Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Learning through our Differences" project- part two

This post tackles some basic information about my side project, including its goals, my ongoing research, some favorite resources and an example of one very successful tolerance education program I participated in years ago.

Here's a quick list of my goals and objectives for the project:

1. To help make schools safer spaces for both students and teachers through dialogue and mutual understanding
2. To break down communication barriers, such as negative stereotypes, through hands-on activities that encourage critical examination of those barriers
3. To challenge students to be more self-reflective as well as empathetic, tolerant and understanding towards others
4. To develop a workshop curriculum, tailored specifically for a Bulgarian high school context, that can be further adapted for other contexts within the EU and the world
5. To help organize a network of facilitators prepared to carry out these workshops in schools across the country

A large part of my work so far has been researching the best methods and activities from professional organizations committed to tolerance education. There are tons of similar programs out there. Corporate diversity training, for example, often uses the same activities I've been researching to create more open and inclusive work environments. When I was in college I remember doing some of these activities for a seminar class in a Living-Learning Community Program. There are plenty of online resources available for teachers who want to incorporate tolerance and multicultural understanding into the classroom.

Some of my favorite websites:

- Multicultural Education Pavilion from EdChange (Paul C. Gorski)
- Diversity Learning Wiki from University of Wisconsin Whitewater (they also have a list of published resources here)
- Teaching Tolerance at the Southern Poverty Law Center

The only problem I've had with these is that most of their activities are very US-centric. So using them will involve some serious editing and adaptation for Bulgarian high school students to benefit from.

I gave a presentation last week to a group of high school principals, teachers, English Teaching Assistants and Fulbright staff on the project and I showed a segment of this documentary from Dutch television called "Over de Streep." This was the first time that Challenge Day, a San Francisco-based youth program, came to Europe and you can read more about it here. I actually attended Challenge Day when I was 13 at my middle school in Seattle. This program is particularly effective, and it's been around since 1987. I hope that what I can bring to Bulgarian schools with this project will also provoke discussion, awareness and understanding of differences in a similar way.

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