BlogWalker

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October 8, 2016
by blogwalker
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Rwanda – Looking for the Good

Question: How do you talk about and teach difficult topics, including the unthinkable, the unspeakable?

Answer: You look for the good.

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Carl Wilkens – explaining value of elephant poop.

This summer I traveled to Rwanda, Africa, with the incredible Carl Wilkens, director of the World Outside My Shoes Foundation – and the only American to remain in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Without a doubt, this trip was the most thought-provoking, heart-wrenching, uplifting ten days ever. Each day was beautifully planned with visits to historic sites, meeting with genocide witnesses, government officials (Rwandan and U.S.), community leaders, and activists – now living together, committed to learning from the past and moving forward.

To actually visit Rwanda was an opportunity to step into its past and to witness the power of reconciliation and forgiveness and, equally important, the impact a single person can have when he/she has the courage to step up and take action for others.

Photo on left: Rwanda, landlocked African nation – from Tubbs, CC BY SA. Photo on the right: from CIA files, in the Public Domain.

For a quick, but excellent, introduction to the causes and impact of the genocide, please read my fellow traveler Timothy Redmond’s recent post: Reflections from Rwanda. Tim’s article will also give you more background on Carl’s courage and commitment to take a stand against genocide. Or, if you want a resource aimed at students, download fellow traveler James Ingram’s Never Again, a “textbook” he co-authored last year during his senior year in high school.

Arrival at Kigali Airport - the journey begins

Arrival at Kigali Airport – the journey begins

A large part of what made the trip to Rwanda so memorable was a combination of Carl’s leadership talents, combined with our wonderful team (16 educators, 1 student, 1 pastor), the Iris Guest House (our cozy home-base), our bus driver Peter,  our frequent tour guide and shopping companion Johnson – and the beauty of Rwanda, “land of a thousand hills.”

Late afternoon view from my room of the Iris - and our magical bus

Late afternoon view from my room of Iris entry – and our magical bus

As jet-lagged as we were upon arriving at the hotel (I’d been traveling almost two days (from Sacramento to JFK to Qatar to Uganda to Rwanda), we quickly unpacked, met out front for a getting-to-know-you activity, and then headed out and up the hill for a walking tour of our neighborhood en route to a local cafe for our first dinner together. I think we were all drawn into the beauty of Kigali as we walked past the French Embassy, the President’s Compound, the Hotel des Mille Collines (AKA Hotel Rwanda), all accented by lush tropical gardens. A perfect start to an amazing journey.

Day 1 – The next morning, our first full day in Rwanda, we stepped into the recent past with a trip to Kigali’s Genocide Memorial. Before entering, Carl reminded us to intentionally take “positive snapshots” throughout the day to balance  images from a site that memorializes a tragic event.

Entering the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Entering the Kigali Genocide Memorial

The Memorial serves as the final resting place for over 250,000 victims of the genocide and provides a window into the brutality of this horrifying event. But the Memorial also includes an education center and a beautiful garden that offers visitors, many of them survivors of the genocide, a peaceful place to honor those who died and to find strength in their daily lives to keep moving forward. Click here for a interactive Google street view from a section of the gardens.

Garden spot- Kigali Genocide Memorial

So although this trip may already sound like “dark tourism” (“travel to places historically associated with death and tragedy” – Wikipedia), Carl guided discussions on why it is important “not to hate evil more that you love good.”  No matter what site we were visiting, we had only to look around and see what a vibrant country and culture Rwanda is today.

Case in point: From the Kigali Genocide Memorial, our next stop was the Kigali Public Library, a beautiful space, from the entry space to the rooftop cafe.

A welcoming entrance to the Kigali Public Library, topped by stunning views from the rooftop terrace and cafe.

From the Library, it was on to the Belgian Memorial, which honors the ten Belgian UN peacekeepers murdered early in the genocide by Hutu extremists hoping to spark the exodus of the UN forces. Their goal was achieved, clearing the way for a full-scale genocide to quickly explode.

Belgian UN Peacekeepers Memorial – Kigali, Rwanda

As we traveled across Kigali on our way back to our hotel and a fabulous dinner, the group bonding was clearly happening. Between our debriefing of the day’s events, Carl’s pointing out key sites from the past and present (including his former home and neighborhood), and the regular injection of humor and hope, our bus became as much a home base to us as the Iris Guest House.

Following a pattern set on this first day of exploring Rwanda, every day was a near magical combination and balance of stepping into and studying Rwanda’s dark past but also marveling at and celebrating the resilient spirit and determination of a country to unite as one people.

On Day 2, our first stopping point was Nyamata Church, a short drive from Kigali in the Bugasera region, to where over 10,000 Tutsi had fled, believing the church and grounds would be a safe haven. That was not the case. There were less than 100 survivors. Within the church, there are over 6,000 bodies buried – men, woman, and children – all victims of a brutal, brutal attack by the Interahamwe (the militia supported by the Hutu-led government). The church also includes a stand-alone coffin that is a memorial to Mugando, a young woman whose violent murder was proceeded by a violent rape, too often included in the genocide toolkit.

Entering Nyamata to honor those murdered during April 14, 1994, attack

Entering Nyamata to honor those murdered during April 14, 1994, attack

As we gathered in Nyamata’s peaceful garden to reflect on what had transpired at this site during the genocide, children from the school next door came out for recess. Joyful voices, laughter, and soccer served as a reminder that Rwanda is indeed moving forward.

Heading out to Nyamata garden – Photo from James Ingram

How did we find the good after a morning spent at Nyamata? We climbed back into our bus and headed down the road to Mayanga to visit the Millennium Village, a project started in 2005 by a group of visionary professors from Columbia University who sought to improve rural, impoverished areas of Africa by creating sustainable villages through agriculture, education, healthcare, and local business start-ups. The project includes a reconciliation village, where currently about 300 Tutsi and Hutu live side by side, both survivors and perpetrators of the genocide.

We gathered together in a shaded area and listened to villagers share their stories. Silas, a perpetrator, shared that he lives next door to a pastor – whose family he murdered. He shared how the pastor taught him about the power of forgiveness. Silas’s testimony was followed by Lorensia’s, a strong woman whose husband was killed during the genocide. Following the testimonies, we mingled with the villagers, including beautiful children and a dynamic group of women weavers (whose baskets are now proudly displayed in my home).

Another highlight from the afternoon included a visit to the Millennium Village Center, where we were treated to music and dance from local teenagers. What I didn’t realize until after their performance was that we were witnessing another step forward for Rwanda: women are now allowed to play the drums, which happens about mid-way through the dance (shown in second clip):

Day 3 – Had I traveled to Rwanda on my own, I probably would have passed on visiting Prison 1930 (Nyarugenge Prison), based on my U.S. prison mindset. But from the moment we entered the grounds, I knew I was witnessing a lesson our country could learn from Rwanda. Prison 1930 was constructed by Rwanda’s Belgian colonizers. Prior to colonization, “Gacaca” was Rwanda’s system of restorative justice, a system the country has since revived, in which villagers sit together to decide on a fair consequence for a crime. Today, Prison 1930 has moved from punitive justice to restorative justice.

As our bus approached the prison gates, we could see visiting family members entering the grounds – with an absence of security checks. We were warmly greeted by Pelloy Gakwaya*, Director of the Rwandan Justice System. *Note: Rwanda has a 30% rule that requires businesses, including government, to hire a minimum of 30% female employees.

Entering Prison 1930 - A view from our bus

Entering Prison 1930 – A view from our bus

As we walked across the courtyard, what we did not see were shackles, guns, or clubs. Family members came bearing gifts. Joyful greetings and conversations were happening. I had to remind myself that I was in a prison.

The purpose of our visit was to meet with three inmates who were “genocideiers.” We entered a large conference room where Pelloy introduced us to Olive, director of Prison 1930. Olive explained that today’s prison system is structured on community life outside the prison walls. The system provides job training, support groups, counseling, opportunities for service learning, and even leadership roles.

Carl, Olive, and Pelloy - Prison 1930. Photo by JP Bennett

Carl, Olive, and Pelloy – Prison 1930. Photo by JP Bennett

We were joined shortly by three prisoners (2 males, 1 female), all three imprisoned for their roles in the genocide. Sezibera (male) shared his crime of distributing guns and being a genocide leader, although he lost his position for harboring a Tutsi in his home. He asked that we tell the stories of the genocide and bring it to the world. Mulamini (female), who spoke beautiful English, shared about growing up as a Hutu in the 1970’s. She recalled school days when teachers promoted hateful anti-Tutsi propaganda. Although she was married to a Tutsi, who was able to escape with their children, Mulamini joined the government forces to avoid being accused of being a sympathizer. She currently serves as the president of the prisoners’ council and is also the director of the unity and reconciliation club for the women’s section of the prison. Mulamini requested that, as educators, we think about what we share with our students, who often look to their teachers for truth. Like Sezibera, she also asked that we become a voice for the stories of the genocide.

The third prisoner, Gregoire, needs his own paragraph. Having read I’m not Leaving, I knew about the commanding officer whose troops surrounded the Gisimba Orphanage (Day 5 visit) with the plan to slaughter all who were hiding. Carl had also shared with us that two years ago he visited the prison, met with and – 20 years later – recognized Gregoire as that commanding officer. At that time, Carl found it difficult to even have a conversation with Gregoire. Two years later, they entered the conference room together. In his testimony, Gregoire admitted that a plan had been in place to kill Carl. Today he gives thanks for Carl’s heroism and for all he did for Rwanda. Carl responded by telling him he looks forward to joining him on the journey of forgiveness. This is Carl. This is restorative justice. This is Rwanda.

Day 4 – We boarded our bus at 5:30 this morning to head to Akagera National Park, picking up Johnson on the way. Johnson, now 31, lost his entire family during the genocide. Part of the loss included watching his mother and baby sister murdered at a roadblock. Having survived the genocide as a 9-year-old orphan, he still managed to complete his secondary schooling and move on to college, with a year spent in an intensive English program at Texas Christian University. His English is excellent. His story is inspiring. His tour guiding skills are exceptional.

The hippos had a huge presence and made it known.

Akagera National Park - hippo heaven

Akagera National Park – hippo heaven

Hippopotamus gathering in Akagera - not a good idea to get any closer than this!

Hippopotamus gathering in Akagera – not a good idea to get any closer than this! Photo by follower traveler James Ingram.

Left to right, talking with Johnson over sound of snorting hippos; Johnson and Carl capturing the moment; and who knew that hippo poop is actually pretty light and lace like?!

 

Getting kind of up close and personal with lone giraffe at Akagera National Park.

Getting kind of up close and personal with lone giraffe at Akagera National Park.

A day at Akagera National Park was almost a total break from our genocide studies. Although the park is still recovering from a devastating loss of wildlife during the genocide, the government is actively working to restore Akagera to its pre-1994 rich ecosystem.

The trip back to Kigali included a beautiful setting sun. Being located so close to the equator, every day the sun starts to rise at 6:00 a.m. and set at 6:00 p.m. (“6 up; 6 down”).

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Sunset on trip back to Kigali from Akagera National Park.

Day 5 – Sunday in Kigali – Following breakfast at the Iris (love starting the day with Rwandan coffee, fresh mango juice, and pastries!), a group of us walked down our hill and over to the Pariossee Sainte Famille Church to attend a morning mass. There are many stories from the genocide regarding the role of Catholic clergy – as upstanders, bystanders, and even perpetrators.

Sunday in Kigali - Sainte Famille Church

Sunday in Kigali – Sainte Famille Church

Although Sainte Famille was not always a safe haven during the genocide, attending a mass there today is definitely a joyful event, with singing and dancing in the aisles an integral part of the experience. The walk back to the Iris was a time to share what we had seen and learned in our first days in Rwanda.

Savoring the Rwanda experience on our Sunday morning walk back from Sainte Famille Church

Savoring the Rwanda experience on our Sunday morning walk back from Sainte Famille Church

So many colors and patterns to choose from - Patricia's stand, Kigali Market.

So many colors and patterns to choose from – Patricia’s stand, Kigali Market.

Next stop: A shopping expedition to the Kigali Market, where we spent two hours, but could have easily spent more time browsing the endless aisles of merchandise. Having Johnson join us and mentor us in the art of bartering was an added bonus. I decided the best way to bring home the colors of Rwanda would be through their bright, bold, stunning fabrics.

From the Kigali Market, we headed to the Gisimba Orphanage. I will remember this stop in our journey for a long time to come. Johnson would now transition from being our market place guide to helping us step back in time to 1994, when as a 9-year old, he witnessed and lived through the genocide. We gathered outside a window where Johnson vividly remembers looking out and seeing Carl coming down the hill with water and supplies.

 

For the orphans at Gisimba, escaping the sounds and acts of violence surrounding the orphanage was not possible, as Johnson shares in this short clip (my apologies for not turning the phone from vertical to horizontal).

Johnson also shared about Damas Gisimba, director of the orphanage, who was a courageous upstander, putting his life on the line daily to protect the children – and a small group of adults also hidden away in a tiny room. Because of Damas, the Gisimba orphanage had truly become a supportive, nurturing, and safe home.

Catching Carl by surprise, Johnson completed our tour of the grounds by leading us into a room filled with people – some of them orphans at Gisimba during the genocide – who wanted to thank Carl for what he had done for the orphanage. Many of us reached for Kleenex as we watched the former orphans step up to embrace Carl and share their memories and stories. How do you thank someone who risked his life over and over to pass through roadblocks to bring food, water, and blankets to the orphans? The group acknowledged Carl as “the sun in the middle of horror who gave us hope” and presented him with a beautiful painting that symbolizes his legacy.

Gisimba staff and former orphans honor Carl Wilkens as their light in a dark time.

Gisimba staff and former orphans honor Carl Wilkens as their light in a dark time.

Halfway through our Rwanda journey and already so much to celebrate!

Day 6 – Murambi – As we boarded the bus for our 3-hour drive to the Murambi Genocide Memorial, site of one of the most brutal mass murders of the genocide, we knew this would not be an easy visit. We began a discussion on how sites can have harsh memories, but if we look back at our evening celebration at Gisimba Orphanage, it is possible to create new memories, happy memories alongside the bad. We cannot erase the bad memories, but we can balance them with the good.

As we arrived at Murambi, I tried to hang on to the many beautiful people, sites, and events I had been inspired by thus far. Looking for the good is a challenge at Murambi, which before the genocide was a school. As with churches, many Tutsi mistakenly believed they would be safe on school grounds. On April 16, of the 65,000 who fled to the school, 45,000 were murdered. Almost all who escaped were killed within the next few days.

Entering the Murambi Genocide Memorial

Entering the Murambi Genocide Memorial

What is unique about this genocide memorial is that as you tour the classrooms, whole bodies are on display, half-decomposed, mummified by lime, which preserved and turned the bodies white. Out of respect for the dead, we were asked not to take pictures. To see the skeletal remains of so many men, women, and children, who in a single day, lost their lives is difficult to take in.

As I wandered through the exhibit hall, I came upon the unforgettable words of Feliciene Ntabengwa:

Hauntingly powerful words from the Murambi Genocide Memorial

Hauntingly powerful words from the Murambi Genocide Memorial

We ended our tour of Murambi with time to walk the grounds, take in the beauty of the surrounding hills, and quietly reflect on a tragedy that should never be forgotten.

Finding solace in the beauty of the hills surrounding the Murambi Genocide Memorial. Photo by fellow traveler James Ingram.

Finding solace in the beauty of the hills surrounding the Murambi Genocide Memorial. Photo by fellow traveler James Ingram.

Our trip back to Kigali included a stop at Sweet Dreams, Rwanda’s one-and-only ice cream shop. We needed that after leaving Murambi. Thank goodness for inspirational stories that include ice cream.  The shop is another success story and step forward for the women of Rwanda. The Sweet Dreams documentary tells of Rwanda’s first women’s drumming group. And the ice cream? Delightful!

Celebrating so many things at Rwanda's only ice cream shop

Celebrating so many things at Rwanda’s only ice cream shop

Day 7 – By now I should have figured that we would be heading off to another day of unforgettable sights and interactions. Our first stop was a visit to the home of Damas Gisimba. Damas was too ill to join us for the Orphanage reunion, so we came to him. For Damas, having his life-long friend Carl and a group of teachers gathered on his porch was a “moment from the heart.”

Paying our respects to Damas Gazimba

Paying our respects to Damas Gizimba

Our next stop was at MindLeaps, a life-changing organization developed and supported by New York City choreographer Rebecca Davis. The mission statement says it all:

MindLeaps creates dance and educational programs for street children and out-of-school youth in post-conflict and developing countries.  MindLeaps uses a kinesthetic-based curriculum to improve the cognitive skills of youth to ensure they can go to school, enter the workplace and leap forward in life.”

Kigali’s program currently supports close to 100 street children, ranging from 9-18 years old. MindLeaps bridges the many divides that homeless children too commonly face. When a child enrolls in the program, the MindLeaps staff provides meals, requires attendance in English and computer classes, and brings the joy, art, and discipline of dance into that child’s life. Children who remain in the program and thrive have the opportunity to be sponsored at a secondary boarding school.

Left to right: MindLeaps students; Founder/Director Rebecca Davis; one last spontaneous dance

We happened to be visiting MindLeaps on home visits day, which meant we were able to split up and join a teacher and a MindLeaps’ student for a walk to the student’s “home.” Travel colleague Kelly Rosati and I joined English teacher Innocent and 12-year old Joseph. Our first stop was at a small stall to purchase rice and beans for the family. We then stepped off the main street and began to wind our way up a steep hillside of mud huts. Joseph lived at the top of the hill, with his mother Josephine and two sisters.

Josephine welcomed us into their one-room home. Despite a lack of common amenities such as water or electricity, she was grateful for this family space. She praised MindLeaps and how this special program could provide a promising future for Joseph. She also praised the work of President Kagame, whose commitment to help improve living conditions made it possible for her to receive free HIV meds.

We boarded the bus for our final visit of the day: the Magelegele TIG Camp.  We picked up Pelloy (prison director) on the way.  The Magelegele TIG is one of 9 TIG camps remaining in Rwanda and houses 124 prisoners. TIG is a French word for “work camp,” but with the concept of performing work for the general public. Entering the camp was another eye-opening experience. Again, it’s hard for me to imagine “joyful” and “prisoners” in the same sentence. As our bus pulled up and we began to unload, we were greeted by an energizing welcome, as the video below captures:

There is no fence surrounding the TIG. The camp guards are not armed. The camp prisoners maintain a garden, prepare meals – as well as work on projects out in the community. On Sundays they can put on civilian clothing and attend local churches. They are also allowed 10 days per year to return home to their families. Restorative justice in action.

final good-byes - Magelegele TIG Camp, Rwanda. Photo by JP Bennett.

Final good-byes – Magelegele TIG Camp, Rwanda. Photo by JP Bennett.

As we headed back to Kigali, just when it seemed an amazing day could not be any more amazing, Carl shared that we had a dinner reservation at Heaven. To find out more about this 5-star restaurant, founded by two expats determined to contribute to Rwanda’s rebuilding, I recommend  A Thousand Hills to Heaven. The Millennium Village is also a result of their vision and hard work. The restaurant’s stunning views and fabulous food were truly the icing on an extraordinary day.

Day 8 – Our nickname for Carl was “master key” because he opened so many doors for us. Day 8 was no exception. Our first outing was to the Presidential Compound, where, after passing through security, we were graciously welcomed to sit and meet with Clare Akamanzi, Director of Strategic Planning. Over tea and breakfast snacks, she led a discussion on President Kagame’s vision for Rwanda:

  1. Unite – one people; everyone has a part of everything
  2. Accountability – to each other; the government to the people
  3. Thinking big – with overcoming poverty a connecting thread

Kagame has set a goal of “one cow per family,” improving education, improving health care. The stats are already impressive: 95% of Rwandan children are attending primary school; 90% of the population has health insurance; malaria has been reduced by 70%.

Clare also addressed the controversial question of President Kagame serving a third term: “Why take away your biggest asset?”

Her message for our students:

“Be concerned. Know what happened in Rwanda.”
“Look at how people rise against all odds, like a plant rising from ashes.”

The U.S. Embassy is a short drive from the from the Presidential Compound and was our second stop of the morning. We had the privilege of meeting with Ambassador Erica J. Barks-Ruggles. The Ambassador compared Rwanda to an onion: “Pull off a layer and you find more. Every time you think you understand what’s happening, something new arises.” She also stated that Rwandans who are over 22 have PTSD. “You can’t get over the genocide because it’s absorbed in your own story.”

The question of teaching Rwandan students about the genocide was raised. It is supposed to be taught in grade 6. I can’t imagine a more challenging curriculum. How do you teach a topic when both the victims and perpetrators are alive and present?!

Our last stop was to visit Pastor Seraya, one of Carl’s larger-than-life heroes, “the best example of servant leadership.” During the genocide, Pastor Seraya, also with the Adventist Church, was targeted by the Interahamwe because he had lived in the Congo and spoke English, two traits common to the rebel RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) forces. The pastor and his wife hid in Carl’s home. On a daily basis, the pastor provided guidance and advice to Carl. His wife left the safety of their home almost daily to forage and bargain for food and supplies.

Pastor Seraya’s message for educators:

“Moving on is to forget; moving forward is to learn from.”
“The power of the word is like a fire. If it is a kind word, it warms. If it is a negative word, it destroys.”

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In front of the Iris with Pastor Seraya

Day 9 – On this morning of our last full day in Rwanda, we set out for what we knew would be a tough visit: the Mahama Refugee Camp, “home for now” for over 20,000 refugees from Burundi.  But how amazing that about midway on our drive, we noticed a team of cyclists coming up the hill, quickly gaining on our bus. Carl called to Peter to pull over. We were about to witness the Rwandan Men’s National Cycling team in action – a team that rose from the ashes to move Rwanda into the Olympic arena (You really want to watch this short trailer!), demonstrating that anything is possible.

Before entering the refugee camp, we stopped first at at a newly constructed school built by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in collaboration with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The school is for the refugee children, but also for the local Rwandan children from the surrounding community. This week was actually a holiday for the students, but a group of students arrived to take advantage of special classes to prepare for upcoming national exams. Thanks to the combined efforts of ADRA and UNHCR, the students have access to many services, including tutoring, lunches, and uniforms.

Public school for Burundian refugee children – walking distance from Mahama Refugee Camp.

As I walked through several classrooms, I saw the power of words (via chalk) to portray tough realities, but also to inspire more promising futures.

Finding the good – from “deep doo-doo” ( “We are in deep doo-doo but someday we’ll be rescued by our mighty God.” ) to Bob Marley (“Don’t worry about a thing, cuz every little thing is gonna be alright…”).

The school visit served as an introduction to the Mahama Refugee Camp. Like the school, Mahama was quickly constructed in 2015 in response to the wave of refugees entering from Burundi. Our guides gave us a brief overview of the camp and program and then invited us to tour the camp. We were asked not to take photos, but this short YouTube video will give you an idea of how quickly the camp has grown over the year.

The camp is organized in a progression of housing options. Refugees enter the camp in what are referred to as “hanger tents,” long rows of connected tents, with many families under the same extended canvas roof. After screening for health issues and completing the registration process, they move on to more house-like tent structures, which shelter two families, separated by a canvas dividing sheet. The goal is for refugees to eventually move to semi-permanent homes, which they help construct.

Again, the UNHCR and ADRA work together to provide food, medical services, and education. I think much credit also goes to Rwanda, accepting and welcoming refugees when the country is still recovering from their own national crisis. Life is tough in Mahama, but refugees were maximizing and making do with very little. I wish I had a picture of their tiered  wedding-cake-style gardens, for instance, which were scattered throughout the camp. Vegetables and herbs were planted in each layer, but watering happened on the top layer, so it could trickle down to the other layers. Such a practical use of space and water.

One of my favorite Mahama stories was shared by fellow traveler Tim Redmond. As we walked around the camp, we drew quite a crowd of children. Tim was walking alongside our colleague Kelly, who was jotting down notes (in cursive). Behind Kelly, a young girl was following – and fluently reading aloud Kelly’s notes. Despite the challenges of being a refugee, this child was already reading in several languages. Together, Rwanda, UNHCR and ADRA are making the dream of better life a possibility for Mahama’s refugees.

Our last stop of the day was to ADRA headquarters, just outside the camp to drop off donations we brought with us from the States for the refugees. I know that my donation of clothing and art supplies will be put to good use and greatly appreciated. So proud to be a part of this incredible group of educators and humanitarians!

Dropping of donations to ADRA office outside of Mahama Refugee Camp.

Dropping of donations to ADRA office outside of Mahama Refugee Camp.

Day 10 – Everyday of our journey, Carl would remind us that we would witness both the worst and the best of humanity. Our last day was a huge dose of the best. Our drive to the airport included a stop at an outlying neighborhood that was hosting a cow-distribution ceremony. The ceremony was sponsored by Carl’s friend Amiel, a fellow ADRA worker and genocide survivor, who, in 2008, founded Life Lifting Hands. Across the region, Amiel’s team helps buy cows from neighboring communities to distribute to needy families, one cow per family. A cow represents a lifeline to a poor Rwandan family, as it provides multiple benefits (milk for children, income from selling milk, manure for vegetable gardens, and ultimately money for selling’s a cow’s offspring).

Such a joyous occasion, with music and dancing throughout the ceremony – and Kigali children learning a few new dance moves:

Taking part in the cow distribution ceremony was a perfect exit ticket to an unforgettable trip.

Kigali cow distribution ceremony – Life Lifting Hands at work.

As we headed into the Kigali Airport to start the long flight(s) home, I think we all realized that, given the awe-inspiring sights and experiences of the last 10 days and the bond we had formed as a group, in many ways our journeys were just beginning. Thanks to email, Facebook, phone calls, and videoconferencing, the shared conversations continue, starting with the topic of how we will incorporate the lessons and reflections from Rwanda into our teaching assignments. I’ve already connected with several outstanding high school teachers in my district to discuss projects, resources, and curriculum to ensure that students know what happened in Rwanda, the importance of looking for the good, and understanding that a single person can cross the line from bystander to upstander to change the course of history.

I wake up every morning so very grateful for having made the trip to Rwanda and looking for ways to pass on the experience, inspiration, and lessons learned.

Thank you, Rwanda!

Rwanda … Finding the good!

 

July 8, 2012
by blogwalker
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Travel to Rwanda on Student-led Virtual Tour

I’ve never been to Rwanda.  Ever since the 100-day genocide – and after watching Hotel Rwanda – I’ve followed news stories, always hoping to better understand how survivors find the resilience to return to “life as normal.”

At last, I am traveling from California to Rwanda….virtually. Thanks to the vision and determination of my amazing National Writing Project colleague and HEN partner Pam Bodnar, I will be able to join her students as they blog about the sights visited and personal insights experienced. I’ve added the Rwanda Trip 2012 blog to my RSS reader and am really looking forward to joining in the conversations and learning from both Pam’s students and Sacramento USD friend Jeremy Pretko’s students, who are also part of the AfriPeace organization.

But how do you prepare high school students to listen to and experience the first-hand accounts of 100 days of death and destruction as neighbor turned against neighbor in an effort to eliminate an entire group of people?  I think back to my college days when on a trip to Munich, Germany, I ventured to the Dachau concentration camp, with little more preparation on the topic of genocide than having read the Diary of Anne Frank as a 7th grader and maybe a page or two about the Holocaust in a college textbook. I was emotionally and physically ill for hours following the tour.

Pam’s students are prepared. Although now in high school, as 8th graders, they studied the Holocaust not only in their U.S. History class, but also as part of Pam’s Peer Mediators Team.  They delved into the events that led up to the exclusion, forced removal, and murder of over 6 million Jews and other “undesirables” during World War II. But they did not study the Holocaust as an isolated event on a timeline that happened “then and there.” Instead they researched connections from “then and there” to “here and now.” Events including the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia, as well as the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. They approached events of the past and recent past as a call to social action.  They became “change writers.”

I hope you will join me in following the Rwanda Trip 2012 students in what I already know will be a highlight of the summer and a testimony to the power of youth to make a difference.

May 6, 2019
by blogwalker
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Storming the Tulips – #HollandWithHannie

Next month I will return to Holland for my 4th Cycle Tours bike & barge trip with Holocaust survivor, author, and community activist Hannie Voyles. Having recently turned 86, Hannie has proclaimed the 10-day tour/ride/learning adventure to be the last she will lead.

At a time when anti-semitism is on the rise and findings from a recently released survey show that many adults, especially millennials (18-32), lack basic knowledge of what happened during the Holocaust, supporting Holocaust education is more important than ever.

I’m proud that my school district includes the Holocaust in their history/social science curriculum, and that many middle school English/language arts teachers introduce the topic to their 7th graders through the Diary of Anne Frank.

I too was a 7th grader when I read Anne Frank’s story. Sixty years later, Anne’s story, words, and images remain in my heart. Her diary made visible to me the impact of propaganda and hate in ways the staggering statistics of  the Holocaust could not. They were too unthinkable, unspeakable, unimaginable to a 12 year old – and still are.

In many ways, Anne’s story was life-changing, starting me on a journey that led to attending the Shoah Institute (back when it was on a backlot of Universal Studios), joining the TOLI Holocaust Educators Network, making the pilgrimage to Manzanar, initiating the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project, joining humanitarian Carl Wilkens for a journey to Rwanda – and, of course, inspiring me to join Hannie for three previous bike & barge journeys.

And there is a direct connection between Anne’s story and Hannie’s story. In 1940, when the Nazis stormtroopers “stormed the tulips,” Anne and Hannie lived in the same neighborhood and attended the same school.

Anne Frank, Montessori School, Amsterdam

Hannie Voyles, Montessori School, Amsterdam

“Anne Frank was just a few years older than I was. I remember seeing her on the streets and at school, laughing and playing like ordinary children did before the Nazis invaded our country and stole our neighbors, our friends, our food, our hope, and our dignity. She was just another student, just another girl, just another child of our community.” Hannie Voyles

To bike across Holland with Hannie is an unforgettable experience. There is not an hour that goes by that she does not share an insight or a memory from a town, a street, a building, a field, a monument, etc. In a way, Hannie’s sharing her stories of survival and resilience is like “reclaiming the tulips” by not allowing some of the darkest hours of Holland’s history to be forgotten.

Our journey will begin on the evening of June 8, when we board the Liza Marleen barge, have dinner and unpack, and then take our first ride, a short one around the Amsterdam port area to make sure we’re good to go with our bikes first thing in the morning. Each evening, in a different port and after a full day of biking across the southern part of Holland, we’ll return to the Liza Marleen for dinner, spend a little time recapping the day, plan for the next day, perhaps take a short evening walk or ride, and eventually head to bed – with much anticipation for the next day’s ride.

Cycle Tours Liza Marleen barge

This year, I promise to post a daily photo journal of my 2019 Holland with Hannie adventure. #HollandWithHannie.

 

February 18, 2019
by blogwalker
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Protecting Students from Hate-Motivated Behavior

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Ruby Bridges and marshals leaving William Frantz Elementary School, New Orleans, 1960. Image in Public Domain.

What resources does your district make available for “protecting students from hate-motivated behavior”?

Kathleen Watt and I were recently asked this question by our district’s Educational Equity Specialist, in preparation for the March 5 school board meeting. The board will be addressing current board policy, which calls for “providing professional learning to staff in recognizing and preventing hate-motivated behaviors and providing instruction to students and families to do the same.”

Below are the resources we shared. Like many large districts, our district departments often operate in silos, not necessarily aware of the work Kathleen and I do. So we prefaced the list with a quick introduction:

“EGUSD is a Common Sense District. This designation is due to 76% of EGUSD schools teaching Common Sense lessons as part of their required digital citizenship curriculum. CS lessons are designed and developed in partnership with Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Hate Speech is included in one of the six topics (Cyberbullying, Digital Drama & Hate Speech) addressed through CS curriculum.These lessons meet standards for Common Core ELA, CASEL and ISTE.”

Online Resources

From Common Sense

Grade 3
The Power of Words – What should you do when someone uses mean or hurtful language on the internet?

Grade 4
Super Digital Citizen – How can we be upstanders when we see cyberbullying?

Grade 5
What’s Cyberbullying? – What is cyberbullying and what can you do to stop it?

Grade 6/7
Upstanders and Allies: Taking Action Against Cyberbullying – How can you respond when cyberbullying occurs?

Grades 6-9
Upstanders, Not Bystanders – I created this lesson on what it means to cross the line from “bystander” to “upstander” several years ago for Common Sense.  Note: Although the lesson is designed for grades 6-9, the Upstanders Not Bystanders VoiceThread is an invitation to Kindergarten – Senior Citizens to share an “upstander” story. The project was inspired by Margaret Mead’s above quote.

Link to Upstanders Not Bystanders VoiceThread: https://voicethread.com/myvoice/share/4134620 (you must be logged in to view)

Grade 8
Responding to Online Hate Speech – How should you respond to online hate speech?

Grades 9-12
Breaking Down Hate SpeechHow can you create a community culture in which hate speech is unacceptable, both online and offline? Several years ago, I had the privilege of observing how a high school English teacher and a history teacher wove this lesson into a unit on the Holocaust, making a powerful connection from “then and there” to “here and now.”
Turn Down the Dial on Cyberbullying – Which factors intensify cyberbullying and online cruelty, and what can you do to lessen them?
Taking Perspectives on Cyberbullying – How does online cruelty affect the people involved?

Other Resources

In addition to Common Sense resources, we share other national resources addressing hate motivated behavior and strategies for confronting all forms of exclusion and intolerance:

Teaching Tolerance – In addition to lessons and resources for confronting hate and intolerance, Teaching Tolerance also offers online professional development through webinars. Teaching Tolerance is project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which also offers a variety of resources, including 10 Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response.

Media Smarts – Media Smarts, a Canadian organization for promoting “digital and media literacy,” offers excellent, vetted resources, including a guide for educators on Responding to Online 

Anti-Defamation League/Crossing Lines Summer Seminars – The organization has expanded its resources and lessons beyond its initial mission of combating anti-semitism to include all forms of exclusion, hate and intolerance. We’ve connected with staff members of ADL through No Place For Hate workshops over the years.

ADL representatives have also been regular presenters at our Crossing Lines Summer Seminars.

Media Literacy Workshops
As part of our media literacy workshops, district and statewide (ISTE, CUE and CA League of Schools), we include resources such as The Dangerous Speech Project, strategies for deconstructing URLs (Stormfront and other hate organizations) and confronting bias (our own filter bubbles) and hate.

Literature

Never underestimate the power of a single story to change hearts and minds. I’ve read and loved many of the books on Common Sense’s Books That Teach Empathy list. I strongly believe that promoting empathy through stories can be an effective strategy in derailing hate speech.

Anne Frank, Montessori School, Amsterdam

I often think back to 7th grade, the first time I studied about the Holocaust. The staggering statistics were unimaginable to me. But a single story, the Diary of Ann Frank, provided a window into the genocide of over six million Jews.

Although I probably did not recognize it at the time, Anne’s story was life-changing, starting me on a journey that led to attending the Shoah Institute (back when it was on a back lot of Universal Studios), joining the TOLI Holocaust Educators Network, making the pilgrimage to Manzanar, bike ‘n barging across Holland with Holocaust survivor Hannie Voyles, initiating the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project, and joining humanitarian Carl Wilkens for a journey to Rwanda.

Hannie Voyles,, Montessori School, Amsterdam

I hope to return on a regular basis to update this post with additional suggestions. For now, here’s this list:

I doubt there has been a time in history when hate speech did not exist. A downside of the digital age is the spread at which it can now be spreed.

But we can make a difference. The many stories shared in the Upstanders Not Bystanders VoiceThread stand as testimony to our ability to make a difference, whether through a group effort/movement or by a single individual. I am looking at my copy of I Am Malala and thinking about the incredible difference a single child can make and the power and pull of education to inspire action. Next to Malala’s book is my copy of I’m Not Leaving, Carl Wilken’s story of how respect, compassion, and empathy were the driving forces that kept him in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.

I have more room on my bookshelf. Please keep the upstander stories coming, along with curriculum and resources we can bring into the classroom to protect our students from hate-motivated behaviors.

January 29, 2019
by blogwalker
Comments Off on Resources & Curriculum

Resources & Curriculum

In a digital age, I love how easy it is to create, connect, collaborate, and share resources and lessons. I have enormously benefited from the many educators who, over the years, have posted (blogged, Tweeted, Skyped, etc.) their insights and best practices. I hope to do the same with this page.

As an educator and technology integration specialist for a public school district south of Sacramento, California, two topics are near and dear to my heart:

  1. Documenting the stories of teachers and families in my district who survived the internment years of World War II and the refugee experience of the Vietnam War’s “Secret War in Laos.”
  2. Providing and supporting a district-wide digital citizenship initiative and program to ensure that all students have a clear sense of both their rights and responsibilities as citizens – both online and off-line.

Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project (TOR)

Logo for lesson on Executive Order 9066

The Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project is in recognition that history is not something that happens in textbooks. History happens here in our own communities, one story at a time.  It is our hope that through the living voices of survivors and witnesses of World War II and the Vietnam War, students will gain an understanding of the common threads that connect the exclusion and forced removal of any group of people – and the importance of standing up and speaking out for the rights of all citizens.

The videos below and accompanying lessons will provide you with a window into two seldom told stories from two separate wars that have greatly shaped the character and history of the Elk Grove Unified School District.

World War II 

Lessons

Vietnam War

Lessons

  • The Forbidden Treasure – My colleague Kathleen Watt and I created this hyperdoc lesson to introduce students to the folktale genre through See Lor’s beautifully told Hmong folktale. (Note: aligned to grade 2 Common Core State Standards, but also appropriate for grade 3.)
  • On Coming to America – Small Moments, Big Meanings– From Elk Grove Unified School District, with community input. Lesson introduces students to strategies and resources for conducting oral history research projects. (Note: appropriate for grades 5-12)
  • On Coming to America – Small Moments, Big Meanings Hyperdoc – Aligned to 8th Grade Standards but can easily be adapted to younger or older students.

One More War: The 1994 Rwandan Genocide

In 2016, I had the opportunity join 18 educators for a life-changing trip to Rwanda, led by Carl Wilkins, the only American to remain in Rwanda during the 100-day genocide. I shared my photos and reflections in Rwanda – Looking for the Good. Because many of our 9th grade World Geography teachers include a unit on Africa, I created a hyperdoc lesson based on Carl’s experiences and book, I’m Not Leaving.

Graphic from lesson about 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Note: The header photo for Blogwalker is from our day at Rwanda’s Murambi Memorial.

Digital Citizenship

Elk Grove USD's badge for digital citizenship

As the co-director of my district’s Digital Citizenship program, I am committed to providing teachers, administrators, students, and parents with curriculum and resources to ensure that upon graduation, every student has established a positive digital footprint and “Googles well” when a future employer or college admissions office does an online background search. Our program focuses on four areas: Taking a stand on cyberbullying, building a positive digital footprint, respecting intellectual property, and protecting students’ online privacy.

We also recognize that in an age of “fake news,” media literacy skills need to be woven into the school day and across grade levels and curriculum.

Graphic showing Elk Grove USD,s four focus areas for digital citizenship: cyberbullying, digital footprint, intellectual property, student privacy.

Curriculum

Infographic to show students how to read across a page and website, rather than reading down a page.

More lessons and resources coming soon!

 

January 3, 2019
by blogwalker
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Why I Blog

Come March 2019, BlogWalker turns 13. I’ve loved being part of the Edublogs’ global community, a vibrant, ongoing source of inspiration and learning. I have experienced first-hand the unlimited possibilities and benefits blogging offers for being an active, contributing digital citizen.

I was blogging before Twitter came into my life. Through an RSS feed, I received alerts when my favorite bloggers (i.e., Kevin Hodgson, Bud Hunt, Troy Hicks, Will Richardson, Monica Edinger, Joyce Valenza, and more) posted a new piece. At some point, Twitter replaced my RSS feed, so today it will likely be a Tweet that directs me to a post from Kevin, Bud, Troy, Will, Monica, and/or Joyce.

In 2006, it was important to me that others were reading my blog. While I still very much enjoy having a reader drop by BlogWalker and leave a comment, today Twitter is where I mainly connect and interact with other like-minded educators. But blogging still serves an increasingly essential role in my learning journey. BlogWalker is where I document and reflect on my learning. It’s my digital file cabinet. I love that I can put ISTE or CUE in my search bar, for instance, and read through sessions I attended and favorite takeaways going back over 10 years. Eight years ago, I had no idea how many other teachers would appreciate that I shared resources and strategies for passing the CTEL test. And my 2016 trip to Rwanda – love that Carl Wilkens has used that post as a window into what educators will experience on his life-changing tours.

When I do blogging workshops for my district, I introduce Edublogs as a tool for both teachers and students. I am passionate about every student graduating with a positive digital footprint and an ePortfolio. I love George Couros’ strong recommendation for students to use Google as their working portfolios, which they regularly curate, selecting pieces for their professional ePortfolios/blogs. He too loves the flexibility of CampusPress/Edublogs, which allow students to upload/embed multiple platforms (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.), practice their digital citizenship skills (respectfully commenting, respecting intellectual property, etc.) and take their blogs with them – beyond graduation.

Poster from the awesome Edublogger Kathleen Morris – http://www.kathleenamorris.com/blogging/

 

Blogs are a simple, yet powerful, way for students to reach “redefinition” on the SAMR ladder, taking student voice beyond the confines of the classroom and providing an authentic, potentially global audience.

My 2019 resolution is to continue to promote and support blogging through offering workshops and participating in PLN-building opportunities such as the January Blogger’s Challenge. I hope you’ll join me!

May 7, 2018
by blogwalker
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Shoutout to PBS for “Secret War” Documentaries and More

My school district is in south Sacramento, an area that includes the hidden neighborhood of Florin. By “hidden” I mean it’s wedged between the two booming cities of Sacramento and Elk Grove, yet little, if any, construction or restoration is happening in Florin. Vacancy rates are high, with many buildings in disrepair and no longer habitable. Florin does not even have a post office or its own zip code. But hidden neighborhoods have hidden histories and stories.

442 soldier visits his mother at Florin farm.

Before World War II, Florin was known as the “strawberry capital of the West Coast” and was home to a small community of Japanese Americans, who farmed the strawberry fields, often two generations, or even three, working the fields together: Issei, Nisei, and Sansei. In the weeks following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, all persons of Japanese heritage were removed from the West Coast, virtually changing overnight and forever the history of Florin. Few would return to reclaim their farms or businesses.

Florin businesses for sale. Photo from UC Berkeley Calisphere

Thanks to the support of Bob Fletcher, a Caucasian neighbor/upstander who looked after their farm and paid their property taxes, Al and Mary Tsukamoto and their young daughter Marielle returned to their Florin farm.

Over the past 15 years, through my friendship with Marielle, I have had the privilege of learning about the internment years and their impact on the Florin community. With the reality that each year there are fewer WWII survivors left to tell their stories – and with the support of my district and the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium (SECC), we began the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project (TOR). The 16-minute video below will introduce you to a number of our interviewees (including Marielle), provide you with a quick tour of Manzanar, and remind you what can happen when a nation fails to uphold the Constitutional rights guaranteed to all citizens.

Today the strawberry farms of the Florin-Elk Grove region are farmed primarily by Hmong and Mien families, refugees from a hidden chapter of the Vietnam War: the Secret War in Laos. During the Vietnam War and amid fears that Communism was spreading from North Vietnam into Laos, the United States sent the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) into Laos to disrupt the spread. Over 40,000 Hmong and Mien were covertly recruited to fight in the Secret War. It was the largest CIA operation ever undertaken. Hundreds of thousands of Laotian civilians were killed in the fighting or in retaliation for their support of American troops.

Strawberry fields of Florin now farmed by Hmong and Mien refugees.

As typically happens with refugee or immigrant families, the parents may arrive not speaking English. The children often put much energy into assimilating into their new homeland and communities – and consciously separating themselves from their native language and culture. Once again, hidden histories from Florin-Elk Grove neighborhoods, those not included in history books, could disappear if we do not document them.

Thanks again to the support of my district and our partnership with SECC, Kathleen Watt (TOR co-director) and I have produced a short documentary to introduce you to our newest Time of Remembrance section: The Vietnam War.

In addition to preserving the hidden histories of the Florin-Elk Grove region, we also want to build an archive of primary source documents and accompanying curriculum that teachers can bring into their classrooms. Even if adopted textbooks do not include or reference the Secret War in Laos, or include stories from the Hmong and Mien cultures, teachers can address that void by using the growing TOR resources. For a second grade unit on folk tales, for instance, teachers can introduce our Forbidden Treasure hyperdoc lesson, which features a folktale from local author See Lor and even includes a snippet of See reading her favorite passage.

We are currently seeking more Secret War resources for secondary grades. Kathleen and I looked forward with much anticipation to the recent airing of Ken Burns 10-part documentary on the Vietnam War. We wondered if he would be including a section on the Secret War. He did not.

But we have some exciting news: Adding to their long, long list of outstanding documentaries, PBS has added two recent documentaries: The Hmong and the Secret War and America’s Secret War: Minnesota Remembers Vietnam.

We were thrilled to see independent researcher and historian Tua Vang (whom we have interviewed for TOR) and author Gail Morrison (whom we met during her CSU Sacramento presentation) both featured in The Hmong and the Secret War documentary. We are also thrilled to have two more powerful resources to add to our Vietnam War section.

A shoutout to PBS for continuing to delve into tough topics and to create invaluable classroom resources that make hidden or undertold chapters in history accessible to teachers and students. Last month I blogged about the amazing PBS series directed by Anne Curry: We’ll Meet Again,  which featured Reiko Nagumo’s painful memories of her family’s removal from their home – and Mary Frances, the childhood friend who crossed the playground to stand up for her. Next month, as part of the Crossing Lines Seminar, in addition to the above-mentioned documentaries, I will also be sharing/showcasing PBS’s: Defying the Nazis: Sharps’ War, Violins of Hope: Strings of the Holocaust, Children of the Camps, The War at Home, and Ghosts of Rwanda.

I cannot think of a more valuable resource for helping all of us, young and old, understand the causes and impact, whether hidden or front page news, of major world and national events. With almost 50 years of bringing high-quality programs into our homes, PBS – and my local KVIE – are treasures. #ILovePBS #ILoveKVIE

November 20, 2016
by blogwalker
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Post-Election Resources for Teachers

Election 2016 graphic by DonkeyHotey CC BY

Election 2016 image by DonkeyHotey CC BY

Friday night was book club night, a favorite monthly event. For 16 years we’ve been coming together to discuss, over wine and dinner, good literature, education and, occasionally, politics.  Although we briefly discussed our November book choice (Kate DiCamilo’s YA Flora and Ulysses), for most of the evening, we tried to make sense of the election results, consider the ramifications of our President-Elect’s cabinet choices, and envision the possible impacts, both immediate and long-term. I’m guessing that across the nation hundreds of thousands of similar discussions were happening.

I truly appreciate the resources individuals and groups have posted to help educators address students’ concerns and questions. Thank you to my Rwanda group for sharing an elementary school principal’s letter to his families, Joseph Long’s Facebook post I AM TRYING: THE RELEVANCE OF SOUTH PARK IN A TRUMP WORLD, and Clint Smith’s TED Talk The Danger of Silence.

To Facing History and Ourselves, thank you for the depth of resources shared on your recent (Re)Building Classroom Community Post Election. Starting with Fostering Civic Discourse: A Guide for Classroom Conversations, the resources will help students “gain critical thinking skills, empathy and tolerance, and a sense of civic responsibility.”

To the New York Times Learning Network, thank you for Election Day 2016: Teaching Ideas for Before and After the Votes Are Tallied (updated November 15). The thought-provoking article snippets and accompanying questions will provide powerful opportunities for students to reflect on and join in discussions. I also appreciate the link to the National Writing Project’s invitation to students to write a letter to the next president, a beautiful call to action.

To Larry Ferlazzo, thank you for your comprehensive collection of Best Sites to Learn about the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, including your interactives for teaching English Language Learners about the elections.

And thank you to Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver for your timely reminders of the value and importance of laughter.

If you have resources to add to 2016 elections topic, I warmly invite you to leave a comment.

Fall CUE 2016

November 5, 2016
by blogwalker
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Fall CUE 2016 – A few takeaways

This year’s Fall CUE Conference seemed like a drive-by event since I could attend on Friday only. (But don’t feel sorry for me for missing out on Saturday’s sessions; I was headed up to Amador County for an annual wine-tasting weekend.) Despite a rainy 2-hour drive to and from Napa, Friday’s sessions were worth the travel time.

Due a few traffic slowdowns, I unfortunately missed Dave Burgess’ (Teach like a Pirate) opening keynote, but from Session 1 on, I left with some great takeaways:

Steam Power Your School – I am a huge advocate for making sure the “A” is included in STEM (STEAM not STEM) programs, especially at the elementary level.  I loved the research pieces session leaders Jennifer Kloczko, Joe Wood, and Brandon Blom included in their slideshow, such as this infographic from the University of Florida. But what really made their session zing were the live clips of students at their school sites starting the school day with dance and/or having access to dance and music throughout the school day. I’m also adding Prodigy Island Math (free online game designed for students in grades 1-8 to use their math skills to battle wizards) and Math Olympiads (an $89 gaming program to challenge your advanced math students) to my list of engaging math programs.

Student Research Using Google Tools – At least once a year, I teach a Google Search workshop in my district or region, so I’m always interested to see what other presenters are including in their search sessions. I’m glad I attended Melissa Hero’s session. Her presentation is very similar is scope and sequence to my workshop, but I came away with a great takeaway: search queries to use if you want your Google search to return Google Docs, Slides, or Sheets for whatever topic you or your students are seeking:

  • site:docs.google.com/document/d
  • site:docs.google.com/presentation/d
  • site:docs.google.com/spreadsheet/d

So if I wanted to find Google Slides presentations on butterflies, for instance, I’d enter the following in the omnibar: site:docs.google.com/presentation/d butterflies. I’m not sure what the “d” stands for on the end of each query, but I’m headed to Google Mountain View on Monday for a Google Certified Innovator celebration, so I’ll pose that question and then update this post.

The World Isn’t Flat – Oh, my, such a mind-blowing session! Brian Briggs and Bill Selek opened a new world of teaching and learning possibilities with the 360° camera. Their presentation link takes you, via Thinglink, to a 360° field of sunflowers, with Brian (I think) in the middle. No, he did not have to swivel and take snapshot after snapshot – the camera does that for you. In thinking about historical events or scenes from literature, consider how often the story is – or could be – told from different perspectives/viewpoints. Imagine recreating a scene from the Civil War, for instance, with soldiers advancing and surrounding a key battle site. If I had had this camera with me during my recent trip to Rwanda, I would be working right now on an interactive lesson to pair with the movie Hotel Rwanda. Oh so many possibilities for taking digital storytelling to new levels.

If a 360° camera is not in your budget right now, a very good next-best option is the free Google Street View App. Thank you, Ryan O’Donnell, for joining the session and giving some tips on using this app.

I don’t usually showcase tools or programs that are not free, but I’d like to present a case to teachers and administrators on why the price of a Thinglink 3D account + a 360° camera (or the free Google Street View App) could seamlessly transform a lesson from Substitution to Redefinition.

Thank you to the wonderful group of teachers who joined me for my Can I Use That? session. Please feel free to contact me with questions on Creative Common, copyright, and fair use as they come up in your teaching assignments.

A huge thank you to the CUE team for all the planning and work that went into the 2016 Fall CUE Conference.  Your efforts were worth every minute!

January 2, 2015
by blogwalker
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Teaching Kindness

It’s become quite clear that modern education must encompass more than just academics, and that matters of the heart must be taken seriously and nurtured as a matter of priority. Lisa Currie

The Challenge: Can kindness and empathy really be taught?

This morning I re-read Lisa Currie’s October post for Edutopia: Why Teaching Kindness in Schools Is Essential to Reducing Bullying. In the past couple of months, the impact of school-wide bullying in the Sacramento region has been disturbingly newsworthy: the tragic suicide of an 8th grader in one district; a bullying lawsuit in an adjoining district; a number of student suspensions for racist activities at another; and an embarrassing parent confrontation during a regional cyberbullying public event for another.  This recent stream of bad press highlights the need for districts to teach – and expect – kindness and civility (AKA good citizenship) – face-to-face and online.

In my current position as a technology integration specialist for a large public school district, I am a regular visitor in K-12 classrooms. Many school sites display banners and/or posters around the campus reflective of the sites’ character education programs. Many have added cyberbullying to their character ed programs or are offering it as a stand-alone part of their digital citizenship curriculum (all sites are required to have some type of #digcit program in place). I am proud of the way many of our students, particularly at the secondary level, have stepped up to the challenge of confronting bullying. At one site, for instance, through their Unbullyable project, I know students have had a positive impact on their own campus as well as on their feeder elementary and middle schools.

 

I am grateful I have not yet opened the SacBee to find one my district’s schools featured on the front page for hurtful or hateful acts. And I applaud the efforts of K-12 teachers across the district to support their students in standing up and speaking out against bullying/cyberbullying. Yet a number of times, at several high school campuses, as I make my way through throngs of students exiting at the end of the school day, I hear them yelling out to classmates with rude, racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., comments. As tempting as it is to keep walking (it’s just kids being kids, no? … I’m not actually a faculty member here, right?, etc.), when I stop and face the offending student (who probably had not realized there was an adult in their midst), he or she basically always has the same reply: “Oh … Sorry… I was just kidding.” It takes my standing there a while longer before they will generally say once again that they are sorry. It think/hope the difference is that the first “Sorry” is because I heard them; the second “Sorry,” the one that matters, is for having said the unkind slur in the first place.

 

Kindness can be taught, and it is a defining aspect of civilized human life. It belongs in every home, school, neighborhood, and society.” Maurice Elias, Rutgers University

Stepping Up to the Challenge

But really, can kindness be taught? Can school districts serve as hubs for promoting these essential, timeless life skills? As evidenced in the Unbullyable project, I think so. Part of my job involves checking that all sites are teaching digital citizenship. In the first quarter of the school year, each site submits how it plans to meet e-Rate requirements. So teaching a few lessons during an advisory period, for instance, from Common Sense Media’s wonderful offerings, meets the requirements and often generates thought-provoking, possibly behavior-changing conversations. But some sites go above and beyond the minimum requirements by supporting a variety of student-led initiatives. These sites recognize that, with bullying/cyberbullying, the most impactful campaigns are student-initiated and student-led. At several of these same sites, teachers are weaving discussions of current bullying issues (local, national, or global) into their literature and social studies units. Although I’ve not set up any type of formalized student surveys, I’d be willing to bet that at these sites bullying incidents are becoming less frequent and, hopefully, less devastating.

Tips and Resources for Teaching Kindness

So how do we teach kindness to our students? I believe in the power of stories to transform hearts and actions. Thankfully, there is a wealth of powerful literature, starting with picture books, that teachers can use to ignite ongoing conversations on what kindness looks like. Common Sense Media’s Books that Teach Empathy list is a great K-12 resource and includes some of my favorites, such as R.J. Palacio’s Wonder.

There are also a growing number of websites that offer action-based lessons, such as the National Council of Teachers of English’s  Read, Write, Think site. Their Living the Dream: 100 Acts of Kindness lesson/challenge would be a wonderful literature extension for primary grades to use in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s,legacy and upcoming birthday. For middle and high school, I recommend visiting Facing History and Ourselves and checking out their Bullying and Ostracism Collections for resources to help students “think critically about the dynamics and impact of bullying in schools and communities.”

It is from stories, whether fiction or nonfiction, recent or from the past, and the ensuing conversations, that students often come to understand the role of the bystander in allowing bad things to happen, from bullying on the playground to unthinkable, unspeakable acts of government sanctioned brutality. Students need examples of what it means to cross the line from bystander to upstander. They need opportunities for grade-level and cross-generation conversations on how the courage of a single person to stand up and speak out against bullying and social injustice can change the school climate or even the history of the world. One of my favorite upstander’s tools is the Upstanders, not Bystanders VoiceThread. I co-curate this VoiceThread with my Digital ID partner/National Writing Project colleague Natalie Bernasconi. In the two years since we started the Upstanders, not Bystanders project, we’ve come to value how all voices and stories matter, from our kindergarten contributors to our Rwandan genocide survivor. Teaching kindness and civility needs to start in the primary grades and continue through adulthood.

One tip I have for readers is to document the work of your school sites. In the Sacramento bullying samples I mentioned above, I believe three of the four districts are currently in the process of developing district-wide digital citizenship plans. The fourth district has curriculum and procedures in place, but refers to the program as digital literacy rather than digital citizenship. Although the broader title makes sense, in the likely need to CYA, I think it’s wise to intentionally single out how each site specifically implements the teaching of citizenship/digital citizenship. A simple procedure my district has put in place, in addition to each site submitting an implementation plan at the start of the year, is requiring each principal to sign a statement at the end of the year verifying that digital citizenship has been taught at his/her site.

As my district heads into the third year of requiring school sites to document their digital citizenship plans, one shift I’ve noticed is also one I strongly recommend: Rather than plug in your plan at the close of the school year (post testing), as some of our secondary sites initially did, start the year teaching kindness and civility. Whether it’s through a shared article, a story, an assembly, etc., if the activity is followed with classroom discussion, I am pretty sure you will find, as a number of our teachers have, that student buy-in will be greater as will instances of students actually putting their citizenship skills into practice. Once standards for online/offline behavior have been articulated across the site, students are more likely to speak up for others and to think twice before they hit the submit button.

Additional Resources

In addition to the resources listed above, another outstanding resource is the Cyberbullying Research Center. I love their Cyberbullying Quiz – What the Research Shows, and all the resources linked under their Related Posts section. This exceptional resource, and many more, are listed on the Stepping Up page of the Digital ID project – along with the invitation for your students to submit a PSA in the upcoming 2015 Digital ID PSA Challenge.

Edutopia! Lisa Currie’s article is part of the dynamic Bullying Prevention collection of resources on teaching kindness, empathy, and digital citizenship.

On my New Year’s Resolution List is the intent to update this post during the school year with samples of digital citizenship surveys for students, along with data on the results and impact of teaching kindness and civility. I welcome your input.

Best wishes to all school sites for a year of newsworthy positive accomplishments!

 

 

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