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Westlake High Teacher Travels, Brings Back Lessons

THORNWOOD, N.Y. – Many teachers take advantage of their months off in the summer to travel and take vacations. One teacher at Westlake High School in Thornwood however, uses her travels to enhance the curriculum and lessons taught to her students.

“I think it’s so important for students to learn about different cultures around the world and become global citizens in a way,” said Westlake English teacher Janet Matthews. “And a lot of students don’t have the opportunity to travel the world to do that.”

Over the span of decades, Matthews has traveled to countries such as South Africa, India, Tunisia, Australia and Russia. In each, she has not only taught native students, but made it a goal of hers to incorporate her travels into lessons in her English classrooms at Westlake.

A trip to India inspired Matthews to have her ninth grade English students connect with a group of students in New Delhi to exchange vignettes about “ The Ramayana,” one of the great epics of India. In years past, Matthews traveled to the island of Djerba off the coast of Africa in order to follow the path of the lotus-eaters in Homer’s “ The Odyssey,” a book she taught to her students at Westlake.

Matthews said the trips allow for not only her students to better understand specific world literature, but for herself as well.

“If I’m teaching students about Julius Caesar, it’s great to be able to convey his story to the children by sharing my experiences of being at sites that he has been to, or showing them through pictures,” Matthews said.

It’s not always pleasant trips for Matthews though. Most recently while visiting Nepal, the English teacher was robbed of all of her money and belongings, including her passport and identification forms. Matthews called the trip a challenge and said it has not deferred her from future travels in any way, and she hopes to make Mongolia her next destination.

“I believe traveling is such an authentic lesson plan and there’s so many engaging ways to connect the past and the present for students in other countries,” Matthews said.

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