PDK in Peru

PDK in Peru

Friday_7-22_Peru7-USE_FOR_TOPPDK’s study tour to Peru began this week and CEO Joshua Starr is leading PDK International’s 10-day service learning tour in Peru. This trip blends professional development, cultural experiences, and service learning. The sightseeing portion of the 2016 trip will include visits to historic locales, such as the Government Palace, Machu Picchu, Korikancha Temple, Monastery of San Francisco, Sacred Valley of the Incas, and Pisac market.

Starr is blogging and posting photos of the trip. 

Lessons at the end

July 27, 2016 • The beautiful 16th-century Cusco Cathedral stands in the city’s main plaza and has many elements of classic European churches with a definite Incan touch. Art was a way for the conquering conquistadors and the indigenous Incans to communicate since they didn’t share a language. Under the supervision of the conquistadors, local talent did most of the painting and sculpting, which meant they could be subtly subversive by including native elements in the art. Some of the art explicitly reflects local customs, for example, in a depiction of Jesus’ last supper, the disciples are eating a guinea pig (a local delicacy, that, alas, I didn’t have the opportunity to sample).

After the cathedral tour, most of us spent our remaining free time people watching as crowds gathered for an independence day celebration and parade, and walking through the winding streets of Cusco’s artist area.

There’s something about traveling together that breaks down artificial barriers. The great book that captures a conversation between Myles Horton and Paolo Freire, “We Make the Road by Walking,” inspires us to start our journey of social justice simply by putting one foot in front of the other and waiting for the road to emerge. I thought about that book a lot on this trip.

The PDK study trip to Peru allowed all of the travelers to experience a new country and culture and to do it with fellow educators and PDK members. The down time riding the bus and the long walks through beautiful places gave us opportunities to discuss our shared passion for education and children. To have PDK members who hold different positions or have different origin stories — TFA members, union leaders, principals, classroom teachers, etc. — all come together to learn and grow, reminds me that we all share a deep commitment to public education.

This trip to Peru has been just one leg of my lifelong journey of learning how to serve our children. Thanks for allowing me to share some of my reflections and pictures from this great experience with you.



Working on behalf of children in Peru

July 25, 2016 • On Sunday we arrived at Yachay Wasi, Associacion Educativa in the Sacred Valley (www.yachay-wasi.org). Yachay Wasi is a preschool for local children started by husband and wife, Jose and Guille.

Guille described their frustration with the local school’s emphasis on strict order and rote memorization and how that led her to start her own preschool. The school focuses on social-emotional learning, unstructured play, collaboration, and problem solving. In other words, all the things we know are good for kids, whether they’re in Peru or Peoria.

Jose is a jack-of-all-trades who has found incredible ways to recycle and reuse everything. Nothing goes to waste at Yachay Wasi! He divided us into groups, and we got to work making puzzles and games, building step ladders and easels, recycling paper to make into containers and making thread from plastic bottles. I chose to build a structure in the courtyard that would be used to protect families and kids from the sun during this week’s holiday celebrations. Yes, I, who struggles to put together IKEA products, decided that carpentry would be a good way to spend two days.

The pictures only tell part of the story; the vision, passion and total dedication of Guille and Jose to their community and their vision of providing children with a safe place to be kids inspired us all. The fact that nothing goes to waste made us all reflect on how many resources we have in U.S. public schools.

Yachay Wasi relies on volunteers and donations, and we at PDK plan to continue our relationship with them.


Exploring the Sacred Valley

July 23, 2016 • Today was a day of traveling and exploring the Sacred Valley, the fertile valley that was the heart of the Incan Empire. We took the train from Machu Picchu back to the Sacred Valley. The train ride was another great opportunity to talk to PDK members about their work. I talked with my seatmates about their roles in the teachers union and how hard it can be to find shared interests when everyone expects a fight.

Our first stop in the Sacred Valley was at the Incan temple in Ollantaytambo. We climbed the stairs of the temple and once again marveled at the architectural ingenuity of the Incan empire.

After that, we took the bus to Pisac market, where we first had empanadas. Yes, I had two — one beef and one mushroom and cheese. Accompanied by a Cusquena (Peruvian beer), it was a perfect mid-day snack. We shopped in the market, wandered around the town and got back on the bus to go to our hotel. I’ve been finding the bus rides to be a great opportunity to take a short nap or listen to albums (Beatles “Revolver” and Nas “Illmatic” today).

Tomorrow we start our service project. We’re all really excited to work with Peruvians who are seeking to improve education for kids.



Dreaming big at Machu Picchu

July 22, 2016 • Machu Picchu. I’m not going to write about the history or give you any facts, as those can be easily researched. It’s hard to even find the words to describe the scenery, although I hope my pictures give you a little taste.

The 20 of us spent the morning on a guided tour, with thousands of other tourists and their selfie-sticks. As we walked up the path before it all lays out before you in its gloriousness, Nila, our guide, asked us to close our eyes and put our hands on the shoulders of the person in front of us. We all groaned at the cheesiness, and control freaks like myself had a hard time giving it up to the group. We walked for two or three minutes, hands on shoulders, and then opened our eyes to the Incan masterpiece. Sometimes you need to trust the teacher.

After lunch, we headed out on our own. I walked up to the Sun Gate, wearing my headphones so I could tune out everything else and just focus on the landscape. (Kendrick Lamaar “To Pimp a Butterfly” on the way up; Van Morrison “Astral Weeks” on the way down.)

Machu Picchu is truly amazing, everything everyone says it is. I was thinking on the way down that if the Incans could build this thousands of years ago, we can surely teach every child to read on grade level and graduate ready for college, heal and preserve the earth, and find a way to work together to solve big complex problems.

Machu Picchu proves there’s no limitations to what humans can do if they just dream big enough.

P.S. In answer to a reader’s question: Cocoa is an indigenous plant in the Andes that locals use for many purposes, one of them being for tea that is claimed to help with altitude. We’ve been drinking a lot of cocoa tea!


Exploring Incan culture

July 21, 2016 • Day 3 of our Peru adventure started early, even though most of us had trouble sleeping. We started our day at Saqsayhuaman, an amazing ancient Incan architectural ruin that shows the human capacity for both incredible innovation and remarkable hubris. I took it slow going up the steps, as the altitude takes a toll, but I’ve been drinking cocoa tea and more water than I ever thought possible. We got a short lesson in the difference between various Alpaca wool.

After that, we drove to the beautiful Pablo Seminario Ceramic Studio pottery where we made tiles to take home. Now I know why I was a musician in school and not a fine artist — one should always play to their strengths. Many of us remarked on how relaxing it was to focus on creating and painting the tiles, which makes one think about the importance of the arts in school. The drive alone was a sight to behold, as we descended into the sacred valley, where things turn both agricultural and beautifully mountainous. We learned that Peru has seeds to 4,000 varieties of potatoes!

We ate another delicious lunch and hopped on the train to Machu Picchu. The train ride took us through the Sacred Valley of the Incas to Machu Picchu, and again the terrain changed, as we came up against the border of the jungle. During the train ride, I loved hearing PDK members talk to each other about their challenges, their passions, and their work on behalf of kids. It’s such a privilege to be with other educators who are working so hard to improve teaching and learning.

On to Machu Picchu, can’t wait!


Starbucks in Lima 

July 20, 1016 • We spent a free morning in Lima shopping, and yes, I bought a Peru Starbucks mug to add to my wife’s extensive collection of Sbux mugs from around the world (don’t ask). If anyone has suggestions about what to buy my 14-year-old daughter and 13- and 8-year-old sons, please let me know!

We had a delicious lunch in Lima before flying to Cusco. The altitude is definitely something to be reckoned with. I’ve been drinking tons of water, cocoa tea, and candy and taking it slow. Most of the group seems to be dealing pretty well, but if you can handle a class of 4th graders or lead a school, you can deal with 11,000 feet!

Tomorrow we’re off to the Sacred Valley where we’ll make tiles. Now I know what I’ll be giving my team when I get back to DC . . . .





Discoveries in Lima

July 19, 2016 • Our first day in Peru was action-packed with a walking tour of Lima and a visit to two great cultural institutions. We started with a walk through the Mila Flores district to the Pacific Ocean where we watched surfers and dipped our feet in the 45-degree water. As someone who always visits the Atlantic Ocean for vacation, I was struck by how rocky the beach is. I assume that’s because of the active volcanoes in Peru, which would mean the beach is newer than my Cape Cod haunts (but I’m no geologist).

Along the way, we stopped at the Parque Del Amor, which has a fabulous statue of two lovers wrapped in each other’s arms. Nila, our guide, told us that a few years ago on Valentine’s Day there was a kissing contest to try to break the world’s record for the longest kiss.

After my ceviche lunch (yes, I’ve had ceviche for lunch and dinner on Day 1 and plan to have it for lunch again on Day 2), we headed to the San Francisco Monastery, a gorgeous 16-century building that shows the influence of Europe (specifically St. Francis of Assisi) on Peru. From there, we walked around the old city and Plaza Mayor, then headed to the private museum Museo Larco (see my Instagram feed for a pic of the best bathroom sign ever). Museo Larco has an extensive collection of artifacts showing the extensive history of Peru. It was topped off by a wonderful dinner and entertainment, and a few pisco sours.

One of the best aspects of the trip is meeting educators from around the country. Teachers, principals, doctoral students, and retired educators have joined me on this trip to see the sites and to work with a community to improve access to education. More on that later, but meeting these great folks reminds me not only how privileged I am to be an educator, but also that PDK’ers are people who are passionate about our collective efforts to improve education for all kids (and know how to have fun).

Stay tuned for updates as we move on to Cuzco.