Teacher Chaya Harris’ students may not have accompanied her on her 16 day trip through Latin America last summer—but they have been the beneficiaries of her experiences none the less. All year, Harris’ has used pictures and stories from her travels through Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil with a group of nine other teachers to communicate a simple but powerful lesson to her students: there is a world beyond Dorchester.
“Students in our community don’t have opportunities like this and they don’t know anyone else who does either,” says Harris, a fifth-grade teacher at the Mather School. “When they see me and I’m basically an older version of them, they think ‘maybe I can experience other worlds too.’ It opens up their minds to what’s possible,” says Harris, who grew up just blocks away from the school where she now teaches.
The trip was organized by Global Exploration for Educators, a nonprofit that runs affordable group tours for teachers. (See information below). GEEO is currently offering trips to the Galapagos Islands, Peru, China, and a 15 day trip to Turkey. Participants are promised a well-planned trip with plenty of freedom to explore, as well as the opportunity to travel with other teachers.
Harris says that exploring Latin America with a group of educators only deepened the rewards of the trip. “Teachers are naturally compassionate and we’re always thinking about how to share. We’re also very open-minded,” says Harris, who notes that the trip included plenty of “firsts” for her and her travel mates. Among them: hang gliding, barefoot hiking, different styles of dance and plenty of unusual food. “We ate parts of the cow and pig that none of us had ever tried before.”
The group also visited some elementary schools in Uruguay where students were participating in an after-school program. Harris says that she and the other teachers were fascinated by the differences between the Uruguyan school and their own facilities. “The teachers didn’t have a lot of supplies to work with and yet they were obviously doing a lot with what they had,” says Harris.
And while her travels may be over for now, Harris has had plenty of excitement to contend with since she returned. “Being a new teacher is an adventure every day,” says Harris, who followed the lead of her mother, Boston teacher Donna Hill Harris, into the classroom. The younger Harris studied journalism at Northwestern in Chicago but opted to return to Boston and pursue a teaching career.
Harris says that she’s already looking forward to her next trip: to the Galapagos Island—but not for a few years. “The experience was just amazing. Other teachers should take the opportunity to travel if they have it. The trip was a real adventure for me and it opened up a new world for my students too.”
For more information about affordable group tours for teachers visit www.geeo.org