by Julia Shuster, M.A.
Growing up, my mother had a picture hanging in her bathroom. Every morning while getting ready for school and every evening drying off after my bath, I would gaze at the image. Before I could read, I would ask her to tell me what it said, over and over. Once able to read, I would contemplate the words, one by one, seeking their deeper meaning. The simple piece of art was not extremely valuable monetarily as she most likely procured it at one of the discount department stores she was known for rummaging through, but its priceless value was in the message it sent.
The picture had simple drawings of a moon and stars, surrounded by swirls, stating the text in fancy cursive, “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
As a child, I could not fathom how this could be true. I grew up in suburban Pittsburgh, sheltered by well appointed schools and many people who looked, talked and acted like me. While German language and heritage were always part of my daily routine, believing that a simple thing such as stepping on a plane for a few hours could completely change my life struck me as impossible. I decided I would have to see for myself. I guess you could say that, from an early age, I recognized that experience is the best teacher. Luckily at the age of 12, I was afforded the opportunity to come to my own conclusions of what this musing print meant. I did in fact learn that the words were true, and I credit this mystical piece of art in shaping my life.
After traveling abroad in my youth and in my teens, I found myself quite separated from my peers. Where in high school they were most concerned with the next big football game or who was throwing the next party, my mind was occupied with ponderings of other cultures, how they relate to me, and how I can make a difference in the world. I decided quickly that International Education was the route I wished to take. I studied German in college, moved to Berlin for the senior year of my undergraduate degree, and chose to stay for close to 7 more years, also gaining a Master’s degree in International Education, as well a husband who was born and raised in former socialist East Germany.
Fast forward many more years than I would like to admit, our family discovered Asheville and grew in size by 2 children and 3 cats. Although I have been here for a decent amount of time, I am still smitten by the Blue Ridge Mountains. I feel as if they possess a kind of elder wisdom and provide me with a warm embrace. These ancient mountains, the domain of the mighty Cherokee, the oldest and once highest in the world, offer many opportunities for recreation and mindfulness, but to me they now offer a jumping off point to reflect on my experiences around the globe while sharing new ones with SIGA youth.
From the moment I read the first few words on the SIGA website, I knew the school was for me. I had to be a part of it considering everything about the institution aligned with my personal applied pedagogies in education and with the upbringing I strive to provide my children, who have already traveled abroad multiple times at the tender ages of 5 and 8. My strong belief and professional background in experiential education, collaborative classrooms and inquisitive student-led learning was reflected in every aspect of SIGA. The SIGA mottos “To follow, to continue, to persist, and to pursue” and “Immerse, Collaborate and Craft a Better World” resonate deeply with me, and I am excited to be a part of this pioneering school. I can hardly wait to greet our first cohort of students, understand what their vision is and assist them in reaching their goals, both personal and academic.
As for the picture that was hanging in my mother’s bathroom, while older and slightly more yellowed, it hangs in my bathroom today. My children also gaze upon it daily, ask me what it means, and I speak to them about their experiences abroad, their father’s experiences growing up in a walled city, a free country, and now as a German expatriate. As our family grows to include the SIGA family, I embrace the opportunity to ebb and flow with our students’ interests and dreams, and I am thrilled to see how we all will delve into a world with endless possibilities, challenges to grow from, and experiences to expand our minds and hearts.
by Adam Beeson, M.A.
When teaching critical thinking and research skills, teachers often find themselves telling students to go “straight to the source.” Why read second-hand accounts when a primary source is readily available?
Just who is a SIGA student? Let’s take a page from the teacher’s handbook and go straight to the source. The following four quotes come from a rising tenth grader’s personal essay in his recent SIGA application:
“I would appreciate a certain level of freedom to study my interests, but support to stay organized, focused and on task. I have a different learning style that I now see needs to be honored in order for me succeed. I can’t just fit into a defined educational box.”
SIGA students are curious, engaged, motivated learners who want more than what a traditional, linear Industrial-age school can provide. SIGA students can do well in traditional settings, but they know that they want to learn differently. SIGA students want to be challenged to step outside of their comfort zones bit by bit so they can grow and become autonomous, engaged, proactive life-long learners.
“I am currently co-writing a story with 2 of my friends, it is similar to the stories of Avatar, the last Air Bender. It is about heroes, and adventure, like history, but instead of the political or economic focus, the characters focus on personal development.”
Students who will do well at SIGA have interests and passions that they get excited about but may sometimes have a difficult time seeing how subjects they study in school integrate with those interests. They may feel that they are required to do “busy work” in some classes without seeing reasons or results, and want to know that what they are learning they can apply in real-world, hands-on ways.
“I have always been good at helping my friends with their problems, so I was interested in learning strategies to be more helpful. I learned listening, communication, and conflict resolution skills. I was nominated by classmates and staff, ‘based on being mature, open-minded, patient, and empathetic.’ I needed to be a good example for the rest of the younger kids in school, so I had to be very aware of my own behavior and attitude. I am interested in continuing on with more training that would advance my role as a peer leader, mentor and valued global student.”
SIGA students care about others and want to have supportive relationships with faculty, opportunities to travel and learn about other cultures and different ways of doing things, and they want support in navigating the world of adolescence so they can best be effective, efficient, and productive members of their families, friendships, and communities. They are motivated to understand themselves better and lead healthy, creative, fulfilling lives. SIGA students are bright, curious, and want to explore their internal worlds as well as the external world in order to make sense of their own paths and what they have to contribute. Finally, SIGA students know that society is changing rapidly and they want to play a part as global citizens in helping solve important problems to create a better future for themselves.
“I am looking for an alternative high school community that I can connect with, one that is also striving for personal development, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and even energetically!”
SIGA students want what most of us want from life. They want a successful future, but are a bit wary of the “traditional” paths of achieving success. The competitive “pressure cooker” perfectionism model seems tedious, overwhelming, unrealistic, and unfulfilling; yet SIGA students know that they want more than anything to be successful, active agents in their own lives. They just believe there is a better, more engaging, more collaborative way to get there. And they're right.
by Dr. Heather Tracy, Ed.D.
Society is becoming more aware of what is lacking in traditional educational models as many youth graduate high school unprepared for college, autonomy and the skills required for successful careers in the quickly-evolving 21st Century. It is not the fault of our youth that they were born into the society we created for them, so let’s do what we can to make it right. Traditional educational models will take some time to react and adjust to new research showing that our systems are failing our youth, but SIGA has a solution.
Then you think a bit more about it: Do you really want to do what “everyone else” is doing? Or do you want to feel empowered as an agent in your own education and life? Do you want to feel more confident, resilient, aware, connected, well-travelled, and ready to make things happen for your future?
We’ve all experienced the power of place. At SI Global Academy, students engage not only in Immersive Experiences in the U.S., Costa Rica, Peru, Austria and in other partner communities across the globe, but they immerse on a daily basis in the history, culture, and beauty of their home campus: a 1,200 acre mountain retreat owned by The Y Blue Ridge Assembly.
“Eureka, we have found it!”
The Y Blue Ridge Assembly was founded in 1906 as a summer conference ground where students and other groups could learn in an inspirational setting. As legend goes, founder Dr. Willis D. Weatherford Sr. of Nashville, TN scoured the mountains of western North Carolina for the perfect location for a gathering place where men and women, black and white, could come together for learning, a monumental vision for the early 20th century South.
At one point, Weatherford decided to climb a tree to get a clear view. When he reached the top, he looked across the Swannanoa Valley and saw the Seven Sisters Mountain Range and the towering Mount Mitchell and the Craggy Mountains in the distance, at which point he exclaimed, “Eureka, we have found it!”
Campus visitors today can experience the same breathtaking view from the front porch of Eureka Hall, the academic hall of SIGA.
Constructing legacy of learning
The year after Weatherford’s expedition, early leaders purchased more than 1,500 acres in Black Mountain and, being stewards of the property, used only wood from this land to construct early Blue Ridge buildings.
In 1912, Blue Ridge’s landmark building, Eureka Hall, was completed. Eureka was meant to house 400 people, but the first conference at Blue Ridge attracted more than 1,000 students! Construction of more buildings was required, including the SIGA residence hall, Abbott Hall, which was completed in 1927.
Today, Blue Ridge is home to more than 30 historic buildings, halls, cottages, and lodges. In addition, the campus boasts outdoor classrooms, a state of the art dining hall, and athletic fields, a gymnasium, indoor rock climbing, ropes courses, hiking, running and biking trails, campsites, a disc golf course, a lake and fire pits, tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, archery, and an amphitheater on more than 1,200 acres of land.
Black Mountain College
In 1933, an experimental college led by educator John Andrew Rice was founded at Blue Ridge. Black Mountain College was founded around John Dewey's principles of experiential education, which emphasized holistic learning and the study of art as central to a liberal arts education.
The college became a forerunner in teaching art, education and lifestyle, and many of the school's faculty and students would go on to become highly influential in the arts, including Josef and Anni Albers, Charles Olson, Ruth Asawa, Dorothea Rockburne, Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, Franz Kline, Willem and Elaine de Kooning and Allen Ginsberg. The college also attracted well-known visitors and lecturers like Albert Einstein, John Dewey, Thornton Wilder, Henry Miller and Aldous Huxley.
Black Mountain College moved to a new campus in 1937 and, due to financial difficulties, closed its doors for good in 1956, but the history of Black Mountain College is preserved at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center located in downtown Asheville as well as the Swannanoa Valley Museum in Black Mountain.
Blue Ridge Today: A Global Hub
Thousands of people and groups experience the wonder of Blue Ridge today. In addition to corporate retreats, school field trips, youth leadership conferences, and summer camps, the campus is home to CreatEd Institute, a small, 16-month post-secondary program for high school graduates based on the liberal arts that includes travel experiences in Italy.
Blue Ridge also recruits and hosts international staff each summer, with employees coming from more than 30 countries, making it a global hub tucked away in the mountains of western North Carolina. Japan alone has sent more than 500 students to work at Blue Ridge!
Guests come to Blue Ridge from around the world for international conferences throughout the year, including an annual retreat on the practice of Tibetan Buddhism in the Gelugpa Tradition and the annual Black Mountain Music Festival, a celebration of Appalachian and Native American music.
SIGA is thrilled to join and contribute to the rich legacy of learning, creativity, stewardship and inspiration that lives at Blue Ridge!
Source: Eureka! A Century of YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly
Multiple contributors will be posting on our blog to keep you posted on the development of SIGA!
Copyright 2018 Supported Immersion Global Academy - SIGA. All Rights Reserved.
To get involved with changing the educational paradigm so that high school students have the opportunity to engage in an integrated, holistic, supportive educational community locally and internationally, please contact us today. We welcome feedback, development ideas, fundraising offers and opportunities, and collaboration!
"Siga" in Spanish means keep going... continue forward... persist... and that's what we do!
If you're ready to engage, immerse, and emerge a better you,
consider SIGA for your high school experience and your life.