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By Hannah D’Apice
“Hi Ms. D’Apice! Did you go to Indonesia this summer? Are we going to Skype again this year?”
Coming in one rushed and excited breath, that was the greeting posed to me by one of my former sixth graders, now in seventh grade, on the first day of school just a few weeks ago. Last spring she had been one of about 40 students from T.W. Browne Middle School in Dallas, TX, that participated in the School-2-School (S2S) partnership between Browne and the Sukma Bangsa Pidie School in Aceh, Indonesia. And three months after Skyping ended for the summer, the partnership was, it seems, all that my student could think about when she saw me.
This was completely unsurprising for someone that had witnessed the impact of S2S on my students and my school. I first discovered Creative Learning’s S2S program through a simple search for programs that would support a virtual partnership between United States classrooms and classrooms abroad. As a sixth grade world history teacher, I knew I wanted my students to have a tangible point of reference related to the content we were studying in order for them to feel more engaged. Surely, exposure to and interaction with another culture—especially with students of a similar age—would ignite my own students’ imaginations and inspire them to envision exploring the world beyond Texas and the United States.
The S2S program in particular stood out because of its service-oriented goals. Not only would my students be able to connect with a group of Acehnese peers on the other side of the globe, but they would also be expected to fundraise and complete a service project to benefit Sukma Bangsa Pidie in the long term. Thus, over several weeks, in addition to weekly Skypes with our Sukma Bangsa friends, my students successfully completed a book drive to donate 250 books to the school for the creation of an “American Corner.” I also completed my own service portion of the program, flying over to Aceh this summer and teaching for two weeks alongside full-time Sukma Bangsa staff members. Behind my desk this year hang the lovely hand-made cards and gifts I received from Sukma Bangsa’s students.
The overall impact of this program—of the staff and students of Sukma Bangsa on my own students—cannot be understated. Visitors to our Skype sessions last spring could see a light behind my students’ eyes as they sat in anticipation once per week, huddled around my computer, waiting for a grainy video connection to reveal the smiling faces of their Sukma Bangsa peers. The book drive service project mobilized our entire grade to dig within their personal libraries and donate gently worn copies of beloved books, with favorite pages still ear-marked and personalized inscriptions on the inside covers. For a group of students of which over 90% are on free or reduced lunch, many of whom face challenges both at home and at school, the opportunity to learn from and contribute to the learning of their new Sukma Bangsa friends was meaningful and empowering.
The impact can be seen at the school-wide level as well. This academic year, my two fellow sixth grade social studies teachers and I adopted “Ambassadorship” as a theme across our classrooms. In just the first few days of school we based a lesson around the Sukma Bangsa partnership and excited our new students with the prospect of continuing to learn from and give to the students in Aceh. Already, our 360 new sixth graders are eager to be “Unofficial Ambassadors.” I have also had other teachers across contents and grade levels approach me about creating partnerships for their students. My administrators and I are now planning to expand the Skype partnership across the school, and we will continue to support Sukma Bangsa with book drives and fundraising.
Such has been the impact of this program. When I see my students from last year that participated in the partnership, they hug me and ask how I am, as they do with all of their former teachers. But after the initial greeting, or sometimes in place of it, there is always the additional, hopeful question: “Will we get to Skype again this year?”