Eleven years ago, Bethlehem Central Middle School teacher Bill Reilly was on the Hudson River aboard the Half Moon replica ship with a handful of his students witnessing the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
In shock, it was there he realized educators around the world needed to come together to teach tolerance to avoid future acts of violence.
“Instead of reaching across the world with guns and bombs, I decided we needed to reach across the world with education and understanding,” he said.
Not long afterwards, through the help of the school district and other members of the community, Reilly began the Global Coalition Project. It is an organization that promotes peace, education and understanding between students around the world.
About 25 schools and 500 students from around the world participate in the program. About 118 of those students each year are the sixth grade social studies students from BC Middle School. The students exchange emails and packages back and forth, collaborate on projects, exchange artwork and chat via webcam.
Reilly said the project helps the students learn about different cultures and become more familiar with the world outside of their comfort zone. The Global Coalition is also weaved into their social studies lesson plans through a “Have and Have Not” unit. BC students learn how a third of the world's population lives on less than $1 a day, and that children in many parts of the world are unable to attend school because of the cost.
“They (the students) start realizing about socio-economic differences,” said Reilly. “We then give them projects to help impact the world for the better. It’s a great way for them to start to become global leaders.”
The organization recently began a global micro-lending bank that has helped nearly 100 people from around the world start a small business. Reilly said his students are in charge of vetting the applications of those who apply for a $25 loan. Then they pick the businesses they feel will succeed and are in charge of making sure the loan gets repaid.