NOTE: This is a guest blog post from Ossob Mohamud, Curriculum Director at One World Youth Project.
One of the most exciting environments to facilitate global education is in classrooms that are themselves traversing, sometimes with difficulty, their own complex diversity. Sometimes our university student facilitators find themselves trying to not only create human connections between their classroom and their partners abroad, but to bridge the gap between students of different backgrounds in their own classroom.
That is the case with the one of the high school classrooms that One World Youth Project is working in. Columbia Heights Education Campus (CHEC) is a high minority school, with Hispanic, African American, Asian, and East African students. Our class in particular has a fair number of English Language Learners (ELL). We immediately noticed the divisions in the classroom that unfortunately and undeniably formed along racial and linguistic lines. We tried rearranging seating but that did not create the collaboration nor communication we wanted to see between the newly mixed tables.
But something changed, even for a brief, fleeting moment, during the lesson about identifying injustice. Each group chose to speak about an injustice in their community that bothered them. We had to repeatedly encourage Isabella* to present for her group. She was shy and understandably so. But when she came to the front of the classroom and spoke, you could hear a pin drop. Isabella passionately talked about the discrimination and exclusion that ELL and Immigrant populations feel in the DC community. She talked about illegal deportations and the constant fear of having everything you worked for being taken away, which she related to her own life.
The class then voted on one community injustice to focus on for the rest of the semester. It came as a surprise to us that almost every single hand went up for Isabella’s group idea on immigration issues. But it was a pleasant surprise. More than anything, we saw it as a breakthrough. We noticed students recognizing one another’s humanity. We witnessed students empathizing with one another’s experiences with injustice, and possibly realizing their own role in perpetuating it. I could see students possibly for the first time, realizing “it must be tough being you, and it’s just not fair.”
This is very much still a tentative beginning, to what we hope will be genuine respect and empathy between our students. Giving them a space to connect with their peers abroad, laid the equally important groundwork, for the CHEC students to connect amongst themselves here at home.
*The name of the student has been changed for privacy reasons.
One World Youth Project (OWYP) is a young, Washington D.C. based social enterprise that is trying to bring education into the 21st century. OWYP partners with universities around the world to deliver the opportunity for international engagement to students in their community.
Photo courtesy of One World Youth Project.
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