Thanks to Round Square, an organization that promotes education beyond the classroom, students are developing an understanding of other cultures through service projects, annual conferences, exchanges and outdoor expeditions.
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Derived from the philosophies of German educator Dr. Kurt Hahn, Round Square began in 1967 and embraces six concepts: internationalism, democracy, environment, adventure, leadership and service (IDEALS).
The program has more than 49 member schools, nine of them Canadian. Each year more than 700 students meet in a designated country to discuss new projects and recall weeks spent living or working in impoverished conditions in faraway places.
Round Square executive director Terry Guest says the students' stories make it clear who benefits most.
"This is not luxury," Guest says. "They are going to live in a village and they are going to work like dogs. It's going to be dirty and tough work. They are going to go thinking they are doing something for somebody else, but I guarantee they come back thinking, "Hey, those people really did something for me."
Jean Bigelow, director of student life at Glenlyon Norfolk School in Victoria, British Columbia, can vouch for that. Since the school became a Round Square member in 1998, she says, participating students return with a better understanding of the world.
Glenlyon Norfolk has taken part in several ventures, including a water project in Thailand and building orphanages in the Dominican Republic. Students have also gone on three-month exchanges to India and South Africa.
Becoming a Round Square member can take up to two years. Schools must prove they fit in with the six IDEALS, and are committed to working in their own backyards, such as in local soup kitchens.
Judy Warrington, formerly a co-ordinator of international and Round Square programs at Bayview Glen in Toronto, says helping others is an essential component of what Dr. Kurt Hahn tried to do."He wanted students to get out of the classroom and get out into the community."