Five members of New Paltz High School’s (NPHS) Interact Club recently participated in a global summit with high school students from around the world centered on the theme of “Digital Exchange Experience,” thanks to their club’s advisor, World Languages teacher Rod Castro. After the summit, which took place in April, the NPHS students engaged in a virtual collaboration with their peers from Mexico’s PrepaTec High School.
PrepaTec teacher Mónica Maluy and Castro met during the summit. When Maluy learned that Castro had immigrated to the United States from Chile, she asked if he would give a virtual lecture to her students about growing up in Chile during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990. The first-hand account Castro could provide would bring her unit about the impact of the Cold War on Latin American dictatorships a new meaning.
Castro agreed and asked if his students could attend the lecture as well. Before they knew it, Castro and Maluy had launched a digital collaboration between students from their respective schools. The students selected three military dictatorships associated with Operation Condor — a United States-backed campaign of political repression in which both US and South American governments used political and warfare tactics to ensure government stability and the destruction of communism in the region.
Castro detailed his personal experiences in a Chilean prison camp as a 14-year-old child and his eventual escape to the United States. Afterwards, students from both schools researched the three dictatorships. The groups reconvened a few weeks later to develop a Google Jamboard with what they learned.
Grade 11 language student Natalya Knoth of New Paltz said that learning about her Spanish teacher’s background offered her a newfound understanding of his personal strength and resilience. Natalya is the NPHS Interact Club president. “Overall, I think the summit made the club aware of the fun projects going on around the world and how we can incorporate it in our curriculum,” she said. “I am very excited to meet with the class from Mexico and I believe we will be communicating in Spanish this time and I am excited to see how that goes.”
Castro and Maluy are currently working on a second project — to be conducted in Spanish this time — to address the importance of science and technology in society for adolescents, with the goal of fostering global citizenship. “Participating students might be from different countries but still have many similarities and are capable of establishing positive connections if they work on projects that matter to them equally,” Castro said.
Castro noted that one topic of conversation among teachers at the summit was the phenomenon of children turning off their cameras while participating in remote learning. “We asked our students to reflect on the possibility of turning on their cameras while working with their groups,” said Castro. “Honestly, we did not know what to expect. Would they be willing to make a visual connection along with an academic connection?”
The answer was a resounding yes, Castro reported. “I was personally happy to see and hear our children from two different worlds introducing each other — sharing likes and dislikes, laughing — enjoying their time while working together. One group was even playing music in the background as they worked — which led to conversations of musical tastes across the border.”
When the students gathered together to give their final reflections, Castro added, the great majority of students kept their cameras on. In all, 50 students participated internationally in the first session and 40 students in the second. Castro hopes to have similar or greater participation for their next project.
The Interact Club, which is sponsored by Rotary International, promotes service, facilitates international understanding and cultivates leadership skills.