Teacher Andy Sutton Recognized for Piloting Virtual Student Exchanges with International Educational Organization Youth For Understanding USA
This spring, Des Moines educator Andrea Sutton was invited by international educational nonprofit Youth For Understanding USA (YFU) to engage in a pilot of its global Virtual Exchange Initiative. Three of her classes participated in a unique online cultural exchange program to correspond with students in the North African country of Tunisia. Through this initiative students share their personal narratives to combat stereotypes and build international connections, while developing global competencies and 21st century skills. In this virtual space, students have the opportunity to become the teachers, educating their peers, schools, and entire communities.
Schools and learning centers are an essential part of the virtual experience serving as an epicenter to bring the benefits of intercultural exchange to a broader audience. Roosevelt High School and Mrs. Sutton’s contributions to the Virtual Exchange Initiative paved the way for educational institutions around the world to benefit from the YFU experience.
Mrs. Sutton’s feedback has been instrumental in shaping the program; with her support, participation has grown from 80 students in two countries last spring, to 545 students across Indonesia, Thailand, Tunisia, and the United States this fall. Tens of other countries and thousands of students around the world are now in queue to join YFU’s virtual program. As the United States celebrates International Education Week, YFU is excited to recognize Mrs. Sutton for her role in the program’s success.
With a focus of English IV on world literature, veteran teacher Mrs. Sutton facilitates the virtual exchanges with her senior-level classes. She says, “Roosevelt High School is an environment where students are eager to go beyond what they know in their own communities. We are excited to provide an opportunity to our students in which they establish positive connections and relationships with students in a very different part of the world.”
Des Moines’ Roosevelt High School has welcomed more than 40 YFU exchange students in the last twenty years and its student body is as diverse socio-economically as it is culturally. Principal Kevin Biggs says “encouraging our youth to develop an understanding and an empathy for other cultures is paramount to creating a generation of forward-thinking, compassionate adults who will have a positive impact on the future of our national and international societies.”
YFU created the Virtual Exchange Initiative as part of a major global movement to increase understanding and empathy amongst international youth. Drawing upon its 65 years of expertise in international education, having exchanged more than 260,000 students worldwide, YFU’s virtual exchanges bring intercultural learning opportunities to students in communities around the world, with emphasis on reaching girls, displaced youth and other underrepresented groups.
Director of YFU’s Virtual Exchanges, Erin Helland says, “We are grateful to Mrs. Sutton for building bridges of understanding amongst individuals who might typically never travel past the borders of their home communities. We thank the students of Roosevelt for their active involvement, and hope they may discover through this experience that our similarities are greater than our differences.”