Virtual Intercultural Avenues is a multi-faceted global campus that uses 21st century technologies to give students and teachers the virtual mobility to communicate, collaborate, teach and learn beyond the traditional classroom and across borders.
Since its launch in 2013, Virtual Intercultural Avenues (VIA) has helped my students connect in myriad ways with their teenage counterparts abroad. Vermont students have had thousands of virtual interactions through Vimeo, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Scopia, Skype, and WhatsApp. Our students collaborated virtually on projects with students of other nationalities, participated in virtual classroom visits across the ocean, and shared snapshots of their lives and communities through video and our blog—comparing notes on vacations, music, sports, fast food, politics, and even bucket lists.
It wasn’t long before we began to plan ground exchanges, bolstered by our virtual connection. When the high school where I teach, in Essex, Vermont, prepared to host French students in 2014 and Belgian students in 2015, we corresponded, planned and chatted virtually. I even attended French and Belgian parent meetings through Skype, to answer questions covering everything from Vermont weather to Halloween to safety precautions we would take when hosting their children. Our lively ground exchanges showcased Vermont while offering shared experiences for all three nationalities of students. The students practiced language and cross-cultural communication skills in their new roles as ambassadors of their schools, state, and countries. They solidified their friendships, have stayed connected, and began to plan trips of their own.
When it was our turn to plan a trip abroad in 2016, due to the unfortunate events that had recently occurred around the globe, student safety, which is always important, had a new and more serious dimension. Our parent and student meetings weren’t just about currencies and exchange rates, checked bags and carry-ons, SIM cards and international cell phone plans, and what to expect when staying with a French family and attending a French school. We also addressed terrorism and the proximity of recent attacks in France to our destinations, State Department travel warnings, and the French Ministry of Education emergency measures for schools. While the planning meetings were more serious than in years past, that did not take away from the fact that our students were also learning the very skills that would, in the future, position them to be part of the international teams that work to find solutions to global problems of the sort that dominated news in Paris and the world in 2015. In March 2016, we flew to Brussels, traveled to France, and were hosted by the same students whom the Vermont students had hosted the previous years. My students confided that they had had “the time of their lives.”
From the beginning, I wanted to promote language study; provide a culturally immersive experience that could be virtual or ground; encourage world area studies; foster cross-cultural communication skills; instill confidence in an ability to navigate in a global community; and provide the opportunity to make friends along the way.
Creating strong virtual connections for these NextGen learners, through consistent access to new and evolving communication technologies, has enabled us to create a robust and sustainable exchange that goes beyond the classroom, school day, or single school trip. Students who are using programs like VIA are building the language skills, cross-cultural communication skills, cultural knowledge, and relationships that will be required to solve global problems that transcend any one language, culture, or country.
With the support of a 2012 Rowland Foundation grant, Essex High School teacher Jill Prado launched Virtual Intercultural Avenues in Vermont schools and abroad, linking schools internationally through new platforms embedded in a virtual global campus.
The VIA grassroots network includes middle schools and high schools in Belgium, France, Spain and Vermont.