"A World Beyond Classrooms" Launches in Stonington, Connecticut

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 | posted by Jon Heifetz |
The future is now. Global Playground has officially launched its "A World Beyond Classrooms" initiative, which will revolutionize the way students from around the world learn about other cultures. The initiative has already caught fire at Stonington High School where nearly one hundred students, about one-eighth of the student body, are so actively engaged with Global Playground that NBC Connecticut recently featured them on the five o'clock news.

A World Beyond Classrooms involves students in international development projects, promotes teacher education and teacher training, and builds bridges among youth, explained Edward Branagan, Global Playground's Executive Director. Specifically, for a donation of $5000, a school in the United States can sponsor one of Global Playground's schools. Students will learn about other cultures and languages through their own firsthand experiences and those of their teacher whose travel to the sponsored school Global Playground will fund. As a participant in the initiative, SHS has pledged to raise $5000 for Global Playground's expected project in Honduras, a $45,000 technology center with eighteen computers in El Progreso.

A World Beyond Classrooms encapsulates what makes Global Playground unique. To be sure, calling on students to help raise funds for a nonprofit is certainly not new. But a World Beyond Classrooms "is not just about fundraising for a cause. It's truly about experiencing other cultures. It's all about opening students' eyes. It's beneficial for everyone when students are able to learn on both sides about each other," said Branagan. Once the technology center is built, students at SHS and in El Progreso will be able to communicate and share things with one another in real-time over the Internet. One can only imagine what they will discover.

SHS has already raised $1000 through cash donations and the sale of Global Playground t-shirts and flower lapel pins from Cambodia. Student-led efforts have included a car wash, two bake sales, and a "buy a brick" (for a dollar) campaign that pitted homerooms against each other. SHS students have also painted a mural about Global Playground at the school and collected donated soccer balls.

These efforts kicked off last April when Mrs. Lea Kennedy, a Spanish teacher, "discovered" Global Playground and its Teacher Toolkit at the 2009 Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Mrs. Kennedy immediately brought Global Playground back to her Spanish classes.

Mrs. Kennedy's Spanish classes have an "outreach" component, requiring her students to engage with Spanish-speaking people, and many of her students are using Global Playground to fulfill this component. "I'm giving them the opportunity to do some meaningful work within the class," says Mrs. Kennedy. The work has also eliminated traditional high school "barriers," uniting "academic superstars" with those at the bottom of their class, athletes and non-athletes, and students from different socio-economic backgrounds.

Upon learning about Global Playground, one of Mrs. Kennedy's students, Jackie Ingham, "just fell in love with the organization. That day, I went home and told my brother all about the organization; I showed him the Web site and must have gone through all the Global Playground photo albums at least twice," she said. Ingham then founded a Global Playground club at SHS to involve students other than those in Mrs. Kennedy's Spanish classes in supporting Project Honduras. Between Mrs. Kennedy's Spanish classes and the Global Playground club, about one hundred SHS students are now enthusiastically engaged with Global Playground. A few of Mrs. Kennedy's students who struggled with her Spanish 3 course even elected to take Spanish 4 because they enjoyed the class' involvement with Project Honduras.

Like many of SHS's students, Jackie Ingham believes that she is "making a difference outside of Stonington" and adds that that "is a great feeling." The students' next fundraiser will be a Latin-themed dance featuring songs in Spanish.