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  • Nicholas J. Martino

Designing rites of passage for high schoolers?


Rites of passage have been used throughout human history to symbolize and signify human transformations. Ronald Grimes explains that rites usually proceed through three distinct phases: separation, formative, and reincorporation. In our case, students first needed to separate themselves from their respective cultures as well as their notions of traditional schooling.

After the separation phase, students moved into a formative time and space, known to anthropologists as “betwixt,” meaning neither here nor there. Throughout this stage, they were instructed in the ways of our school culture by engaging in activities centered around TGS’s core values. Experiences were designed to evoke new understandings of holistic health, self-awareness, effective communication, environmental stewardship, and social responsibility. Zaki (Pakistan) commented,

“values around the world are the same, the actions of how

we live them are what separates us.”

Most importantly, students emerged with an understanding of the collective power of the school community to overcome any obstacle.

“The pursuit of full humanity, however, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity.”

- Paulo Freire

The culmination of this group challenge led them into the final phase, reincorporation, where initiates are welcomed as empowered students capable of directing their own learning. Brent Bell asserts that in most schools rites of passages are incongruent when it comes to the reincorporation phase; however, in our case, reincorporation gives them the collective privilege and responsibility to conduct projects of real-world significance in THINK Global Schools' Changemaker Program.

While a 14-day wilderness expedition may not be realistic, think about the essential skills of a graduate needed to thrive in our rapidly developing societies and design from there. An activity like this can be scaled down into a great introduction activity to your class on the first days, call it a boot camp or something else that would resonate with your demographic. I've found that even a 1-3 day rite or passage can enhance the development of positive school and classroom culture.

Share your ideas below!

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