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Giving Life to Life

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Zouheir Al-Ghreiwati '10 Brings Regeneration to the Classroom

In 2016, Zouheir Al-Ghreiwati ’10 left a state strategy consulting position in a swanky Manhattan office and moved to a remote sustainability institute in Panama, where the closest neighboring village of 500 people was a two-hour hike away.

Leaving the concrete jungle for a real one came with some challenges. Al-Ghreiwati would toil 10 laborious hours per day planting and harvesting vegetables, hauling barrels of molasses to the distillery and repairing the water pipes from the local creek that tended to break during strong rainstorms.

He loved it.

“I learned a lot about hands-on entrepreneurship,” he says. “That’s not big tech start-ups in fancy SoHo buildings raising hundreds of dollars. It’s working directly with farmers, with firsthand producers, with food waste — it’s just a lot closer to nature.”

Wanting to share this hands-on knowledge and raise awareness about human impacts on the environment, Al-Ghreiwati moved to Colombia, where he rented out a natural reserve to lead nature-based educational experiences for school and university students. With the students, he would plant local crops, survey local water consumption, learn about math through pollen collection — “just using nature as the classroom,” he explains.

The excitement and environmental consciousness generated among the students made Al-Ghreiwati realize that similar educational experiences should be made available to youth everywhere. He assembled a small team and set to work developing a curriculum based on global education profiles: snapshots of pedagogical practices around the world for grades 1 to 12, and the biological, neurological and emotional changes associated with youth development at every age. After testing several different curriculum structures, the team decided to structure their curriculum around the 17 UN Global Goals (formerly known as the Sustainable Development Goals).

Al-Ghreiwati’s ultimate aim is to introduce the curriculum into grade schools around the world as a new subject called Regeneration. While “sustainability” is more of a current buzzword in climate protection, Al-Ghreiwati says that the idea doesn’t go far enough.

“‘Sustain’ means ‘keeping the same,’ so whatever you take, you give back,” he explains. “But we passed the point of sustainability years ago, because our rhythms of consumption and the deterioration of what is left of our ecosystems cannot continue to provide what we are extracting. ‘Regeneration’ means ‘giving life to life,’ or being able to revitalize.”

Regeneration isn’t only limited to environmental issues, Al-Ghreiwati says. “It’s about gender equality, it’s about economic redistribution, it’s about reimagining our food systems and connecting people to water and electricity.”

While the goals of Regeneration are lofty, Al-Ghreiwati tailors the curriculum to the locality of each implementing school, making the lessons accessible and relatable to the students. “Tending to these global adversities has to come from an intercultural perspective,” he explains. “No one action can regenerate across the entire world; it has to be localized to the ecosystem, the economy, the health system and so on.”

The curriculum has been successfully implemented in schools across Latin America, though the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some governmental contracts to be temporarily put on hold. In January, Al-Ghreiwati led a two-week course for the Middle School at King’s Academy (see sidebar) and he is in the process of translating the curriculum from Spanish to English for use in public, private and homeschooling systems around the world.

Regeneration has been enthusiastically received by students who “are hungry for global action,” says Al-Ghreiwati. But he wouldn’t call himself optimistic or even pessimistic about the future, because that duality doesn’t leave room for nuance or for other possibilities.

“I believe in responsibility. If I am doing my responsibility and I trust that other people are doing their responsibility too, that is how a change of order is going to be not only birthed, but resilient,” he says.

Al-Ghreiwati encourages people of all ages who want to learn more about global regeneration or to get involved to start at home. They should research local issues and groups working for change. If no groups or spaces exist that are working on issues of importance, then they have the responsibility to begin the work themselves.

“Toni Morrison once said, ‘If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it,’” quotes Al-Ghreiwati.

Regeneration Comes to the Middle School

In January, Regeneration was offered as a course during the Middle School J-Term, a two-week virtual minimester in which students chose one of five subjects to pursue. Al-Ghreiwati led the course on water supply and sanitation, adjusting the curriculum to address issues specific to Jordan. Regeneration was a natural fit for the Middle School, says Lauren Howard, a math teacher and the lead coordinator of the Middle School J-Term.

“As a guiding principle, Love of Learning is one of the school’s core values, and the Middle School places huge focus on it,” says Howard. “We are able to do that because we don’t give kids grades or scores, so they’re just learning in order to learn and in order to develop themselves as people. This is the focus of Regeneration as well: it’s to better prepare kids to enter the world as more mindful adults.”

Al-Ghreiwati hopes that students carry their sense of playfulness and creativity into their adulthood, which the open-ended curriculum of Regeneration encourages. “Watching kids play, they play without having an outcome,” he says. “This is really different from an adult mindset; the adult is usually doing something to reach a goal.”

Play- and learning-oriented teaching allows students to take charge of their education. For their final project, students selected a local issue that they wanted to raise awareness about or solve. One student wrote a poem about Jordan’s endangered white oryx, another conducted an experiment on how music can affect the health of plants, and another invented a biodegradable toothpaste.

“It was so amazing for our kids to see an alumnus doing this work, and I think it broadened their perspectives as to what is possible after graduating from King’s Academy,” says Howard.