My name is Gabriela Bermingham, and I am a 2nd grade dual language (Spanish) teacher at Oakley Elementary in Asheville, NC. I have been teaching for a total of 12 years.
Last spring, I had the opportunity to travel to Chapel Hill, NC, for a global professional development conference for educators. While I was there, I met staff from Teachers2Teachers-International. While I was interested in the travel they offer for teachers, I knew that this was not going to be plausible for me now while my daughters are young. Something else that caught my attention was their offer to connect teachers virtually to another teacher in a different country. Educators could interact online and plan lessons to share with each other and their students. This was something I could definitely do, and I made sure to save the information so I could come back to it later.
Then in the winter, I reached out to T2T to find out how I could be connected to another teacher. I wanted to be connected to another Spanish speaking country so that my 2nd grade dual language students could practice their Spanish skills with other Spanish-speaking students. Chadd McGlone from T2T returned my call, and we got started right away on finding the right partner for me.
Chadd connected me to Kiara Aguilar, a 2nd grade math teacher in Antigua, Guatemala. We were introduced to one another through Facebook Messenger, and our first step was just to get to know one another. Then, we decided to use What’s App on our mobile phones to share ideas. We began to plan some Skype lessons so that our students could interact.
To prepare, I began to teach my students the global topic of limited access to education and the challenges students face when trying to go to school. Through articles and videos, they saw how other children desperately wanted to go to school but couldn’t because of factors such as transportation challenges and gender inequality.
When I first told my kids that they would soon talk virtually with other kids in Guatemala, their excitement could not be contained! Kiara and I planned three lessons. The first one would be for the kids to do an “All About Me” paper describing themselves as an introduction to their new friends. The kids in my class would write in Spanish, and the kids in Guatemala were going to do theirs in English.
The second Skype lesson was going to be an interview and comparison activity about what both schools were like. An interactive math game would take place on our final session.
The next step was for Kiara to get permission from the directors at her school before we could go forward with our plans. I quickly learned a valuable cultural and global lesson when working with teachers in another part of the world: things run a little bit differently than they do here in the United States. After many delays, Kiara was not given permission to Skype with me, but she turned the project over to Emily, an English teacher at her school, and through the department of English instruction, approval was finally given. This made my students and me ecstatic. Yeah! Finally, we were going to connect with the kids in Guatemala.
By this time, only three weeks remained before summer vacation. We were going to try to squeeze in two Skype sessions in one day to do the “All About Me” paper and the “Questionnaire/Interview” lesson.
The Big Day
The day of our Skype session arrived! With help from the school system’s technology department, the two classes connected and we could see one another clearly. However, we quickly realized that they could hear us but we could not hear any audio from them. To make the best out of this experience, we tweaked our plans a bit. My students sat at the computer one at a time and (in Spanish) said hello and gave their names. Each time one of Emily’s students came to sit in front of the camera, the English teacher typed his/her name in the chat box so that my students could greet them by name. It was priceless to see the kids’ smiles as they met each other virtually.
The second lesson was conducted via email, so the students were able to compare/contrast the two schools across the globe.
My students also helped with a fundraiser to raise money for educational resources for two teachers at the school in Guatemala. We held a penny drive, and we sold beautiful, handmade Guatemalan crafts that T2T sent us: friendship bracelets, coin purses, small wooden sculptures, etc.
My students helped me set up our “shop” outside the classroom each morning, and they took turns collecting money and making change. Every morning, we had a long line outside my classroom of students waiting to buy. Our Guatemala artifacts all sold out in about a week and a half!
To conclude, creating and teaching this global unit has been an amazing experience for me. My students this year walked away being a little bit more globally aware than they were before entering my classroom. Skyping with Guatemala was something that I know my students will never forget. Working alongside with T2T this year and interacting with Guatemala virtually has truly been the highlight of my educational career! I hope I can continue to make more memories together with my students and with teachers and their students in another part of the world.
by Gabriela Bermingham, 2nd grade teacher