Sister Schools Project – Cultural Appreciation
Candace Desonier, Kathleen Zimmermann and Jay Seaborg, Thurmont Middle School, Frederick County
A sister-school relationship was created between our school, Thurmont Middle School, and Las Brisas de Acosasco, a school outside of Leon, Nicaragua. Seventh grade social studies students exchanged letters, self-portraits, and posters illustrating homes, communities, and schools. The project culminated in a school supply fundraiser for our sister-school and a Latin Cultural Celebration.
Best Practice 1: Meet a recognized need in the community
Two community needs were met by our project: cultural awareness and acceptance of diversity, and helping an impoverished school in another country. The definition of community in our project is broadened to mean “world community” and helping those around the world was stressed.
The PTA and various community organizations have brought to the school ideas for supporting student cultural understanding because of the changing Thurmont community. While Thurmont has traditionally been rural and relatively homogeneous culturally, the community is changing and becoming more diverse. There is a community need for students to develop the skills to work collaboratively and live peacefully with those of differing cultures.
Through our project, the Thurmont community was helped by creating more acceptance and tolerance by focusing on the similarities of all people and the celebrating differences. In addition, students in an impoverished Nicaraguan school were given needed school supplies. These students, along with paying tuition to attend school, must also pay for all school materials.
Best Practice 2: Achieve curricular objectives through service-learning
The following Maryland Learning Outcomes were addressed through this project:
SS.WCG.70.01 Compare the development of complex civilizations in the Americas, including the Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs (CS 184.108.40.206)
SS.WCG.70.02 Describe, compare and analyze the geographic, economic, political and social systems of the contemporary Americas.
In addition, the following skills were taught:
1. Cultural understanding and sensitivity;
2. Simple conversational Spanish;
3. Comparison/contrast between Nicaraguan life and life in America;
4. Communication through art, writing, photography.
Best Practice 3: Reflect throughout the service-learning experience
Reflection activities included group discussions and journaling.
Best Practice 4: Develop student responsibility
Students with Spanish skills helped to translate letters and others helped with the fundraiser.
Best Practice 5: Establish community partnerships
Community partners included Project Gettysburg-Leon (a non-profit organization), and guest speakers from Nicaragua (Osman Garcia and Dawnette Urcuyo).
Best Practice 6: Plan ahead for service-learning
First, I gathered resources from Project Gettysburg-Leon and consulted with their volunteers about international partnerships. Then I attended a Student Service-Learning class at Thorpewood for one week in July 2004 where I integrated information about quality service-learning projects and consulted with colleagues and the leaders of the training for fine-tuning of my project. Then, I researched information and gathered resources on the geography, culture, economics, and other important aspects of Nicarguan life, from which I created lessons and experiential activities. I contacted speakers from Nicaragua and I began a correspondence with Kirsten Darce, who lived in Leon, Nicaragua.
Best Practice 7: Equip students with knowledge and skills needed for service
Students gained knowledge of Nicarguan culture, including education, economic issues, history, political systems, and family life. They compared and contrasted American life with life in Nicaragua. They learned simple Spanish phrases. They learned how to communicate effectively through letters, photography, and art (posters and self-portraits). They learned to appreciate and celebrate a culture other than their own.