Humboldt COE is expanding its global partnership program

Humboldt County is known primarily for its Redwood National and State Parks, but education leaders are actively boosting the region’s profile as a key player in providing youth a “global education.”

Since 2019, the Humboldt County Office of Education (HCOE) has partnered with Taiwan to build a community around international learning and enable Humboldt County students to participate in project-based learning while developing international friendships. To date, more than 70 local classrooms have established sister classroom relationships with teachers in Taiwan.

In the last four years, the Global Classroom Connect Program shown potential for overlap in integration opportunities with areas including the Next Generation Science Standards, English language arts, mathematics, robotics and career technical education, said HCOE Deputy Superintendent Colby Smart.

Taiwan, he noted, “has a market share of about 90 percent of the high-end advanced microcomputer chips in the world right now, which means pretty much anybody walking around with a smartphone in their pocket is impacted by Taiwan.”

However, this partnership isn’t just about opening up students to different job opportunities.

“Developing awareness in general among youth not only builds empathy for the other culture but allows them to develop a deeper appreciation for their own home culture. And in places like Humboldt, which is primarily a very rural county, opportunities for kids to meet others from outside of Humboldt County, let alone the world are far and few between,” Smart explained. “Having a deep partnership on the other side of the world that has a direct impact on their lives serves to build empathy, a sense of global belonging and also global citizenship, which is critical in modern day.”

The program

In Taiwan, national leaders have set a goal that, by 2030, every citizen in the country will be fluent in English. “They’ve poured so many resources into developing partnerships with English-speaking countries. I first started this program about four years ago, and … I wanted to develop a network where all students — not just those who either could afford it or who could fundraise for it — could have access to a global friend,” Smart said. “And, culturally, Taiwan and the United States are very similar.”

Educators and students can engage with the program at different levels. For instance, some teachers may just be interested in sending a cultural care package to their partner classroom or for the students to practice their letter-writing skills through a pen pal system. Other educators, however, may have an interest in doing deep project-based learning that involves both cultures in both countries.

“A lot of our professional development is rooted in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs],” Smart said. “And so, as we deepen our friendships and our partnerships, we’re able to do [so] at much deeper level of professional development and also classroom-based learning experiences around the SDGs.”

The SDG Students Program is an initiative of SDSN Youth, the global youth division of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

A trip across the world

This summer, a group of 25 educators representing 14 Humboldt County schools visited Taiwan on a trip led by Smart to engage in face-to-face meetings between local and sister classroom educators for the first time. The visit also allowed for joint professional development around Compassion Systems Awareness and the SDG goals.

While in Taiwan, Smart continued to build new partnerships and explore future opportunities for collaboration, such as a teacher exchange, English and Mandarin language instruction, indigenous youth exchanges and more.

About 80 percent of the trip was funded through the Taiwan Ministry of Education, the Indigenous People’s Council of Taiwan and the Model United Nations of Chiayi City. The Rotary International Club of Eureka helped sponsor the plane tickets to get there, Smart explained.

“We wanted to provide an opportunity for teachers to meet their partner teachers in person because they have already been working on projects from a distance, but as soon as they met for the first time, it was like they’ve been lifelong friends,” Smart said. “I believe that a big part of that was the fact that they had been working on these joint classroom projects in the lead up to this trip. One of our areas of focus was to develop a really deep and rich structure with multiple entry points so it didn’t have to look the same way for every teacher. And by doing that, we’ve given the teachers a level of autonomy to come up with a wild idea, and then we’re there to help facilitate the realization of that idea.”

Next steps

Smart asks that all interested schools, administrators and teachers — regardless of where they’re located in California — reach out to HCOE to take part in the county’s Global Classroom Connect Program.

“We’re expanding this beyond Humboldt County. Now that we have the infrastructure built, we’ve built it in a way where we can grow it and scale it without impacting the quality of the program,” he said, noting that some Cohort 1 educators will be acting as teacher leaders. “We’re being mindful of how we can grow it in a sustainable way by leveraging the talents of the teachers that have gone through the program before.”

While still focused on Taiwan, Smart said the goal is to expand the program to include at least one country on every continent, as well as Central America.