Some classroom lessons cannot be planned ahead of time.
When a group of fifth graders in an enrichment class at signed up for a collaborative project with students in the Ivory Coast, they had no idea what big lessons were ahead. Ultimately, their unique journey led them to create a website that won first place in the international Global Virtual Classroom Contest and helped raised money for related charities.
Mann students started the project by making an email connection with its two assigned partners: the International Community School of Abidjan (ICSA), an American school in Abidjan, Ivory Coast and with Dawes Avenue Elementary School in Somers Point, NJ.
The students jointly decided on the topic of “Lacing Up the Digital Divide.” But not long after starting, there were immediate challenges. Dawes stopped contributing without explanation from its teachers.
“The kids in the Ivory Coast eventually were going to school via (the Internet program) Skype,” said Cristen Vincent, the enrichment teacher at Mann School. “So this was a very good project for them to be working on because they could work on it while they weren’t in the same room as their teachers.”
The ICSA students, while middle class, were connecting the project with an orphanage further out in the countryside that even before the national conflict started had struggled to have electricity and lacked in technology.
“They had a library, but it’s so humid there that you can’t really keep any books in it,” Vincent said. So rather than books, the school in the Ivory Coast reached out to two orphanages - Bingerville Orphanage for Boys and the Grand Bassam Orphanage for Girls - to help them buy new computers that would supplement their education.
Along with jointly creating their website, the Mann students decided to take more initiative by raising money for the orphanage. They came up with the idea of selling lanyards, connecting with a local business and ultimately raising roughly $300. The experience left the students feeling empowered.
“We can make a difference no matter how old we are,” said Mann fifth grader Meagan Shinker. “It really feels special.”
The students hoped to use the money to send flash drives over, but as the conflict continued in the Ivory Coast and the banks closed, it became clear that sending flash drives or even money electronically over was no longer possible.
A solution to that obstacle was found when their project won first prize, which included $1,000 for each participating school. Vincent’s class decided to donate their portion of the prize to ICSA in the hopes that it could eventually reach the orphanage. The remaining $300 was donated to the to aid local children.
“We have had computers for all our lives, but some kids in other places, even those living close to us, are not as lucky,” said Mann fifth grader Anna Kenig-Zeisler.
That idea really tied into their overall project, said Vincent.
“The digital divide isn’t just in third world countries – it’s right here,” she said.
Other than Mann School’s first place finish, other District 97 schools also fared well this year. ’s fifth graders won second prize for their site The Art of Living, partnering with students from India and the Czech Republic. The teacher leader for that team was Matt Kuntz.
eighth graders led by teacher Adrienne Court won third place for the site Enter the Creative World of Music, collaborating with students from California and the United Kingdom.
Mann fourth graders and Julian seventh graders also won special merit awards for their work.
Since 2005, has won eight grand prize awards, four second place awards, two third place awards, and nine special merit awards in the competition.
To view pictures of the orphanages and the work they're doing, log on to the The Bingerville Orphanage Project.