The Coyote Project: Poly's global exchange project

Poly’s global exchange project, the Coyote Project, was established in 2000 by teacher Jim Barry, who was asked to create an outreach program using computers as part of a National Science Foundation Grant through Caltech. He and former teacher Kay Lee exchanged photos and questions with a kindergarten class in West Africa. Starting in 2009, Barry envisioned the Lower School program as a riff on the Flat Stanley projects, where students incorporate a flat cutout figure into their daily routines, documenting the adventures in journals and photographs. Barry wanted something more three-dimensional and something that the classes could keep. The coyotes were not intended to be the center of the project, but rather the catalyst and a fun way to open the lines of communication.

Unlike class projects that are grade-based, the Coyote Project “travels” with the students—Suzie Arther’s second-graders were introduced to the project when they were kindergartners in former teacher Alex Gaffney’s class. Next year’s kindergarteners will start a new coyote on his mission. Teachers are able to incorporate the coyote into their lessons in a variety of ways, from writing to their new pen pals, to geography and maps, and even math (since numbers are the same in any language). When each coyote is prepped for his journey, students are careful to ensure he is well equipped, including in each box a blanket, book, and food items fashioned out of paper. Students also share notes, photos, and questions for each other. Some even share songs. Teachers also share information about their culture and the project, including an eighth grade teacher from Timbuktu who sent a letter, and an English teacher from Bajadou Secondary School in Timbuktu who spoke about the “twinning” of the two schools. A website was established as a way to share information between the classes.

Coyotes have found their way to France, Mali, Cyprus, Japan, China, Taiwan, Mexico, and Brazil. Barry shared that they are currently looking for second-graders in Korea with whom to connect.

The students on each side are eager to get to learn more about their counterparts, asking questions such as:

Do you like your teacher?
Do you have to be quiet in school?
Do you have pets? (Students from Kalanso School in Mali mentioned a pet falcon, common in Arab cultures.)
What is the weather like? (Students in other countries answered in Celsius, which presented a wonderful science teaching moment.)

Members of the Poly community have helped translate some of the communication from other countries. Senior Julian T. helped translate some of the answers from the students’ French counterparts, Poly parent Fumie Ravel translated Japanese responses, and Upper School Mandarin teacher Lois Chung helped with Chinese.

Second grade teacher Joanne Hwang, whose class also participates in the project, shared “Our social studies curriculum focuses on the theme of community. We study many different types of communities, as well as the people who live, work, and play within them. The coyote project offers our students another avenue through which they can connect to community members outside of their normal day-to-day lives.”

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the project is when Poly receives a response from a school in a country to whom they have sent a coyote. “Students are ecstatic when we receive something from another community whether by mail or email, shared Jenine Almahdi, second grade teacher. “At the beginning of the year, our students received pictures of students from Africa working on math problems. Our students were amazed by both the similarities and differences between our own classroom and the classroom in the pictures.” “We hope that our students will have a deeper global awareness that will shape their perspective of the world,” shared Hwang. “We see how it can be particularly special for the kids to connect with children close in age from other cultures and discover the commonalities between them.”
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