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Newark Academy Encourages Fresh and Imaginative Teaching

Newark Academy students are not the only ones in the community who benefit from immersive learning. Each year, up to three faculty members who have been with NA for at least three years are awarded a Summer Travel Grant, a school-funded opportunity to explore a topic in their respective fields and use this experience to enhance their teaching when they return to campus in September. The three faculty members awarded the grant this past year reflect on their recent travels.

Investigating the Māori in New Zealand: Connecting Cultures


The darkness began to settle as we entered Waipoua Forest on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Our guide sang Māori waiata, or chants, as we approached Te Matua Ngahere, the “Father of the Forest” – the oldest known kauri tree in the world, estimated to be more than 2,500 years old. As we stood looking at the 16-foot-wide trunk, we contemplated the fact that this tree was actually alive when Socrates taught in Athens. There are few places in New Jersey where one can easily mark time in millennia.

Our forest guide was a local elementary school teacher by day. At night, she explained the myths of the tree along with the successful integration of Māori culture into New Zealand’s schools. Currently, every school teaches Māori culture, and by 2025 Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wants the te reo Māori language to be taught in every primary school; by 2040, the goal is to have more than one million residents who speak the language. My journey from New Jersey to the majestic Kauri tree was enriched by the fact that our guide was also a school teacher.

Newark Academy’s Summer Travel Grant program for faculty caught my eye when I first applied to teach at the school 12 years ago. I knew I had only one chance at this generous opportunity, so I did not want to waste it. When I learned about the relative success of the biculturalism of the indigenous Māori and the British Pākehā, I knew a New Zealand trip was one that could serve our NA community well. I could learn about a new culture as well as explore the rich and varied landscape of a part of the world that few ever experience – the southern portion of the blue Pacific hemisphere.

By learning the customs and history of the Māori people, I knew I would gain new examples of political, economic and social patterns to add depth to my teaching of culture in the NA Middle School. I found the political history of New Zealand to be quite interesting. While early interactions with the British did result in the familiar patterns laid out by UCLA professor Jared

Diamond in his book Guns, Germs and Steel, with a staggering loss of life and land in the 19th century, there were also strikingly unique elements in the story of New Zealand. By 1876, the Māori had been granted four seats in Parliament; entering the 20th century with legitimate power in government, they were able to further grow their political strength both formally and informally over time, resulting in laws that specifically protect and promote Māori culture. These laws laid the foundation for the current resurgence in Māori culture and language. There are Māori-led tours for almost every site one would want to visit, creating economic opportunities and incentives for Māori people. As a visitor, I had the real sense that the Māori were empowered and in charge of their own destiny, even if complete equality has not yet been achieved. The revival of Māori culture is centered in Te Puia, in the city of Rotorua on the North Island, where the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute promotes and teaches all aspects of culture, including weaving and wood, bone and stone carving. The facility, opened in 1963, is modern and immaculate following a recent renovation. There, elders train talented students in a workshop format. As soon as I entered the workshops – where students worked on individual or group projects as teachers circulated, giving pointers – I realized it had the exact same feeling as the classroom of my colleague Deb Tavares, who teaches 6th grade science in NA’s Middle School. In the Te Puia workshops, I was actually witnessing the key elements of a culture being transferred from one generation to the next – the process of cultural survival in a world that could easily have extinguished that culture’s beauty and uniqueness. The guide at Te Puia also indicated that the success of the cultural resurgence was due to monetary support from government programs.

While it was my intent to study the cultural patterns that support the success of biculturalism, the tragic Christchurch mosque shootings occurred on the South Island during my visit. I witnessed a nation grapple with, and respond to, its deadliest mass shooting. New Zealanders, known as Kiwis, were adamant about banning military-style weapons and were determined to pass legislation more quickly than Australia had after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. The shock and sadness expressed by the Kiwis in Auckland reminded me of how frequently we have shootings in the United States and made me reflect on the nature of our own responses. The respect for cultures in New Zealand was evident when Prime Minister Ardern wore the hijab during a press conference, essentially to say, “You are us.” I look forward to sharing these experiences with NA students this year and for many years to come.

A Powerful Journey through East and Southeast Asia


An ancient Asian proverb offers wisdom to aspiring travelers: Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times. Having journeyed through East and Southeast Asia for seven weeks this summer, I can affirm the truth of this maxim, as I have lived it.

Although I had never visited Asia before this summer, I have long been interested in the region, and especially in its economic and political development since the turn of the last century. As a teacher of Newark Academy’s World Cultures course, I have taught scores of students about Asia, and I have delighted in helping them understand aspects of Asian cultures. In traveling to Asia, I sought to develop a personal understanding of these cultures – as well as to visit places of historical and cultural significance, to consider how history is shaped and shared, and to develop a more complete grasp of the economic and geopolitical issues facing the region today.

My itinerary included visits to Japan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore – a tour that allowed me to experience a wide variety of aspects and flavors of Asia, from bustling, ultramodern cities to verdant, rural villages. The intense summer heat made my explorations challenging at times, but I’m glad I pressed on in order to be wowed, over and over again, by places of ancient and modern significance, from the Great Wall of China, to the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, to the National Palace Museum in Taipei, to Angkor Wat.

I left Asia with a deep appreciation for the region – an appreciation that will, for many years, inform not only my personal understanding of contemporary world affairs but also my work to ensure that the NA curriculum remains global in scope and spirit. At the same time, I have many questions and a desire to learn more about the people I met and the nations I visited. Indeed,

I hope one day to return to this region and to once again experience and stand in awe of its remarkable cultures.

A Trip with Surprising Dividends


As a middle-school Earth Science teacher, I was thrilled to receive a travel grant for the summer of 2019. I designed a trip to Hawaii to deepen my own knowledge of geology and to give myself first-hand experiences that would make my lessons come to life.

I have studied and taught about volcanoes for many years, but this was my first time visiting a volcanic area. Each day was filled with hands-on opportunities to learn how volcanoes have shaped and continue to define the landscape throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

I spent a total of two weeks exploring the beauty and diversity of the Hawaiian Islands. During the first week, I traveled with other science teachers as part of an educational tour with the geoscience education and outreach organization GEOetc. We spent the entirety of the week on the Big Island, exploring the volcanoes, eruption products, plate tectonics and natural hazards associated with active volcanoes. Our trip leader introduced us to the unique geology of Hawaii, the history of eruptions and the activity of the various volcanoes, giving us concrete examples we could share with our students.

From the summit of Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, my group and I were able to view the Halema’uma’u crater. We also witnessed steam vents and saw the formation of sulfur crystals as the lava cooled. In the Kīlauea Iki Crater, we walked across a frozen lava lake and hiked directly into a steam vent.

During my journey, I saw countless features and objects I had previously only read about. We traveled to a sea arch (a rarity with lava rocks), a green sand beach, and a black sand beach. Along the way, I was able to collect both lava and sand samples, which I will be sharing with my students during our unit on volcanoes – and, of course, I took many, many pictures.

During my second week, I toured the other three Hawaiian Islands and had the unique opportunity to snorkel with manta rays in Kona. I will be sharing a video of this experience with my students when we discuss the classification of organisms.

I returned to NA this fall with so much more than the samples and stories I collected during my travels. Although I learned a tremendous amount about geology, equally transformative was what I learned about myself. Physically, the hiking and climbing were far more intense than anything I had done before. We often talk to our students about risk-taking, but in crawling through a lava tube (a tunnel formed by trapped air as molten lava travels down the side of a volcano) I was putting those words into action, and I can now model for my students how pushing through your own fears can lead to great rewards.

This academic year, I will bring new enthusiasm and context to my science lessons, as well as a new way to present material to my students. Through the travel grant, I was able to print my photos onto large canvases which now decorate my classroom.  It’s one thing to search for a picture of a green sand beach online, or to explain how a lava tube is formed, but it’s quite a different experience to see a photo that your own teacher took in one of these remarkable places.

Since returning from Hawaii, I continue to break down personal barriers, too, coaching both middle school field hockey and girls’ basketball for the first time in my 18 years at NA. The confidence I gained on this trip inspired me to take a chance on something new. I hope all of my NA colleagues will have this opportunity for summer travel and the growth that comes with it.

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