Some of Harker’s most unique offerings are those of the global education department. While the many exchange programs are well-known, they are just the tip of the iceberg, explains Jennifer Abraham, director of global education.
The program has, especially in recent years, begun a transition to much more of an academic focus. In addition to student and teacher exchanges, the department sponsors cultural and curricular exchanges. “Through the variety of exchange programs, Harker students will become better world citizens,” said Abraham. The global education department hopes that “by nurturing these meaningful relationships between young people across various continents, we have the ability to create lasting understanding between the future leaders of the world,” she added.
There are exchanges on all three campuses for students in all grade levels. Harker has sister schools in Japan, China, Russia, India, Australia, Costa Rica, Spain, Thailand, Ethiopia, Switzerland, France and Saudi Arabia.
Programs for the lower school focus on teaching students about the similarities and differences between students around the world. Through a variety of activities students learn from each other about their respective countries and cultures. Kindergarten, second and third grade students work with students at the Tamagawa Gakuen School in Tokyo to learn more about each other before the exchange program that occurs in Gr. 6.
Second graders work with students from Saudi Arabia and Australia in the Mascot Project. The schools exchange stuffed animal mascots, and throughout the year communicate with one another about the adventures of the visiting mascots as they travel with students around the Bay Area and beyond. For example, the Harker eagle that traveled to Saudi Arabia had many adventures “including making tea, dressing in traditional Saudi clothing and attending school,” says Abraham.
Students at the middle school participate in email exchanges, forum discussion groups, and video conferencing with schools in Tokyo, Shanghai, Costa Rica, France and Australia. Regan Heslop, Gr. 6, participated in this year’s video conferences with Shanghai students. “We talked about the environment and global warming,” she said. “It was cool to be able to ask them questions about school and life in Shanghai.”
One of the longest running – over 15 years – and most popular middle school programs is the student exchange with sister school Tamagawa in Tokyo. The students collaborate across the world on environmental and computer science projects in e-mail exchanges and video conferences. Each year a group of students from each school crosses the ocean to spend 10 days in the others’ country, including a four-night stay with a host family. Many of the students renew friendships in Gr. 8 when groups from both schools meet in Washington, D.C.
Those students who are enrolled in advanced French language classes exchange letters and packages with students from
Institution Sevigne, Harker’s sister school in France. These packages often include items such as “yearbooks, school newspapers and teen magazines,” said Abraham.
Students in advanced art do a landscape project and post pictures of their work to an online gallery. Students then are able to view photos of their peers’ art and leave comments. Programs such as these help students to learn more about the people of another country than textbooks can ever teach.
During February, middle school students video conference with peers from around the world. Since 2003, Gr. 8 students have video-conferenced with their counterparts from the World Foreign Language Middle School in Shanghai. Topics of their conversations include population growth and its impact on the environment. These talks culminate in an exchange program, which according to Abraham was the “first of its kind between a U.S. middle school and the People’s Republic of China, garnering significant international media attention.”
Upper school students continue the relationship with sister school Tamagawa through exchanges and foreign language work. Last summer seven upper school students traveled to Japan to learn more about that country’s culture. As part of the trip they visited with buddies from Tamagawa and stayed with their families for the weekend. David Wu, Gr. 11, said that he viewed the trip as a huge learning experience and that he “learned a lot about myself, Japanese culture and Japanese girls.”
Last summer, 10 seniors were also on a trip to Costa Rica. Students worked with endangered sea turtles in an effort to learn more about their reproductive habits. “The objective of the trip was to immerse students in field research so they could experience first-hand the excitement of discovery with the challenges of conducting research in the wilderness,” said Anita Chetty, upper school science department chair.
After experiencing some difficulties with her research project, Adrienne Wong, Gr. 12, said the trip “taught me that not everything always goes your way and the solution is not to give up but to find another way to achieve your goals.”
The trip focused on a variety of educational areas including biology, Spanish and computer science. In addition to offerings for students, there also exist programs for Harker’s teachers. These exchange programs provide our educators a means to learn about teaching techniques and styles from throughout the world. This includes exchange programs with schools in Switzerland, Japan and Australia.
Upper school psychology teacher Naomi Schatz traveled to Saint Stephen’s College, Harker’s sister school in Australia. At one point she gave a lecture about sport psychology which she said touched on “performance anxiety, overcoming adversity, fear of injury, goal setting, confidence and self-talk.”
She hopes that students will take these lessons and apply them in the classroom as well. Around the same time Sue Muir, a math teacher from Saint Stephen’s, visited Harker and, in addition to observing several upper school math classes, did some team teaching with math teacher Gabriele Stahl.
Overall, the programs offered by the global education department offer our students unparalleled access to their peers around the world. This exposure plays a huge role in the school’s goal of creating well-rounded global citizens. Rather than teaching our students about foreign cultures only through textbooks, Harker is committed to providing an interesting, dynamic and first-hand set of experiences that are invaluable as our students grow into world citizens.