is set to host a videoconference in December that will bring Pittsburgh-area students into dialogue with others around the world.
The International Student Summit, coordinated by the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, will take place on Dec. 8, 2011. The event is the sixth such summit that the World Affairs Council has helped to initiate, and it will bring more than 400 students together to address a simulated international predicament: “Famine and Crisis in the Horn of Africa.”
According to Amiena Mahsoob, deputy director of education programs at the World Affairs Council, roughly 150 Pittsburgh-area students—75 from Baldwin High and 75 from other schools—will gather in Baldwin High’s Large Group Instruction room to hear experts speak on the subject. Students from around the world will view the speeches through a video feed.
“We’re really excited (about hosting) at Baldwin,” Mahsoob said. “They have such an interesting community.”
Afterward, students will break off into smaller groups, communicating with partner schools via videoconferencing technology.
“What should the world do to respond?” is the question that students must answer, Mahsoob said.
Mahsoob said that the topic, which will emphasize Somalia, was chosen because of the drought and famine that has struck that region recently, killing tens of thousands of people and putting even more at risk in the coming months.
Because the discussion revolves around a crisis that is actually happening, students will get a sense of the complexities and nuances involved in decision making, Mahsoob said. And that discussion will be facilitated by technology that they may be familiar with already.
“They’re not just thinking about using Skype or videoconferencing as a way of connecting with their family and friends but also with their peers internationally,” Mahsoob said. “I think having the international perspective has helped them to really open their eyes to what others think.”
Registration hadn’t yet begun when Mahsoob was reached for comment last week. But if the past is any indicator of which schools will participate, nations as diverse as Pakistan, Canada and Georgia could be represented.
For the summit, the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh is partnering with its sister organization in Philadelphia. More than 200 Philadelphia-area high school students are expected to participate in the conference from Temple University.
While Baldwin has participated in two conferences this year——and will join in another later this month, December’s summit will be the first that the school has hosted.
The ’s Director of Technology Tim Winner said that, when Pittsburgh’s World Affairs Council approached him during the summer and asked if Baldwin would host the event, he couldn’t pass.
“It’s a really great opportunity to be able to host this event,” Winner said.
Hosting the summit will be a bit more technologically challenging than simply participating in one, Winner said. The school needs to provide multiple videoconferencing sites, for instance, but it only has the hardware for one and will have to borrow additional interfaces.
“It’s a challenge in that it’s work, but it’s not a challenge in that it’s anything unique to us,” Winner said. “The set-up for this will be tested several times before we go live on the day of the event.”
Kate Presto, who chairs Baldwin’s Social Studies Department, said that students have been receptive to previous conferences.
“I believe it gave them a good lesson: that listening is as important as speaking,” Presto said. “They’ve really enjoyed hearing different viewpoints.”
Presto said that the 75 Baldwin students who will participate will come from three Advanced Placement government classes, whereas past summits included only about 15 to 20 students.
Those students will review background material in the week leading up to the summit, Presto said; though, many students will already be familiar with international decision-making processes in general.
Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of the summit, Presto said, is the students’ ability to share ideas with peers whose cultural differences can help to broaden their own perspectives and develop a greater sense of social responsibility.
“I think that, oftentimes, children see their school, their community, in an insular, isolated sense,” Presto said. “Students in any high school get stuck in the cultural ways of that high school.”