MV: Many readers might not realize Mount Vernon develops an Interim mission statement for each year. What is this year’s mission statement?
DJ: “Building awareness, develop and broaden understanding, amplifying intercultural understanding and respect.”
In order to develop global competence, each year, Mount Vernon designs a variety of course offerings, programs, and trips that promote 21st-century skills, connect learners with tangible needs in the developing world, and propel Upper School learners into genuine engagement with real-world challenges and opportunities.
This year we purposefully endeavored to build our interim mission statement upon the Mount Vernon principle of preparing our students to be globally competitive. We used the Mount Vernon Cultural Proficiency Framework which serves as the foundation for IDEA competencies as a basis for developing a curriculum that challenges our students to ask essential questions.
MV: You have had such an impressive international career prior to coming to Mount Vernon two years ago. How have your experiences working in Senegal, leading the Global Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative at GA Tech, and working internationally with the American Cancer Society helped influence the way you’re leading Mount Vernon’s Interim and Foreign Exchange programs?
DJ: I think my diverse career has allowed me to see all of the job and personal possibilities someone could have through travel and language. I can see that students can succeed in different domains, everything from global advocacy to global health to international affairs and education. What has prepared me the most is, my ability to speak French, coupled with the ability to see the connections between what each organization was trying to do and how that could impact a more general population.
The Mount Vernon Interim and Foreign Exchange Director role spoke to my passion for preparing kids to have as many career opportunities as possible. This role has shown me that I have so much more to share with students than I originally thought. Just last week my french class Facetimed with Grade 11 Zoe Embleton who is in France on Foreign Exchange right now. Everything she expressed was exactly what I wanted her to get out of this experience. I feel confident that Zoe is going to do amazing things after this experience based on how she was able to compare and contrast how Americans and French people lived and how she was able to synthesize her thoughts so quickly after arriving. I am so proud to be able to look up and point at the various career choices my students can have if they choose to participate thoughtfully in programs like any of the Interim options or Foreign Exchange programs.
MV: In relation to this year’s Interim mission statement to develop and broaden cultural awareness, understanding, and respect, how have students been preparing for their upcoming Interim experiences?
DJ: Students meet weekly in preparation for all aspects of the Interim Term: international travel, internships, and CORE. Those students who are traveling internationally are working with faculty leads on a variety of activities including those where we are partnering with our MV Global Affinity Group which is connecting with different trip teams to share and celebrate the rich cultural diversity of our families. Other faculty are supporting students doing internships to ensure they are work ready from letter writing to interviewing, and how to dress. Students who are staying for CORE are also meeting weekly and doing activities based on the cultural competency curriculum. Teachers are engaging them in conversations related to identity and difference as well as taking deeper looks into their planned experiences.
MV: Based on your extensive international travel experience, what advice do you have for students that are participating in Interim abroad?
DJ: My advice is to travel with curiosity, humility, and gratitude. The curiosity will lead the students to learn with excitement about themselves, the people they are meeting, and the places they are visiting. Humility will permit them to respect the differences they encounter amongst themselves as Mount Vernon students and the cultures they are experiencing. They will learn that we have as much to learn and gain as we do to teach and share. And with gratitude, our students will appreciate the uniqueness of this opportunity and do with impactful with the opportunity they have been afforded.
MV: Two-part question:
1. How has the global pandemic impacted our approach to global travel as it relates to logistics and health protocols?
2. Has there been any social/emotional and/or learning impacts on international learning as a result of the global pandemic?
1. I believed the global pandemic caused us to fortify our risk management protocols and to consider more specifically what to do in what-if situations that did not previously exist.
2. As interim is baked into the Mount Vernon experience, I have no doubt that the two-year absence of it was a great disappointment to students who did not get the opportunity to participate in any aspect of it. That being said, Mount Vernon decided to restart our program last year when many other schools did not. We remained cautiously optimistic and followed all prescribed guidelines. And were able to have a successful experience. This spoke to the courage and professionalism of Mount Vernon’s leadership and the trust and confidence entrusted in our leadership from our parents. We learned that we could be brave while also being uncertain and working together.
MV: How will students reflect, summarize, and share their Interim 2023 experiences?
DJ: The interim curriculum was developed in response to our collective desire to deepen the interim experience beyond checking a box of countries visited. We are currently working on an interim showcase that will allow students to amplify their interim experience to the Mount Vernon community through various mediums. The tentative plan is to have each trip/experience (CORE, travel, internship, and Student Exchange) create a visual display of highlights of the trip including a video, an artifact that the group agreed upon, and a display of the major core competency takeaway/learning from the trip that will derive from the essential question that particular trip team asks. The Interim Showcase will provide an opportunity for students to reflect on and celebrate the various adventures experienced locally and globally throughout the interim week. It is designed to allow students the opportunity to display their knowledge and to recognize students who have demonstrated Mount Vernon mindsets throughout the experiences. Keep an eye out for the event announcement.