Budget shortfalls and an emphasis on standardized tests are forcing the American education system further and further from any semblance of experiential learning. There are organizations not waiting around for national hindsight to recognize the need to empower students through experiences that grow empathy and fortify ambition and creativity. Kids N’ Culture is expanding the horizons and ambitions of students through international travel. Students are finding these experiences formative, and invaluable at such formatives stages of life. It is hard to return from the adventures of travel unchanged. In the words of T.S. Eliot, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”.
Tell us about Kids N’ Culture, how came to be and its mission
Kids N’ Culture started with after-school lessons, thousands of candy bars sold on the subway, 12 students who barely knew where Louisiana was, and one 6 day trip that changed all of our lives. That first group of students came back eager to attack their last year of school.
We provide access to experiential learning, bringing opportunity to students regardless of their economic situation. We provide an engaging curriculum that supports a student’s general education and encourages them to be a lifelong learner. We break down borders while allowing the world to operate as our classroom. We create future leaders that are proud global citizens.
For most, it was their first flight – their first time trying jambalaya – their first time seeing how a single hurricane can destroy a community – it was a time that demanded they step outside of their comfort zone. In that time, they became a family.
Many of them had been off track to graduate, but by June all of them had been accepted to a 4 year college. Every one of their college essays focused on New Orleans, and each of them had their own idea of where they would travel abroad and what they would study in college that would allow them to explore the world. I started daydreaming about an international classroom, one where the experiences dictated the questions and the learning never ended…It was then that our mission began.
What are you and the kids trying to achieve through Kids N’ Culture?
The world can be a scary place, but fear only breeds misunderstanding. The more we allow ourselves to close off the rest of the world, the easier it is to label others as different – and to the extreme, the enemy. In running this program, my only goal is to create a diverse generation that embraces what makes us different, and is able to take their drive and passion for new cultures into their respected fields. Individually, each student becomes an “expert” on a certain topic and shares their learning with the whole group while we are traveling abroad. For example, a student who does their individual research on eco-conservation may present the morning we are scheduled to plant trees in Costa Rica.
In addition to our academic curriculum, students are given time to reflect on the experiences through journals, and share with their parents and peers through a community open final presentation.
I don’t foresee a hundred social studies teachers or Peace Corps applicants – I would much rather have a network of doctors, actors, mothers, and mechanics that share a common love, appreciation, and above all tolerance for the world outside of their own.
What void does Kids N’ Culture fill in the education system for these students?
Our focus is less on what the education system is doing wrong and more about how we can work as allies, supporting teachers who spend every day tackling these same issues.
But there are only so many hours in a school day, so we aim to supplement their learning. Our curriculum is designed for smaller group instruction, recruits the best talent in respected fields, and supports hands-on and collaborative learning. We also make the playing field a little more fair – now every child has access to an international study tour, regardless of whether their families or school can supplement the cost.
Why is the program based on international travel and education for these students? What impact do you expect global exposure will have on their lives?
We have found that the more a student is removed from their comfort zone, the greater the emotional and personal growth is. We spend the time preparing our students so they feel prepared when navigating a new country. In this way, we are creating a sense of confidence within our students while connecting them with another part of the world. Student alumni cite this confidence as the most useful bi-product of the program once they enter college. The exposure to international travel stays with them as well – many of our alumni go on to study full semesters abroad, and one student just accepted her role with the Foreign Service.
Travel opportunities for minorities and at-risk youth seem to be a growing trend in culture right now. Why do you think that is?
The transformation that occurs in the weeks after the trip are the real highlights – students take on a new approach with their coursework, they hold their peers accountable for words/actions that ostracize others, and they carry themselves as leaders. This all stems from being given an opportunity to see a world outside of their own.
It’s easier to create a positive future for yourself when you have a better grasp on what that future could entail.
What’s the foreseeable future for Kids N’ Culture and how can people with your progress plan?
Both the application, and ways to support our students, can be found at www.kidsnculture.org – feel free to refer students to our program, or reach out to us for ways you can directly get involved.