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 24-year-old teacher Chris Obermeyer addressed his students in the second floor classroom of Cardozo Education Campus, an inner city Washington D.C. high school, Creative Learning President Bill Kruvant looked on with pride.
“Chris is trying to do so much,” Kruvant said, “The secret of the ‘School 2 School’ program is having active and innovative teachers. That’s when things happen.”
Obermeyer is the latest teacher to embrace the “School 2 School Program“, under the larger umbrella of the“ America’s Unofficial Ambassadors” initiative run by Creative Learning. A cultural exchange program between US students and those in less developed countries, the mission of School-2-School is to promote, through education, cultural understanding between America and the Muslim world, a cause that couldn‘t be more timely.
“It’s unique because we are working with Muslim world schools and a culture which is being stereotyped in the most negative ways,” said Benjamin Orbach, Director of America’s Unofficial Ambassadors.
Obermeyer’s students are unique in their own right. They are new immigrants from many different countries who are working to improve their English skills. Through the S2S program, they are exchanging videos and writing letters to their counterparts at The Carter Academy in Bangladesh, who are also learning English. Together, they are learning something a little more than language skills.
The Carter Academy was founded by a Bangladesh émigré Ghulam Suhrawardi, a former Merchant Marine who jumped ship in Baltimore in 1971 with $5 in his pocket. Suhrawardi went on to earn a Master’s Degree and now is CEO a multi-million dollar maritime New Jersey consulting firm. He founded The Carter Academy in the small rural village of Islamabad, which had no roads or electricity, and still does not have consistent wireless internet.
The school provides tuition-free housing and schooling to 129 male students from grade 6 through grade 10. Its students all come from economically disadvantaged regions of Bangladesh, and each student is selected to attend the school based on his academic potential.
“I always knew I wanted to give back to Bangladesh, “Suhrawardi explained. “I thought education was the best.”
As Obermeyer writes suggested topics of interest on a white board (no food or dress, teenage obsessions in any language), Suhrawardi called out an idea: “Sports! They love cricket!” Religion was another. And Family.
One young boy, Misack, approached him shyly. His Bangladesh pen pal’s name was confusing. “Is this a boy or a girl?” he asked.. “Oh that’s a girl’s name,” Suhrawrdi explained with a smile.
Kruvant said the program really exists so students “can relate to each other one on one. Because that connection is much more powerful.”
And so, one word, one sentence, one question, one letter at a time teenagers communicate.
“School 2 School” has benefited thousands of students and their teachers since 2005 in countries ranging from Afghanistan and Bangladesh to Indonesia and the United States.
Each School-2-School (S2S) partnership is comprised of four core activities: virtual classroom-to-classroom exchange, volunteer service by the American teacher in the overseas partner school, community-based fundraising, and awareness raising within the wider school community. Lead teachers from the American school and the partner school design and implement a plan for their classrooms to engage with and learn from each other.
At the same time, the American school raises money to purchase educational supplies requested by their partner school. During the school year or over the summer, the lead educator from the American school volunteers in the partner school for 1-4 weeks. The educator then serves as an ambassador of the experience, blogging about it, and giving presentations to the school community and the wider local community.
In 2015, the ‘School-2-School’ program has expanded to three other new partnerships, bringing together students of all ages in Washington DC and Ramallah, Grand Rapids (MN) and Casablanca, and Fayetteville (NC) and Aceh, Indonesia for virtual exchanges, teacher trainings, and shared lessons. The impact of these partnerships is resonating throughout school communities, literally all over the world.
Said Orbach: “In the last three weeks, we’ve had three teachers return from volunteering in our partner schools. It’s been satisfying to hear about the trainings that they led and the classes that they taught, but perhaps even more gratifying to hear each teacher say that this experience changed their life and to hear them talk about their plans to extend the experience gained to their students in the classroom.”
Cardozo’s Chris Obermeyer is now raising funds to provide educational materials and computer equipment for The Carter Academy and will spend several weeks teaching there this summer.
And no doubt learning all about sticky wickets.