South Jordan Middle School students gain world perspective
Bicyclist and author Bruce Junek tells South Jordan Middle School students about different parts of the world and setting goals to reach their dreams during his and his wife’s “Images of the World” presentation. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
South Jordan Middle School ninth-grader Zoe Brown wants to live on a beach in Greece with her sister, so she was excited to learn about Jordan and Greece in a school assembly.
“When I saw the images of Greece, of the white villages and arches of the buildings, I felt as I were there,” she said. “It was amazing to hear his tales of being there.”
Zoe and her classmates attended one of three presentations by Bruce Junek, who, with his wife, Tass Thacker, biked throughout the world. He tells school children through their educational PowerPoint programs about their bicycling and traveling adventures.
“They show different parts of the world. That motivates kids to learn about the countries but also to set goals and plan for their future, whether it’s a trip they need to plan and save resources for or if it is how to plan for a goal and how to step-by-step achieve it,” said Sara Pouha, a school counselor. “It’s the same for what they’d like to accomplish in school now or how to earn a college degree.”
During the assemblies, Junek took each grade level to a different part of the world. He started with biking through the 100-degree heat of the Cairo desert and seeing mummies that were thousands of years old.
“We carried with us 5 gallons of water which was hotter than hot tub water,” he said. “We saw the Valley of the Kings where 80 tombs were not discovered by grave robbers.”
He told students the last great pharaoh was a woman — Cleopatra — and that there are 3,750 steps to Mt. Sinai, the place where Jews, Christians and Muslims believed Moses was given the 10 Commandments. He also said global warming has bleached out the coral that was once red in the Red Sea.
As they traveled on, he said only about one-seventh of the Greek population owns a car and most of those are smart cars. He reminded students that not only the Olympics come from ancient Greece but also music and theater. And in the 2,000 islands that create Greece, many restaurant owners will hang an octopus outside its doors so customers can pinch it for freshness.
“My favorite part is that it’s never boring,” Junek told students. “We are always thinking, learning and being on our feet. We are living our dream. We’ve been told we’re too old or Tass has been told she can’t do it because she’s a woman, but when you believe in yourself and work to make it happen, you can achieve your goals.”
Ninth-grader Casey Copier said they showed dedication to their dreams, especially one that they had to maintain great physical condition.
“It inspires me to get all A’s as my goal,” she said.
Seventh-graders then learned about the land of the Dragon — China.
Junek told students that more than 1.3 billion people live in China and that it is made up of 56 different ethnic groups. He told students about China’s 9,999-room Forbidden City elevated roads and 1,600 pandas. He said middle school students go to school six days per week and have at least two hours of homework and that only atheists can hold government jobs. He said the Great Wall took 2,000 years to build.
Some of the foods they tried were seahorses served on skewers and popsicles made from peas.
“We tried things that we never thought we would,” he said.
Orchestra teacher Richard Munro said he appreciated Junek’s overview.
“He gave the students an honest overview of China about how beautiful things were but also of the conflicted culture,” Munro said. “We are making the connection between cultures in class. We’re playing two Asian songs and learning its music culture with differing harmonics.”
Eighth-grader Savannah Lemmons said she is inspired to visit South Africa after Junek’s presentation. She learned that learned the duo biked through the Kalahari Desert, tracked elephants and lions on foot and visited remote tribal villages to experience the lifestyles and customs of the people.
“It’s a land of contracts from beautiful, modern cities to 10,000-year-old Bushman petroglyphs from African penguins to the tallest giraffes in Namibia,” Junek said.
He said the terrain greatly differs from rain forests to deserts. He also told students that Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls was twice the size of Niagara Falls.
“The school picked the topics that fit their middle school curriculum, and we tie it to the students’ social studies, science, geography, history, art, reading and writing. We also stress healthy lifestyles, making goals and setting ways to achieve them,” he said.
“Images of the World” presentations began in the 1980s with a 26-month, 22-country trip after sacrificing to save for their trip. Along the way, Junek, at the suggestion of his mother, kept a journal and would send her entries that she showed to interested friends. Soon, she made copies of his entries to share with up to 100 followers. Then, more people in the town of about 7,000 residents in Spearfish, S.D., wanted to read it, and it evolved into his first book, “The Road of Dreams.”
The S.D. local school district asked the pair to give an in-service to 700 school teachers, and from there, the idea of giving assemblies to school children blossomed.