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A glance at the wide world for Cairo High School students

From a Cairo High classroom to another a thousand miles away, connections are shooting through cable and fiber and, slowly but steadily, forging between lives.

In Dr. Zerric Clinton’s visual arts classes this semester, students have connected – through Skype and social-learning platform Edmodo – with seniors at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, a private, rabbinical school in Livingston, New Jersey. It’s part of a pilot program launched by the Museum of Tolerance in New York, aimed at encouraging dialogue between members of widely disparate communities.

Between Cairo High and Rae Kushner, there are a million tiny variations in culture, education and upbringing. Cairo High is a public school in a tucked-away, rural setting, with a population that is comparatively racially diverse. Rae Kushner is an urban, private school that primarily serves Jewish students. 

When Clinton met Dr. Natasha Poor, manager of education and public outreach for the Museum of Tolerance, and Rabbi Richard Kirsch, a sociology teacher at Rae Kushner, they saw, in all those differences, an opportunity.

So the two classes have met, virtually, all semester, first for a Skype conversation in March, then in chats on Edmodo. It’s been a chance to build students’ awareness of diversity, and to prepare them for the increasingly global world they’ll encounter when they graduate.

“The world in general – locally, statewide, nationally and geographically – is just diverse,” Clinton said. “The more you can expose students to diversity at an early age, the better off they’ll be in the future as adults. They don’t have apprehensions about, ‘These people are this, these people are that.’ They’ll be able to dispel those rumors early on.”

As conversations continue, the students’ questions have ranged from basic to mind-bending. The Cairo students have quizzed their counterparts on what it’s like to wear uniforms to school, and whether a Kosher diet allows trips to McDonald’s.

They’ve also delved into deeper issues. Some of the New Jersey students didn’t know much about the South beyond what they’d seen on television and in other media; that sparked a conversation on race and its role in Southern life.

“They were really adamant on, ‘How is it really, in the South?’” Clinton said. “They kind of understood that the South, historically, had racial oppression and racial issues, so they were really interested in that.”

The project will culminate with a final video conference and, most likely, with an art project that tasks the students with creating a visual representation of the connections they’ve made.

And meanwhile, those connections keep flying between cables, putting a face on diversity and helping students see that, though we’ve all led wildly different lives, there’s something beneath the surface that’s the same.

There always is.​