Kathi smiling

Six steps to become an Empatico district: Part 1

I’m Kathi, a Technology Integration Specialist working in Washington Township Public Schools, and I’m excited to share my story with you. Sometimes a great article or story has a backstory–a bit of history that makes the whole story more meaningful and more impactful to the reader. This is one of those stories. I believe this preface enriches the entire story, which is why I’ve chosen to include it here. If you are exclusively interested in how to roll out Empatico to your entire district, please jump ahead to part 2, “The Rollout.”

The Preface

The story of how Washington Township Public Schools came to be the very first Empatico district started with a passion, led to a heartfelt plea, and resulted in a miracle. In May 2018, I attended the Evolving Educators’ Tomorrow’s Classrooms Today conference in New Jersey, and I was fortunate enough to attend a session titled, Build Your #GlobalEd Toolkit: Take ACTION with Technology, led by the incredible Dr. Jennifer Williams. She discussed a plethora of available resources designed to help educators infuse social good practices into current instruction, including global citizenship, empathy, and compassion, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As a Technology Integration Specialist working primarily with elementary classrooms, one particular website made such a profound impact on me that I was still thinking about it weeks later. That website was Empatico, a free tool built to connect elementary classes around the world. Not only was it designed just for our 6-11 year-old students, but the ease of use for teachers was exemplary!

I knew I wanted this experience for our students and teachers. I wanted to make this happen for my entire district. I had a problem, though, and it was quite a sizeable roadblock: We had no webcams in any of our classrooms. Connecting to classrooms outside of the school walls – let alone across the world – was something that had never been done in elementary schools in my district.

By early June, I felt compelled to write an email to Empatico. I explained my background and that I was truly impassioned by and dedicated to the need to teach the Sustainable Development Goals by making global connectedness and empathy an initiative in all of our 175 elementary classrooms, but I needed some help to make that happen. I emphasized that Washington Township would be thrilled to be the first-ever Empatico district, helping Empatico to reach their ambitious goal of connecting 1 million students by 2020. I emphasized that our seven K-5 schools would look, sound, and BE much different by the end of the school year.

Within days, I heard from “an angel” at Empatico named Erick Roa. We met for the first time a week later via a video chat, and he wanted to hear more about my story and my vision. By the end of that chat, Erick shared that Empatico would outfit every single elementary homeroom in our district – that was 175 classrooms – with a webcam! He said that while Empatico is a non-profit, their team is committed to helping schools and districts remove barriers to making global connections possible for students in any way they can. I was stunned. This incredibly generous donation would enable every elementary student in Washington Township Public Schools to experience the power of Empatico by connecting with classrooms around the world! The offer brought me to tears, and I wrote in a follow-up email, “You are very literally connecting us to the world in ways that we have never known before. That is a gift that is absolutely priceless for all of us!”

Empatico sent us 180 webcams – literally connecting thousands of students to the world!

In the following months, Erick and I continued to talk regularly via email and Skype to chart a “roadmap” for implementation. I wanted to make sure the rollout was reflective of our commitment, excitement, and gratitude for the enormity of this gift.

It was critical to me that this was not simply a distribution of webcams, but a significant, thoughtfully-executed plan for making the announcement to our teachers, presenting this gift in a meaningful way, introducing the concept of global connection to our students, providing specific professional development for Empatico, offering an introduction to the Sustainable Development Goals, and letting teachers know that they would be continuously supported during every step of this journey.

Several months into our story, I’m thrilled to say that it continues to be a tremendous success. If you’d like to learn a little more about how we achieved the rollout at the district level, feel free to continue on to the second part of the blog piece, which you can find here.

“You are very literally connecting us to the world in ways that we have never known before. That is a gift that is absolutely priceless for all of us!” – Kathi Kersznowski, Technology Integration Specialist