An Independent School • Grades 5-12
Tying together two ways of learning: classroom and experiential
Tying together two ways of learning: classroom and experiential

by Charlotte Blessing, director of global education

As I am writing this, a group of Upper School students are a week into their service projects in Colombia as part of the yearlong Spanish 4/5 class taught by Debbie Bensadon. What started out four years ago with just one school-year GSL course, Advanced Ecology: GSL Costa Rica, has increased to three yearlong GSL courses. The courses are fully enrolled with 16 students in each class, a testimony that students are interested in a global experience and applying their classroom learning to real life. As one student reflected after such a trip last year, "I think learning about the history and background of a country/culture then seeing it for yourself is really valuable. It ties together two ways of learning which is learning through a classroom and hands-on/experiential learning."

The theme of the Spanish 4/5 class is resistance, empowerment, and identity. In preparation for their trip to Colombia, the students studied resistance and liberation movements in Latin America with a focus on Colombia. In Colombia, as part of their service work, students will interview and video record community members about their experiences with Colombian resistance movements. The students are living with host families in a very close-knit rural community where no one speaks English. You can read more about the students' immersion experiences and see some wonderful photos from Colombia on our blogs and reflections webpage.

On March 30, two other classes will venture abroad as part of their school-year GSL courses. One section of World History, taught by Nadia Selim, will bring 16 10th graders to Peru, working with Awamaki, a Seattle-based nongovernmental organization started by a Lakeside alum. The students in David Joneschild's Advanced Ecology class will head to French Polynesia where they will do service work focusing on marine ecology, climate change, and the environment.

The school-year GSL trips are timed to coincide partly with midwinter break or spring break, meaning that students miss about two weeks of school. A frequent (and reasonable) question is how students will make up work and learning for the classes they miss. Each year, the GSL program works closely with faculty to support students as they return to classes after their trip. Luckily, Lakeside teachers believe in the value of the GSL program and in the role it plays preparing students for an increasingly complex world. For example, teachers will meet with students before and after their GSL trip and determine which assignments are essential so the student can still successfully complete a course.  

Creating a new GSL course is a two-year process that requires support from many stakeholders: faculty, students, administrators, families, and, not least, overseas partners. I am thankful that Lakeside faculty are always looking for ways to innovate and redesign their curriculum so it's current, interesting, thoughtful, and addresses issues in which our students are interested.

Charlotte Blessing is director of global education. You can reach her at