Overlake School group travels to Cambodia to teach students | SLIDESHOW

Being a teacher takes a lot of work.

There are lessons to plan, assignments to grade, students to educate and keep occupied during downtime and more.

Recently, a group of students from The Overlake School in Redmond learned just how much work it takes through an international service program that brought them to Cambodia to teach elementary school-age students.


The 18 students — along with four instructors and one parent — traveled to the Southeast Asian country at the beginning of April as part of Overlake’s Cambodia Global Service Program. Although the group was only there for two weeks, the trip was a culmination of several months worth of planning and preparing.

Students applied for the program in August 2013, and by October 2013, those accepted were already planning lessons, which was done up to the time they left for Cambodia. The Overlake students — who are in 10th through 12th grades — worked to develop curriculum and lesson plans to fill about a week’s worth of classroom time.

Overlake junior Julia Turner said they worked to memorize their lessons word for word to make sure they knew what they would say and do once they got to the front of the Cambodian classrooms. But once they arrived, she said it became a “free for all.”

“Your plans are going to go awry and you’re going to have to fix them on the fly,” she said with a laugh.

Junior Cassie Moore agreed, adding that many of them went through their carefully laid out lesson plans within a few hours and had to figure out what to do during their remaining days at the Cambodian school.

When asked if their experience has changed the way they look at their own teachers, Turner, Moore and Mackenzie Olson — another junior who participated in the program — nodded emphatically, saying “yes.”

To this, history and English teacher Tina Proctor and outdoor education director Kent Renno — two of the instructors on the trip — laughed. However, Proctor pointed out that the students had a much more difficult task as they only had a few months to plan, whereas teachers go through years of schooling and training prior to becoming certified. In addition, she said teachers usually also speak the same language as their students, which was not the case with their students while in Cambodia.

This was Proctor’s first time on the Cambodia trip and she said it was amazing to see the transformation in their students from the beginning to the end of the trip and how they rose to the occasion.

“Our kids were incredible,” she said.


Overlake’s Cambodia Global Service Program began shortly after the terrorist attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Mark Manuel, Overlake’s director of diversity, said then head of school Dr. Frank Grijalva wanted to do something positive in response, so they teamed up with American Assistance for Cambodia — now called World Assistance for Cambodia.

Manuel, who has been traveling to Cambodia with the program since 2006, said Overlake raised $15,000, which was matched by the World Bank, for a total of $30,000. Construction for The Overlake School in Pailin, Cambodia, which serves about 200 students from kindergarten through sixth grade, began in February 2002 and was completed in June of that same year.

Since then, Overlake has sent a group of students to the Cambodian school every other year to teach for a week.

“I feel our commitment to the school in Cambodia has created a significant opportunity for kids in Pailin,” said Overlake’s current Head of School Matt Horvat, who also traveled with the group. “Our ongoing relationship has also allowed our kids to recognize that their needs are being met so they can focus on their education. This has been a mutually beneficial venture.”


Turner, Olson and Moore all agreed that they also benefitted from the program.

The students experienced a good deal of culture shock and Moore said one eye-opening experience was a walking tour of Pailin during which they visited students’ homes. Many students’ families lived in small wooden shacks on stilts and Moore said even the “well off” homes were much smaller and more basic than anything in Redmond.

Olson added that she was struck by the Cambodian culture’s respect for elders and the many different terms the Khmer language had to address those older than them.

Proctor and Renno said they have also gotten much out of their experiences.

“I was really struck by how warm and friendly the kids were at this school,” Proctor said.

This was Renno’s second trip with the program and he said he was “just really blown away by the whole experience…that’s why I wanted to go a second time.”

Renno and Proctor said they do have some students who participate in the program twice, once as sophomores and once again as seniors, but they usually bring a group of mostly new students every other year.

Although they will have graduated when Overlake’s next trip to Cambodia will come around, Turner and Moore both said they would definitely participate in the program again if possible. Olson said she wouldn’t only because it would take away from another student’s opportunity to participate.


In addition, Manuel said Overlake has raised money throughout the years to wire the Cambodian school with electricity, build a playground and add a library and computer lab. They are currently focused on faculty housing to accommodate four teachers.

From 6-8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Overlake will hold a fundraising banquet on its campus at 20301 N.E. 108th St. in Redmond to raise money for ongoing costs at the Cambodian school such as operating the computer lab, electricity and an English teacher. Tickets are $15 per student and $25 for adults. Manuel said those interested in attending should call him at (425) 868-6191, ext. 601 prior to the event so they will make sure to have enough food, which will be provided by Phnom Penh Noodle House in Seattle.

The banquet will also feature a presentation from the students in this year’s program and a video from the trip.

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