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ACS Tunis Is Out From Behind School Walls at Last
By Matt Piercy 06-Dec-18
Grade 8 students from the American Cooperative School of Tunis take a break on the stairs at El Djem Amphitheater, which dates back to the third century and is a cherished UNESCO World Heritage Site (photo: ACST). ________________________________________________________________________ The country of Tunisia is no stranger to change. Successive civilizations—the ancient Phoenicians, Romans, Ottomans, and most recently the French—all left abundant remains. Its cultural roots are a tangle of both Berber and Arabic influences. Here, change is truly a constant, witnessed throughout the ages. For the past six decades, The American Cooperative School of Tunis (ACST) has embraced this inevitable change. Recently, this manifested in the reinstatement for the 2018–19 academic year of the previously discontinued Tunisian Studies trips, or Week Without Walls Program. A “return” to learning outside the classroom? What happened, you may wonder? January will mark the eight-year anniversary of Tunisia’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. Commonly known as the Jasmine Revolution, this pivotal event is seen by many as having served as a catalyst for the Middle Eastern region’s tumultuous Arab Spring. When protests escalated at the American Embassy, just across the street from ACST, the school was attacked. School buses and portions of the school were burnt. Buildings were looted and most of the preschool and kindergarten destroyed. Yet, like the country itself, ACST rebounded. There have been some setbacks along the way, however. In 2015, two events would mar Tunisia’s image in the world. The first was an attack on the Bardo National Museum, where hostages were taken and 22 people, mainly tourists, were murdered. Three months later, a popular beach was attacked, and 38 people perished. These events prompted a much-needed increase in security throughout the country. At ACST, they resulted in the discontinuation of curriculum extensions outside of the insular school. Goodbye Week Without Walls, or what ACST referred to as overnight Tunisian Studies trips. Over the past couple of years, Tunisia’s political and economic situation has become more stabilized, and the population has enjoyed a greater sense of security. An increase in tourism revenue, which surged more than 46 percent in the first half of 2018, is but one indicator that we’re decidedly on a path towards stability and growth. Early in 2018, tour companies reinstated flights, cruises, and packaged holidays in Tunisia. During the summer, the country’s beaches provided ample evidence that Tunisia is now “back on the map.” ACST’s burgeoning enrollment is another indicator signaling a return to normal. This being the case, at the close of the 2017–18 academic year, administration and faculty accepted a proposal to bring back out-of-classroom excursions. Director Mike Emborsky commented, “It is important for us, as an international school, to ensure that our students are breaking out of the bubble and taking advantage of the rich history all around us.” Vast archaeological treasures and more than a thousand kilometers of idyllic coastline are not the only features of Tunisia. Scattered throughout the country are Spanish forts from the 1500s, coliseums that date back two millennia, and countless medinas, or “old cities,” with their walls and typical mazes of narrow streets… the perfect playground for a week without walls! Well, maybe not a week. The decision was made to reinstate these excursions with a sort of “soft start.” What was once a week-long experience has been truncated to three nights for high-school students and between one and two nights for middle-school students. The first year followed a more “retreat” style, where team building was at the core of the experience. The 2019–20 plan is to be back to the full-week experience, with curriculum fully embedded throughout. Tunisia truly has such a rich history and is rife with abundant opportunity. Fatima Baroudi, Director of Tunisian Studies, remarked, “One of the reasons why ancient civilizations like the Phoenicians and Romans were always interested in Tunisia was its climate and strategic relationship to the sea. Tunisia was Rome’s breadbasket, for the amount of wheat, grapes, fish, and olive oil it produced.” It seems only natural for student learning to extend beyond the school’s walls. After all, ACST’s mission is “Opening doors, hearts, and minds.” Baroudi continued: “It is fascinating to see how much power these opportunities of authentic learning and first-hand experience can have.” ACST is the only high school offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in Tunisia. The IB Diploma Program has a very clearly defined learner profile, emphasizing inquiry, risk-taking, and open-mindedness. The Tunisian Studies trips tick all of those boxes. Lucie Lecocq, IB Program Coordinator, shared, “The return to Tunisian Studies trips provide even greater opportunity for students to display and develop these skills outside of the classroom and in real-life situations.” Lecocq is also pleased that the three-day format for Grade 11 students allowed them to complete one of the requirements of Group 4—a collaborative group science project. “While safety and security are always the primary drivers in decision making surrounding student trips, now that the security situation has stabilized, it’s important that we help our students learn more about the history of the country in which they live,” emphasized Director Emborsky. Reinstating these opportunities for exposure means that a student joining ACST in Grade 6 will have experienced nearly every region of Tunisia upon graduation. From the stark other-worldly landscapes of the dunes and Sahara Desert in the south to the windmills and grape fields of the north, encountering falcons and marine turtles, carpet factories and camel caravan treks, ACST students are diving into a world of experience. Matt Piercy is currently a Grade 6 Humanities and Grade 9 English teacher at ACS Tunis.
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12/08/2018 - Mark Decker
Congratulations ACST this is fantastic to see. Great job leading that program back into place Mike! Hi Lucie, nice to see that new title with your name. ACST is Rocking It!