I recently learned about Bridges To Understanding through another popular organization, Teachers Without Borders (TWB). This year TWB has decided to adopt Bridges To Understanding’s youth programs and educational curriculums since the non-profit organization, founded in 2001, will be dissolving (http://www.teacherswithoutborders.org/programs/teacher-programs/peace-education/bridges-understanding). The Bridges To Understanding’s vision was to “empower and unite youth worldwide, enhance cross-cultural understanding and build global citizenship using digital technology and the art of storytelling” (http://www.facebook.com/bridgesworld?sk=info).
I thought it was interesting to see how Bridges’ two core curriculum-based programs, the Bridges Ambassador Program and the Bridges Global Citizens Program, connected students across the globe in a way most educators (especially those in a public education system) would never accomplish in the traditional classroom setting. The Bridges group laid the groundwork for a “network of established partner schools and community organizations in Seattle, Peru, Guatemala, South Africa, India and Cambodia where [their curriculums] have been adapted to insure cultural relevancy” (http://www.facebook.com/bridgesworld?sk=info). The first curriculum, the Ambassador Program, teaches children how to create digital stories about their daily lives, local culture/traditions and community. With the help of Bridges staff, teachers lead discussion forums on conflict and resolution as well as environmental sustainability issues through both a local and a global lens. The second curriculum, the Global Citizens Program, works on a more international approach by bringing together partner schools around the world into a classroom-to-classroom discussion forum to talk about important global issues. This allows students to view others’ videos while sharing their own stories, photography and ideas (http://www.bridges2understanding.org/programs/programs.html).
Contextually, this peer-to-peer learning can be implemented at any age level. In our global environment, the use of digital technology is something many young children are learning far more quickly than in the past generation. I think both science and humanities teachers should be encouraging technology-based curriculums such as this one into their classrooms since it not only broadens the children’s skill set for the future workplace (arguable one goal of education), but also gives them the opportunity to explore a vast amount of new information available online. Technology is typically applied in science classes, but by introducing online discussion forums into humanities classes, students are able to personally clarify the local context of the broad cultural content they learn. By giving youth a protected informal setting, educators can eliminate some of the psychological barriers preventing students from asking questions in the formal classroom setting while increasing the perceived self-importance of other individual youth who take pride in speaking about their culture; perhaps, for many, this is the first time a foreigner has taken an interest in their lives.
The Bridges organization has added a resource called the Bridges Passport Program for educators to help implement their curriculums with ease. This program provides educators with access to “ten youth-produced digital stories, with accompanying story guides, for classes to explore rich multicultural content” in the context of any existing curriculum (http://www.bridges2understanding.org/programs/programs.html). After the merger with Teachers Without Borders, educators can also access both of the Bridges’ curriculums through the TWB website. The only logistical setback would be that individual classrooms would need access to either a computer, camera or a TV to view and create the digital stories. I would suggest taking the last class of each week to focus on a global issue presented within the content youth learned in class that week. Educators can alternate between using a story guide to watch and discuss an international student’s video one week and having their students create videos to post online the next week. If there are time restraints on watching videos or creating videos which is probably more likely, educators should encourage students to meet outside of school to discuss possible global issues in their local community and think of ways they can incorporate these themes into both a video and the lessons they are learning in class. The application to already existing class material is key.
This resource is geared heavily towards conflict resolution and human rights education; hence, it would fit well into humanities classes. Pedagogically-speaking, educators would use this to build trust across cultures and community building. This resource allows students to explore alternative perspectives on global history and learn how they can reframe it to incorporate means of peace. Bridges To Understanding specifically works to “develop students’ cross-cultural understanding, as they discover differences and similarities in the challenges faced by their peers in other countries” (http://www.facebook.com/bridgesworld?sk=info). This requires students to not only become leaders to actively discuss issues in their community, but also active listeners to other students’ problems. On a practical level, they must also become familiar with technology. I believe the Northern Virginia public school system would make an excellent candidate as well as George Mason University for implementation of these programs since we have public access to many forms of technology.
http://www.bridges2understanding.org/ – The Bridges To Understanding website
http://www.facebook.com/bridgesworld?sk=info – The Bridges To Understanding Facebook page
http://www.teacherswithoutborders.org/programs/teacher-programs/peace-education/bridges-understanding – The Teachers Without Borders website