(From left) Jen Saladik, Kiera Marsh Hall, Sierra Woodstock, Damaris Harmon, Walter Mitchell, Johnny Eden Jr, Jonathan Jackson, Zybrea Knight, Jason Huber, and the director of the elementary school in Costa Rica. Kneeling is Fernando Perez Fonseca.

by Sue Ann Rybak

Life’s best lessons are learned outside the classroom. And that’s why Jason Huber, an English teacher at Eastern University Academy Charter School (EUACS) strives to bring his students out of the classroom and into the real world.

“I never want kids’ work to die on my desk,” said Huber, a former owner of InFusion Coffee and Tea in Mt. Airy. “Whatever we do in class has a purpose behind it. Ultimately, I want my students to be agents of change. My goal is to get them to believe they can make a difference.”

Huber, of Mt. Airy, is one of four finalists in the 2013 Great American Teach-Off. The program awards two deserving teachers – one from grades K-6 and one from grades 7-12 – with $10,000 classroom grants. The contest is sponsored by GOOD Worldwide LLC, an integrated media, thought-leadership and community-action platform, and the University of Phoenix.

For the past four years, Huber has taken his students – many of whom have never been out of Philadelphia – to Costa Rica for a weeklong service project. For many students the idea of going to college may seem impossible because of the financial barriers, but by taking his students to Costa Rica, he challenges them to be entrepreneurs and leaders in their community.

Huber’s brainchild, the Global Classroom Project, prompts students to be innovative about funding their trip to Costa Rica. Students become grant writers, spearhead service projects, sell their art, run markets and host events that build community. Huber guides them every step of the way as they learn to be active members of the community and learn how to focus on solving problems.

While Huber never participated in an overseas community project as a student, he said he had a life changing experience as an adult. He said that a month before September 11, 2001, he went on a six month trip through Southeast Asia.

“It was simply life changing,” Huber said. “My whole perspective switched, especially considering we were in Indonesia during the attacks. We were with people from all over the world at the time. Indonesians and Malaysians were amazing during that unclear time. Through the years I have been to Nicaragua visiting coffee farmers, Honduras diving the reef off of Roatan, Ecuador traveling through the Amazon, visiting cities and the Galapagos Islands.

“The Costa Rica idea came up after my visit to Honduras. I knew I needed to take kids on these amazing experiences. Other schools had programs, and I wanted our program (then at Project Learn) to be immersion and giving back.”

The grant money from the Great American Teach-Off would be used as seed money for his Global Immersion Project, including scholarships for travel and micro loans to students to assist their fundraising efforts for the program. Huber said teachers have to get students out of the classroom and into the real world. As an English teacher, he said his goal was to make his students better writers and prepare them to be tomorrow’s leaders.

“Our school is a passion-based school,” Huber said. “The idea is to get kids to do things they are passionate about.”

One way Huber accomplishes this is through blogging.

“Any kid’s interest can make for a better world – even if you like cars.”

He encourages his students to write about what interests them. He challenges them to think about ways they can improve the world through their blog.

“I want them to learn to use technology as a force for good,” Huber said. “This isn’t about ranting about ex-boyfriends.”

He said he is always working to engage kids in real world issues and designs a large portion of his curriculum around human rights issues.

Ijshanya Williams, 17, of Germantown, credits her interest in international affairs to Huber.

“I don’t think some of my classmates realize that just because we live in the United States and have certain rights, it doesn’t mean everybody else does,” Williams said. “We take going to school for granted in America.”

“There aren’t that many programs available like this and that’s why teenagers should take advantage of it because you never know it could be a once in a lifetime thing,” said Cystiona Golson, 16, of Frankford. “My grandmother always told me if you see something and you want it, you got to get it because nine times out of 10, it’s not going to be there later.”

“Often [in life] you have to take yourself out of your shoes and put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” said Kiera Marsh-Hall, 14, of Roxborough. “I think it’s important to know not everybody has had the same experiences as you.”

Marsh-Hall said Huber has taught her that “once you become aware of a problem you should take steps to change it.”

Last year, Marsh-Hall participated in Huber’s Global Immersion Project with six other classmates. She and her classmates painted a school and helped high school students with their English while they were in Costa Rica.

“It changed my whole view on life,” Marsh-Hall said. “It made me appreciate the opportunities I have in the United States. It made me realize I want to give back.”

Marsh-Hall, who hopes one day to study in London, said that she has always been a good student but the trip has motivated her to push herself even further.

Besides participating in several service projects, the students went white water rafting, propelling and zip lining while in Costa Rica. The activities were designed to push the students beyond their comfort level and take on new challenges.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Marsh-Hall said.

Huber is now competing against finalists for public votes. Each week, two finalists are eliminated based on public votes. If you would like to vote for Huber go to budurl.com/HuberFinalist. Every week, finalists must submit video responses to a series of questions highlighting their creativity and passion in the classroom.

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