Shaping global leaders through education and community programs

Published in Brunswick News

February 13, 2016

Every child is born as a beautiful blank canvas. An infant is free of preconceived notions and barriers towards others. As a society what we instill in our children and our youth become the base colours of their unique masterpiece.

Dialogue New Brunswick believes that a child’s education goes beyond the classroom setting and that they are greatly influenced by their surrounding community. What we teach our children at a young age will influence their perspective, acceptance, respect and knowledge of others. As such, it is key to ensure that communities and families are teaching younger generations to think and speak positively about their own language community and others that surround them.

New Brunswick provides a wonderful opportunity and is an ideal environment to develop future generations of global thinkers and leaders for the world stage. This milieu, supported by our community, fosters opportunities beyond simply learning a second language. It is not just about communicating in another language, it is about respecting and appreciating diverse cultures. It is about presenting children with positive impressions that promote harmony from a young age. By collectively teaching our children about respect and appreciation between groups there is an opportunity to nurture greater social cohesion.

Our constitutionally protected school system is not designed to divide but rather to ensure that both linguistic communities can fully develop and thrive. Beyond the established school curriculum, there are community-based and youth-focused activities that help build bridges of understanding and respect between linguistic communities. For over 20 years Dialogue New Brunswick has focused on actively building social cohesion through two school-based activities: the pen-pal program ‘My Friend-mon ami(e)’ and ‘Friends Meeting Friends!’. The main goals of these programs are to increase the frequency of healthy interactions between young Francophones and Anglophones, to cultivate long-term friendships, and to foster linguistic and cultural harmony between young New Brunswickers.

These activities are directly beneficial to increasing linguistic and cultural harmony in the province. As passed participants describe, these education add-ons are vital to enhance mutual understanding and respect. An English-speaking teacher explains: “These programs allow mutual discovery for children of each language community about each other. It’s a great way for me to explain the difference between the French and English cultures in New Brunswick. It’s a way to do it naturally, because they know they are writing to children their own age from another part of the province – so then it makes sense to them”. Similarly, a Francophone program facilitator describes the success of these ‘rapprochement’ initiatives: “It’s awesome to see that by the end of the school year they are all emailing and Facebooking each other, in both English and French”. Most importantly, the students are the ones who benefit the most from exchange-based interactions. As one participant in 2012 exclaims: “Yes, I would love to live this experience again because I met a new person and made a new friend!”. It is these types of initiatives that build positive relationships while preserving our distinct linguistic make-up.

 

This year alone, 3,220 youth participating in the program are exchanging letters, drawings, and they will share an end-of-year class project about their school and their community. Some students even have the opportunity to meet their pen-pal in person during a day-long educational, motivating, interactive and unforgettable experiences through the ‘Friends Meeting Friends!’ get together.

Since its inception, ‘My Friend-mon ami(e)’ has twinned over 112,000 pen-pals from grades 1 to 9 to share ideas and form new friendships rooted in understanding, respect, and mutual appreciation. This long-standing program has undoubtedly contributed to building bridges of understanding and friendship between our province’s English-speaking and French-speaking citizens. Many of these open-minded individuals are now contributing members of society. Their experience gained in New Brunswick’s unique linguistic and cultural setting, and through Dialogue’s pen-pal program, has no doubt been beneficial to shaping their worldview. This pen-pal program will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2017 and Dialogue New Brunswick is looking to connect with program alumni. If you are amongst the 112,000 pen-pals, we would love to hear from you!

At the end of the day, one of the things all New Brunswickers have in common is that we care deeply about our families and our children. As a community we must come together to ensure that the base coat of our children’s canvas is painted with good will and positive strokes.

 

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