|2 Dec 2022|
Geri Johnson (Former Faculty 2014—2016)
Nowhere is the concept of lifelong learning more apparent than among the alumni of the American Embassy School. And while lifelong learning may be a familiar concept at many independent or international schools, AES is unique in its messaging about the value of lifelong learning for all community members. Parents, students, teachers, staff, alumni. We are all learners, and we are all asked to Enter to Learn. Leave to Serve.
Inviting all former AES community members, including all former AES teachers—whether here for two years or ten—to be a part of our Alumni Network represents our commitment to a school culture of belonging. We extend an open year-round invitation to all alumni to please come back to campus, to share their stories, and to reconnect with the foundational values of our school. This month’s Alumni Spotlight features a teacher who came to AES both as a lifelong learner but also as a person who had already made service central to her life. After two years, Geri left AES to take care of her sister but was sure to be back in conjunction with her continued commitment to serving students in India—particularly students from Bahir, India, who have been attending village or non-standard schools supported by the FreeSchool World Literacy organization.
Indeed, having recently returned to India for the second time since working here, this time with her new husband, Geri made a point of coming to AES. She was again struck with the beauty and peaceful vibe of campus—from the rocks to the plants to the structures. And she fondly recalls the motto: Enter to Learn. Leave to Serve.
While by all accounts, when Geri came to work at AES, she was already living a life characterized by service, there was still much to learn. It was in 2014 that Geri began her work here as a Speech and Language Specialist. She recounts that her biggest area of professional growth was all the learning that came from working with students who were not just bilingual but trilingual and quadrilingual. She recalls a student whose mother spoke Italian, the father, Russian; the student spoke to each of her parents in their respective native languages, and the parents spoke English to each other, and when all together as a family. Geri recounts that there were all kinds of combinations of languages spoken in different AES families; she always enjoyed, therefore, that her work with each student needed to be individualized.
Geri’s work has been balanced between taking care of individuals—whether her mother or now her sister, or tailoring her speech and language work to the needs of an individual student—and taking care of whole schools or initiatives. She entered AES with years of experience and yet still recognizes how much AES challenged her to grow professionally and in her service work—most notably as a leader of the FreeSchool World Literacy program (FSWL) https://freeschools.org.
Geri first got involved with FSWL in 2009 and would travel from Singapore where she worked as a speech and language specialist to Bihar, India to visit and help develop the growing network of schools. Once Geri moved to India for her job at AES, she enjoyed the proximity to the FSWL schools but also the learning she was able to do around how to make those schools stronger for the students they served. At AES, Geri was thrilled to find numerous other teachers and students also working with Indian schools. This collegiality gave her the opportunity to continue to develop ideas about how to assess her FSWL programs and the progress of the FSWL students.
As an example, many of the teachers working in the schools that FSWL sponsored were still teaching using the format whereby the classroom interactions were mostly teacher-to-student and student-to-teacher. Encouraging students to talk and learn with each other were new concepts to them. Through watching AES teachers and students teach at other Indian schools, such as in the Tigri Colony and Tikli schools, Geri learned how best to introduce new teaching concepts and what local products worked best with this student population. Another program at AES that informed Geri’s work with the FSWL program was the AES Restitution Training Program—a program that all AES teachers participate in. Certainly, training teachers in these Indian village schools about restitution as an alternative to more strident disciplinary practices would be empowering to students and teachers, alike.
While Geri came to AES for a new adventure and the learning that always comes with that, she also describes coming to AES as a bit of a homecoming. She notes that she felt AES to be a place where everyone seemed to belong—that kids always had someone to play with and that teachers felt part of a team and were taken care of from the moment they got off their planes. The apartments were stocked before arrival and every need attended to!
Enter to Learn. Enter to Serve. Leave to Learn. Leave to Serve. Yes, a double take is warranted but this might be a more accurate tag line for Geri who had been cultivating a life of learning and service long before coming to AES but who feels very much that AES offered her an abundance of new opportunities to both learn and serve.