Student exchange programs don’t always involve international border crossings.
This year, TMA’s Social Studies department chair and teacher Karen Lee, along with Christiane Connors, Director of Service and a teacher at the Edmund Burke School, a private school in Northwest DC, established an intra-city student exchange program to unite students from disparate communities in the nation’s capital. Ms. Lee and Ms. Connors hope that the exchange program between TMA and Edmund Burke students inspires a meaningful conversation about race and justice between students from very different backgrounds.
Ms. Lee and Ms. Connors first crossed paths in summer 2014 during the Washington International School Summer Institute for Teachers (WISSIT), a professional development opportunity for teachers that focuses on effective teaching through discussion and peer learning. There, Ms. Lee and Ms. Connors “instantly clicked and ended up on a teaching team, Global Lens, reflecting and creating some thinking routines for global competence,” says Ms. Lee.
Throughout the fall semester, Ms. Lee found herself moderating more and more discussions in class about racial injustice stemming from current events. “I was having some of the tough conversations about racial injustices in the news with my seniors and felt like I wanted to provide the opportunity to push the conversations further by incorporating new perspectives,” she says. At a recent Global Lens meeting, Ms. Lee discovered that Ms. Connors was also tackling these issues and having her own in-class conversations on race and injustice. From there, they decided to unite their students to learn from one another. “Our goal,” explains Ms. Lee, “is to create a safe space for students to have conversations about difficult topics with people and perspectives with which they would not usually come in contact.”
Two main themes anchor this two-day exchange: the face of justice today, and students’ roles in supporting and advocating for justice.
On Thursday, January 29th, 16 students from Edmund Burke visited TMA to kick-off the exchange. They were paired with 17 seniors from TMA, who led them on an individual tour of the school building.
The focus of the day was to examine different perspectives on injustice to gain a better understanding of how injustice manifests both worldwide and locally. All students watched a short film titled “Voices from the Areng Valley,” an expose on communities in Cambodia on the cusp of elimination as a result of the controversial Chaey Areng hydropower project, and participated in a discussion of the injustices represented in the film.
The next meeting between the two groups will happen on February 10th. TMA students will visit Edmund Burke, spend time in their classrooms, and participate in a conversation about racial injustice and advocacy facilitated by TMA senior KaJuan Willis and her peers from Operation Understanding DC, an organization whose mission is to build a generation of African American and Jewish community leaders who promote respect, understanding and cooperation while working to eradicate racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination. “Our hope is that students will see that there are not as many divisions or differences between them and others in the city,” says Ms. Lee.