Citizenship Spotlight: RCDS Students Explore Ancient Civilizations and Connect Across Cultures in Sicily

In June, 21 RCDS students from grades 10-12 enjoyed a transatlantic learning experience through the Global Studies summer program Sicily: Intensive Study of Ancient Civilizations. The program was designed by RCDS faculty through an interdisciplinary and collaborative process, and it was offered in partnership with The Paideia Institute for Humanistic Study, a Brooklyn-based non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the study of the classical humanities through innovative, experience-based educational programming. Aimed at distilling how our understanding of diverse perspectives and of ourselves is deepened through intensive cultural immersion, the program facilitated engagement with other cultures, both ancient and modern. RCDS faculty chaperones and Paideia Institute staff guided the students as they experienced firsthand the indelible marks of the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome as represented on the island of Sicily. Immersed in historic settings, students integrated their knowledge of Latin language, history, and literature with their direct experience of Sicilian culture. Their experience provided a memorable opportunity to compare ancient and present cultures, discover cross-disciplinary connections, explore archaeological sites, and connect with new locales.

Participating Faculty

Dan Murray
Coordinator of Global Studies;
Upper School Latin Teacher

Tameka Farrell
Upper School Science Teacher

Jay Gerlach
Drama and Dance Department Chair;
Drama Teacher

Looking Ahead: #RCDSGlobal in 2020

June 2020, open to 9th - 11th grade students, application details forthcoming

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Highlights from the Trip

The travelers kept in touch with us throughout their journey. The following passages are a few trip highlights that were compiled from daily student and faculty travel logs.

In Taormina, students marveled at the Teatro Greco and its magnificent views of the visibly active volcano Mount Etna. Fittingly, the group chose this setting to read a Latin passage adapted from Virgil where he describes Mount Etna erupting and other dangers encountered in Sicily by Aeneas. The surrounding environment transported the readers and gave them a real-time sense of the classic text--a learning experience not to be forgotten!

The global learners later took in a spectacular performance of Euripides' "Helen" at the Greek Theater in Syracuse, the largest theater in the entire classical world. From the theater, they saw the stone quarry from which rock was cut by slaves and prisoners to build the fortifications of Syracuse. These walls and towers were later enhanced by the great polymath Archimedes to withstand the repeated assaults of the attacking Romans. Connecting their sightseeing to history, students read in Latin from Livy about Archimedes' many incredible inventions that delayed defeat for so long. At the Archimedes Discovery Center, students even tested replicas of the inventor's most famous machines. Learning about Archimedes and his ingenious creations germinated exciting ideas for the classroom at RCDS.

Lessons on human civilization abounded throughout the trip, especially at the Cathedral of Syracuse in the Piazza del Duomo, which was initially built as a Greek temple dedicated to Athena 500 years before the birth of Jesus. At this site, students learned about the repurposing of pagan sites by the early Christians and received a poignant reminder of the power of holy places throughout history. Touching on the history of conflict, students saw two examples of ancient warships from the era of the Punic Wars while visiting the archeological museum in Marsala. They were enthralled with the science of underwater archeology and the art of ancient shipbuilding at the museum. They later gathered in a museum conference room to present a dramatic reading of Pliny the Elder's account of Cato in the senate house declaiming, "Carthage must be destroyed!" During the journey, students thought about the imprint we will leave as modern humans and used their knowledge of the past and present to examine the arc of human civilization.

UN World Refugee Day (June 20) encouraged the travelers to reflect on the current international refugee situation as they gazed at the Mediterranean stretching all the way to North Africa. Knowing that hundreds of people drown annually in these waters in search of new beginnings, students were guided by the lessons of history as they unpacked complex concepts and honed their ability to think critically and globally.

There was no shortage of spectacular sunsets over breathtaking vistas including the Valley of the Temples, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. And, no trip to Italy is complete without dining on delicious local cuisine--pizza and gelato galore! Encouraged by Paideia Institute guide Mitchell Towne to keep phones away, the group focused mindfully on the extraordinary experience of being in these historic places and on the community-building potential of the journey as they connected with each other, fellow travelers, and local residents who introduced them to a range of cultures including Italian, Greek, and North African.

Students recorded their observations of the trip, making important associations between history and their travels. Bella Sanchez '21 and Katie Lefever '21 recounted, "For a short time, we passed through the same hills in which Persephone was said to have been kidnapped by Hades in the Ancient Greek myth." Remarking about the splendor of the hidden gardens of Kolymbethra, Arianna Farquharson '20 and Alana Jones '20 wrote, "We explored the beautiful scenery in the garden that cascaded together in an indistinguishable blur of harmony." In those harmonious moments, students felt a deeper understanding of culture and history. Global boundaries fell away to reveal one amazing world with so many valuable lessons and connections to offer.

At the beginning of the trip, Coordinator of Global Studies Dan Murray journaled, "The students are really working together to make this a great experience for everyone. We are impressed with their energy and their enthusiasm to engage with the culture here and ask insightful questions about the history and the surroundings." Indeed, the positive inkling that Dan had in the early days of the journey came full circle as he signed off on the final day, "We have grown to support each other and to love Sicily ... Whether it was one more ancient artifact, one more medieval church, one more reading, or one more granita, we each have had something more today. We are coming home full"