At the beginning of the year, Principia eighth graders embarked on an expansive journey, learning about the five major world religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.
The multidisciplinary Integrated Studies unit combined Social Studies, Art, and Language Arts in an interactive, real-world educational experience. Students explored the theological underpinnings of the religions as well as how they operate in society today—taking field trips to a synagogue and a mosque, creating visual art based on religious symbols, producing journalistic articles about their experiences, and finally, convening a World Religions Summit of 10 experts.
Reporting on the field trip to a local synagogue, eighth-grader Viraat wrote, “When people think about other cultures people might begin to understand new and different points of view... This is not only healthy for a person's worldview but it's also advantageous for the community because it gains more people who have a broad perspective on the world.”
After a field trip to a mosque, Libby reflected, “While every student had a different experience and perspective on the trip, there is no doubt that each student walked out of the mosque more informed and inspired than when they walked in.”
St. Louis, MO—On January 27, 2023, Principia Middle School’s eighth graders visited the United Hebrew Congregation, a local synagogue, to learn more about the Jewish community and to understand the grand history of Judaism.
Principia Middle School, in Town and Country, Missouri, went to the United Hebrew Congregation. They talked to Rabbi Brigette Rosenberg who is one of the rabbis at the United Hebrew Congregation. They also listened to and asked questions to a panel of Jewish students who ranged from Reform Jews to Conservative Jews.
What They Learned and What They Experienced
The middle schoolers learned about the Torah, about major events in a Jew’s life, about how to live a kosher life, and how to know whether or not a food is kosher.
They also learned about how antisemitism is currently affecting the Jewish community. It is imperative for people to know this because these are people and their lives have been affected by antisemitism. In an interview with Mina, an eighth-grade student, she explained, “I think that for students that haven’t been as exposed to other religions these trips have really broadened their horizons.”
How This Has Impacted the Eighth Graders’ Worldview
The eighth graders took this trip because they wanted to get a better view on Judaism and the Jewish culture. This is really important if people are to expand their perspectives and if they are to understand cultures outside their own.
When people think about other cultures people might begin to try to understand new and different points of view that we have not thought of. This is thought to not only be healthy for a person's worldview but it's also advantageous for the community because it gains more people who have a broad perspective on the world which is healthy.
Why This Matters and How People Can Continue Doing This
There are a few ways that people can think about understanding the people around them and their community. They can reach out to their community, and they can surround themselves with people that they aren’t familiar with.
People should augment their horizons by reaching out to the community near them and by surrounding themselves with people who aren’t alike as that is one of the ways to keep an open mind, especially if there is someone who is challenging a person's opinion.
St. Louis, MO—On February 6, 2023, Principia School’s eighth grade students took an educational trip to the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis to learn about the religion. The class's goal is to strive for religious tolerance.
Principia School is a private school located in Town and Country. Although it has opened up to the public, the school is still based in the teachings of Christian Science. However, this school is open to learning about other religions. The class has been to a Jewish synagogue, as well as they recently visited an Islamic Mosque. The teacher of the world religions unit, Ms. Lindsay Bryan, has included a perpetual emphasis on religious tolerance during the class.
Principia School’s Approach to Experiential Learning
While learning about a topic in a classroom is effective, it is not the same as real-life experiences. Trips can teach students about a topic firsthand and can help students learn empathy. Viewing a topic live is incredibly different than experiencing it on a screen or in a textbook. The Principia feels the importance of these live experiences and constantly puts the students into the real world.
Although many people learn best by using an experiential approach, it is important to note that this method of schooling may not work for everyone. Principia as a school focuses on meeting the needs of each individual student. During the school day, each student gets taught in a slightly different way, which is specifically tailored to their needs. For many, this concept is known as differentiation.
These educational trips are specifically intended for the students who need to be in an experiential learning environment to thrive. Even though not every student prefers this method of teaching, there is no doubt that each student learns some kind of information from these trips.
A few weeks ago, the class attended the United Hebrew Congregation to learn about Judaism. During this trip, the students spoke to Jewish children and learned about growing up as a Jew in a modern world. Hearing these perspectives enlightened the students in many ways.
Not only do field trips teach students empathy, but they also teach respect. Respect is one of Principia’s core values, and it is important that their students approach the world with love and respect for all.
A Change in Mindsets, Perspectives, and Religious Knowledge
The students are constantly going on field trips and trips in general. However, the most recent trip was to The Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis.
Like mentioned earlier, this trip was intended to teach the students about different world religions. When they visited the mosque, each student had the opportunity to learn about the religious beliefs of Muslims and how they live their life.
Eighth-grade student Cora also attended this trip. When asked how the trip benefited her, she stated, “It helped me build further connections between my life and theirs. Doing this made it easier to put myself in their shoes and understand who they are as a person.”
Cora, as well as many other students, noticed the importance of learning about a person first and not only focusing on judging someone based on their religious beliefs.
Oftentimes Muslims are some of the most misjudged and hated people. During this trip, Maysa Albarcha, the guide, taught the students that this idea needs to be corrected in not only their minds, but the minds of others.
The Power in a Building Filled with Discovery
Although the experience may have just been in a building, it was an extremely important building. This building taught the students life lessons, taught them about a new religion, and taught them how to treat others.
What may seem like “just a building” is truly one of the most memorable buildings in many of the students' lives.
By diving deeper into different religions, the students will not only benefit themselves and their own life, but the lives of others in the community as well. Having an open mind is one of the most important tools a student can have.
While every student had a different experience and perspective on the trip, there is no doubt that each student walked out of the mosque more informed and inspired than when they walked in.
People must deliberately work to notice that there is power in the inadvertent places. In order to truly learn, one must open their mind and be willing to discover more, just as the students of Principia Middle School did.