Mike Lubelfeld's Blog

#112LEADS #SUPTCHAT

Tag: Inclusion (page 1 of 2)

Part 4 of 4 – Final Reflections from Conference on Education – A Nation at Risk

In this fourth of four blog posts illustrating forty years of educational reforms in the United States since the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, I am proud to reinforce some of what I knew, know, and plan to do! The report gave a start to decades of educational reforms that helped to cause a national obsession with standardized test results. Some of the momentum has been great in terms of causing an awareness of what it means for a school system to educate each child every day — some of the momentum has been horrible in terms of causing people who score “less than proficient” to be looked upon as illiterate.

So … in a nation where soundbites rule and folks no longer read a lot of content, except for readers of this blog – of course! On a five-point scale, for example, in Illinois, at the end of year high stakes assessment, students who score a 4 or a 5 are labeled “proficient,” and anyone with a 3, a 2, or a 1 is NOT. And if you are NOT proficient, the narrative calls for you and for your school to become failures.

I know this sounds kind of dramatic, and I know it sounds overly simplified — and it is –, but that’s what 40 years of “reforms” and an obsession with standardized test scores to rate and rank the nation’s public schools have yielded. Make no mistake, I am all for accountability, and I preside over a public school district where I want each

Worthy of review and discussion especially 40 years past the “reform” movement …

child to be proficient in all of the standards (knowledge, skills, performance indicators). I absolutely understand the need for academic measures to show the public they are getting a positive return on their investment of public tax dollars, and in my district, I’m proud to report that they are.

My issues are that one score at one point in time does not accurately reflect or show the actual quality of education of the school or of the district. The child with a score of 3 (in the above example), for example, and clarity – is literate. He can read. He can compute. He is somewhere behind the “proficient” rating put upon him by the state … and in the 50 different states, there are different measuring sticks for proficiency… what else have I learned about 40 years of reform? It’s not been equally implemented. It’s not been equitably implemented; it’s not been fairly implemented.

Instead of “A Nation at Risk,” – they might have been more accurate if they entitled the report “50 states do public education differently, and we have no idea if the nation is at risk” …Our nation might have been at risk, it might be at risk today – I’m not fully qualified to make that assessment nor can I declaratively make that conclusion, I can, though, indicate that my local public school district is NOT at risk. We have work to do, and we are committed to continuous improvement. We rely on measures of culture, satisfaction, customer service, financial responsibility, student learning, and student growth, among others, to assess our successes and our needs for improvement.

Solutions we discussed and that were presented by professor.

I do question the “proficiency” rates and the complete “wall” between a 3 and a 4 in the end-of-year Illinois test. We do all we can each day for each child to get our students’ knowledge, skills, and abilities to meet and exceed the standards set. Thanks to input and, dialogue, and intellectual discourse with leaders all across the United States, including from the District of Columbia, CA, IL, OH, IN, TX, MI, PA, MD, NY, CO, & AZ, my thinking was challenged and my analyses of the past forty years of American education in the United States was enhanced.

We talked about “the science of reading”, various political groups engaged in local school board elections, the existence of school boards themselves, local control issues, state issues, civil rights issues, and much, much more! Some among us called for a “Marshall Plan” for public education to restore the prestige and invest in getting more teachers (and educational support personnel and administrators) into classrooms, schools, and districts. We discussed the structure of education itself, the roles of state and federal, and local governments, and the pros and cons of each.

Let’s all remember that in the United States of America, we have the most patents in the world, we have the largest economy in the world, and we have the strongest military in the world. With 90% of students in our public schools, clearly, our Nation is NOT at risk due to the public schools. One could surmise that in the forty years since A Nation at Risk, we have learned much, and we are successful in many areas.

I strongly believe it’s time to change the narrative that the USA is at risk due to the public schools. In contrast, we’re doing so well BECAUSE of the nation’s public schools. I also believe it is time for us all to accept that it’s statistically impossible for “all” to be “proficient” on a bell-shaped curve – with 50 as “normal,” there will always be less than and more than. It is time to develop a more realistic accountability system that means more than “average” or “beyond or below”.

Finally, I thank the National Superintendent Roundtable for convening us so thoughtfully, so provocatively, and so meaningfully as we ponder the past forty years in US public education – and as we forecast the next decades. Our nation and our world have endured powerful changes due to public education. Let’s commit to sharing the correct narrative, and let’s believe in each child every day with rigor and high expectations, and high standards. Let’s measure what we’re actually doing and let’s get it right in the next 40 years!

Part 2 of 4- Reflections on What’s Next after A Nation at Risk – 40 Year Anniversary

As I shared in the first post on this topic, we convened in Los Angeles to remember A Nation at Risk, look at lessons learned, and, more importantly, look forward to the future – What Have We Learned? was the overarching question!

In the last post, I started to identify what Jim Harvey reflected on with respect to some of the controversial issues related to the Report and its construction process. 40 years later … the sad reality/perspective from one of the writers is that the folks in charge of the report had a conclusion ready before the report was even written … they then used the report writing process to find data to fulfill and justify their already determined conclusions. One could even suggest that they “cooked the books”

 

The social ills that the people who were writing the report tried to get in the report included poverty, racism, and funding inequities — these were raised during the 18-month writing process, and they were ignored. These are still social ills plaguing the nation, including the public schools in all 50 states!  Our speaker argues that the Commission missed the argument. Casting educators as “enemies” of economic progress was preposterous, he argues.

Blaming schools makes NO sense for out-of-

Worthy of review and discussion, especially 40 years past the “reform” movement …school factors. Out-of-school factors have had, continue to have, and will continue to have MASSIVE impacts on student performance. As one of our other experts shared, “roughly 86-99% percent of the variation in test scores is due to outside-of-school factors. Inversely, about 1-14 percent of the variation in test scores is attributable to school-level factors, including but not limited to teachers. Dr. Audrey Amrein-Beardsley is a professor at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University and a renowned expert in assessment, educational reform history, and more!

As a quick aside, I have written about what success looks like on the blog,  see https://mikelubelfeld.edublogs.org/?s=measure+success for a list of earlier written blog posts on this topic. I am a strong advocate for using research-based and evidence-informed practices (like those from Marzano, et., al, Hattie, et., al, etc.) to impact and influence teacher work with students and school measures of success and district guideposts for success. We measure culture, engagement, and satisfaction as well as student growth, student learning/performance, etc.

Harvey went on to remind us that the US is a huge international outlier in terms of us having the highest rates of childhood poverty and the lowest support for poverty programs. All in all, school reform is not simple. It was not in 1983, nor was it in 1957 (Sputnik), 1979 (Florida test), 2001 (NCLB), 2011 (Race to the Top), 2016 (ESSA), or now, 2023! There are wickedly complex problems that Harvey identified – wicked not as in evil, but wicked as in highly complex.  Solutions needed in school “reform efforts” are those that require large groups of competing stakeholders to agree on what you “will” do. A Nation at Risk put education at the forefront of the nation’s attention, which is a good thing. But it created a 40-year obsession with standardized tests, which is not a good thing – in moderation, yes, the testing, in my professional opinion, is beneficial when it drives instructional decisions. I’m not sure that each child needs to take more than 100 standardized tests, though I think we may have gone overboard. The Commission put in place to assess the nation’s schools missed a great opportunity.

What they did is pre-determined that America’s economic woes at the time were due to the failings of its public schools. Today more than 50% of the nation’s public school children live in poverty – we have a poverty problem, I’ll posit, not an educational problem, per se.

In the next posts, I’ll share Christopher Cross’ reflections on the A Nation at Risk time period, report, and implications, share history of school reform notes from Dr. Amrein-Beardsley, and more! What I surmised from all of this, in brief, and as mentioned by Jim Harvey at the conference, the narrative of the failure of America’s public schools is false. The out-of-school challenges are really important, and they impact the nation’s public schools though the schools cannot be solely responsible for childhood poverty, for example. We must get a grip on the test-based obsession and moderate and regulate some of this over-reliance on standardization. Harvey closed his exceptional lecture with a quote from William Butler Yeats:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

 

Education is Life

I’m a fan of the Apple TV show “Ted Lasso” and one of the characters, Dani Rojas, has a saying “futbol is life” … so, in the spirit of Dani Rojas, “Education is Life” is the title of this blog post!
I’ve been a public school educator in suburban Chicago, Illinois, USA since 1992. I’ve been a superintendent of schools (PK-8) since 2010. Education really has been and in some ways “is” my life too!! My daughter is in college studying to become a special education teacher, my son is a park district day camp counselor, my wife taught pre-school and worked in park district recreation, so I guess it’s in our DNA as a family too!
Education, of course, is essential – everywhere.
Together with my son and our other adventurers, we’re helping construct a bottle school in the indigenous Mayan community of Zaculeu in the Tecpan region. This is our third such trip together and my seventh since my first experience on the 2016 LifeTouch Memory Mission to Constanza, Rio Grande, in the Dominican Republic. I have written on my blog about past experiences and adventures! Feel free to search the blog (enter Dominican Republic or service learning).
The father son time is priceless, the father/educator in me also finds this time affirming and spiritual on many levels. To be able to serve and share these Peak Moments with my son is greater than any words I can piece together. The opportunity to make new friends from around my country as well as from all over the world is pretty amazing too.
During this bottle school building trip and Guatemalan culture, history, and ecology trip, we are fortunate to have amazing guides and leaders. From Guatemala, we have Vivi, Andres, Lilian, Enrique, Christy & Marta, from the USA Hug it Forward team we have Adam and Jennifer. Together with veteran Gary and so many others – we are engaged in lifetime memories and incredible learning. Our team is aged 9 to 67, we hail from multiple races, religions, ethnicities, vocations, locations, and together we are now one!
Working alongside of our Guatemalan hosts, working with the children of Zaculeu, and building walls made of eco bricks to help demonstrate care for the ecological needs of our planet, we learned, lived, felt, experienced, and did each day on this incredible set of experiences.
When we arrived in Zaculeu, as the first representatives from Hug it Forward, ever, and among the very few foreigners who ever have come to visit and serve with the Mayan people of the village, we were welcomed LARGE! The assembly from the nearly 400 students in grades K-6, the teachers, the principal, the mayor and the village elders, the parent organization and many of the parents of the children – we knew we were not in Kansas anymore! The assembly with speeches, songs, dances, signs, and an unbelievably warm welcome was so energizing and so motivating, that when we got to the job site, the excitement was palatable.
I’ll share a bunch of photos as a picture is worth “1000 words” in an effort to illustrate the incredible set of experiences — words alone cannot capture the power of this experience and even the photos & videos don’t do it justice – but I’m so moved and so inspired, that I am compelled to share my story.
Feel free to follow Hug It Forward on Facebook and on Instagram to see not only our trip, but previous and future trips. Anyone with the motivation can reach out and serve.
Service, education, cultural immersion, and more is what we found on this trip. Food was prepared for us daily by cooks Marta and Christy – the food was outstanding! Enrique drove us in our bus (chariot) through city streets, highways, country/rural roads, mountains, hills, and dirt roads with angles approaching 80 degree inclines – incredible!
We also met individuals who shared their personal stories and histories regarding various timely topics including the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996), migration from Guatemala to the United States, economic conditions in the nation, social history, and much, much, more.
We also engaged with local artisans who make their living creating cultural and personal effects for sale and for more than a “side gig” – for some folks, this is their primary income.
As I write these words, I realize, as best as I try, nothing can capture the power of this trip and the series of peak moments more than actually experiencing this, but my aim and my effort is to celebrate the good and highlight the hope of serving, learning, getting out of one’s comfort zone, and joining amazing people who do this all the time.
Education in Guatemala is different than education in the United States. The public school system is not always present, fully available, or even funded in the rural/indigenous areas of Guatemala where we were serving. There were classrooms from a USAAID project in 1987 and in 1993, and then there is our project in 2023! The classrooms for this village of Zaculeu serve children in grades K-5 — there are not classrooms for children in middle school, grades 7-9 (YET). High schools in Guatemala are fee based – not free.
Creating classrooms for children in grades K-6 and ultimately in grades 7-9 changes lives and changes cultural, historical, and economic opportunities and access to opportunities for generations of children. This bottle school project in which we are involved is one step to provide chances, hope, opportunities, and change for people.
Our public ambassador programming and efforts represent efforts afloat all over the world and efforts I have had the privilege of participating in in the USA (Puerto Rico), in the Dominican Republic and now, in Guatemala! In addition to the bottle school construction, the engagement with the villagers via the welcome ceremony, the artisan markets, and the community walk/hike and home visits, we also visited sacred Mayan archeological sites, learned from first hand historical accounts and engaged with the powerful beauty of this incredible country!
Sharing more images of our incredible journey to Guatemala!

Guatemala Service Trip Culture School Building 2023

Guatemala 2023
Tecpan, Guatemala July 2023

Justin (my son) and I ventured from Chicago to Miami and from Miami to Guatemala City, Guatemala. We are serving, learning, exploring, and traveling to Guatemala with Hug it Forward, https://hugitforward.org/ , on a service, mission, culture, education, and ecological trip. Hug it Forward works with Serve the World – they are two organizations dedicated to making the world a better place. The Hug it Forward Bottle School Project is what Justin and I are investing our time in during this trip. Together with about 15 other people from the US States of Illinois, Georgia, Oregon, Texas, Minnesota, & New York, plus group members from France, we are working with our Guatemalan hosts, friends, and leaders.

Hug it Forward has engaged in about 140 bottle school projects over the past decade.

From their website, describing what a Bottle School is:

Bottle classrooms are constructed using eco-bricks, which are plastic bottles stuffed with inorganic trash. During the project process, entire communities come together to build a more environmentally responsible educational space for their future.

Bottle classrooms are built using eco-bricks, which are plastic bottles stuffed with inorganic trash. Our bottle classrooms are built using the established method of post-and-beam construction. The foundations, columns and beams are made from concrete reinforced with rebar. Unlike cinder-blocks which are not very environmentally responsible, we use eco-bricks in our constructions. As a result, our projects are much cheaper to build when compared to the more traditional building methods and materials, they work to clean up the environment, provide the space for real discussion about local environmental obstacles, and involve the entire community in their construction, resulting in a sense of pride and ownership

The people of Zaculeu collected 10,000 (yes, ten thousand) plastic drink bottles, filled them with debris to make them stable and full, and these became the “eco-bricks” to find a home as insulation in the walls of their school’s new classrooms. If they did not collect the “trash” it would have been burned, discarded, or placed in a landfill. The community collected the bottles and the trash – they cleaned up their area, their streets, their homes – and they prepared to welcome us to help them construct the walls of their school. Private donors funded the costs via donations to Hug it Forward for the skilled laborers to construct the flooring, roofs, structure, and masonry – some other Hug it Forward groups helped the skilled laborers, the government of Guatemala funded the masonry, and our group built the walls with the students of the school and members of the community! Our bottle school project was with the community, by the community, and with our help – it’s their lasting legacy of ecological awareness, activism, and educational commitment.

Subsequent blog posts will share more details and more images!

Audio Excerpts of National Presentation – Supt and Principals – Impact on learning in #112Leads

In this episode, learn how an initiative and partnership called DMBreakthrough Teams implemented last year at the District 112 Dual Language elementary schools positively impacted student growth & achievement!

Over spring break, I went to New York with Oak Terrace Principal Lilli Melamed and Wayne Thomas Associate Principal Colleen Goodrich. In addition to learning at the conference, we were invited to present the results from an initiative implemented last year at both dual language schools, DMGroup Breakthrough Teams.

Having the opportunity to share, and specifically, hearing from Lilli and Colleen about the impact of last year’s DMBreakthrough teams 10-week program on multi-lingual learners in grades K-5 at their respective schools is incredible and made me very proud of our work, our students, and the District. Our session was titled “Learn how North Shore School District 112 (IL) supported their multilingual learners and achieved a higher percentage of students meeting their MAP growth goals after the Breakthrough Results experience.”

Our work with DMGroup to implement their Breakthrough Teams programs at our Dual Language schools last year was driven by that commitment to continuous improvement in learning. We are committed to creating conditions for equitable access to educational opportunities for each child every day. We are committed to creating conditions for teacher support and excellence every day. We are on a journey and proud to be focused on results.

En este episodio, aprenda cómo una iniciativa y asociación llamada DMBreakthrough Teams implementada el año pasado en las escuelas primarias de lenguaje dual del Distrito 112 impactó positivamente el crecimiento y el rendimiento de los estudiantes.

Durante las vacaciones de primavera, fui a Nueva York con la directora de Oak Terrace, Lilli Melamed, y la directora asociada de Wayne Thomas, Colleen Goodrich. Además de aprender en la conferencia, fuimos invitados a presentar los resultados de una iniciativa implementada el año pasado en ambas escuelas bilingües, DMGroup Breakthrough Teams.

Tener la oportunidad de compartir, y específicamente, escuchar a Lilli y Colleen sobre el impacto del programa de 10 semanas de los equipos DMBreakthrough del año pasado en estudiantes multilingües en los grados K-5 en sus respectivas escuelas es increíble y me hizo sentir muy orgulloso de nuestro trabajo, nuestros estudiantes y el Distrito. Nuestra sesión se tituló “Aprenda cómo el Distrito Escolar 112 (IL) de North Shore apoyó a sus estudiantes multilingües y logró un mayor porcentaje de estudiantes que cumplieron con sus objetivos de crecimiento MAP después de la experiencia de Breakthrough Results”.

Nuestro trabajo con DMGroup para implementar sus programas Breakthrough Teams en nuestras escuelas de lenguaje dual el año pasado fue impulsado por ese compromiso con la mejora continua en el aprendizaje. Estamos comprometidos a crear condiciones para el acceso equitativo a las oportunidades educativas para cada niño todos los días. Estamos comprometidos a crear condiciones para el apoyo y la excelencia de los maestros todos los días. Estamos en un viaje y orgullosos de estar enfocados en los resultados.

What are DMGroup Breakthrough Teams Results in D112? #112Leads

In the 2021-2022 school year, we chose to implement a robust planning and results-oriented project at both K-5 dual language (Spanish/English) schools in the District, Oak Terrace and Red Oak. Our main work has always been to create conditions that support student growth, learning, and teacher collective efficacy. In this post, I’m sharing some images that show graphically how incredible the student growth, learning, and performance was in this 10 week initiative last year.

The results focused approach, led by a team from strategic partner DMGroup (from Boston, MA), helps teams of leaders, teachers, and educational support staff refine their sense of urgency and target professional efforts to impact student growth and learning. We worked with DM Group on a number of challenging projects over the past few years (reopening in COVID, Student Services/EL audit, MTSS planning and implementation).

Firstly, in District 112, our motto is Inspire, Innovate, Engage; and we firmly believe each child can learn and grow – every day. We stand firmly for equitable access to educational opportunities for each child every day. We take pride in the excellence of our teachers, administrators, support staff, parents, and Board.

 When we learn how to do better – we do better. When we make a mistake, we own it – explain it – and learn from it (and take efforts not to repeat it). After the devastating impacts of the COVID global pandemic (on society, learning, social connection, etc.) we reached out to experts in strategic leadership to see how we could improve and enhance our impact on learning to help our students emerge successfully.

Student success and district success are measured in multiple ways.  Pleasesee a previous blog post to get a sense of how I measure “success” (culture, engagement, service, assessment, etc.). Search Results for “Measure succes” – Mike Lubelfeld’s Blog

The point of working with the DMGroup on Breakthrough Teams comes from their motto: “Successful Change Programs Begin with Results”. The focus of the initiative is to focus on results – not barriers; not challenges; not the “why nots;” not the “yea buts;” but results.  Let’s make an impact.

 They acknowledge psychological, organizational and cultural (org. Culture) barriers such as: “I’m doing all I can;” “It’s overwhelming;” “It’s not MY problem;” etc… .  And then share a team of strategic consultants to support the existing organizational structures and  help guide questions to and for student learning/growth and teacher learning/growth to work around, through and over those barriers to ultimately bring them down.

The cool part about working with the DMGroup on Breakthrough teams is that we had the opportunity to take existing structures (teacher team planning/group thinking time) student learning (using assessment tools), instructional coaching (District teacher leaders), administrative collaboration (co-designing and considering solutions) all to help us do our work better.

 

The DMGroup Breakthrough Teams program is focused on 10 weeks of intense, targeted, focused planning, ideation, succeeding, failing, learning, and re-ideating. The District, the School and the Teams work together to make the best decisions with the information at hand in real time on behalf of the learning. It’s an amazing professional experience – and, in D112, it yielded groundbreaking results for kids (and teachers) last year at Red Oak and Oak Terrace Schools.

We focused on our dual language schools with multi-lingual students in the District’s historic and long running magnet/choice instructional program. English Learners in the District have traditionally had challenging performance on standardized assessments, and the focus on their learning and needs, first, with this innovative program, proved that every child (regardless of “box to check”) can learn and grow in the proper conditions. We helped our teachers create the proper conditions and focus, and we co-created professional planning space to establish a results orientation.  And the results justify and support this effort.

As mentioned, in this post, I’m sharing some slides that show graphically how incredible the student growth, learning, and performance was in this 10 week initiative last year.

On April 11, at an upcoming school Board meeting, I will share a detailed presentation with two of my colleagues, Lilli Melamed (Principal at Oak Terrace School) and Colleen Goodrich (Associate Principal at Red Oak School last year and Wayne Thomas school this year).

 In June, we’ll share this year’s results from this year’s Breakthrough Teams experience at the five K-5 schools with traditional (English only) education, in grades kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

Thanks for reading the blog! Check out the podcast, our upcoming board meetings, and general District communications as we share our journey of leadership, experiences, learning, growth, and results oriented focus.

Third in a series on Dominican Republic Service trip 2022

Gratitude is the single most important ingredient to living a successful & fulfilled life.”
– Jack Canfield

Back in 2016, I was lucky enough to be a part of the LifeTouch Memory Mission trip to the Dominican Republic and I was a representative of AASA, The Superintendent’s Association. I wrote about that set of life-changing experiences on my blog — BLOG POSTS ABOUT TRIP IN 2016

This is another post, the third in a series describing and showing the creation of peak moments in service, learning, and culture. This summer, July 30-August 6, my son and I went on a reunion trip to the Dominican Republic, to Constanza, La Vega, to the Cecaini School in Rio Grande. Through these blog posts, I’m sharing my reflections.

Once major personal “peak moment” for me on this current trip is that my son came with me! With words and images, I am trying to do my best at telling our story — of our life-changing, humbling, impactful, and seriously amazing set of experiences! Thanks for reading 🙂

August 1, 2022

We engaged in thoughtful, hands-on activities to help us get to know ourselves, share about ourselves with our new friends, and to get to know our friends.

We focused on learning, doing, and reflecting. What did we learn or experience? “So what”, “Now What” – we learned about each other, we served with each other, we started as strangers and left as friends!

Today we continued cultural orientation with some really engaging activities designed to activate and challenge our thinking, help us prepare to enter a new culture — it’s beyond simply “traveling” or “touring”, it’s more. The activities also allowed our group of 18 to further develop bonds of trust, fellowship, friendship, and camaraderie. We have a mix of “middle aged people” like me 🙂 people in their 20s-30s and some teenagers 14-19. In addition, our tour leader is very experienced in these types of travels and our translator is amazing! While our ages may range from 14-75, the depth of each one of our stories and, more important, the stories of our Dominican hosts, guides, teachers, and friends, makes an impact on each of us each day during each of the varied experiences.

Our day today was focused on preparation for entering into a new culture, as I mentioned above. Our leader Tim started the day with inspiring words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., regarding the “Good Samaritan” “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” If you are blessed, who are YOU blessing? The focus is that if you are blessed but you are not blessing anyone, then you are not really blessed. We discussed not mistaking joy for happiness (there was great depth in our lessons and reflection today, again!).

The gist of the whole World Servants meaning on trips like this is learning, serving, storytelling- “Learner, Servant, Storyteller”. Tell your story AND tell others’ stories. We were reminded to stop — listen — immerse in the target culture – find out what’s going on with others. It’s like the Dominican greeting, “Que lo Que” (“what’s up”). We are here to learn, serve and tell our collective stories.

We engaged in several hands, on, experiential learning activities today — I hope and plan to adapt for my own work as an educator. We completed a puzzle that was different from what we expected. We put squares together from shapes without speaking (when we followed the rules :)), we discovered there are many more ways to complete the task than meets the eye. Repeatedly we changed our perspectives through “doing” and reflecting after doing. It was exceptional pedagogy.

As Americans we’re pretty task focused in general, and as a school superintendent I’m really task focused. So, it’s powerful and smart for me to stop — listen — be immersed in the present and in the moment – especially for my son as well as the group I’m serving with (and learning with and story telling with). It’s NOT always about the task — and the task may change, and the “square” we make might prevent someone else from making a square – so take some time and really listen and observe (the points of the activities).  The bottom line from these activities and a few others we did with culture role plays and trust guiding all led to a common point. It’s about the “dash” — it’s about the PROCESS not only or always the task.

Prior to engaging in the actual physical labor, the engagement with the community, and even the recreation with the children after work, we reminded each other through task, word, deed, and activity that teamwork was the main aim of our time together. Each one of us would meaningfully engage, immerse, do, learn, serve, have fun, and “be”— as a team. We do then we reflect then we do more. The orientation activities were well designed, clear, meaningful, allowed us to mix up and work with everyone, and to generally create community as well as expectations for our intense labors of love and service.

We went to Rio Grande to the school where our work is focused, where the school is becoming the community center, and where I was six and a half years ago when it all started here at school #2! Due to the hundreds of other volunteers and service participants, the school is far more than merely a school. Don’t get more wrong, as a superintendent, a school in and of itself is pretty awesome and amazing. BUT … when a school becomes a community center, a community playground, a community health center – it’s beyond amazing.

The last time I was in Rio Grande the roads were gravel/dirt leading up to the school site (it was not yet a school). School 1 was built by groups prior (2011-2015). In 2016, the second school was a dream about to happen. We built the first floor and a wall – we played in a cow pasture up the road! Today – 6.5 years and a lifetime later, we have a beautiful school with two floors, a basketball court, a retaining wall, vibrancy, life, jobs, hope, and we’re finishing a health center.

In the years since this school opened, the government invested in the infrastructure. They began to assume some of the salary responsibilities for the employees (the community had to prove their concept prior to government support/sponsorship). The schools were built by Dominican engineers, construction works, professionals who guided scores of volunteers over the course of many years and many private funds raised and donated. It’s a colossal partnership that is more than a decade in the making. The constant has been World Servants and their support. A great lift was from LifeTouch (the photography company) through its Memory Missions that brought educators, photographers, and others together year after year after year.

The community is united in service. The community is united in hope. The community is growing, improving, sustaining, living, and thriving in great part due to the school and the relationships built and sustained for more than a decade.

We worked really hard today and you’ll see that in the images.

Thank you for following our adventures. Justin is checking out Duo Lingo, practicing Spanish with kids, adults, etc. We’re beyond blessed to have this time together as father and son and as we learned today, we’re sharing these blessings, per Dr. King and Tim Gibson, in learning, service and storytelling!

We’ll share more tomorrow. Hat tip to Jan Haeg for the awesome photos. Today we put our phones away – we disconnected for as long as we could and we were in the moments fully and today was full of many peak moments.

View of the school from the “comedor”, lunchroom. Looking at the sand/rock/earth pile – we spent a lot of time making concrete at that pile for our multiple projects.

The sign at the bridge from the mountain road into the community of Rio Grande, where our school was!

Our crew on one of the many bus rides!

Huge infrastructure investments from the government, in part, due to the success of the school! The community center, the change in hope, opportunity, pathway, family outlook, and so much more!

Me and Justin out of our hotel room heading to dinner!

Teamwork, Teamwork, and more Teamwork.

Each morning we gathered and took directions from our Dominican hosts! Ken on the paint crew and Domingo on the concrete crew. We did what was asked, we learned as apprentices and helpers. We served along side and with our new friends and hosts!

 

Mission, Culture & Service Trip to Dominican Republic – 2022

Back in 2016, I was lucky enough to be a part of the LifeTouch Memory Mission trip to the Dominican Republic and I was a representative of AASA, The Superintendent’s Association. I wrote about that set of life-changing experiences on my blog — BLOG POSTS ABOUT TRIP IN 2016 and

Post 2 of 2 – Global Service – Dominican Republic- IASA 2021

And I also wrote about that trip three years later, Link to Anniversary Post

This summer, July 30-August 6, I went on a reunion trip to the Dominican Republic, to Constanza, La Vega, to the Cecaini School in Rio Grande. Through the next few blog  posts, I’m sharing my reflections.

Once major personal “peak moment” for me on this current trip is that my son came with me! With words and images, I am trying to do my best at telling our story — of our life-changing, humbling, impactful, and seriously amazing set of experiences! Thanks for reading 🙂

July 30, 2022

Mike and Justin leave the USA and head to the Dominican Republic. Beyond the 4:30am wake up and the 8pm arrival at the hotel at our destination, the “dash” or the “in between” is what really matters. We woke up, we were mentally prepared for the journey — eager with excitement, anxious with anticipation, and uncertain of all the details working out (plane from ORD to MIA from MIA to SDQ, meeting with the group, getting on the bus, making it to the middle of the Dominican Republic, meeting new friends, getting ready to immerse in another culture in a new land, etc.).

The journey, the adventure, the learning, the service, the reflection, the “what now” is what’s really cool about all of this! Justin and I are two of four people from Illinois. There are others from Minnesota, Arkansas, Washington, New Hampshire, Oregon, and of course, our hosts from the Dominican Republic.

After we arrived at our hotel, our home base in Constanta, DR for the week, we ate dinner. Food is a huge part of culture, dining together is a nice, subtle way to embrace and immerse in the new and different. Following dinner we engaged in some cool orientation and get to know you activities, we thought, we spoke, we shared, we even jumped around and danced a bit, all in the spirit of living and serving in the present.

Pastor Angel, our host and the local visionary leader who is responsible for so much good in the communities he serves and represents welcomed us. He shared the history of the past decade of work in the communities (school building, community center, government acknowledgement and support, and more). He thanked us for being part of the mission, vision, values, and goals of so many, and the impact and legacy of the service. We’re invited friends and partners. We serve and learn along side our Dominican hosts.

We are here in the service of humanity and the bond of love and service. As an educator and as a father, it’s great to see my two worlds integrate and unite.

Over the past decade, and due to Angel’s hard work, leadership, and vision, he acknowledged the “harvest” of good from all of this fellowship. This is his community; we are invited members, servant leaders from so many groups (including World Servants, the group we’re with on this trip) and we are now part of the DNA of Constanta and the La Vega/Rio Grande region.

Some images of our 4 hour bus ride up from sea level in Santo Domingo to about 4000 feet altitude. More to come this week! Thanks for checking our this set of peak moments for me and Justin.

 

Me and Justin on the airplane at O’Hare in Chicago getting ready for a trip of a lifetime!

On the mission trip, we brought donations of school supplies, painting supplies and tools and first aid kit materials.

We landed in Santo Domingo on the South Coast (Caribbean) and we drove for about 4 hours up the mountains into the center of the beautiful country. I share views and vistas in each of the posts.

We arrived on my birthday and the team surprised me with a cake, a candle, a song and this was just the start of many celebrations and peak moments.

The Dominican Republic is an island nation, it shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. We arrived in Santo Domingo, traveled north and stayed in La Vega, Constanza, at the Hotel Altocerro.

The red “pin” depicts our location with respect to Santo Domingo.

This is the shirt I received in 2016 on the Life Touch Memory Mission I participated in. This trip was a reunion trip of sorts, several of us were alumni of previous trips. One of the families on the trip attended service trips multiple times. They were inspired by an alumna from a prior trip!

Post 2 of 2 – Global Service – Dominican Republic- IASA 2021

Post 2 -IASA Global Service Trip – Dominican Republic October 2021

This is the second post describing and documenting a global service trip I had the opportunity to attend in the Dominican Republic with 30 colleagues. Each member of this international travel experience was a school superintendent, school or district level administrator or elected member of a Board of Education. Under the exceptional guidance and care of our team from Education First and the Dominican people, we led, learned, served, grew, opened our minds and hearts and set the foundation for student learning and teacher learning opportunities at home.

In this blog post, I will share the rest of the story that was started in the first blog post about this incredible set of adventures and experiences. As I left off in post #1,  this post will highlight our visit to Santiago (the 2nd largest city) visiting the historical district and learning about street art history and culture. I’ll describe the visit to the artisan area in Moca where we learned how to use pottery and bricks for stoves that help reduce the use of wood and lumber by 70% in the mountain areas, our adventures on the north coast of Cabarete, the Dream School and Inspire DR.

Thank you for reading the posts about of our journey in the Dominican Republic! Below I’m showing some photos from the Environmental institute I wrote about in the first post.

Trail “oasis” “after” completion

Tree Nursery

Hands on service!

Trail “oasis” “before” work

Trail Restoration Project

Creative reuse of plastic bottles to insulate wall of outdoor greenhouse

Discussing environmental possibilities

The journey from Jarabacoa towards Santiago afforded us the chance to visit with a local artisan and engage in several workshops and hands on learning experiences at a pottery shop. The artisan was located in Moca, Dominican Republic, and at our briefing we learned cultural and historically significant information as well as sustainability and direct impact on rural Dominican homes as well as the greater environment, health, and wellness.

Briefing at artisan site

The cultural lessons centered around a faceless doll. This was a special art project that originated in 1977. Essentially, in a nod to the complex and mixed ethnic and cultural and racial ancestry of the Dominican people, with 2% Taino (native peoples), 23% Spanish, and 75% African heritage and DNA in its citizens, the artisans wanted to make a statement about the pride and complexities of the mix. Therefore, the idea of the Faceless Doll of a Dominican women was born. A proud, interesting, and creative example of telling a highly complicated and high level concept (ancestry, heritage, etc.) in a clay doll. Beyond our new learning and appreciation for the progression of “who am I” and “who are we”, we actually had the chance to make a doll (though it’s really not easy! And the art teacher was as patient as anyone could be with our amateur creations).

Attempt at making faceless dolls

Artisan pottery – chimney brick project

Brick stove with chimney – transformation

In addition to the Faceless Woman project, we also received a briefing on the stoves in the homes of folks living in the rural, mountain areas and the toll on health, especially for women and children that their old, traditional stoves were taking. For example, cooking indoors with wood, fire, and no chimney or ventilation system led to severe impact on trees (wood for cooking), severe impact on lung/respiratory health of women and children (traditionally in the home while the men go in the fields and work) and skin issues due to the smoke and its carcinogenic properties. So at this pottery artisan production center we visited in Moca, they also make bricks for new rural stoves that use bricks and chimney design to ventilate the toxic smoke, and it has benefits on health, the forest, and lungs! These brick ovens reduce the wood usage by 70% — this is already having a positive impact on the island.

Proud to learn and serve making bricks for brick stove

 

 

Our work in brick makingThis focus on sustainability is also impacting the Haitian side of the island. Together in partnership we all benefit. We on this trip are planting seeds of international cooperation and respect that we will ideally recreate so that students in our schools can learn, do, experience, and we can all pay this forward. The artisan shop is also an example of supporting the local economy as there are locally produced handcrafts for purchase.

 

 

After we visited Moca’s rich artisanal history, and experienced projects of value and of meaning for us and for future student groups, we headed to the nation’s second largest city Santiago. In Santiago, there is a recently restored historic neighborhood with incredible street artwork. I’m sharing a bunch of photos from this visit – I feel that the imagery is far more powerful and descriptive than my words can be.

This visit to Santiago shared for us urban redevelopment in the historic district as well as a visual representation of culture, history and the society over time. The streets on which were were walking are centuries old and have stories of their own.

From Santiago we headed into Puerto Plata on the north coast of the island nation. Our destination was Cabarete. Cabarete is a culturally significant city with a cosmopolitan and international flair. Cabarete and the Puerto Plata coastal area was the original spot for Dominican tourism prior to Punta Cana’s creation on the southeast side of the island. Cabarete is known for international visitors and “expats” as well as kite surfing and surfing on the Atlantic Ocean.

In Cabarete we visited and served at a community center/Montessori-inspired school called the Dream Center School, and we also visited Inspire, an after school and year round STEAM/Shop/Culture/Values program for boys 18-25 years old. Here are some photos of Dream Center and our on site, hands-on beautification service projects. 

 

Fixing up the recycling and trash receptacle after relocating

Our take aways, amens, and epiphanies are many and varied. With the school sites, the after school social organizations, the community library, and their integration and interdependence to supplement and in some cases supplant the overall social-educational systems in place, we saw firsthand how EF works with value and mission driven local organizations and groups so our students can be part of something much larger than their typical education/school experiences. We adults were highly moved and  affected by our service, the informational briefings, and the reflections We got to experience what our students will go through. The Dream School Center allowed us to see how a private school interacts with the public school system.

Finished project!

We saw how early childhood education up through grammar school is organized in very similar fashions to our US educational system. Montessori philosophy is popular in many settings around the world. The Dream Center shares a STEAM classroom with the local public school.

The Dream library is a community library, they have a “book mobile” as well and their outreach is community-wide, not just for the students in the school or special programs. Their Bachata sister academy for older youth (High school ages) demonstrated some Bachata music in an impressive display of musical talent!  As the photos show, we helped them with requested beautification projects and functional projects designating space for motorcycle parking, movement of a recycling and trash receptacle to the back of the grounds, as well as touch up painting throughout the classrooms.

Finished project!

The service elements, similar to what our students will experience, showed us that a group of people may start as strangers, yet they emerge as friends in part due to the opportunities that forge authentic bonds. The problem solving, skills development, team work and overall satisfaction with jobs well done meant a lot to each and every one of us every day on this fantastic set of adventures.

We left the Dream Center feeling a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction and reward. We finished up our exploration and inquiry at an after school program for boys (though they are also adding girls programming) InspireDR – Free After-School Programs in Cabarete, Dominican Republic This private foundation “NGO” community based center offers swimming instruction, computer literacy, health education, wood shop, economics, a dojo for marshal arts, and more. We were truly inspired by the emphasis on technical life skills, problem solving, positive, moral, ethical, community focused learning and living. These boys and young men were learning English, swimming safety, and we were able to engage and interact with them on site. In addition, they teach public speaking and communications. This free (privately funded) community center has a waiting list of 90 students and they are serving as many as they can free of charge. This and so many of our new discoveries would each and all make great fund-raising, sponsorship, visit/exchange, education, and of course service projects for our own youth, Rotary and other civic organizations and other foundations.

We also ate lunch at Water to Wine, a water purification team — the opportunities to serve and make our world a better place seemed to be never-ending.

As I close the photo journal and documentary accounts of our incredible 2021 IASA Global Service Project, and as I again thank Dr. Polyak and our business partners, I’ll share some final thoughts, reflections and comments. In North Shore School District 112, we are going to explore the possibilities we can create with our own local partners for a student trip and relationship moving forward. Inspire…Innovate…Engage – our aspirational motto — in action!

Captivating natural beauty

We had so many “to do” or “do now” opportunities. We had so much history and culture learning and education experiences. We were not blind to the irony of our service during the Indigenous People/Columbus Day observances (at home and in the DR). It was not lost on us that we were meeting in Columbus Park for our Santiago art/history walking tour.

We learned and lived and engaged and built lasting relationships in a relatively short period of time.

Our world is complex. Our work is complex. Our past is complex.

In order that we support and facilitate the support for teachers and students to create conditions for a sustainable and globally connected world, we must get out of our safe and small circle of our worlds at home and jump out of comfort zones and live, learn, do, think, be open minded to change, and to lead.

With experiences in the educational, social, cultural, artistic, political, geographic, environmental, and service genres (and more), I simply say Thank YOU to all who put in so much effort to create the spaces where we and I could enhance ourselves and our worlds.

Here’s to the next time … truly we are all unfinished! Opportunities like this help us frame our paths to become the next versions of ourselves.

For nearly 30 years I have been serving public education and schooling in suburban Chicago, Illinois, USA. I’ve been a public school superintendent for 12 years (so far). Each year, each job/role, each child for whom I lead, each adult with whom I lead, each family I serve, each community I serve — each one enhances my sense of self and my body of work. My answer to the call of duty in an ongoing and unfinished, never ending cycle of service is to serve, to lead, to push myself and to make my wife, my children, and my community proud and respectful.

Proud and grateful to sponsor partners

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections from Dominican Republic – IASA Global Service Trip

IASA Global Service Trip 2021-Blog Post 1

Cabarete, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Cabarete, Dominican Republic 1,851 miles from Highland Park, Illinois

October 2021

As our world heads out of the restrictive nature of the recent years, and as our school district re-energizes and re-commits to student educational access and excellence in education for each child, every day, I’m beyond grateful that I have had the opportunity to join a recent trip to another country to learn the culture, history, sociology, teamwork, global interconnection, education (of course) and much, much more. Together with a member of my school district’s Board of education, and with leaders from all across the state of Illinois (Cairo, IL to Zion, IL and all parts in between), our lives were forever changed and opportunities for students across Illinois and throughout the Dominican Republic will be impacted for years to come.

In 2018 thirty strangers agreed to participate in international service, culture, and leadership trip called the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA) Global Service Trip. The trip was delayed twice due to the impact of the global pandemic. Thanks to incredibly generous and supportive business partners, the cost per person was minimal, and thanks to an international educational tour company, the world-class tour, trip, adventures, experiences, reflections, expertise, travel, fellowship, new friendships, shared love for our calling to serve and to educate, and the overall service-learning was among the best I have experienced.

Understanding I will likely leave out details, miss a detail or two or three, to the degree possible, I’m making an effort to share in this blog a documentary accounting and “editorial” in this blog post and some follow-up posts as well.

To start, we all met together at a dinner at a restaurant outside of Chicago, IL. As a reminder, we are each superintendents, board of education members, school administrators, and we represent all areas of the great and diverse state of Illinois. We had no idea the depth of communal care, comfort, support, experience, joy, reflection, and leadership upon which we were each embarking.  We each had our own motivation for applying to join this trip. Our partners at the Law Offices of Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhamner, Rodick, & Kohn (HLERK), International Contractors Incorporated (ICI), DLA Architects, AXA, and SPM Architects all took a significant leap of faith believing in the powerful vision of my good friend and the Leyden High School Superintendent Nick Polyak and his vision for impacting the world, education in Illinois, superintendent-board relations, and so much more — words cannot thank the business partners for their support and investment — and genuine on the ground experiential learning and partnership. Life-long friendships were made on this trip across the Dominican Republic!

Service-learning changes lives forever, after having the incredible opportunity to have served on several trips over the past few years, I know firsthand how powerful the hands-on learning and engagement of people make a lasting impact and serves to support a legacy of global connectedness and growth opportunities. Hat tip to the AASA for allowing me to join in on the LifeTouch Memory Mission in 2016 to the Rio Grande/Constanza, Dominican Republic area with World Servants, and hat tip to my friend and fellow Illinois Superintendent Jim McKay for two trips to San Juan, Puerto Rico (so far) for service learning, educational partnership, teacher exchange, training, technology,  hands-on construction and more! On one of these adventures, I had the opportunity to bring my son with me; blending work and home, blending professional and personal, wow – seriously impactful. My son and I will clearly enjoy many more memories and experiences in the future.

Back to this 2021 trip, …Me and my Board member (or my Board member and I) learned together, experienced together, built together, laughed together, and most importantly, we planned together visions for students in our school district to experience life-changing service like we did. I’ve reached out to the district and school administrators back home (while in the DR) to start the thinking process for a legitimate investment in our students in partnership and travel as an adjunct part of the curriculum. Our motto in North Shore School District 112, https://www.nssd112.org/ is Inspire…Innovate…Engage. This trip to the beautiful island nation of the Dominican Republic was highly inspiring, we are beyond motivated to bring these learning opportunities to our students, and we were engaged from the dinner meeting the night prior to our departure.

A few years ago I posted a reflection post about a series of reflections (I see writing as an intimate and public way to express myself, communicate my thinking, and share professional experiences). See link: Reflecting on Global Service – 3 Year Anniversary of Dominican Republic Memory Mission Trip – This is the blog from Public School Superintendent & Author Dr. Michael Lubelfeld

The incredible company Education First,  EF Education First – Global SIte (English), sent us their “A-Team” of leaders and they truly have outdone themselves in terms of an authentic set of learning, leadership, service, opportunity, and true business/education vision and planning opportunities for children. Thank you, Brian, Alex, Claire, Gabriel, Hector, and everyone in the Dominican Republic on the ground for their amazing leadership, expertise, camaraderie, fellowship, friendship, vision, and overall and genuine professionalism. This was a fantastic experience all around. Thank you also to Angel for day and night support!!

We literally visited and traveled through the entire length of the country traveling from the south to the north. We visited urban, rural, and coastal communities. We saw both the Caribbean and Atlantic coats. We visited cultural and historic sites, geographic sites, the two largest cities, public school sites, private school sites, after school clubs, “NGO” not for profit areas committed to environmental sustainability, social justice, education, future-focused support and so many opportunities for post-trip partnership and service and support. I will be sharing the information and “leads” with my local Rotary Club, Leadership Team, Board of Education, and community leaders.

After we arrived in Santo Domingo, the capital city, we visited a Coral Reef and Mangrove reforestation NGO on the Caribbean Sea prior to our long drive north, through the center of the island towards Jarabacoa. We were immediately taken in by the

Captivating natural beauty

immense natural beauty of this island nation. We were also starting our journey and adventure into the Dominican Republic’s commitment to environment study, preservation, sustainability, and education. The sense of community was powerful and we were just getting started.

The overall journey from Santo Domingo to Jarabacoa is 90 miles/144 kilometers, and by motorcoach with a quick visit to the Coral Reef/Mangrove restoration center (and the Caribbean beachfront), it’s a trip of around 3-4 hours (with a stop on the way for a rest and some coffee). We were at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago at 3:00am for a 5:00am flight to Miami, Florida, then after a short layover we headed to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (journey of 1,936 miles/3,116 kilometers), we arrived in Santo Domingo at 12:40pm local time (O’Hare is CST and Santo Domingo is EST). The journey was long, our anticipation was high, our anxiety was being eased by actually being on the ground and for having enjoyed dinner the night before as well as a long travel journey. But the learning was just getting started.

On our next visit, we went to the Environmental Institute, formally called Instituto Técnico de Estudios Superiores en Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales in Recinto, Jimenoa. At this impressive, Ministry of Education funded school, founded in 1968 and refurbished within the past few years, we learned a ton about reforestation efforts, trail building and preservation, the

Trail “oasis” “before” work

connection of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and the overall impact on the preservation of nature’s greatness. At the institute, students are 18-25 years old, the integration of genders was recently added and the federal government funds and runs this impressive, two-campus higher education institute. Topics we addressed at the briefing included conservation, tree nursery, forestry, agriculture, trail building, learning, service, and education. The impact of climate change is real and the need for a larger-scale focus on sustainability is everyone’s responsibility. Here in the Dominican Republic, there are scholarships for students from Haiti in an effort to positively impact the entire island of Hispaniola which both countries share. One of the service projects, hands-on learning for our leadership team, was in the tree nursery and the other was in the nature trail. This institute plants more than 750,000 (seven-hundred fifty-thousand) saplings across the island each year! The impact is beyond huge and lasting.

I was part of the trail restoration project. With sweat equity and really intense physical labor, our team cleared out tree stumps, restored a number of benches and a table (in a clearing on a nature trail at the Institute) our team was really proud of the physical labor and task completion. With natural leadership and skills emerging from team members, and under the

Trail “oasis” “after” completion

supervision and leadership of our Dominican hosts, together we created a nice and comfortable oasis in the trail for a meeting space, thinking, reflection, and ambiance of the beautiful and serene nature trail on one of the campuses.

The tree nursery group learned how to take “baby” trees and plant, clean, separate soil/plants, and recreate the initial steps in the tree nursery growing and sustaining process. Education First (EF) formed relationships with institutions that thrive on their own, but who also benefit from volunteer service and support from student groups, educator groups, and others, to complete their mission-driven work.

It’s really hot in the Dominican Republic— even in October — it’s 90 degrees, powerful sun, intense heat, and we’re not all physical/manual laborers by day. So, the work was really intense and we had sweat on top of sweat and we drank more water than we normally drink! It was also highly rewarding to impact this institution in such a positive way. The service-learning projects are high-intensity and powerfully related to what our students will do as well. In addition, the concepts of inter-dependence are built upon each other at each step.

Following this intense and novel manual labor, our hosts from EF allowed us to experience a geographically beautiful and one of the highest waterfalls in the Dominican Republic. We visited Salto Jimenoa Waterfall,  in Jarabacoa. This was about 35 meters, or 115 feet, tall. The walk to the “watering hole” at the foot of the waterfall was far easier on the way to the falls vs the way back (climbing back up was tough). We were so hot, really stretching muscles we don’t normally use, an intense pride in task completion due to the adrenaline and pride in service we were walking around with since we boarded the plane in Chicago. The visit to this waterfall, impressive on its own — tall, loud crashing water, awe-inspiring geography, and much welcomed “cold water”. Once we entered the watering hole we felt the wind — forceful and inspirational wind — we then headed towards the actual waterfall itself. The massive, natural force driving this water from the mountains — this waterfall invited us in — we each felt a sense of invigorating relief at the entrance with the cold water, the cold almost mystical wind; but words cannot describe the feeling of inspiration upon entering the area against the rock behind the crashing cascade of water! The force reflected our powerful desires and force to serve, learn, and accomplish all we can for each child, every day. We were in paradise — a unique and foreign world compared to our middle-American realities.

Words I wrote in my journal were: “work hard, serve, learn from collaboration, sweat equity, the satisfaction of contributing part to whole, symbolic of the overall trip, aim each of us as global citizens are parts contributing to the whole – cultural, local”.

Each meal was authentically Dominican. We ate rice, beans, chicken, beef, plantains, yucca, fruit juices, fruit, banana, truly outstanding and truly local cuisine.

Each cultural experience was a tribute to our Dominican hosts, the beauty and richness of the people, and representative of the value of travel, touring, meeting other people, gaining experiences through other people’s lenses, learning and respecting the locale. We were not there on any mission to “help” or to “save” — we were present in respect and mutual admiration to learn, lead and serve shoulder to shoulder. We were not there to show who we are and what we do — by embracing our hosts and by opening our minds and hearts, we showed who we were and who we are. On our journey we learned about Bachata, Merengue, Salsa, yes, we superintendents danced (or tried to dance) with the Latin rhythm and beats in our hearts and our souls. Our dance teacher was really patient.

My next post will highlight our visit to Santiago (the 2nd largest city) visiting the historical district and learning about street art history and culture. I’ll describe the visit to the artisan area in Moca where we learned how to use pottery and bricks for stoves that help reduce the use of wood and lumber by 70% in the mountain areas, our adventures on the north coast of Cabarete, the Dream School and Inspire DR.

Thank you for reading the first post about half of our journey in the Dominican Republic!

Stay tuned for the rest of the story.

Older posts
Skip to toolbar