Valpo Surf Project
International Day of Education
Last Thursday, January 24th, was the United Nations’ International Day of Education “in celebration of the role of education for peace and development.” While we did not stray from our summer routine to celebrate the day, we did reflect on the ways in which “education” is woven throughout everything we do. To us, education is a dynamic, experiential concept that transcends the rigid borders of a teacher led classroom. In other words, learning can happen when and where our students least expect it. I know that may sound like a line from The Magic School Bus, but it’s true!
In the most obvious sense, our educational programming begins in the water. Most of our students, if not all, come to us with only a vague sense of what surfing entails. Surf-related apparel is ubiquitous in Chile, but the sport itself is not. On their first day at the beach, students learn the subtle art of donning a wetsuit, the individual components of a board, the various techniques of popping up, and the dynamic conditions of the water. It’s a lot to take in for newcomers and, while instructional, doesn’t provide the same educational value that experience can. Luckily, transformations occur with each new day in the water; wetsuits become a comfort instead of a strange trap, boards become tools instead of cumbersome burdens, popping up becomes a means to a ride instead of a faceplant, and the water becomes a readable language instead of an incomprehensible force. We simply provide the structure, support, and feedback to nurture these educational transformations, but all of the learning falls to the students themselves.
In that sense, surfing facilitates critical thinking in a deep and constantly evolving way. Students learn to achieve comparable results on every wave, despite the hundreds of variables contributing to the unique fingerprint of each wave and day. While this may sound like an impossible math equation, the process is open to a lot of personal expression, with each successive wave providing a new creative opportunity. Each student has a unique, personal style on the board that reflects their personality in illuminating ways. In a single session, students might be digging in the rail on serious turns, simply standing and letting nature carry them to shore, dancing to the latest Youtube sensation, or even performing an elaborate handstand. It’s clear that the process nurtures their creativity in positive ways, while providing a challenge that lacks the stress and anxiety of everyday life.
Although surfing will always lie at the heart of our programming, it is only one component of a multifaceted curriculum. Throughout the school year, English classes comprise a major portion of our programming during the week. The educational value of these classes, as with surfing, extends far beyond instructional lessons. Our close relationships with several study abroad programs allow us to design a curriculum that prioritizes spoken communication with native speakers in small, personalized groups that promote expanded relationships with our students. Learning a second language is intimidating enough as it is, so we focus on creating a relaxed environment in which any form of English communication is applauded and recognized, even if it’s a simple,“What’s up, dude?” Their young minds absorb it all, whether they know it or not, and begin to make connections in an almost instinctive way. It’s really inspiring to see students help each other as they begin to form these connections, because students progress in different areas and at different speeds, making collaboration absolutely vital. It’s important to note that our students attend these classes after a full school day and are dedicated to the process for its inherent value and not a grade or any sort of accolade.
Outside of our primary programming, we have held several other workshops, generally focusing on surf, academics, environmental stewardship, or some combination thereof. Our workshops are entirely dependent on the interests of our team and friends of the program and can be structured in any number of ways. We’ve watched and discussed environmental films such as Wall-E, held two water safety courses, cleaned beaches and neighborhoods alike, taught the ins and outs of photography, traveled to the Andes for a guided excursion, taken our students to a studio to record original music, organized pizza nights in our neighborhoods, and a wide variety of other activities. These workshops may not be long enough to foster mastery in a certain craft, but they do allow students to think critically about the learning process in general and to understand the value of new challenges, skills, and interests.
Moving forward, we’re always looking for ways to fine-tune our programming in 2019. We’re doubling down on our evaluation of everything we do and constantly brainstorming ways to nurture our students’ growth more effectively. This process has involved building a more comprehensive “surf manual” for our team to implement, evaluating each session on more specific terms, redesigning the English curriculum to facilitate further verbal communication, and partnering with like-minded organizations in Valparaiso. We’re incredibly excited to convey this evolution through our media channels and to share more anecdotes from our amazing students!
Hope everyone’s enjoying winter up there; it’s only 65 and sunny everyday in Valparaiso.
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