Week 1: Sharpening My Focus

This week is my first week of my new topic—OUR new topic. In reading other group members’ blogs and doing my own research, I realized that this week, my goal is not only to learn about the issue, but to figure out my vision for this project. It’s exciting, because I’m now working in a group with five other people, and we are each going to have our own vision, pointing each of us down a different path. So our job, hopefully in next week’s meeting, is to share those paths and find where they converge.

My vision is just starting to come into focus, but something just stood out from the blur: the future of cultural communication is in students. Schools must play a part, adults must play a part. But students are the future of the world, so we must be the ones creating meaningful conversations and connections. Teachers can only do so much. It is up to us to come together, now more than ever. We all need a mindset of inclusivity, of not being scared to talk about race and culture, of being able to communicate in many languages and in body language. So part of my particular vision for this project is to promote student connections across cultures. I want to change the education system by changing the people involved. I want to create opportunities for conversation instead of enforcing it through the schools, because the best conversations arise naturally, and maybe these need just a little bit of prompting.

I think creating communities like this would be more attainable than downright changing the education system. Not that we shouldn’t follow that path as well, but let’s be honest: there’s only so much five teenagers could do to change an entire state’s education system. But we can mold it from within—we’re all in school, after all. By giving ELL and New Americans opportunities to connect with other students, and vice versa, we can change education for the better.

So what would this look like? I looked into an already existing student-run organization in Vermont called the Refugee Outreach Club. They promote cultural communication at the same time as improving education for new Americans, because students can tutor new Americans through ROC. The organization started in CVU but now is a registered non-profit with additional chapters in South Burlington, Mount Mansfield, Stowe, and Rice. It looks like an incredible program that really took off in just a few years, and entirely because of students! I would love to raise awareness about ROC as part of our project and spread it even further to other parts of the state. That being said, ROC is definitely in line with our topic, but it’s not exactly the same as what our current mission is. Where ROC is specifically focused towards refugees, we have kept it broad by generalizing to all English Language Learners and New Americans. We should ask ourselves whether we want to keep it this way, or focus on refugees, or focus on non-refugees; we have lots of options. Plus, ROC was started in schools but most of the conversations they have are outside of schools, whereas we were thinking about in school conversations. So we can use ROC as a model or a jumping-off point, but then expand from there.

We could create our own student organizations to initiate conversations within schools, and not just with refugees. At my school, we have a gay-straight alliance. We have the Student Coalition on Human Rights. What if we had a Cultural Communication club, where people new to America or English as well as people who have lived here their entire life, could discuss culture and race in an open environment? These are all just abstract ideas, and I’m going to talk to my group members about what they think of them or if they have anything to add along these lines. I know it’s early to think about how exactly I want to bring about change. But to me, it’s important to have some destination for my path in order to start the journey, even if we end up traveling somewhere different entirely.

Featured Image by Diego da Silva

Greta Hardy-Mittell

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