by Martin Naffziger, M.Ed.
SI Global Academy understands that true, meaningful learning and growth happen when we engage with ourselves and our world through immersive experiences rather than purely traditional classroom learning. This understanding means that our student Immersive Experiences are different than traditional study-abroad models.
What makes our Immersive Experiences in the U.S., Costa Rica, Peru, Austria, and South Africa different?
Preparation to Make Real Connections
At SIGA, we prepare throughout the year for each Immersive Experience, as connecting through language and culture are huge parts of getting to know a new place. However, we also understand that we are not only visiting a new place, but that we are entering a new community. At SI Global Academy, students will spend their year preparing by connecting with and getting to know individuals and communities who will welcome us as hosts. This means that SIGA students are not outside visitors, but arrive as part of a supportive community.
Abandoning the Prescriptive Model of Study Abroad
Study Abroad programs in high schools and colleges across the United States are often described as “carefully-designed” or “faculty-taught” experiences that carry predetermined learning and service goals with them. At SI Global Academy, we take questions. Through the investigation of these questions, we learn about language, history, art and more from the perspective of our hosts rather than our own. This is true experiential learning!
Our connections with individuals and communities begin throughout our months of preparation, but don’t end there. As we are welcomed into our Immersive Experiences, SI Global Academy partners with local schools, organizations and businesses to truly connect with and better understand our new communities. Want to partner with the University for Peace in Costa Rica? Indigenous communities in the mountains of Peru? The Global Citizenship Alliance in Austria? Yep, we can do that.
SI Global Academy students develop a portfolio unlike any other high school graduate's, and our Immersive Experiences provide student-led, inquiry-driven opportunities to showcase skills developed while answering Essential Questions. Maybe you want to produce a documentary film on organic coffee farming. Or design a website documenting your family’s history from their first arrival in the States. How about collaborating to develop a community art gallery promoting immigrant rights? Let’s work together to make it happen.
SI Global Academy’s Essential Questions - those that drive our curiosity about and immersion in our world - are investigated throughout the year and during Immersive Experiences. Answers to these questions - new perspectives and understanding, new skills developed, new connections with individuals and communities - lead us back to reflection and should alter our questions (and answers!) about ourselves. How has this experience changed my answers to “Who am I”? How do I interface differently with the world? This reflection on Immersive Experiences sets SIGA students apart.
By Dr. Heather Tracy, Ed.D.
The 21st Century has brought with it amazing advances in technology and artificial intelligence. Many philosophers and analysts have asserted that society has changed more rapidly in the past 20 years than in multiple centuries before it. With an ever-networked globalized society and instantaneous diffusion of information accessible to more and more people, how could this not affect human development? How do our youth adapt and adjust to such significant and rapid changes?
Education became a formalized institution to help prepare people to get jobs and become workers. But we no longer live in the Industrialized Revolution era. Social analysts believe many of these skills that are still being taught in formalized education are becoming less important if not obsolete. With Google at our fingertips, who needs to memorize the battles of the Civil War? Or formulas for math equations? Or diagrams of the nervous system? We can just look them up!
What we do need is the ability to know what our goal is, to map a plan to reach the goal, to know where to find and filter reliable sources, to be open to dialoguing differing perspectives, to discern fact from fiction, to synthesize information in a systematic way to analyze complex problems, and to be creative, innovative, and persistent in finding possible solutions - both for our own personal lives as well as for our professional and academic endeavors.
This is why Supportive Immersion theory proposes the PROPS skills as a guide for building 21st Century skills for integrative growth and the “self-generating function.” The self-generating function is all about being able to be a lifelong learner who is an active agent generating solutions for complex and novel problems in our rapidly changing society.
The PROPS stand for:
SIGA believes that education has a duty to help our youth build these PROPS skills. SIGA also believes that youth learn best when problems are relevant, timely, and a part of our experience. Our curriculum, activities, and relationships are all geared towards modeling PROPS skills and guiding students to empathically connect, collaboratively empower and immerse in novel experiences that stimulate learning and growth. The PROPS skills will prepare SIGA graduates to be active agents in their own lives and the world around them.
by Dr. Heather Tracy, Ed.D.
“SIGA” in Spanish is the imperative (or command form) of the verb “seguir” which means “to follow, to continue, to persist, and to pursue.”
When we were naming our new school, we considered dozens of names that incorporated the different aspects of what we wanted our school to represent - global citizenship, intellectual pursuits, service, supportive community care, exploration of self and the world, self-awareness, collaboration, proactive agency, supportive immersion, and a whole host of other concepts that we hoped would embody and inspire our mission. Given our intentional incorporation of travel and cultural immersion, we knew Global Academy had to be incorporated somewhere and yet we did not want to be confused (or to copy) other schools with global academy in their name. We also knew that Supportive Immersion was the relational approach (and SupportEd Immersion the educational approach) that we wanted to use with our students. Supported Immersion Global Academy was the name that kept popping up on our lists.
Two mottos kept coming up as well - “Engage. Immerse. Emerge.” was one and the other was “Immerse, Collaborate and Craft a Better World.” Both gave a sense of what we hope for our students, namely to engage and immerse in learning, work together, and proactively use their power to make the world a better place for themselves and everyone else in it. As much as we circled around different ideas, both of these mottos sparked the idea of being active agents in continuing to always keep learning and working hard to make change and make the world a better place.
High school is just a stepping stone to adulthood and continued learning, growing, and contributing. “SIGA” is a word with such an active meaning. Our students will be active agents in their own learning and artists crafting their own futures. They are not passive receptacles to memorize what we think they need to know. They will not be judged by numbers and A B C D E options on a standardized test. They will be learners who engage in the complexities of life and problem-solve to find solutions and growth. “SIGA” and all that its Spanish meaning embodies felt like just the right acronym for us to chant as students cheer each other on to follow their paths, continue and persist through the hard times, and pursue their dreams to make their own lives and the world at large the best it can be.
by Elissa Nadworny, published on May 15, 2018 on PBS / NPR "Mind Shift"
This post is just a little reminder for us to take into consideration the importance of students "owning" their learning - not just the learning about content areas that national standards deem important, but also about the content areas that are inherently important developmentally on a day to day basis in any student's life. SIGA's "Immersive Citizenship" course incorporates psychology, sociology and wisdom from interdisciplinary studies. IC is incorporated into all four years of the SIGA curriculum in order to help students gain deeper understanding of themselves, their relationships, their communities, and the world at large.
Two quotes sum up the point of the article and the reasons that SIGA developed an Immersive Citizenship class:
by Adam Beeson, M.A.
When we talk about learning at SIGA, it is often tempting to throw out the word non-traditional to describe our approach to high school. After all, while SIGA values the holistic nature of human existence and development - by offering college prep classes that complement, rather than dominate, the rest of a student’s life - the traditional college-prep high school often prioritizes course content, academic skills and test scores over experiences, relationships and growth.
But what if I told you our approach to learning does come from a long tradition? What if our new school is, in fact, quite old school? Let’s go back to Ancient Greece.
Plato’s (427-347 BC) contributions to the philosophies of education are well documented. Greatly influenced by his teacher, Socrates, Plato founded a school he called The Academy, a name SIGA and so many other schools across the globe still use today. Looking a little closer into life at Plato’s Academy highlights an important link to the type of learning community offered at SIGA.
In their essay, “Ancient Greek Perspectives on Experiential Learning,” Professors Paul Stonehouse, Pete Allison, and David Carr from The University of Edinburgh tell us more:
“Academy is the Greek word for leisure, which in Latin is scola, in English is school. For the Greeks, the re-creative activities of reflection, exercise, and study were the epitome of leisure...the Greek ideal of leisure is more than a mere vacation (literally to be unoccupied); it is a disposition of receptive understanding, of contemplative beholding, and immersion - in the real.”
Just how are we making learning leisurely at SIGA?
After traveling and learning in four or five countries, mastering the eight facets of global citizenship, and exploring and developing their passions and skills, SIGA students reflect, process, apply and present their unique, individualized perspective on their own identity, relationships, learning experiences, and projects implemented throughout their high school career using an innovative Immersive Citizenship curriculum and Multimedia Portfolio program.
Life on a 1,200 acre campus offers ample opportunity for exercise. Whether it is mountain biking on one of the many trails at Blue Ridge Assembly, rock climbing in the indoor climbing gym, joining a game of basketball or soccer after class, or simply walking the wooded trails to reflect on the day, SIGA students take advantage of a beautiful mountain campus to ensure their physical well-being compliments their study.
Finally, students at SIGA are empowered through a rigorous, problem-based and experiential approach to learning to solve authentic, real world problems, making study more meaningful and complex than simple content mastery.
Perhaps “SIGA: where learning is leisure” is not the best motto for our new school. But in the old-school, Greek tradition, it is absolutely true!
How did SIGA emerge?
SI Global Academy was born of a desire to provide a well-rounded, holistic education that high schoolers really need to prepare them for today’s rapidly changing world. After years of working in (and founding) intervention programs for adolescents and young adults who struggled in traditional settings due to increasing anxiety, depression, learning differences, and pressure, we thought, “There has to be a better way to prevent this unnecessary suffering.”
The students we were working with had “all the right parts” but those parts were not integrating to work together to propel our students to confidence, agency, and success. Students were bright, competent and certainly capable, and we experienced first-hand the difference that an intentional residential culture, a holistic educational approach, supportive mentoring relationships, and rich experiential opportunities made in their lives. Desiring to bring these opportunities and experiences to the “mainstream” to prevent more students from traveling down an unnecessarily painful path, we created SIGA to provide an opportunity to reach more students and families over the course of their high school experience.
Psychologist Dr. Danny Recio, PhD, and educator and psychologist Dr. Heather Tracy, EdD, began integrating their dissertation work and experiential work with youth to articulate the Supportive Immersion model of education and growth. After analyzing societal trends that informed shifting “skill sets” needed for successful adulthood in the “Information Age” as well as various theories on the matter, Dr. Recio and Dr. Tracy formulated the PROPS skills as the ultimate goal to nurture a “self-generating function” for life-long learning and integrative growth. Instead of a deficit-based model, the PROPS outlined the strengths-based skills that move us away from “fixing” deficits to recognizing and validating the ongoing and integrative complexity of what it means to be human on a life-long journey of productive citizenship, growth and development. The goal is to build awareness of this process so that as youth enter into “adulthood,” they show increasing awareness of and ownership of their own growth processes and how to continue to move forward (siga!) without as much structure and support.
The Supportive Immersion model outlines an approach to support youth in their growth process by facilitating:
Supportive Immersion and the PROPS do not exist in a vacuum. We have stood on the shoulders of giants and explored many theories and content areas from an interdisciplinary perspective to synthesize main concepts in a way that applies to and integrated view of what education and psychology can provide for adolescents and emerging young adults.
Why is SIGA needed?
It can be scary to read about the risks that youth encounter today in their relationships, identity development, mental health and pressure to be perfect and “successful” in today’s highly competitive - and sometimes unforgiving - world. Social media and technology connect humans in useful, efficient ways never before imagined, and yet social media and technology also expose us in ways we cannot often escape. Frankly, it’s not fair; and yet, our youth are perfectly competent to take on the challenge.
The difference is that while society and its tools and innovations have evolved rapidly in the 21st century, our educational systems have not. In an attempt to collect “data” to help students clarify their successes and areas of need, standardized testing and curricula have instead filtered out the holistic opportunities that contribute to the fundamental needs of youth to grow into healthy and responsible friends, partners, citizens, employees, entrepreneurs, artists and innovators. In an educational system that highly valued standardized data, where were the unique human beings inside that data who wanted to be seen, heard, understood, and nurtured to become their best selves? When value and “success” was reduced to numbers and scores, was there room for complexity, innovation, creativity and nurturing of individual talents? Given the rising concern with mental health issues in even the most “traditional” students, we certainly felt compelled to do something.
Our vision for SIGA students
From our own research and that of many giants who stood before us,
by Dr. Heather Tracy, Ed.D.
I came across this report and had to post it. Why? Because this just further validates why a high school like SIGA is needed and why it will be so beneficial its students development. For almost 2 decades now, our educational systems have been focusing on test scores and GPAs. Students have been forced to compete for numbers. The result of that (and a lot of other cultural changes in our society) has not been what people had hoped. Instead of kids being clearer on what they needed to do to "achieve," we've reduced kids to numbers and data and neglected the very characteristics and tools that they will need not to get INTO college but rather to be successful IN college and AFTER college - not just as professionals, but as human beings, parents, friends, partners, and authentically confident, resilient, caring human beings.
SIGA is dedicated to not reducing our students to numbers, rankings, and college "acceptances." Our students will achieve in all of those areas, but we will not validate them based on those standards. SIGA will let our students be human again - not judged by a perfect profile on social media or the highest test score, but rather active agents in their own lives, artists crafting better worlds, and resilient, confident youth who accept themselves whether or not a college admissions committee (who does not even know them) accepts them. SIGA will do - as this report suggests... (see below)
Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework (University of Chicago)
"It characterizes the experiences and relationships youth need to develop into young adults who have agency, an integrated identity, and the requisite competencies to successfully meet the complex challenges of young adulthood and become thriving, contributing members of their communities."
Jenny Nagaoka, Camille A. Farrington, Stacy B. Ehrlich, and Ryan D. Heath with David W. Johnson, Sarah Dickson, Ashley Cureton Turner, Ashley Mayo, and Kathleen Hayes. (June 2015). Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework. Executive Summary. The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. pp.9. https://consortium.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/publications/Exec_Summary_YAS_Framework.pdf
We're more than just a high school where you show up from 8am to 3pm to take classes and prepare for tests. The SIGA high school experience values the holistic nature of human existence and development. We mature and grow best when all parts are engaged. Our students have all the necessary "parts" to be competent, confident, resilient citizens who ethically and productively contribute to their communities. But in a more traditional, "pressure cooker" type of academic setting, some of those parts are not nurtured or are ignored to the detriment of the students' overall health and integrated maturation.
SIGA provides the environment that best engages all of those "parts" to integrate them on a path towards holistic growth and mature young adulthood. SIGA is proud to be able to offer challenging and interesting college prep core classes in a way that complements (instead of dominates) the rest of a student's life and their relationships, activities, interests, passions, explorations, and challenges. Better yet, we provide the experiences that help develop the relationships, activities, interests, passions, explorations and challenges! (Yes, I know that was redundant, but it needed to be emphasized!!)
by Beth Laughlin of 360 Transition Services (contact at email@example.com)
October 2, 2018 - enewsletter
"Attunement, Boundaries, Consistency," the ABC's of parenting. When speaking with parents I find myself returning to these basic themes over and over again. When a parent says, "It's not working. He's not doing what I want him to do." In other words, "I can't control him.", this is often an opportunity for real change to begin and for family patterns to change. It's that phase when the honeymoon period of being home begins to fade, the stresses of life return and regression of behaviors tend to seep back into the family system.
As we explore this shift together I will often ask, "How are you doing in terms of holding firm boundaries, remaining consistent with follow through and staying present and connected with you child in moments of both calm and dysregulation?" More often than not parents will pause a bit and then begin to share, "I've let the boundaries slip a bit. He's so good at wearing me down at the end of a long day at work." Or, "He's been doing so well at school so I thought it would be okay to loosen the reigns." Or, "I didn't want World War III so I appeased him by letting him use the computer, go out with his friends, have his phone, play the video game..." and the list goes on. "I'm also so tired when I get home at the end of a long day that, truthfully, I struggle to be present with myself, let alone my child." As the parents share how things are going, they often begin to answer their own question about why it "isn't working."
Although this is often a scary, stressful time for parents, I see this as the backdrop and starting point for change to happen. Everyone enjoys the honeymoon phase of a child's return home. Though I prepare the parents for regression and tell them that it's an important step in the transition process, they agree and understand in the moment, but often panic when it happens. I gently remind them that this is why we're here and we roll up our sleeves and get to work.
The conversation then shifts to reviewing the ABC's of parenting... attunement, boundaries and consistency. I remind them that their "job" as parents is not to control their child but to create a home environment that allows their child to remain focused on their own personal work with their mentor rather than having them shift to managing their external world, in this case "home." The child is typically not capable to doing both. Both require enormous energy and focus. If their external world (home structure) is not clear and consistent, they work to gain control and create their own sense of order. A healthy home environment is not replicating the treatment environment but applying the basic components that consist of attunement, boundaries and consistency. This is why treatment is so effective across the board for any young person no matter what the struggle. The order and connection provide safety and the consistency and clarity allows the young person emotional space to turn towards their internal struggle because there is no longer a need to "control" their external world.
The real challenge for parents is to strike a balance between connection and presence, "attunement", and boundaries and consistency. Without attunement, boundaries can come across as harsh and disconnected from relationship. Attunement without boundaries is the definition of enmeshment. "Enmeshment is when you not only get in touch with your child's emotions, mood and feelings, but take them on as your own; when you feel you are responsible for their emotions, moods and feelings. It is when you become so entangled with your child you do not know where he or she ends and you begin"
The good news is that parents always have the opportunity to return to the ABCs of parenting even if they have found themselves far off the path. A pause, regroup, restart can happen at any time. Will the child react, be upset, push harder to the test the parents' resolve? Most likely "yes" but when the parent is able to validate the feelings of frustration and anger without moving the boundary, often order is eventually restored. The home environment calms down, the relationships become healthier and both parent and child are less exhausted because the energy is appropriately placed.
Though these concepts are simple, it is often difficult for parents to implement because they are so close to the relationship and entrenched in old patterns. It takes practice. This is where having an experienced team to help the family through this gauntlet to the other side can be so valuable. 360 Transitions teams love this work. It's what we do. We are here to help preserve the hard work and the progress made in treatment. Thank you for entrusting your families with us.
It's Day 1 of the blog and website updates and we are so excited that you are taking the time to check out SI Global Academy. Stay tuned for more updates here. We will be posting interesting articles and resources related to "education as it should be" for high school as well as updates on the development of SIGA - to open in August 2019!