by Julia Shuster, M.A.
The SIGA campus is located on the beautiful 1200 acres of the Blue Ridge Assembly property. This land, overflowing with beauty and history, established in 1912, was once home to the legendary Black Mountain College (BMC).
Founded in 1933, the school was based off of John Dewey’s principles of progressive education and became a vessel of mid-20th century avant-garde art, music, and poetry.
A short list of attendees includes Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Josef and Anni Albers, Jacob Lawrence, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Cy Twombly, Kenneth Noland, Susan Weil, Vera B. Williams, Ben Shahn, Ruth Asawa, Franz Kline, Arthur Penn, Buckminster Fuller, M.C. Richards, Francine du Plessix Gray, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley and Dorothea Rockburne. Albert Einstein even sat on the board of the forward thinking institution.
Black Mountain College aimed to educate the “whole person.” The educational structure of the school was designed to have students and faculty learn everywhere, everyday, in classrooms both outdoors and indoors, in the dorms, on hiking trails, and in the dining hall. The goal was through personal experimentation, spiritual and intellectual growth.
As SIGA is preparing our classrooms, once the very classrooms occupied by the BMC, we can not help but to think that we are lucky enough to breathe the same air that many of the BMC attendees used to inspire their works and learning. Though long closed, the legend and impact of the BMC has stood the test of time. The ripples of the BMC are significant today, in literature, art, architecture and poetry, as well as in many higher education institutions such as UC Santa Cruz, Evergreen State College and neighboring Warren Wilson College.
Anni Albers and student
Photo property of Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
SIGA looks forward to starting where the BMC left off, in educating a forward thinking, modern group of students who will be a force of positive change. Just like the roots of our namesake, “SIGA,” wich in Spanish is the imperative (or command form) of the verb “seguir,” meaning “to follow, to continue, to persist, and to pursue,” SIGA students will contribute to create the education they wish to receive, shaping world they wish to see, impacting the school for future generations, while never forgetting the roots from which they grow.
We love the recent Rick Steves profile in the New York Times Magazine. Steves, a travel writer, author and host of the PBS show Rick Steves' Europe, believes the tiniest exposure to other cultures will change your life. We couldn't agree more!
From the article: "Rick Steves desperately wants you to leave America. The tiniest exposure to the outside world, he believes, will change your entire life. Travel, Steves likes to say, “wallops your ethnocentricity” and “carbonates your experience” and “rearranges your cultural furniture.” Like sealed windows on a hot day, a nation’s borders can be stultifying. Steves wants to crack them open, to let humanity’s breezes circulate. The more rootedly American you are, the more Rick Steves wants this for you."
At SIGA, we understand the transformative power of travel and cultural immersion, which is why every student participates in an Immersive Experience in the US or abroad each academic year. These Immersion Experiences break the common paradigm of "Study Abroad" to better understand and appreciate one's own and others' perspectives, understand globally-significant issues, and to investigate the world beyond immediate environments. Students extensively prepare for immersion by developing personal, empathic connections in the U.S., Costa Rica, Peru, Austria and in other partner communities across the globe so that they arrive as members of a community.
SIGA students engage in a plethora of global and local life experiences and activities that most teens do not have the opportunity to experience. By the time a SIGA student graduates, (s)he has hundreds of service hours, speaks at least 2 (if not 3) languages, has immersed and lived in at least 3 different cultures for 1-2 months at a time, has diverse passions, activities and skills, has mastered the 8 Global Citizenship facets, has mastered the Immersive Citizenship psychology and sociology curriculum, and has a 4-year multimedia portfolio of impressive, authentic, real life experiences that shows colleges who they really are and what they have really been up to throughout their high school career. Oh, and they mastered the disciplinary study of math, English, science and social studies too!
Read the entire NYT Magazine feature on Rick Steves here.
The food scene in Asheville and Western North Carolina has been exploding in recent years. Menus are becoming so delectable around these parts that even the highly prestigious Zagat platform named Asheville one of the top 30 exciting food cities in America, in 2017. One of the most exciting things about the Asheville food scene is the tendency to stay true to Appalachian products and cooking traditions while merging flavors from around the globe.
Asheville, like many southern towns, has a long tradition of being homegrown and local. Through the 1980s, sourcing products from small farmers was not a trend but simply how things were.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the region has historically been secluded from many of the bustling metropolises and processed food sources. Traditions in growing and cooking in these parts were cultivated by European immigrants learning from and mixing with Cherokee methods. Being directly connected to your meal was not a novelty, but daily life itself and this culture has continued to shape Asheville food culture today.
Everywhere you look in these parts, local food is the norm and it seems almost every restaurant has an ASAP sticker on the door. The Appalachian Sustainable Food Project, a local non-profit, advocates for small farms, educates the public, runs weekly farmer’s markets, partners with restaurants and even schools to increase accessibility to fresh, sustainable meats and produce in order to strengthen the local food movement and support local farmers.
While all trends point to local, local, local, interestingly, Asheville is spearheading the concept of “global farm to table.”
What is “global farm to table” you ask? Asheville culinary entrepreneurs are connecting to small farms and food sources around the world, becoming highly invested in their environment, growing techniques, local traditions and even their families, in order to curate high quality products with heart, while linking Western North Carolina to international communities.
Black Mountain coffee roasters, Dynamite Roasting has cracked the code of how to make something like coffee, which can not be grown locally, into a “local” product. Through a long fostered relationship with their growers in Honduras, Dynamite owners visit the farm yearly and have even assisted the family in building houses on their property. In 2016, Dynamite hosted Honduran growers in Asheville, allowing the Asheville community to have a true connection to and investment in where their coffee comes from, as well as a fabulous opportunity for cultural exchange.
Other local business that have a global connection include such Asheville staples as the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, a tourist must stop, which links their chocolate sources to local communities as much as possible. Chai Pani, a delicious favorite for Indian street food, has recently started up a direct, local source for Indian spices and herbs, Spicewalla. Global flavors and sources have become so popular around these parts that local food magazine, Edible Asheville even has a dedicated page to Global Appalachia and Asheville Today has their own listing of all of the international markets in town.
Whilst Asheville has become the next craze in the food world, let us not forget the origins and food traditions of the original settlers of these parts, the Great Cherokee Nation. Many dishes that are considered “southern” food have their roots in Cherokee farming traditions. Succotash for example stems from the “three sisters” (corn, beans and squash) which the Cherokee taught European settlers to grow, who were not familiar with farming in the rocky landscape of the Appalachian mountains. It can be said that if the Cherokee were not inclusive and generous with their knowledge, the European settlers most likely would not have survived.
As winter melts away and spring is emerging, ramps, considered a delicacy, and can be seen featured on gourmet five star menus across the country, were a favorite mainstay in Cherokee cooking.
To this day, after 12,000 years, the annual Rainbows and Ramps festival is still celebrated in the Cherokee Nation every March. The festival celebrates spring’s return, signaled through the sprouting of the garlic like herb and the abundance of rainbow trout in bubbling Smoky Mountain streams, is also used as an opportunity to respect and honor elders.
Let us use this festival as a reminder at SIGA and beyond, to respect traditions, share knowledge, honor the past to ground ourselves, know who we are and where we came from, while looking towards the future and to connecting with our community both local and global, in order to achieve not just delicious, but meaningful connections.
by Adam Beeson, M.A.
I arrived yesterday to Salzburg, Austria where, over the next five days, I will share the SIGA model as part of a global conversation about best practices in social and emotional learning in different cultural contexts around the world. The invitation to join this convening came from Salzburg Global Seminar, a renowned international policy center located in Schloss Leopoldskron, an 18th century palace once owned by Austria playwright Max Reinhardt (made famous as the film location for The Sound of Music).
I am honored to join 50 educators from more than 20 countries to collaborate on solutions to challenges facing schools worldwide and to offer insight on our unique curriculum. SIGA was created to provide education as it should be for high school. We believe that education is more than a classroom. We grow and learn in the classroom, but our experiences outside the classroom shape us into the people that matter to our family, our friends, our communities and our futures. SIGA aspires to provide an environment and experiences that facilitate an unforgettable, nurturing, and supportive high school experience that our graduates will forever remember and appreciate as they embark on their productive adult lives.
Stay tuned for more dispatches from Salzburg throughout this week, including more information on the twelfth grade SIGA Immersive Experience in Austria. You can follow the conversation from Social and Emotional Learning: A Time for Action on Twitter using the hashtag #SGSedu.
About Social and Emotional Learning: A Time for Action
Social and Emotional Learning: Time for Action is part of Salzburg Global Seminar's long-running multi-year series Education for Tomorrow’s World, which aims to bring together global change-makers to discuss issues and challenges at the forefront in education, exploring how policies and practices can best be applied to a variety of education systems.
Around 50 participants will come together to tackle core topics in the development of SEL curricula, training and assessment. They include representatives of Ministries of Education, experts in education in crisis and conflict contexts and researchers, academics and practitioners.
Over the course of the program, participants will address issues such as the contribution SEL programs can make to wider issues of social justice, the relationship between SEL and ideas of identity and belonging, the role of SEL in education in crisis and conflict contexts and the increasing importance of social and emotional skills in our digital world.
The program will build on insight and recommendations from previous programs to advance solutions to the key challenges that can restrict the implementation of SEL programs in education systems and institutional practice around the world. Ideas, arguments and new approaches will be developed.
Participants will engage with panel discussions, working groups and a film screening to share insights and experiences, learn from each other and to find common strategies for implementing SEL in their respective countries and contexts.
During and after the program, participants and staff will co-create strategic products to sustain the SEL conversation. These will be Twitter debates, podcasts, webinars and an impact report summarizing the program and the changes it has helped to initiate.
by Greta Ashworth, B.A.
I cannot believe my mother not only permitted me to go, but encouraged it. This was totally out of left field, and not something anyone in my family had done anything similar to before. I do not even clearly recall all my motivations for wanting to go. Perhaps I was simply driven to escape the awkward and tedious life I was navigating as a fifteen-year-old and to prove to myself that there was something beyond the autopilot I was running but failing to connect with.
My aunt had directed my attention toward an opportunity to volunteer on a small chocolate farm in the Andean foothills of Ecuador for the summer. I would be on my own with two other girls my age and the woman running the operation. At first it barely seemed real, but a few months later it was an undeniable fact when I felt adrenaline rushing through me as the plane took off for South America.
I fondly recall one late morning walk about a week into the journey. My companions and I were on the half-hour stroll that snaked us through the rainforest and down the dirt road into town under the brilliant equatorial sun. I kicked rogue stones as we meandered and looked around myself at the foreign landscape in awe. It struck me that I was incredibly far away from my family, and not even as far away as I possibly could be, a fact which implied a vastness and a diversity of potential experience that suddenly overwhelmed me. It occurred to me that I had lived my life up until that point in what barely amounted to a sliver of the world and now had somehow innocently stumbled onto the lip of infinity.
I imagine it goes without saying that my life changed after that trip. I was practically on another planet, after all. The impact of being stripped of my comfort zone and plunged into the unknown at that fertile stage of my development is an event that continues to affect me today. I was introduced to a new concept of possibility, to the expansiveness of the world and my place in it, especially in relation to other people. At that juncture it was news to me that I could be ignorant of so much. There were so many people, so much variety in their lives, and yet we all seemed to share an essence of being.
I struggled as a teenager. I think this is a common narrative that most of us can relate to. I was not inspired in school and on top of that I was not sure how (or even if I wanted) to connect with my peers. Traveling abroad blew my world open and gave me a subtle sense of the limitlessness of experience this abundant life had to offer. While things did not shift dramatically in an instant upon my return home, there was a new lens applied to my life that filtered information freshly and slowly built upon itself.
My internal compass has since drawn me to wild and intriguing places and people, each of which have bestowed upon me priceless treasures in the form of experience. It eventually became clear to me that I feel most alive when sharing and exploring this passion for discovery with others, and most especially with young adults.
Being an adolescent is a wild, wild time for self discovery and world-view development. You are working on establishing an identity, setting up patterns of behavior, and deciding what you believe to be true. These are the foundations for your life. What you are exposed to and the choices you do (or do not) make at this pivotal stage have a massive impact on your future. You are learning what is possible, what is the underlying structure of reality, and what you are capable of. I trace my passion for working with people in this life stage back to my trip to Ecuador, as it became such a formative experience for my life and happened at such a pivotal time in my development.
Which brings me to SIGA. Have you ever encountered something that fully embodied the principles you are personally committed to live by? This is what I have found at SIGA (perhaps you have, too!). There is a dedication to curiosity, discovery, and empowerment here that I believe is essential to any effective recipe for living a fulfilling life. It is not simply the recipe for a successful student or successful college candidate. It is a pathway to a conscious, intentional life of purpose and connection that embraces the world at large.
I bring my love of relationship-based programming, self-exploration and ultimately my passion for guiding the discovery of personal agency to the banquet table that is SIGA. By being encouraged to practice creative responsibility and take initiative in designing your educational path, you inevitably learn about your expansive potential and become capable of achieving, experiencing, and relishing more and more in life. To the students and community members of SIGA, I am excited to offer my dedication to the value of relationship, to each personal process of discovery, to crafting a community of support, and especially my dedication to learning through the art of play.
In closing I want to mention that life is BIG. Sometimes it feels as if I have lived a hundred micro-lives in between my trip to Ecuador and where I am today. Of course I cannot fathom exactly where or who I would be if I had not had the opportunity to embark on that first epic excursion into the world, but boy am I grateful for where and who I am now because of it! I eagerly await SIGA’s impact in providing that same impetus for its students and can barely wait to see the magic unfold.
Each SIGA student develops a portfolio unlike any other.
SI Global Academy works with students to build four-year, multimedia portfolios. Here’s why:
Portfolios Provide Evidence of True, Deep Learning
Students collaborate throughout their years at SIGA with teachers, peers, advisors, and members of diverse communities to build a multimedia portfolio that serves as a one-of-a-kind, interactive resume exhibiting mastery of technological skills and global competencies, and showcasing cultural proficiency, service learning experiences, problem-solving abilities, and depth of study.
Portfolios Drive Student Engagement
SI Global Academy students work with their teachers and peers to identify driving questions that truly spark student curiosity. These driving questions are answered through inquiry and research and answers are communicated by developing and sharing multimedia projects with assessments co-created by students and their teachers. This incorporation of individual voice and choice throughout the process means that students invest more deeply in their learning and outcomes.
Portfolios Show Colleges What You’re Made Of
The Portfolio helps students highlight developed skills, completed projects, Global Citizenship, immersion experiences, language learning, service, travel, and developmental maturation throughout four years of high school. Guided by advisors who are experts in curriculum, goals, and processes, Portfolio development produces a tangible product that reflects student growth, experiences, and results in an impressive multimedia resume ready for superstar college applications.
Portfolios Foster Metacognition
As students review, assess and curate their projects in their portfolio development, they reflect on their experiences and learning, and use those reflections to guide future driving questions , projects, and assessments. This metacognition - or “thinking about thinking” - builds a complex self-awareness of how each student learns, and how they define and reach success.
Just who is a global citizen? According to the Global Citizenship Alliance, a nonprofit organization and SIGA partner based in Austria, global citizens are “consciously prepared to live and work in the complex interdependent society of the 21st century and contribute to improving the common global welfare of our planet and its inhabitants.”
SIGA students graduate as global citizens. How do we do it? Here are three ways:
1. Global Citizenship facets are incorporated into all subject areas of our curriculum and serve as lenses through which students and teachers investigate, interpret and interface with their world. These facets of Global Citizenship are: Interdependence, Human Rights, Social Justice, Diversity, Conflict Resolution, Environmental Stewardship, Sustainable Development, and Digital Citizenship.
2. Each year, Global Citizenship study culminates in a cultural immersion experience in the U.S. and abroad during the last 4-8 weeks of the school year. Students and staff collaborate and communicate with host sites to build understanding, relationships and community with their hosts before arrival.
3. Throughout these Immersive Experiences, students engage in cultural immersion, language study, local arts and music, Global Citizenship facet certification, service learning, and individualized investigation culminating in portfolio projects, and earn academic credits in World Languages, Arts, and Cultural Anthropology.
As global citizens, SIGA graduates exemplify preparedness for life in the age of complexity. They have the knowledge and skills to:
SIGA students know that "success" is not about how much money you make but rather the difference that you make in your own world and in the worlds of those around you. SIGA students graduate as citizens of the world.
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.
Multiple contributors will be posting on our blog to keep you posted on the development of SIGA!