip side of that coin, of course, is a potentially overwhelming glut of possibility. Among the tens of thousands of Spanish-speaking schools in dozens of countries all over the world, where should we begin? What kind of exchanges and programs are we hoping to develop? What makes for a meaningful, long-lasting partnership and how do you get one off the ground?

At the Global Education Benchmark Group conference, we had the opportunity to dive into these questions with educators who have been
managing successful sister school relationships for years (decades in some cases). We came away with a few key pieces of wisdom.

  • Culture fit between the two schools is key. If the cultures are in conflict, the partnership is destined for failure.
  • True institutional connections, though more challenging to establish, are ultimately more meaningful and resilient than those between
    individual language teachers.
  • Exchanges often function better as highlights and capstone experiences within longer-term student-to-student connection projects
    (correspondence, video-chatting, etc.) rather than as the central goal of a partnership.

partnership-campusWith those principles in mind, we began looking for a match. Happily, we did not have to look far. The GEBG conference host school in Madrid, Gredos San Diego (GSD), immediately felt like the right cultural fit and we are excited to begin a partnership with them. GSD is a Spanish school cooperative with eight campuses in the greater Madrid area, one in Costa Rica, and one in Cameroon. GSD is an innovative
and forward-thinking organization with a strong commitment to both community involvement and experiential education. In addition to this, GSD is well-equipped to welcome and host students and to provide programming that pairs nicely with and enhances our own curriculum.

In our most ambitious and expansive visions for the future, we imagine such possibilities as regular classroom-to-classroom correspondence, virtual visits and exchanges, annual in-person student exchanges during the school year, summer sports and arts programs in Spain and Costa Rica, and perhaps even an opportunity for Middle School students to experience international travel, cultural emersion, and language study during EBC Week. The possibilities feel nearly limitless as we continue to develop this partnership.

Our immediate plans are, of course, a bit more modest. This year two groups of students from EPS traveled to GSD’s Buitrago campus for a portion of their time in Spain during EBC week—they have taken the first step in what we hope will be the long road to a sustained and fulfilling partnership.

As we reflect on Eastside Preparatory School’s Education Beyond the Classroom program, we are proud of the foundation that we have built on twenty years of successful educational travel. As we look to the future, we are eager to build on that foundation as we develop new partnerships and programs that will sustain experiential education for years to come.