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Near the start of September a group of representatives from Newtown visited India with the hopes of starting a relationship that would lead to new opportunities for students.
The Board of Education heard from participants about the trip and the potential Newtown International Center for Education (NICE) study tour for students, at its meeting on October 17.
Educators Tim DeJulio and Sue McConnell and resident Reena Sahani spoke to the board about the September 1 to 9 trip. According to Ms McConnell, NHS educators Kimberly Longobucco and Sara Chow also traveled to India with the group.
According to NICE, it is an educational organization that aims to prepare students and teachers to be culturally and globally literate citizens through academic learning opportunities and real-world experiences, cultural exposure, and discussion of global issues. NICE already has established relationships with groups in China, Japan, Spain, and France for study tours and more. More information about NICE and its programs is available on its website, nicenewtown.wixsite.com/nice.
Ms Sahani, who helped organize the new NICE relationship, said her children, who have graduated NHS, were inspired to do community service in part through the programs in Newtown. Helping to create the new study tour program with India, Ms Sahani said was a way to “pay forward” the sense of importance for community service.
The group traveled to Vatsalya Gram, which is a community with three schools, according to the presentation. Ms McConnell said the group used the excursion to vet the potential study tour for safety, learning opportunities, and for cultural immersion.
“This trip has an academic program that is being designed by teachers at Newtown High School,” said Ms McConnell.
After attending an international conference in 2016, Ms McConnell said the educators were inspired to base the academic program for the study tour on having students learn about current cultural issues. One topic could be the empowerment of women from social, personal, and political perspectives. Newtown students who go on the study tour will be tasked with working with students in India to research a topic and then create a presentation by the end of the weekend. The presentation, she explained, could be a poem or prepared in any form the student chooses.
Ms McConnell also explained spiritual leader Didi Ma leads efforts at Vatsalya Gram to give homes and access to education to children who would otherwise not have either.
“We had the total cultural experience,” said Ms McConnell, explaining the group was welcomed into homes and classrooms.
There are three schools at Vatsalya Gram and the Newtown students would spend time at all three schools.
“Didi Ma’s wish for her students, why she wants us there, is to show them through example how to learn, how to become empowered, how to become more proactive, because, again, women in that society are held back,” said Ms McConnell.
Both Ms McConnell and Ms Sahani said Didi Ma visited Newtown before the trip was established.
If approved by the school board, the new NICE study tour would bring ten students to Vatsalya Gram for one week. The students would also visit local sights, like the Taj Mahal.
According to Mr DeJulio, the cost for each student to cover expenses, other than personal spending, would be roughly $2,800. NICE, he shared, raises donations to help students afford the cost of study tours. He also said three chaperones would accompany the students.
The school board is expected to discuss the study tour of approve it at an upcoming meeting.
More information about Vatsalya Gram is available on its website vatsalyagram.org.