The World Scholars' Cup was new to all of us. There are 3 rounds : the Regional Round, the Global Round, and the Tournament of Champions at Yale University. The participation in each subsequent round requires qualification in order to participate, and the Tournament of Champions, as its name implies, only allows the best of the best teams from around the world to participate!
Round 1 : Pre-Regional Round
When the PACE WSC Club started in September, many of the students that came had no idea about the competition, many of them were strangers to each other, many of them were shy and soft-spoken, many of them had no idea how to write a proper essay, and everyone of them had little to zero experience studying and memorizing from a textbook. Each week, the students were seated in teams, participating in engaging and fun activities. The atmosphere during PACE WSC Club was full of energy and laughter. However, as the weeks went by, the workload became heavier and more difficult, we started to see some students seemed to only enjoy the "fun" part of the class but not the "work" part of the class, some students either produced very poor quality homework or no homework at all, and unfortunately, they were asked to leave the club. There were also those who chose to quit after the 1st term simply because they didn't like the heavy workload.
January rolled around, the six subject curriculum was released. The workload for the class increased even more significantly. Other than the weekly in class meeting, there was also weekly online classes to cover the curriculum, writing, research, debate... The people who didn't quit the 1st term were groaning and wondering whether they should quit now. And yet, at the end, no one did. You might wonder why? This was the beginning of the community building experience. During the club meetings from January to before the Regional Round in May, the students had become friends with each other through the many challenges they had to overcome together. They fought for PACE points individually and yet worked together to conquer many obstacles together. At that time, they might not have realized it yet, but camaraderie has been building among them. What brought them together was a common goal and perseverance through a difficult, yet rewarding experience.
Round 2 : Vancouver Regional Round
The Regional Round in Vancouver was the most dreaded day for all 33 of the PACE Scholars. They had studied hard but no one had any idea how any of them would do in their first endeavor in this competition, as they were up against other 300 students, many of whom were more experienced participants. Most of the kids were disheartened after the 4 rounds, wishing they had done better, saying things like they probably won't qualify for Globals. At the time, I had to remind them they were from PACE which stands for Positive Attitude Creative Education. I was cheering everyone on with positivity, even though I also had no idea how they would do....
During the Closing Ceremony, cheers erupted from the PACE community time after time when our students took top placements in every category. Most noticeably, all six of the subject areas were won by different PACE scholars. What I found most amazing was not the fact that PACE kids swept the Regional Round, but rather the fact that when one of the PACE student's name was called, the whole community erupted with cheers and applause. No one was only celebrating their own successes, but everyone was celebrating everyone's successes as a community. On that day, they all came to the same conclusion, their HARD WORK paid off! They were thrilled - all 33 of them qualified to attend the Global Round.
You can read more about the PACE Vancouver Regional Round here.
Round 3 : Sydney Global Round
Twenty students headed to Sydney in August 2019. While we all had international travel experiences, it was the first time for me to be in charge of twenty kids, fifteen of them without their parents accompanying and were in our care this whole two weeks trip. It was easy travelling with my own children, but travelling with such a large group of kids had proven to be quite a challenge. Coach Rachel broke down in tears under the pressure of parenting twenty kids the second night we were in Sydney after being bombarded with questions after questions, "where are we going?" "what are we going to do?".... Hearing the same questions from twenty kids many times each day would drive anyone insane.
Even though all these kids had international travel experience, but prior to this, they always travelled with their parents. We soon realized none of these kids knew how to act within group travel: some wandered off from the group without letting anyone know, a pile of everyone's shoes made a huge mess in the entrance of our hotel suite, plates and utensils were left on the table after they finished eating, and everyone sat and played their devices without a single "Thank you" to the person who prepared a sumptuous breakfast to them.... I wonder if all these experiences sound familiar in your homes? Being the "Big Boss" in the group, I took it upon myself to educate these children beyond academics. So I "educated" them about putting their shoes tidily when they entered a house. I "educated" them about cleaning up after themselves by rinsing their plates and utensils at the sink before putting them into the dishwasher. I also made sure everyone said their "Thank Yous" when they received anything from one of the adults or each other. I put everyone in teams and assigned a team leader who will be responsible to the whereabouts of the whole team. When we walked to and from the Convention Center, I made sure they were in a structured formation.
After the first few days of teaching, the kids started to know what they should do and things became a little easier. There were still occasional moments of life lesson teaching. They learned lessons about being considerate and unselfish to others, for example when they got on the bus as a group, I told them that the first people should go to the back of the bus to allow people who come later to sit in the front. There were also times when the kids took up all the benches while waiting for the bus. I saw the adults all standing, so I told the kids to all stand up and let the adults take a seat and to do the same when they got on the bus. You might be surprised and bewildered if you were there to see a group of twenty kids all standing up from their seats at my "command". Sometimes, I do wonder to myself, it is obvious that these kids are very "teachable", maybe it is the adults that are unwilling to teach....
Before the Global Round, I said to the kids that the PACE community was signing up for a performance of "My Shot" from the musical Hamilton at the Scholars Show. Right away, similar reactions erupted: " I can't dance!" " I can't sing!" " I don't want to!" I totally understood their reactions, as I looked at these children, other than 2 girls who do dancing regularly, the rest of the children were not exactly the "performers" type. Even my own son refused to do the show at first, worried that he would mess up his rap because it was too long to memorize since he was playing Hamilton. However, I convinced them that this performance is not about perfection, it's about making a memory as a community. Once I said participation in the show was mandatory, everyone just kind of accepted my "dictatorship". Since everyone was in different parts of the world over the summer, we were only able to practice the choreography when we met in Sydney. The day before the performance, when I watched how hard everyone tried during rehearsal, I couldn't be more proud of them. The way they all challenged themselves and stepped out of their comfort zone because of their mutual trust for one another. The bond that had developed between them was clear as day. Then, it came time for the actual performance in front of 3000 people in the Convention Center. The performance was SO AMAZING! Everyone was full of energy, and when it ended, the smiles on everyone's faces were worth all the effort. Alone, none of them would have stepped on this big stage, but together, they conquered their greatest fear. Over the summer, I re-watched the video of their performance hundreds of times and can still feel the thrill of the moment.
Looking back, I am very thankful that none of them "fought" me and refused to participate, they just accepted it because they have also come to trust me, trust that I meant what I said about how meaningful this experience would be to everyone. Look at the picture below, the ending pose they improvised, some dabbed, some bowed, some just stood there. Nothing looked synchronized in this picture and yet it was a moment of breakthrough for so many of them. I hope that after this experience, they will have more courage to try new challenges in the future. Often times, we hear parents complain about how their kids refuse to try new things, how they won't listen to them, or how they won't stop using their devices. Parents complain about their children going through the rebellious stage of "teenagehood", but what I saw from these kids is that if you give them a positive community, they will influence each other the right way and they each will have the strength to do something they never dreamed of doing.
Here is a link to the Sydney Scholars show :
The Closing ceremony...yes we swept Regionals, but that was only 300 people. The Global Round had top teams from around the world, how would the PACE Scholars perform against 1500 scholars? We didn't know... until our students got called up one by one, team by team for the top spots again. We screamed and cheered so loud as two of our students won 1st place in three out of the six subject areas. It took us all by surprise. We applauded as one of our teams placed 3rd overall. While the achievements were great, what touched my heart the most that day was something else. Four out of our seven teams placed in top 100 teams out of the 500 Junior teams, so they automatically qualified for the Tournament of Champions at Yale. However, instead of jubilation on the faces of the qualified teams I saw unease. As the additional qualifiers were being announced, everyone was watching the screen with bated breath. True jubilation only erupted as the rest of our teams all qualified for the Yale Round. I will always remember that moment, the elation in all their faces, how the love in the community has grown to the point where no one is happy for qualifying alone. It's as if they were of one mind: "We come together to Sydney, we must ALL move on to Yale together!"
What joy and growth it has been, for total strangers to become friends, to become like family. To value other people's success above your own, not bragging about your own accomplishment, but lifting each other up. While some people frown upon competition and think it will lead to kids becoming "cutthroat", what I saw was an entirely different result from this competition. Children bonding together, developing friendship and camaraderie towards a common goal through perseverance.
You can read more about the PACE Sydney Global Round here.
Round 4 : Tournament of Champions at Yale University
After Sydney, Lili, Rachel and I all got very sick. It was probably due to the travel and the stress and responsibility of taking care of so many PACE kids. While making a booking for housing during the time at Yale, we debated amongst ourselves whether we should rent hotel rooms or a big house through Airbnb to accommodate the 15 kids that were going without their parents whom will be under our sole care again. The reason for booking the hotel rooms was the lingering of fatigue and stress from Sydney from living with so many kids. And yet at the end, we decided to do it one more time, we rented a house to accommodate all 20 of us. Reason being, we knew the experience would be more memorable for the kids, even though we anticipate so much work for the adults....
Surprisingly, this trip has proven to be very different from the previous trip. It was as if the kids have grown up in only 3 months. Unloading the bus was efficient as the people who left the bus first would just grab any luggage that has been unloaded by the driver into the house, instead of crowding together waiting to pick up their own. Some even brought in two luggages instead of one. Shoes were no longer a mess at the entrance, instead they were lined up at the door. The kids have "evolved" from only cleaning after themselves to cleaning after and watching over one another. We saw older students taking younger students under their wings, helping them whenever needed - like an older sibling, but without the fighting. There was a night when a few of the boys were cooking ramen for late night snack. As I sat at the table watching them, it was clear that they never had to do things on their own at home. This time, instead of asking for where everything was, they just explored, because I have told them that this kitchen is as unfamiliar to me as to them, so they should just look for everything themselves. After they finished eating, they delegated jobs, some washing dishes while the others cleaning up the stove top. Lili and I watched them with amazement.
In their spare time, the kids still played their devices, but when the time came, I would tell them to "drop your devices, and go help Lili". It was quite a scene to see 8+ boys putting down their games instantly and go to ask Lili what they could help with. Right away, we had an army of mobilized helpers: some took out the garbage, some helped to move 20 people's luggage to the bus. No one asked, "why do we have to do this?" They just did because they knew they belonged to the community. There were times when it was very cold and the time schedule would not allow us to eat meals yet. But contrary to what they might do at home, no one complained, everyone just grin and bear it because they knew they were not the only ones feeling that way and they also know we (the adults) all have their best interest in mind and we understood how they were feeling and would attend to them as soon as time allowed. If you're wondering, "what made the kids change?" I would say that partly because they have learned to appreciate the efforts that were put in for them to have this experience, but also my sporadic teachings of "be considerate and mindful of others, don't just think about yourself, be appreciative."
Did the PACE Scholars do well in Yale? I think they did amazing. Did they win many medals and trophies? Of course they did. But is that the most important take away from this competition? It never was. Their growth as a person in the PACE community is the MOST important, above all academics! This time no one complained about doing the Scholar's Show. They just did it and enjoyed it even more. Many years from now, no one will remember what they learned in the curriculum, no one will remember how many medals they won, but they will always remember the spotlights and cheer from thousands of people, the cold night walking through Times Square, the ramen they cooked and shared, the Smash Bros tournament at the Airbnb (the noise level was off the roof!!). They will remember they once belonged to this PACE Learning Community and the fond memories they shared. And that is the most important thing to me.