The Building Bridges Project
The Building Bridges Project
Building Bridges

For more information or to register for an upcoming facilitator training, please email [email protected].


"Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.”   Dr. Martin Luther King  

Today, more than ever, we recognize that to eliminate prejudice and hate, we must start with the children. If children can be taught to hate and fear, they can be taught to love and respect.   But to do this, as experts agree, we must find ways for children to have conversations with one another, conversations that allow them to share their hopes, fears, and perceptions as viewed through a lens shaped by their life experiences. Inspired by the words of Dr. King, Building Bridges provides our children with the opportunity to meet one another and celebrate their common humanity.  

Lesson plans are not enough to change minds and hearts.  It is vital that children meet and better understand others who may not look as they look, pray as they pray, or see the world differently --through a lens shaped by their life experiences.  Building Bridges promotes the vital interaction among diverse populations of students through the pairing of schools and classrooms, using digital video conference communication.    The video chats are in the form of “Grand Conversations” based on a discussion of highly respected and acclaimed children’s literature.  Through these conversations, as students share their questions, reflections, observations, and connections to characters and story, they begin to better know themselves and one another, and in the end, discover new friends.

To create an educational program to connect people of different religious and cultural backgrounds through authentic learning opportunities that will allow them to know one another and ultimately understand, respect, and celebrate one another. 

To foster positive, meaningful relationships among members of diverse cultural and religious communities to promote communication, understanding and an appreciation for all humanity. 
Objectives of the program:
Through participation in Building Bridges students will:
 explain the importance of respecting these differences as they assess their own cultural competency and ability to understand, communicate and effectively interact with people across cultures. (understand and apply)
 compare and contrast similarities and differences between their own community and other communities, (analyze)
 critique choices made by characters in the books read and either defend these choices or describe alternatives that reflect their personal/religious values. (evaluate)

Program Impact:
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 involved them in various literature-based strategies to prepare students for the “Grand Conversations” that would form the basis of their video chats.

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 each 6-9-week period to discuss each book.  After each conversation, the teachers connected with one to reflect upon and evaluate the experience - “what worked,” “what didn’t,” in order to determine ways to improve.  Furthermore, teachers discussed the process with their students, who in turn, provided feedback to further inform choices and changes.

The first book chosen was Wonder by R.J. Palacio. 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.  Subsequent books included In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, 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 barrier that separates, and Brave by Svetlana Chmakova, the tale of a boy who learns his own way of being brave.

To formally assess the impact of “Building Bridges, we hired 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 scarves (hijabs), 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 each of the two years, 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 same thoughts and insights, including: 
“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.”

Today, more than ever, we recognize that to eliminate prejudice and hate, we must start with the children. If children can be taught to hate and fear, they can be taught to love and respect.   But to do this, as experts agree, we must find ways for children to have conversations.