This spring and summer at St. Louis University High School in the United States, much like everywhere else in the world, we found ourselves unable to travel and visit our partner schools, both Jesuit and non-Jesuit, all over the world. As we struggled through these difficult, unprecedented times and watched this pandemic impact the entire global community in different, but vastly similar ways, we decided to reach out to our partners to affirm and strengthen our relationships, but more importantly to share valuable perspectives and experiences.
There was an additional language goal that was woven into the project as well. My colleague Maria Paz Campos and I began contacting our partners in Russia, China, Taiwan, Spain, Chile, and Colombia, as well as our own SLUH students, to schedule several conversations, some in English due to the variety of the group, and others in both English and the language of our partner schools. In this case Russian and Spanish. We put together a list of 6 questions for teachers and students to prepare before the discussion. The questions were the following:
1) Describe how things developed with the coronavirus in your city and country? How fast did the virus spread? How quickly were schools closed down? How strict were the quarantines? How did people/organizations try to stop the spread of the virus?
2) How has distance learning gone for you? What are some of the challenges/things you don’t like? What are some advantages/anything you like about it? What do you miss about school?
3) How has this crisis affected your family? Have any of your relatives or friends been infected with the virus? Has there been any economic effect for your family? For your area? Country?
4) What are your biggest fears right now? What are your greatest hopes? What are you most looking forward to?
5) What have you learned during this whole experience? About yourself? About your country? About the world?
6) What should we all as a global community learn from this pandemic?
In the end, we were able to get the students together for four discussions, and record the conversations. From those recordings we put together the video that summarized the project and some highlights of the conversations. However, the video doesn’t do the experience justice. There was so much personal insight, cultural perspectives and genuine care and concern shared in the roughly 90 minute discussion, which it was more than could be packed into 4 minutes.
All parties left enlightened and inspired to continue similar discussions throughout the year. We will definitely not let this momentum fade, and are planning to look for even more creative and meaningful ways to use the virtual tools that we are somewhat confined to pedagogically at the moment be the gateway to greater exchange, collaboration, and personal connection with our partner school communities.