Building friendships and digital skills through virtual cultural exchange
|Building Friendships and Digital Skills through Virtual Cultural Exchange|
Giving students a window into other cultures is a priority for White Plains City Schools. The district was the primary creator of the Global-Oriented Education (GO-Ed) Model which has seven cornerstones:
“We feel strongly about providing a global-oriented education,” said Dr. Christopher P. Clouet, superintendent. “We live in a global society and the reality is that in the future, our students will be friends or business acquaintances with students from other countries. It’s good to get to know them now.”
Within the middle school, the GO-Ed model has included participating in video conferences with learners from other countries. Students can also choose to study Chinese, Spanish, Latin or French languages.
Jumping at the chance to collaborate with peers
Starting in January 2012, 57 students from grades 6-8 have been building friendships with students at Suzhou Lida Middle School in China through the Schoolwires Greenleaf Virtual Cultural Exchange Program. The students work together on group projects using a variety of multimedia and social media resources, including videos, chatrooms and blogs.
The White Plains students, many of whom are in the schools’ Global Ambassador program, participate in the Greenleaf program during their study hall or after school. “Participation is 100 percent voluntary,” said Jody Kennedy, program teacher. “When I explained the program to my students and asked who wanted to participate, they all raised their hands. They were very excited.”
Through the remainder of the school year, the students worked with their peers in China to conduct research, collaborate and complete projects, all tied to core standards for 21st century learning.
“This program was different from our usual video conferences because the students are building knowledge and relationships over a longer span of time, and this makes it more impactful,” said Kennedy. “Our students are learning the Chinese culture and getting perspective from kids their own age, which is gold. They learn they have a lot in common. The students constantly talk about how far away they are from each other, but Greenleaf bridges the distance. There are no walls.”
“The Greenleaf program provides technology tools that allow students from different cultures to communicate with each other in way that is meaningful to adolescents,” added Clouet. “Our district embraces opportunities like these to provide a global-oriented education to our students and help them understand and participate in today’s global society.”
Paving the way for cultural exchange
The friendships have been extended to other students in the district. High school students who were studying Chinese took their class trip this year to Suzhou Lida Middle School for an extended stay. They carried with them gifts from the White Plains Greenleaf participants. Students at Suzhou Lida sent gifts in turn.
“Some things, like exchanging gifts, are universal,” remarked Kennedy. “It was a nice way to further the relationships.”
Kennedy anticipates that some of the students who participated in the program this year might make the same trip when they are 9th graders. More parents likely will be supportive and comfortable allowing their children to go to China if they know the district has an established relationship with a school there. “One of our roles in middle school is to prepare students for cultural opportunities in high school,” said Kennedy. “This is a nice bridge to the student exchange program.”
Kennedy herself has built rewarding global connections. She Skypes weekly with the principal and several teachers at Suzhou Lida. “We are excited to see each others’ faces each week. I’ve learned that we have a lot in common as teachers. They are pulled in many directions just as we are.”
Practicing online collaboration skills
The program not only establishes cultural connections, it also builds more effective digital citizenship and online collaboration skills. “I stress ‘effective’ because students often think they are communicating well online when they are not,” said Kennedy. “With the Greenleaf program, they get continual feedback and opportunities to develop the 21st century skills that will be critical to them in the workplace. We have a lot to teach them about being digitally savvy.”
For example, although students are champs at posting on Facebook and texting, they don’t necessarily know how to use other online tools. The Greenleaf program gave them an opportunity to use email and blogs that they will likely use in the workforce.
“We assumed when we started the program that students knew a lot more about online communications than they actually do. But we had to really teach them how to use these tools and how to use them effectively. Greenleaf gives them a chance to practice and to get feedback,” said Kennedy.
Secure environment reduces concerns about online safety
The fact that all communications take place in a secure environment eliminated concerns about online exposure. “This gave us a lot of confidence in the program. It wasn’t the Wild West of Facebook or Google chat. Parents would have never gone for that and we wouldn’t want them to. Parents were very supportive of the program after we explained the security to them,” said Kennedy.
Near the end of the school year, Superintendent Clouet asked the participating students their reaction to the program and, once again, students were unanimous in their response.
“When he asked for their feedback on the program, the students all agreed that it was an opportunity of a lifetime and that they would do it again,” said Kennedy. “The program has been an invaluable opportunity for the students. The potential benefit of this program to global education really excites me.
About White Plains City Schools
White Plains City Schools are a strong attraction for young families and for those relocating to the New York metro area. The White Plains Public Schools serve youngsters in pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade in campuses spread throughout the city of White Plains. The school district has five elementary schools, one middle school, a Newcomer Center for children in grades 1-6 who are new to this country and who do not speak English, a high school, and an alternative program for 7th through 12th graders needing a smaller setting. The district also provides adult and continuing education classes for thousands of adults. The district’s middle and high schools have been designated Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence by the New York State Education Department and the U.S. Department of Education. Learn more
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