When Cultures Collide

My blackness is not a defect but a part of my beauty. I want to be fully seen and heard.


7th grade students at Graham Elementary and Middle School take part in in-depth learning expeditions through the year as part of the EL Education model. “When Cultures Collide” explores the ways various cultures have interacted throughout history and the positive and negative outcomes of bringing cultures together. Our students interview high-profile members of the community to understand their views on Columbus as a community. These community members, dubbed "Brave Buckeyes," typically have opinions that are different than the students own experiences. The goal of this expedition is for students to focus on our current cultural climate in Columbus, Ohio and to learn better ways to have courageous conversations across cultures. This experience set our students up to be ambassadors of understanding. Now the work of students and teachers in the context of this Better World project is being noticed and celebrated in their community.

Headline from This Week News


National attention from the Black Lives Matter movement fanned the flames and packed local city council meetings with angry citizens demanding answers and accountability. The tensions reached a boiling point when a boy named Tyre King was gunned down by Columbus police 2 miles from the GEMS campus. Because of the proximity to this violence and Tyre’s age, this tragic death took an emotional toll on many GEMS students. It wasn’t long before their teachers observed how these community conflicts between groups were having a ripple effect in the classroom. As they saw students arguing along racial lines, they knew they had to find a way to teach children how to have courageous conversations with each other. It was from these interracial tensions that When Cultures Collide was created as an attempt to have meaningful dialogue between people from all backgrounds.


Our students are coming of age in an increasingly divided and polarized world. It is easier than ever to find your own comfortable corner and fill it only with voices that sound just like your own. When Cultures Collide is designed to push students out of their comfort zone and to teach them how to have courageous conversations across cultural differences. By interacting with and interviewing leaders working to bridge conflict between cultures from around the city, our students had the opportunity to be inspired by the work being done locally that combats prejudice and inequality of all types. The students then photographed these local heroes and interviewed them to create a website documenting how they overcome these struggles on a daily basis. There were four questions that guided our inquiry:

  • How can art depict or persuasively comment on a cultural conflict?
  • What different ways do parties involved address and resolve conflict?
  • What are long-term effects of conflicts on cultures?
  • How can the relationship between police culture and communities of color be improved?

Mastery of Content and Skills

The issue of cultural collision is complex. This investigation challenged students to look beyond their own biases to help them view their communities and themselves in a more objective light. These experiences helped prepare GEMS students to dive deeply into their Better World project.

GEMS students learning about When Cultures Collide understand that the content for this expedition is serious and can be difficult to talk about sometimes. Because of this, the students spent time in class learning about other cultures, and the positive and negative effects cultural collision has on the individuals and the communities alike. Students learned to be open, honest, and sensitive to others' views and beliefs. The issue of cultural collision is complex, which challenged the students to look beyond what they would normally notice and think about themselves and their communities, and really notice what is going on in the world around them every day.

Building Background Knowledge

To prepare the students for the expedition, students first learned about Ghana, Mali, and Songhai, and how these ancient West African empires grew as commercial and cultural trade centers. They then studied the economic and cultural impacts of European exploration and colonization, with a focused case study of the history of Cabo Verde in West Africa. Students worked together in small groups to identify culture collision issues they felt strongly about, such as police brutality and gun violence, and brainstormed solutions for their communities to address these factors.

Brave Buckeye Interviews

Before we started our interviews, our students decoded an example text. The final product paper they wrote was written in the same layout. After our students interviewed their Brave Buckeyes, they completed a synthesis notecatcher to filter their interview answers in preparation for the final product paper writing. The sections of the notecatcher laid out their 4 paragraphs for their paper. After they filtered their notes into the notecatcher, they traded with someone who also interviewed their Brave Buckeye and compared notes in order to ensure they had enough information for each paragraph.

Final Product

We then dove right into our writing. Each day the students turned in their writing and received edits, then the next day the beginning of the class was spent correcting the edits before they continued to write. After students finished their rough drafts, we revisited the rubric once again. Is the student’s writing acceptable, or exemplary? What suggestions might help them improve? students critiqued each others’ work to ensure it stayed true to what their interviewee said and meant. After lots of hard work and patience on multiple drafts, their work was finally published online. You can read them here.


"I wish more people could learn what I learned today so they could have a better view of this culture." -Treasure

Fieldwork experiences in our community helped enrich students’ understanding of the real world. For example, the seventh grade spent the day at a local coffeehouse, where they were able to experience West African culture. The students branched out by sampling traditional West African cuisine. Members of the Thiossane Institute performed traditional song and dance, before inviting the students to the stage to dance and play instruments. This fieldwork helped our students experience the width and breadth of what culture can be, so that we could approach our own culture with a more critical eye.

"They seemed so calm when they started getting called to put out fires." -Julian

GEMS 7th graders visited a local fire station, Columbus Fire Station 18, to learn about serving the needs of the public. The students listened to firefighters’ stories about helping and rescuing people from different cultures in our community.

"The firefighters are called out by the public to help them. These heroes address the problem with care and respectfulness towards others." -Dakota

GEMS 7th graders visited a local fire station, Columbus Fire Station 18, to learn about serving the needs of the public. The students listened to firefighters’ stories about helping and rescuing people from different cultures in our community. Firefighters serve as the bridge between cultures in the community, having to go wherever they are needed to do the most good that they can. This started off the fieldwork with a clear purpose: to learn how firefighters act when dealing with cultures different than their own.

For our last fieldwork, we traveled to Wilberforce University, a Historically Black University and the first college to be owned and operated by African Americans. Students explored the University’s historic significance and were given a tour of campus. After lunch, we made a trip to the nearby National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, where the students found connections between historical and current events in American history. A photography exhibit revealed the stories of Freed Slaves and African American Soldiers and their contributions to our shared histories. This fieldwork helped the students understand just how diverse our community can be, and the images of the exhibits were the jumping-off point for their final products.


Learning how to produce high quality work played an important role in When Cultures Collide. If students are to create a Better World, they must produce work that is polished and professional to get their message across. To help them to do so, students learned how to use photography to tell a story.

Our students learned the basics of studio lighting and composition. Students then went out into the community to capture images that represent what Columbus means to them. They used the rule of thirds and guiding lines to create a dynamic composition.

Students also learned digital editing skills. They practiced resizing canvases and images, and they created digital collages using their portrait photography by copying, pasting, and flipping layers.


After this project, the students reflected on their learning, proving that they had emerged on the other side as ambassadors of understanding.

"I used to think that only my culture could understand me. Now I think that everyone can have the same struggles." -Andrea

"I used to feel bad about all the things that were happening to other races and religions but not say anything or do anything but after I learned things about this subject I started talking about it with my family and friends." -Thomas

"I used to always stay where my views weren’t challenged. I only listened to views that confirmed my own. This made my life harder because I didn’t listen to the people’s opinions that were trying to tell me otherwise. Now I try my hardest not to live inside an echo chamber. I enjoy having my views challenged. Sometimes I even challenge my own views." -Julian


Our students interviewed people from all walks of life. These interviews were then reflected on by our students and published at dearcolumbus.com. The goal of this is to highlight outstanding pillars of the community even as our students learn what it means to be a member of society. It is important and necessary that our students begin grappling with these difficult conversations. As they move closer and closer to adulthood, the conflicts in the community will threaten to consume them. This way, our students can be leaders of the future, bringing people of every culture together.

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