An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Elaine Christensen, Middle School director

Elaine Christensen is one of four Lakeside teachers and two administrators who went on a two-week GSL experience in South Africa (learn more about the trip in this news story). Here, she shares some thoughts about her experience.

Lakeside, as you know, has a strong commitment to global education. It’s embedded in our mission statement: We aspire “to develop in intellectually capable young people the creative minds, healthy bodies, and ethical spirits to contribute wisdom, compassion, and leadership to a global society.” This summer, I participated in Lakeside’s adult version of a Global Service Learning program. I was one of six Lakeside teachers and administrators (along with Middle School teachers Yvette Avila and Jamie Monkkonen, Upper School teachers Barry Wong and Stephanie Wright, and Director of Global Education Charlotte Blessing) who travelled to the Limpopo district in South Africa.

We taught at Ridgeway College (a pre-K through high school private school) as part of the Sumbandila Scholarship Trust, an organization that “selects extraordinary children from a background of extreme poverty” and provides them with educational opportunities. Our program was similar to an Upper School student GSL summer experience, including doing service work that the community identified as important (in our case, teaching), immersing ourselves in local culture, and living in a homestay for part of the time. I taught English and Life Skills to almost 100 students. In English class, students wrote, peer-edited, revised, and published profiles of each other; in Life Skills, the focus was on leadership and identifying students’ own strengths.

I am deeply committed to global citizenship and global education as critical components of Lakeside’s educational program. My experience this summer, though, took that commitment out of the theoretical and into the realm of the heart and soul. What made the difference was the authentic connections with the people I met, including my homestay host and director of the Ridgeway College Primary School Molly Madziva; the inspired and inspiring founder of Ridgeway College and the Sumbandila Scholarship Trust Leigh Bristow; the hardworking and completely committed staff at both the Trust and Ridgeway College; and Jack, our guide to the Leshiba Wildlife Preserve.

The most important people I met, though, were the Sumbandila students. On the one hand, they were so similar to students in Seattle: curious, hardworking, balancing a commitment to study while also having normal adolescent fun. At the same time, everything about their circumstances was different. Many of them travel miles on dirt roads, on foot and then on buses, to come to school. They live in houses with no electricity, no bathroom facilities, sometimes little food. At school, they have few of the supplies on which our students in Seattle rely. My English students – 32 in a class – wrote and rewrote everything by hand in notebooks that were supplied by the school. The weight of expectations resting on the heads of these 13-, 14-, and 15-year-old students was palpable in the classroom. Success in this program can mean acceptance to college and scholarships, which can help them break the cycle of poverty.

As clichéd as it sounds, I was overwhelmed by the way these students were profoundly the same and profoundly different from those by whom I’m surrounded in Seattle. And I’m filled with gratitude for the opportunity Lakeside provided for me to literally expand my world.