The best classroom teachers whisk students away on learning journeys. Sometimes even teachers must set forth on personal journeys of discovery.
This summer, four Beacon professors — Russell Bellamy and Drs. James Fleming, Christopher Huff and William Nesbitt — obeyed their inner ramblin’ man.
From mid-June to early July, the quartet paired off and embarked on separate adventures to Israel and Poland to learn about Judaism and the horror of the Holocaust with the help of Classrooms without Borders — and a good word from a Beacon trustee.
College Without Borders is a non-profit educational group that provides extended experiential professional development through bucket-list expeditions for private, parochial and public school educators and students in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
How did educators from Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla. — the first college accredited to award bachelor’s degrees primarily to students who learn differently — slip past the geographical velvet rope?
Credit a Beacon trustee who sits on the board of Classrooms without Borders who sold Classrooms without Borders on the idea of Beacon educators riding shotgun.
For Fleming and Bellamy, an assistant professor of art, Israel served as their living canvas.
There, the pair played amateur Indiana Jones, unearthing the history and religion of Israel through its archeology.
True to form, Fleming, chair of Beacon’s department of business and technology, tuned into tech. He locked in on technologies used in archeology to help reveal new discoveries.
Their group largely explored excavation and other sites together during most of the days and nights. In his free time, Fleming explored Christian churches to observe Jesus artifacts and spent an extra afternoon in the Israel National Museum.
“The trip personally gave me an experiential opportunity to learn more about my religion and have a greater understanding of Judaism and Islamic religions and their beliefs,” Fleming said. “The trip also taught us how to use different teaching methods. This reinforced some I used
Dr. Fleming and Russell Bellamy in Israeland gave me some new ideas.”
Meanwhile, the Polish contingent — some 50 travelers made up mostly of middle and high school teachers and about two dozen high schoolers from around Pittsburgh and West Virginia — traveled to the Central European country to discover its Jewish history. A history so inextricably tied to the Holocaust in the nation where Nazis unleashed the devastating “lightning war,” the blitzkrieg on Sept. 1, 1939.
The journey for Huff and Nesbitt, chair of Beacon’s interdisciplinary studies department, began in Warsaw, exploring the story of the Warsaw ghetto, “its liquidation by the Nazis, and the Jewish Uprising,” Huff said. The group also visited several concentration camps: the extermination camp at Treblinka, the extermination/labor camp at Majdanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The journey ended in Krakow. There visitors discovered the roots of its ghetto and its connection to Oskar Schindler. Made famous by the Steven Spielberg biopic, the German industrialist saved some 1,100 Jews from Nazi horrors during World War II by hiring them his Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews) in his factories.
That one traveler was Holocaust survivor, Howard Chandler, who freely shared his personal story when the group visited his hometown and Auschwitz, made the trip for Huff more resonant.
“It was an extraordinary, haunting, and devastating journey,” Nesbitt said. “The trip made me think about the unthinkable, which is difficult but necessary to make sure a horrible past never becomes another present or future.”
Huff, an assistant professor teaching history at Beacon, added: “We not only visited these historically important places, but learned about them from a leading expert on Holocaust history. The trip reinforced my belief that we need to resist those who advocate any type of intolerance of any group — no matter how ‘reasonable’ it sounds at the time.”
The journey now over, it is Beacon students who will be all the better for it when four world-wise professors trek back into classrooms this fall now equipped to use their experience of the country as a experiential textbook.