Program Impact: Midterm Pilot Report
Program Impact: Midterm Pilot Report
Building Bridges

The first year of our two year pilot program began in the 2018-2019 school year. The first phase of the pilot program was a period of research and development so that the idea of using video conferencing to connect diverse populations of students to foster meaningful relationships could become a reality.
Three fifth grade classrooms were selected from faith based day schools in South Florida that represented three different religious community: Jewish, Muslim, and Catholic. Together, the three teachers from these schools selected the books that their students would read and they prepared to use various literature based strategies for the “Grand Conversations” that would form the basis of their videochats.
The second phase was the implementation and discovery period as we determined what worked, what didn’t work and discovered concrete ways to improve. Several Grand Conversations were held over the course of a 4-6 week period to discuss each book. After each conversation, the teachers connected with one another in order to reflect, evaluate, inform ways to improve the experience, and also discussed the process with their students to get their feedback and determine ways to improve.

The first book chosen was Wonder by R.J. Polacio. Both heartbreaking and inspiring, it resonated with children and adults alike. It is a story that each of us can read and discover connections to our own lives. It is a book that asks us to find the best in ourselves and one another. Our second book, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson is a classic that explores the challenges facing both a young Chinese immigrate to our country and the challenges faced by Jackie Robinson as he helped to break the color barriers that separate.

To formally assess the impact of Building Bridges, we hired a research consultant who is a former UM professor in the area of Testing and Evaluation and began collecting data pre- and post data. In the short term, observation and student comments have helped us recognize the project’s impact.

Initially, some students in all three schools were reserved, not quite sure what to expect. During their conversations, as they connected with characters in the books read, students shared their feelings of being “different” and being looked at differently---- girls in the Muslim school wearing their scarfs, boys in the Jewish and Muslim schools wearing their head coverings. They began seeing their similarities, their differences, and recognizing their common humanity.

At the conclusion of the first phase, a survey was conducted. In response to the prompt, “When I began working on “Building Bridges, I never imagined that I would….”, one fifth grade student responded, “… be making new friends from a different school and religion. I never imagined it because I’ve been at my school for so long, I can’t imagine making friends with a school I was unfamiliar with.” She followed this with her “Take Away,” writing, “I learned a lot, but one thing I learned was that just because we are different in some ways doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.” In all three schools, most of the students expressed the similar thoughts and insights:

“It’s a great opportunity to meet new kids you would not regularly meet."
“We learned we have so much in common and it was fun.”
“There are so many different kinds of people in the world. We met some new kids and read books with them. It was great!”
“I think more kids should do it.”

In the long term, based on surveys and other evaluative measures, our plan is to use all types of media (print and digital) along with the facilitation of professional development for program facilitators to promote Building Bridges so that it can be adapted for and accessible to areas where there is little or no diversity in their communities (at a minimal cost).