Teacher of the Month – September!
We are excited to spotlight our first Teacher of the Month here on our ETA/SH Blog, The Voyager.
Congratulations to Sarah Bonk from Indian Mountain School (IMS) in Lakeville, CT!
Sarah was chosen for her enthusiasm for international student travel and her dedication to expanding her students’ minds through cultural immersion and service. Read more about Sarah’s spotlight and travel expereinces below.
What do you teach? Do you have any other roles at school?
I teach Upper School math, currently Pre-Algebra, Algebra, Geometry, and Honors Geometry. I also coach Volleyball and JV Girl’s Basketball. I am the dorm head of the 6th and 7th grade girl’s dorm.
IMS is a junior boarding school, so it is grades pre-K through 9th. Students can start boarding in 6th grade.
Have you traveled abroad before you participated in/lead the Sustainable Horizon programs at your school? If so, when and where?
I traveled abroad to Australia in my junior year of college and I took my first student group to Mexico.
How do these programs compare to your previous travel experiences?
I would never travel abroad with students and not use Sustainable Horizon. It is great to travel abroad and know that someone will be there at the airport, and every detail of the trip will be planned out, but they will also work with the group and be flexible to make things happen. In Ecuador, the students wanted some time to walk around a small market, and our Sustainable Horizon guide made sure that it could happen.
What are your favorite things about traveling abroad?
I love to experience new cultures, eat new food, and get out of my comfort zone.
Why do you feel your school was interested in Sustainable Horizon Programs?
Our school’s motto is “life through service” and there had been trips abroad, but never to participate in a community service project. Sustainable Horizon helped us align the trips with this motto.
Were international programs a part of the school culture before your trips with Sustainable Horizon?
Yes, students had the opportunity to travel abroad during our March break.
How did you get involved with these programs?
The majority of trips abroad were organized by teachers at IMS. I co-chaperoned one trip then the next year I was the lead chaperone.
What is the value of taking students on an international program?
Students are opened up to a whole new culture, and get to really see and experience how people live in other parts of the world. We have always made our students turn in their electronics, which forces them to open up with each other and their host families. The programs teach the students work ethic, and allows them to come together to accomplish a goal that they can feel good about.
How many years have you taken students on an international program with Sustainable Horizon?
I have done the trip with students two years now.
How do you feel these trips have impacted your students?
I feel that these trips have brought together students who may not necessarily be friends. Several of the students have returned from the trips and joined the community service club. They feel good about giving back to others. One student started a similar trip at his high school after graduating from our school. Instilling a lifelong love of sustainable travel has always been one of our goals.
I went to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands two years ago, and then Costa Rica this year.
Why did you choose these program countries?
I planned Costa Rica this year with cost in mind. It was one of the most affordable trips, so several financial aid students were able to participate, which was great.
What have been some highlights on your Sustainable Horizon trips?
My greatest highlight from both trips has been seeing my students work with the younger kids from the community in their schools. In Ecuador, we were able to help out at the local school, building a small playground space. In Costa Rica, our main project was to build a fence around the school yard. We were able to spend a day playing with the kids, teaching them some words in English, and just hanging out in their school. Seeing my students so excited about what they were doing and how they were helping out the communities made my trip more enjoyable.
Do you find that incorporating service learning into your program brings added value? If so, why?
Yes. I do feel that having students understand sustainable travel brings added value. Some of the students on the trips had been to Costa Rica and Ecuador before, but had never seen the parts that we were exposed to. They experienced the true culture of the country. Understanding what it took for us to get there, and how to travel, but also give back to others in the process has been one of our goals.
What service projects have you worked on?
In Ecuador we worked on building a fence for capybaras, so the center could breed them. We also were able to visit the school, and build a small playground space for the kids. In Costa Rica we worked on a few projects. We constructed a portion of a fence that will surround the school, we built a small spiral garden at the school, and we helped repair the side of the culture classroom at the school.
If you stayed with a host families, tell us about your experiences.
Staying with host families was one of the most valuable experiences for our students. They were hesitant at first, and very uncomfortable staying in a place that was so unfamiliar to them, but by the end of our five day stay in the community, the students did not want to leave. They were pushed outside of their comfort zone, as the houses were very different from what they were used to, and the families spoke almost no English, but it was such a valuable experience for them.
What advice would you give a fellow teacher interested in planning an international program?
It is so worth it! The students will exceed every expectation you have of them. I would recommend to just go with the flow once you get there, because Sustainable Horizon will make things happen. Every detail is planned, and no matter what happens they always have a backup plan, so there is no need to stress! Now that Sustainable Horizon has all of the information forms and medical forms on the web, it has significantly reduced the amount of time trying to organize and collect paperwork from students. Many of my students are from other countries, and their parents can easily log on to the website and fill out the necessary paperwork.