Community / School Spotlight

School Spotlight — Julie Farrell

Julie Farrell
Global Learning Coordinator Julie Farrell

Global Learning Coordinator Julie Farrell

The old phrase, “Making lemonade out of lemons” seems tailor-made for Global Programs Coordinator Julie Farrell. Instead of simply making just one sweet drink, though, she finds a way to inspire and engage students to turn that into a thriving lemonade stand that engages a whole community. Ms. Farrell signed on at CAIS in the spring of 2020, excited to take the helm of our Global Programs that fall…only to be confronted with an earth-sized lemon—the pandemic and its paralyzing effect on travel. Not one to be daunted, she developed the 春FUN program, which, since our students couldn’t travel, brought the Mandarin speaking world to CAIS instead.

We caught up with Julie Farrell this week to learn more about her work and how it fits into the school’s Strategic Vision.

Q. Recognizing that it’s not simply semantics, can you describe the deeper meaning behind our shift to “Global” rather than “International” Programs?

A. The world is different now and this name change is part of a larger conversation happening in the education field. The switch from “international” to “global” reflects an understanding of peoples and cultures removed from the construct of diplomatic boundaries. National borders can be contentious and truly aren’t the subject that we are studying; we want to deemphasize the nation/state and focus on the lived experiences of people. In addition, broadening the focus to “global” respects that diverse cultures and perspectives are not only to be found elsewhere, but can be experienced and explored anywhere on the globe, including our own country, state, and city. By considering the world as a whole, this more expansive view happens to support programming even when wider travel is curtailed (such as during the pandemic).

Q. In your welcome to Middle School message to families at the start of last year, you shared some insightful parallels between the lessons to be learned from the pandemic and the way that traveling teaches us by taking us out of our comfort zones. What were some aspects of 春FUN that helped give students a chance to feel challenged even on their familiar home turf?

A. With COVID protocols (such as cohorting, masking, distancing) significantly constraining what we could control, the biggest way we could introduce difference while still being on campus for 春FUN was to make it full immersion. For the two weeks of the program, the guest instructors led almost all activities in Mandarin. Students were assigned in each cohort to act as translators for the English speaking faculty members. This intentional dynamic shift replicated one of Middle School Head Joe Williamson’s favorite parts of the programs he’s been on to Beijing and Guilin. He loves watching the students become empowered in a way that he can’t be. They become the teachers and guides as the linguistic dynamics get completely shifted. While it wasn’t as pronounced during 春FUN as it might be in China, for example, the effect can still be observed and it is powerful.

In addition, Zheng Laoshi and Zhang Laoshi intentionally planned the curriculum for 春FUN to build in opportunities where students would have to step out of their comfort zones, much as if they were traveling. They created “gamified” moments in the language classes, whether modeling a marketplace, ordering boba tea, or having students reenact and use Chinese to play out embarrassing travel scenarios. (Our partners from CLI in Guilin filmed videos for the scenarios using vocabulary we provided. Students watched and learned on asynchronous days; then the next day on campus, the students had to write and act out a related skit.) This made a great approximation of the kind of content and linguistic knowledge that is called upon for a traveller, and students had a blast. In fact, Student Government President Daphne G. reflected on the experience while describing an example of the Core Value of Curiosity in action at CAIS [see her remarks here].

Q: Your work with Global Program touches on all four aspects of the Strategic Vision. Can you explain a bit of what you picture for Reimagining Immersion, Our Culture of Learning, Character and Community, and Our Learning Spaces?

A. I see all four parts of the vision connected together. [Reimagining Immersion] When I began at CAIS I conducted a kind of “listening tour” and I started thinking about how we can find ways to create space for students to open up and use their Chinese on campus even more outside of class. [Reimagining Our Culture of Learning] I believe that it’s a matter of bringing a diversity of Mandarin experiences into school as well as taking students out for the same. Whether that’s hip hop dance class in Mandarin or cooking class in Mandarin, it’s important to incorporate the aspects of the Global Program that motivate students to use their Chinese in their everyday school life. We know that students are intrinsically motivated to learn and speak Chinese when they have a connection point. Not every student is sparked by calligraphy or tai chi but someone might be excited by Chinese rap on TikTok or learning a new movement or sport in Chinese. Being exposed to a variety of cultural phenomena and all different aspects of Chinese culture typically occurs during trips abroad, but does not have to be exclusive to traveling.

My own interest in Mandarin was sparked in high school. I had volunteered at a stateside hospice, then went on a trip to China where we visited a home for the elderly. I found a passion to combine those two experiences and subsequently worked on a project to collect the personal stories of the residents in the home in China—people whose fascinating lives spanned the sweep of 20th century Chinese history.

[Reimagining Character and Community] Just as we search to bring in and make connections with interesting content and experiences, we’re in this place and time where communities with privilege are trying to figure out how to get our students out into our local community in a responsible manner. Last year a cohort of CAIS colleagues, including Zhang Laoshi, Sui Laoshi, and I, worked with the National Network of Schools in Partnership, which helps independent schools responsibly engage with our local communities. We each worked on our own projects—春FUN was an outgrowth, as was Zhang Laoshi’s project with students interviewing members of the Stop AAPI Hate organization—and it has laid the groundwork for ongoing conversations.

[Reimagining Our Learning Spaces] COVID restrictions represented a significant obstacle during 春FUN, certainly, but also provided a great incentive to work creatively to address space constraints. Looking to the future, we have even more ideas about how to take advantage of larger spaces—tailored to our needs as an immersion school—where we can host events that bring the community into the campus experience. It is an exciting thing going forward.