WASHINGTON – Some Maryland seventh-grade students will get a chance to study the culture of Bangladesh this fall — by sailing on the Chesapeake Bay.
Learning about another country’s culture and environment are just two of the goals of an international education program unveiled Thursday by the State Department.
The program will link students here — at Central Middle School in Edgewater, George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Va., and Bertie Backus Middle School in Washington, D.C. — with students at a school in the Chittagong region of Bangladesh.
Students will study the Chesapeake Bay and the Bay of Bengal, off the east coast of India, to find the impacts that each bay has on the “environment, economy and culture,” said Assistant Secretary of State John Turner as he announced the “Two Bays, One World” project.
“It is my hope that through the interaction that these students will have with their peers on the other side of the world in Bangladesh that they will gain a greater understanding of another culture,” Turner said.
Central Middle School Principal Oliver Jenkins said his school has not chosen students for the program yet, but hopes to get about 90 students and three or four teachers involved.
“I think in today’s world it is important that students come to appreciate the rich diversity of our planet,” he said.
The program was designed by the State Department, area schools and environmental groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Conservation Fund.
Federal officials said they have not worked out all the details but know that students will conduct Internet-based research, take field trips to the Chesapeake and have guest lectures from State Department officials.
Don Baugh, the vice president of education for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said his organization will help create the curriculum and expects to take students out on the water “so they can get a feel for what they’re local bay looks like.”
“They’ll be catching fish with nets, they’ll be catching oysters and measuring water oxygen,” Baugh said. “They’ll understand more about their local environment and then internationally how the world is really a small place and how we’re all impacted.”
Anthony Rock, a principal deputy assistant secretary at State, said the two bays were chosen because both are “large in size and had an impact on the culture.” Both bays are also shallow and have many rivers feeding into them, he said.
But Rock said the differences between the bays are also important to the program so students can learn about a foreign culture and environment.
Bertie Backus Middle School students at Thursday’s announcement said they were excited to learn about the environment, culture, language and religion in Bangladesh.
“I want to know the culture — what’s similar, what’s different,” said Tobi Orekunrin, a middle school student.
Classmate Grace Bolomope agreed.
“I want to see how their life is compared to ours,” she said, adding that she wants to learn if “there is anything we can do to help (the bays).”
The program will run from late September through November, when Rock said students will gather at the State Department and present their findings about the environment and culture.
Rock said he hopes this pilot program will eventually expand to “more schools, more bays” in the future, or maybe even other environments, like forests.
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