Suzanne Middle School students got a special lesson from Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee on January 15.
Alice Chen’s 8th grade Language Arts class participated in a live Connected Classrooms conversation to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. just days before the national holiday held in his honor.
Three classrooms from across the United States participated in the Google Hangout On Air event.
The session also included Rob Rose’s class of 8th graders from the River City Science Academy in Jacksonville, Florida and Kelly Troyna’s 11th and 12th graders at Del Norte High School in Crescent City, California
Each educator invited to participate is a member of Google’s Connected Classrooms.
“I was invited to join Connected Classrooms last fall when this community first launched. The invitation initially went out to Google Certified Teachers. Then it was opened up other teachers as the program grew,” Chen explained. She is also a moderator for Connected Classrooms.
“Educators who want to be involved in this kind of project, they don’t specify which one, are welcome to sign up. Then, they’ll match you according to content and age appropriateness,” she explained.
Chen found out about the opportunity the day before the live conversation and was eager for her students to participate.
“We had less than 24 hours to get prepared,” she said.
“Advances in technology enable our students to have a unique global connection that enriches their educational experience,” Chen said.
The Walnut classroom was bubbling with nervous energy moments before the broadcast went live.One boy rated his level of excitement as an “11” on a scale from one to ten.
When the program began they listened intently to every word.
At 10 a.m. PST, moderator Dawn Engle introduced Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee.
“She is a woman who exemplified the Peace Jam movement. In fact, she’s a Liberian peace activist and is responsible for leading a woman’s peace movement that helped put an end to the 2nd Liberian Civil War,” she said.
“Hi everyone, I’m so delighted to be here. I’m looking forward to your questions and hope we can engage. I’m also looking forward to learning a lot from you all today,” Gbowee said to the students.
Each class then took turns introducing themselves and saying “hi” to the honored guest who was in New York during the event.
Engle started the one-hour conversation by asking the Nobel Peace Prize winner “why is so it important to honor the life and the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King at this time every year?”
“First, I think he is in a class all by himself,” Gbowee answered.
“He really was a trailblazer and it’s important to celebrate him at this time. It's a reminder that even the most difficult of challenges in the world we can overcome if we focus, if we preserve and if we do it non-violently,” she said.
She described Dr. King as being a change agent for his belief. He was willing to go all out, persevere, be consistent, focused, and not get distracted with the negativity.
Dr. King started something at a time in the world when everyone felt it was not possible, Gwobwee said.
“He decided we’re going to do this and break this barrier,” she added.
“When I sit and think of Dr. King and the incredible work that he did. And at the end of the day, when we look back there are a lot of things that have happened in this world beyond the Civil Rights struggle. We see other situations in the world, and people say, “if King could do it, I too can do it,’” she said.
“The most important thing that Dr. King taught us is we are the change that we hope to see. It is in each and every individual,” she added.
Two students from each classroom also asked questions.
When it was their turn, Suzanne students Kaitlin Garrett and Steven Sakamoto tstood next the projection screen face-to-face with the international legend.
Eighth grader Kaitlin Garrett asked the first question during the event.
“It was very special being part of her (Chen’s) class and to join in the conversation,” the 13 year-old said.
Leymah Gwobwee was in New York while speaking with the students.
“I really liked what she said about us being the change. And how we can start it and I thought it was really inspiring because it is very true. I think if one person starts it and everybody joins in, it continues on, “ Garrett said.
“It was exciting talking to her,” said Steven Sakamoto, age 13.
“My favorite story was how Martin Luther King Jr. inspires us through non-violence. It’s a good way to celebrate the holiday,” he added.
Garrett said she plans to begin finding ways to become a change maker.
“This will inspire me to start thinking about changes and how we can help the community,” she said
Gbowee shared several of her own experiences about making a difference through non-violent struggle.
“I showed them that I have an agenda, I have a discipline and I am in control. And at the end of the day, non-violence works,” she said.
She said she wrote her book, Mighty Be Our Prayers, to share that it doesn’t matter if your life has taken a downturn, you can be an agent of change.
“No matter how hard you fall, you are not judged in this life by the magnitude of your fall, it’s your ability to rise up and stand tall,” she said.
She also advised the students to find their own passion and that they could be difference makers too.
“When I was growing up, I never thought about a Nobel Peace Prize. I always thought about how could I make a difference,” she said.
“Dr. King said anybody can be great, those who see problems, You can be great through service, be great through humility, be great through doing good and not expecting anything in return. That is the kind of greatness Dr. King talked about and that has guided my work,” she explained to the students.
The recorded broadcast will also be shown to Bishop Desmond Tuto who is on the Peace Jam board. And the kids got to wave hello to him.
Gwondee concluded the conversation by offering a challenge to the students.
“Dr. King was a great man in a class all by himself. He stepped out when no one thought it was possible. I think to the young people of the world, if you read the life and legacy of Dr. King, he was one ordinary person who decided to try to do the impossible and leave an extraordinary mark on the world. We all have a light in us. If we ever decide to tap into that light, we too, can make the impossible possible. And leave an extraordinary legacy,” she said
“You have the light, you have the examples, you have the platform. Step out and make big changes. I hope someday I will read about one of you from these three classrooms of the great work you have done,” she added.
The Connected Classrooms broadcast can be viewed at https://plus.google.com/events/ckfsc2s5dg1aqvglm1h4ha902uo.