How World Wise Schools lights a spark of curiosity in my students

By Jacqueline Watson
Aug. 3, 2017

I teach medieval world history to seventh graders at Kraemer Middle School, in Placentia, California. 

Students arrive in my class every September thinking social studies is boring, and it’s my goal is to light a spark of curiosity in the world around them. 

I first connected with the Peace Corps and World Wise Schools in 2004. A group of my students earned special recognition in a geography competition sponsored by the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, and then-Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez came to speak to the group of award winners. When he spoke about the mission of the Peace Corps, about World Wise Schools and about the network of returned Volunteers all around me, he gave me a resource that has benefited my students ever since. 

Since then I’ve been truly fortunate to have returned Peace Corps Volunteers from Thailand, Lesotho, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia speak in my classroom. Every single returned Volunteer who has come to talk to my students has been thoroughly engaging — which is genuinely a challenge with middle schoolers! My students are fascinated by their experiences and stories about living far from home, adjusting to foreign cultures, and being of service. There is just no textbook on Earth that can engage kids the way returned Volunteer speakers can through stories about squat toilets, eating bizarre foods, fireworks at funerals, wedding traditions and so much more. 

I know students love to hear from Peace Corps speakers, and these experiences spark curiosity to know more about the world. And there is nothing I love more than curious, interested students. But does it make a difference long-term? Will they, I hope, go on to travel the world? Care about global issues? Relate to and empathize with people living on other continents? Will our efforts in 7th grade stick with my students? 

In December 2015, I got an email from a former student, Ashley Baek, who was writing to me from rural Mongolia. She had become a Peace Corps Volunteer! Her desire to serve started back in my 7th grade class, when we wrote to students in Ghana through World Wise Schools, and I had my first returned Peace Corps Volunteer speaker, Nancy Clifton-Hawkins, come talk to my students about her experiences in Thailand. 

Since reconnecting with Ashley, she has returned to my classroom a couple of times to speak to my students and share her experiences. She brought Mongolian currency to give to every student and some cheese curds for the adventurous ones to taste. Our students wrote letters back and forth for a year, and that was a huge hit with kids in both of our schools. They exchanged letters, but also photos and personal treasures, sent with so much love and care. It always impresses me that 13-year-olds in every culture and every country have a lot in common! 

Perhaps most powerfully, I believe that Ashley has helped to pass the torch to the next generation of future Peace Corps Volunteers.

The Speakers Match program brings returned Volunteers to classrooms, community groups, and clubs. If you would like to request a speaker, visit peacecorps.gov/educators. If you are an RPCV and would like to hear of speaking opportunities in your area, visit the RPCV Portal and sign up for the program.

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