Press Release

U.S. and African Students Pilot Virtual Exchange Program, Help Stop Plastic Waste

CONTACT: Dave Santulli

BOSTON — Students from two U.S-based schools and a school in West Africa recently completed a successful virtual exchange and civic engagement program piloted by United Planet, a nonprofit organization for international service learning and leadership.

During the eight-week program, teenagers from the Hopi Junior Senior High School in Keams Canyon, Arizona and British International School in Boston met online through video conference with African students from Youchaou School in Bamako, Mali. Together they learned about waste management and the environment. Then they used problem-solving skills to co-develop solutions for their prospective local issues, including the pervasive plastic waste littered across the town that has been plaguing the Bamako community.

“We need to prepare students for success in a global, interconnected world. That includes learning how to work across cultures and developing 21st century skills like civic engagement, leadership and diplomacy,” said Dave Santulli, president and founder of United Planet. “Many middle and high school students aren’t able to travel abroad or have limited exposure to people from different backgrounds and socio-economic conditions, so we reimagined the exchange experience by bringing it into a virtual classroom and giving the students a focused, tangible problem to tackle together.”

Will Corrie, English Teacher, from the British International School of Boston, emphasizes in the face of student advocacy for climate change: “There are lots of really enthusiastic students across America and across the world who really want to make a positive difference.  If they could just work together, they will do just that now and for the future.”

Toward the last few weeks of the program, inspired by the plan they developed with their US-based classmates, the African students launched an advocacy campaign, meeting with local authorities and educating companies that had been dumping plastic waste in the area. They also organized a school health day and local clean-up project.  “I was proud to see our students explaining the impact of plastic waste on our environment,” said Youchaou Traore, founder and principal of the school in Mali.

“This program was great not just for my students but, quite frankly, for my teachers too,” said Dr. Berbeco, a representative from the Hopi school in Arizona, which includes students and teachers from Hopi, Tewa, and Navajo tribes.

Santulli presented to over 100 superintendents from throughout North America at the ThoughtExchange conference in Chicago this summer and indicated the interest of superintendents to build students’ engaged  citizenship and global competency through experiential and project-based learning.

Santulli believes that “compassion and understanding of global humanity” are imperative for current and future leaders. United Planet has offered local, online, and international programs, including culturally immersive volunteer abroad programs, to over 10,000 teens and adults since 2001. With the new virtual exchange, the organization aims to reach thousands more students each year and one day connect all schools. There are about 20 schools, including schools from Morocco and Iraq, on the program’s wait list. 

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