McLean County Diversity Project c/o Jeffrey A. Schwartz PO Box 58 Downs, IL 61736
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Copyright 2012 McLean County Diversity Project
Four 8-hour days driving four teenage boys in a van, all to spend five days chaperoning 22 middle and high school students through Boston and Salem? When put like that, most people I told about the McLean County Diversity Project’s upcoming journey responded either with "Wow…good luck." or "Better you than me!"
Yet, when you look at what our Scholars got out of this trip, the "Wow" part suddenly takes on a whole new meaning.
In their five days, the Scholars hiked Boston’s Freedom Trail – not once, but twice. They all climbed 294 steps to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument (adults too…our legs are still recovering!). They toured Salem at night, walking through graveyards and memorials to those accused of witchcraft. They learned to sail a schooner – as in sails, a tiller, and compasses to navigate – and successfully worked together to get the schooner and all passengers safely back in the harbor. Several saw the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.
Each summer trip for the Diversity Project brings its own unique challenges, and rewards.
Watching the Scholars explore a region filled with colonial history was extremely rewarding. Seeing the past come alive in their eyes was, for a history teacher, simply amazing. As they stood inside the Old North Church, where lanterns were placed so long ago to signal "the British are coming" – you knew that suddenly that moment in time was so much more "real" to the Scholars than any amount of teaching in a classroom could ever hope to be.
A picture, video, or online lesson about the U.S.S. Constitution could never begin to achieve anything like having the Scholars actually walk on board and personally experience a vessel with such a rich history. I can talk to students all day long about the Boston Massacre – but hearing about it while standing at the spot where it actually happened, outside the Old State House, is another experience entirely.
As always, the Great Debates served to give the Scholars a chance to debate, discuss, and debrief their experiences.
The first debate examined the question of "Can the ends ever justify the means when protecting your community?" The Scholars rose to the occasion, blending past, present, and future as they challenged one another to think critically and justify their positions. Touching upon World War II, the dropping of the atomic bombs, Japanese internment, modern surveillance laws, terrorism, and other weighty issues: the Scholars pressed each other to do more than simply accept the world around them. Two of our veteran Scholars led their sides, guiding the pace and helping pull all their teammates in to the discussion.
The end of the week and final Great Debate wrapped up with the question of; "What contemporary lessons do the Salem Witch Trials hold for us?" Speaking in open forum led by two of our rookies, the Scholars proved the value of our stay in Salem. They spoke about the importance of learning about past injustices, the need to both remember but also act on our knowledge of history, and why the preservation of our past is so important to our future. Even our youngest Scholars spoke eloquently, bringing up the quote "To ignore history is to be destined to repeat it."
Watching them discuss the importance of our trip, I was reminded that while they are just teenagers they also are more mature, wise, intuitive, and compassionate than many people give teenagers credit for being.
Sometimes it’s the little things they do that prove the rewards are worth the effort. Such as structuring a game of water polo so that even the non-swimmers can participate. Or a speech on our final night that brings many in the audience to tears. When our van got separated from the pack and lost in downtown Salem, it was the four teenage boys in our van who whipped out their cell phones, called the lead van to relay our position, and used the magic of GPS to get us safely back to the group.
At the end of our trip, I was once again reminded of what the Diversity Project provides for students is more than just a recognition of diversity. It is an active learning experience, a chance for a group of kids who otherwise might never meet to come together and grow through their interactions.
The Scholars who participate are an amazing group of individuals who will go on to do exceptional things in our world, and I’m continually honored and humbled to be able to work with them.
- Cathy, Unsbee, Veteran Team Captain
McLean County Diversity Project