Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"Learning through our Differences" project- part one

I wanted to dedicate a couple of posts to this project I've been working on for the past year. When I accepted my Fulbright grant in 2010, I had the intention of working on a side project in addition to my teaching responsibilities. Apart from my volunteer work here in Sofia, I am now putting together grant proposals and meeting with local partner organizations and individuals to make this project a reality by the beginning of next school year.

"Learning through our Differences" is meant to address various problems with intolerance, bullying, name-calling and other issues in Bulgarian schools which I don't think are being discussed very often. In the past two years I have witnessed and heard about all sorts of incidents like these, from homophobic insults and racial slurs to actual violence or isolation from social groups. Like teenagers everywhere, Bulgarian high school students are susceptible to negative peer pressure and low levels of self-esteem. This leads to social anxiety, which can cause major behavioral problems (including self-destructive ones) in the long and short-term. I firmly believe that a sense of safety within the school community, backed up by a strong network of supportive adults and peers, is fundamental to assuring the emotional, physical and intellectual development of our students.

With that in mind, I am using existing models of tolerance, diversity awareness and community-building activities to adapt within the context of Bulgarian high schools for a series of one-day workshops with both students and educators as participants. I am lucky to have several contacts with years of experience in human rights education who have been kind enough to share their knowledge and also listen to me as I tried to formulate my ideas into a coherent plan. (THANK YOU!!!)

Stay tuned for more updates on the project, as well as example activities I plan to incorporate into the curriculum (still in the works, to be translated into Bulgarian for the final phase of the project). If you want to know more, or have a friend who might be willing to collaborate in either the planning or implementation of the workshops, please contact me at sophillarosa@gmail.com.

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