Friday, April 8, three Clarksville Academy teachers and one Administrator embarked on a trip of the lifetime. They flew to Chicago and met up with a group of twenty more teachers and from there headed to Finland. They will spend the next week, immersing themselves in the culture, visiting area schools to experience new teaching techniques, and will even get to spend some time exploring. They are still adjusting to the eight hour time difference! Follow along as we experience their adventure with them! Sherry Cawood, Middle School, Gina Goostree, Head of Lower School, Shelley Holt, Lower School and Christine Lindsey, Upper School will fill us in on their daily adventures!

Friday, April 8-Saturday, April 9

CA faculty heading to Finland are full of anticipation for the trip. After many hours in O’Hare, we boarded for our 6.5 hour flight to Reykjavik, Iceland. We had a very brief layover.  In 0 degrees Celsius and gusty winds we boarded our final flight to Helsinki, Finland. We arrived at 2 p.m. for a tour of Helsinki to learn about its vast history and culture. Following the tour, we took a quick rest and joined our group for dinner. Tomorrow begins another exciting day! –Shelley Holt, Pre-K

Sunday, April 10

We began the week’s educational experience on Sunday by learning more about Finland’s history and culture. In the morning we traveled to the town of Porvoo, one of six medieval towns in Finland. Porvoo, We began the week’s educational experience on Sunday by learning more about Finland’s history and culture.  In the morning we traveled to the town of Porvoo, one of six medieval towns in Finland. Porvoo, which means castle on a river in Swedish, is 200 years older than Helsinki.  Finland’s long history with Sweden was evidenced here in the architecture, signs, and the number of residents (30%) who speak Swedish as their primary language.  After lunch we traveled to Suomenlinna Island, a World Heritage UNESCO site.  Here we learned more about Finland’s history with Russia.  On Suomenlinna Island (linna=castle) is a fortress built in the mid 1700s on one of 8 islands in an archipelago.  At this time the Swedish Empire was concerned about the developing city of St. Petersburg in Russia and built the fortress as a defense.  Finland was ceded to Russia by Sweden in 1809, and in 1917 Finland declared independence from Russia.  A few buildings still have the onion top design, though most were removed.  After we returned from Suomenlinna we had the opportunity to explore the waterfront market.  The evening was capped with a group meeting including the 16 educators joining us from Chicago and administrators from the schools we will visit tomorrow. –Christine Lindsey, US Science

Monday, April 11

Moi (Hello) from Finland! What an awesome day! Wow! We started our day at /Otaniemen Lukio Upper Secondary School for Mathematics and Natural Science in Espoo, a Helsinki suburb. The school mascot is the bear.

The school library at Otaniemen Lukio Upper Secondary School & a classroom at Otaniemen Lukio Upper Secondary School.

The school was designed in collaboration with the students. Students selected the colors, designed the mascot and were instrumental in deciding the layout and furnishings. One of the student’s top “wishes” for their communal space was the coolest indoor conversation swing set.  All morning, we were looking for a few spare minutes to try out those fabulous swings!

Our guest speaker, Jari Lavonen, Ph.D. and head of the Department of Teacher Training at Helsinki University, discussed design thinking and the innovative process of creating multidisciplinary learning modules and implementing and sustaining multidisciplinary courses. 
Mrs. Lindsey’s morning also included time in the high school robotics lab learning more about their program.  Mrs. Goostree, Mrs. Holt and Mrs. Cawood visited at nearby Laajalahti Elementary School. We sat in a third grade classroom as the teacher demonstrated how robotics is implemented in Finland for that age. Later, we watched the teacher start a project based learning activity on weather instruments with sixth grade students. 

Next, we headed back to the Secondary School to eat the school cafeteria lunch. Finland focuses on teaching healthy eating habits in children from an early age. Our menu was baked fish, boiled potatoes and other vegetables along with a salad and several toppings. 

Our afternoon was spent at Aalto University Junior. We observed high school students visiting the lab for the day to make and test  a compound of aspirin. 

Next, we headed upstairs to a classroom for our own hands-on activity. We assembled  a hydrogen-fueled model car as part of our discussion on the activities that Aalto does in their program. 

We ended our day with a breathtaking ride on the Ferris Wheel overlooking The Baltic Sea.

Our guide told us that the number one thing we should not miss is a visit to the Helsinki Central Library Public. She was right. It did not disappoint! When designing the library, a survey was sent out asking the residents what they would like to have in a library. The library’s second floor incorporates their wishes. This level offers everything from sewing machines, 3D printers, gaming rooms, oversized printing, meeting rooms, a demonstration kitchen, recording studios, green screens and video production equipment, and musical instruments that may be checked out with a library card. It was truly a fascinating place to see!   –Sherry Cawood, MS Social Studies

Tuesday, April 12

Greetings from Finland.  Tuesday, April 12, we ventured to the Eastern side of Helsinki.  We were split into two groups to pay a visit to two Finland schools.  

Mrs. Lindsey visited Vuosaari Upper Secondary School, (age groups 16 – 18).  As you can see, she had a close encounter with a unique Finnish guy…..

Puistopolku Comprehensive School, (age groups 7 – 15), welcomed Mrs. Cawood, Mrs. Holt, and me.  While there, we observed classes, held dialogues with teachers, and toured the school.  The Finns believe they are the world’s most impactful, equitable, and effective place for learning.  The government requires good schools for every student, for all to be respected as valued individuals, and a strong democratic school community.  We were amazed all the elementary schools are shoe free!  Notice the students, at their desks, are wearing only socks. 

Even visitors are required to wear shoe covers. Check out our fancy feet!

Our lunch, was at Luonnontiedelukio Upper Secondary School of Natural Sciences, in Helsinki.  The schools provide lunches for all students, and they are not allowed to bring lunches from home.  All students in elementary and secondary school self serve their lunches. 

The students are taught responsibility at an early age.  In some areas, groups of seven year olds and older walk home alone.  Parents are at work and homes are unlocked.

We visited Helsinki’s Design Museum for a dialogue dedicated to design thinking and learning in the Finnish education sector.  Finnish design has established a reputation as a flag bearer for equality.  Many of its most iconic design products have been perceived as having the ability to increase equality in daily lives.  The Design for Every Body exhibition addresses this idea.

The first unisex fashion collection was designed, for Marimekko, in 1968. The design was inspired by the American youth fashion trends and was hailed as a symbol of equality because everyone looked the same. 

Bordering the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, and Gulf of Finland, as well as Sweden, Norway, and Russia, Finland is the northernmost country in the European Union.  The Baltic Sea is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean enclosed by Finland, Estonia, and other European countries.  Upon an administrator’s request, (Guess who?), our tour guide was kind enough to stop the bus, so we could touch the Baltic Sea!  How intriguing! –Gina Goostree, Head of LS

Wednesday, April 13

For our last morning in Helsinki, we began our morning at the Olari School in Espoo, Finland.

Teachers shared about their programming and robotics program, mathematics, and science. We also watched a demonstration by the robotics club. After visiting classrooms, students gave us a tour of their wonderful school.

Next, we visited Code School Finland at the Helsinki Education Hub. Code School Finland works with schools and trains teachers to teach coding, programming, AI, and robotics. They walked us through the history of Finnish education, the unique Finnish approach, and the services they offer. 

Next, we were off to the ferry terminal. We travelled two hours across the Gulf of Finland to Tallin, Estonia.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by our Estonian guide and his family and given a very quick tour of the downtown Tallinn area. We checked into our hotel and set off on foot to explore the picturesque Tallinn Old Town. It is the best preserved medieval city in Northern Europe with  Gothic spires, winding cobblestone streets and absolutely enchanting architecture.

Lastly, Mrs. Lindsey stopped a couple of local police officers to complete a special request for Officer Dericho. These very kind officers gave a “challenge patch” to take back to Dericho along with their name and address for him to mail one back in return. –Shelley Holt, LS Teacher

Thursday, April 14

Tere (hello) from Tallinn! Thursday morning started with a visit to Tallinna XXI Kool, or Tallinn School 21. We were greeted by a beautiful performance from the choir. Silva and Michelle were our student guides on a tour of a first grade class, library, robotics lab, and music, physics, and math classes.  The walls are covered with incredible student art. Every year the school chooses a different country as a theme and the art reflects that choice. This year’s country is Egypt. The students were welcoming and answered many questions, and instructors shared the resources used to incorporate STEAM into as many classes as possible.Our second school is Pelgulinna Gymnasium, a grade 1-9 arts focused school with 850 students.  Pelgulinna’s motto is “Choose Create and Do”. We saw the school’s pool with a swimming lesson in session and were treated to a performance by the first grade music class. We participated in a robotics lesson with third graders before a presentation on the school’s mission and growth.The third and final school on our itinerary was Tallinn University. We learned about the Tallinn educational system and its history before spending time in the EduTech space.The evening will be spent exploring Tallinn’s beautiful Old Town. Good Friday is celebrated in Estonia so we will head to Lahemaa National Park tomorrow morning! –Christine Lindsey, US Science

Friday, April 15

This was a “Good Friday” in more ways than one! Today was spent learning more about the geography and history of Estonia. We started our cold, rainy morning with a visit to an ancient burial site.

Next, we toured two manor houses built in the 1700’s and learned the history of the families that built them. 

We traveled about an hour outside of the city of Tallinn to Lahemaa National Park. We hiked along the icy trail through the bogs.. Our guide stressed that if we accidentally stepped off the trail pathway, that our footprint would remain for 15 to 20 years due to the composition of the bog.

The trees in the forrest are about 150 years old. The guide had everyone in our group place a hand on the tree to focus on the tranquility in nature and the inner peace one can find when connecting with nature.

Our view from the scenic overlook of the bogs and forrest. 

Our next stop was in a quaint little fishing village on The Baltic Sea for the loveliest lunch of smoked salmon, boiled potatoes and rhubarb squares. We toured the Maritime Museum and got to touch the The Baltic Sea once again, but on the opposite shoreline from earlier in the week.

We ended the day back in the capital city of Tallinn exploring The Medieval Old Town. It’s a full moon and the 500 year old buildings looked like something straight out of a fairy tale. The night was absolutely magical! –Sherry Cawood, MS Social Studies 

Saturday, April 17

We began our long journey home! Thanks to all who followed along!

Langa, South Africa

By Lauren Drake

I Am Because We Are

When company comes over, I often shuffle dirty clothes into the linen closet and close the door. I make sure you can’t see into a disorderly playroom. I apologize profusely for not vacuuming the rug. I never want to seem proud of my home because I want to be humble and never mistaken as arrogant. Residents of Langa Township don’t conflate pride with arrogance.

They invite you to see their humble (or rather– to be honest– destitute) homes because they are proud of what they can do regardless of these situations. Langa township has four homes: the hostels, the informal homes, government homes, and “Beverly Hills.” A hostel, similar to a dormitory, consists of one small common area with two tables and bench seats. There is a sink and a window; the one we visited had a few small and simple houseplants growing in the window; these are the only decor. They also have four or five rooms and one bathroom. Each room has three beds and three families typically occupy three rooms. Privacy is clearly not an option. For families wishing for privacy, they often build informal houses. Think of the Great Depression-era “Hoover Home.” Tin roof pieces or scrap wood with a tarp roof. Families may have space, but they do not have a sink, toilet, or shower. Falling asleep with the oven on puts the entire group of informal houses in jeopardy. Government houses are for people who have spent most of their lives in Langa. They get homes with privacy– both extra bedrooms and a family bathroom. Yet, they still are smaller than most apartments in the United States.
The last homes are called “Beverly Hills” and are a point of pride in Langa. It is the white collar residence, but again smaller than some of our smaller homes. They seem in better shape and have fences around the property. The residents have a yard perhaps (and this is a generous estimate) of twenty square feet. These homes encompass a motto of Langa township: “Ubuntu.” It means “I am because we are.”  The doctors and lawyers who live in Langa’s Beverly Hills literally share a street with the hostels and informal homes. They find their housekeepers and nannies in the township.
In the states, people look at education, the military, or sports as a way out of a disadvantaged environment. The people of Langa aren’t like that. The residents of Beverly Hills are role models and the students of Langa LEAP want to be like them and, in their own way, inspire others. Education is not a way out but a way forward. In the township, the difficulties and obstacles of living in Langa is not a source of shame. Instead, the students know this is a part of history and heritage. Their work in school paves a new path that shows all the goodness of Langa. Their work highlights how Langa residents will lift each other up by sharing a smile, a good word, or even a piece of bread.

Cape Town, South Africa

Kids Are Kids, By: Lauren Drake, English Teacher

Cape Town, South Africa’s miles of breathtaking views, abundant vegetation, and precocious wildlife appeal to any traveler. However, behind every gleaming and enchanting appearance are grim and sober realities. The same is true for South Africa.

Several teachers at Clarksville Academy have been blessed with the opportunity of a lifetime: visit South Africa’s cultural landmarks… and learn about the grim and sobering realities of township schools.

Perhaps some of us ventured into this expedition images of starvation and poverty pervasive in the school yard. Others came in with a take-charge and can-do attitude; whatever challenge faced us in a township school, we would fix. Yet, only half an hour inside Langa LEAP school and the students and teachers shattered every preconceived notion.

Pull back from South Africa for a moment and imagine your favorite campus spot; mine is a bench just outside the Academic Building. I can see and wave to every passerby; I can work on grades and planning or simply eat my lunch in the sun. It is refreshing and serene.

This is not the case at Langa LEAP schools. Students have the same breathtaking views as the tourists– Table Mountain is practically in their backyard. Yet, they cannot see the mountain without the sight of razor wire around their school buildings in the forefront. Still, the students and the school has such a mood of hope and optimism that arises from more than the bright, cheery orange paint on every window and door trim.

In fact, that hope and optimism may face and overcome poverty and other obstacles but it is the same hope and optimism that I see in our students. In just half an hour of interacting with the faculty and staff of LEAP, we all saw that their kids are the same as our kids. We are separated by income, opportunities, and a giant ocean. Yet, they hold doors and demonstrate the same level of respect and integrity as our students. They have goals to become doctors and lawyers, just like our students. And, just like our students, they occasionally bend the rules about food and cell phones in class.

This trip is full of promise for Clarksville Academy teachers, but in the end, Langa and LEAP schools will likely teach us much more about the craft of educating the whole child than we could teach them.

Civic Responsibility Abroad

By: Danny Magrans, World Language Department Chair

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi. 

The ability to teach a World Language comes with tremendous responsibilities and amazing rewards. The world is so big and the need to make global connections are more apparent than ever before. To develop fluency in a target language should be the goal for all who teach a second language, but so should developing life long learners of all the beauty that surrounds us. Especially when we serve. 

So far my students and I have been honored to travel to Costa Rica, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. Each of these trips were built to tour the countries, speak the language, engage in and create cultural experiences and most importantly serve. I am so proud of the work we have completed and trust that greater opportunities are in the horizon. No matter what the mission, the end results have been consistently the same; those who give are usually the recipients of the greater gift. I agree with Gandhi’s statement, in order to understand who we are… we should commit ourselves to the service of others. 

“There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.” Woodrow Wilson

Many ask me why do we serve? Doesn’t it take a tremendous responsibility to organize a trip, and prepare students for the experiences? In short….yes it does. A lot of work is put in to prepare and while on the trip, but to be perfectly honest I can’t imagine living without serving. I can’t imagine teaching without motivating as many students as I can to make a difference and reach as many hearts as possible. While it may sound cliche, we all have beautiful gifts that others need to see. To not share our gifts would be to deny the One who gave them to us. It would also be to deny the opportunity to grow from the magnificent differences that exist all around us. Our goal should be to gain understanding and reach conclusions based on experiences earned. This works best for me and my students when we are able to roll up our sleeves and dig, paint, build, supply, buy, laugh, play, and share a meal with those we serve. Over the course of  the last few years, we have dug a water line in Costa Rica, worked alongside locals to build and supply a girls school, and volunteered with the Dream Organization in the Dominican Republic, to name just a few. Two worlds divided by such great distance but yet so similarly bonded by a common theme, LOVE.

“The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing service.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

Many years ago I was asked the question, “What do you teach?” For some reason it just forced me to think more profoundly.  I said, “I teach life and use Spanish as my catalyst.” I really meant my response.

So why do we serve others while traveling abroad? Because we are blessed with the gifts to extend to others. I strongly believe most students long to make a difference in this world. As a result I will continue try to extend the opportunities to all who are willing and able to go. I am forever grateful for those who have taken this walk with me. 

Dominican Republic Days 5-8

Danny Magrans, Spanish Teacher


“Laugh, Think and Cry”

The final days of our trip passed so quickly. Each day was filled with tremendous excursions which included a tour of Santo Domingo’s historical district, the Museum of Resistance, a visit to Christopher’s Columbus’ tomb, and finally a tour of the Chocolate Museum. We learned so many valuable lessons about the Dominican Republic’s past and present social climate. We were able to compare and contrast the similarities and differences of our culture to theirs. We were able to walk the streets where many defining moments were decided. Moments that probably molded our world. As exciting as these excursions were, I wondered if perhaps there would be another opportunity for us to capture. One more opportunity to serve.  

The last dinner we shared was at a restaurant called Adrian Tropical. The menu was exciting and filled with so many delicious options. Included in the menu were options for traditional dishes as well as dishes that some of my students were missing from home…..cheeseburgers and fries. The desserts were amazing. The natural fruit juices even better. 

At first I worried about the amount of time it would take to serve our group. There were 26 of us and only 1 of them. Unfair odds if you ask me. I wondered if our waitress would be able to handle these odds. While she did receive some help, it wasn’t nearly enough. Towards the end of our two hour meal I paused long enough to sit with some students and ask the waitress some questions. I wanted to get a feel for what it was like to be a part of the working class and young in the DR. I wanted the students who were around me to listen to her responses. Here is what we learned. 

The waitress is 21 years old and lives in a single bedroom apartment with her sister who is also a waitress. The rest of her family lives in a village outside of Santo Domingo. She is currently attending a public university where she hopes to become an administrator for the hotel industry. Tourism is huge in the DR and so this makes sense. Attending a public university in the DR is relatively inexpensive but not the living expenses nor the books. The rest of the information she offered is worth sharing. When asked about her work schedule and payment structure this is what she said. She works 77 hours per week and on occasions gets a Saturday off. She earns a monthly salary of 200 dollars. While I do not pretend to be a math wizard I believe this means she earns 65 cents per hour. One may claim that the cost of living is much cheaper in the DR. Perhaps they’re right in some ways but certainly not in all.

I often reflect on my ability to capture the moments that matter most. I’m sure I am like most….too busy to notice if its happening or not. Like a baseball player who at the plate fails more than he succeeds I wondered if the moment we were given to talk to this waitress was an opportunity for us to hit a grand slam. Should I swing or simply watch the opportunity go by? I decided to swing and this is what happened next. I rallied my students for a simple presentation of our waitress’ reality. I asked them to tip a little more than what we normally gave which is a dollar per meal per person. After collecting all the tip money I presented the waitress with 165.00. As expected she was speechless. While she was barely able to mutter a thank you her tears spoke to our hearts. 

At this point I felt certain we had completed our purpose. Jim Valvano stated in his last ESPY speech, “There are three things we should do everyday….Laugh, Think and Cry. If we can do all three then we know we lived a full day.” Mission accomplished for the Dominican Republic Crew. 

“Whether for a reason, season, or lifetime we are placed in each others’ lives to serve a purpose.” I hope we served our’s well. 

Begin Your Journey.