This is How We’re Fundamentally Changing Education
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This is How We’re Fundamentally Changing Education

Whenever I meet someone, the conversation inevitably turns to travel. But it’s more than just knocking countries off of a bucket list—we talk about the people we met, what we learned during these rich cultural experiences, and how they changed us.

These are the same kinds of conversations Rustic Pathways students have when they return from our programs. Each year we receive hundreds of messages about how truly life-changing their experience was. I especially love this note from a parent of a Rustic Pathways student: “I have never seen [my daughter] so excited, so driven and happy as she has been since she knew she was going on the trip. She is full of passion, wonder, compassion, marvel, and gratitude.” 

We’ve understood the power of travel ever since we started running month-long backpacking trips through the Australian Outback 34 years ago. It wasn’t until recently, however, that we learned just how much our travel experiences influence the development of our students and impact their overall education; an intentionally designed travel experience fundamentally changes the way young adults learn and think about the world.

As soon as we understood this, we knew we had an obligation to use our resources and expertise to make this programming available to all students, not only those who can afford them.

Rustic Pathways’ vision is to create a world where travel is accepted as an essential part of every education. It’s one of our driving principles and I’m thrilled to announce that today we’re one step closer to accomplishing our goal and fundamentally changing education.

By partnering with Thrival World Academies, we’re working to build the largest network of publicly-funded high schools that will send students abroad as part of an academically rigorous curriculum.

This year’s class of 14 students from the Oakland pilot program began their coursework in September. They will spend three months in Thailand with Rustic Pathways starting this January. It’s important to remember that their time abroad has been carefully designed to supplement what they’re learning in the classroom.

Students will participate in learning excursions; initiatives designed to promote leadership; arts, culture, and wellness activities; community engagement projects; and peer-to-peer language exchange. Collectively these elements will provide the students with habits of mind, values and attitudes, skills, and behaviors necessary for them to possess global competence—the capacity to make decisions with a broad understanding of the world—and prepare them future success in their studies, careers, and beyond.

The program is academically rigorous, meets the common core standards for the state of California, and students are getting high school credit for it, even college credit in some cases. It truly is their high school experience, and it’s public education. The per-pupil funding allocated from federal, state, and local sources for each student pays for the program.

This first class is just the beginning. Next year’s Thrival Oakland cohort will expand to 100 students and a pilot program will launch in Indianapolis for the 2018-19 academic year.

We’ve already met with educational leaders in seven other cities across the country about launching additional Thrival sites, and we’re looking at how best to replicate this model in many other cities across the country. Together, we are creating a scalable, sustainable model to provide all students with robust educational opportunities that will have a profound impact on how they see and engage with the world around them, as well as how they continue on their future life paths.

Thrival has received $500,000 in grant funding from national and local education foundations, including the NewSchools Venture Fund, The Mind Trust, 4.0 schools, Education78, and the Rogers Family Foundation to launch the organization.

Learn more about our partnership with Thrival.

About the Author

Chris Stakich

Chief Executive Officer

An expert on travel and service-based education, Chris leads Rustic Pathways with an eye for innovation and excellence. Since graduating from Harvard in 2001, Chris has worked in virtually all areas of our organization, from running programs in Costa Rica to managing our global team. He works diligently with our team to develop future leaders who embody a broad perspective and compassion for the world. Chris lives in San Francisco with his wife and three young sons.