The 19 students in Edwina Kinchington’s 11th grade cellular signaling science class at the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy in Oakland don’t think they’re going to solve the Ebola crisis by taking part in a video conference with other students from around the world.
But these smart 16- and 17-year-olds know that the first step in solving any crisis is education, which is why they’re looking forward to Tuesday’s conference being put on by the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh.
“It is in an area [far away and poor] and we don’t think it affects us, but it does,” Patricia Donehue told her fellow students Friday during a discussion of the issue in preparation for Tuesday’s event.
That’s the kind of awareness the council hopes the conference creates among the students, who will then pass it on to students at their schools who were not part of the conference, said Amiena Mahsoob, the council’s director of education programs.
“We want students to understand the international nature of the crisis,” Ms. Mahsoob said. “And to understand the organizations involved” in the Ebola response.
“But we want the students to also understand that it’s not just a medical crisis, or just a virus, that it’s affecting culture, and politics and that farmers aren’t planting crops in some parts of Africa and that that will have an affect too.”
After studying Ebola off and on all fall, Ms. Kinchington’s students appear to already grasp the basic point.
During the roundtable discussion, one student pointed out that though there has yet to be an Ebola case in our region, the media coverage has made people more wary and concerned about the possibility of contracting the disease.
Ms. Kinchington said that when she visited her local doctor on Thursday, there were notices on Ebola protocols posted in the waiting room. She added that UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, located just a couple blocks from their school, has been designated as one of two locations where Ebola patients would be taken in the region (Allegheny General Hospital being the other).
During their 80-minute class Friday, they spent time working on their assignment for the conference: understanding how organizations like the United States Agency for International Development deal with resource mobilization during the outbreak.
Each of the 19 schools involved in the conference – eight Pittsburgh area schools; two schools from elsewhere in the U.S.; and nine schools outside the U.S., including three in Africa – have a specific part of the outbreak to analyze and will make 2-minute presentations to each other.
That will come after the conference’s keynote speaker, Gary Shaye, senior director of humanitarian operations at Save the Children.
As the lead fundraiser for current efforts to respond to the Ebola crisis, Mr. Shaye said he will explain to the students “what is working, what are the challenges, and what are the obstacles.”
“I think it is our mandate to share this information with people,” he said in an interview.
The World Affairs Council, a 84-year-old nonprofit organization that works to bring a deeper understanding of world events to our region, has put on similar conferences for high schoolers in the past, including one that looked at the response to the Haiti earthquake in 2010.
Ms. Mahsoob began planning for the conference in August, when the outbreak was growing, but nowhere near the level it is now, when more than 4,000 people in Africa have died.
“In August, it looked like if there wasn’t a real rapid response to it, it was going to get worse, and it did,” she said.
Mr. Shaye will speak in an auditorium at Hampton High School, which is the official host school for this conference, but all the other schools, including those around the world in Ghana, Taiwan and Iran, will take part via video feeds.
Scott Stickney, enrichment coordinator at Hampton, said about 30 students there will participate in the conference. They’ve been discussing Ebola in different classes.
“I think they understand the importance of being in tune with what’s going on in the world,” he said. “Everything is smaller for them now. They know they have to have that global awareness.”
Sean D. Hamill: email@example.com or 412-263-2579.Get expanded access – register for free.
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