Over the last 3 ½ years, I’ve been associated with Polycom in some fashion or another – the last two serving as a communications manager. Inside these walls, we have a greater understanding of how powerful video conferencing can be. But as incredible as the technology is – and it is very impressive – what compelled me to apply for a job at Polycom wasn’t just the technology, but the customers we serve.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve been fortunate to meet a group of high school students from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District who not just use video conferencing, but rely on it. And it was only then that I truly understood the importance of what we’re doing.
Ranging from freshman to seniors, two schools separated by 15 miles and dense terrain are one classroom. There are two ways to reach the other – airways or seaways. They are not in a convenient location to travel great lengths.
Yet over the course of the last school year, these students have traveled to Ghana and Ramallah, Palestine. They’ve broken down cultural stereotypes and learned about the world. They’ve made friends. During one interaction, a young girl named Arielle relayed a story about the California attacks last November.
“I had a call come in from my friend in Ramallah. He called after the attack happened and wanted me to know how sorry he was and how his religion doesn’t teach this,” she said and later mentioned she left another video call with kids from Ghana to connect with her friend in Ramallah – with the ‘ok’ from Greg Zorbas teacher of course.
Another student noted that, during his interaction with students in Ramallah, “we heard story about a kid having to go through several checkpoints to get to school each day. The checkpoints were manned by opposing forces and it was up to those soldiers as to whether he could even go to school. Some of his friends have been killed. And I thought, it he can go on every day, I can’t complain too much.”
They also found common interests. Video games, movies, books and TV shows especially made the conversations personal, more exciting.
Video has prepared these students for life. They no longer watch the evening news with half-hearted interest, but genuine concern.
Over the last year, more than 20 experts from various professional fields have joined classroom discussions over video. The result has been overwhelming. Kenai kids have realized new career interests. Without means to connect to professionals in their area, video has brought these kids closer to being a heart surgeon, a diplomat, a politician, a professor.
When you speak to the students in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, you recognize these individuals less as students, but more as teachers. Professional, courteous and bright, these classrooms have transformed my view of video.
They’ve taught me to expand my own horizons and take full advantage of the international travel I can do right from my desk. From them, I’ve learned that what we do is far more important than I imagined. There is an inherent need to have more schools – of all ages – to adopt video in the classroom.
I’m proud of what we do and who we help. And I’ve known for a while that video has the power to break barriers and defy distance. But I never realize video has the power to change the world. If more classrooms incorporated video, more students would be like these kids in Alaska and the world – I believe – would be a better place.