Zylus Italiano is experiencing an epic, real-life geography and culture lesson, and his classmates are following him, albeit remotely, every step of the way.
The Cape Horn-Skye Elementary School second-grader, along with parents Heather Keller and Dave Italiano, left Washougal on February 13 for a six-month world trip. He is sharing the experience with classmates via emails, photos, FaceTime, packages, videos and reports about the places he goes.
Zylus’ parents planned ahead for their adventure, first approaching principal Mary Lou Woody a year ago, when their son was still in first grade.
“A trip of this magnitude is a once in a lifetime adventure,” Woody said. “Heather and Dave are very involved in our school and Zylus’ education, so I knew they would focus on his learning as they traveled. Zylus is learning so much about each country he travels to and when he and the class FaceTime, he shares that with classmates.”
Woody placed Zylus in teacher Heather Kassel’s class. She has served on several district technology committees and is familiar with remote study.
“The year’s notice gave her some time to put curriculum and materials together and discuss with his folks about how they would keep the class and Zylus connected,” Woody said.
Kassel met with his parents at the beginning of the school year to prepare for the extended absence, and continued doing so until the family departed.
“I hooked them up with the online versions of things that I teach, so they could follow along and do the same things with him wherever they were in the world,” Kassel said. “I gave them our curriculum in math, reading, listening and writing. I also update them weekly through an email as to what we are currently doing in class, so that they can keep up.”
Each week, Zylus sends in a written report about the family’s adventures. The family also creates films about the places they see and things that they do, for his classmates to watch.
This helps students formulate questions to ask Zylus during Friday FaceTime sessions, when he and the class connect for online, real-time talks about his adventures.
Each week, certain classmates are assigned to speak and write questions to ask Zylus during the Friday FaceTime chats. The family also has a blog, www.180kellerano.weebly.com, where Zylus’ classmates can follow along with the second-grader’s adventures.
Fiji was the first stop on the family’s trip.
“We studied where Fiji is located in the world, the continent it is associated with, the flag, and some of the words in their language,” Kassel said. “We will do that with each of the places he visits.” To help the class follow along, Kassel created, “Where in the World is Zylus Italiano?” booklets for the second-graders to fill out as they learn about their classmate’s various stops around the world.
“The class loves everything that we do with Zylus, and we have learned about many countries, cultures and continents,” Kassel said.
A world map in the classroom has pins in each of the family’s major destinations with lines added to track their progress. Their itinerary reads like the adventure of a lifetime: Fiji (17 days), Australia (long layover), Bali (one month), Thailand (one month), Nepal (one month), China (two weeks), Mongolia (four days), Zimbabwe (one month), Morocco (two weeks) and Italy (17 days).
The family is currently adventuring in Thailand. Although their days are definitely different than they were back in Washougal, Keller and Italiano are still committed to their son’s education.
“It’s nice to have the flexibility to choose which days we do school and which days we take off, depending on our travel schedule,” Keller said. “Our rule of thumb is first school, then adventure.”
Zylus’ father said the process has renewed his appreciation for Washougal’s public school educators.
“I did not anticipate that the process of schooling my son would even further increase my reverence for the school system and what teachers do for our children,” Italiano said. “Though schooling Zylus is our highest priority on this trip, next to safety, I have to say it is the most challenging aspect of our travels.”
Even Zylus’ teacher back in Washougal is learning things she hadn’t anticipated, and noted that the most educational piece for her is learning about the culture and climate of different cities.
“I love seeing the new activities they have done — animals or bugs they have shown us or the different styles of living through the eyes of other people in the world,” Kassel said. “I love learning the spoken language pieces and writing them. Some of them are so complicated and we have only learned a few. We try to use them when we talk with him on Fridays. It is so cute to hear the kids try to pronounce some of the words. We do the best that we can, and it is fun.”
Although Kassel said she enjoys the educational aspects of connecting her class to Zylus and his family’s travels, she added that her favorite part of this entire adventure is listening to the class talk with Zylus on FaceTime.
“He is so excited to share his latest learning,” Kassel said. “The class has so many questions for him and he is happy to answer their questions. And to see his classmates — they are just as excited to see him.”