A school that aims to turn students into world citizens
Montezuma, N.M. — FOR three solid days, students and faculty ate rice and tea. No eggs or cheese, no soft drinks or milk, no cereal or bread -- just rice and tea for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The purpose of this meager diet was not to take pounds off the students at Armand Hammer United World College of the American West, a pre-university school with European roots. The purpose, according to Sophie Moochhala, a student from India, was to spur the students to a ``mental and physical level of involvement'' in a schoolwide three-day conference on hunger.
In the end, the rice diet saved the school money, and the students chose to use the funds to provide food, clothing, housing, and education to a couple of children in need through one of the private agencies devoted to such endeavors.
It is this kind of student commitment that prompts Ted Lockwood, the school's president, to say (over a rice-and-tea lunch), ``Sometimes, you forget that they're just 16 and 17 years old.''
Twice a year, the school closes down all its activities so the students -- 200 in number, representing 67 nations of the world -- can hold a special conference on an important world issue. Past conferences have focused on world religions, justice, tolerance, and, last fall, peace.
The students, working on a strict budget, are entirely responsible for organization, choice of speakers, accommodations for the guests, and all other details. According to their faculty adviser for this year's conference, Natt Mann, the students required very little guidance for the hunger conference last month, and only potential cost overruns and a bit of overambition needed to be held in check.
The Montezuma school is the sixth branch of the United World Colleges (UWC). The original institute was founded in Wales in 1962. The founders, a group of scholars and war veterans, included Kurt Hahn of Germany, an educator noted for advocating a mental and physical approach to achieving a well-rounded education. In 1967, Lord Mountbatten became the first president of the UWC organization. It was largely through his efforts that further branches of the UWC were established in Canada, Singapore, Swaziland, and Italy.
When the Prince of Wales accepted the UWC's presidency (at the request of Lord Mountbatten) in 1978, Mountbatten's dream of a branch in the United States was yet unfulfilled.
In 1981, the International Council of the UWCs and Prince Charles -- having obtained a commitment of ``seed'' money from philanthropist and oil executive Armand Hammer -- chose Montezuma as the site for a new college. Where resort guests once bathed themselves in natural hot springs and walked in lavish gardens, only run-down buildings and a dilapidated Queen Anne-style hotel remained.
The Armand Hammer Foundation purchased the buildings and land. Most of the original buildings were renovated and new buildings were added. To date, Dr. Hammer remains actively involved in the UWCs and the school at Montezuma -- attending special activities, funding student scholarships, guiding and guarding his investment.
Although each of the six UWCs is distinct, they share a commitment to ``promoting international understanding through education.'' The goal, says dean of studies Andrew Maclehose, a Welshman who has been with the UWCs since 1966, ``is not to just produce a good academic curriculum. The founders would not have put all the money into it that they did if that were the only purpose.''
The UWCs are committed to graduating students who have achieved high academic standards, who understand and can effectively deal with the challenges of a multicultural living experience, and who know the value of serving the community in which they live.
According to most of the students interviewed, learning to live in a new country with people from differing cultures can be the greatest challenge as well as the greatest reward. Each student is placed with a roommate who does not speak the same native language. Even if a conflict arises, swapping roommates is rare. Instead, the students must learn to solve the disagreements. ``After all,'' says Jackie Vargas, a student from Mexico, ``that's what we're here for.''
The student body reflects a broad range of socioeconomic backgrounds. And the college requests that students receive only $200 a semester for spending money. According to one educator, this ensures that ``no gap is created between the haves and the have-nots.'' Three times a year the school holds cultural weekends during which students from one region teach fellow students about their cultures. They cook, dance, display arts and crafts, wear traditional clothing, and hold talks on their country's politics, religions, and social customs.
The academic program is designed around the International Baccalaureate (IB). It requires each student to become proficient in language and mathematics and also requires courses in history, philosophy, and economics as well as biology, physics, and chemistry. In addition, students must prepare an extended essay or report on an independent project, as well as perform at least one afternoon of community service a week.
At Montezuma, students take one full semester of New Mexican history and culture. The art department offers Navajo weaving and potterymaking.
Successful completion of the tests administered by the IB office in Geneva earns the student a diploma recognized for university admission throughout the world, or for advanced placement or course credit at universities in Canada and the United States.
Students are chosen on a merit basis by UWC national councils throughout the world after an extensive application and interview process. No student is denied a place because of financial lack, and over 90 percent of the students at Montezuma are on full-tuition merit scholarships.
Because the IB is not the usual route for US students, one of the biggest challenges for Dean Maclehose has been ``to just get us recognized as a school, to prove we can deliver the academic goods.''
According to George Stoumbis, former state director of school accreditation for the North-Central region of the United States, the school is ``fully accredited and meeting all the standards.''
Teachers are chosen not only for their academic credentials, but also for their interest in helping students reach all the school's goals. ``It is rarely a 9-to-5 job,'' one administrator says.
Since more than half of the students are many thousands of miles from home, homesickness is not uncommon. To help deal with it, the community and school have come together with what is called the ``getaway family'' program. Out of 200 students, 110 have getaway families in Las Vegas -- someone to spend Sunday evenings, holidays, and birthdays with.
The site for the school was chosen, not only because it offered space, buildings, and a perfect setting to develop an outdoor survival program, but more important, because the UWC steering committee recognized there was great potential here for community service.
Once a bustling meeting point at the end of the Santa Fe Trail, Montezuma now lies in an economically depressed area. The number of families on welfare and the number of homeless and transients is very high.
Last fall's joint school-community Hunger March from Santa Fe to Las Vegas is an indication of the progress made in bringing the school and community together. ``When we first moved in here, getting the community to raise $400 was a big deal,'' one teacher says. The Hunger March raised $17,500 from the community. And, to top it all off, a student from Kenya hand-carried the funds to relief agencies in Africa.
The Armand Hammer United World College of the American West, Montezuma, N.M. 87731.