It all started with an idea: what if we could bring students from different schools in different parts of the country together to discuss civil rights issues? After all, an issue that affected the whole country surely deserves a broader perspective than from just one school. So here in the Rochester City School District we set out to create a program that would do just that. We partnered with schools around the country to create a civil rights distance learning program using Cisco TelePresence. The program began with a few one-off events in honor of important civil rights holidays, such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and the anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, where students from different schools joined together virtually to discuss civil rights history and current civil rights issues.

Students in Rochester, NY participate in the national webinar on Martin Luther King, Jr.
Students in Rochester, NY participate in the national webinar on Martin Luther King, Jr.

The events were so successful that we wanted to take it even further. We worked with Hillsborough County Schools to create a digital civil rights class that would bring our students together as one class on a regular basis – and thus the Digital National Class – Digital Civil Rights Class was born!

Students at both schools use Cisco TelePresence to meet virtually every week. They don’t even think of it as two separate groups, but rather one combined class. They started the year wearing name tags, but they’re no longer necessary – everyone knows each other. In fact, students loved the class so much that when it ended after the first semester as planned, they successfully lobbied to turn it into a year-long class. Now, we plan to offer the Digital National Class again next year.

Students use TelePresence to connect for their weekly Digital Civil Rights class.
Students use TelePresence to connect for their weekly Digital Civil Rights class.

A few months ago we decided to take our students’ digital classroom experience on the road. Fortunately, a few years ago I purchased and restored a vintage transit bus that happened to be the same make and model of the bus that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on in Montgomery in 1955. The bus would enable our students to engage in a digital version of expeditionary learning, allowing them to see other parts of the country without ever having to leave the classroom.

Using this Civil Rights Museum on Wheels, we’re launching the Destination Diversity tour, a road trip designed to highlight both the innovative use of technology in the classroom and the history these students are learning and discussing. I’ll start in Rochester and embark on a four-city road trip at the beginning of April – heading from New York to Washington, DC to Greensboro, NC to Atlanta, GA, before ending up at Jefferson High School in Tampa, Florida.

The Destination Diversity bus – just like the one Rosa Parks rode on!

The Civil Rights Museum on Wheels was already equipped with some pretty high-tech audio and visual equipment, but to stay connected with students and staff in New York and Florida on the road, we needed to get digital communications equipment set up on the bus as well. Fortunately, Cisco was right there for us, helping us outfit the Museum on Wheels with its own portable TelePresence unit that will allow students to join the bus virtually wherever it will be.

Additionally, at each stop along the way, guest speakers will come onto the bus and speak to the students in both Rochester and Hillsborough, who will join virtually via the TelePresence unit. At the last stop in Hillsborough County, I’ll get the chance to meet the Jefferson High School students in person, and Rochester students will join via TelePresence for their usual Digital Civil Rights class.

The Destination Diversity tour will serve as a culminating event for both groups of students to showcase all that they’ve learned, and will simultaneously show educators up and down the East Coast how technology can be used successfully to expand educational opportunities for students. For more information on each of the four bus stops, including dates and guest speakers, please visit the Destination Diversity Facebook page.

Want to join me on the Destination Diversity tour as the bus and I journey south? Follow @Cisco_K12Edu, @CiscoEDU and @RCSDDigiClassrm on Twitter for updates, where we’ll be using #DestinationDiversity to chronicle the journey. To learn more about how TelePresence can be used for projects such as this, visit Cisco’s TelePresence page here.


Van Henri White

School Board President

Rochester City School District