Bucks County Herald

International students visit Buckingham Friends



Students from Buckingham Friends School, India and Russia present their display on ocean pollution.

Long ago, before computers and cell phones appeared in schools or homes, when Russia was still known as the USSR, Buckingham Friends School (BFS) teachers partnered with teachers in School N. 213 in the Soviet Union and created an intercontinental environmental program, now known as the Joint Environmental Mission or JEM. Today the JEM program includes permanent Buckingham Friends School partners in Australia, China, Ecuador, France, Hawaii, India, Kenya, in addition to Russia.

In April, the principal, two teachers and 10 students from School N. 213 in St. Petersburg, Russia, along with the principal, a teacher and 10 students from the K.L.E. School in Belgaum, India, gathered at Buckingham Friends School to share global environmental concerns, visit nearby places of interest and, most importantly, create life-long international friends.

Under the leadership of Hillary Spitzer, Buckingham Friends School librarian and director of the JEM program, visiting teachers and students were partnered with Buckingham Friends School families who opened their homes and hearts to the school’s visitors. In addition to attending BFS during their stay, the international guests were treated to day visits to the Churchville Nature Center, Philadelphia, and New York City.

During the school day, JEM visitors and BFS students worked together to create presentations that explained their country’s concerns about Earth’s water. Whether they were discussing pollution of the Ganges River in India, styrofoam and plastics found in the Atlantic Ocean, concern for aquatic wildlife, or undrinkable water worldwide – they listened to each other, spoke honestly, and together struggled to generate possible global solutions. And while they were participating in these activities, they were learning about other cultures, listening to other languages and making new friends.

For nearly three decades, intercontinental participants in the JEM program have developed two and three generations of sustained friendships. Today, through social media, it is possible to be in contact with friends worldwide. Indeed, one Indian man who had visited BFS when he was 12 years old, saw on Facebook that a visit was planned, and let the school know that he hoped the current visitors had the same wonderful time that he had years ago. Today he is a successful businessman in Mumbai. One Russian boy visiting happened to be the grandson of the retired principal of the school in Russia: both his grandmother and his mother had participated in JEM long before he was born.

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