Student leaders from Georgetown University, Washington D.C., write about their first experiences leading the OWYP global education curriculum at Jefferson Middle School and their students’ reactions to communicating with peers around the world. Contributors: Camille Squires, Daisy Franco, Christine Nichols and Annie Chen
After several delays, including the arrival of Hurricane Sandy in Washington, DC, our first semester at Jefferson Middle School was full of both positive moments and challenges.
One of the most challenging aspects is addressing the students’ lack of knowledge beyond the mid-Atlantic states. While the students can generally identify Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, they know almost nothing about the rest of the country. It is a struggle to discuss culture and people on a global scale when the students don’t have a solid frame of reference to understand it.
Yet, it has been rewarding to make progress with them in this regard – we spent part of the first day bringing up world maps and having them find our partner countries’ locations, then showing them pictures from the countries. The kids had a great time asking questions about each of the places and learned something at the same time. They noticed many details from differences in the architecture of the buildings to the realization that many of the people in the pictures in our partner country sites wore clothes similar to people here in Washington, DC.
The second day was even better as we played some Turkish rap music for our class – the students were quick to point out that while they couldn’t understand the language, they could still enjoy the beat – and then we made the introductory video for our partner class in Turkey. The questions they wanted to ask about Turkey ranged from favorite foods to what school is like to what type of transportation do students use. We were very impressed with the scope of the questions and their genuine enthusiasm to learn.
A lot of the kids would truly try to do the activities, have fun with each other, and join in the discussion. So many of the kids wanted participate in the video that we had to hold rock-paper-scissor competitions to decide on the speakers. Perhaps the most touching element, though, was the letters the teachers had the students write to us. Some thanked us for coming to classroom, saying things like, “Thank you for letting me learn about other places” and “One of the things I liked when you all came to do was telling us about different cultures.” Others said they wanted to know more about college and thought we inspired them to want to go to college. Whatever impact we have, no matter how small, is at least a positive one.
-Camille Squires, Daisy Franco and Christine Nichols
It has been interesting to see how our students responded to the different lessons, especially from a point of view of a foreign student like myself. During the first lesson when I introduced myself, I had to point on the map to explain where Taiwan was located. When the students realized Taiwan was right next to China, they asked if I spoke Chinese. Many of them subsequently started to burst out words, phrases, and sentences in Chinese. Every week since then, they would share the new Chinese words, proverbs, and traditions that they learned from their Chinese classes with me and asked me to further explain the culture. I was particularly touched with those moments, because despite that these actions were not related to our lesson, it showed that they were curious and humble to learn about a different culture.
Our group has been lucky to have a class of students that are mostly willing to share their thoughts. I was especially impressed when we facilitated Lesson 4 on observing identities of different famous people around the world. The students were able to observe qualities through small details of the photos. They used words and descriptions such as famous, fashionable, preachy, serious, authority, important etc.
When it was their turn to create their identity poems, they demonstrated their creativity and ambitions through the process of brainstorming their poems. As they shared their interests, dreams, and family, I felt lucky to have learned more about them and felt more intimately connect with them afterwards.
The biggest challenge has been creating the connection between our hub and our partner hub because of the delays that our partner hub in Kosovo has experienced. It hasn’t come to our students’ minds that we were actually communicating with another country’s classroom because of this. However, as we finally introduced our students to their partner classroom in Kosovo this past week, the students became very excited. When they heard that Kosovo doesn’t have Thanksgiving Holiday, they exclaimed in disbelief! This first cultural shock is a great step towards further exchanges when we go into the classroom next time.