Gap Year Standards

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It’s official, the Standards for the American Gap Association are finished!  Currently they’re being formatted for ease of application, but they’re done!  The project of creating standards for a vastly different group of organizations – all sharing a similar pedagogy and focus, but each unique in their approach – was a challenging one.  I had to search out some of the best in standards makers, focusing largely on the Association for Experiential Education, the Year Out Group (the UK equivalent of the AGA), the Forum on Education Abroad (the official Standard-holders for “study abroad”), and an obscure Irish group that has pioneered some methodologies about responsible volunteering, Comhlamh … don’t ask because I’m still not positive how to pronounce it :-)

Finding standards that focus on the important work of responsible operation of an organization that’s in charge of students was the key.  For many years I’ve struggled internally about whether standards are more help than harm because too often over the years I’ve found them to be limiting and often arbitrary in their delineations.  But, well-crafted standards that focus on empowering staff to draw out their own particular genius, but still holding them accountable about the big issues is key.   From an organizational perspective, it’s important to put the majority of your efforts towards the majority of the need.  But it’s those events that happen exceedingly rarely but take great efforts to plan for that often end up being placed last in the priority lists.

So, the first steps lay with two forward-thinking and professional organizations: Thinking Beyond Borders and Carpe Diem Education, both great organizations that have volunteered to trial the Standards.  Once they’ve given feedback we’ll be opening them for other organizations to apply.  However, what Thinking Beyond Borders and Carpe Diem Education use to apply will be published for as much feedback as possible, and then opened for all Gap Year organizations to apply.

A gap year is a structured period of time when students take a break from formal education to increase self-awareness, learn from different cultures, and experiment with possible careers.  Typically these are achieved by a combination of traveling, volunteering, interning, or working. A gap year experience can last from two months up to two years and is taken between high school graduation and the Junior year of their higher degree.


Stay tuned for more!

Gap Year Education – Data, Pedagogy, and Paradigms

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Gap Years in the States have been around many decades at this point, and though it’s not surprising that over the years their fan base would have expanded, what is surprising is the lack of quantitative evidence about them.  There are so many details that are just now emerging about Gap Years that really makes me excited for the work I get to do.   A boost in GPA, an increase in job satisfaction, … plus, all of those things that make for a fulfilled life.  As we at AGA begin rolling out our survey later this year (thanks so greatly to Nina Hoe, Bob Clagett, and Karl Haigler), I’m eager to watch those data gain more traction for our industry and the pedagogy it represents.

What isn’t a surprise is that even though there aren’t tomes of data about the benefits of Gap Years, that so many of us working in this field have ourselves taken one.  This is true for the fields of experiential education, study abroad, and again, Gap Years, … because what they really teach to is a desire for educating the ‘whole human being.’  Laughably, sitting around a table with my peers inevitably turns into a sharing of stories and impassioned change-words that are rooted in a strong sense of social justice and idealism.  I can honestly say that I’ve never met a more committed group of individuals than exists currently in this field.  It is however, a challenging job.  The constancy of work and level of attention to detail can be staggering, but we all do it with a passion and humanity that I’m proud of.  I guess you could say we’ve drank our own kool-aid.

The beauty is that whereas even a generation ago our work might have been dismissed as unrealistic, today’s paradigm I believe grants alternative pedagogies an esteem not previously allowed.  Traditional education is a vital part of facilitating the development of a person, but there are many students who need a variety of pedagogies to thrive.  Martin Luther King said, “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”  Organizations of our ilk are all striving to incorporate more character-building into the development of our young adults.  When seen in this light it’s not surprising that authors like Paul Tough would so ardently advocate for more development of these “non-cognitive” skills. []

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