CHICAGO — It goes without saying that a great education involves hard work in the classroom, but a lot of learning takes place beyond the walls of a school.
It was an epiphany that Chicago native Imran Khan had when he was an English teacher at Harper High School in Chicago’s troubled Englewood neighborhood. The violence and poverty surrounding the school had led to a deep isolation — and a lack of experiences for the students in his classroom.
“I brought my lunch to school and I had a canister full of strawberries and blueberries, and some of my students were like, ‘Hey, what’s that?'” Khan said. “Many had never seen strawberries. Many had never seen the lake, some had never been in downtown buildings, and very few had been in grocery stores that you and I are familiar with.”
Khan’s idea was to incorporate “outside experiences” into the education of each student. He founded a program called Embarc, which takes CPS students on educational journeys in and around the city — from farms to factories, and ballgames to boardrooms.
“Each human being is actually defined by the experiences they have. Truly we are the places we’ve been, the things we’ve seen, the people we’ve met, the hands we’ve shaken, the conversations we’ve been a part of that truly defines what we are in our lives. So when we look at the education — and it misses this most dramatic and fundamentally powerful aspect of what makes a human who they are, right?” Khan said.