By Colin Flanders
The Essex Reporter
Two Essex High School students have been awarded the Virtual Intercultural Avenues (VIA) International Scholarship, which was established in large part due to a grant by the Essex Rotary Club.
Emily Goodrich and Emilee Friedman were recipients of the $350 scholarships, which will go towards travel expenses for a trip in May 2016 to visit an EHS sister school in France.
VIA is a virtual, global campus that connects EHS to classrooms around the world. It arose after Essex teacher Jill Prado was awarded a grant from the Rowland Foundation in 2012.
“VIA was born from the idea that we have so many technologies available to us, so why not harness them in our classes every single day—by using technologies that our students are familiar with—to engage them where they are right now,” Prado said.
These efforts spawned a VIA Twitter, Instagram and Vimeo, as well as a blog—VIA Conversations—which has gained more than 19,000 views since October 2013, Prado said.
VIA’s international focus encourages students to expand their connections beyond the United States, allowing for more detailed explorations of the rest of the world.
“I want to travel because other cultures interest me and I find I’m really intrigued by how other people live their lives and speak different languages. Being part of VIA means I can learn more about that,” Friedman said.
Prado says this cultural awareness is vital to students’ growth and has implications far beyond their educational careers.
“They need to be culturally competent and have the skills and the confidence to navigate globally, to work internationally and converse with people of different nationalities. I think all of these experiences will help them do that,” Prado said.
Last year, Essex High School hosted of a delegation of teachers from France, during which VIA and the teachers gave a presentation to the Rotary Club of Essex.
Soon after, Prado submitted a proposal to the Rotary international community, and was awarded a grant in July 2014, putting the money towards the scholarships.
Friedman and Goodrich have been participating in VIA since last year, when both hosted a student from France.
“At first, it was definitely nerve-wracking because you just want to try to have a perfect house for them and not have it be too awkward. After not even an entire day, it was really fun and everybody relaxed a little bit,” said Goodrich.
Prado hopes the VIA scholarship will allow the Essex students to build on their relationships with the students abroad. Both Goodrich and Friedman are planning on staying with the French students they hosted when they travel to France.
“For them to be able to now go and stay with the students they hosted might very well cement a friendship that would last a life time,” Prado said.