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EDventure of a Lifetime

Child smiling on beach

All photos courtesy of Sean Patch ’98

Smiling family posed in front of hammock in tropical setting

Sean Patch and family in Costa Rica

Family on Costa Rican beach
Man working on car engine with two high school aged students
Side by side photos of young children creating and play testing a board game
  • Alumni
EDventure of a Lifetime
Molly Rodenbush

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the U.S., Sean Patch ’98 and his family were living in Bellevue, WA. At the time, Patch was a teacher at Open Window School, an independent K-8 school for students of high intellectual potential. Like schools around the world, Patch was forced to shift his teaching online. For Patch, this was the final rung on the ladder to leaving the classroom. He says, “My son was starting school on an iPad, and I thought, ‘We can do better than this.’”

So, Patch and his family decided to go to Costa Rica. Their plan was to rent out their house, travel, and have Patch take the lead on educating the children. They all agreed that they wouldn’t be following a traditional homeschool curriculum. Rather, as they lived and explored, Patch explains, “there would be incredible learning opportunities that arose.”

Before boarding the plane, he phoned his Tabor roommate, Grayson Fertig ’98, to share his plan. Fertig tells him, “You gotta get in touch with Lou.” Patch asks, with a dubious tone, “Who’s Lou?” To which Fertig responds, “I’ve been telling Lou about you for a couple of years, you are what they need.”

Come to find out Lou and his wife, Patch describes, are an eccentric billionaire couple living in Costa Rica who have two kids the same ages as his own. “I’m not writing lesson plans or handing out worksheets,” Patch told Lou, “We’re going to experience life, figure out things that interest us, and dive deep.”

Lou aligned with Patch’s philosophy and agreed to join his family for an education alternative to one a classroom offers. Together they boiled down an educational statement that would serve as a guideline for the learning experiences Patch would lead in Costa Rica: “The only thing the kids have to learn, is how to learn.”

Costa Rica marked the start of the educational adventure of a lifetime. There, they read books and had group discussions, hiked the jungles while learning about plants and animals, and practiced foundational math so that the kids wouldn’t be behind once they returned to school. The most engaging lessons, though, were experiential.

“I think life and teaching should model what it means to be a lifelong learner… As adults, who no longer sit in rows and columns, we understand full well that’s not the best model for learning,” says Patch. “I don’t think I truly appreciated my Tabor experience until I was able to step back, deliver experiences to kids from the other side as a teacher, and realize how experiential education offers authenticity. That’s something I think kids strongly desire. Kids smell bullshit. What you’re doing has to be authentic, it has to be real. If it’s an authentic project, kids will become engaged, thrive, and exceed expectations.”

One experiential learning opportunity they had in Costa Rica involved a population of giant oceanic manta rays, an endangered species that were discovered to be living in Costa Rica. The two older kids got their diving certification and realized, while working with the scientists from El Centro de Restauración Especies Marinas Amenazadas (CREMA), the data had only been collected through acoustic tagging.

“Satellite imaging provides a much more robust track,” continues Patch, “Costa Rica had not placed any satellite tags on a manta ray, and that was something that the kids got really excited about.”

Up until this point, Patch explains, the largest species of manta rays were found in Ecuador, where they use satellite tagging. This form of tagging allows data to be downloaded continuously, as it is updated every time a manta ray surfaces, whereas an acoustic tag requires the ray to be within a close enough range to a physical receiver for the data to be collected. This inspired the kids to go into the community, talk with school groups, and gain interest and support. They were not only able to raise funding for four satellite tags, but they also had the opportunity to dive alongside the scientists who deployed the first satellite tags in Costa Rica.

“That story’s not done. Oftentimes, projects worth doing are never finished. Life is a messy, ambiguous place. The satellite tagging was awesome and worth celebrating, but quite frankly it was just the beginning—or the end of a single chapter in that story,” expresses Patch.

To this day, the Patch family continues to get updates on the manta ray data as scientists study their migration patterns to help conservation efforts. “Suddenly our kids are getting exposed to what it means to create legislation and develop policy. In order to do that, you’ve got to create a persuasive argument and collect data,” says Patch. “I think it was eye-opening for the kids to learn it was going to take many years and a lot of collaboration to work towards this. There are still a lot of unanswered questions, and I don’t think that makes it not worth doing, it just goes to show that the world is a complex place and learning to operate within that is challenging.”

Patch’s experience with experiential learning predates his family’s educational adventure in Costa Rica. While living in Massachusetts and teaching math at Fenn School, an independent day school for boys in grades 4-9, he had students convert a Volkswagen diesel Jetta to run on waste vegetable oil and grease that they sourced from local restaurants. After it was complete, Patch commuted from Cambridge to the Fenn School in the “French Fry Car.” Going back even further in time, Patch can connect his passion for project-based and experiential learning to when he was a student at the School by the Sea.

He says, “If I think back on my four years at Tabor, I had an unbelievable time. One of the things that allowed Tabor to have such an impact on me were the experiences that I was able to have in each and every one of my classes. I talk about Tabor as a place that developed my love of mathematics because up until that point, math had been a subject where there’s calculations and procedures. It wasn’t a creative, powerful tool until I realized navigation is both math and a power to predict where you are going to be in the future. Celestial Navigation with Capt. Geil was an amazing class, not because I use those skills in my daily life, but because they taught me how to learn. It’s been neat to see how my own Tabor experiences have created the path that I am on.”

After Costa Rica, Patch and his family had the opportunity to continue teaching his kids through their experiences traveling around the world. They studied the Renaissance in Florence, Italy, reading Machiavelli and visiting as many art museums as possible. While there, his kids decided to develop and design a board game based on the artwork they had seen. “They had started designing the game on cut-out pieces of paper and hand-drawings. It wasn’t perfect, but through the iterative process of tweaking and changing, it became really interesting. We started staying up past midnight playing this game, it was phenomenal. A traditional school schedule wouldn’t allow for us to do this. I’d be remiss to say it wasn’t a privilege—it’s a high privilege,” admits Patch.

After taking the game to a local printer in Florence, the kids loved it so much that they wanted to put the game into the world so that their friends could play it. So, they tested the game, produced a video and Kickstarter campaign, and raised $25,000. Their game, Legends of the Renaissance, shipped out just before the holidays in December 2023.

The process, from conception to production, was a lesson for both Patch and his family. He considers, “As an adult, I have to be careful not to have a heavy hand. I found myself wanting to perfect it. But this is not about perfection, it’s about the kids learning and demonstrating what they know and what they have learned. If I interject, I am not allowing the students to legitimately stumble and fail. The rulebook has some spelling errors. The printing is a bit offset. It’s an amazing project that I am proud of and, at the same time, it’s imperfect.”

According to Patch, mistakes and imperfections are part of the process as a lifelong learner. Instilling a passion for learning is Patch’s priority when he teaches, whether he’s in front of a desk-filled classroom or on a boat off the coast of Costa Rica. Learning how to learn, he emphasizes, will prepare future generations for the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world they will journey into.

He reflects, “We’re in a space where there’s so much ambiguity, and that’s what life is. The beautiful adventure is, that you as an individual get to choose where you spend your time, and have your impact felt. There is a lot of help needed in the world, and don’t expect it to be quick, don’t expect it to be easy, but I hope you know that it is absolutely worth it.”