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Finding Connections in Community During COVID-19

World globe.

Doug Thilman 
Participate learning

Participate Learning is a force for good that connects teachers and students through comprehensive programs to foster human understanding and create peace around the world. 

Their mission is to create global, cultural, and language connections that empower students and educators to positively impact the world. Participate Learning’s partnership with Union County Public Schools supports students in over thirty-one schools across the county. 

With many people experiencing a shift to remote work or learning, it can be hard to feel connected to those around us with little to no in-person social interaction. However, we are now more interconnected with the world around us than ever before. The pandemic has required us to think outside ourselves and find ways to support the people that make up our communities.  

COVID-19 has made a tremendous impact on our lives, but one major takeaway is that it forced us to slow down and examine what is important. When you cut out the excess, there is more time to maintain and grow connections with loved ones near and far. This concept ties back into the idea of what it means to be a global citizen. 

Global citizenship is the idea that people have rights and responsibilities that come with being a citizen of the entire world, rather than a particular nation or place. A global citizen is a culturally aware, empathetic change-maker who uses their knowledge of other cultures to understand issues. When people are equipped with the knowledge and tools needed to enact change, they feel empowered to make a difference on a global level. 

The concept of “think globally, act locally” has proven itself to be true throughout this pandemic because it urges all people to consider how their actions impact others. By framing our thoughts this way, we are applying a global lens to our actions and, at the same time, finding ways to support our neighbors. At Participate Learning, we are proud of our ambassador teachers in Union County for not only making positive change in their communities but for setting the example for their students so they, too, can make a difference. 

Alejandro Ortega is a second grade dual language immersion teacher at Walter Bickett Elementary School in Union County. He has fully embraced the hybrid learning schedule and has found ways to make his classroom as safe as possible for his students when they come to school. He is striving to create an environment that is conducive to learning for all students while maintaining safety guidelines. 

Indira Soto, a Colombian ambassador and teacher at Western Union Elementary, spent her free time during quarantine creating a podcast that focuses on dual language immersion in schools. She offers tips, tricks, and personal anecdotes that can be used as a resource for parents, other dual language educators, and school administrators.  

Jake Roberts, a third grade teacher at Stallings Elementary and 2020 Participate Learning Teacher of the Year, found ways to connect with his students during quarantine by starting a classwide daily mile initiative. He encouraged his students to get up and be active with their families. This initiative not only promotes healthy lifestyle choices, but it gives students a fun task that doesn’t require them to stay behind a screen. 

These are just a few small examples of ways that educators can have a positive impact on their students and their larger communities, even when school is far from normal. Our global education programs provide teachers with the mindset and tools to inspire their students to show compassion for others, build their self-confidence, and take local action. 

While they sometimes can feel small, our actions do have a ripple effect that continues beyond our own experiences. Whether it’s donating blood or platelets, grocery shopping for an at-risk neighbor, or simply wearing a mask in public, we can each do our part to contribute to the well-being of our community and the world and act as global citizens.  
To see Participate Learning’s programs in action, watch this video to see how their dual language and global leaders programs benefit students at Unionville Elementary. For more information on Participate Learning, visit their website at