By Will McClure
Last Friday had a bit of a different atmosphere for Stamford ISD as the students and faculty welcomed 25 high school students from France for the day as part of a week-long trip to different schools in the Region 14 area. The trip served as the ultimate bridging of cultures after a year and a half distance learning project between France and two Region 14 schools. What originally started as a simple video conference between French representatives and then-Distance Learning Consultant for Region 14 Tommy Bearden soon evolved into a project where two classes would have a monthly video conference with Merkel and Highland Schools. Bearden stated that about six or seven years ago he had a contact in France that would lead to a video connection together using H.323 technology, or Internet Protocol video conferencing.
"I have all of this video equipment in my office and one morning I walk into my office and on my TV monitor there was two guys connected to me, sitting there looking at me," Bearden said. "And so, I said 'good morning! how are you doing?' They just kind of looked at me and I looked back at them, and I was thinking that my microphone is muted...In a little while they started speaking French, so we were at a bit of an impasse, but we did communicate enough that they would call again the next day and have an interpreter...It just so happened that at the time I was working on coordinating on a nationwide project for Spanish teachers related to Day of the Dead. I had schools across several different states as well as my schools so I asked them if they would be interested. So they participated in our nationwide Day of the Dead."
Bearden noted that the project was a big hit with the French students as they participated in the nationwide project. He said that he did not hear from them until he began receiving emails from France in September of 2014. It was at that time when he learned of an interest in doing a long-term project with two classes from France with two classes in Region 14. After working through the finite details including testing the connection and deciding on which two Region 14 schools would participate, the project was set that for a year and a half, an interactive distance learning project would involve a connection once a month with Merkel and Highland schools. Bearden said the calls would take place at 9:45 am in Texas, which was 4:45 pm in France, and last for 30-45 minutes. During that time, the students would focus on different topics, where students from one country would present to the other and next month vice versa. The topics would include a lot of social studies topics such as American students presenting on the American Revolution and how the French helped the colonists while the next month the French students would discuss the French Revolution. This would continue monthly and even included the students interacting on social media throughout the summer months. Eventually, the discussion began on the possibility of the French students coming to visit.
After receiving permission and completing fundraising efforts, including a donation from the French Kiwanis Club, the trip was set for students to be selected. After completing a selection process just to be selected, 50 students applied for the trip with 25 being ultimately selected. After flights from Paris to Atlanta and finally to Dallas for a layover, the students arrived in Abilene where they visited both Merkel and Highland schools, but also three other schools also. On the condition that the schools provided transportation to and from Abilene as well as lunch, Abilene-Cooper and Westbrook were selected for the visit along with Stamford ISD, which would serve as their final stop of the trip and be a memorable day for the students.
"One of the things that intrigued them about Stamford was the fact that they wanted to see a rodeo," Bearden said. "Well, [we] did not have a rodeo going, but [we] happened to know where there is a rodeo arena. So, they would go to the school and then to the rodeo grounds and be served lunch." Bearden went on to say that the Kiwanis Club in Stamford also donated money to help pay for their lunch which included steak, beans, potatoes and a roll and would be served at the TCR Bunkhouse. Bearden stated that the students were also hosted by Region 14 personnel each night of their stay and were able to experience different things from attending a Hardin-Simmons University baseball game to even riding a tractor.
As the students were able to walk through the Stamford High School campus, they were exposed to the different culture that is seen in Stamford, including being able to throw an football on the field. The students were taken on a tour of the campus where they took pictures and basked in the Stamford atmosphere. Before going to lunch, their day at Stamford ISD ended with the High School Band performing the American National Anthem as well as the School Song and Fight Song before the French students sang their French National Anthem, providing a heartwarming and amazing way to introduce the two cultures.
Even though the trip has come to an end, we do hope that the students enjoyed their time in Texas and visiting our schools. There is no telling where their lives will take them, but they have made memories that will last a lifetime. And so we say au revoir and merci until next time.