As the first Learning in the World (LitW) environmental program hosted locally, “Confluence: Environment, Culture, Community” is an opportunity for rising Lowers to discover the Merrimack Valley and gain intercultural connections without having to travel halfway across the world.
The program’s goal is to explore culture and environment by way of a traditional classroom setting as well as with hands-on nature experience. The program revolves around each student’s chosen environmental project to help a local community of their choice. The program will be held for a week in the summer, followed up with bi-monthly meetings throughout the school year and then a final integration of the student’s project to the selected community.
The program was created by Mark Cutler, Instructor in Spanish, Co-Director of Outdoor Pursuits and Tang Institute Fellow.
“It’s really about the intersection and the confluence of environment and culture,” Cutler said. “Your identity, your background, [and] your culture has very much to do with the ways that you interact with the environment. What we intend to do as we explore the environment is to come together culturally, interpersonally, and [to have] a global learning experience in the sense that we’re becoming a bit more informed global citizens and developing more empathy towards others.”
The program, with the guidance of Cutler, will be conducted by faculty members from Andover, Andover High School, Lawrence High School, Greater Lawrence Technical School, and Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School.
“Because this is a collaboration between five schools, and specifically five schools that are distinct from each other and that have very different and unique populations and served different and unique populations, I think that this is going to be really exciting because everybody is going to bring what I call their ‘total identity’ to the project,” said Cutler.
“Confluence,” an apt allusion to the juncture where two rivers join together, intends to truly inspire and cast a lasting effect on its participants by exposing them to the intersection of culture and environment.
Carmen Muñoz-Fernandez, Instructor in Spanish and Learning in the World Coordinator, said, “In our Learning in the World programs, it is very important that whatever you do in the field, when you come back, you bring that experience back to what you do here at [Andover] in different ways.”
“It could be in your classes, it could be in a project for a class, or in an independent study… Basically that the experience doesn’t die where it happens,” continued Muñoz-Fernandez.
“Confluence” begins with a weeklong summer exploration of the Merrimack Valley. With exposure to kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, paddling, and other wilderness activities, the summer component of the program hopes to inform and inspire students in the pursuit of their yearlong environmental projects.
“[Students] will go from point to point paddling and they will stop and do a bit of rock climbing – while at the same time, they will learn about our place, where we live, and ecology. Mostly, [students will learn about] building community and thinking about where we live in terms of the world and what it means to be a good global citizen,” said Muñoz-Fernandez.
Throughout the school year, the participants of the program will further develop their environmental project with the guidance of their peers and program mentors.
“All of these projects will have an environmental theme. These are yearlong projects. We’d like to see these projects align themselves and the students to naturally gravitate towards something shared so that they collaborate on it,” said Cutler.
Finally, the students will publicly present their projects.
Cutler, who has been a local to Andover his whole life, was driven to create a program where students could learn and explore both the world and themselves without embarking great distances.
“Having been born and raised in this very area, I see that there is a lot of potential to have intercultural connections with people who represent a diverse world view and ethnic background, that we don’t need to travel so far to see,” said Cutler.
“All the influences that you’ve had in your life will come and be part of this mix with everyone else. This is why it’s called confluence, or at least one of the reasons why. It’s a confluence of ideas, cultures, people, ways of life,” he continued.