Bringing the World into the Classroom

Dr. Noah Mass watched as the pandemic forced his students to isolate at home away from the world. Then he found a way to bring the world to them.
Dr. Mass, a Language and Literature teacher in Alcuin’s Upper School, was contacted by two colleagues from Prepa UDEM, an International Baccalaureate high school in Monterrey, Mexico. Together, the three of them organized a virtual collaboration between their two classes.
 
For one day, the two classes would merge and engage each other on a common topic; in this case, a review of the Netflix documentary Knock Down the House and a discussion about the perception of women in politics and media.
 
“In this time of connected learning and pandemic hunkering-down, we thought it’d be a great opportunity to reach out to others and to recognize that no matter how isolated we were in our own little rooms and our own little computers, we were able to talk cross-culturally about the same kinds of ideas,” Dr. Mass said.
 
Lucirene Gonzalez Alzaga is a longtime Language and Literature teacher at Prepa UDEM and said preparation for the class took five weeks, which included preliminary emails that were exchanged between students and their peers across the border. Then on September 17, the two classes met each other for the first time.
 
“The kids were talking to each other and becoming friends immediately,” Gonzalez Alzaga said. “When they broke off into their virtual breakout rooms, it was like they already knew each other.”
 
While meeting her peers in the United States was a new experience for Prepa UDEM senior Maria Jose Castro Doumolin, the topic of discussion was a familiar one. Women in Mexico, she said, have long been seen as second-class citizens, especially when it comes to running for political office. That perception is changing, she said, but at a slower pace than in the United States.
 
“Women in U.S. politics have more of a voice than here in Mexico,” said Castro Doumolin. “We have had some candidates here in Mexico but usually [the attitude is] like, ‘Oh, they’re women, they’re emotional and they shouldn’t be in politics.’ Here in Mexico, there is a very misogynistic point of view in general.”
 
Castro Doumolin said discussion around this topic with her Alcuin peers was better than she imagined.
 
“It was really nice to see that the other students were open talking to you and people were actually speaking to each other,” said Castro Doumolin. “In a time where people feel really lonely and not really interacting as much with the outside world, these interactions are really, really important.”
 
Alcuin junior Ana Palacios said the class was a slice of home for her. Four years ago, she and her family moved to Dallas from Mexico City. Still, the idea of collaborating with students she had never met was, while nerve-wracking, also surprisingly satisfying.
 
“I went into it with very little expectations,” Palacios said. “It was kind of cool to think how even though we were all at home, this pandemic has brought us closer and that we could actually have a conversation with people who were in another country.”
 
The conversation went so well, the two classes met again in March of 2021, critiquing the film Miss Representation and discussing the role of gender and identity in media. If the topics seem loaded, that’s only part of the point.
 
Dr. Mass said while the heavy topics do generate substantive conversation and differences of opinion, the students get a chance to see what they have in common with their peers in another culture, especially on topics that matter to them.
 
“One of the things you discover during projects like this is that young people are young people wherever they are,” Dr. Mass said. “All young people are facing the same kinds of pressures and futures they are anticipating. Projects like this help students realize that no matter how different their lives are from other students, they have a lot more in common than they think.”
 
 
 
For more on this and other stories, check out our Summer 2021 edition of NOTES Magazine here.
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