Nour International and Collegiate: Global Education in the Lower School

A global education is becoming more valued in today’s schools. With technology advancing at such a rapid pace, international communication is growing and expanding. This calls for people to be more globally inclined and invested in current events around the world. Students are learning more about the world they live in and about the people they might interact with in the future. As our ability to communicate internationally keeps developing, the need for global awareness and the ability to effectively and respectfully participate in a conversation is extremely valuable.

Lower School student identifies Syria on the class map.

Collegiate has done a fantastic job integrating this learning into our education through programs such as the International Emerging Leaders Conference (IELC) in the Upper School, and they have even started to branch out to younger students.

The Lower School faculty has taken on the task of building a global education for their students. They expose their students to Spanish, French, and Chinese. Then the students learn from various native speakers about the culture and customs of their language.

International education does not just include learning about distant peoples and lands. Blair Chewning’s class, and the rest of the fourth grade, are currently working to create books on tape for Ridge Elementary in Henrico, which currently hosts one of the largest bilingual and refugee student populations in the area. Recording books on audio will help those students learn and speak English, their second language. The grade has also donated many math games, art games, and board games to refugee students in the STAR program at the YMCA and to students at Ridge. Fourth grade teacher (and my mom) Carolyn Villanueva explains, “We don’t do this to look good. We need to have empathy and have a knowledge of global issues.” Villanueva’s and Heather Garnett’s fourth grade classes also plan to visit these students this spring.

Villanueva’s fourth graders have even taken it one step further—they have hosted numerous guest speakers who have been refugees or immigrants. These speakers include Global Scholar in Residence John Dau from Sudan, Howard University professor Dr. Kunle Kassim from Nigeria, VCU graduate and Collegiate parent Mera Sabha from Jordan, and VCU graduate and biomedical engineer Ezoza Namazova (‘13) from Uzbekistan.

I was fortunate enough to visit my mom’s class during one of their most recent discussion of immigrants, refugees, and how to help. The students made their way back to the room after their music class. All excited and jittery, the students got their snack and headed to their seats.  After stomachs were satisfied, Villanueva shared a presentation: “Helping People Who Are New Residents to the US.”

She began the discussion by asking the students to remember what an immigrant is and what makes a refugee different from an immigrant. A girl quickly raised her hand and responded, “An immigrant is someone traveling to a new country for a job, and a refugee is someone who travels for safety.”

“Good,” Villanueva said, adding, “Now can anyone remember the specific word that is used for safety?”

“Asylum!” exclaimed two or three students. The students were very engaged, and Villanueva even explained some of the articles of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. One in particular was Article 3: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person;” she then alluded to the Declaration of Independence to connect what they had been learning about in U.S. history. She continued and taught the students about the refugee situation in Syria.

She had the students remember the video messages they made with the children of Nour International, a non-profit organization created by students and faculty at the American Community School at Beirut, Lebanon, a frequent partner school in our Emerging Leaders program. Together, Villanueva’s class and the refugee students made a video where the students answered the question, “If you could have one superpower what would it be?” I was shocked by the answers of both groups. Instead of the conventional power to fly or super speed, the students focused on powers such as the ability to help everyone or the ability to make everyone happy. The video was fun for both classes and helped the refugee students practice their English.

School supplies from Villanueva’s class ready to be shipped to Nour International.

Intrigued by this creative project, I met with my mom to ask her about her work with Nour International. She explained that she had been collaborating with the group for two years and is extremely excited about the work they’ve done and will continue to do. In fact, on March 2, Villanueva’s class sent a large suitcase of school supplies to the students at the Nour Center. She also spoke of a student attending the American Community School in Beirut, Lebanon and a founder of Nour International, Bylasan. Villanueva said she has been “fortunate to have been connected to Bylasan through IELC and our work.”

Luckily, I participated in IELC this fall and was also fortunate to meet Bylasan and some of the other founders of Nour International. Bylasan explained that the program started as a small group of students and two teachers that traveled to a refugee camp and taught English on Saturdays. Then they opened an informal school at the Nour Center and began fundraising around their school as well as training teachers to educate these children. Now it is a fully operational non-profit organization that works with the Woman’s Program Association (WPA) to help the students at the Burj Al-Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut.

Bylasan explained their mission was to create “a supportive community in Lebanon and across the world that is aware.” This directly aligns with Villanueva’s goal to spread this education and knowledge to her students. The collective efforts of Bylasan, Villanueva, Collegiate, and Nour International should be taken as inspiration to us all to be engaged and respectful citizens of the world.

All photos by Grant Villanueva.

Featured image courtesy of Nour International.

About the author

Grant is SCA co-chair and a senior at Collegiate.