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Renaissance Student’s Efforts to Save the Rhinos

A hacked, bloody stump where a majestic rhino horn once grew flashed on the screen, bringing audible gasps from the auditorium of Renaissance students.

While unsettling, such graphic imagery accurately articulates the plight of rhinoceros around the world. More than 1,000 rhinos are killed every year, Matthew Norval, COO of the Wild Rhino Organization, explained at the school’s assembly on Global Save the Rhino Day earlier this fall. He was the event’s opening act, as Renaissance students Minh An and Juliet took the stage with a large mascot rhino superhero to share their experiences after spending a week in South Africa’s Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park as Wild Rhino Youth Ambassadors.

Minh An speaks to her peers. Photo by Kevin Lee.

The pair shared fascinating stories of an elephant entering their camp in the middle of the night, cleaning dishes with dung, observing young rhinos romp in an orphanage, and passing packs of wild hyena and lions; but the most impactful moments were their impassioned pleas to take action to save the endangered rhinos.

Photos courtesy of Wild Rhino.


Vietnam’s Growing Awareness 

While Vietnam is, unfortunately, a significant participant in global wildlife trafficking in general, and the rhino horn trade in particular, public perception is rapidly changing. All across Saigon, one can find murals of rhinos with the message "Cứu tê giác," or "Save the rhinos;" billboards have been placed in the international airport; local celebrities have issued high-profile PSAs; and various art shows in galleries and public spaces have aimed to forefront the issue.

While it’s true that the Renaissance students in District 7 are not likely to be involved in rhino horn trafficking or consumption, they can help create a ripple effect of awareness amongst family and community members, motivating others to get involved in conservation efforts. To that end, Minh An and Juliet started a program at their school where each class would save their cut fingernails, with a prize for the group that collects the most. Because rhino horns are made of the same medicinally useless material as our fingernails, each time the students clip theirs, they will be reminded of the issue and more likely to discuss it. They are also helping to sell t-shirts and hoodies to raise funds for their undertakings and connecting with local schools to help share their experiences.

Photo by Kevin Lee.

Blurring the Lines Between Extracurriculars and Classrooms

The two students were selected as Youth Ambassadors and received a free trip to Africa after winning an essay competition sponsored by the non-profit Wild Rhino earlier this year. While not technically part of any classroom assignment, their essays relied on the skills and perspectives fostered by the Renaissance curriculum, and one could easily imagine a teacher handing out the very same prompt.

English courses at Renaissance involve all the expected technical lessons, but when it comes to subject matter, James Bicker Caarten, English department head, explains to Saigoneer that they often look to the subjects they are exploring in other classes for a more holistic acquisition of knowledge. As part of a special Science Week, for example, biology teachers offered lessons on endangered species and, to practice rhetorically persuasive creative writing, students in English classes centered stories around their plight. Art classes similarly made use of the subject matter for drawings and sculptures of various animals. Many projects are open-ended enough for students to involve their outside areas of interest as well.

In this way, teachers aim to instill awareness of the flexibility of knowledge and a genuine passion for learning that transcends the school grounds. Whether it’s providing skills that students can make use of in outside passions, like Juliet and Minh An, or helping them discover talents and areas of interest they didn’t know existed, classes try to answer the classic refrain of when are we ever going to use this in the real world?.

Photo courtesy of Wild Rhino.


A Curriculum Cognizant of Leadership and Stewardship

Most students would be nervous to stand up in front of an auditorium filled with their peers and deliver a speech or lead a school-wide campaign with numerous deadlines and moving parts. But this is exactly what Minh An and Juliet did, with grace and confidence, thanks in part to the school curriculum. Motivating others, working as a team, delivering presentations and organizing projects are all soft-skills absent in traditional education models, but highlighted at Renaissance. The end result was on full display as students rushed to the front of the stage to sign pledges not to contribute to the use of rhino horn and take part in the nail clipping challenge.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program that most Renaissance students pursue involves studying global issues, which aligns perfectly with the school’s curriculum. As a Round Square school, students not only learn traditional skills like grammar, geometry and geography but develop as humans mindful of six core ideals - internationalism, democracy, environmentalism, adventure, leadership and service - that are integrated across subject matters in a variety of ways. One can witness the effects of emphasis in the extracurriculars and outside activities students participate in.

In addition to serving as Rhino Ambassadors, Renaissance students undertake various efforts to serve as responsible stewards. For example, a group of 50 students spends three hours a week collecting recycling at the school and surrounding areas to be used in the precious plastics program. Students also get involved in one-time events, such as a recent charity run that supported local non-profit organizations. Moreover, the IB program’s service project component connects them with charities that many students find themselves supporting well after their requirements are complete.

Photo by Kevin Lee.

“As students, we aim to develop an awareness of global affairs and issues and look for solutions,’ Juliet told Saigoneer. Such a statement illustrates the value of Renaissance’s Round Square curriculum and its entire educational approach. Of course, the international school wants to produce graduates that excel in universities and careers, but they should also positively impact the world. Such students are why Norval left the Rhino Day event optimistic about the fate of rhinos around the world thanks to younger generations.


 [Top image courtesy of Wild Rhino.]

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