Alcuin Stories

Empowering Educators

One of the things I find most inspiring about Alcuin is its commitment to developing a community of “compassionate global citizens”; students and faculty who aren’t only aware of the world around them, but who are active participants in making that world a better place for them and others. 
Walking a Path of Remembrance 
By Pamela Villanueva  
One of the things I find most inspiring about Alcuin is its commitment to developing a community of “compassionate global citizens”; students and faculty who aren’t only aware of the world around them, but who are active participants in making that world a better place for them and others. 

As a teacher, the axiom ‘You can only give what you have’ is often brought into sharp focus inside the classroom. Over the years, I’ve been part of Alcuin’s Equity and Inclusion team, so in an effort to deepen my own outlook on the world, I read the book,
Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson in 2017 and became very interested in his foundation, the Equal Justice Initiative. In the following year, the EJI opened The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama; two monuments dedicated to the victims of slavery and lynching in America. 
I have since felt drawn to visit these two sites, and with the support of Alcuin, I traveled to Montgomery this summer to make that a reality.  
As I drove into the city, I noticed a Greyhound bus station with a sign marking it as the Freedom Rides Museum. I parked and went inside to discover that the docent was preparing for a presentation to young people from a local summer program. He shared a wealth of stories and contextual information to help visitors understand what segregation was like, the courageous individuals who had endeavored to change the unjust laws and practices of the time. It was very moving to stand in this historic place. 
I then made my way to the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial. The museum is a technology-rich presentation that tells the narrative of our history using a large variety of media resources. When visitors enter the museum, they are met with dramatic film footage of the Atlantic’s rolling waves and are surrounded by stunning sculptures representative of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The welcome was only a prelude to what I might describe as a comprehensive history of America and the import, impact and legacies of slavery in our country. 
The different wings of the museum cover difficult subjects such as: family separation, unjust laws, lynchings, and mass incarceration.  In addition to the hardships and cruelty on display, there are reminders of the talents and artistry of many African Americans, past and present in a myriad of human endeavors. 
After my visit to the museum, I made my way to the National Memorial; a beautiful and haunting reminder of the thousands of lives lost to racial terror and violence. It is a solemn and peaceful space for reflection and meditation. I spent two days in Montgomery, as I found the museum’s stories too much to experience in one visit.   
Before returning to Dallas, I paid a visit to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta, Georgia; a beautiful tribute not only to a former president, but to a man and his wife who have created a lifetime legacy of humanitarian outreach and successes. 
Part of what we do in Equity and Development at Alcuin is to nurture within our students, a deeper sense of empathy, compassion and understanding of different cultures and people. Thanks to Alcuin, I left Montgomery with a deeper sense of hope and commitment to that mission. 
An Old World; A New Perspective 
By Sherazade Mehta 
Ever traveled 6,600 miles to get to Georgia? I did. 
The Georgia I had on my mind this summer was not one of our states, but a country on the other side of the world, sitting between Russia and Turkey, next to the Black Sea. In the classroom, I often encourage my students to see the world with new eyes and a fresh perspective. I’ve been overseas before, but this 15-day tour of Georgia stood out as one of the most memorable in my life. 
Exploring the capital city of Tbilisi was one of the most multi-cultural experiences I’ve had in my life; a safe and inviting place that comes alive amid the backdrop of a mixture of Georgian and old Soviet-style architecture, as well as its history in the Persian and Ottoman empires. The mosaic of religious diversity in Tbilisi is hard to miss as large, historic communities of Orthodox Christian, Muslim and Jewish citizens are still present. Excavators even recently discovered a 5-6th century Zoroastrian Temple in the heart of the city. 
From Tbilisi we moved on to Kutaisi, the former capital city of Georgia and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. We visited artisan villages, and started to move up through the greater Caucasus mountains which form a natural border between Russia to the north, with the lesser Caucasus dividing Georgia from Turkey and Armenia to the south. Here we stayed in the old village of Mestia, its elevation being roughly 5,000 feet above sea level. This village is a proposed UNESCO Heritage Site due to the hundreds of stone towers throughout the region. 
After a couple of days staying in the cold, wet mountains we moved down south toward the Black Sea to stay in the port city of Batumi.  Here we could see old Gothic architecture mixed with modern.  Batumi is also heavily influenced by Turkish culture due to its proximity to Turkey. After Batumi, the last few days were spent in the sulfur spring village of Borjomi, with a visit to UNESCO world heritage site Vardzia, a 12th century cave city. 
In all, this trip was a life-changing experience and such a unique adventure that I would highly recommend anyone to visit to go see this beautiful, culturally rich county. 
In my Upper Elementary classroom, I teach Ancient Civilizations and Ecology to the 6th levels and Earth Science to both 4th and 5th.  This whole trip has components of both subjects to share with all my students.   

Under the Tuscan Sun 
By Stephanie Oddo 
As an IB MYP Middle School Language and Literature (LAL) teacher, I have been teaching Shakespeare’s legendary play Romeo and Juliet for the last 15 years. So it comes as no surprise that I’ve long desired to visit the city of Verona, Italy, which serves as the setting of the play. 
Getting around Italy is easiest by train, so from the time I arrived in Verona and stepped onto the platform of the train station, I felt a stirring connection to the city. Its cobblestone streets and medieval walls invite modern-day visitors to imagine themselves alongside residents of the city as it was in the 14th century, amid characters of the play itself. 
Verona became a Roman colony in 89 BCE and developed into an important town. There are several remains from this time, including the Roman amphitheater, and the city is equally rich in Romanesque churches such as the ones where the Capulet and Montague families might have worshiped. As the family members raced through the streets of Verona in the 16th century, I can show some images to the students of village streets and squares that are remarkably unchanged. 
Many are familiar with Juliet’s famous balcony, and even though she is simply a character in the play, Verona has designated a tower house with a balcony to honor the star-crossed lovers. There is even a bronze statue of Juliet below the balcony that tourists are encouraged to touch for good luck. 
When my 8th grade LAL students being their study of Romeo and Juliet this spring, it will be the first time we do so while seeing the same images and scenery that Shakespeare would have envisioned while writing the play.  
Before departing back to the United States, we managed to visit the cities of Florence, Siena and Lucca. The summer heat was unforgiving, but the view alone was worth it, as well as our stops for gelato and cold, bottled water. This part of the trip reminded us to enjoy the small things in life, like walking to the neighborhood market for fresh produce or finding a mom-and-pop pizzeria with the most delicious offerings. 
Without a doubt, my visit to Italy not only fulfilled a longtime desire to visit Verona, but also deepened my understanding of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays, leaving me truly inspired and excited to share with my Middle School students.