Many of the students in her community were accustomed to hearing the word “no,” But Jocelyn R., an art teacher at an all-male alternative high school in Detroit, decided it was time for a change of pace. It was time for her students to start hearing the word “yes.”
“Do you all want to go on a field trip?”
“A field trip,” her students responded with. “To where?”
“Paris,” she said…
Little did she know that ten years later this one question would ultimately transform the lives of hundreds of students and their families; changing the community her students call home.
Jocelyn’s students in Paris, France, 2007
Jocelyn had been an art teacher for seven years. She spent years studying works of art herself and often planned class lessons around the work of famous artists. Inspired by Picasso, one of her favorite things to say in the classroom was “If you can paint like the masters, then you can paint.”
But to her, this wasn’t just something she enjoyed saying. It was a creed that every young artist should follow. So regularly, she would teach her students technique by having them study and replicate some of the world’s most famous paintings – the same paintings that hang in museums like the Louvre and the Prado.
One day, while watching her students create their own versions of the Mona Lisa she wondered if they would ever have the chance to travel abroad and actually see and experience the art that they replicated.
“Would they ever feel and understand the culture that nurtured these artists and their work,” Jocelyn recollected. She decided that the answer had to be “yes.”
So in 2006 she connected with EF Educational Tours and began working with a Tour Consultant on planning a trip that would place her students right in front of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
“The school was nervous; they didn’t want me to take the students. The administration thought it would be a disaster,” she said. “But I knew we had to make it happen.” She called a meeting with the school and all the parents of interested students to explain the opportunity. Given that the trip was taking place over Easter break and the parents were all on board, she was given permission to continue her plans.
Jocelyn’s students in Barcelona, Spain, 2008
Luckily, Jocelyn wasn’t alone. People in the community shared her belief in making this opportunity happen and came together to offer their help and support. They taught the students how to fundraise and provided them with culture, language, photography and journal writing classes to complement the global experience. And on April 10th, 2007, Jocelyn and her students boarded a plane to Paris where they would set out in search of the “Mona Lisa.”
Everyone woke up early the first day with anticipation of spending hours in the Louvre. This was the moment Jocelyn had been waiting for. She thought back to that day, a year and a half ago, when she had wondered if an experience like this would ever happen. She smiled and thought to herself. “Yes!” Her students were going to see the paintings and experience the culture that nurtured famous artists like Van Gogh and Picasso.
The students spent hours winding through the hallways of the Louvre, moving with excitement as they discovered the very paintings decorating their classroom walls back home. When they got to the Mona Lisa, Jocelyn stood back, prepared to observe their reactions. What happened next was so unexpected that she still laughs about it today.
“They didn’t believe it was the real Mona Lisa because it was so small. You would think the painting is huge based on how it is portrayed,” she said. “I actually had to convince them that we didn’t travel all the way to Paris to see a fake Mona Lisa.”
Jocelyn’s students in Beijing, China, 2015
The following days in Paris were filled with experiences these students never dreamed of. They went to the Eiffel tower, sat at cafes and enjoyed French cuisine. Jocelyn watched her students experience the city and begin to feel as if they were part of France’s culture.
On one of the last days in Paris, the group was walking along the Champs-Elysees, when one of her students asked, “Who do we think we are walking around Paris in April?”
“All gods’ children need traveling shoes” she replied, thinking back to her favorite book from poet Maya Angelou.
This was a turning point for Jocelyn. She realized that traveling with her students couldn’t be a onetime thing. Here they were in Paris, and because they so often heard the word “no” they still thought they didn’t deserve to be there. Jocelyn had discovered her calling as a teacher.
“You really have to tap into your own self, to see what you can do to help your students be successful, to dream and see the bigger picture. And that is why “Finding Mona Lisa” continues. It started with finding the Mona Lisa, but it is more about finding your place in the world,” said Jocelyn.
Over the next nine years Jocelyn found herself leading students abroad, following art, history and culture all over the globe. They went swimming in the Nile, road camels in Africa, practiced Tai Chi in China, and just recently, this past March, they were some of the first US students to travel to Cuba.
Jocelyn’s students in Havana, Cuba, 2016
She’s watched the “class clown” travel to Spain and realize that he can go to college, pursue a degree in theater, and go after his dream of performing on Saturday Night Live. She’s watching another student pursue his football career who is currently playing football for Notre Dame.
“The students are excelling, they now believe in their dreams, and I let them go from there. These trips not only changed the students, but it changed the families. It changed the neighborhood and the culture,” she said. “To see these kids, the kids that people don’t think should travel, actually go out and see the Mona Lisa…it was really touching.”
Next year will be Jocelyn’s 10th year taking her students abroad and leading her “Finding Mona Lisa 313” global education program. Where is she going? Back to where it all started, Paris! But this time she won’t be taking just her students. She is taking the largest travel group that she has ever taken. For Jocelyn, this is an experience that should be available to as many students and educators as possible.
“Experiences like this provide educators with a broader way of teaching, allowing them to make the world their classroom. It helps teachers think outside the box, which in turn creates an atmosphere for students to do so as well.”
Local teachers and leaders are teaming up with Jocelyn to bring additional students abroad and provide them with the opportunity to not only find the “Mona Lisa,” but to find their place in the world. Now ten years after her first tour, Jocelyn’s not just leaving a mark on her community, but on the entire city.
Talk with an EF Tour Consultant today and learn how to build a student travel program in your community!