Jan. 12, 2018

Thrival Academy

HEADING TO THAILAND — Arsenal Technical High School Junior Dionna C. is one of 20 IPS students who is spending three months in Thailand through the district’s new study abroad program, Thrival Academy: Indy. Below, Indianapolis media met up with Thrival students, families and staff on Jan. 3, 2018, the day the students departed for Thailand. 

When you’re a junior in high school, keeping up with your friends, scrolling through social media and planning for prom are some of the things that are top of mind. But 20 Arsenal Technical High School students are focused on something entirely different.

They’ve stepped out of their comfort zones — traveled more than 8,500 miles from home, many away for the first time — and are immersing themselves in the culture of Thailand, in Southeast Asia.

This trip of a lifetime is part of the curriculum at Thrival Academy: Indy, a pilot program at IPS on the campus at Arsenal Tech. The Indianapolis location is the second Thrival campus to offer the program, which originally started in Oakland, Calif.

In partnership with Rustic Pathways, Thrival is a rigorous, yearlong high school educational program dedicated to providing students from underserved communities access to personalized and culturally immersive education abroad, regardless of race or socioeconomic background.

It’s a public education program that’s free to students, which is one of things that attracted Dionna C., a junior at Arsenal Tech.

“I thought it was a great opportunity,” said Dionna. “You don’t see a lot of opportunities to go out of the country for free. So, I thought it be would nice to try something new.”

For Emily R., it was the call of the unknown.

“I’ve wanted to study abroad for a very long time and I’ve always loved travelling. But, it seemed like it couldn’t really happen, especially not in high school because of cost,” said Emily.

Thrival Indy students are all juniors at Arsenal Tech. They spent the first semester in the classroom laying the groundwork for their international experience. They took core classes in math, science, English, geography, history and economics. They also took a course in Thai to learn the language and culture of the country where they would immerse themselves for three months. In addition to the academics, they also spent a lot of time learning about each other – and themselves.

“So far, I’d say I’ve learned more on how to be reflective of my actions and character,” said Abigail M. “I’ve learned to push myself to do things I’m not comfortable with like participating in group activities and socializing more with others.”

“We wanted to really connect to each other,” said Dionna. “When we first started the class, we were all strangers and didn’t know each other. But, we’ve come together as a family and I think that’s really neat.”

To help promote that bonding, the group went on a two-day camping trip that included zip lining, scaling a tower wall and other team-building activities. 

Thrival Academy: Indy

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re practically family now,” said Dionna.

That will come in handy as the group is halfway around the world on a three-month adventure in Thailand. There were plenty of nerves at the Indianapolis International Airport on Jan. 3, when the group took off.

Some students had never flown before. Most had never left the country. After being presented with their visas and passports, the group took off for nearly two days of travel, including a flight from Indianapolis to Los Angeles and from Los Angeles to Hong Kong before finally landing in Bangkok, Thailand.

“In Thailand, I look forward to diving into a culture fairly different from mine,” said Abigail. “I want to know about the customs and traditions of the people there. I feel that it would leave an impact on me that will carry on with me in my future actions and decisions.”

“They have a lot of Buddhist temples, so I’m excited about that,” said Dionna. There are also supposed to be elephants everywhere, so I really want to see an elephant!”

While in Thailand, the students will focus on four units — migration, conservation, mining and development, and farming and agriculture. Each three-week unit includes a multiday homestay where the students and their teachers actually live in the communities and homes impacted by the specific topic. The students will also take fun weekend trips to places like Chiang Mai and Mae Sariang.

“I think it’s a really great opportunity for anyone who wants to be more self-directed in their learning, have more opportunity and learn people better,” said Emily.

“I did something I never saw myself doing and now I’m welcoming whatever comes my way with open arms,” said Abigail. “This program, so far, has brought a lot of wisdom and a widened perspective, and I’m so grateful for it.” 

Want to keep up with the Thival Academy: Indy students while they are in Thailand? The students will be blogging and vlogging at thrivalacademies.org, and will regularly post on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.