By Bailey Andress
Laptop, phone, and water bottle in hand, I raced down the halls of Collegiate’s South Science building. I was late for class. More specifically, I was late for Middle School teacher, coach, and advisor Laurie Goode’s sixth grade class. As a junior, well-accustomed to Pitt Hall and the Academic Commons, I briefly got lost before confirming the classroom’s location with Elisabeth Jacobs at the Middle School front desk.
Stepping into the colorfully decorated classroom, I noticed colorful motivational posters and was pleasantly surprised to find a sea of holiday sweaters and sparkling headwear. As it was Holiday Day for Spirit Week, the variety of festive garb was especially impressive. Goode kindly introduced me to the students before showing me to a seat in the back of the class.
The class began with Goode’s description of the agenda for the day. She explained that Upper School students Virginia Kauders (‘19) and Greer Buell (‘19) would be visiting the classroom alongside Director of Global Engagement and Inclusion Erica Coffey to discuss their trip to South Africa this past summer. The students opened their Chromebooks and finished test reflections until the visitors arrived. As Goode finished the introduction, the guests entered the room, and the class sat eagerly as Coffey began the presentation.
Coffey began with an introduction to South African history. She clarified the country’s location on a map, along with its Dutch and British colonial history, mentioning the language Afrikaans, a South African language with Dutch origins. The second slide had a more solemn tone, as the guests mentioned the power of greed. When asked for the definition of greed, one student stated “it’s when you take something that you shouldn’t have,” which provided the perfect opportunity for the speakers to introduce Apartheid, or “separateness” in Afrikaans. The students listened attentively as the visitors explained the dark period of South African history from 1948 to 1991, during which South Africans of non-European descent were institutionally discriminated against based solely on race. Kauders and Buell mentioned the power of visiting an Apartheid museum. Upon receiving a ticket, the guests were given a race card similar to those issued to South Africans during Apartheid. After reading their race cards, members of the tour group were separated by cards and required to enter the museum from different doors marked by race. Buell explained how the entryway to the museum emphasized the division faced by South Africans in the era of Apartheid, stating “at first, our paths made our experiences completely different.”
After Buell’s remark, the visitors presented photos of two South African townships to the class: Sandton and Alexandria. The photograph of Sandton showed the most economically rich square mile in all of Africa, covered in sprawling mansions and upscale shopping centers. Alexandria, on the other hand, was an incredibly impoverished area filled with single-room houses stacked against one another.
Kauders emphasized the division between wealthy Sandton and poverty-ridden Alexandria before Buell made a surprising clarification: Sandton and Alexandria were less than a 15-minute commute apart.
The class participated as the discussion focused on the modern divisions stemming from Apartheid.
Sandton and Alexandria, examples of the extreme division between wealth and poverty, provided a transition into the next topic, which focused on anti-Apartheid leader Nelson Mandela. I was impressed by the class’s existing knowledge of Mandela’s work and vital importance in both South African and world history. Additionally, I was impressed by the maturity and thoughtfulness that each class member contributed to the discussion. Instead of feeling as if I were sitting in a classroom full of sixth graders, I felt as if I were listening to a conversation with fellow Upper School students.
The presentation ended on with a question and answer session, in which students asked detailed and thought-provoking questions. One student asked why “[world leaders] do not split the world’s economy equally,” to which Kauders replied “when [leaders] try to put it into practice, people want to keep what they believe is rightfully theirs.” As the question and answer session continued, the class discussed poverty on a global scale and integrated personal experiences in foreign countries. Two students mentioned family vacations to the Caribbean, but in a manner relevant to the presentation. They explained how the resorts in which they had stayed were surrounded by poverty-stricken areas and compared their experience abroad to both South African Apartheid and the Civil Rights Era in the United States. After leaving Goode’s class, I was in awe of the students’ maturity and ability to discuss complex global issues in a considerate manner.
The visitors helped reinforce the global education aspect of Goode’s curriculum. In Goode’s class, students learn about world history and how past events affect the modern world. The presentation on South Africa contributed to students’ education by providing photographs, stories, and reflections from the Collegiate trip while providing an active learning environment with numerous opportunities to ask questions.