As spring break and cherry blossoms draw school groups from across the U.S. to our nation’s capital, it bears remembering that students in many parts of the country don’t have the opportunity to come to Washington and visit its iconic monuments and institutions.

Students at USIP headquarters view the Witnesses to Peacebuilding exhibit, which uses multimedia and video to tell the powerful individual stories of peacebuilders of various types from around the world.
Students at USIP headquarters view the Witnesses to Peacebuilding exhibit, which uses multimedia and video to tell the powerful individual stories of peacebuilders of various types from around the world.

USIP’s congressional mandate calls on the Institute to educate Americans about how international conflicts can be resolved without violence and how peace is possible. To that end, we host school groups from around the country year-round at our headquarters adjacent to the National Mall.

In March and April this year, groups from about 35 states are set to visit and learn about why peace is practical, possible, and a constant process. USIP’s public education team is also traveling to four states—South Dakota, Washington, Tennessee, and Alabama—for educational programs at high schools and other locations.

But what about students who can’t come to Washington or have a USIP representative visit? How does USIP engage and inform them?

Through a new chapter in the Institute’s collaboration with DreamWakers—a nonprofit that uses technology to bridge the gap between classroom learning and careers for young students across the country—we are using free technology to reach classrooms in Oklahoma, South Carolina, and other states this spring.

Through virtual programs called “Flashchats,” DreamWakers brings experts from a range of fields into classrooms to share their stories, answer questions, and inspire young minds to expand their horizons.

After an initial collaboration in 2016, when I did a Flashchat with a school in Connecticut, a series of Flashchats last fall brought USIP experts to classrooms in Kentucky and Nevada as part of USIP’s Peace Day Challenge. Those virtual engagements last fall served over 80 students, 60 percent of whom were from rural communities, and all of whom had never met an expert in conflict management or peacebuilding.

The students and their teachers were so energized by those sessions that USIP and DreamWakers decided to launch another series of Flashchats this spring.

Kicking off as part of Women’s History Month, USIP’s Palwasha Kakar spoke to Ms. Smith’s class in Oklahoma, where the students were excited to have the opportunity to ask questions and to talk about what peace means to them.

In April and May, USIP’s public education team will lead at least two more Flashchats with classrooms in new states.

My kids are totally inspired now to take action for peace

– Fifth grade teacher, Kentucky

This virtual outreach is an important element of USIP’s mandate. For many young Americans, the news of the day from around the world can seem overwhelmingly negative, and violent conflict can feel pervasive. But meeting people who are working for peace and hearing the stories of peacebuilding in action in places like Afghanistan and Iraq can be an eye-opening experience. And particularly for those students with limited exposure outside of their own communities, virtual opportunities to “meet” experts working on international issues bring the world to life in ways that spark curiosity and encourage deeper engagement.

The current USIP collaboration with DreamWakers has the theme, “Spring into Action: Working for Peace,” and will include explorations of core skills in peacebuilding and ways for young people to get involved in their own schools and communities. It promises to generate great ideas from students and to yield opportunities for follow-up with USIP resources.

As DreamWakers’ motto says: “Kids can’t be what they can’t see.” USIP knows firsthand that there are many ways to be a peacebuilder, so educating young Americans about this work is very much a shared commitment.

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