BLACKSBURG, Va. – Getting high school students involved in politics to solve world problems is just one of the goals of a program between the U.S. and Ireland.
Eighteen students at Blacksburg High School are paired with the same number from Ireland for Bridge the Pond. The kickoff event was Wednesday. Over the next three weeks, they’ll work in small groups to research world problems and their ideas to solve them.
“Some of the things I thought were interesting and would like to discuss are racial justice, climate activism, social media and mental health issues,” said Caoilainn Chistensen, a 10th-grade student.
“The climate, it’s a scary thing to me. I feel like I might need to do more,” said Sam Woolsey, a 10th grade student. “There’s lots of aspects to social media. There’s mental health and how it hurts people and can create depression but then it’s also hurting our democracy so there’s a lot of aspects to go through with that.”
“I think it’s so important that we have younger voices at the decision making table ultimately to make the conversation richer, to make compromise and negotiation go smoother,” said Maria Walsh, a member of the European Parliament who welcomed the students during a joint online meeting Wednesday.
Blacksburg Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith also spoke to all the students from both countries about the region.
The tenth graders volunteered for the project for different reasons.
“I’ve never been to Europe and I thought it would be a really fun and interesting experience to be able to talk to students from Ireland that are my age. I’m really excited to be able to share my experiences and hear their experiences about different issues that affect both of us,” said Chistensen.
“One of the personal things I’m excited about is I haven’t had much social interaction in these past few months and this will be a chance to talk with people from Ireland, but also there’s a lot of things I worry about in the world and I’m really excited to think of solid solutions,” said Woolsey.
Blacksburg High School AP European History teacher Colin Baker says without the pandemic this might not have happened.
“I’m personally hoping that my students will be wanting to follow up with this and do something, some studying abroad or some European related course or get involved in social activism and be a more productive digital citizen for example,” said Baker. “This is a great chance to form connections.”
They’ll present their research to lawmakers from each country at the end of the month.
“I think the European Union is going to see a lot of value in this and I know there’s other schools throughout the United States who are planning to do this with various schools in Europe so we’re hoping that this will be a project that will blossom,” said Baker.
The first Bridge the Pond exercise was in 2020 and brought together high school students from Verona, Wisconsin and Espoo, Finland.
You can find more on Bridge the Pond here.