Making Tonga Tangible to Students

By Robert Goetschkes
May 28, 2019

Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Robert Goetschkes has organized Peace Corps Day activities in classrooms for about 20 years.

As a social studies teacher, Peace Corps Day celebrations have been a natural fit for the curriculum he teaches. Robert has drawn on his personal experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tonga to give his students a first-hand look at life in the South Pacific as they study this part of the world.

The day typically starts with a presentation on the Pacific overall, including Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, and, of course, Tonga. Then students explore a touch table with books, maps, handicrafts, shells, Tongan money, and pictures. Robert sets out index cards and students write questions about the objects on the table or Tongan history and culture. Students were most interested in the picture of the King of Tonga and the model war club on the table. They were also interested in the giant outrigger canoes.

We asked Robert to share more about his experience organizing this event and his tips for returned Volunteers and educators who are thinking of hosting similar events in the future.

What are your tips or advice for sharing Peace Corps with a young learner audience?

Spend the time to explain what the Peace Corps is and why it was created. As a Constructivist in education, I can tell you that it is very difficult for young people to connect Peace Corps service with something they already know. Having objects de art to pass around is also essential.

Can you share some best practices for incorporating World Wise Schools' free programs and resources into your classroom?

As simple as this sounds, every year that I have organized pen pal exchanges with a [currently serving Peace Corps Volunteer's class] has been a success. Children love writing letters to each other the old-fashioned way.

Why should an educator participate in the Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools programs or use their resources?

Even if an educator is not a RPCV, I’d recommend they contact World Wise Schools for Peace Corps or international fair activities or ideas. My students love classroom visitors, and if you can schedule an RPCV visit, it will be remembered fondly. Students appreciate authenticity. They will learn more about a place from someone who has been there.

Have you participated in similar events outside of your classroom?

I have shared my Peace Corps experience for about 10 years at various cultural fairs held at local colleges. I am also involved in the Nebraska Returned Peace Corps group. We often invite people who are curious about joining the Peace Corps to participate in our events.

The Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools program is dedicated to promoting 21st century skill and global competence through stories, activities and classroom resources – all of which are based on Peace Corps Volunteer experiences.

Robert Goetschkes  showing items from Tonga at an international fair