Institute News

Rwandan and New Jersey Students Pilot IWitness Activity on Bystanders and #BeginsWithMe

Last Friday, students at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Jersey dove into IWitness to pilot-test a brand-new IWitness activity called The Bystander Effect.

At the very same time, another group of students worked on the Bystander Effect activity at a different school: College Saint Andre in Rwanda.

It was the first joint IWitness pilot between schools in the United States and Rwanda, and was funded by a grant from the ACE Charitable Foundation.

The activity is a Mini-Quest (as-yet unpublished on IWitness) that focuses on the role of bystanders in the Rwandan Tutsi Genocide. Students learn the dangers and consequences of being a bystander from testimony clips of Rwandan Genocide survivors from the Visual History Archive.

After watching and responding to testimony clips, students contribute to USC Shoah Foundation’s social media campaign #BeginsWithMe. They are encouraged to compose their own social media posts about what they will do to combat prejudice and intolerance in their own communities.

Both groups of students completed the activity as part of their Facing History and Ourselves curriculum (for College Saint Andre it is an after-school club). The Solomon Schechter students are in eighth grade and the College Saint Andre students are high school sophomores.

Teacher Beryl Bresgi, who along with colleague Ingrid Goldfein led the activity at Solomon Schechter, said her students “connected beautifully” with the students in Rwanda. They Skyped and instant-messaged each other at the beginning of the lesson to introduce themselves and wished they could have had even more time to talk to their new friends in Rwanda. But just knowing that students halfway around the world were doing the same activity at the same time was very powerful for them, Bresgi said.

She said the “Bystander Effect” activity, including the social media component, taught her students about how to be upstanding, global citizens in a way not many other educational resources can inspire them to do.

“It takes students outside themselves and the confined word they live in and brings the world to them,” Bresgi said.

After they completed the activity, the Rwandan students praised the activity and the #BeginsWithMe campaign.

When asked if “The Bystander Effect” would change how they will act in the future, several responded enthusiastically.

“Yes it will surely, because normally I’m not the strongest boy at school…I’m accustomed to bystand [sic] at other injustices but after the last course I’ll go with no fear and demonstrate justice to young and old,” one student said.

They were also quick to embrace the message of #BeginsWithMe. “Begins with Me campaign is good campaign cause [sic] when you want others to do something it must always start with you as an example to others so I think that it’s my duty to say no to bystanding…”

Working in IWitness was also a unique and inspiring learning opportunity, another student said. “I liked that those people giving testimonies are willingly [sic] to help others by testimonies and I also like that we are given some questions that can make us think about what we have been watching which allows us to retain a lesson from that.”

Bresgi said she hoped to participate in more IWitness training in the future. The two teachers who ran the pilot in Rwanda, Faustin Rudasingwa and Vestine Uwamahoro, have both participated in IWitness educator workshops in the past and are now working on building their own IWitness activities that they will start using with their students and the Facing History club.