Everyone loves a field trip; museums take on new appeal to those who might not visit them otherwise; historical sights and trips to City Council meetings are very attractive to most students and often have a lasting impact on students.
Castlemont High School Economics and Government teacher Jonathan Guy is pushing this kind of hands-on experience to a higher level with his effort to take 35 students to Vietnam and Cambodia for two weeks after a similar successful trip last spring to China with a group of 16 boys.
Students chose these locations after studying a map of Asia and the Middle East.
Guy himself has lived in China and speaks Mandarin, at about a “6th or 7th grade level,” he says.
His wife has family in Cambodia. He first developed an interest in China when taking a Chinese history class while attending Cal State East Bay. He began teaching Western Culture in Beijing at the Anhue University College of Economics, spending three years there before returning to the Bay Area.
After taking a job in the Oakland Unified School District, the idea came to him to take students abroad to a place he knew well. But beyond that, Guy said, he felt students needed more than just a chance to travel.
“When I was growing up (in Pittsburgh), I had role models,” but some of his friends, whose fathers were absent, died violently or wound up incarcerated, he said. “I felt that students needed to step up their game. What better way to do that than having an experience abroad?”
With that in mind, he created the Pacific Bridge Club, (PBC) to “use community events, culture building, and traveling as avenues (to allow) our youth to have a foreign experience of traveling to developing countries so that they can return with a different outlook on life to improve their lives and our communities,” according to the group’s mission statement.
After the trip to China last spring (2018), he saw almost every one of the students who went on that trip change in positive ways. Guy said he saw a certain wisdom emerge.
To participate in the club, students must maintain a minimum standard of behavior throughout their classes; including no more than three detentions in one semester, remaining on track to graduate and maintaining a minimum 2.0 average, as well as refraining from oppressive language and attending meetings.
The meetings begin with a setting of the norms, around respect, attitude and focus; as students read each one aloud. The day this reporter met with them, almost all were wearing their pink cancer awareness Tshirts that are part of the work of the PBC; to each month raise awareness about a different social issue or cause.
The overseas trip is the culmination of a nearly year-long program of discussion, community engagement projects and mandatory meeting attendance every Tuesday and Thursday.
Students must demonstrate they can work together. Since beginning in August, students have worked on raising awareness for sickle cell anemia, police brutality and cancer.
Some of the young people have never been on an airplane or out of the U.S.
On the trip last school year, students were chaperoned by other staff, including Assistant Principal Michael Scott, Digital Arts teacher Nathan Burks and Restorative Justice coordinator Frankie Navarro.
Students were encouraged to be on their best behavior. They were asked: “Who are you representing?” How does it reflect on your family?”
Angela, a senior at CHS, said her main reason for wanting to be part of PBC is because I think it’s important for young people to be a part of something bigger themselves, and helping other people.”
Another girl, Monday, also a senior, said, “I’m a new student at Castlemont; before I came here, I was getting in a lot of conflict and trouble; Mr. Guy told me about the opportunity, what they do and why and how they do it…It just really inspired me to do something positive with my life.”
Senior JP (John Paul) mentioned both the China trip and a subsequent trip to visit family in the Philippines. “I came back with a deep sense of humility,” he said, referring to where his grandmother lives not far from homeless encampments of entire families.
Senior Rufino, who went on the China trip noted that his travels “changed my perspective on how people act; respect is seen differently in different cultures, it made me think about things, treating people with more respect.”