Ten high school classmates in Lee’s Summit spent time last week pursuing their studies and keeping in touch with friends at school.
But in this case, those friends were 6,000 miles away, in the African nation of Ghana.
The students — on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean — connected with one another on March 25 using video-conferencing technology.
The Lee’s Summit students got the intercultural experience through a course called Summit International Studies Academy (SISA), part of the curriculum at the Summit Technology Academy, which the Lee’s Summit School District runs. The University of Central Missouri Summit Center provided space for SISA to hold the video-conference.
The school in Ghana is called the Akoma Ntoso Cultural Center. It’s in the city of Cape Coast.
About 10 of its students took part in the video-conference.
Both groups of students took turns making short presentations and later asking and answering questions. Subjects of the Ghanaian presentations included Lake Volta, a recipe for banku and okra stew (“It’s a very nice meal,” one girl said in summation of her presentation with a classmate), the Paga crocodile hunt and a tradition in Ghana involving how people are named based on the days of the week.
Their American counterparts made presentations about how Missouri’s government functions, differences among U.S. states, Native Americans, perceptions of Americans by people elsewhere in the world, and cultural and racial diversity in the U.S.
The Ghanaian students greeted the end of each presentation by the SISA students with a big round of applause.
Questions from the students in Ghana included:
• “What should happen with Russia concerning Ukraine?” (Answer from America: Protect Ukraine through NATO, but “don’t engage the Russians too much.”)
• “Have any of you been to a Native American reservation?” (One student had.)
• What do you guys do to help your community?” (Tutor younger students, and do other volunteer work.)
Trevon Wilson, a senior at Center High School, is taking the course because he plans to join the Army after he graduates. He wants to be stationed in Japan.
“I need to be culturally diverse,” Wilson said.
Malia Sapp, a senior at Lee’s Summit North High School, also plans to use cultural diversity in her career.
“I really like it because it’s the only class that’s centered around what I want to do when I grow up,” she said. “I want to work in the government sector, possibly at an embassy as a liaison.
“My favorite part of this class is that you get to look into different languages that you can’t get in school. I want to study Russian. I can buy Rosetta Stone, but it wouldn’t give me an in-depth perspective on the culture.”
Monica Villalpando already had a multicultural perspective when she started Summit International Studies Academy. She and her family immigrated to the U.S. from Villa Hidaldo, Jalisco in Mexico, in the summer of 2011. SISA suits the Raytown High School senior because she can learn different languages and interact with different cultures, she said.
“At the beginning I was sad,” she said of leaving her home. “Life in America is very different than in Mexico. I still miss being able to walk around everywhere in Mexico.”
Now, though, she feels at home here and wouldn’t want to move back, she said.
SISA may go back with Ghana as a video-conference partner next year, said Curtis Cook, who teaches the course. Cook found Akoma Ntoso Cultural Center with help from a service that works to locate international partners.
The service referred Cook to Oiada International, which put him in touch with the school. The schools have compatible technology for video-conferencing, and Ghanaians’ English proficiency also helped the arrangement work, Cook said.
Cook said he started using video-conferences in November, for the first of five sessions planned with the school in Ghana. Last week’s session was the fourth, and the fifth is scheduled for April 14. The students had been using Skype to communicate with students from many different nations, he said.
Since it was started in the 2008-2009 school year, SISA has worked to foster the international education of the roughly 125 students who have taken the course, largely by requiring them to take control, said Summit Technology Academy Director Elaine Metcalf.
“The students are in charge of their learning,” Metcalf said. “Mr. Cook builds an environment in the classroom where they take charge. That is a real shift in education. Those skills will stay with them.”