Bridges To Understanding

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.

Resources:

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

Sing for Success

“When you do what you love, things can happen for you.” When you visit the blog for the PS22 Chorus, this quote is displayed on the headline and it could not ring more true than with this amazing group of students. The PS22 Chorus was started by Greg Breinberg in Graniteville, Staten Island, New York. “Mr. B,” as his students refer to him, arrived at Pubic School 22 in 1999 after being laid off from his previous job as a music teacher. When he arrived at PS22, he was the second grade teacher however, he persuaded the principle of PS22 to let him to teach music again as well as start a chorus for the students in 2000.

Starting any type of school arts program in the year 2000 was a very risky move. In the 21st century, our schools are experiencing budget cuts from every angle and, more likely than not, arts programs are the first ones to get the axe. Too many of our politicians and policy makers fail to see the amazing difference art can make in a student’s life. Before Mr. B was given the opportunity to teach music again, he would play music in all of his classes in order to keep the students engaged in the class and to encourage their participation.

The PS22 Chorus has provided all of its members, past and present, with an amazing opportunity that they may not have had anywhere else. Many of the students that are a part of this chorus come from broken homes where their parents neglect them and they do not have a bright future to look towards. PS22 Chorus gives these students an opportunity to not only escape from the troubles they are having at home, but a chance to actually reflect on their experiences and emotions so they can grow from them. Music provides these children with an emotional outlet that they would not have been able to get anywhere else.

Something very unique about the PS22 Chorus versus other elementary school music programs is that each student is given the chance to perform a solo. The group performs a variety of songs every year highlighting each student’s strength as a singer while the rest of the group performs background vocals and provides harmonies. By allowing different students the chance to shine, the students are able to see each other as equals instead of one being better than the other. Once all the students realize that they all have an amazing gift to give, difference based on race, ethnicity, gender, height, weight and many other things can finally be overlooked and the students can unite to embrace their love of music and build strong relationships with one another that can last into the future.

Too many times the arts are forgotten. Statistics have proven that when students receive a more well rounded educational experience that includes the arts, physical activity and other alternative methods of learning, they excel in their studies. Incorporating arts into the classroom can be done very simply. Like Mr. B, you can play music as your students enter the classroom each day so the students are engaged with what you and the class from the beginning of the period. Also, providing them the time during the class to reflect on the song and what emotions it brought to light for them can help them process hardships or happiness they may be experiencing in their lives outside of the classroom.

Another way to successfully incorporate music into the classroom in order to promote critical thought and peace would be using music to enhance the teaching of subjects such as history, literature, science or math. You can enrich your history and literature lesson plans by connecting the topics you are discussing with the music of the culture from which it came. With math and science, you can help your students connect to the material more so, absorb it and fully understand it through the use of song. If you are able to stimulate your student’s mind through the use of song, they are more likely to engage with you and the rest of the class and therefore have a full educational experience.

In a time where the arts were being cast aside and looked down upon, Mr. B knew how important they were to his students’ happiness and success. Thinking about a world where are youth are denied the right to express their creativity in our school systems is absolutely heart breaking. If we want our youth to grow up to be full adults, ones who not only have the critical thinking and analysis abilities necessary to be successful members of the work force, but emotional beings who are able to express themselves and connect with peers on a deeper level in order to form strong community bonds, we must continue to promote an educational experience that incorporates the arts.