Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 4.44.02 PMOn May 28th, students, teachers, and members of the community gathered in the Municipal Theater of Los Corrales de Buelna to celebrate the achievements of the bilingual students over the course of the year. The event focused, in particular, on Global Classrooms – a program in which students become delegates of the United Nations and represent their country’s position on some of the most pressing challenges facing the global community…in English, no less! The first of its kind in Los Corrales, the closing ceremony was made possible through the generous support of Fulbright España and the Fundación Botín.

This year, I had the great pleasure of working with the bilingual students at IES Estelas de Cantabria. As we prepped for the Global Classrooms conferences through seemingly endless Parliamentary Procedure drills and mock moderated caucuses, I was continually amazed by the students’ enthusiasm and genuine desire to enact lasting change in the world.  From WhatsApp groups dedicated solely to a country’s current affairs to innovative proposals to raise money through Eurovision-like contests, the delegates’ energy was contagious.

At a midpoint in the year, I asked my students to reflect on their experience, requesting nothing but the honest truth.  While a few grumbled about the injustice of afternoon classes and extra homework, an overwhelming majority praised the program, citing their improvements in English and public speaking.  One of the students wrote:

If I had to choose something about this experience, I’d choose the improvement that I have achieved in public speaking, because to tell the truth now I dare to speak loudly.

It was this growth in the students’ confidence and appreciation for international relations that inspired my decision to organize a closing ceremony, not only to recognize what the students had accomplished but also to showcase their work in the community.

So, on May 28th, we gathered in the town theater to do just this. We were very fortunate to have in our company the mayor of Los Corrales de Buelna, among other distinguished guests. The event opened with speeches from Cantabria’s Consejería de Educación and the Fundación Botín on the importance of bilingual education and the evolution of the Global Classrooms Program. After formal introductions, students from Estelas de Cantabria bravely walked onto the stage and shared with the community their countries’ positions from the conferences. Two 3º ESO students, one of whom attended the New York conference in 2012, stepped up to the podium to explain how Global Classrooms has helped to shape their personal and professional goals. Other students were featured in a short video, for which they eagerly volunteered to do group interviews (in English!). Link to Video

The keynote speaker was Fernando de la Torre, a surgeon from Santander, who gave a brief discourse on his medical work in the Sahara and the global reach of Cantabria – a topic appropriate for the 3ºESO students who served as delegates in the World Health Organization (WHO).

Because the attendees were largely from Los Corrales de Buelna, the event was entirely bilingual.  Guest lecturers spoke in Spanish while the students spoke primarily in English, with translations projected on a screen behind.

The event ended in an award ceremony so that all students could walk onto the stage, certificate and gavel lapel pin in hand.  The evening marked a proper closing for a busy year of Global Classrooms. In the midst of exams and final projects, students had the opportunity to reflect on all that they had done. Above all, they demonstrated that the lessons they had learned from GC extend beyond grades and the confines of a conference room. Towards the end of their speech, the two 3ºESO students stated:

 The United Nations has as its principle objectives the maintenance of peace and international security, the creation of friendly relations between nations, and collective action that can improve the quality of life for people. And it is just this – this model – that we should apply to our day-to-day, and, for this reason, Global Classrooms teaches us its importance and how to put it into practice in the conferences.

A closing, after all, isn’t simply an end. It is an opportunity to look back, but, more importantly, it is an opportunity to look forward – to collectively imagine a better and brighter future.  In a theater brimming with great energy and passion, bilingualism and global-mindedness, it was hard not to think about all that the students at IES Estelas de Cantabria will accomplish in the upcoming years and all that can be done through the continued collaboration between Spain and the United States.

¡Gracias Fulbright España por un año increíble!

– Jennifer Cohen, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Cantabria 2013-2014

IMG_1464    IMG_1467