In November, Denver's Manual High School sent five students and four teachers to Cambodia where they studied how education can impact, build and improve marginalized communities.
“It’s a society that’s trying to figure out its own identity and going through its own struggles,” said Manual’s Dean of Instruction Chris DeRemer. “There is very little that we think about as our cultural characteristics in America that are also mirrored there.”
DeRemer can relate to those struggles—his school is trying to find its own identity after dealing with its fair share of issues, such as its principal's resignation.
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“Sometimes community latches onto things that don’t have anything to do with day to day,” DeRemer said. “[They] don’t have anything to do with what it means to be here all the time and so we are constantly fighting against one or two events.”
The school is very much like a family to DeRemer, who said he knows exactly what happens there every day.
“When you are invested in the school and this community excellence becomes your norm and you get defensive when someone brings up something that isn’t excellent,” DeRemer said.
The 13 hour trip to Cambodia was an idea he had to get his students motivated to learn about different cultures and see similarities they have with teens on the other side of the world.
“We put curriculum or methods in the way of the fact that there’s a few fundamental things that students deserve and that transcends geography,” said DeRemer.
“The motivation for us was to give students an opportunity to leave the Manual bubble and the East side bubble if you will,” said social studies teacher William Anderson. “I’ve had some great social studies classes in my day but none like being able to go to the space, interact with the people, eat the food, and get bitten by the mosquitoes.”
Both DeRemer and Anderson joined the students on the ten-day trip that included visits to museums, landmarks, and temples. They also visited two local schools to get a better understanding of their educational systems.
“One, a neighborhood school that (DeRemer’s) wife helped start to help younger children, making sure that they can get some of the basic instruction that I think we just take for granted,” said Anderson. “On the other end of the spectrum, we got to go to an international school that caters more to families with a bit more privilege as well as other families from other countries who are staying in Cambodia.”
“It was very shocking to me,” said sophomore Aleah Koch. “There’s a school there that’s mostly for the Vietnamese immigrants that are in Cambodia that don’t get the same education.”
“I believe it's very eye-opening. They don’t have everything they necessarily want or need but they still make a living out of that," said senior Janet Guzman. "They still manage to be happy, keep on going and pushing every day.”
DeRemer said he hopes the experience of traveling to Cambodia gave his students a new vision of the world and a lesson on perseverance so they can make a positive impact in their school back home.
"Every day something great happens here,” DeRemer said. “We know it but we want to make sure to get that out to show our community that excellence is the expectation and don’t let one or two things cloud the view of what happens every day.”