In January of 2020, the first news of COVID19 was beginning to make its way around the world. Living and working in Taiwan, we were concerned about the news as Taiwan immediately began taking action. After a two week delayed start in February, we were able to resume in person learning for the remainder of the semester. As schools around the world began to change to distance learning, we were able to stay open.
Being an International Baccalaureate continuum school, service learning and taking action are key parts of our programme. We believe that to develop internationally minded citizens, our students need to engage in authentic learning and action. As I read the news reports and the crisis worsened, I explored ways our students could safely engage and support others during the pandemic.
In March of 2020, we joined the Million Mask Challenge based out of the U.S. Their mission is to:
- Empower people
- Connect resources to needs
- Share best practices
- Build community
- Use alternative organizing with physical distancing
- Identify problems and improve outcomes
- Act quickly
- Provide cloth masks for health care workers, then other frontline workers
- Normalize masks for personal use
I started a lunch, recess, and activity block club where students could come and help sew masks. We collected donations for elastic, string, and thread, as well as, new and used cloth from the students, parents, and faculty at I-Shou. One of our goals was to upcycle as many materials as possible. All supplies were donated by the community.
The next step was teaching everyone how to sew. I had some sewing experience and a few teachers had learned in the youth but no students knew how to sew yet. We formed our volunteers into teams to measure and prepare materials and to learn how to use a sewing machine. Teachers as well as students from grades 3-12 learned how to sew so they could help make the masks.
Students and teachers from across the entire school participated by donating, prepping materials, or sewing masks. It was an incredible experience to see students and faculty giving up their breaks to support U.S. health care workers during the pandemic. In a situation where it is easy to feel powerless, our school was empowered with action. In the end we sent over 100 cloth masks to the Million Mask Challenge.
Amanda Sunderman is Director of Teaching & Learning at I-Shou International School in Taiwan.