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Gallatin High School becomes 'sister' with high school in Okinawa

Posted at 3:05 PM, Dec 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-28 12:50:22-05

BOZEMAN — Staying connected has proven to be a challenge for many. But a group of Gallatin High School students found a way to do more than just connect. They are partnering with students on the other side of the globe.

The students from Gallatin High, like everybody else during the pandemic, have been finding different ways to make communication work, despite the pandemic.

That includes when they signed on to be the sister school to a high school in Okinawa.

If you take a look at the distance between Bozeman and Okinawa, that is quite the feat for any group of students trying to communicate across the world.

“It all speaks to our moment where we are right now, the things that we can accomplish both from afar and from in person,” says Dan Mills, principal of Bozeman High School.

It’s an interaction we’ve probably all experienced by now thanks to pandemic communication: meeting virtually.

A concept very familiar to educators like Gallatin High principal Erica Schnee.

“We have a phrase at Gallatin High we call ‘Gallatin Grit,’” Schnee says. “It’s be engaged, be respectful, be inclusive, together.”

Now, that kind of Gallatin Grit is reaching overseas.

“We opened a second high school in Bozeman and so they reached out to see if we would be interested in creating a sister school relationship with a second high school in Okinawa,” Schnee says.

Last week, the school opened its virtual door to the staff and students at Naha Kokusai High School in Japan’s Okinawa prefecture with their opening ceremonies, like everything else, going virtual.

“Bozeman High has had a long term sister school relationship with the school in Okinawa and I believe one of the coordinators of that program learned that we opened a second high school in Bozeman and so they reached out to see if we would be interested in creating a sister school relationship with a second high school in Okinawa,” Schnee says.

“We don’t have any connections like that already so that was great to get started right at our first semester as a school ever,” says Colter Curey, art and history teacher at Gallatin High School.

Geography teachers Colter Curey and Logan Aytes are Gallatin High liaisons for the efforts, made more complex, since in the past at Bozeman High this could all be done in-person.

“We’ve just exchanged the 70 responses to their 70 questions via video,” Aytes says. “They needed a little extra time, as she requested, because they need to translate our questions into their answers and then translate their answers into English.”

“It’s a relic of our historical moment,” Mills says.

Mills says it’s like looking through a window for students that have eyes looking back, each seeing COVID-19 life from different perspectives.

“We are dealing with something very difficult and very tragic and yet, at the same time, we have this duty to our community and our global community to persist through that,” Mills says.

“That was their first question: is COVID-19 a thing in your school?” Aytes says. “They were really interested when we got pictures back and those students were still wearing masks and all of that. To that degree, it certainly indicates that we are all in this together.”

The sisterhood is in its early stages.

But already, students like student-body president Luke Terry say the opportunity is huge, using what COVID-19 taught us are strengths that some of us didn’t know we already had.

“You know, in live time, we can be talking with somebody across the world,” Terry says. “I think that’s really cool.”

“This kind of global collaboration really fits with that concept of being inclusive and being engaged in the world around us,” Schnee says.