Lower School Spanish teacher Dr. Cecilia Eppler, who has been part of the Gilman faculty for nearly 25 years, once again leads the charge to connect Gilman students to the larger world around them. “It’s so important in this global era to expose the boys to different cultures and different histories so that they can appreciate the similarities among them and be tolerant about their differences,” she said.
Through the International Education and Research Network’s (iEARN) Holiday Card Exchange Program, the Lower School students were partnered with their peers in Slovenia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, and Taiwan. Students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade created cards with holiday and winter wishes to mail to students at the partner schools.
Surrounding the art project, Eppler spent time educating the boys about the partner schools and their countries. “It’s a teachable moment in so many ways,” she said. “When the boys make their cards, I tell them, ‘Do your best. You are showcasing yourself, your school, your city, and your country.’ Then, they get a sense of ownership.”
Eppler has been at the forefront of global studies programming in Gilman’s Lower School for more than a decade. Over the years, she has brought many activities to the classrooms, including the iEARN’s Daffodils & Tulips project, where students in different parts of the world plant daffodil and tulip bulbs during the same week in November, collect data on various parameters, and track when they blossom. “When the flowers bloom, everyone gets to see photos of the blooms from all over the world, sharing the area where they live and the beauty of the flowers,” Eppler said.
For more than 10 years, the School has participated in iEARN’s Teddy Bear Project, which seeks to foster students’ understanding and appreciation of other cultures through a mailed exchange of stuffed animals with a partner class in another country. Once the bear makes its way to its new home, it goes on adventures in the classroom and to students’ homes and then shares messages about the experiences with its home class through email.
Adding to the enrichment of the experience, some Gilman boys have formed friendships with students from partner schools, which began with this project and continue on today. “We do international projects because it is important to show our culture and to learn about other cultures, too,” said fifth grader Sachin B.
Students who are from countries outside the United States especially love the internationally focused projects. “These projects give them a chance to see themselves represented in the classroom, and it allows them to share some of their own family experiences,” said Eppler.
Eppler continues to grow the international collaboration efforts at Gilman making them more sophisticated for students as they get older and to ensure that the projects have a mission. “They should bring not just friendship with peers around the world but also thoughts of peace and equality, as well as an understanding of what it takes to become a good citizen of the world” she said. “Boys should come away with the understanding that children all over the world want the same things: to be safe, to be healthy, to be well-nourished, to learn, and to have fun. I want them to see that they are part of something bigger than themselves.”