Group in New York awards grant to help American and African students interact

More than 7,000 miles separates Western New York from Namibia, Africa, however that distance will seem less now thanks to a recent grant award and the Building Cultural Bridges program.

Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES is part of a grant consortium that was recently awarded a three-year Learning Technology Grant from New York state. The grant, in partnership with Educators of America and its Building Cultural Bridges program, focuses on increasing cross-cultural awareness between diverse countries.

“This is a great opportunity for our students and staff to see beyond our borders and community,” said Bryan Olson, Coordinator of Distance Learning. “By utilizing video technology equipment, students and staff will travel to places that are culturally and ethnically different from their own. It makes the world smaller and unites us as a global community.”

said Bryan Olson, Coordinator of Distance Learning. “By utilizing video technology equipment, students and staff will travel to places that are culturally and ethnically different from their own. It makes the world smaller and unites us as a global community.”

The $527,011 grant will provide video technology equipment, project-based learning projects and program support through personnel to facilitate the program and connect classrooms. The students in the E2CCB component school districts of Pine Valley, Jamestown, Gowanda, Cassadaga and Forestville, in addition to Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda and Cleveland Hill UFS districts, will benefit from the enhanced programming.

According to Olson, Distance Learning classes typically last about 40 minutes and have two to three districts involved. Students currently have the opportunity to interact with each of the connected sites utilizing cameras and microphones, as well as any Web resources utilized in instruction including learning management systems, interactive websites and messaging systems.

The Learning Technology Grant will allow for the participation of more schools, teachers and students and create electronic field trip opportunities to Namibia for more than 400 Western New York students.

Since 2017, the program has been connecting American and Namibian students thanks in part to support from US Peace Corps volunteers. Students have exchanged tangible letters and virtual interactions through video technology mediums, explored new cultures and broadened their depth and knowledge of the world as a whole.

“The Building Cultural Bridges program started as a form of pen pal program where students would write letters back and forth between a school in my community and a school in the United States,” said Brett Claydon, Peace Corp Volunteer in southern Namibia. “We wanted to take it a step further so we partnered with Educators of America.”

The pen pal program evolved into a unique opportunity for students half a world away to speak to each other and interact in real-time, thus breaking down cultural barriers and instead building cultural bridges.

The connections will begin in 2019 and while the grant funding runs through 2021, the hope is the impact this opportunity has on students will last a lifetime.

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