BUILD BRIDGES — NOT FENCES: Using Media to Understand Multiculturalism and Diversity

By Karolina Jagoda Adamczyk and Urszula Malmon

BUILD BRIDGES — NOT FENCES participants and presenters Photo credit: Dominik Musiałek

There is an increasing number of Ukrainian young people living in Poland. The number of teenagers of Ukrainian descent enrolling in public schools in the city of Radom is increasing every year. Ukrainian families and youth are migrating to Poland with the hope of better education and employment opportunities. Poland does not have a current comprehensive migration strategy, nor a modern, internationalization policy for the public education system. Ukrainian students have difficulties integrating with their Polish schoolmates, teachers, and local communities due to prejudices, lack of mutual understanding, language barriers, and not enough platforms to network and exchange experiences.

The situation of Roma teenagers throughout Poland, including the city of Radom is also problematic. Reducing the high rate of school absences among the Roma is seen as one of the biggest challenges at local schools. The lack of mutual understanding and trust between Poles and Roma is still a visible issue and it starts at an early stage — among children and teenagers. The Roma problem is very complex, as there is discrimination, lack of civic and cultural participation, high crime rates, low employment rates, health problems, and poverty. Despite the fact that Poland has submitted its National Roma Integration Strategy (NRIS 2014–2020), anti-discrimination and social inclusion policies/activities should be promoted and supported on regular basis by local public services, community centers, Roma — led groups, individuals, and educators.

Many schools in the region, from the primary to the secondary level, are perceived as not responding to the needs of the Roma and Ukrainian students. Teachers do not have enough skills or tools to integrate minority groups into everyday school life. Educators complain about the lack of professional trainings organized by schools which would help them to improve their communication with students from minority groups and build modern, innovative, and engaging activities. There is a strong demand for media literacy training, both at the beginner and advanced level.

Media is the most powerful communication method. Using media tools and developing media literacy programs in schools helps to build awareness and intentionality. Media can be useful when it comes to reaching teenagers and promoting respectful social norms among them, such as breaking down false images of minority groups and preventing stereotyping. To combat stereotyping and prejudicial behavior in youth, our team created the project, “BUILD BRIDGES — NOT FENCES” in February 2019, funded by an Alumni TIES small grant, the American Corner Radom, and Laźnia to use widely understood media as a tool to teach teenagers in Poland about multiculturalism and diversity.

Photo credit: Dominik Musiałek

The main goal of the BUILD BRIDGES — NOT FENCES is to empower, inspire, integrate, and engage minority students into school, cultural, and civic life of the Radom community by creating a dialogue between Poles, Roma, and Ukrainians through an innovative media education program. The anticipated outcome is to increase media and information literacy among teenagers, and provide teachers with useful tools to conduct valuable media literacy, diversity-based programs. Our program consists of a complex series of practical journalism and film workshops targeted to Polish, Roma, and Ukrainian students living in Radom and its suburbs, and a series of innovative media literacy trainings for educators working with students from minority groups. The main focus of both trainings is to teach multiculturalism via contemporary media, allowing all participants to gain knowledge and improve their media literacy skills, eventually designing modern media curricula for local schools in the region.

Jarek Basaj conducts a practical workshop for teachers Photo credit: Dominik Musiałek

We began the project with a series of practical training sessions for educators who worked, are working with, or may be working with students from minority groups. During the first several workshops in March, our participants received training from media practitioners, human rights advocates, leading educators from the region, social activists, inspirational leaders (from Poland and abroad), lecturers, and guest speakers (including a Fulbright scholar, Dzhuliyan Vasilev). Teachers from Radom and its suburbs had the opportunity to listen to lectures and presentations prepared by experienced media literacy specialists.

We had the pleasure of hosting, Magdalena Dygała, an experienced and recognized media literacy specialist, educator, teacher, university lecturer, and coordinator of many international video competitions for students from different cultures and backgrounds. Magda conducted a useful and practical workshop, including presentations targeted to educators on teaching multiculturalism via media literacy.

Magda Dygała shares her international video and media literacy curricula projects with workshop participants Photo credit: Dominik Musiałek

During this phase of the project, we focused on psychological, media literacy and diversity-based “train the trainer” workshops for educators working with students from minority groups. In addition to the lectures delivered by Magda Dygała, the workshop series included: master classes, Q&A sessions, meetings with specialists and minority group representatives, presentations, and practical workshops during which teachers developed media literacy curricula for their schools. During this part of the project our participant group consisted of primary school teachers, middle school teachers and high school teachers, both male and female of all ages working with minority groups in the Mazovian province. Many teachers from this participant group work at village schools outside of Radom. To date, over 110 teachers have participated in the project.

“I find this project to be useful and practical. I have learned how to facilitate positive group interactions, how to reduce prejudice by working with my students on multicultural media projects, and how to teach individuals at different levels of understanding and knowledge. I highly appreciate all the media tools that were discussed and presented during the workshops. I didn’t know that using media in the classroom can be so valuable and…easy! Sharing best practices and networking with other teachers who face similar challenges was an informative and eye-opening experience. I can’t wait to take part in the next sessions” — Katarzyna, English language teacher from Radom
Monika Podsiadło shares her expertise on international projects and cross-cultural communication Photo credit: Dominik Musiałek

The second phase of this project is to implement a series of practical journalism and film workshops for Polish, Roma, and Ukrainian students living in Radom and the surrounding suburbs. A cycle of workshops and practical exercises from film and journalism fields (script writing, direction, production process, screen realization, montage, journalism research, writing, critical thinking, fact checking, interview methods, and journalism ethics) as well as meetings and lectures aimed at understanding other cultures and histories will take place during this phase. We wish to train participants on how to create valuable media content and apply a critical approach towards media. Students will be working in international groups under the supervision of media specialists, film experts, radio journalists, and trainers and mentors, including international exchange alumni.

BUILD BRIDGES — NOT FENCES is funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State and grants from American Corner Radom and Laźnia.