The Detroit News:”Virtual reach of Religious Diversity Journeys expands education on world religions amid pandemic”
The following is an excerpt from an article posted in The Detroit News, Dec 2020:
“At East Middle School in Plymouth in her seventh-grade social studies class, Shelley Lloyd is using virtual field trips, part of a program called Religious Diversity Journeys, to teach about world religions.
“One of the things I like about it is a live Q&A where they can ask questions that sometimes people are afraid to ask,” Lloyd said.
“There is one about Sikhism that’s entitled, ‘11 Things You Want to Know About My Turban but Were Too Afraid to Ask.’
“I think it’s just so wonderful,” she said. “I’m learning about these things, as well.”
Under the auspices of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, Religious Diversity Journeys has expanded in 17 years from the idea of a teacher in Berkley to classes at several schools in Metro Detroit.
In 2020, serendipity, a rare phenomenon during the coronavirus, struck.
Forced by the pandemic, producers, organizers, videographers and programmers scrambled beginning in March to deliver the learning online, creating virtual field trips and other course material from scratch.
Fruit of the labor is a 640% increase in web traffic to the site of the Interfaith Leadership Council, since Nov. 1.
They also had to reconceptualize television productions related to the seventh grade classes, which are airing on the local station of the Public Broadcasting Service, WTVS-TV, including at 7:30 p.m. Monday as part of One Detroit.
Rania Hammoud, a curriculum coordinator for the Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, said the increased impact of the class, forced by a pandemic, is prized.
“We’ve been involved with Religious Diversity Journeys for three years now, and in the past only a small percentage of our seventh grade students were able to participate,” Kozler said.
“Now, so many more students and teachers can participate.
“As part of Michigan’s seventh grade social studies content expectations, students are already learning about the different world religions,” she said. “Using the RDJ resources obviously makes students make better connections to their learning.”
Before 2020, the program was in extensive use in Canton Township, Dearborn, Farmington, Hamtramck and Plymouth, according to staff at the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit.
Supporting the growth of the program, which its producers say reached 800 students last year, are a number of organizations and foundations, including First Foundation, First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, Islamic Relief USA, the Nissan Foundation.
When COVID-19 struck, the financing some schools offer for tuitions for the program was in jeopardy. It also affected the terms of a grant used to bring some of Religious Diversity Journeys to WTVS-TV, public television, in Detroit.
“What we started seeing early in the summer was school boards were zeroing out field trip budgets, said Wendy Miller Gamer, the program director for the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit.
“We projected very early on this summer that the vast majority of our schools would have no ability to pay tuition.”
Gamer said First Foundation agreed to donate more money to bring the course work and field trips to students virtually.
“We had some long-term planning and work that we really spent an intensive summer doing,” Gamer said. “We weren’t scrambling. It was very methodical and very prepared. But, it was an entirely new curriculum and an entirely new platform that we created.
“We are extremely proud that we involved 800 kids in our in person program last year,” she said. “This year, with our program online, the potential is tens of thousands of kids.”
In addition to shifting the course material entirely online, Gamer and what she described as “a whole bunch of working mothers working on their own time,” recreated the field trips to local churches, mosques and temples that are an integral part of the teaching.