Connecting via the internet with a student in Amman, Jordan, eighth grader Maire Finnigan was surprised to discover the two shared common ground. In discussion over role models and who they most want to emulate, both landed on the same answer: their parents.
“But we admire them for different reasons,” Finnigan clarified. “My partner wants to be like her dad, who’s a doctor, and follow a similar career path. I want to be like my mom because she’s really strong and really firm with what she believes in.”
The experience of connecting with a peer halfway around the world for shared learning and relationship building is not one that is typically available to middle schoolers like Finnigan, as the expansive Sacred Heart global exchange program is predominantly reserved for high schoolers. However, with online programs such as Level Up Village—which matches U.S. students with those in developing countries—students of all ages are able to learn directly from one another about differing practices, expectations, and points of view.
And it’s an opportunity that has proved particularly impactful to students in Chris Kanelopolous’ eighth grade religion class, who have had a chance to take part in the program over the last few years. Kanelopolous’ class participated in Level Up’s “Global Conversations: Malala Yousafzai,” a course which partnered Sacred Heart students one-to-one with students from Jubilee School in Jordan to explore cultural perceptions and issues around access to education for young women.
In preparation, students read the memoir I Am Malala. Exchanging video letters, each global pair then engaged in discussion about the important themes and issues raised in the book, as well as topics in leadership and the role of community service.
“Intentionally, our group was only paired with female students, as Yousafzai’s text focuses on women's access to education and other resources primarily reserved for men,” said Kanelopoulos. “After exploring cultural perceptions of each other's country, students then had a chance to reflect upon and express their own understanding of the role education plays in their own lives, while also gaining some perspective on the state of education in their partner's country.”
“To be able to hear from someone who [actually] lives in Jordan, to learn a different perspective on major topics that are discussed in the world, was a great opportunity” said Mira Ravi (SHP ’22), who found the face-to-face interaction, and ability to thoughtfully craft responses to one another, made the project especially meaningful.
“Each time, students seem to come away from this experience with a much greater appreciation for their access to technology and to education, and a greater understanding of the needs and perspectives of other communities around the world,” Kanelopolous reflected.
“And consistently,” he added, “they register surprise to learn that their peers across the globe share some of the same concerns and hopes for the world and the future that we do.”