Pritikin Classes Go Global

By Upper School French Teacher Lorin Pritikin
The challenges of digital learning protocols during the pandemic have highlighted the inequities in urban centers like Chicago. The digital divide has never been more apparent than now—one’s ZIP code often determines one’s level of connectivity—and there are too many Chicago students of all ages who do not have adequate access to the Internet to allow effective remote learning to take place. With that acknowledgment, I set a goal for the next school year to work with interested students to help reduce those inequities through the possible establishment of a social justice initiative. In the article below, I highlight what is possible when students do have connectivity—and how even under stay-at-home conditions, students can “go global.”
Global Voices Initiative
Parker students have benefited from the digital access available to them and their teachers. Parker teachers have put together a broad range of educational opportunities, using Zoom or Google Meet to conduct their classes. Despite the obstacles that the absence of face-to-face interaction has produced, Pritikin has optimized\ opportunities for global education. Prior to the shift to remote learning, Pritikin’s French III students had been participating in the Global Voices Initiative (GVI), a playwriting exchange between second-language students in American schools and students studying English around the world. GVI uses the arts for people-to-people diplomacy, highlighting similarities rather than focusing on cultural differences. Parker students had been working with Philp Lindsey, a bilingual French actor/artist-in-residence who came to Parker once a week to share information about improvisation, acting and the elements of playwriting—en français. Those students partnered with Ecole Yassamine, an independent school much like Parker in Casablanca, Morocco. A real-time video conference, in which each class would hear a dramatic reading of the plays they had written in their second-language classrooms, was scheduled to take place in May. Due to the pandemic, Pritikin wasn’t sure if they could still pull off the culminating event. She contacted her Moroccan teacher/partner, Amina Charaff, with whom she has worked for 15 years (and whom she visited in Casablanca several years ago with Principal Dan Frank), to see if she and her students were still “game” for mounting the video conference. Charaff, always ready for a challenge, said “Allons-y”—Let’s go!
During four days in late May, each of Pritikin’s French III classes “met” with Charaff’s English students at Casablanca’s Ecole Yassamine, read each other’s plays and exchanged questions about the plays and about la vie (life) in their respective countries, especially during these trying times. Each group of young people discovered that students their age were experiencing many of the same feelings and challenges as they were. It was a very rich, rewarding experience for all.
Penrhiwceiber, Wales
Pritikin’s Studies in Language and Culture I and II: French, is a global studies and French program for students who have language-based learning challenges, with a focus on geographical literacy, cultural competence and survival French skills. During the pandemic, Cultures I and II students participated in a webinar on the Welsh language and culture, taught by guest speakers from Wales, Karl Davies and Iolo Jones, both musicians and buddies since 7th grade. Students also enjoyed a concert of traditional Welsh folk tunes. Davies, who moved to Chicago in the 1980s, is a viola player in the Lyric Opera Orchestra. His boyhood friend, Jones, co-hosted with Davies from his mining town of Penrhiwceiber, Wales—despite the six-hour time difference.
Students learned about the preservation and development of the Welsh language and the diaspora from Wales into the United States—especially into Pennsylvania mining towns—and heard beautiful music from the guests. It was a great concert and interesting educational opportunity, made possible by the wonders of Zoom!
Speaking Place: Oaxaca, Mexico and Indian Township, Maine
Speaking Place, a nonprofit organization, works internationally to address critical social issues facing communities. Founded by married couple Ben Levine, a clinical psychologist, and Julia Schulz, a cultural anthropologist and linguist, Speaking Place focuses “on documenting and reviving endangered languages, addressing a worldwide trend that has reached crisis proportions.”
Levine and Schulz co-hosted four webinars in April and May, sharing their work on location to preserve the language of the Mixe (pronounced Meehay) in Oaxaca, Mexico and the Passamaquoddy tribe in Indian Township, Maine. Prior to “meeting” Levine and Schulz in the culminating series of webinars, students had oriented themselves for several months  by reading about the history, geography, culture and languages of these two indigenous groups. Students traveled to Oaxaca via videos documenting the authentic life and language, shot by Mixe community members themselves.
Students also visited the Passamaquoddy in Maine by watching documentaries from tribal members. Speaking Place teaches cinéma vérité techniques to community members so they can document language and important cultural rituals and practices for the purpose of cultural preservation and revitalization for future generations. Students were very pleased to finally meet Levine and Schulz and have the opportunity for this educational exchange.
All these webinars were possible because of the digital access available to Parker students. Pritikin hopes to spearhead a social justice initiative with interested students to make such access a reality for many more Chicago students, despite ZIP code.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.