For the Record: The story that appeared in the January 5, 2023, edition of The Valley Reporter stated Rwandan students will travel to Vermont in February 2023. Vermont students will travel to Rwanda in February.
Senator Bernie Sanders announced on December 22, 2022, that he had secured more than $42 million for 51 Vermont projects in the $1.7 trillion omnibus legislation, including $134,000 for Harwood Union High School’s travel study program. The funding will allow the school to enroll more students in exchange programs across the U.S. and abroad and form new partnerships with schools throughout the world.
“We plan to partner with public schools around the country and around the world with a focus on collaborative storytelling projects,” Harwood Unified Union School District superintendent Dr. Mike Leichliter said in an email. “Initially, funds will be used to identify and establish new relationships, plus we'll be hiring ethnographers and filmmakers to train staff and students and design collaborative storytelling projects at Harwood and elsewhere. We plan to use the Rwanda program as a model for immersion experiences at home and abroad. One of the first international exchanges we will offer is for Rwandan students to travel to Vermont for several weeks.”
“Our goal is to increase the number of participants, immersion experiences and exchanges annually over the next seven years,” said Harwood English teacher Steve Rand, who has spearheaded this program. “Our objectives over the next seven years are to have this project become sustainable for years to come.”
In year one, Harwood Union High School (HUHS) intends to align the travel study project with existing learning expectations and proficiencies and provide collaborative storytelling and technology training to students and staff participating in the project. In year two, they will train staff on how to integrate collaborative storytelling into curriculum. In year three, they will train staff on how to integrate ethnographic inquiry into practice. Travel studies will be integrated into Harwood’s course of studies in the fourth year The school plans to increase the amount of funding for professional services by outside organizations, such as the Vermont Folklife Center, into Harwood’s department budgets in the fifth year. In the sixth year, staff with a background in ethnography and collaborative storytelling will be hired. And, in the seventh year, the school intends to integrate project coordination, and operations and logistics into Harwood's annual budget.
“This work is paramount for us to understand our own identity as Americans and our role in the global community,” Rand wrote in a statement. “The expansion of the current program will involve establishing new relationships with public schools in the United States and abroad. HUHS students will study in these new locations. Additionally, an exchange will be created whereby HUHS will host public schools from other areas, collaborating on storytelling projects. All the participants involved with this project will benefit from the collective wisdom of our community elders . . . Students benefit from formulating their own questions, stepping outside of their own experiences, their comfort zones, so they may learn about people and cultures. At this time, we are only interested in forming partnerships with public schools around the country and globe.
“Over 200 students and adults from Vermont/New England have participated in HUHS's current cross-cultural travel study program that focuses on collaborative storytelling. It has been in existence since 2003.
“The main goal of this project is to provide more access and opportunities to immersion experiences in public schools. We also intend to increase cultural awareness and empathy among participants, which are vital aspects of social emotional learning. Participants are expected to communicate clearly, listen carefully, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve, negotiate different social and cultural demands, and provide leadership. Participants are expected to develop social awareness by understanding the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacity to feel compassion for others and have a broader understanding of historical and social norms for behavior in different settings. These are all transferable skills across fields of study and local and global contexts.”
As The Valley Reporter goes to press, HUHS principals, Leichliter and Rand plan to meet on Wednesday, January 4, to begin planning for the program.