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Shared Studios returns to Winnacunnet for the first time in 3 years

Staff Photo- Gabriela Todaro

The Shared Studios "Golden Tent" set up in the Hawley Library at Winnacunnet High School.

Students at WHS got to experience the “magic” of a portal known as Shared Studios. Students got to spend the week of May 16 meeting and becoming fast friends with people in different countries through the golden tent.

Social Studies teacher Ross Phillips brought the program back to Winnacunnet for the third time after experiencing it himself one summer at a conference a few years ago.

“As soon as we got back I started to work with them to bring them into the school,” Phillips said. “It just seemed like a unique opportunity that I found to connect with the people there.”

Phillips had first introduced Shared Studios to WHS in 2018, and in 2019 the portal came back again for a week and they spent one day at Seabrook Middle School. There was a virtual portal event in 2020 that only a few students from WHS participated in.

All four grades use the company at Winnacunnet. This year, students were set up in a tent in the Hawley Library with the video call being projected onto the screen. One group of students connected with Olivier, a man living in Kigali, Rwanda. Olivier is a curator, someone hired by Shared Studios to talk to students.

The students asked him questions about things such as music, food, sports, thoughts on former US presidents, and the legal drinking age in Rwanda.

“This week, [video call] conversations have so far been pretty general since we’re just getting students used to the portal,” Mari Sanborn, the Andover Shared Studios program coordinator said.

Sanborn is in charge of setting up the portal in the school and contacting the other curators. Sanborn said that since researching about the portal for her job this was her first time facilitating the in person portal experience.

“This week was actually the first time I was able to see students interacting and joking and having fun,” Sanborn said. “There’s a lot of ‘portal magic’ which is basically when you’re going in and meeting a stranger and then ten minutes later you’re laughing like you’re old friends and so it’s really kinda fun.”

Sanborn said that she sees a lot of value in the program and that it’s a very unique opportunity.

“I’ve met other curators and other people through Shared Studios that are from places that I’ve always wanted to go to or places that I really didn’t know much about and you realize how much everyone has in common with each other,” Sanborn said. “You’re expecting all of these glaring differences in how you were raised and how you grew up and how you think about things but then when you talk to them face to face and in person you realize that they’re literally like everyone else; everyone’s so similar.”

One of Phillips’ classes got the opportunity to connect with Nakivale Uganda, a U.N. refugee camp to discuss housing issues there and what can be done to help them.

Phillips said that this program is “a direct line to experts that [students] wouldn’t normally have.” He added that it is very valuable and the school is lucky to have it.

“It gives students direct contact to the world,” Phillips said. “We've used it with students to talk to people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Rwanda, Palestine, Mexico City, West Virginia, Milwaukee.”

Sophomore Emma Cora participated in the portal as part of her “This is Africa” class. The six students in that class spoke to a woman living in Africa. The students talked with the woman about the government, the news, and sports played in Africa.

Cora was surprised to hear that soccer is one of the only sports played in Africa and that most women there don’t play sports.

“It was fun to hear about what [life] was like,” Cora said. “It was a lot different and it was a little shocking that girls don’t really play sports there.”

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