We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
As part of the 2014-15 School-2-School program, middle school students at the Wheatley Education Campus in Northeast Washington DC and at the Arab Evangelical School in Ramallah are taking part in a virtual exchange. Their exchange began with each class of students learning about the other class’ respective city, and the exchange has progressed to discussing and doing complementary assignments in Social Studies and STEM. Just a few days ago, teachers Asante Johnson and Tanesha Dixon departed for Ramallah to volunteer at the Arab Evangelical Episcopal School for a week. They will be teaching classes for students in English and Social Studies as well as conducting training workshops on curriculum planning, lesson planning, and using technology in the classroom, among other subjects.
Ms. Dixon and Ms. Johnson shared their pre-departure thoughts before departing for Ramallah. Ms. Johnson’s blog is below and Ms. Dixon’s post will appear tomorrow.
A Postcard from the Airport
As I await the boarding of my flight to Tel Aviv, Israel I cannot help the excited butterflies that I feel in the pit of my stomach. I am actually taking a new step in my teaching career by heading to Ramallah, Palestine to meet Ms. Wafa and her 6th grade classes face to face for the first time. Although I have been in contact with Ms.
Wafa and her 6th graders since October via the online learning management system “Edmodo” and through weekly phone calls, it seems like I am going to meet total strangers. I wonder if the Middle East is everything that I have heard over the years: dangerous and unstable, wealthy families and extremely poor refugees, hot and not too fond of Western foreigners… Leading up to this trip I did not give much thought to any preconceived notions that I may have, but now that I am sitting here in the Philadelphia Airport all of these things are playing in my head and I am asking myself “Asante what are you doing!”
My hope is that I will learn a lot about Palestinian culture and gain some new insight on teaching ELL students. I anticipate that the students and the school as a whole will be just as intrigued by me as I them. I must admit that I am a little worried about trying to cross over into Ramallah, Palestine from Tel Aviv, Israel. I have been briefed by the staff at Creative Learning that I might have a hard time explaining why I would like to go and visit Palestine as a single black female out of all the places in the world that I could have chosen to travel to. More specifically, I have been told to expect long lines at customs in Israel and even the possibility of a five to six hour “interrogation” session, all in hopes of being granted the opportunity to deliver the books my students collected and to conduct some trainings with my counterparts in what is for me a forbidden new land. Once again I sit here and ask myself “is this going to truly be worth all the potential hassles…?”
Quickly I remind myself that this adventure is not just for me, but it is for my students. This trip is for Jazmia who was so intrigued to find out that Arabic-speaking students enjoy the same music that she does. This trip is for Andrew who was so impressed that a 6th grade Palestinian student could write such beautiful sentences in English. This trip is for Arjanae and Brianna who welcomed the students from Arabic Evangelical Episcopal School into our online class because they wanted to know so much about them. This trip is also for Decarus, Demaontay, Johnny and the countless other students at Wheatley that immediately wanted their new Arab 6th grade friends to feel welcomed by including them in chats on Edmodo about various types of sports.
As my plane begins to start boarding, my mind has been refocused on the countless lives that this cultural exchange will affect. How many of my inner city DC Public School students will have the seed of travel and exploration planted in them through this program? Will any of them go on to do more extensive research about other cultures and form a level of respect for everyone on Earth no matter what their background is?
My purpose now is so clear; this is not just a trip overseas, this is a necessary beginning to a new set of experiences for my students in Washington, DC and for my adopted students in Ramallah, Palestine that need to be reminded to dream big!
Asante Johnson is a middle school science teacher and technology integration coach at Wheatley Education Campus. She also holds the role of STEM coach and enjoys leading robotics teams into competitions. Asante has held numerous leadership roles, such as department chair, instructional coach, and grade level team leader, in various school districts. She is also a published science education writer. Asante was named “Master Teacher” by Orange County Public Schools in central Florida and was awarded PTA Teacher of the Year in Alexandria City, Virginia. She earned a bachelor’s degree in micro-molecular biology and a master’s degree in secondary science education from the University of Central Florida.