Deborah Thomson and Javier Francario
A Zoom call in August 2021 started off as a simple introduction between two mentors from The Mentor Project, but it ended with a call to action and a plan to change the lives of dozens of mentees. Little did they know that there would be a multi-year program that will come from this simple conversation, but let’s start from the beginning.
Deb taught in elementary and middle schools before becoming a veterinarian. In 2020, she founded One Health Lessons- a US-based non-profit organization that teaches children and adults around the world about the connection between public health and the health of the environment, animals and plants. Javier has been a teacher for at least 15 years and has taught students between the ages of 3 to 18 about chemistry, physics, biology, astronomy, geology, meteorology, and mathematics.
One day in 2021, Deborah Heisler and JJ Snow, co-founders of The Mentor Project, recommended that Deb connect with Javier because they saw several shared interests between these two mentors. And they were right.
Within the first 30 minutes, Deb and Javier had already started planning the first online class for students at his school in Argentina. Ultimately, during lockdown, two hundred high school students were taught about One Health (the connection between our health and the health of the environment, animals and plants) and the One Health approach (teamwork between people of different backgrounds, disciplines and strengths to prevent and respond to health problems that affect people, animals, plants and/or the environment).
During the classes, the Argentinian teenagers are taught in English from trainees associated with One Health Lessons from North America, United Kingdom, Europe, Africa and Asia. Over two months, 46 lessons were taught! Not only were the students learning about One Health with interactive activities that ensured the students learned about mutations, the role of biodiversity in an ecosystem and how it plays an important role in public health, but also it allowed the students to appreciate that the people teaching the class, located on the other side of the planet, are managing similar health problems in their communities. These classes not only taught the students about One Health but also afforded the students a sense of relatability to people from different cultures.
But it didn’t stopped there. Because the rest of the students received the lesson in 2021, in 2022, we repeated the experience with the youngest students who hadn’t seen the lesson before. During this opportunity, the lessons taught the school’s remaining 30 students; similar to 2020, they were taught in English from guest Lessons Leaders (associated with One Health Lessons) from either North America, Europe, Africa or Asia.
This was a unique experience for both the Argentinian secondary school students and their visiting Lesson Leaders for a number of reasons. For the students, they have grown accustomed to hearing either American or British accents from film or television programs or hearing the English accents of their school teachers but they had not been exposed to accents from other parts of the world. For instance, even though English is an official language in Nigeria and Hong Kong, the accents are different than those previous heard by the students. Similarly, non-native English speakers have particular accents in English that the students had realized. In addition, during such virtual classes, the students appreciated first-hand that everybody on the planet can be troubled with problematic internet connections or technological delays, distracting background noises (like a passing ambulance), and so on. These relatable problems incited empathy from the students, a topic that is rarely taught in schools. In addition, this experience provided the students with extra training in global communications too. The students started to appreciate the impact of different time zones as well. It raised discussions that related to geography and policies. The students saw that the visiting Lesson Leaders were teaching the virtual classes sometimes very early in the morning while others taught very late at night or somewhere in between.
The dozens of volunteer Lesson Leaders also greatly benefited from the teaching experience because it forced them out of their comfort zones. Some were not particularly comfortable teaching in English but understood that there was always a second volunteer instructor available to help if needed. In addition, all Lesson Leaders improved their science communication skills, learned One Health in great detail, and gained confidence during the experience.
Both Deb and Javier are preparing the same action for new students and Lesson Leaders in 2023. More One Health topics are expected to be covered in new lessons created by One Health Lessons. Each year, the students will be learning more material that pertain to the health of people, animals, plants and their environment.
Javier’s students had different reactions during the lessons. The most common questions from the students were about the relationship between One Health Lessons and his school. After those questions, the students ask if the Lesson Leaders taught the lessons for free or if the school paid them before the class. When the students realize that this non-profit organization has been providing free lessons, they could not believe it because the quality of teaching was more professional than they would have expected from volunteers. In addition, they were happy with the mix of personalities and accents as previously described.
During the lesson, the students took the activities very seriously because they were going to obtain extra points in in class after good participation. Also, they enjoyed the idea of running a lesson in real-time through their computers with people from abroad.
Over the years, the Argentinian students learned many new and applicable topics during the lessons such as mutations, zoonotic diseases, vaccines, DNA, messenger RNA (mRNA), proteins, the role of biodiversity in public health and the health of the ecosystem, and, of course, about One Health. Before the lesson, none of the students, nor the teachers, had heard of “One Health”. However, thanks to the collaboration of One Health Lessons and Javier’s school, hundreds of students appreciate the important connection between public health and the health of the environment, animals and plants. This knowledge and appreciation, as well as the first-hand experience with Lesson Leaders from around the world, has given the Argentinian secondary students a competitive edge to become thoughtful and empathic leaders in the world’s changing environment. In short, they have become citizens of the world and are becoming citizens working toward a brighter future
DT- TMP Member; Founder and Executive Director, One Health Lessons, United States
JF- TMP Member; Teacher, Saint Mary of the Hills, Argentina