Middle School Students to Explore North Africa

Ross School’s Field Academy offers students and faculty the opportunity to work intensively on group projects through coursework that can occur on campus or in destinations around the world. Among this year’s courses available to middle school students is an excursion to Morocco, offering students a unique opportunity to connect to their classroom content. Over 10 days, students and faculty will explore Morocco’s rich history and culture, as well as become familiar with contemporary issues affecting the North African country.

This year’s trip to Morocco was devised last year, when while visiting the Andalusian fishing village of La Herradura, the group looked across the Tangiers River and into Morocco. That Field Academy trip had been effective in demonstrating to seventh grade students, among other things, the lasting influence of the Phoenicians and the Roman empire. This year’s trip offers students a new lens through which to explore the content they’ve been learning over the past two years. As a secondary theme, students will connect to Morocco’s robust storytelling traditions in hopes of developing their own story through the experience.

The eighth grade students on the trip will see the experience sandwiched between two significant units in their yearlong study of medieval civilizations. In the fall, the students completed a unit on the Golden Age of Islam, during which they explored the origins and spread of the religion as well as the cultural, artistic, and intellectual achievements it bred. Soon after their return from Field Academy, they will begin a unit studying West African empires, highlighting global trade’s role in the development of West African cultures and Islam’s impact on the area’s society.

The trip, therefore, presents a unique opportunity to view firsthand the remnants of medieval Islamic culture as well as present-day effects. Among the places the students will visit are Ait Benhaddou, a 14th-century village, where the students will practice their Arabic and test their bartering skills before spending the night in a mud-brick Kasbah room; Jamya al-Fna, a UNESCO World Heritage site; and Bin Youssef Madrasa, a 12th-century Islamic school and hallmark of Islamic and North African architecture.

To connect with contemporary Moroccan culture, the group will spend time with Moroccan locals, sharing meals and engaging in open exchanges about religion, culture, education, and life in Morocco. The will also join forces with local primary school students in the Berber village of Dbiti to complete construction on a new community center.

Throughout their trip, students are expected to engage in journaling and guided discussion about their experiences. Upon their return, they’ll be charged with writing a culminating essay and presentation for their peers.

“Ultimately it’s important for the students to approach this trip with their heart and eyes open,” said eighth grade Team Leader Mark Tompkins. “This will be a shared experience that they will never forget.”