Three more days! I hope your last stretch of Special Programs goes well. Last week I spent two days at the United World College in Maastricht, Netherlands. The UWC felt like the Rhodes Scholarship of secondary education.
That’s a big statement; what do I mean by that? The United World Colleges (13 of them) are spread throughout the world and are a two year (11th and 12th grade years) programs for aspiring college students. David Amadu is a UWC-Singapore graduate. The students are chosen in a competition by national committees. The national committees also help fund the students so it is a fully-funded, need-blind program. Most UWC graduates then qualify for financial aid in US and other universities. The academic curriculum is the IB Diploma. 144 different countries participate in the UWC.
As I had dinner one night with several students and heard their stories, I learned about the competitiveness of the programs. Two girls from Tanzania and Montenegro made it sound as if they had emerged as one of the top students in their country, thus “the Rhodes Scholarship of Secondary Education.” (my words) The students do not get to choose their school, just the UWC program, so they apply knowing that they could be sent anywhere in the world for two years.
The students are the magic of the program. They are bright, sociable and want to make a difference. One girl from Germany left my table early at dinner. I asked her where she was going, and she said she had a “board meeting.” It turns out she is on the board of a non-profit, second-hand book store in Maastricht. She had spent some time in the store, made friends with the director, and then had been asked to serve on the board. I asked her what her role was on the board. “Promotion,” she said. “The store wants to get kids in to read their books, and I help with that.”
Student driven service such as this example is a required part of their program. Another group of kids worked at a local non-profit restaurant. They serve inexpensive meals to “lonely” people, mostly elderly. The kids had gone from serving meals and doing dishes, to organizing a program every other Friday night. They would do some type of presentation on their home culture for the customers. That evening, a girl from Kenya was teaching dance steps to some other girls (not from Africa). The next Friday night’s presentation was going to be Kenyan dance. I smiled at the image of girls from Africa, Latin America and Asia performing a Kenyan dance for the elderly of Holland.
During my visit, students from the UWC of the Adriatic were visiting on a cultural tour. Their school is in a small village, so they were excited to see the big cities of Maastricht and Amsterdam after a ten-hour train ride. When they heard I was from the USA, they asked me how to order correctly at Starbucks. The kids are also a rough and tumble group. Since they come from all economic strata, they do not have the polish of wealth. It’s very refreshing.
UWC-Maastricht also hosts students from around the world for a Theory of Knowledge conference. (Theory of Knowledge is a required IB course.) This year’s theme is “Crossing Borders”, and some students were working on how artists from different parts of the world viewed borders. One class was looking at Frost’s Mending Walls when I was there. The comparative fine arts projects were wonderful. Only students present at the conference that is two days long.
The boarding challenge for UWC-Maastricht is unique. 50 UWC students enter the school in the 11th grade year and join a group of 25 day students from the Maastricht area. Some of those students have been in that school since kindergarten, so the mixing presents some integration challenges. The two programs that have worked involve orientation and the boarding house. All 75 students are in the IB program, and so the local students participate in the three-day orientation at the beginning of the year. Then, the boarding students host study groups, meals and parties at the boarding house. Going back to last week’s theme of location, having two different groups of kids share one location for an activity helps improve their sense of community. The Residential Director says they work hard to treat the students as one group. “Once faculty make a distinction between day and boarding, the students will,” he said.
During my meeting with the Head of School, I learned a lot about the UWC system and the challenges of starting a new UWC school connected to an existing K-12 school. We also talked about the goals of the school’s global curriculum, and his answer made me think of the bookstore, the restaurant, the kids travelling from the Adriatic, the ToK conference and of the boarding house. He said, “All the important lessons occur outside the classroom.”